Noelle Salazar is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest and a lifelong storyteller. In 2011, Noelle discovered a book about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, which set off six years of research into the program, the women who were part of it, and what their service meant to their country. She has met and interviewed some of the last living WASPs as well as their family members, and visited the training facility—now a museum dedicated to the WASP—in Sweetwater, Texas. Her debut novel, The Flight Girls, shines a light on this little-known piece of history. Noelle was recently featured in the September issue of Welcome Home and has generously answered a few questions.
1. Why did you become a writer?
I’ve been a daydreamer for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, the third of four, if it was nice outside we played outside, using our imaginations to keep us entertained. I could easily keep busy until the streetlight came on and it was time to go in. My imagination was endless. My appetite for stories voracious. I was always reading. Always writing in diaries, journals, and making up little stories on paper and in my head. Boredom was not an option. Who could be bored with this constant cast of characters in my head? But would I become a writer? My aspirations were as follows: Teacher, heart surgeon (after my dad had a heart attack when I was in the fourth grade), pop star (I put on AWESOME concerts to a room of none in our living room), EMT, artist… the list goes on. Writer was never on it.
And then I turned thirty-two and something happened. I read a book (to be clear I was always reading books) and I was inspired. Something inside me lit up. I didn’t particularly like the book, but it made me realize – I could write a book. I could write a book like this one – but a version I liked. “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison. And so that’s what I did. And writing that book led me to believe that… I could write another. And another.
Why did I become I writer? I need to write the books I want to read.
2. What inspired your current book?
I’ve always loved reading about WWII history. When I found a couple of books dedicated to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), I was intrigued. Who were these women risking their lives for their country without military benefits but the expectation to fly “the Army way” in every plane the military possessed? Women who had left their jobs, schools, and families behind. Just over one thousand served. Thirty-eight died in service. Every single one of them stepped up courageously and without hesitation to do the one thing they knew they could do well – fly. All in service to the country they loved. The work they did freed the men to go to war, something I have no doubt these same women would have done had they been allowed. I was inspired by their bravery, feistiness, willingness, selflessness, and camaraderie. Every anecdote I read spurred me to find more until I knew I had to write a story, combining as much as possible the details I’d found, and hopefully shedding a light on these glorious women lost to history.
3. What’s next?
Currently I am working on another little known story out of WWII about two Dutch sisters who joined the Dutch Resistance and became assassins. Again, I am so inspired by these brave women risking their lives because they realize they have a unique skill set and are willing to put it to use for their country. In a way, I feel this story will have more heartbreak, risk, and bravery – and less of the lightness The Flight Girls brings. But such are the ways of war…