I'm one of those fiction readers who think of the protagonist as the author's alter ego: I often flip between the story and the photo and biography on the book jacket while I read. After reading Maj. Kim Ponders' bio, I have to admit I'm intimidated.
As an air weapons controller in Desert Storm, Ponders, who's only 40, was one of the first female aviators in American history to fly in a war zone. She provided air supplies to the Kurds in Northern Iraq and monitored the Iraqi free-fly zone.
After Desert Storm, Ponders watched over Korea's Demilitarized Zone, met her husband Bill, moved to Germany, joined the Air Force Reserve and started her first novel. She's got an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, two books under her belt and writes speeches for the Pentagon. Oh yeah, and she has two kids.
It's no surprise that her characters are well-crafted bad asses. Her first novel, The Art of Uncontrolled Flight, chronicles Annie Shaw, who flies in Desert Storm. Her second novel, The Last Blue Mile, chronicles Brook Searcy, a woman who joins the Air Force Academy after being inspired by Machiavelli's The Prince, a 16th-century treatise on power.
Surprisingly, Ponders doesn't breathe feminism, or militant anti-feminism. Interviewers have often asked her if it was hard, flying in Desert Storm as a woman. Ponders simply replied that it's hard for anyone to fly in combat.
"When I signed up for the military, I didn't have an agenda," she says. "I wanted to do something good for the world, and I thought this would do something good. I didn't join to promote feminism."
But she doesn't ignore gender altogether. The Last Blue Mile begins in Searcy's freshman year at the academy, where she's beginning training after the 2003 rape scandal. Hers is the first class to enter the tunnel beneath a phrase that begins, "INTEGRITY FIRST." The academy changed the sign from, "BRING ME MEN," in an attempt at political correctness.
Ponders incorporates more local information than the rape scandal into the book. Colorado Springs provides a backdrop for the plot. The cadets go to a bar off Gold Camp Road, drive Interstate 25 and explore the entrances to tunnels under the Air Force Academy.
The tunnels supposedly run from the academy to Cheyenne Mountain and bear copies of the Constitution, the Liberty Bell and other relics in case of a nuclear catastrophe.
To research the novel, Ponders contacted academy public relations in 2005 for permission to visit. During that week, the academy also allowed the major to interview cadets. The academy's PR people "were a little skittish," says Ponders, "but hoping someone would come in and tell the broader story of the academy. And that's what I wanted to do."
The Last Blue Mile discussion and book signing
Air Force Academy, 2346 Academy Drive
Cadet Bookstore, Monday, May 28, noon to 3 p.m. Visitors Center, Tuesday, May 29, noon to 3 p.m.
For information on a separate reading for military cadets and their families, visit kimponders.com/calendar.html or call the bookstore at 472-6100.
Reading and signing also at Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch, Tuesday, May 29, 7:30 p.m. Visit tatteredcover.com for more.