Message From The Author
Most people only get one Sweet Sixteen in a lifetime. My second is fast approaching, and I’m just as giddy as I was the first time around. July will mark the release of my sixteenth novel, Dandelion Summer, a book I really can’t wait to share. The story is a mix of fact, fiction, and two precious friendships—one real, and one fictional, both equally unlikely.
Forty-(ahem) years ago, I was celebrating my first birthday in a cake-covered high chair in Palm Beach, Florida. Nearby at Cape Canaveral, a man I’d never met before was engaged in the race of a lifetime, trying to beat the Russians to the moon. I probably saw that rocket launch on TV. The whole world was watching, after all. But I could never have dreamed that I’d one day meet the engineer who monitored that launch from a NASA blockhouse, or that his story would inspire a story in me.
I met Ed Stevens just a few years ago when he read one of my earlier books (one with a bright pink cover, no less—Ed is a brave man) and sent a very nice note. He explained that he’d been reading my stories and loved them because, in his words, “You don’t have to run them through a testosterone filter.” They were okay for guys to read, too. Ed also told me he was a retired engineer, and that if he could help me to spread word of my books on the Internet, he’d be happy to.
As Ed and I worked on YouTube channels and speeding up my hamster-wheel Internet service, I learned that Ed had a fascinating history, and that he had some wise thoughts to share about what matters most when you find yourself looking back on a very successful life and career. I found myself saving his notes about working for Howard Hughes, the early days at NASA, the launch of Surveyor 1, the importance of fatherhood, the years of American Camelot, and the uncertainty of aging. Like all good stories, his took flight in my imagination and eventually became part of a book.
In Dandelion Summer one of the characters shares Ed’s early history with Hughes and NASA. Now widowed, ailing, and put out to pasture after an illustrious career, Norman feels as if he has little left to contribute in the world. When Norman’s daughter hires a smart-mouthed, troubled teenage girl to cook for him in the afternoons, a tenuous partnership is born. For Norman, Epie’s presence unlocks not only recollections of sending rockets to the moon, but long-buried memories of childhood abuse, a hidden family past, and a black housekeeper who saved him. As Norman and Epie begin to search for Norman’s true identity, both lives are changed. Their search takes them on a road trip of epic proportions through historic Southern towns and into nostalgic recollections of America’s space race of the 1960’s.
For me, Dandelion Summer was a joy to write, as the original Apollo launches are some of my earliest recollections. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders, brushing my chin on his bristly flattop haircut and watching fire trails streak overhead. After learning Ed’s story, I don’t look at the moon the same way anymore. Now when I glance up at the night sky, I think, “Surveyor is still up there, sitting alone in the shallow dust near the Ocean of Storms, waiting for the world to remember her.” Forty-five years ago, the entire country cheered as Surveyor sent back the first pictures of the moon’s surface, and maybe this summer’s anniversary of that landing is a good reminder. We are still the sons and daughters of those forward-thinking men who devoted their lives to reaching what had been beyond reach. I hope, when readers finish Dandelion Summer, they’ll not only stand up and cheer for Norman and Epiphany, but for their real-life counterparts, those men like Ed Stevens, who had the audacity to dream the impossible and the tenacity to go forth and accomplish it.
- Lisa Wingate
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