Robert Matzen Benjamin Franklin Award

2D to 3D

I have nothing profound to say today.

Ooh, I just heard about a hundred clicks as people flew off this page.

The time between book releases is quiet, and a lot happens within the confines of an office surrounded by government documents and original photos and published works like biographies and military histories. At the moment there’s a stack of file folders related to the Eighth Air Force a foot high beside my chair, and another pile half that high next to it.

A funny thing happened about three weeks ago. I was researching a bombing mission by Capt. James Stewart’s squadron over Frankfurt, Germany, and all of a sudden the project went from 2D to 3D. From black and white to color. From mono to six-speaker surround. It happened when a character I didn’t know would be in the book jumped out from the shadows of history and said boo to me. A woman I had never heard of but realized would be a friend by the time this book is finished. Granted she’s been dead 71 years, but we’ll be friends just the same, just like I’m friends with Alice Getz and Wayne Williams. They’re real to me, flesh and blood, thoughts and dreams, cologne and perspiration. Now, I have to learn all about this German woman, track her down in a language I don’t speak (sorry Miss Diamond, but your two years of trying to teach me German in high school were for naught … kaput) in places I haven’t yet seen.

I’ve said more than once that a couple years ago I’d be sitting here writing Fireball all alone for months on end thinking, who the heck is going to care about a movie star dead for 70 years? What if nobody cares? But I don’t have any such concerns rattling around in my head this time. I’ve got an epic story to tell, a story as big as Europe and 30,000 feet tall. But just like in Fireball it all comes down to molecules of human beings; who they were, where they were placed, how they acted and reacted in good times, bad times, and the worst times. If I do it right, then you’re riding along in the airplane with engine number 3 on fire or you’re on the ground under 1,000 bombers screaming to yourself, I can’t stand this! I’m going to die!

It’s strange looking at an outcome like that when it’s still two years away, with so much research dead ahead, trips to libraries and interviews of experts. In between each trip and each interview, I’ll be sitting here in the smoke of battle, writing.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

As the final validation that people would care about the movie star dead 70 years, Fireball won the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for biography of the year at ceremonies in Austin, Texas, on Friday night. It was agony not being there because of a scheduling conflict, but all was well because my friend of 30 years Carole Sampeck stepped in and represented author and book beautifully, accepted the crystal statuette, expressed my appreciation and my regrets about not being there in person, and stood for photos better than I ever could have. Ms. Sampeck—a leading expert on Carole Lombard and her place in Hollywood history—played a crucial role in the development of Fireball, so it was fitting that she experienced this payoff and heard the heartfelt cheers of those in attendance. I am certain of 22 attendees, my friends from Flight 3 whose stories were told in Fireball. Mary Johnson was there too, the 23rd passenger who left the plane in Albuquerque. They will always be my friends, very close at hand, and I am thrilled to see them get a moment to stand there with Carole Sampeck and enjoy the spotlight of an Austin Friday evening.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Carole Sampeck after accepting the Benjamin Franklin Award in Austin, Texas last Friday evening, April 10.