Freelance writer Loretta Hall is a space enthusiast and an award-winning author of nine nonfiction books and hundreds of magazine articles and reference book chapters. Her newest book release — this one co-authored with Wally Funk — is Higher, Faster, Longer: My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight (Traitmarker Books, October 2020). “Traveling the world, shattering glass ceilings, and always keeping one eye on the stars, Wally relentlessly, joyfully reached higher, flew faster, and traveled longer on her way to space.” After waiting six decades to fulfill her dream, Wally Funk finally made it into space on July 20, 2021 onboard the first human flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard. You’ll find Loretta on Facebook, her Amazon author page, and several websites including AuthorHall.com. Visit WallyFly.com and read more about Loretta and her writing in SWW’s 2016 and 2018 interviews.
What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in Higher, Faster, Longer?
The book is Wally Funk’s memoir, for which I did the writing. I think Wally is a great role model for positivity and perseverance. She continued to pursue her lifelong goal for sixty years despite repeated roadblocks. She shrugged off each dead end and looked for a different path. And in the meantime, she developed an outstanding professional career and enjoyed an adventurous life.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I wanted the book to be Wally telling her own story. That meant we collaborated closely on the content of the book. There was one interesting anecdote I would have liked to include, but she didn’t want it included. On the whole, though, it was a very enjoyable experience.
Tell us how the book came together.
I met Wally when I was giving a talk at a national conference. The talk was “Women Space Pioneers of New Mexico,” and she was one of the people I spoke about. She came to hear my presentation; and at the end, she came up and gave me a big hug. We quickly became dear friends. I kept telling her she should write her amazing story, and finally she asked me to help her do that. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas, so I made a couple of trips there to interview her and examine her photo albums, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia. We also spoke on the phone numerous times. Each time I drafted a chapter, I mailed her a copy (she doesn’t do email), and we discussed any changes she might want. The process took longer that I had hoped, because my husband’s health failed during that time. We published the book about two and a half years after we started working on it.
What is it about Wally Funk or her life that made you pursue writing her story?
For the past dozen years, I have focused my writing primarily on human space exploration and its history. One of the aspects that I find particularly interesting is women in space. Wally was one of a small, elite group of women who first challenged NASA to consider women as astronaut candidates at the beginning of its manned space program. Even though they didn’t succeed, they laid the groundwork for other women to finally be accepted and prove their worth as astronauts.
What are some interesting facts you discovered while doing research for the book?
When I started the project, I thought it would just be about Wally’s efforts to fly in space. Then I discovered what an amazing, barrier-breaking career she had in aviation as well. Back in the 1970s, aviation was definitely a male-dominated field, but she became the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. She made huge contributions to aviation safety.
Do you have a quote you’d like to share from Higher, Faster, Longer?
One of Wally’s favorite sayings is “throw it a fish.” When something goes wrong and she has no control over it, she “throws it a fish” and moves on in a new direction. She learned the expression from the Taos Pueblo Indians when she was growing up, and it has served her well. Now I find myself using it sometimes!
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
There have been two favorite parts. One was getting to know Wally on a very personal level. She is a wonderfully caring and capable person. The other was making her story accessible to the general public. I think its inspiring, and it’s a fun read because she is such a fun-loving woman.
What writing projects are you working on now?
We are working on a children’s version of Wally’s story. She loves to encourage youngsters to learn about STEM subjects, and we hope to inspire students to follow their dreams with enthusiasm and determination. Now that she has finally flown to space with Blue Origin, the story will have an ending that will be more satisfying, especially for children.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
People who are interested in Wally’s life story can find more information at WallyFly.com. I update the website monthly with new photos and anecdotes. The announcement of Wally’s participation in the Blue Origin flight created a flurry of interest in her story. I was grateful that we had a website up and running long before that flurry occurred, and that it was one I could update quickly and easily.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.
WOW! A word I rarely have the occasion to spout these days.