A Major Mistake


When I’d finally done enough background reading, primary source research, interviewing, and thinking about the CNAC story of the 1930s and had definitely decided that part of the airline’s story merited much more substantial treatment than I’d originally envisioned (a process which took about 18 months), I decided to try and tell William Bond’s and Moon Chin’s stories together, imagining a parallel biography with Bond’s point of view carrying the larger “strategic” story of the airline and Moon’s painting a picture of what it was like to fly in China in the 1930s and 40s.

It proved a major mistake. I ended up with a colossally long manuscript, whose pace dragged as the narrative bounced back and forth between the two men. There were too many transitions, and the story was too slow.  It wasn’t as exciting as I knew it should be. And HAD to be, if the book were to be a success. Moon’s anecdotes, and the anecdotes of many of the other characters in the CNAC universe (men like Ernie Allison, Chuck Sharp, Hugh Woods, Chilie Vaughn, and Bill MacDonald, whom I’ll introduce in coming weeks), while fascinating and exciting, didn’t move the story forward fast enough. They sapped China’s Wings narrative drive. I had to commit to one main character, and however much I’d fallen in love with Moon Chin and his amazing life, the needs of the narrative required that man to be William Bond.

In retrospect, I should have recognized much earlier in the writing process that I was having to work too hard to fit it all together.

However, I felt compelled to see everything “whole” before I could decide what to cut, and so I wrote out every conceivable anecdote and wove them into a very awkward narrative. I knew I was going on too long, I just couldn’t bear to omit things until I’d seen it complete. Looking back, I’m glad that I made that effort, because it gave me confidence in the trimming decisions I’ve made, but that original manuscript was probably 100,000 words too long, and probably cost me close to TWO YEARS of extra work.

China’s Wings final manuscript cleaves to William Bond’s point of view, he’s definitely the book’s main character. I’ve included stories from the supporting players only when they intersect the overarching narrative. And making those cuts was some of the hardest literary work I’ve ever done, because I truly love the excised stories. Taken as isolated pieces, they’re some of the best writing I’ve ever done, and I suspect most of them will find their way into this website in the coming months. Moon Chin’s stories that I’ve chosen to keep – principally his epic and courageous roles in the evacuations of Hankow (October, 1938) and Hong Kong (December, 1941) – are places where his experiences propel the airline’s larger drama.

And they’re two of my favorite stories in the whole book.

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2 Responses to A Major Mistake

  1. Jon Clay says:

    Just making sure that between fb and this web site I don’t miss these “2 favorite stories” when they come out. If there is a way to get notified from this site when you update let me know how.

    • Gregory says:

      Thanks for checking in, Jon. I usually also post to FB when I update here, although I clearly need to figure out how to install one of those RSS feeds on this thing. Such things stretch the limits of my understanding, I’m afraid.

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