For the past twenty five years I have been obsessed with the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. A lot of people have tried getting a story about these pioneering women made into a film or TV series; Kathleen Kennedy, Stacey Sherr, Bo Derek, Michael Sugar. A script I wrote about the WASP, LUCKY 13, has been through at least a hundred drafts and at least as many screenwriting competitions as more information about the story and the remarkable girls who trained at the only all female airbase in American history became available.
Along the way, I began to collect WASP memorabilia. It’s harder than hell to find anything original because less than 1100 WASP made it through the program. I have two pairs of wings, an original Fifinella pin, original badges, some paper dolls and a zoot suit.
Three years ago, I found a treasure trove of handwritten letters on ebay written by a WASP, some on WASP stationary, and spent a small fortune buying the letters with the help of an incredibly generous friend. And then, I spent months putting them together in chronological order.
The story that unfolded was amazing. What was even more amazing, is that I took a novel writing class through the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA to figure out what to do with them, and on the first night of class, one of the other participants said her great aunt was a WASP.
At the break, I asked what her great aunt’s name was.
I know this sounds crazy, but her great aunt wrote the letters I’d bought on ebay.
It sent a chill through the room, and did, for weeks afterward. The coincidence was just too great for anyone to wrap their heads around.
I started researching the story in earnest, and posting what I’d learned on a blog about the letters and the people in them. I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the woman and her fiancee until my husband said to me at one point “I know you are excited about this, but can you talk about ANYTHING else? At least for a while?”
Six months later, I flew across country to meet the daughter of this WASP. We had plans to sort through her mother’s things, to match my letters with photographs,keepsakes and scrapbooks to tell the story of her mother’s life she’d never heard before and had no knowledge of.
It felt strange, telling this woman about her mother’s life as a WASP. The likelihood of buying those letters, walking into a class where a relative of the woman who wrote them just so happened to be, then meeting her daughter and finding everything this WASP ever wrote about in neat stacks on a dining room table was mind blowing.
And then it all went to hell.
The daughter’s new fiancee told her I had to go, or he was ending their engagement. He didn’t like me, and he sure as hell didn’t like the fact that I might be opening her world up when he’d managed to contain it so neatly, even to the point of cutting her off from her own daughter.
So she threw me out in the middle of the night.
I cried for weeks afterward, and I didn’t look at the letters again for years.
I got a text from the daughter out of nowhere a few months ago, demanding copies of the letters. When I told her no, she wrote back and forbade me from using anything in the letters to write about her mother. She has no right to do that. Her mother is a public figure, so in accordance with copyright laws, I can write anything about her mother that I want to.
According to those same copyright laws, she actually holds the copyright on the letters I own. I can write about her mother, but I can’t use the contents of the letters to tell her mother’s story.
And then I found out that a woman who has been trying to get a story made about the WASP almost as long as I have, found the blogs I wrote about this WASP and contacted the daughter for an interview. Now she owns the rights to a story no one would have never known anything about if it hadn’t been for me.
I am currently investigating my options with respect to protecting my research and copyright on the blogs. But in the end, my take away from this is that serendipity continues to be my guide with with respect to learning why the daughter reached out, what a backstabbing snake the woman is who is pursuing her own story about the WASP at my expense, and that everything having to do with what should have been epic and inspiring true story has destroyed something in me that I can’t quite put my finger on.
I still write about the WASP. In fact, I am halfway through yet another rewrite on the script that has been my passion for close to half my life. I am writing the script I always wanted to write, before everyone said it couldn’t be done, that no one would ever make a movie about pilots in war time who never flew in combat. This one is for me. And for all the WASPS I have grown to know and love over the past few years.
Maybe I will be the one to see my story made, and maybe I won’t. All I care about in the end is that someone celebrates the lives of these women, whether its me or not.
I only hope they do it without ripping my heart to shreds again.