High-flying entertainment in a down-to-earth tale


Girl Flees Circus: A Novel 

C.W. Smith 

University of New Mexico Press  

September 1, 2022 

216 pages 

Softcover and eBook 




In Dallas writer C.W. Smith’s enticing new novel, Girl Flees Circus, a sleepy, isolated hamlet suddenly is knocked out of its doldrums by a dramatic event. One day in the late 1920s, an out-of-fuel biplane suddenly crash-lands in the middle of the only road leading into No Name (that’s its name), New Mexico, a tiny settlement that has not yet gotten electricity or telephones. The plane narrowly misses a Model T Ford driven by the local schoolteacher, Mabel Cross, and incurs some damage both from its rough landing and from Leonard, an awkward young handyman, who accidentally tears some holes in the biplane’s fabric while trying to help the pilot he assumes is male. 


The flier is female, a 19-year-old aviatrix named Katie Burke. She has suffered some minor injuries. But some of the gathered locals insist they can take care of her wounds, fix her plane, and keep her entertained until the county sheriff comes around in the near future. They are quite curious to know more about this daring young woman who has glided down from the sky. 


When Katie tries to apologize for the trouble she has caused them, Mabel Cross is quick to tell her: “Well, whatever trouble you might be, we’re inclined to call excitement.” Leonard, the 18-year-old handyman, quickly develops “a case of heartthrob.” And later, Howard, a stern World War I veteran, has to face his hard feelings about his estranged daughter, Isabel, after his wife, Louise, sews up Katie’s cuts and lets her wear some of Isabel’s clothes. Others try to help, as well, not yet aware that Katie is in trouble for real.  


In a fit of anger at a pilot she thought would marry her, she took off in the biplane without permission and now has flown it all the way from North Carolina, making numerous stops while hoping to reach California and find her father. After crossing West Texas, she hit a storm just inside New Mexico, ran out of fuel, and had nowhere to land except No Name. Katie also has arrived with something of a checkered past. She has grown up in an air-circus family, now separated. Her mother is a wing-walker who took off with another air-circus performer.  And her father is an often-drunk pilot who has flown barnstorming aerobatics. He taught Katie to fly at age fifteen and then took her with him to handle his airmail routes and other aerial assignments when he was too hungover to work the controls.  


Katie’s history, her snap decision to head out on her own, and her fortitude all intrigue other characters in Smith’s new book. They begin, in different ways, to realize that they, too, can change their lives. And the choices they make for themselves become a key part of this absorbing, entertaining novel.      


Girl Flees Circus is also a spirited salute to the exploits and courage of “the aviatrixes of the 1910s and 1920s,” C.W. Smith notes in his book’s afterword. Smith grew up in Hobbs, New Mexico, and heard tales that Amelia Earhart had made an emergency landing on a Hobbs road in 1928 and spent the night there while attempting her first coast-to-coast flight. “Like many Americans,” he writes, “I grew up thinking Amelia Earhart was the only notable woman pilot in the twentieth century, her fame solidified by her doomed effort at flying around the globe and the mystery of its end.” But, by one count taken in 1930, Smith notes, some two hundred women had earned pilot’s licenses. “My protagonist, Katie Burke, is quick to let her people know that she is only one among many.” 

C. W. Smith  is an award-winning author of novels, short stories, essays, and a memoir. His works include  Steplings, Buffalo Nickel, and  Letters from the Horse Latitudes. A native of Hobbs, New Mexico, Smith now lives in Dallas, Texas.