On December 26 I will be eighty-seven years old. There
is nothing more I want to do, even
if I could. I doubt there
is a man alive who has been lucky enough to experience all
the things I have.
Thus begins the personal memoirs of Hugh Lansing
Fancher, a pioneer in the world of General Aviation in the
Pacific Northwest. On Tuesday, March 11, 2003, a little
more than two years after beginning that letter to his children,
and following a long battle with deteriorating health, Hugh
passed away quietly in his home in Ellensburg, Washington.
Born in Ainsworth, Nebraska, his life was that of an
entrepreneurial risk-taker. From his early days on his father's
cattle ranch, through the years of the depression which
found him driving logging trucks in Oregon, to a stint in
the Navy during the war, he displayed an independent streak
which led, ultimately, to owning his own flight school on
But the road to Fancher Flyways, Inc was at times the
stuff of adventure novels.
It began innocently enough: a welding job at Pacific
Car and Foundry, a shift to Pan American's pre-war cockpits,
and in 1943, when the Navy took over PanAm and its ships,
Hugh went with them. As a mechanic in the Naval Air Transport
Command, his flights took him all around the Pacific, from
weather-enshrouded Alaska to balmy Hawaii.
Following the war, he (along with fellow dischargee,
Al Knechtal) began his first business, buying up war surplus
planes and certifying them for civilian use, a noble goal
. . . which failed miserably. Later endeavors would prove
far more successful.
From the (now extinct) Issaquah Sky Ranch, to the depths
of British Columbia's beautiful wilderness to three different
locations on Renton Airport, he He went to work as
an airplane mechanic at the now-extinct Issaquah Sky Ranch
airport. Here, and in less than a year, he at last got his
pilot's ratings: Single & multi engine land, ATR Commercial
in single and multi engine sea, and instructor rating in
all of the above. Of his time as Sky Ranch, Hugh notes:
We were first to start fire patrol:
that was flying looking for fires and dropping supplies
to fire fighters on fires. Before then they used lookouts
on high mountain peaks. They had started using old war planes
to haul water on to the existing fires.
This exciting flying requires lots of low and precise
flying, also lots of flying alone over the mountains just
looking for fires and following trains, which started lots
of fires climbing over the mountains.
This scouting technique is now standard across the United
States and the many articles written by reporters who accompanied
Hugh on some of these flights glow with praise of Hugh's
In 1949 Hugh went to work for Smith Aviation (owned by
the Smith Brother's of Smith Brother's Dairy) on the Renton
Airport. While at Smith's, Hugh attained his examiner rating
for the FAA, empowering him to give federal flight tests
to aspiring applicants for licences. Thanks to him, Smith
(later Renton) Aviation was one of only five facilities
in the eleven Western states capable of certifying pilots.
During this time, he also became the official pilot for
Bill Studdert's Gang Ranch in British Columbia, moving men,
equipment and visitors around the ranch's four million acres.
Among those he shepherded about this largest ranch in the
world were Gary Cooper and his stand-in Slim Talbot.
In the late 1950's, Hugh and Bill Studdert bought Smith
Aviation and renamed it Renton Aviation. In the following
years, Renton Aviation became a major player in the blossoming
general aviation industry. It was a full service facility
which combined aircraft sales with flight instruction, charter
flights, air ambulance service, maintenance and fuel and
At the yearly air shows on Renton airfield, Renton Aviation's
(and later Fancher Flyway's) displays and free scenic flights
helped introduce a whole generation to the wonders of flight.
Hugh's thespian side found outlet at these shows as from
cowboy to long-haired hippie, he "won" a very
public free hour of "flight instruction." The
instructor would, of course, be "called away,"
just after starting the plane leaving his "student"
with his foot on the brake. Naturally, the plane would get
away leading to a thrilling few moments of precision flying
as the plane wove and dipped its way into the air and was,
eventually, talked down.
In 1964, Hugh sold his share of Renton Aviation and went
on to start his own flight school on Renton Airport. For
many years, Fancher Flyways carried on the tradition of
training outstanding pilots, summer Forest Service surveillance
and community awareness.
Typically, when age forced his retirement from the airport
business, he started a new career, returning to his first
love: horses. He bred a trained a AAA racing quarter horse,
and having succeeded to his satisfaction in that field,
retreated to Thorp, Washington (near Ellensburg) to raise
and train cutting horses, where, to no one's surprise, he
both fielded champion horses and undertook a leadership
role in the Northwest Cutting Horse Circles.
But even the most active lives must, eventually,
slow, so in his final years, Hugh developed yet one more hidden
talent. Electrician, mechanic, builder, he added exquisite woodworking
to his resume, turning out stunning, handcrafted wooden bowls, some
of which grace various establishments in Ellensburg.
In the fall of 2000, increasingly confined to his
house by stroke and a failing heart, he began his memoirs, a charming,
anecdotal letter to his offspring, revealing yet another accomplishment:
When I dedicate a book, I try not to be too cryptic about why I've
chosen to publicly acknowledge the individual in question, but it's really impossible to
do them justice in the tiny space available. .If you have enjoyed the books, please
take a moment to meet those who helped make it possible.
The Groundties Books
To Brian, for giving me the
time I needed to learn.
To Barclay, for working so hard to give me the Look I wanted.
And especially to Carolyn, for suggesting I try writing in the first place,
then asking enough questions to get me out alive...
...and to the Bannik in the upstairs shower for having all the right answers.
I submitted Groundties to Warner in the form of an acknowledged rough
draft thirteen months after I started writing, and based on that rough draft, they bought
the entire three book series. Over the course of the next two years, I was writing and
rewriting constantly, refining those books, learning as I went along. Brian Thomsen,
my editor at Warner, seemed to realize the best thing he could do for me was stay out of
the way. He graciously granted me the time I needed to get the manuscripts to the point I
declared them ready and then put them into schedule. One of the most frequent
comments I get on my work is that it's different, that it's unlike anything else out
there. If that's true, I believe part of the reason is that Brian and Carolyn
between them encouraged me to find my own answers rather than to point me toward some
easily accessible median.
Barclay Shaw was the artist for all three Groundties books, and I
mean that dedication very literally. He tried so hard to give me the covers I
wanted. It wasn't his fault the PTBs at Warner fouled his every effort.
(a) Groundties: I suggested the Miakoda moonrise pictured with the light from the moon
becoming a computer chip in the sky. Barclay did a very delicate painting to that
effect, and while I would have preferred either Cantrell and Paul on the cover or Stephen
and Wesley rather than a young female figure (Anevai, who is a secondary character and not
part of the Miakoda experience in the book), overall, I was quite happy with the
painting...and then cover design completely covered his computer chip with the type.
Most people who look at it think it's a fantasy.
(b) Even to this day, the story behind the cover of UpLink can raise my blood pressure.
Probably because I was running late, Barclay was not given the manuscript to go
from (though they did have a perfectly viable version in-house they could have sent him.)
Barclay called me on the phone for a summary of the book and to ask if I had any
notions what I'd like on the cover. I described what I'd like, and Barclay submitted
a lovely sketch that would have been wonderful. He also submitted two other
sketches, but it was obvious which he'd put the most effort into. He knew I wanted
that cover, and I loved the sketch he'd done. According to the story as I heard it,
the art director at Warner loved it, my editor loved it...and The Committee nixed it
because it would "look too much like a Tony Hillerman novel." Which
only proved how little they understood book design. There was no comparison, other
than it would have had a kachina doll on the cover. But they heard the word
"kachina" and assumed...so, I ended up with the melting face.
But, that wasn't Barclay's fault. He tried so hard to get me that cover, and I'm
forever grateful to him for that.
(c) Harmonies of the 'Net. This is actually my favorite of the covers, and was
based on a small painting I did of the boys. But even it was not without its screw
ups. Besides the fact Warner got the title wrong on the first printing of the
cover (none actually made it to the shelves with the wrong title, so, collectors,...don't
bother looking <G>) they told Barclay they planned to use gold foil on the
cover. He designed the whole thing with this computer chip that would be done in
foil and stand between the foreground figures and the starry background. He also
had worked a kachina doll face into the chip (still trying to make that connection for
me). It was wonderful. The art director killed the face in the chip and at
the last moment, they decided to go with gold ink rather than the foil, completely
undermining the dimensionality of the design. Again, it wasn't Barclay's fault.
Carolyn's inclusion in this dedication should be obvious. I'd
never have even tried writing without her prodding, and any stumbling block I met along
the way, whether it was grammatical or motivational or plotting, she was there to ask the
questions that helped me find my own answers.
Finally, the bannik in the shower. Carolyn had been working on
the Rusalka books during the first year I was writing. The bannik is a ... Russian
bathhouse muse, if you will. You feed him vodka and he helps you predict the future
or suggests answers to your dilemmas. It became the standing joke that when I was
stuck, I'd go take a shower and come running out dripping, searching for a pen to start
taking notes. This is not, I assure you, a pretty image. But it worked.
Since I've moved away from that house (the Great Move of 1997) the new shower has just not
proven quite as magical. I still find my answers, but I have to work harder to find
of the Rings
Ring of Lightning:
To the Writers' Group From Hell.
It's possible I could have done it without you,
but it would have been a lot harder
and a lot less fun.
Thanks for not letting me off easy.
And to Betsy
for renewing my faith
and for three good-looking guys on the cover.
group from hell has all of three people, Carolyn, Lynn Abbey and myself. While not
an officially acknowledged "writers' group", we read each others' manuscripts
and subject them to very intense scrutiny. It's a bit harder, now Lynn has moved to
another state, but we continue to learn a lot from one another. At the time I wrote
the dedication, there were several people on the convention circuit talking with great
enthusiasm about the writers' groups to which they belonged where they had all these rules
for behavior...rules to which, had we adhered, we'd never have gotten anything significant
It's possible sweetness and light and endless "I'm OK, you're
OK" bolstering is the best way for some people to prepare for daily life, though I
question that as well, but published life is a whole different ballgame. In my
opinion, there reaches a point at which the gloves must come off, particularly if you're
writing speculative fiction about significant topics. Part of learning to be a
published writer is learning to take spirit blows not only from strangers who don't care
one way or the other if they destroy you, but from friends who care but for one reason or
another come out with some negative observation with the power to cut to the quick because
they're your friend. Rather like an overly-protective parent, if your nurturing
group works too hard to protect you from their honestly held opinions they're failing to
help you exercise that most necessary of muscles: true self-confidence, the kind that
comes from facing the hard questions about your work and discovering you have the answers
Betsy Wollheim is my editor at DAW. After my disastrous
experiences at Warner, she believed in me, gave me the contract for Lightning, and even
promised me good-looking guys on the cover. The original concept for the cover
didn't quite work, but if you look on the spine, there they are. Deymio's not how I
picture him (I'll post my sketch of him one day soon), but he's properly ruggedly
good-looking, Khyel is quite, quite nice and Nikki is far
more... Nikatious than anything I've ever been able to do of
To my siblings:
Those I was born with and
those I acquired along the way.
The Ring books are a study of that very special relationship, good
and bad, that develops between people who grow up under the same roof. I get tons of
mail extolling the believability of the brothers', and such insights as I have into that
singular dynamic come from being part of a similar, (though far from identical) one.
I am blessed with five great birth-sibs. The eldest, Gary,
studied General Science back before the various special interests groups moved in and
phased out the degree. He went on to teach flying, a career that ultimately took him
to Alaska. Brother number two, Ted, flies for United Airlines and lives with his
terrific family in the San Francisco area. Allen (Chip) builds superlative houses in
the Seattle area. He taught me to drive a stick shift, to appreciate Ayn Rand and to crack
the marvelous mysteries of video and audio electronics, a skill that has carried me
smoothly into the computer era of the electronic 3D puzzles. My only sister, Lynn,
whose phenomenal word skills kept me firmly on the art side of the creative table for
three decades, teaches Biology and Genetics and Botany in the Chicago area, and last but
not least, Roger, a security guard during the work day, is a wonderful amateur actor with
a rich, full voice and sparkling on-stage eyes. He also writes some wonderfully
demented filkish songs.
Those I've acquired along the way are somewhat more numerous in
number, and their strength and friendship have given me a different mirror from which to
examine the differences between extremely close and wonderful friends and birth-sibs. I
will avoid trying to list them for fear of leaving someone out, but there are a handful of
people throughout the world who have become very special to me thanks to Groundties,
Rings, and the internet.
This was, without question, the most
difficult of all the dedications to date. There were so many events that shaped me
during this difficult three year period. In the end, I confined myself to those
personal treasures I lost during the final year of writing Destiny, but there are many I
could have added to the list.
To name the two most dear, my aunt Jan, who died after a courageous
battle against cancer, and Pye, Mr. Khym's younger sister, the most beautiful silver
Persian ever bred---just ask her.
Less immediately related, but part of my community family, were the
victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the two huge tornadoes that ripped through the
city during the time I was working on this book. I doubt any of us who survived
these events will ever hear thunder in quite the same way.
I hope with time to add proper dedications to all the names actually
listed in the book, but for now:
Gary Lansing Fancher: the eldest brother I referred to
above. Below is a piece I wrote to be read at his memorial as I couldn't simply make
it there in person.
Venus d'my Luv. April 3, 1969-November 17
1998. My first horse's first offspring. Her picture has been on the page from
the beginning. More will appear soon. For thirty years she taught me patience
and loyalty and courage.
Dustbunny. She was with us too short a time.
Silver Persian with the sweetest personality you can imagine. She was a dwarf ... I
don't think she ever topped three pounds, but for three years she was a breath of gentle
young spirit in an increasingly geriatric household.
Mr. Khym, Carolyn's fuzzy Persian companion for 17
years. We lost him the same week I lost Venus. We'd lost half-sister Pye two
years before, and Dustbunny was from the same cattery. They were all marvelous
personalities and taught a confirmed snout person to appreciate how beautiful a Persian
face can be.
Elrond the Magnificent. The final piece below a
piece I wrote just after he made his exit from this life. He had touched lives
throughout this country, and I was glad to be able to reach most of those people through
the internet. The piece has been used by more than one person to help a friend or
group through difficult times. If you think it will help, please pass it on. Rondo would be glad to know he's still helping soothe wounded spirits
Gary: In Memoriam
We all make a difference, each
in our own way. Some of us make lots of money, some of us raise the next generation, some
make world changing policy. Most of us quietly affect each other without ever quite
realizing in what manner.
Gary was a teacher. He taught me to fly. Or at least, he gave me what instruction
I managed to find time for. But what he truly taught me was not to think too much. Out of
that handful of hours, the event I most remember was this detailed description of how and
why a plane stalls out. Before he began the explanation, I thought I knew exactly what to
do: I mean, itís simple, right? Plane stalls, nose drops, you pull back on the
"steering wheel", add a bit of power and the nose comes up.
But then, he explained all about airflow and speed and pushing the nose down to
gain speed and....But wait! But wait! That means you add power and push the nose down,
Fortunately, I didnít kill us and my big brother didnít kill me once we
He did laugh. Hard. And said, in effect: Donít think too much. Donít
make things more complicated than they are. Good advice at the time, better advice the
older I got, great advice to the maturing "editor" in me.
Gary was a teacher and a "pusher". The best kind. He loved knowledge,
and dreaming. He loved to read and his joy in reading was infectious. Many of the authors
who became my favorites and role models I first tried thanks to Gary.
And he was a storyteller of the old school. Manyís the night heíd
entertain us with stories of his adventures. Deliveries to oil companies became Morning in
Prudhoe Bay with plane tires flattened by the cold. Running out of gas became a glide
worthy of Indiana Jones dodging trucks and power lines to land on an Alaskan highway. He
could describe the firefighting planes swooping out of the sky to scoop up lake water in
terms neither florid nor common but in a way that made you feel you were inside the plane
itself, holding it steady against the shifting forces.
How much he personally experienced and how much he created was never an issue. The
magic was. The humor and the excitement, the feeling of being Right There.
Gary was good at that. In the "biz", we call it view-pointing, and Gary
was a natural. We tried to get him to write these experiences down, but we were never able
to talk him into it. In the end, I believe his instincts were right. He was a living
resource, and his stories contained a magic not meant to be trapped in a single mode of
expression, but to be re-tailored for each audience.
Iím a writer now, and not, at least according to my personal belief, by some
accidentóthough at the time all of the above was happening, it was the furthest
career from my mind. Garyís quiet influence was part of that journey for me, and one
of my greatest sources of joy (and relief) since I took up writing is that my books got
Garyís official stamp of approval.
The wheel turns, the cycle begins again.
Gary, rest in joy and adventure. May your skies be cloudy enough to make the
flying interesting, the wind always fill your sail before you have to start the
trolling motor, and I promise you, the third Ring book will be done by summer.
Khym, Pye and Venus
Click on the lovely furball go to
and on the pony-nose to go to Venus' page.
The following is the email I sent to those
who knew him...
Dear family and friends,
Yesterday afternoon I said a final goodbye to my old friend, Elrond. Many of you
knew him, most of the rest of you knew of him. For those who don't, he was my feline buddy
for 20 years. In those 20 years, the longest we were ever separated was the three weeks
after he was born and before I returned home to Pullman WA to meet him.
Even then, he was mine: I was out of town when my previous fuzzy friend was hit by
a car. My sister, Lynn, (everyone should be blessed with such sibs) immediately scoped out
the neighborhood possibilities, learned of a calico cat about to "hatch" and
knowing that calico mixes, like Siamese, usually "default" to the requisite
black, claimed first dibs on any black male that might result.
There was one. The runt of the litter. He came home with us one day short of six
weeks, feisty and full of pins...and for the next three months was known as "Itty
Bitty" for all he'd been named "Elrond" for his beautiful, wedgy-elvish
face since we saw him.
Long after his litter-mates were in full plush adult coat, Itty-Bitty held onto
his kittenish size and fur...well, not exactly. It was literally wearing off on the sides
when he finally started to get his adult hair---which came in first in a Mohawk down his
spine. His kitten hair had been rather rough and short, his adult coat came in soft and
medium length. He kept his Mohawk for several weeks before finishing the
Again, my cat was the joke of the apartment complex. But in the end, he had the
final laugh. Almost over night, "Itty-Bitty" blossomed into this incredibly
elegant, beautifully coated adult cat. Never has the release of a childhood nickname been
easier. One day, sis-Lynn and I just sort of looked at one another and said, he's not itty
bitty any more, and that was it. I don't think before that day I'd ever called him Elrond.
After that realization, "Itty Bitty" was the furthest thing from my mind.
From Scruffy Itty Bitty to Elegant Elrond to Hedonist El-Rotundo to Rondo: King of
all he surveys and finally L'il 'ol man on steroids tough guy, he was one amazing cat. He
traveled more than most people, being born in Pullman Wa, moving to Wappingers Falls, NY
with me, then back to Seattle and finally to Oklahoma. There are very few states he didn't
"see" at least as we drove through. He flew in jets and small planes, traveled
in a car without any need for restraint. He made most of the trip down here to OKC sitting
on the truck seat between Carolyn and me, ensconced on the "goodie" bag that
held sodas and veggies---and cold packs. For all the cab was insulated, the sun was hot.
He found the best seat in the house and watched the world go by.
He was good at that---at finding the most economical, most hedonistic most
practical solutions for his life. As he got older and jumping became out of the question,
I'd make little "stair-steps" to his favorite spots. He'd scope this out within
moments of entering the room---despite his cataracts.
He was probably the smartest/canniest animal I've ever known. I never had to worry
about letting him outside, never had to worry about him doing anything remotely self- or
environmentally-destructive. He was aware of things beyond his immediate scope in a way I
find quite unique. He---made connections, appearing to be very "into" causality.
I could relate thousands of stories---as any loving pet-owner could---but my
favorite has to do with an episode that occurred in the first year we were down here in
He'd been leery of Carolyn for months. She was "owned" by the two
established rulers of the house, Khym and Pye, and as such had to be approached with
caution. Well, one day, Carolyn was trying to figure out the melody to a song in a book
and dug out her flute (for the first time in years) as the easiest way to do this.
Elrond was...enthralled. He couldn't stay away. He approached her chair slowly,
then stood on his hind legs, front paws on her lap. Finally, he couldn't stand it. He
jumped up in her lap, staring...then started to pat her arm...then her mouth. She stopped.
laughed and we wondered if he'd repeat the performance for the camera.
We dug out the video-cam, and sure enough, we got something like that on tape.
Then we went into my office to view the tape. Foolishly, we weren't prepared for the next
step, though you'd think years of living with this lad would have warned me. As we were
playing the tape, Elrond came in, stared at the TV, stared at CJC, back at the TV ...then
jumped up in her lap and started patting her mouth.
To the last, he trusted me completely. I could take him anywhere, do anything with
him, and he never panicked or refused...well, except the one time I tried to bathe him in
the bathtub....He was a favorite of every vet or groomer who ever had to work with him.
Instead of cowering in his cave, he'd lean against the bars and reach out to snag the hand
of those going by, drag it to him to get a pet or a scratch.
I knew when I left for World Con, to be gone for 10 days, that time was getting
short. He'd been in a gradual decline for months, but seemed to have rallied this summer.
Still, I worried about leaving friends with the responsibility of caring for him. But
thanks to that little cheering squad and his own loyalty, he held on until I got home
He was very weak when I got home, barely managing to raise his head, and his hind
legs weren't working much at all. I knew he hadn't been eating properly even before I
left, and he was pretty dehydrated. I took him to our wonderful vet and he gave him saline
subcutaneously a couple of times. This flushed his system and by morning he was able to
make his customary trek to my pillow to wake me up.
But it was temporary. We both knew that. And yesterday afternoon, after a sizable
spoonful of cream cheese and a lot of loving, he went to our wonderful vet and fell asleep
one last time. He was very quiet, calm, even purring as the vet found the vein. You can't
go much better than that.
We buried him next to Khym, under the leaves and near the dock where he used to go
and sleep on the boat as it rocked in the waves. And last night, we had our first sunset
in two months---and it was a doozy. Obviously, Khym and Pye and Venus were setting out the
Oh, and that song Carolyn was working out? The title was: The Cat Who Warps by
Her(Him)self: a Science Fiction song about a star-hopping, galaxy-roaming cat.
I can only imagine what causality Elrond is checking out now.
Catch a few cosmic butterflies for me, old buddy.
Love to all, and more later,