Thursday, September 19, 2013

HOW A TRIP TO A NUCLEAR MISSILE SILO INSPIRED MY WRITING OF THE BOOK "BLACK MARIAH"



“...Everything in this building goes down and we hope it always stays that way.”
My inspiration for the Book Series came years ago by a trip I took to a Nuclear missile silo! 

I was hired by Castle Rock productions to do a page one rewrite on a theatrical movie project. Because of the nature of the story line, the producer of the production arranged for me to visit an active nuclear missile silo somewhere in the Midwest. To this day I still don’t know where it is located.

On the day of the field trip, I showed up at the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando Valley and was quickly ushered into a private plane by a representative from the military. I wasn't blindfolded or forced to wear a black hood like some terrorist hostage. Actually, I didn't realize there were any restrictions at all until the middle of the plane flight. After using the restroom, I was walking down the center aisle when I stopped to look out a window. The soldier who was tasked to accompany me throughout the entire field trip immediately spoke up, “Mr. Finney, I need you to step away from that window.” The tone of his voice, and the specific words he used, made me realize for the first time that I was not on some joy ride. 

A couple of hours after leaving the San Fernando valley, we landed on a private airstrip. I was quickly escorted off the plane and driven a few miles to the nuclear missile silo. When we arrived, I wasn't surprised to see two non-descript brick buildings behind a barbed-wire fence with a small guard station manned by a couple of soldiers.  I had heard that most of the nuclear silos were purposely designed to be non-descript above the ground.

The elevator ride down went for a long, long time.  I felt like I was a character in Dante’s Inferno. During the journey I happened to look at the elevator’s wall panel and commented to my minder, “So there’s no button for a penthouse suite?” He cracked a smile, his first one of the trip, and replied, “No, everything in this building goes down… and we hope it always stays that way.”

When I emerged from the elevator with my minder, we were greeted by a group of people who worked at the missile silo. There was an exchange of names and small talk, and I quickly noticed how our voices sounded like we whispering even though we were all speaking normally.  It was like we were standing in a bank vault.
As I was shown around the premises, I came to discover it was like I was meeting some sort of cult. Everyone I met who worked in the nuclear missile silo seemed to be in lock step. There were shared private looks… laughs… and finished sentences. They all worked in close quarters, under the most intense conditions, and so it probably was inevitable that there would be a… bond, but watching everyone interact was like watching people who had made a blood pact.

“the only people who truly know what we do, the immense responsibility, is my wife, and everyone down here. So I guess, we’re all just like family.”  

Because so much was expected from these people, the military knew that there would be the inevitable slip up, perhaps even a breakdown. During the tour I discovered that every individual working in the silo (most were military, but some were clearly from the private sector) were all required to submit to weekly drug tests and monthly psychological evaluation tests. And I was told that family members connected to those working in the silo were also tested for drugs and went through their own mental evaluations.

Another aspect I found interesting was that each individual who worked in the silo was required to review their other silo mates, passing on their personal evaluations for those in charge to help them see any warning signs that could be detrimental to their job.  

Despite the Orwellian implications, it all seemed perfectly logical to me -- if a person’s job involves handling a weapon of mass destruction, you can never be too careful regarding the oversight.  
No one I spoke with (obviously not for the record, and always in the presence of military minders) had a problem with it. It was consistent with the running theme that I got from everyone I encountered. One soldier said it best, “the only people who truly know what we do, the immense responsibility, is my wife, and everyone down here. So I guess, we’re all just like family.”  

On the flight back, I kept thinking about the idea that a “family” was in charge of a weapon of awesome power. I then thought about the possibility that it wasn't a nuclear weapon, but something that could keep the world safe from harm. And yet… it would still be under the supervision of a… family of people… humans… with all their flaws, desires, and imperfections.


That’s when I came up with the idea for “BLACK MARIAH.”