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Paul Gillebaard never thought he could write. The Rancho Santa Margarita resident owned a sales representative business and coached a high school track team, but writing wasn't in his background.
So it was as much a surprise to him as anyone else when he not only debuted his first novel - Moon Hoax - in January 2012, but self-published.
“I’m the last guy you would think would write,” says Gillebaard. “I don’t even read novels. What am I doing writing fiction novels?”
Moon Hoax is about the United States being thrown into a race back to the moon after China claims that the moon lands of the ‘60s didn’t happen. Peter Novak, a CIA agent and former NASA candidate, is selected to fly back to the moon against UN authorization to prove the U.S. was there first.
It's no surprise that Gillebaard’s book revolves around space exploration. During the Space Race when history was being made, Gillebaard lived in Nassau Bay, Texas, located near the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. As a child, it was no big deal to have astronauts and scientists living in the neighborhood.
“To think of the history being made, men who were walking on the moon were in walking distance of my house,” says Gillebaard.
The more Gillebaard became interested in the Apollo missions, the more he researched, at one point sitting for 10 hours straight looking at photos and reading.
“I thought, 'I have to do something with all this knowledge I’m gaining,'” says Gillebaard.
After completing countless hours of research, he began to wonder how quickly the United States could get back to the moon today – a week or month or year? And what technology would be used – the same technology astronauts used the first time?
With all these ideas floating around in his head, Gillebaard went to his wife and mentioned his idea of writing a book. Supporting his new venture, she encouraged him by reminding him of his great storytelling abilities.
As the couple's two daughters were growing up, Gillebaard would tell them a story every night before going to bed. Each daughter would pick a character, like a bumblebee or Cinderella, and he would tell a story that included some kind of moral.
“It’s just an ability I have,” says Gillebaard. “I can tell a story, have it flow out of my head and I don’t even know where it’s going.”
He first started writing a general outline of his story, remembering what he was taught in an English course in high school, but soon realized the format wouldn't work.
Instead, he would listen to music during his bike rides through the mountains, which allowed him time to play the next chapter scene in his head. It was during these outdoor rides that he would brainstorm ideas of what would happen next and where the story would continue. After contemplating the next move in Moon Hoax, he would pull over off his bike and write down a chunk of notes that prepared him for the next chapter.
Throughout the writing process, Gillebaard spoke with astronauts to give the book a true-life experience feel and to make sure it was as historically accurate and believable as possible.
Three people who offered constructive criticism and had a major impact on the outcome of the book were Edward Gibson, an astronaut that was in the support group for Apollo 12, a novelist and close family friend; Vance Brand, who took part in the Apollo-Soyuz mission and was the commander of three shuttles; and Gillebaard’s mother, a former Los Angeles Times writer. Gillebaard took their suggestions and went back to working diligently on his novel.
After completing his book, Gillebaard took a publishing class and realized that it is very easy to publish a book. The advantages of publishing his own work included the ability to pick the title and cover, as well as its status as hardcover.
He was at it again, but now working with a book designer, an editor and a printer. But even after publishing his book, he still had one goal.
“I wanted a moonwalker to read the book,” says Gillebaard. “Only 12 men landed on the moon, and at the time, only nine were left.”
But he accomplished his goal when Charles Duke, an astronaut on Apollo 16 and the 10th person to walk on the moon, read the book and called it a “fantastic read.”
Completing Moon Hoax motivated Gillebaard in his decision to write a second novel. He is in the process of writing Space Hoax, a sequel to Moon Hoax, which he plans to complete by the end of summer and publish in early 2014. After writing Moon Hoax, he decided this would be a trilogy, with the third book being a prequel that is written through the eyes of the hero’s father, the Apollo astronaut.
All in all, Gillebaard has realized a new passion for writing. There were two shining moments in Gillebaard’s process: one was receiving the first copy of his novel in hardback and the second was having his daughters write two words: THE END.