Click on the red triangle to hear Stephen Coonts' voice.
"A lot of people have these goals. They have nothing to do with making money. They want to ride a bicycle across America. They want to climb all the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Or float down the Mississippi on a
raft. And I tell people, they ought to go do it. Because that’s what makes life
worth living. It’s certainly not money. And it’s certainly not the day-to-day
grind. We need some of these types of challenges.
For me, writing a novel was one."
A glimpse of Stephen Coonts
Before Stephen Coonts started writing thriller books, he was a lawyer. Before that, he flew fighter planes as a Navy pilot. Flying an A6 fighter plane from the deck of an aircraft carrier, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. In the 1970s, after he left the Navy, he decided it was time to pursue his dream of writing books. So he started. By day, he was a flight instructor, and by night, he wrote and rewrote, teaching himself how to create scenes.
"Anybody who thinks writing is easy, just one time through, and it's done, is fooling themselves,"
he said. "What they don't see is the endless hours, the chapters that get trashed, and the editor
that calls back and says, 'This isn't good enough.' It's all about learning the craft."
His persistence paid off. As Kirkus Reviews said, "Stephen Coonts is now one of America's premier
authors of action-adventure thrillers." His first book, Flight of the Intruder, became a best-seller in 1986. Since then, he has published more than 40 books, many of them best-sellers, action thrillers that draw from his military, legal, and flying experience. They cover a wide range of subjects: giant robots in Hong Kong, safe-crackers in Cuba, hijacked nuclear submarines, science fiction saucers, and international spy rings, to name a few.
He grew up in Buckhannon. "Buckhannon was and is a great town," he said. "I always thought I was
lucky." He loved to hunt and played lots of sports. "And I read everything I could get my hands on. I
won a prize for reading all 278 books in the fourth grade library." Coonts says anyone who wants to write should read and read. "If you're not a reader, you're not going to be a writer."
Coonts is still flying. He flies back and forth between Las Vegas and his farm in Pocahontas, where he has a small landing field. He's been writing about flying for more than 30 years now. "I've got a flying skill that
I've used to write books," he said. "It's been the defining skill of my life. Flying."
A sample passage, from Flight of the Intruder
Jake Grafton, ace Navy pilot and Stephen Coonts' best-known character, waits inside his plane at night on the deck of a destoyer. He's about to be launched into the darkness as a huge slingshot called the catapult sends him on his way to Vietnam.
"Jake held his helmet in his lap and looked past the edge of the flight deck into the black nothingess beyond. He hated night catapult shots. So much could happen on the way down the cat, all of it bad. Any problem would demand the pilot;s instant attention, even as he was recovering from the acceleration of the shot and trying to coax the plane to fly in the night air, sixty feet above the sea.
He went over some of the more likely emergencies and what he might do if one occurred. He moved his left hand from the throttles to the gear handle. If an engine quits or a fire light flashes, gear up. His fingers climbed to the emergency jettison button. Push that and hold for one second. All five drop tanks will then be jettisoned. Ten thousand pounds lighter, maybe the plane will still fly on one engine.
His eyes flicked to the standby gyro. Keep eight degrees nose up, no matter what. Much less, and we'll go in the water. Much more, and we'll stall and go in the drink anyway. He checked the gauges: air speed, pressure altimeter. Angle of attack. Radar altimeter. The gyro. These instruments had the information that would keep them alive. And if one of those instruments failed, he had to immediately notice that its information did not gibe with the other gauges and disregard the culprit.
He felt his stomach knot up and automatically reached between his legs and checked the position of the alternate firing handle for the ejection seat. There might not be time to reach the primary handle over his head. Every moment that passed was only preparation for the coming instant when he would be catapulted out over the dark ocean, just 15 knots above stall speed, in a machine near maximum gross weight, in a machine that was merely a cunning collection of complex equipment that failed too often. His life depended on the correctness of his every thought, on his touch with the stick, on the quickness of his reflexes, on the knowledge and skill he possessed.
The penalty for failure would be swift and sure. And the man beside him would also pay. What if we lose the generators? He reached back to his left to check the position of the ram aim turban handle. A tug on this handle would cause the wind-driven emergency generator to pop out of the wing and power the flight instruments and critical cockpit lights.
He closed his eyes as he began touching, identifying every switch, knob and handle around him. He knew this cockpit better than he knew his car. He knew it better than he knew anything else in the world. He looked down the catapult, as he had countless times before. Beyond the end of the deck was the end of the world."
An activity to go with this passage:
Notice how Coonts piles up details in this passage, to make us see - and feel - a situation most of us have never been in. In this passage, Coonts never really tells us how Jake is feeling.
What emotions do you think Jake is feeling? Copy this passage and highlight all the details that make you think he feels that way. Why do you think Coonts is giving us so many details in this scene?
~ Go to the Activities page for other activities that help us learn from these writers.
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Research Stephen Coonts
* A Conversation with Stephen Coonts (Internet Writing Journal)