Writing helped process the trauma of attack by astronaut Lisa Nowak, and gave Shipman a new start as an author
Credit: Tom Fowlks

It’s been nine years since the attack on then-Air Force captain Colleen Shipman launched the media circus that was instantly dubbed the astronaut love triangle.

The attacker who pepper sprayed her was Lisa Nowak, a space shuttle astronaut who confronted Shipman in an Orlando, Florida airport parking lot in the wee hours of Feb. 5, 2007, after driving 14 hours and more than 900 miles from Houston.

As Shipman and the world soon learned, Nowak – then separated from her husband – felt scorned by fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein, who later told investigators he’d ended a relationship with her as his romance with Shipman took off.

“Nobody knew she had this infatuation thing going on,” says Shipman, speaking out to PEOPLE for the first time in this week’s issue.

Nowak wore a disguise and packed a steel mallet, a BB gun and a 4-inch knife, prompting her initial arrest on charges of attempted murder and kidnapping. She later pleaded guilty to reduced charges of burglary and misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to two days in jail and a year’s probation.

But Shipman’s recovery took much longer than she thought it would. Anxiety fed her nightmares. The lasting trauma took a toll. Starting out with journals, and then shaping her side of the story into an as-yet-unpublished memoir, she discovered writing as a way to process the experience and heal from it.

Now Shipman, 39, lives a quiet family life with Oefelein, 51 – whom she married in 2010 – and their 4-year-old son outside Wasilla, Alaska.

To read more about Colleen Shipman’s life today, pick up this week’s issue of People on newsstands Friday

She’s since turned to fiction. In December, she released her first novel, Eerie, under the pen name C.M. McCoy. It’s a paranormal romance that takes off with monsters who emerge from the dark to upend the world that her heroine thought she knew.

“I’m finally folding the tale of the crazy astronaut,” she writes, “into the pages of my life’s story.”