Co-author of inspiration for Apollo 13 speaks at U.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 22, 1998

The co-author of the book that served as the basis for the acclaimed 1995 film Apollo 13 discussed the art of writing about science before a Kelly Writers House audience of 20 on Tuesday. Jeffrey Kluger, best known for writing Lost Moon with astronaut Jim Lovell, is also a senior science writer at Time magazine. "Science is extraordinarily complicated... you're afraid of fogging it with artfullness," Kluger said. "But [I try to] hide the medicine in the food. If it becomes accessible, seductive, [then readers think] "I just learned something I shouldn't or couldn't have had access to."

Despite his law degree and non-technical background, "the rush of science magazines created in the early '80's led Kluger to pursue science writing because "that was where the money was." One might think that a science writer would have to be well-versed in technical and highly specific fields, but Kluger said the truth is quite the opposite. "My ignorance was a virtue," he said. "I didn't come from the perspective of a scientist. If they could explain it to me, I could make science comprehensible to the layman.

Kluger advised the audience to find a human element in their writing and to "find poetry" in any kind of writing to make it touch the reader. He went on to praise such daily newspapers as The Washington Post, which "achieves an artfulness and imagery to writing," whereas The New York Times is "surprisingly un-readable, becoming an inverse litmus test on how to write news you ultimately report." Kluger explained that writing is essentially a job that is profoundly satisfying and gratifying. "A soldier wouldn't go to battle for stock options but would for a tiny piece of metal and cloth, the pride of product. The rewards are intangiable," he added. Kluger is best known for his work in writing the book that served as the basis for Apollo 13, which starred Tom Hanks. He praised the film's adaptation of his novel, even though "nobody thinks a whole lot about the writer. We are like vestigal organs easily removed." According to Kluger, the story had an honesty and an urgency to it, lending itself to a close and literal adaptation. "You can leave feathers and decor off of something that doesn't need it. Our job was to let the story tell itself," Kluger said. Kluger 's lecture was followed by a short question-and-answer petiod. Mike Yon, a Philadelphia resident in attendance, said he thought Kluger's talk "was interesting. "I am a writer but a non-science person," Yon said. "It was useful hearing another writer talk." Heather Starr, resident coordinator of Kelly Writers House, said getting "Kluger to speak seemed appropriate [because] we are hoping to have a wide range of programs and many types of writing, since writing plays a part in so many parts of life and careers."