Up, Up and . . . Down.

balloon before crashOver the next few posts, I’m going to share some of the research that went into the writing of my recently resissued novel, Breaking the Silence. I’ll write about the secret CIA Mind Control experiments in which my character, Sarah Tolley, was a participant, and I’ll talk about  my personal experience with selective mutism, which is five-year-old Emma’s affliction.   

Right now, though, I’m going to start on a lighter note as I describe my harrowing experience with hot air balloons. In Breaking the Silence, Dylan Geer makes his living as a hot air balloon pilot. Since he’s a point-of-view character, I wanted to understand what his world was like. During the time I was researching Breaking the Silence, my brother-in-law worked for a hot air balloon company, so I was able to quickly schedule a flight. The weather, though, didn’t care about my connections, and six flights were cancelled because of high winds or rain. A seventh had to be cancelled when we hit a traffic jam on the beltway around Washington DC on our way to the launch site. I was living in Northern Virginia at the time, and as those of you familiar with that area know, traffic can come to a standstill that lasts hours. And this one did. Darkness was falling by the time we gave up and headed back home.

Finally, it looked as though the eighth flight would be a go and we arrived at the launch site with time to spare. There were to be two flights that evening, and ours would be the second. My then-husband and I climbed into the chase vehicle while the first set of passengers–four senior citizens–were helped into the basket. I was excited to have the time in the chase vehicle, and I whipped out my pad and pen to take notes as we drove all over rural Maryland trying to keep the balloon in sight. The winds were misbehaving a bit. They would misbehave a bit more before the evening was over.

Part of the role of the chase crew is to find a landing site for the balloon. This was a challenge, since the balloon seemed to be flying farther and faster than anyone had anticipated. Finally, we found a field. The only building was a beautful, big farmhouse and the crew asked the owners for permission to land the balloon on their land. Then we all stood around and watched the distant dot in the sky as it grew bigger and bigger, heading smoothly for the field near the house.

balloon after crashSuddenly, a gust of wind grabbed hold of the balloon, lifting it abruptly into the air again and out of reach of the crew. Everyone on the ground and in the balloon started yelling and shouting (and maybe even screaming and ducking; that would be me) as the balloon headed directly for the chase vehicle. The basket bashed into the side of the van, and then the wind pulled both balloon and basket rapidly down the gravel driveway. The chase crew, my ex, and the adult family members from the farmhouse ran after the basket, trying to stop its sideways slide. The balloon itself smashed into the farmhouse, finally bringing the basket’s wild ride to a halt. Thankfully, injuries to the passengers were minor–a bloody gash on a leg and some very jangled nerves–but the balloon was not so lucky–it suffered tears that would require repair before it could fly again. I can’t say I was unhappy about that! No way was I going up that day.

balloon meets farmhouseBut I was determined to have my flight. A few weeks later, I climbed into that same basket on a balmy evening and we rose into the air. I had one minor moment of “Ack! This is high!” before settling into the amazing sensation of sailing far above the ground. We were up there no more than ten minutes, though, when it started to sprinkle. The sprinkle turned to real, serious rain, and our pilot began searching for a place to land. In communication with the chase crew, he learned of a quarry not far from where we were flying.

When you think of landing a balloon, you think of a nice flat field, don’t you? Maybe there’d be a goat or a bull in the field, but that would be the worst of it. But a quarry? We had to land and land fast, and the quarry was our only choice. I was able to see firsthand the skill of our pilot as he maneuvered our balloon between two rock walls, dodged the jagged remnant of a dead tree trunk by–I swear–one inch, and brought the basket down with a thud on the narrow road that ran through the quarry. I will end my tale here, and only mention in passing that the gates leading out of the quarry were locked, with the balloon and basket and us on one side and the chase vehicle and crew on the other.

Dylan Geer, my commitment phobic character,  has one close call with his balloon, though not quite as dramatic as what I actually witnessed. It was fun getting to write about something as light-hearted as hot air balloons in an otherwise serious story.

I hope I get to fly in a hot air balloon again, but I’m going to wait until I’m someplace where there are wide open spaces and no wind and no chance of rain. Does a place like that exist?


  1. Margo on December 2, 2009 at 11:50 am

    What an amazing experience for you Diane!!…yes, there is such a place with wide open spaces…my home where I grew up!!…my parents, sister and I lived on 20 acres of wide open land up on a hillside where neighbors were miles away…one early summer morning we were having breakfast and admiring the gorgeous sunrise when out of the blue appeared a hot air balloon headed toward our home on the hill…we ran outside thinking we’d wave to them and hopefully they’d wave back…as it turned out they kept getting lower and lower and before we knew it they were landing on our hill just a few feet from our house!!…we ran to them and asked of they were ‘ok’…they said ‘of course!…we just thought this looked like the perfect place to land!’…it was SO exciting and my parents brought them inside and served them pancakes…I can’t recall where they were from but I think it was Australia and they were in Iowa for the Natl Hot Air Balloon Championships.
    By the way Diane, these are GREAT photos!! (-O:

    • Diane Chamberlain on December 2, 2009 at 5:10 pm

      Margo, after my experience it’s amazing to hear about one that went so smoothly. That must have been fun. I think the people in the farmhouse got more than they bargained for when they agreed to let the balloon land. They didn’t know they’d have to dig out their first aid kit!

  2. Martha O'Quinn on December 3, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Good morning from western NC. Our forecast is for snow this weekend, maybe even where you are too? I’m a bit late with comments on the new look. You always look lovely but I really do like the new cut and style. It does a lady good to “emerge” from what has been. Earlier photos suggest that your naturally curly hair is much like all three of my granddaughters and I know how much time they put into grooming their hair, or not. Most of the time just letting it have its own way. They all three now have bobs, similar to yours and love it. Kudos to John for the excellent photos. Also, I wanted to comment on your bravery and persistence re the hot air balloons. Any chance you’ll ever come “west” for a signing? Best always and I’m looking forward to reading Breaking the Silence.

  3. Margo on December 3, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Diane, the last pic with the balloon ’embracing’ the farmhouse is absolutely something else…it should have made the front page of the newspaper!!

  4. Diane Chamberlain on December 3, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Martha, it’s been warm here, but they say a snowflake might show up late Saturday. I’d love to make it west for a signing, but my writing schedule doesn’t allow me to go very far afield, I’m afraid. Thanks for the compliment on my hair. I did enjoy letting the curls just do their thing, but my hairdresser told me about a process that temporarily changes the texture of the hair, and I am hooked. Only lasts a few months, but it’s fun to have smooth hair for the first time in my life. I would have LOVED this as a teenager. All that ironing on the iron board!

  5. Margo on December 4, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Speaking of snow, we had it yesterday and suppose to have more today and tomorrow…our temps are 15-20 degrees…this might sound strange but I love weather like this…it draws me to the fireplace where I curl up with a warm quilt and read Diane Chamberlain books (-O:

  6. brenda on December 5, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Our first snow today-cancelled my trip to Virginia to meet a friend…am cleaning and doing laundry…all gifts are wrapped and ready…love that feeling…I have the gas logs on and might finish the newest by Jeannete Walls (author of GLASS CASTLE)…I am reading light fiction right now…not up to much more…Diane-I am waiting patiently ? for the new one…However, I must admit the MC intrigues me…also…Margo-I love it too but not when going out to work…

  7. Margo on December 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Brenda, snowing today and it’s Sat so I’m glad I don’t have to get out in it…my fireplace is on too…it’s bitter cold today…good day to curl up and read.

  8. Diane Chamberlain on December 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    No snow here, and that’s fine with me! Brenda, how do you like Jeanette Walls’ latest (Half Broke Horses)?

  9. brenda on December 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Diane, It is fine. I just finished it. She wrote it in her grandmother’s voice-first person-as a memoir/novel with some fiction…Of course, THE GLASS CASTLE–a memoir I used with junior honors-because the author lived in my home state for awhile-some of the things that happened to her-unbelievable to us as we live in a properous area…this book was good…glad I read it…not as intriguing as the first book…

  10. brenda on December 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I thought it was a continuation of her life…it was not…I LOVE LOVE MEMOIRS…but sometimes when I read them (or biographies)…I am disappointed…as in “Marcia” Brady’s and in the the girl in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE…they tell more than they should or as the kids say “TMI” I am on the library list-they get me books faster than I can read them…for Ted Kennedy’s book–I gave away my collection of Kennedy books to another collector…I am eager to read his. I am also eager for Delinsky’s book in January and yours in June-although those I buy to reread.

  11. Diane Chamberlain on December 5, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Brenda, I just read an excellent review of Delinsky’s January release and I’m looking forward to reading it.

  12. brenda on December 5, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I am too…

  13. Margo on December 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I read the 1st two chapters of Delinsky’s new book on her website and am hooked…can’t wait for it to come out…also can’t wait for yours Diane…THE LIES WE TOLD is in June…I’m counting the months!…also can’t wait for the rerelease of SUMMERS CHILD…

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