Flight to Paradise a novel by Mike Coe

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The Story Behind the Story

* The Title
* The Opening Quote
* Background Info
* Story Timeline
* Story Settings
* Story Characters

* Did You Know
* Themes
* Biblical Proportions
* Quotes by Mike

* Sequels and future projects




The Title:

Flight to Paradise was originally titled A Love Once Lost; a title my daughter (Anna) suggested after having read the original manuscript, over 4 years ago. At that time, it seemed like the perfect title. As the drafts piled up and the themes took-on new life, I felt the title misrepresented one of the main themes--hope.

My wife and I were on a return trip from San Francisco when I decided on the current title. We were discussing the themes of the novel and why I had written the story. The word paradise came up as we searched for a word to describe a feeling of contentment and peace. I had read that many of the most successful novel titles (especially the classics) are metaphorical, or hold deeper meaning while exploring the theme: Catcher in the Rye, Valley of the Dolls, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Grapes of Wrath, and others. As I tried to relate the word paradise to a non-physical place--more of an emotional state of being--my thoughts took me to the feelings I have concerning the relationship I share with my wife. If there ever was that "perfect someone" or "soul mate", she is that person for me. It was then that I decided on the title Flight to Paradise; Paradise being the place where the heart's desires are fully satisfied.

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The Opening Quote:

Four centuries ago, John van Linschoten (1563-1611) wrote about the beautiful birds of Paradise (God’s birds) during his voyage to the East Indies. He wrote, “. . . no one has seen these birds alive, for they live in the air, always turning towards the sun, and never alighting on the Earth till they die.” The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russell Wallace, 1869

The quote was referenced in The Malay Archipelago, the land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise by Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). The Malay Archipelago is the chain of 25,000 islands (archipelago) located between mainland Southeastern Asia and Australia; situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Wallace was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist. He had been studying some of Linschoten's writings when he came upon his findings of the paradise birds. 

The quote struck me as the perfect metaphor for this story. We are God's birds in search of the one thing in this life that really matters--love. We need people in our lives and we need to be loved. Ironically, our need to be loved is the same need that causes us to remain loveless. In our search to be loved, it is only when love is given that we ultimately find the love we are looking to receive. Even The Beatles understood this truth--or at least Paul McCartney understood it. The last song recorded collectively by all four of The Beatles was The End. The writer, McCartney, wrote the line: "And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give." Lennon called it, "...a very cosmic, philosophical line."

We live in a relational world. We can't live without others. Numerous studies have been conducted on the effects of solitary confinement. In the beginning there is simple loneliness. Then as time progresses, there is a slowing down, losing the ability to initiate behavior or organize around any kind of purpose. One might begin to hallucinate, becoming unable to think logically, followed by irrational anger and obsessing on trivial things. Ultimately, full-blown psychosis.

As described by Linschoten, one would have to assume that the paradise bird was lost. You would think that the paradise bird would know how to find Paradise. But according to Linschoten, instead of finding paradise, the bird wandered through the sky, always searching with no clear understanding of what exactly he is looking for, or how to find it; always turning toward the sun (following the setting sun into tomorrow, hoping to one day find paradise), until ultimately dying in flight.

Here is the real story of the paradise birds. Linschoten, a Dutch Protestant merchant, traveler, and historian, made his observation of the birds of Paradise after finding them dead without their legs. Carolus Linnaeus jokingly named the birds of paradise the "legless bird-of-paradise". The real reason for no legs was that the early trade-skins prepared for delivery to Europe were prepared without feet by the natives. This gave way to the misconception that the birds were visitors from Paradise (Heaven), kept aloft by their plumes and never touched the earth till death. Linnaeus wrote The Bird Of Paradise (found after his death). In this poem he mentions claims made by Linschoten: "The Dutch explorer, Van Linschoten, has made extravagant claims: ...that having no feet this bird cannot roost, so lives only in the ether of heaven, perpetually on the wing... it drinks directly form clouds, catches high blown insects from the air... and the only time it ever comes to earth is when it dies..."

Yogi Berra said it best: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."

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Background Info:

Most of the best writing comes from the subconscious and most first stories come from the writer's personal experiences. This story is not an autobiography of my life--or anything close to it--but is instead, what I like to call, a mirror image (reverse image) of what my life could have possibly been like if I had not married my wife, when I did.

In many ways it was a humbling experience to allow my subconscious to entertain the "what ifs" while writing this story. The pains of my characters became my songs of praise, for I know: "There but for the grace of God go I".

However, there are some very close similarities in the story to my own life: I did grow up in the Deep South: Alabama; my wife and I were high school sweethearts and she did surprise me by breaking up with me only weeks before we headed off to separate colleges--I later learned that her mother encouraged her not to be "tied down" while in college; I was an Air Force pilot instead of a Navy pilot and came very close to attending the Air Force Academy (not the Naval Academy); my favorite jelly is Mayhaw jelly; I did attend pilot training for the airlines in Dallas; I did layover in New York on numerous occasions and enjoyed the places referenced in the story; I moved my mother from Dothan to Nashville to live with me in 1989; My mother died in October 2009 while living in my house for the previous six years (Ryan moved his mother from Atlanta to Dallas to live with him after she grew ill); I often go sailing in Newport Harbor with a good friend; and I do relate to Rex and his visit to see Dr. Stickler. For me, the story is more of a what might have happened if... Thank you Sue Marie; thank you God.

During my twenty-one years with the airlines, I listened to the life stories of many pilots and flight attendants. Many of these stories inspired me to weave the story in the direction that I did--some serious, some sad, and others humorous. Candi, the flight attendant that works the trip from Dallas to Orange County with Keri, represents more than one personality from my past. The scene where Keri surprises Rex on the jet bridge actually happened to one of our pilots. Emily's issues with money management are common to many--not only airline types.

Although this is a story of fiction--none of the events are true, nor do the characters represent real people--it is a reflection of life. I do not condone the bad behavior of my characters, but do believe their behavior is necessary to bring attention to how painful life can be when we must face the consequences associated with bad choices. Having said that, it is also a story that emphasizes forgiveness. We are guaranteed that this life will be filled with trouble and heartache, and the righteous among us are quick to judge those that stumble. I chose to allow my characters the freedom to live as we live and hurt as we hurt. If only one person is spared the pain of what my characters experience, it will have been worth it. Better to have lived life through the regrets of a fictional character than to have lived those regrets yourself.

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Story Timeline:

Chapters 1-4: June 23, 1974 (Nine years earlier)

Chapters 5-7: Friday, May 13-27, 1983

Chapters 8-11: Saturday, May 28, 1983

Chapters 12-17: Saturday, December 22, 1983 (Six months later)

Chapters 18-23: December 29, 1983 & June 16, 1984

Chapters 24-27: June 23, 1983

Chapters 28-37: August to April 1985

Chapters 38-46: April 1986 (One year later)

Chapters 47-54: April 1986 to April 1987

Chapters 55-65: April 1987

Chapters 66-70: April 1987 to July 1987

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Story Settings: 

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Story Characters:

The key characters in "Flight to Paradise" are: Keri Hart, Ryan Mitchell, Rex Dean, and Emily Anderson.

When the story starts, Keri (18) is preparing for her last date with Ryan (her high school sweetheart) before he leaves for the United States Navel Academy. Little does he know, she is faced with the toughest decision of her life.

When chapter five begins, the story advances nine years. Keri (27) and Ryan have completed college; Keri is a Miami-based flight attendant and Ryan is a Navy pilot based near San Diego. Ryan is nearing the end of his service commitment and plans to accept a job with an airline.

Rex Dean meets Ryan while in the Navy. Rex and Ryan share a condo in Del Mar, an up-scale beach community north of San Diego. They are both Navy pilots based at nearby Miramar Naval Air Station--Top Gun headquarters. The only way two Navy pilots can afford a Del Mar condo is due to the fact that Rex comes from money.

Rex Dean was raised in the wealthy seaside resort community of La Jolla, CA. The blond-haired surfer dude considers himself God's gift to women. Ryan is his much needed social wingman, as one of the guidelines of "Rexology" states: women run in pairs. Rex needs the socially handicapped Mitchell to pick up the #2 female.

The beautiful Emily Anderson is a Southern California girl who is every man's dream, but in reality, every man's nightmare.

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Did You Know:

The character, Kate from Iowa, gets her name from Kate Morgan, the resident ghost at The Del Coronado Hotel. (click to see more on Kate Morgan)

The Watford Hotel & Resort in Laguna Nigel was named after my mother's maiden name "Watford".

Ryan Mitchell shares the same last name as Lt. Pete Mitchell ("Maverick"), in the movie Top Gun.

Martha Mitchell was inspired by my mother, Martha Watford Coe. My mother was always a close friend to my wife while we dated in high school, just as Martha Mitchell was to Keri Hart, Ryan Mitchell's high school sweetheart.

Rex's last name is the same as my middle name: Michael Dean Coe.

Philip Darby is named after my father-in-law, Philip Shealy.

Little David was named after my son, David Coe.

Emily and Kate graduated from San Diego State University, as did my daughter.

A nanny in the book is named after my sister-in-law, Sara Innes.

My wife and I graduated from high school in 1973, the year before Keri and Ryan.

The number that Emily gives Ryan while at the beach is in real life the number for the San Diego Zoo.

Ryan went to a budget counselor. Mike Coe has been a personal financial budget counselor for the past 20 years. (click to see more Financial Freedom)

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Many themes surface after a story has been written and in some cases after the author is dead. All of Herman Melville's books were out of print fifteen years before his death, after having nominal success as a writer. However, Moby-Dick (first published in 1851) has since been considered one of the greatest literary works of all time, often referred to as "The Great American Novel" and is considered one of the treasures of world literature--much because of its numerous complex themes.

One of the main themes of Flight to Paradise is that love must be given before the heart can be fully satisfied. This is best seen through Ronald Hart, Keri's father. Ronald loved his daughter and wanted her to be happy. Even when she disowned him as a father over a misunderstanding, he dedicated much of his time, money, and energy assuring her happiness. While on his death bed, he made sure that his associate, Philip Darby, had taken care of every detail.

Martha Mitchell did all she could to encourage Ryan and Keri in their love for each other. While living in near poverty, she was self-less, putting the needs of others first. Characters that exemplify the direct opposite would be Barbara Ann Hart (Keri's mother), Rex Dean, and Emily Anderson.

Other themes include: Choices have consequences--good and bad; life is hard enough without making bad choices; choose your friends wisely by becoming an excellent judge of character; girls who don't have healthy relationships with their fathers often have difficulty relating to all men (examples: Emily with Ryan); men are like dogs when it comes to sex--they are often mentally and morally blinded by the beauty of a woman; there is no wrong that can't be forgiven; the guidance and good intentions of a parent for their child is a powerful tool and must be managed carefully (Barbara Ann was a manipulator; Martha Mitchell was an encourager).

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Biblical Proportions: I used a broad brush while painting the picture of moral weakness in this story. In an attempt to present an honest view of the human experience--the place where we all live--I gave the characters full run of their personalities and convictions. I have seen enough of life to know that as hard as we try, we are destined to falter; it's what we do after we falter that counts. We live in a broken world and are constantly faced with the unexpected.  What often appears to destroy us is what eventually defines us and takes us to a better place.

I was inspired by one of the most popular and familiar Biblical examples of moral failure ever written. It is a story of grace, forgiveness, restoration, and hope. For those who have experienced moral failure, divorce, or other such life experience, it is this message of hope, healing, and restoration that reminds us that God's agenda is not to crush us under his feet after we fall, but to heal us and restore us to a healthy loving relationship with Him.

David and Bathsheba: "The following spring, the time of year when kings go to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites. In the process they laid siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem. Late one afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful (LUST). He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, 'She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.' Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her (ADULTERY). Then she returned home. Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent a message to inform David. So David sent word to Joab: 'Send me Uriah the Hittite