|(Jack Robert Photography)
Terry Virts is a former USAF F-16 pilot and NASA astronaut who has spent more than seven months living in space, including as the pilot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and commander of the International Space Station. He is the author of How to Astronaut (Workman, 2020), View from Above (National Geographic, 2017), and Apollo 11: To the Moon and Back (Book Arts, 2019). The Astronaut's Guide to Leaving the Planet: Everything You Need to Know, from Training to Re-Entry (Workman, $14.99) is Virts's first children's book and answers many of the questions young readers may have about what it's like to prepare for space travel and experience life in space.
Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:
The Astronaut's Guide to Leaving the Planet is the perfect book to inspire and inform any kid interested in space, with cool illustrations and activities to do at home.
On your nightstand now:
Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, the crazy real-world tale of Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund and the insanely brazen and corrupt people who stole hundreds of millions of dollars and took down the top of the Malaysian government as well as Goldman Sachs. It's impressive. The antagonist is a guy named Jho Low, and he thinks big, to say the least.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Rendezvous with Rama, an Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novel about an alien spaceship that flies through the solar system. I was captivated by the book as a teenager and was captivated again last year when I reread it. When the interstellar asteroid Oumuamua came zipping through our solar system in 2019, I immediately thought of Rendezvous with Rama because it was a giant cylinder that came here, then accelerated away, never to be heard from again. Too bad we didn't have the tech to go visit that strange rock. I would love to make this story into a movie one day!
Your top five authors:
James A. Michener (great epics like Poland and Chesapeake, where I am from, and which I read last year), Arthur C. Clarke (maybe the best sci-fi writer ever), 2001: A Space Odyssey was an incredibly visionary book--and film--on so many levels), David McCullough (if you, like me, love historical fiction, he's the best), Tom Clancy (The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising are must-reads), Ian Fleming (Bond. James Bond).
Book you've faked reading:
A collection of short stories by Jack London. I love To Build a Fire, but the rest of the stories just weren't great. I also had to speed read through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I was so excited to read it--but it just didn't do it for me. My OCD makes me feel like I need to read every word, which often makes me spend six months trying to plod through a book I don't like. Life is too short, and books are supposed to be fun, so go ahead and put it down and move on if you don't love the book you're reading.
Book you're an evangelist for:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I'm probably the very rare person who hasn't read any of his novels, but a friend recommended this to me when I decided to become an author, and it's full of great advice. Cut cut cut! Fancy adverbs? No way! Anybody who wants to write should read this.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Atlas Obscura by Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton, and Joshua Foer, an amazing (and bestselling) book about traveling to, well, obscure places. It has a simple but perfect cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
Probably many--whatever I was reading at the time, I'd have to read under the covers with a flashlight so they thought I was asleep.
Book that changed your life:
The Bible. An oldie but a goodie. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is pretty good advice, we'd all be a lot better off if we lived by that golden rule.
Favorite line from a book:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." --A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I love the opening line and closing line of a book, I think an author should spend a lot of time on that, and Dickens came up with a classic here.
Five books you'll never part with:
1984 (George Orwell), The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe), Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit (Matt McCarthy), I Had a Hammer (Hank Aaron and Lonnie Wheeler), The Unknown Soldier (Väinö Linna)
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I read that when I was applying to Test Pilot School back in the '90s and loved it. It's an incredible adventure story and cautionary tale. My daughter recently gave me another copy for Christmas, so it's next on my list.
Did you always want to be an author?
No! I was probably "least likely to be an author" in high school; I was a terrible English student who got Cs and never read the books we were assigned (thank God for Cliffs Notes). But as I got older, I realized that communication was so important, I had an ability to write in a pretty clear and straightforward style, and I had so many stories to tell about my time in space, so I went for it. I wrote my first book, View from Above (40,000 words), in two weeks--the words just flowed. With a few nonfiction titles under my belt, I'd like to try my luck at fiction next.