News & Politics

Future Bookshelf: Lisa Nowak

"The Future Bookshelf" is a weekly feature highlighting upcoming or recently signed books with a Washington connection. Tune in each week for a new installment, author interviews, and deal gossip.

Things happen fast in the book world. Two days after Rockville-born astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested in Orlando for allegedly assaulting Colleen Shipman, an Air Force captain Nowak believed was involved with William Oefelein, the astronaut Nowak claimed to have had a “more than professional” relationship with, true-crime writer Diane Fanning signed on with St. Martin’s Press to write a book about it.There is no set publication date, but Fanning works fast. Already in 2007, Fanning, who lives in Texas but was born in Baltimore and lived for twenty years in Virginia, has two books slated for publication. One is a true-crime account of a phony doctor in New York City who, from fear of having his illegal practice exposed, buried a patient under his garage after she suffered a seizure during a simple hair-removal surgery. The other is a mystery novel set in Texas.  

Fanning is no stranger to the bizarre. Her most recent book, 2006’s Baby Be Mine, told the story of Bobby Jo Stinett, a Missouri girl who was murdered in 2004, the fetus she had been carrying for eight months having been cut from her womb.

But with Nowak, Fanning faces a new challenge — how to tell a story that the 24-hour news channels, tabloids, and bloggers have already told ad nauseam. Before Anna Nicole Smith took her place above the fold, Nowak’s every move was documented. The image of her haggard and hand-cuffed before the judge is emblazoned in the public consciousness.

Although there are questions we’re eager to have answered — the content of the e-mails found in her bag, what led her to split from her husband weeks before, the nature of her involvement with Lieutenant Oefelein before she set off cross-country in space diapers and a black wig to cut Shipman off at the Orlando airport — it’s hard to believe that they won’t be answered before Fanning’s book hits the shelves.

And yet there is something inexplicably compelling about Nowak, the mother of three I profiled in the January issue of The Washingtonian, oblivious to the drama that was raging in her heart behind the All-American, polished exterior.

Perhaps we’re compelled because we find comfort in the tragedy of others; it helps us carry on to know that things could be worse. Or maybe it’s because we too have known the emotions at the heart of Nowak’s tale.

When you strip her story bare, removing the diapers, mace, black wig, and loaded BB gun, what remains is an ancient narrative about jealousy, desperation, and their disastrous consequences.

Told the right way, Fanning’s book could show that astronauts — the members of the human race we tend to think most resemble robots in their emotional restraint and dutiful resolve — are in fact human, capable of supreme idiocy, but also redeemable.

This week’s deals:

Conrad Black, former head of media empire Hollinger, will publish a biography of Richard Nixon with Public Affairs in fall 2007. Henry Kissinger said of his previous book, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, “No biography of Roosevelt is as thoughtful and readable. None is as comprehensive.”

Thomas Madden, a historian at St. Louis University, is set to publish Empires of Trust with Dutton, part of the Penguin Group. Plenty has been written about American hegemony, but Madden takes it up again, comparing the U.S. to the Roman empire.

A senior researcher at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace, C. Christine Fair, who specializes in South Asian studies, will publish a cookbook in 2007 entitled The Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations.

Angela McGlowan, a Fox News contributor and founder of Political Strategies and Insights, a Washington-based Republican political strategy firm, signed with Nelson Current, a division of the Nashville-based megapublisher Thomas Nelson Publishing, on February 6th for her book Bamboozled: Exploited by the Liberal Agenda. The book’s about her theory of Democratic manipulation of minority votes.

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