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From Fighter Jets to Fiction: An Interview with George Tymitz, author of Key Number 17

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George Tymitz was born and raised in Chicago. While he attended the University of Illinois and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, he never spent a single day as an engineer. Instead, he spent forty-five happy, fulfilling years living his dream of flying—rather than designing—airplanes. As a United States Air Force pilot, he flew F4 Phantom and F15 Eagle fighter planes, followed by commercial passenger and freight aircraft with several airlines. Upon retirement in 2011, he started writing his first novel, Key Number 17: A Ukrainian Grandfather’s Odyssey of Courage, to honor his Ukrainian heritage through a fictional tale. It was published in 2023.

George and his wife Paula live in her home state of Kentucky. They spend their time pursuing adventure: experiencing different cultures and hiking the summits of high mountains. They have traveled the world from Patagonia to Nepal. They have two fantastic adult sons and a wonderful daughter-in-law, all of whom occasionally join them in exploring the world.

You can buy Key Number 17 here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It was easy. The key is a symbol of a grandfather’s quest to teach his timid grandson how to “unlock” the courage within him. I knew the title before I even started writing. I wanted to build the story around the key. I chose the number 17 at random, but I liked the fact that it was a three-syllable word. So, the title became three words, each word slightly longer than the one before it. I thought it sounded pretty good. And I perceived it being an “attention grabber” for a reader seeing the title, wondering what the key was all about, and thus wanting to read the book to find out.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

It’s difficult to describe, but it was a satisfying, euphoric feeling. I kept thinking to myself, “You did it, you actually completed a book and told a story that is important to you.” I would liken it to the feeling a mountain climber must have upon summiting Mt. Everest.

When the book was in my hands, I just kept looking at it and feeling it—it was the culmination of ten years of writing and two more years of revising, and I was in awe of what I was holding.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Early on, I enjoyed reading John Steinbeck. I thought he had a great talent for writing a good story. Later, I became interested in works of historical fiction by James Michener and Ken Follett. I remember reading Michener’s Alaska before embarking on my first trip to that wild and beautiful place. Armed with that historical fiction tale, I better understood the complex relationships among Tlingit, Aleut, and Athabascan peoples who emigrated from Siberia and settled in what is now Alaska. But again, from early on, I have always enjoyed—and, indeed, sought out—writers capable of telling a great story in beautifully constructed sentences and paragraphs. In my opinion, this is a serious art form. I am finding the same joy in more modern writers like Barbara Kingsolver and Amor Towles, who, while not necessarily locked into the historical fiction genre, nevertheless know how to craft beautiful writing into great stories.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

As I mentioned in my short bio, aviation was my life’s work, my career. Part of that was military, specifically United States Air Force, where I spent twenty-six years flying various types of fighter planes. Then there were nineteen more years flying small passenger planes for a regional airline as well as huge airliners for United Parcel Service.

What is something my readers wouldn’t know? Well, I will tell them now. I love rock and roll music. I love hearing its signature beat; it makes my foot tap in cadence. All of a sudden, mysterious messages fill my heart when I hear it, taking me to another place, a place far from my normal life. I visualize myself as some other persona when I set foot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Look at me, I fantasize: I’m someone special. I was hooked from the very start. I tell my friends that I was twelve years old when Elvis hit the scene, and I haven’t been the same since!

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Completing a book and then actually publishing it puts the author in a very small segment of the population. Specifically, a mere 3% of writers who start a book will finish it. And of those, only 0.6% will publish. Being in that group is thus most rewarding and meaningful.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

They would definitely be rock songs, perhaps Hysteria by Def Leppard, I Remember You by Skid Row, Just What I Needed by The Cars, Lonely ol’ Night by John Mellencamp, and With or Without You by U2.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

All people have courage in one form or another. We must all learn how to find it within ourselves, and then use it. Without courage, a person can do nothing. It takes courage to face difficult situations, to face the unknown and deal with it. But we must do this—otherwise, we will lead shallow lives devoid of excitement, adventure, challenge, and, most important, self-respect. We will lack that which makes us feel alive.

If there was such a thing as a perfect reader, I would imagine him or her to be someone like Bobby (a significant character in Key Number 17): afraid, timid, unable to function, unable to face adversity and deal with it.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am planning on a second novel, and it would be very different from the first in that its subject matter would be well known to me. It would be about aviation. I look forward to describing scenes I have personally observed and which have always intrigued me. They are scenes like the formation of a giant thunderstorm cloud on a hot, summer day. Or perhaps a dark night with the horizon illuminated by beautiful curtains of Northern Lights, multicolored, moving, strewn about by upper-level winds. Such scenes would highlight a tale of two pilots, two close friends, but from wildly different cultures. After years of absence from each other, they find themselves on different sides of a line drawn by their respective governments. The line separates them, former friends, but now estranged. But are they actually enemies? Will they cross the line? Will they fire on each other?

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere Press was easy to work with. They did a great job, and I am very satisfied with the product, my book. It is very professionally edited and published. In addition, they were most helpful in getting me started on a promotional program.

You can buy Key Number 17 here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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