Author Interview with Erika Armstrong author of A Chick in the Cockpit
Author: Erika Armstrong
Interviewer: Misty Daniels
Book Title: A Chick in the Cockpit
1.What made you decide to write about and publish you experiences in the aviation industry?
I adore books with strong female characters but too often, our heroines self-destruct when faced with loss or a challenge in their life. We will all have to deal with carrying the burdens of life at some point in our lives, but most of us can’t just leave our husbands, or take off and travel the world for a year, or hike a trail. Most of us have to stick around and just deal with it, so I wanted to give a different perspective of just how strong women can be by hanging in there and just dealing with it. I wanted to show the readers that part of the process is simply changing perspective to allow happiness to enter your life even though everything sucks. It’s also a reminder about finding gratitude in the simple things. My book club did one small act of kindness, but it changed my life forever. They didn’t know my story, but they unknowingly changed the course of my life. Part of the incentive of writing this book was to show them just how much they helped another person.
The second driving force was to provide an opportunity for the reading to join me in the cockpit! There are 3.6 billion airline passengers expected in 2016, but most have no idea what goes on behind the cockpit door. Adding in the variable of a woman being locked in the cockpit with men for thousands of hours adds to the humor because it can’t help but be funny.
2. Do you write full time? If not, what else you do at the moment?
I am associate editor at Plane & Pilot magazine and have been the professional pilot columnist for NYC Aviation, Disciples of Flight, Contrails, Business Insider and Mentor magazine. I have stayed with one foot in the aviation world and one in the writing world. This helps give me balance!
3. There’s a line in your book where you say, “We both judged a book by its cover, but then again, some of the most fascinating books have bland covers.” Do you really believe that? Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? Tell us a bit about how the cover for this book came to be. Who did you pick to design the cover for A Chick in the Cockpit and why, or how did you pick an image if it was self-designed?
Ahh, the cover. Every author agonizes over the cover and if you have an agent and a publisher, the odds are that the author doesn’t get to decide (I didn’t get to decide). My publisher, agent, and I went back and forth on this one. I had spent years using a logo on my social media, so I wanted to use that image, but my publisher had a graphic designer make a different cover.
In my years of commuting to work, I used to sit outside of airport book stores to see what draws people to pick up a book. You would think that a cleaver, intricate design would draw people in but I noticed it was the clean, simple covers that got picked up first! I wanted it to be a clean and bold, so my publisher and I both agreed on a white background with sharp red lettering. My publisher’s cover designer did an awesome job creating the Boeing 727 artwork so I think our compromises ended up giving us a perfect cover.
4. If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play you?
It’s so funny that you asked that. I was at a book signing in St. Paul, Minnesota last week and someone in the audience asked this. I didn’t have an answer so I asked the audience what they thought. I was flattered when someone thought Jennifer Lawrence should play me! I think she represents strong women so I love that someone thought of her to play my character.
5. You changed names when writing this to protect people’s privacy. How did you go about picking out new names which still suited these real-life characters? Did you focus on the meaning of the name, the sound? Did you use any name choosing resources you particularly liked and would recommend to people?
When my agent agreed to represent me, he said that I had to have my book vetted by a lawyer before he would offer representation. I had to cough up a few thousand dollars (and you know how much I love attorneys) to have him go through everything to keep us from being sued. He is the one who recommended I put the author’s note in the beginning and change the names, places, and dates to create anonymity for the people in the book. I chose “Brad” for juvenile reasons – it was simply the closest word to “bad”. My mother-in-law hated the name Bernice, so I named her character Bernice. My daughter’s names are actually references to aviation. Lindsey for Charles Lindbergh and Piper for the aircraft name. The rest were random based on what they should’ve been named.
6. In chapter 7 you describe a potentially dangerous security situation which turned to be no more than a series of misunderstandings leading to an intensely frustrating situation. Have you ever had to deal with a more serious security threat when flying? If so, how did you react? If not, is this ever something you actively worried about?
As for security issues, most of my incidents had to do with drunk passengers threatening to cause harm. Not often, but they were a pain in the ass when it happened. The only other security scare was from a box in my cargo hold. If you remember a few years back, the anthrax scare was going on. I was taking an aircraft out of Las Vegas when the baggage handler came up to the cockpit and said there was an unknown white substance on the floor in the cargo hold and that they needed security to come and check it out. Long story short, the aircraft had come in from Cancun and it was sand. It took about two hours to get it straightened out. Security is definitely always on my mind. I don’t ever complain about taking off my shoes or restricting the liquids in my carryon. All I have to do is recall the image of the airplanes going into the towers and I gladly put my bags on the security belt. I think we forget that flying is a privilege and not a right. If an airline wants you to go through security, do it, or take a Greyhound Bus.
7. In your book you detail a relationship you stayed in too long. Your reaction to problems in this relationship seems to mirror your professional reactions at being forced to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in the aviation industry. Do you think your career negatively affected the way you interacted with men in your personal life?
Absolutely. I had spent so much time in the presence of men just trying to blend in that I forgot that an intimate relationship needs balance. Equal weight on either end of the fulcrum. I was used to being treated like a man because I wanted to be. I strived for it at work, but don’t forget, I also spent my time away from work surround by men who were my coworkers. I lived in crash pads with men, I had long layovers and spent enormous amounts of time with men in a non-romance scenario. Over the years, I had a certain perceived (yet skewed) expectation of how a man treats a woman. I had to learn that a work relationship is different from an intimate relationship in that it needs to have weight on either end to keep it in balance. I needed to be a woman, treated like a woman. I didn’t set expectations for myself so I let the weight and control slip to his side and then I didn’t have the momentum to put myself back in balance.
I think a lot of women fall into abusive relationships because the abuser is aware, on some level, that they have trouble with control and their own emotions so they work extra hard to cover it up. They pretend so they are extraordinarily jovial and kind on the surface which lures women in. But, once you have committed to the relationship and the veil drops, there is suddenly an expectation for you to accept their abuse rather than for them to recognize they need to change. Women then survive by disconnecting from themselves and what makes them happy in order to keep the abuser happy. It’s a vicious cycle.
Public events, like the NFL players caught on tape abusing their partners, seem to be the only thing that drives society to discuss it. I think if we put societal pressure on men to analyze the behavior then through time, there will be a weave in our communal morals that reaffirms that both men and women, even in a marriage, deserve respect.
8. Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Oh my gosh, I could write a book on what I’ve learned! I think I could sum it up by saying that reaching the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner and getting a book published need the same skill set. You will have moments when you truly believe you’ll never make it. It will be that pit in your stomach that tries to hold you down, but it’s that little voice in your soul that says it’s worth the extra effort to keep going. This is your one and only life so don’t let a little failure stop you on your extraordinary journey.
9. What book are you reading now? Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’m reading Peter Heller’s “The Painter”. Oh, I adore his writing. He’s a private pilot and lives in Colorado so I love the references to both in his books. He’s wonderful at getting the reader to have empathy for the main character. In this book, I want his character to get away with murder, twice!
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I can’t wait for you to fly with me! If you ever want me to call in to your book club or answer a question, just drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, one more thing. I got an anonymous email (which I didn’t know you could do) a few weeks ago that came in through my website contact form. It said, “We will take you down with bad reviews.” It left me sad and shaking because I thought this was how he was going to ruin me again. Sure enough, a couple bad reviews came up on Amazon. But only a couple. If you enjoyed the book, even a little, I would appreciate it deeply if you could post a review anywhere – Amazon, Goodreads, Book Club List, etc.
I’d like to thank Erika for talking to me and all of yo for reading,