Write Now with Paco Chierici

How a fighter pilot and novelist broke the news of Navy pilots encountering UFOs

Write Now with Paco Chierici
Photo courtesy of Paco Chierici

Who Are You?

My name is Paco Chierici. I have been writing all my life, but I was also a fighter pilot in the US Navy for twenty years. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and feed my family as a commercial pilot.

What Do You Write?

I write fiction and non-fiction, however thrillers are my passion. I love to share with others the unique world I lived in for so long, taking the real-life drama of naval aviation and creating exciting stories centered around the characters.

I have written articles for a variety of US and international publications. I was also the editor for the online aviation magazine Fighter Sweep, where I broke the story of Navy pilots encountering UFOs.

Photo Courtesy of Paco Chierici

Whether a non-fiction article or a thriller, my objective is to make the experience as personal as possible. The world I write about is Naval Aviation, but my goal is not to glorify the hardware or overwhelm with international intrigue. I am fascinated with telling the story of the people sitting in the cockpits and how they react when subjected to the pressures of their profession and the tectonic geopolitical forces.

I’ve been thinking in prose as long as I can remember. I wrote my first short stories as an adolescent. I was the public affairs officer for my first squadron, writing articles for the base newspaper. Since I left the Navy I’ve had time to commit to serious writing. I’ve written several screenplays, one of which led — in a roundabout way — to producing a documentary about two young Naval Aviators, called Speed and Angels. That was a fantastic experience, but my true obsession is creating fiction and I’m particularly excited about my latest novel, Lions of the Sky.

Where Do You Write?

About half the month I travel for work, laying over in a different city every night of a three- or four-day trip. I bring an iPad pro with an external keyboard on the road and I enjoy both writing in my hotel room and clacking away in a coffee shop or restaurant. At home I work mostly in my office with a laptop connected to a large monitor. Occasionally I’ll need a change of scenery and take the laptop to the back yard or a café.

Since I have lots of writing locations and machines, I am extremely diligent when it comes to saving files. I use Word to write, and the cloud to store the files so they can be accessed from any location or device.

I love the romance of jotting gems into a notebook, but the reality is that I send myself emails constantly with ideas that need to be transcribed into my master document. I do a ton of research and save the web pages in a favorites folder. As I’m writing at home, the manuscript will be open on the big monitor and the research pages and maps will be open on the smaller laptop screen.

In my office I also have two whiteboards where I jot down big-picture themes, character names, and whatever other information I need to remind myself of. The white boards are a carryover from my life as a fighter pilot. We spent much time briefing and debriefing, meticulously marking up the boards with color specific depictions of the dogfights. When I conceptualize my aerial sequences I still feel most comfortable scribing them on the whiteboards in red and blue marker before describing them on the page. As I write those scenes, I’ll often glance at the whiteboard to ensure I stay consistent.

When Do You Write?

I am not a morning person by nature but writing first thing after I wake is when I get my best work done. My itinerant work schedule doesn’t lend itself to a strict regimen. Sometimes I will fly all night then sleep till noon. When I drag myself out of bed I’ll shower (can’t do anything before a shower), have a cup of coffee and work till I need to eat.

I’ve discovered that I can edit anytime of the day, but clean page writing needs to be done first thing. I’ve also learned that if I turn on my phone or glance at my email before I begin to write, the day is almost always unrecoverable.

I tend to read over the last few pages before I begin so I can get into the flow. I don’t have a time or a word limit, but I do have teenage children. I’ll write until family or flying duties drag me away. Infrequently I’ll have six to eight hours to myself, other times as little as an hour.

Photo Courtesy of Paco Chierici

Why Do You Write?

I joke with my friends that I write because I can’t not write. There are so many moments of despair when crafting a story that it can seem self-flagellating. But I have always loved the beauty of expressing something through the written word; there is no relationship between storyteller and audience more intimate. A well written book gives the impression the reader is receiving the story directly from the author, one to one. Delighting and surprising the reader, pulling him or her into the story so that they feel as if they are there with the characters is my goal. I seek to draw them into my world with me, to immerse them and make them feel as if they are also living through what the characters are.

When I sit to write, I first visualize the scene in an almost cinematic way. I can imagine it from a thousand vantagepoints, then select how I’d like to navigate the scene to provide the most impact. Better than any filmmaker, though, I have the advantage of using characters as my cameras, complete with their thoughts.

How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

The most difficult part of writing for me is beginning something new. Not because I struggle for ideas and story, but because I’m coming off a highly polished completed product and staring at a shapeless lump of clay. My first drafts suck so badly they intimidate and depress me. Knowing the amount of editing and reshaping required to make the lifeless collection of words that initially come off my fingertips presentable is enough to make me clean out any number of garages and audio/visual closets. But the story rattles around my head and I fall in love with the characters and their predicaments. Scenes will repeatedly flash through my subconscious demanding attention. Eventually I jot down a few notes, then hammer out that first hideous chapter, cringing the whole time. The next morning, I freshen the previous pages up a bit, swallowing the bile, and begin the next chapter. At some point, I stop hating it and actually begin to think it should eventually see the light of day.

Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?

I’m a pilot through and through. Though I no longer fly jets in the military, I have an old Soviet aerobatic airplane that I fly on weekends. It’s called a Yak-50 and it’s a complete throwback. It is a tail-wheeled plane with an old style radial engine and no-frills rudimentary instrumentation. But it is ridiculously maneuverable and a complete blast to fly. The other pilots I fly with are a peculiar bunch, we all have the same type of Yaks and the only recreational flying we truly enjoy is dogfighting.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!