Q&A: This author says the WASPs she met are 'feisty as ever'

Elizabeth Howe
July 29, 2019 - 3:21 pm

Photo courtesy of US Army

Noelle Salazar's novel, "Flight Girls" tells the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II using years of research and interactions with the heroines themselves. The novel begins in Hawaii in October 1941 where Audrey Coltrane has recently arrived to instruct Army aviators — until everything changes on December 7. 

Connecting Vets spoke with Salazar about the process of writing "Flight Girls," what she hopes readers take away from her novel, and the women she met along the way. 

CV: What inspired you to write "The Flight Girls?"

NS: That era in our history has intrigued me since I watched my first documentary about WWII in junior high school. It was a turning point for our country—and for women. They stepped out of the shadows of men and showed the world how strong they truly were. How much they could endure. And how smart, willing, and able. Reading their stories and learning of their bravery moved me, and it became more a question of how could I not write this story? It may be fictional, but there is a lot of truth in these pages, and I can only hope I did this particular group of women justice.

CV: When did you first come across WASPs?

NS: My aunt happened to be studying to be a docent at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and she had this stack of books. I just gravitated to them as I would, and one of them was kind of a glorified picture book. It had images of the women sitting on the wings of these warplanes, in these huge flight suits that were men's flight suits because they weren't given money for things that fit. And there was one anecdote — it was an entry in a logbook by this civilian pilot, Cornelia Forte, and was on the island of Oahu in the air training a young man when the Japanese flew in. I read that, and I was off and running. 

CV: What was the research process like?

NS: It took me 8 years to get the detail I did get. When I began I just had that stack of books, and then there was really minimal information online. I did get to go to one of the bases they operated out of. The base burned down years ago, and there's a college there now. But they still have some of the signage and a couple of the hangars and the wishing well they used to throw each other in when they graduated. But the experience of being there was really something. I was in their space. I was standing where they stood and looking up at their sky and that along was pretty amazing.

CV: Did you meet any actual WASPs? 

NS: I got to speak with one on the phone a couple of years ago, and then this past May they do an annual WASP homecoming reunion so I got to meet two of the women there, and speak with them, and have them sign my book for me. They were feisty as ever in their late nineties. They were the babies of the program and they were just full of stories.

CV: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

NS: How resilient these women were, how brave, how willing they were to risk their lives when they weren't given military benefits to do so. I mean, I know women are strong. I come from strong women. But to hear these stories of them risking their lives, reading the anecdotes between all of that, just the spirit of women — it all made me realize my heritage is pretty freaking fantastic. I implore people to research these women and educate themselves. It's important for women's history.

CV: Have you closed the book, so to speak, on WASPs? Is there more to write? 

NS: There are definitely characters in my story that I would love to take on a more serious journey. This book was never meant to be heavy. It was supposed to be light. It was supposed to fly. And it has and is, but there is definitely a more serious take that can happen. So I think there's definitely more stories to be told. 

Learn more about Noelle Salazar and "Flight Girls" here

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