As a young man, Philip Donlay's life was shaped by two distinct events. At the age of seventeen, he earned his pilot's license, and at eighteen was published in a national aviation magazine. The combination of these two passions: flying and writing, has led to successful careers as both a professional pilot and novelist.
He's been a flight instructor, flown a private jet for a Saudi prince, and for twenty-eight years flew a corporate jet for a Fortune 500 company. Licensed to fly six different jets and having logged nearly 14,000 hours, his travels have taken him to over forty countries on five continents. No longer flying, Donlay now divides his time between Montana and the Pacific Northwest. He's the bestselling author of six novels, Category Five, Code Black, Zero Separation, Deadly Echoes, Aftershock, Pegasus Down and his latest: Seconds to Midnight.
As do all writers, we start out as readers, and most of us have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books in our lifetime. My answers surprised me in that it only took me a few minutes to pick the top ten, but far longer to reduce it down to five- painful even. The common denominator is that I'd read each of these books as an impressionable young man growing up in Kansas where books and airplanes were my escape from the stark landscape of my youth. To some extent, each of these books still influences me today as either as a writer or a person. Here goes:
Hardy Boys, Franklin W. Dixon. (Dixon is not a real person, initial series of books were written by several authors.) These were probably some of the first books I read as a boy. I truly loved the formula. Frank, Joe, their Father, their best friend Chet and the smallest thread the boys would pull until an entire mystery unraveled and the criminals were exposed. Each new book was like settling down with old friends. I read them over and over. I feel like there's a little Frank and Joe in almost every mystery/thriller written.
When the Lion Feeds, Wilbur Smith. I can still remember reading this book as a teenager. The riveting opening scene set up decades of conflict between the main characters. Smith took me on a journey through Africa that was filled with wonder, tragedy, adversity and triumph. I think what I took away from Smith, and his flawed but compelling characters, the Courtney family, is that despite great adversity, hope never dies.
Illusions, Richard Bach. A small book filled with expansive thinking. The messiah quit his day job and was barnstorming his way across rural America. It's a hell of a hook, and Bach delivered. I read this book every now and then and some of the passages still resonate today.
Raise the Titanic, Clive Cussler. If Cussler taught me anything as a writer, it's to either go big or go home. Cussler pulled me into his story and kept me entranced well into the night. I followed Dirk Pitt and his entourage, and together we raised the Titanic. (At the time this book was written, the location of the Titanic was still a mystery) Cussler showed me that if you know your stuff, and write in a way that is educational, yet make the technology part of the suspense, a writer can make anything believable. He was right.
Hostage to Fortune, Ernest K Gann. This book changed my life. I was already a licensed pilot, and my first magazine article had been published. I was still a young man, a rookie in every sense of the word, and Ernest K Gann was the master. Hostage to Fortune was his autobiography. It was his story of being a professional pilot and writing fiction about those heady days of flying when modern commercial aviation was new. He took me inside his life, and showed me a world I knew very little about. Yet from those pages, I took away the rough blueprint for my life. Fly, then write, repeat as necessary. Thanks Ernie.