In Issue 15 of Apeiron Review, we featured “In Flight” by Henry Dane, the tale of a young boy who is forced to live with his cold, no-frills uncle after a fatal car accident. The two eventually move to Colorado in order to build a flying machine as a condition of a special inheritance, and we see how a family’s fascination with flight leads uncle and nephew down different paths.
I recently spoke with Henry Dane about “In Flight.”
Before we begin, tell me about yourself, a little beyond what’s included in your bio.
I was that kid in school who could draw. I wound up going to art school and worked as an illustrator for several years. I loved to read, and at some point I realized words also had the power to create visual images, along with ideas, characters, and stories. This made me want to write more than draw.
Did anything in particular inspire this story?
A dream about being able to fly and soaring around like a bird. Many of my stories, or chapters in them, come from my dreams. I try to write down the good ones when I wake up. Those stories fade away fast.
Now on a larger scale, does your writing have any special motivations or larger literary inspirations?
I enjoy characters with unusual abilities in situations that test and reveal identity. I like stories with surprising, satisfying, but not necessarily happy outcomes. I’m inspired by fiction of different genres and time periods, and I read a lot of it.
A big part of this story is the dichotomy between the boy and Uncle Luke. Luke is rough around the edges, he was a mechanic in Vietnam, and when he is hammering away on the big Byrd, his nephew can’t tell if he’s building or destroying. Meanwhile, the boy focuses more on the creative and fanciful side of flight. He is introverted and bookish, enjoying the art and beauty of flight. Ultimately it’s the boy who succeeds, while Uncle Luke quite literally crashes and burns.
Now the obvious message there is that imagination and appreciation win over a more mechanical approach, but is there more to the dichotomy than that?
I think Luke is bold and foolhardy, while the boy is, at least in the beginning, passive and meek. Luke throws himself into heroic adventures: fighting on a battlefield; travelling the world; raising a child as a single parent; searching for a job in a strange place; tackling the Byrd project. The boy is isolated, always “in flight,” and determined to survive. Considering his history, he’s been lucky. His unique skills are good instincts and a strong will.
Continuing on the split between the boy and Luke, I found Luke’s reminiscing about the Crystal Palace a peek into the wonder Luke must have felt for flight at one time. We see this again in the beginning when they first visit the Empire State Building.
Like his nephew, Luke harnesses a deep love for flight, but his love seems to have been tarnished at some point (possibly by Vietnam), and his jadedness seems to be what leads to his demise as he doesn’t have the same fancy for imagination that his nephew has. Would you care to comment on that?
Luke abandoned his dreams when responsibility dictated he take care of his nephew. The boy’s time comes, too, when he faces difficult choices. Luke had a tough, bitter life, and takes risks the boy would only dream of. At first, the boy’s flights of fancy are the only risks he takes, and they’re not risks at all. Later, he casts caution, and other things, to the wind.
Do you find Uncle Luke to almost be a tragic figure? Furthermore, was his zeal to work on the flying machine an attempt to reconnect with his lost innocence?
Luke’s desire to work on the machine is bound up in familial duty and the desire to reconnect with his father. But the Byrd is an infernal machine, and Luke is sucked into the doomed pursuit. The boy instinctively senses that when he first sees the photo.
Luke didn’t have to adopt his nephew and take care of him for so long. And he didn’t have to buy him the model Brontosaurus. Is there some love there, or more of a burdensome responsibility? After all, the Brontosaurus rings too familiar of the Crystal Palace, which is Luke’s tie to a more innocent time.
Luke adopted the boy out of honor and family duty, which are ingrained in his character. It’s a burden he accepts, though grudgingly. Luke tries to resurrect his own relationship with his father by giving that symbolic gift to his adopted son.
Let’s move onto the boy. He spends so much of the story alone, and there are some suicidal undertones to when he finally tests his grandfather’s harness. He burns down the home after the Byrd explodes, he runs away, and then jumps off the Empire State Building! Combined with the title “In Flight,” it becomes hard not to see signs that this story is about escape.
Faced with hardship, alienation, and tragic events, one might assume the boy would have suicidal impulses, and that’s the precept established for the denouement. But the boy’s actions demonstrate strong survival instincts. I hate spoilers, so I’ll just suggest you carefully re-read the ending of the story.
Granted, the boy clearly wants to get out of his lonely, lame situation, but on a deeper emotional sense, what would you say this story says about escape? Do you have a personal connection to really wanting to just get away from something?
The boy wanted to get out of his situation for a long time. It’s only toward the end of the story he takes steps. I’ve been in situations I didn’t like, from which I wanted to escape. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get out due to a change of circumstance; other times I extracted myself by taking action. Some of the best story characters are true agents of change in their own lives. In real life we aren’t always so brave.
I want to talk about the idea of “the fool.” There’s a strange duality to that; in one sense, a fool is foolish because they do stupid things. On the other hand, by throwing common sense to the wind and acting unconventionally, one can accomplish great things. My personal favorite example is, quite fittingly, The Wright Brothers.
Granted, there was plenty of study into aviation before they came along, but if someone told you over 120 years ago that two guys who built bikes for a living got tired of walking and decided to build a flying machine, you’d have thought they were a couple of stupid fools.
But then they actually did it.
As it relates to your story, what do you think about this idea?
As I write this, on Dec. 17, 2018, the 115th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first successful flight, I’d say Wilbur and Orville had some advantages: practical knowledge, daring, genius, timing, and luck. Luke had only the first two. The boy acts on instinct, a trait that served him pretty well.
I like how this piece features bookends; we start with the boy flying like a meat missile through a windshield, and then flying once more with his grandfather’s harness in a very similar, but more controlled manner. Tack on his more artistic understanding of things, and we feel the boy is more ingenious than we originally thought.
How do you feel this speaks to the ideas of innovation, indirect methods, and creativity? I think as writers we know that sometimes trying to chase something down can be counter-intuitive. Tell me what you think.
The boy’s wisdom and sense of irony is shown in his final application of the genius of flight technology (Da Vinci’s with his grandfather’s tweaks) and how he applies it. I need balance in creativity and focus to yield productivity. No matter what ideas lurk in my head, the story isn’t told until I plunk myself down at the keyboard and hammer out some words.
To wrap things up, would you like to discuss any other projects you are working on or would like to promote?
I have more than half a dozen short stories and a screenplay in search of venues. Also some novels in-progress. If and when they see light of day, I’ll tell the world on Twitter @HankDane.
Henry Dane is an Emmy Award-winning staff writer, producer, and editor at a Boston TV station. His independent films show at US and international festivals. His short stories have appeared in The Infinite Spectacle: Short Stories of Displaced Reality, Lighthouse Digest, Route One Magazine, and Thread.