by Rick Bretz
The recent passing of the legendary author Tom Wolfe caused a reflection on why I write this blog. I am a fan of many authors, one being David McCullough. Two other writers have influenced me and given me the inspiration to keep on writing. They are Frank DeFord, the sports writer who wrote about many topics for Sports Illustrated as well as authoring books. The other writer is Tom Wolfe, who wrote a page turner for all time.
A friend first introduced me to Tom Wolfe’s writing style in 1981. she said that if you want to read terrific writing pick up the book “The Right Stuff.” The book is an insightful look at the Air Force test pilot fraternity in the late 1940s and 1950s as well as the birth of NASA’s astronaut selection and training program. Hollywood made a movie out of the book later in the 1980s. Before getting into those topics, Wolfe introduces the reader to a name, Chuck Yeager, the pilot that has the best “Right Stuff” of all test pilots.
The book opened my eyes to a different kind of writing style. He pioneered the style of “New Journalism”, using non-fiction narrative techniques to fill the story for the reader. He may not have been in the room or inside someone’s mind but gave the reader a good idea of what it might have been like. His writing style delivered dynamic prose in a descriptive style that was entertaining and informative. Here’s an example of his style:
“Well … things are beginning to stack up a little,” said Gordo. It was the same old sod-hut drawl. He sounded like the airline pilot who, having just slipped two seemingly certain mid-air collisions and finding himself in the midst of a radar fuse-out and control-tower dysarthria, says over the intercom: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be busy up here in the cockpit making our final approach into Pittsburgh, and so we want to take this opportunity to thank you for flying American and we hope we’ll see you again real soon.” It was second-generation Yeager, now coming from earth orbit. Cooper was having a good time. He knew everybody was in a sweat down below. But this was what he and the boys had wanted all along, wasn’t it?”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
The direct quote, “Well … things are beginning to stack up a little,” many of us have heard a number of times on Astronaut documentaries. But this was written before all of those documentaries hit cable television. He took the quote and absolutely blasted it out of the park relating it to the original man on the top of the Pyramid, General Chuck Yeager. In the book he talks about the Pyramid and his chapter on Naval Aviator pilot training is a thing of beauty.
“A persistent case of the bingos was enough to wash a man out of night carrier landings. That did not mean you were finished as a Navy pilot. It merely meant that you were finished so far as carrier ops were concerned, which meant that you were finished so far as combat was concerned, which meant you were no longer in the competition, no longer ascending the pyramid, no longer qualified for the company of those with the right stuff.”
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
I read “The Right Stuff” three times in the span of two years. The first time to enjoy it as a great read. The second time to analyze the writing style and the third time so I could analyze the word choices he made and how each sentence flowed into another. His writing style demonstrated what was possible for me when writing my own articles for newspapers and magazines. I’ve won a few writing awards through the years and the reason I still write posts for this blog is due to the craft of great authors like Tom Wolfe. I may never get as descriptive and smooth as my favorite authors but I like like trying
Tom Wolfe wrote many other books, among them being “Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” equally as well received. He also authored several magazine articles. But for me, “The Right Stuff” kept me writing and forced me to constantly seek the perfect sentence, paragraph and more. I am just one of many he influenced. Tom Wolfe left us on May 14, 2018. He left leaving the literary world his wordsmith genius and the golden treasure of his work