Years ago, when I was a starving, young newspaper reporter, I decided to write a story on parachuting -- so that I could get my editor to foot the bill for the experience. The first sign that this might not have been the smartest move came during our pre-jump training class, when I felt an itch on my head and scratched it. (Turns out I had inadvertently fondled a yellow jacket, and it responded by peppering my right pinky and its adjoining digit with multiple stings.) As the redness and swelling rapidly advanced toward my wrist, we finished the class and suited up for the flight.
The parachuting school provided each of us with a spiffy looking white jump suit and a pair of black army boots. We wore these over our clothes, and I thought they made us look quite sharp. So, I thought, did the photographer who had tagged along to document my bravery, because he suddenly began snapping pictures at a furious pace. Later, I learned he had been memorializing a group of attractive, young co-eds, whose jumpsuits fit far more invitingly than mine.
Within no time, we were packed into a little prop plane which quickly rose to about 3,500 feet and began flying in a fixed pattern above our designated drop zone. Below, a patchwork of green, brown and gold postage stamps showed fields in various stages of pre-harvest splendor. As we crouched, awaiting our turn to jump, I learned an important fact about army boots: they hurt, especially when bent in a single position for prolonged periods. This fact became increasingly obvious to me with each passing moment, as the eleven other skydivers on board got the go-ahead to jump, while I waited for nearly an hour, groaning silently to myself. By now, however, the photographer had his camera trained on me, capturing every grimace and bead of sweat to cross my face.
When my turn finally came, I eagerly stepped up to the open door and latched my jump cord to the static line. I was happy to jump to escape any further foot pain. The sun was setting and long shadows now stretched across the jump zone. As I pushed away from the plane, curiosity got the better of me. Instead of keeping my arms spread wide and looking up at the departing vehicle, thereby remaining steady and 'belly down,' I glanced downward to see where I was going. I also pulled in my right arm. Those two actions caused me to spin like a top just before the parachute deployed. (I had just executed a perfect 'dangling telephone' maneuver, one of the many parachuting mistakes our instructor had warned us about.)
I quickly became the parachute equivalent of a phone receiver dangling at the end of a tightly twisted cord. Once the chute had fully deployed, the unwinding began. When it ended, I had no idea where to find the jump zone and its now obscured giant bull's eye. Fortunately, the trainer began shouting instructions at me over a megaphone, and I was able to successfully turn the chute in his direction. My chute had continued its descent all the while, and I no longer had enough altitude left to make it safely back. At the last moment, I realized this and pulled down on guide cords that stopped the parachute's advance in its tracks. That's how everything but me ended up foisted on a line of trees bordering the jump zone. (It made a great picture, me standing there with the chute draped over the tree behind me. Had I waited a bit longer, I would have been impaled on it, like a giant white marshmallow.) The experience, however fraught with danger, proved exhilarating.
I share this story with you now, because it approximates the experience of being an indie author in this digital age. We authors assemble our own planes, ride them up to 3,500 feet, suffer in uncomfortable, hawker's shoes, and eventually, take a mighty leap of faith. We learn as we go, fumbling along as we strive to avoid ending up impaled on the branches of obscurity. Take pity on us, and remember, we do it all in an effort to reach out to, and connect with, you.