Subject: I have earned my Black Wings!
Dear Capt. Jabs, USNR
We met in April when you presented Black Wings on the W & M campus for the Christopher Wren Association. I just finished your book, which is the meaning of the above subject line.
As soon as I finish this email I plan to lateral Black Wings to my wife. She has served as a civilian at the National Security Agency for nearly 40 years (that is where we met) and has an abiding interest in things intelligence, military and related inside-the-beltway stuff. She once played a key role in the deception game, and provided special support to our submarine fleet during the Cold War. (If I sound overly proud of her, well, we were colleagues LONG before we were married. We re-met during retirement.)
You kindly autographed my copy, and ended with “Go Navy!” Well. For the last 20 years or so I have been a member of the Officer and Faculty Club (they just changed the name of it, darn) at . . . the USNA. I have lived in the shadow of the USNA for many years and we love Annapolis. Why we moved to W-burg for our “Fourth Trimester” is another story. AND, we both just joined the Navy League. Please don’t tell any of my old AF foxhole buddies.
Where to start? I enjoyed the read so much that I rationed myself to a certain number of pages per night so I wouldn’t finish it too fast. Your ending left you wide open for a sequel, and I have fingers crossed that the world has not heard the last of Bridget. Like you, I labored for ten years on my first novel, so my level of empathy is off the charts. Black Wings reads like a work that has been buffed and polished to a rich patina. I particularly enjoyed your style. It never got in the way of a most fetching yarn.
I suspect that a few readers would conclude that this is a woman’s novel about women. I would not be among that group. I am an AFROTC product-the Air Force didn’t have an academy until the start of my junior year, and then it was populated by Army and Navy academy people the first couple years. So I was intrigued to read all the neat details about life in the USNA, obviously not camouflaged to eliminate the angular aspects. One can speculate that it is even harder now to be a female academy student-especially in the USAF.
You wove a great mystery, Kathleen. The two female leads were solid mavericks and always one step away from disaster . . . until Audrey bought the farm. Then Bridget was only a half step away from it. You built tension slowly, carefully, methodically.
I believe you handled relationship stuff exceptionally well. The argument (after graduation) between best friends was so palpably realistic I found my stomach clenched as I read that passage. I happen to be a serious devotee of the notion that character names are especially important. Where in the world did you come up with Fangmeyer? So ugly I loved it. But chewing tobacco? You just HAD to have encountered some senior officer who did that, although I found that the one aspect of your book that felt incredible. I never saw that in 4 yrs ROTC + 30 as an officer. Even during my year in Nam. Still, it was a grabber, even if it uglied up a few scenes, it worked to prove you were not willing to repaint a scene just to make it Navy nice.
You did a good job weaving through the minefields of sex on campus. In my novels I’ve confronted the issue of how much/how much detail. I started with too much, did lots of editing, and ended with a more balanced final product. In a few places I think you achieved your goal by implication rather than heavy breathing-a fine art.
Did I mention (in all this sprawl) that your book cover was superior? It was. Did you have any input to it, or did Fuze just direct one of its artists to the task? It took several days before my old eyes found the face under water. How cool was that.
Before this becomes a prologue instead of an email, let me close. If I could ever be of help to you, I’m yours to command (to use an ancient cliché). That might look like helping with a book signing in W-burg, joining a blog, even critiquing a passage in your next manuscript. (I have been in three critique groups spanning quite a few years.) I hope we can at least indulge in a dialogue about writing within the limits of your busy schedule.
Onward and upward.