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Flight frees novelist's imagination

Aerospace engineering alum's fictional account gives readers a glimpse of the Margaritaville lifestyle of Key West, Fla.

by Mary Niehaus

David Paule, Eng '88, has been writing since the age of 7. That's when he made the mistake of saying out loud that he might become a writer one day.

David Paule

"My mother -- a writer -- immediately sat me down, wheeled out the typewriter and told me to get started," he remembers. "She said the only way to become a writer is to write."

Paule took her advice and never took a writing course. When he came to the University of Cincinnati, he majored in aerospace engineering, served as entertainment critic for The News Record, worked as a dee-jay, enjoyed water-balloon fights from the Sawyer Hall balconies, co-oped with NASA in Langley, Va., and discovered that it takes 10 seconds at Mach I to chill a bottle of beer. After graduation, he was hired by Delta Air Lines in Atlanta and earned an MBA at Georgia State.

His recent popular novel, "The Monarch of Key West," was written on a series of international flights between Atlanta and Zurich, Switzerland, where Delta sent him to manage a company. Paule claims he had nothing else to do on the long plane trips.

The author jokes that he has succeeded at Delta because he is "the only engineer who can put a subject and predicate together." He proved he could do it not only when the airline put him to work as a speechwriter, but also when he taught a business management class at Georgia State.

The variety of work assignments and travel opportunities in the past 17 years has given Paule "great story ideas," he says, and taught him that humor differs from culture to culture. "I can make the French laugh, but not the Swiss," he muses. Humor is an integral element in his "Monarch" novel, flowing naturally from the island's eccentric characters and their chaotic lifestyle.

"Monarch" is currently being "shopped around" by a screenwriter for movie bids. Meanwhile, Paule is at work on a new novel, which he promises will contain "more weird and wonderful characters -- a boatload of them," with publication likely in 2007.

"I have the attention span of a gypsy moth," the author says, in explanation of his many interests, but he turns serious when describing the work of the CHRIS Kids Rainbow Home, a nonprofit housing and job-skills training center in Atlanta for displaced gay youth aged 17 to 21. Paule, who currently serves on the center's board of directors, donates all royalties from his book to the program.

"They lost their federal funding. This is something I can do to help."

From "The Monarch of Key West"

[Aiden McInnis, the central character, is speaking:]

At lunch, I considered what I should wear to my knighting. After all, Fantasy Fest is a pretty exotic time, even for Key West. Sandals and cut-offs just wouldn't do. I felt compelled to do something that would at least put me in the running with the horde of eccentrics that seemed to share my life now. Tony stumbled onto me as I stood contemplating my closet. I explained my dilemma and, rather than the sarcasm I expected, he studied the closet with me.

The Monarch of Key West

"You know," he muttered, "I have a box in the attic that is filled with old costumes I wore in plays in college. Perhaps we can find something in there." We trudged to the attic.

Inside the box, we found several options. I could have gone as a yeoman, a Keystone cop, or The Joker. I finally opted for a brocade frock coat that Tony had worn when he played Cyrano De Bergerac. Since it was heavy, I wouldn't wear a shirt underneath, but I would wear a pair of white tights. While not exactly accurate, the costume was close enough to something that Charles the First would have worn that I was sure the king would approve. ...

The array of costumes that greeted me in the yard and on the porch was truly astounding. There were women in powdered wigs, and women in nothing but sequins. Some of the women wore huge, Vegas-style headdresses, as did at least two of the men. There were also people dressed as Middle Eastern sheiks, geishas, wildlife, automotive parts and kitchen appliances. George's words echoed in my head. "In Key West, you have to work harder to be eccentric." As fabulous as the rest of the crowd's costumes were, nothing could compare with [King] Louie's. He wore a purple cape with an ermine collar over a gold lamé jacket and pants. ...

As he reached me, he looked me up and down, nodding approvingly. Then he did the same to both Tony and Scot. The silence in the room was almost a physical thing, and very intimidating. Finally, he turned to George and said, "You told them to come in costume, didn't you?"

George shook his head. "I did not. They figured it out all on their own."

Louie looked back at me and smiled again. "Well, young Aidan, we are impressed. Over the last thirty-odd years, we've knighted almost a hundred people, but none of them have ever come in costume. We never would have guessed you would. Maybe there is more to you than even we suspected."


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