The Stories That Stay With You
When comparing headline news vs. something like Lord of the Rings, one is real and the other is a work of fantasy. And even though Lord of the Rings makes the audience feel good, the news reminds us that life is hard, tragedies are real, and every night there are more bad things happening.
But Tim Keller shares how J.R.R Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) used to argue that fantasy tales were actually more realistic. Tolkien believed these stories pointed to deeper truths about love, about good triumphing over evil, and light overcoming darkness. Keller goes on to say why LOTR (or Star Wars or superhero movies) are always so popular is because, deep down, audiences believe (or hope to believe) good wins in the end.
It's a nice thought... but is it realistic? Especially after years like 2020 and 2021, it's difficult to hold onto such an optimistic viewpoint. For millions who've entered a shadow of loss, it feels like the real world and the fantasy world are lightyears apart.
But every now and then, you run into a story that bridges the gap between these two worlds. A story that starts with a real-life tragedy and ends with a heroic triumph like something you'd read in a fantasy story. Our upcoming Long Overdue book, "Safe Landing: A Family's Journey Following the Crash of American Airlines Flight 191" is one of these stories.
American Airlines Flight 191
On this date, 42 years ago (May 25th, 1979), Kim Jockl, Jim Borchers, and Melody Smith received the worst news of their lives. The footage playing on the TV showed a field outside of O'Hare and a giant cloud of smoke. What began as a Chicago tragedy slowly turned into a personal one. In a few hours of panic, confusion, and uncertainty, Kim, Jim, and Melody found out their parents, Bill and Corrine, were two of the passengers who lost their lives on Flight 191.
I was starting to write out everything Kim, Jim, and Melody went through and how they rallied together as a family over these last five decades, but this story is meant to be told as a full book, not a couple paragraphs in a newsletter. I also don't want to give away anything that happens in the book. It's best to experience their story with surprise and awe.
So what I'd like to do, instead, is share one aspect about the book, talk about how this book came together, share what's happening next with the publishing process and how you can support the authors over the next few months.
A Letter From Mom
Melody (the oldest sibling) received a letter from her mom in January of 1979. This was in honor of Melody's 32nd birthday and was just four months before the flight.
Melody's mom, aka Grandma Nudy, didn't normally write long letters and she never wrote or said things like "after I'm gone." This letter took on new meaning after the flight and Melody still turns to it for inspiration as she carries the torch leading the family, a transition that happened much sooner than she ever expected.
The book is full of moments like this where it feels like their parents are reaching through time and space to help them through the grieving process. There's this deep emphasis on family, gathering everyone together for the "Red Letter Days." Kim carries one of her mom's hankies and her dad's bowties in her pocket at weddings, funerals or the family Red Letter Days, symbolizing their presence and providing a spiritual connection. Their parents continue to be a major driving force in their adult lives.
And it goes beyond their parents. There's this moment at the memorial dedication, 32 years after the crash, when these big gusts of winds rush over the event. Here's how Kim describes it:
The wind was swirling and increasing throughout the morning, as if the spirits of Flight 191 were gathering. They were letting their presence be known.
Back to the headline news vs. fantasy way of looking at things, the more I read this book, the more the authors' mystical way of seeing the world became contagious. I started to reflect on how many seemingly random things had to happen for Long Overdue to even cross paths with Kim, Jim, and Melody. I'll run through 'em real quick:
I met my wife, Ashley, at Hope College. She's from Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
We moved to Chicago. A few years later I meet Kimberly, Omar, Sam, and Dan at Jellyvision who help launch Long Overdue. Amanda and Harry help me believe this idea's worth going after.
I also met Michele Popadich at Jellyvision and then Lauren Silverman in a writing class at Second City. Both are incredible editors.
Ashley surprises me on my 30th birthday with a GoFundMe for Long Overdue.
Get the website up and running. Annie Leue, an awesome book designer in Chicago, finds the Long Overdue Books website, joins our growing little team.
Then Bev Ottaviano of the Barrington Writer's Workshop connects me with her friend, Kim, who's working on a book with her brother and sister about Flight 191. They meet every Thursday to work on their book. I drive over to meet with them and a few months later, Michele and Lauren are reading through the manuscript giving helpful notes. And now Annie's getting ready to put the physical book together. We're making 10 hardcover copies for their family first and then, hopefully, by late fall we'll release another version for the public. We'll throw a release party at Jim's bar, located in Printer's Row Chicago, with the perfect writing name: First Draft.
The rational way of looking at all those little events and connections is just a string of coincidences. We can connect any set of dots once we know the picture we're trying to create. But I don't know. The rational outlook, now, seems pretty boring to me.
Instead, I feel like their recovery story is destined to be told and our paths lining up wasn't by chance. I love this book and believe it will serve as a major source of inspiration -- not only for Kim, Jim, and Melody's family for generations to come -- but for everyone connected to this flight. And beyond that, anyone who's going through a difficult season of loss, this is an incredibly moving story of three people who never gave up and kept fighting to keep their family together, despite unimaginable loss.
All of the healing doesn't erase the tragedy that happened 42 years ago. That will always be true. But it's also true that the tragedy couldn't erase the love of a family. And it couldn't separate the connection between two parents and their children. In the end, tragedy gets a big word, but it never gets the final word. Darkness never overcomes the light.
And so, this real-life story, one that started with smoke and a field on the news, winds its way back to that old "fantasy" world of J.R.R Tolkien and Lord of the Rings.
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.”
As mentioned earlier, we'll be making copies for the family first and then we'll begin the process of making a version available for everyone. If you'd like to stay in the loop with updates or do kind of a pre-order to an actual pre-order, please fill out this form. More updates coming over the next few months!
Keeping Up With Long Overdue
The best place to keep up with all things Long Overdue is via our monthly newsletter. And our Instagram page.
Also, the website - Long Overdue Books. The one-sentence summary: Long Overdue Books is a community for creating books. It's a place for authors, editors, artists, and designers to come together and move stories from rough draft to finished work.
Next newsletter will be toward the end of June. In the mean time, any questions, ideas, stories to tell, you can reach Cal the Librarian at - firstname.lastname@example.org