Author Q&A: Lily Koppel ‘The Astronaut Wives Club’

The Astronauts Wives

You can check out my earlier review of The Astronauts Wives Club by clicking on this link.

Q&A with Lily Koppel

The Red Leather Diary – I’ve read that you rescued this from a rubbish bin. Have you since made any other great discoveries from a strange place?

In a way my inspiration for writing The Astronaut Wives Club was another struck-by-lightening chance find. I saw a Life magazine photo of the wives in their skyrocketing beehives, outfitted in their swirling candy-colored Pucci mini-dresses, and turned to my husband, who’s also a writer, and said, “Has a book ever been written about the wives?” I’ve always loved The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, and of course Mad Men, but I never realized how much I wanted to know more about these women until I saw that picture. It was just the tip of the iceberg. I now realize what drew me to those movies and the books was an interest in the personalities, especially the women. When I found out that they actually have a club—and that they raised their families in the Houston “space burbs” near NASA’s operations, in a community known as “Togethersville”—the whole thing was just amazing!

Did this story give you a taste for women’s literature, specifically historical and social commentaries?

I definitely re-read The Feminine Mystique while writing The Astronaut Wives Club, which was an interesting and sometimes even funny read. I also recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In, which is being touted as the next Feminine Mystique. Although it is serious history, I always wanted it to read like a page-turner.

Did you have a particular interest in the Space Race era or was it something else that drove you towards this subject?

I am not a science writer or “Space Geek” as many NASA fans proudly call themselves. I knew I had to write the book and tell the Astro Wives’ story because it was the emotional side of the space race.

How did you go about tracking down the wives?

I started by visiting the wives across the country, unlocking the secrets of this very exclusive club of women behind the astronauts with the “right stuff.” I was lucky that the women were so forthcoming with me. Now in their 70s, they finally felt it was time to come clean. They told me about their friendships with Jackie Kennedy. Joan Aldrin, Buzz’s wife, gave me her diary to explore, which she kept on the Apollo 11 “Giant Step” world tour as her husband’s life was spiraling out of control. Finally, I sat down at my MacBook and started to write, which all in all took about three years.

Did you bond with any one of the Astronauts wives in particular?

I’ve interviewed extensively and spent heaps of time with America’s Astro Wives (who are scattered across the country like Moon rocks), getting to know them as women and friends. I developed a particular fondness for some of the wives in particular, including Marilyn Lovell, whose husband is Jim “Houston, we have a problem” Lovell from Apollo 13, and her best friend Jane Dreyfus, formally Conrad. Spending a girls’ weekend in Texas with Marilyn Lovell and her best friend Jane Conrad at the Lovells’ home there was particularly special. It was a girls’ slumber party and I really felt I was made honorary Astro Wife. Jim “Houston, we have a problem” Lovell, played by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, took us for a ride in his Cessna. At night, we kicked back over glasses of wine and I took notes as me and “the gals” sat around talking late into the night in PJs and robes.

Did you speak to the Astronauts to get their impressions or did you want to focus purely on the women?

I met and spoke with many of the Astronauts, who really have an appreciation for the role these women played in the space race. Because it was significant. Even the astronauts said, and it is somewhat metaphorical, but true, “we could not have done it without them. We could not have landed on the moon without them.”

There must have been a lot of information to edit in order to create this book. How did you go about choosing what you wanted to keep in the book?

I let their stories, missions, and characters guide me in an organic way, focusing on the wives who had the most interesting, and at times difficult tales.

There’s a lot of political commentary is this something you also feel passionate about – in terms of Women’s Lib?

I believe that every woman has a superhero tale to tell.

Was there any resistance or negativity when your book was published from NASA for example?

No. People at NASA and the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum have been very supportive. Perhaps some though that the book would be too “gossipy”. Instead I’ve heard that they found a book that “truly highlighted the environment of the American woman during the 1950s through 70s,” as one said.

What’s your favourite word?

Astro (add it to anything, wife, dog, ice cream)

What’s your must-have writing snack?

Chocolate, which is healthy for you, so they say. And my guilty pleasure is Classic Coke.

I hear you have a couple of dogs, what’s your favourite breed of dog and why?

My favourite breed are rescue dogs. That is, no breed at all. Show dogs are cute, but give me a scrappy, loveable mutt and I get puppy eyes. Also our pups, Ozzy and Lucky, are rescue dogs from the real (awfully named) Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico and the perfect writing companions.

Can you divulge what your next book will be about?

I remain dedicated to telling unforgettable, never-before-told women’s stories. One of my books in the near future will be a novel I’ve been working on for some time, but I can’t yet give away what it is about.

I would like to thank Lily for taking the time out of her extremely busy publicity tour across America to answer my questions! Buy The Astronauts Wives Club here

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Check out Lily’s website here or follow her on Twitter @lilykoppel

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