Weston author’s debut book shoots for the stars

Tom Seigel settled down in Weston 11 years ago and he has used his time in his new home to fulfill a dream and write his first book —The Astronaut’s Son, which was released in September by Woodhill Press.

The plot of The Astronaut’s Son follows the space program and what happens when a fictitious Israeli astronaut suffers a pre-launch heart attack before Apollo’s final mission in 1974, and the quest of his son, Jonathan Stein, looking into NASA’s checkered past as he himself is about to lead the first mission to the moon in more than 30 years. Does Neil Armstrong hold the key to the mystery?

“It’s really about one individual’s desire to move forward, but to deal with his own personal past too, and how that restricts him or propels him to go forward,” Seigel said. “It explores the compromises we have to make for the sake of progress and how we can accept the fact that as much as we want to understand the past, we’ll never know everything.”

Seigel noted the book was inspired by the true story of Nazi scientists and engineers at NASA, and he wanted to create a thriller that encompassed this world.

Surprisingly, Seigel has no background in aeronautics, having spent the bulk of his career in law, serving as both deputy chief and chief of the Justice Department’s Brooklyn organized crime strike force, prosecuting members and associates of La Cosa Nostra.

“I’m a lawyer by training but was also an English major in college, and wrote for my own interests now and again through the years,” he said. “A number of years ago, I just started writing what would eventually become this book and five years ago, I decided I wanted to finish it.”

So, after 20 years as a litigator, he obtained an MFA in fiction writing and focused on completing the book full-time.

Having been dealing with the mob and organized crime, it might seem like that would be a more relevant subject matter for a book, but Seigel said he just enjoyed space and wanted that to be the world he explored in his first book.

“I’ve always followed the space program and found it very interesting,” he said. “Around 2003, when the second space shuttle disaster happened — the Columbia following the Challenger in 1986 … in that first disaster, Judith Resnik was the first Jewish-American in space to die, and in the Columbia disaster, the first Israeli astronaut died, and it struck me as an awful coincidence, that these two died in the only space shuttle accidents we have had.”

Around that time, Seigel started swirling together questions, like why haven’t we been back to the moon in so long, what is the future of space exploration, and what answers don’t we still know about these disasters?

“I did a lot of reading on the subject and did some research on the government program (Operation Paperclip) to bring over German scientists after World War II to work in the military with rocketry and NASA, who a lot of people were exposed later as having been working with the Nazi party,” Seigel said. “All of that came together and I knew there was a book here somewhere.”

He continued looking into the history of space exploration and rocket engineers and found it amazing that people weren’t more troubled with those Nazi supporters working for the government.

“I thought it would be interesting to write about this fictitious Israeli astronaut in the ’70s while a lot of the ex-Nazis were still there,” Seigel said. “That seemed like an interesting plot element to me.”

Once he completed the book, Seigel found that while there was some interest, the rejections came one after another and he learned that getting published wasn’t easy.

“I started looking for smaller, independent publishers who would be willing to take a risk on someone like me and fortunately through contacts I developed during my MFA program at Fairfield University, I was able to hook up with Woodhill Press in Norwalk, who was interested in publishing it,” he said.

On Sept. 25, Seigel will be doing a reading at the Fairfield University bookstore at 7 p.m. and on Oct. 3, he will be discussing his book at the Norwalk Public Library as part of its Author Speak program, beginning at noon.

“I’ll talk about the background of doing the book and also myself, and do a reading and a Q&A,” he said. “I am interested in seeing what people think.”

Early reviews from places such as Publishers Weekly have been very positive.

Many of the agents who rejected him initially also “suggested” that Seigel explore the mob world in his next novel, having an insight that many others don’t. And while he understands why they would be interested in that, he’s not sure if he wants to dive full-steam ahead into the subject.

“That being said, I am working on something now which may have one or two characters from that world, but it’s not the focus,” he said. “I have set a timetable for myself and am doing my best to stick to my deadline and look forward to what’s to come.”

For more information, visit Tomseigel.com.