The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

July 4, 2013

Vance background for Air Force pilot’s novel

Second Lt. Jason Conrad is a student pilot at Vance Air Force Base. The son of a U.S. senator and aspiring presidential candidate, Conrad is divorced, has a girlfriend, has a classmate with a serious gambling problem and is caught between Russian spies and the CIA.

Not really.

The fictional Conrad is the brainchild of Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Byars Lewis, author of a military espionage thriller called “Surly Bonds,” much of which is set in Enid and at Vance.

Lewis has served more than 24 years in the Air Force, both active duty and Reserve, and currently is stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

He earned his wings at Vance in 1989 as a part of undergraduate pilot training class 90-12, then returned to Vance as a T-38 first-assignment instructor pilot.

It was during his time at Vance that he began contemplating writing a novel. He credits the late Enid western author Johnny Quarles with offering him words of encouragement and inspiration.

“I went to Mr. Quarles’ house and talked to him for a couple of hours,” said Lewis, who now lives in Navarre, Fla. “He was just great. Basically, he convinced me that this was something I could do, really something anybody could do as long as you have the determination to do it.”

Lewis said he has not been back to Enid or to Vance since he left here in the early 1990s. After leaving Vance he flew HC-130 search-and-rescue planes in Okinawa, then has flown AC-130U gunships ever since. He has more than 5,000 hours as a military and civilian pilot, including time as an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737.

He remembers Enid as a “great place to raise a family,” though he was single during his stint here.

“I didn’t get a lot of time to embed myself in the community, but I remember it as a very tight-knit community,” he said.

Lewis now is married and he and his wife, Kim, have two children. Their son, Derek, is a recent college graduate working as an electrical engineer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while their daughter, Lydia, works with the Social Security Administration in Pensacola, Fla.

Lewis was drawn to writing because, “I guess I had a story to tell.” He said the process of writing his first novel was a long journey.

“When I started this book I knew where I wanted to start and I knew where I wanted it to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get there,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I just kept going.”

Lewis’ efforts recently have been rewarded with some national recognition. His novel was chosen as a finalist for the sixth annual Next Generation Indie Book Awards, as well as for the Readers Favorite Book Awards contest.

“We’re pretty excited,” Lewis said. “It is good to get some feedback at that level.”

The title, “Surly Bonds,” is drawn from the poem, “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee Jr., which begins, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

The novel’s plot surrounds Conrad, who is struggling through pilot training at Vance, while being drawn into a love triangle with his ex-wife and girlfriend, as well as various scandals involving his friends. In the meantime, a former KGB leader plots to overthrow the Russian government and re-install the Soviet regime, a plot that stretches all the way to Enid and Vance.

As an Air Force officer, Lewis has had to run his ideas through the base Judge Advocate General’s office for approval, but not for much longer. He said he is getting ready to retire from the Air Force, “any day now,” and is about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of his second novel, which also will feature Conrad as its main character. It likewise will be set, in part, at Vance, picking up with Conrad’s life just before he moves on to another assignment.

“I hope I’ve got three or four books in me,” said Lewis.

“Surly Bonds,” by Michael Byars Lewis, was published last September by SATCOM Publishing and is available in paperback and e-book form at Amazon.com.

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