The Lost Pilot (Author Interview)

What inspired you to create a tribute to "The Little Prince" in the form of "The Lost Pilot"?

I first got a copy of The Little Prince when I was about five or six years old and it quickly became that book you force your mom to read to you over and over again. As I got older, I reread it several times and the wonder, the imagination, the devotion to friendship, and the basic morality of being good continued to resonate with me. Here was a man - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - facing a world war, with his country invaded and falling apart, living in a strange land (New York City), willing to fly and fight for his country, and The Little Prince was what he was inspired to write.

I've read pretty much every book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and several biographies and articles and features about him. I've been to the apartment building where he wrote The Little Prince, visited his homes in France, explored parts of the Sahara Desert where he crash landed and was stationed, and even chartered a boat to where they found his plane in the Mediterranean Sea.

One night, when I was on top of an enormous sand dune deep in the Sahara Desert, I felt further away than anyone in the world. The only people near me didn't speak the same language as me. It took me a long time to get to the top of the dune and the stars stretched out like explosions of color and light. I was all alone and the loneliness was awe-inspiring. I knew I was not far from where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had crash landed so there was a chance, at some point, he had stood right where I was.

I looked up at the tapestry of infinity and I started talking as if Antoine was there. I imagined him flying away to find The Little Prince. I was inspired and I wanted to inspire others just like he had done for me.

I kept the idea for years and years - always thinking of it sometimes and adding ideas. Then, I read that it was the anniversary of the publication of The Little Prince and it seemed like the perfect time to pay homage to one of the greatest stories ever told. I want more people to read The Little Prince and be inspired.


How did you go about blending biography with fiction in "The Lost Pilot"?

The Lost Pilot is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He never says it and neither does the narrator (or who The Lost Pilot calls 'the artist'), but it is supposed to be him. As he tells his story about journeying into the stars to find his friend, he reveals things about himself that are actual truths of Antoine's life.

It's not of course a full biography - for a great version of that, read The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis - but, there is a lot of biographical information in the book. His dog Hannibal was really his dog and he talked about how much it broke his heart to leave him when he returned to flying.

The blending of biography and fiction in The Lost Pilot happened really naturally. I had always imagined that Antoine had flown off to find his long lost friend, The Little Prince. I had ideas about when he'd actually done it - when he disappeared during his last mission in World War II. For decades, no one knew what happened to him so it fit the story. But, I also knew that his plane had been found so I wanted to acknowledge the truth but also the possibility of something magical happening, and that's pretty much The Lost Pilot.

The theme of imagination seems to play a central role in "The Lost Pilot". Why do you think imagination is such an important concept for children and adults alike?

Our imaginations are just like any other skill or talent - the more you use it, the better you are at it. Too much of life has no imagination and thus, no inspiration. We all need to be inspired. We all need to be creative.

One of the central themes of The Little Prince is about imagining. You have to believe that The Little Prince really could have traveled from his planet to earth holding balloons and following a flock of birds.

Books are imagination factories. We read and we imagine what we're reading. We see the people, feel the conflicts and love, know locations and understand points-of-view. The beauty of imagination is it is inspiring too. We read something beautiful, like The Little Prince, and we're inspired to share our own imaginations.

In The Lost Pilot, I wanted imagination to be why any and all of it happens. I wanted to create my own imagination factory and for people to be inspired after they read it. I wanted them to think about their own imaginations and their own inspiration, and feel how much it matters to really be inspired.


The story begins with the traveler being washed ashore. How does this setup help set the tone for the entire narrative?

Pretty much everything in The Lost Pilot is a play on parts of The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crash landed in the Sahara Desert (several times) and while he waited to be rescued, he invented The Little Prince.

I came up with the idea of The Lost Pilot while in the Sahara Desert looking up at the stars and imagining him flying off into them to find his dear friend. I actually had a conversation with him and the look of the stars in the book is as close as I could get to the way they looked that night in the desert.

I was a travel writer for years and I had an idea of writing a piece about a literary pilgrimage to find 'the lost pilot' - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. One of the places, of course, was off the coast of Marseilles, France where they'd found his plane. I was able to find an article about the people who found the plane that had the coordinates, so I chartered a boat and we sailed out to the spot. I jumped in the water and swam above it. I put my head underwater and tried to see far far down, but of course I couldn't see anything.

It was an amazing feeling though and when I came back up, I had the idea of mirroring how the narrator meets The Little Price, and how the artist meets The Lost Pilot.


While developing the character of the lost pilot, were there any personal experiences or real-life inspirations that influenced his creation?

I've been obsessed with The Little Prince since I first got the book for my birthday as a child. I was fascinated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry too and I read everything I could about him, and his award-winning adventure books - Night Flight; Wind, Sand and Stars; and others. He's one of the reasons I became a travel writer and I found myself an eerie amount of time in places related to him and his writings, from New York City to the Sahara Desert.

As I mentioned, when I was in some of these places and I knew I was close to places he'd been, I always thought about what it was like for him and how these places had impacted him and his work.

In The Lost Pilot, the narrator talks about how he was a very good artist from a very young age, but he'd stopped painting because he'd lost his inspiration. That is exactly what happened to me.

When I decided to write The Lost Pilot, I had to figure out how it was going to be illustrated. I actually asked several artists if they'd be interested and I got close with one, but it didn't work out. I was rereading another biography about Antoine and it talked about how self-conscious he was about his illustrations. To me, they were part of the magic of The Little Prince. I couldn't imagine him being unsure of including them. So, again, he inspired me to relearn how to paint.


Illustrations play a big part in bringing "The Lost Pilot" to life. Can you talk about the collaboration process with the illustrator and how the two of you decided on the book's visual style?

The collaboration process for illustrating The Lost Pilot was a difficult one because I am also the illustrator and the writer side of me doesn't think much of the artist side of me. The two of them don't get along so well.

That night in the Sahara Desert - all alone and further away from anyone I think I've ever been - the night sky was not just black and not just dotted with stars. It was purple and blue and violet and the stars felt like they were so close, you could catch them in a butterfly net. They were yellow and white and orange. I saw two or three shooting stars that night and they ripped through the air like a scream. It was magical and awe-inspiring, and that's when I just started talking to Antoine as if he was there and asking him if he was one of those shooting stars.

The aesthetic of the book is very much inspired by those night stars.


What do you hope readers, both young and old, will take away from "The Lost Pilot"?

Your imagination is precious. It inspires you and it inspires other people. A book written 80 years ago, still, to this day, inspires people because of the exquisite imagination of its author. Books are unique because of this and I think that's because they are where imagination dwells and inspiration is found.

Remember too, friendship never ends. We all have friends come and go, but what we experienced together matters the most. I've spent years and years with people and lost contact or had falling outs. These things happen, but it doesn't diminish what our friendship was and how much it mattered. Remember that - remember how important friendship is and how, like a flower, you need to nourish it and protect it.


Throughout the story, the lost pilot and the traveler share a unique bond. Why did you choose to focus on their relationship as a central element of the story?

I wanted to create as strong of a relationship between The Lost Pilot and the artist (narrator) as The Little Prince had with Antoine because that's my relationship to him and his creation. The Little Prince really inspired me growing up and taught me important lessons about how to treat friends, how to treat animals, and how to think about what matters the most to us as people. Imagination is the most valuable thing in the world in The Little Prince because it created him and it helped an ageing pilot endure a very difficult time. The magic of the book is it continues to do that for people all this time later.

I wanted to try to recapture that and add to it. The Little Prince is in The Lost Pilot here and there, but it's the relationship between the pilot and the artist that inspires the latter to paint again.


How did writing "The Lost Pilot" deepen or change your personal connection to "The Little Prince"?

I reread it again of course and I read a couple of biographies of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to prepare. I knew a lot about him because I'd been such an enormous fan for so many years, but then, when it came down to writing and illustrating, I had the chance to think about the characters and what happens in different ways - it was more about why he'd written this or that rather than just taking it in and being inspired by it.

Every time I read something by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, I find myself inspired by it. The Little Prince lets us use our imaginations in very dramatic and significant ways because the story is so fantastical but at the same time, topical and relevant. The tone is serious with a sly sense of humor. I think my entire personality is very The Little Prince and I felt it even more as I wrote The Lost Pilot.


Are there any easter eggs or subtle nods to "The Little Prince" that readers might miss on their first read? Can you hint at one or two?

There are a lot of allusions and references to The Little Prince and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Lost Pilot. When he takes off in his plane to go find The Little Prince, he follows a flock of birds, just like The Little Prince.

What The Lost Pilot and the artist have on the island for food and drink is an inventory of what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had when he crash landed in the Sahara Desert.

The Lost Pilot's journey to find The Little Prince is similar to how he visits different people with different roles and reflects on how confusing and strange what we value is.

When The Lost Pilot asks the artist to draw him a picture of an airplane, it's a similar setup as The Little Prince when he asks for a drawing a sheep, and of course, The Lost Pilot has two old drawings that he shows the artist that are copies of illustrations from The Little Prince.

They spend the same amount of time on the island as the original narrator spends with The Little Prince in the desert, and in both books, the titular character disappears.

There are a lot more fun references and allusions, but those are probably the most noticeable and fun.