The genesis of how Stardust Dads came to be written is a story that some folks would describe as surreal as sometimes the novel itself. My wife Josephine was driving to work one morning, the day after Mother’s Day, crying and upset over prematurely losing our beloved calico cat, Bratly. At that moment, a song playing on the car’s radio struck a responsive chord. It was familiar to Josephine, but she couldn’t put a name to it. She remembered her late, guitar-playing father had often played the song, and Jo was convinced her dad was trying to comfort her in her moment of grief and despair. Subsequently, whenever Josephine was feeling despondent or blue, the song would magically turn up on the radio, in the car, at home, or at work.
On July 28, her birthday, she was again driving to work when she heard the familiar tune, which is when she said out loud, “Dad, if you’re trying to wish me a happy birthday, please let me know the name of this song.” The song ended and the DJ on the radio announced that the song was “Stardust by Willie Nelson.”
She spoke about it with me, sharing how well her father played the guitar and how the song Stardust touched something inside her. I shared with her that my late dad had played the piano, mostly the old standards. Days later, Josephine came to me and related a vision she had, a vision of a fabulous place she called Midway Manor, a place where her dad met my dad and became fast friends, jamming out together whenever the mood suited them.
Josephine continued to share with me how she envisioned our dads together at Midway Manor. She began describing this wonderful place, sincerely convinced that all of it was vividly real in her head. To which I suggested she “get it down on paper.”
Jo began writing in the fall of 2002, the year in which both Jo and I were exactly the ages of our dads when they passed away. She wrote and rewrote, revised and revised, edited and re-edited, all the while pleading with me to go over it and polish it. And I did. Again and again.
“Now it’s your turn to write a chapter,” she had coaxed.
“I will,” I said, not at all convinced or enthusiastic.
But then something strange happened. First, I wrote a chapter in the spring of 2003. The protagonist was a young adventure-magazine editor in his 30s whom I called Danny Wallace, who had just received word that his dad had died. The chapter turned out to be better than I thought it would be. And I suddenly realized that here not only was the beginning of the novel I had always threatened to write, but also the “hook” I had been searching for that might carry it successfully to the general public.
Jo wrote another chapter, and I the next, and on and on the book went. Throughout the novel, which begins in the ’70s, the Stardust theme figured prominently. And at a point not quite midway through the writing of the book, my mother passed away. In my grief, partly as a tribute, partly as a catharsis, I wrote in my mother as one of the characters, as Danny Wallace’s mother, who dies and goes to Midway Manor.
Later, I experienced a vivid dream in which my mother appeared, announcing she was back. At first I was frightened. But in time I decided it may have been her way of letting me know she was still with me and that the book was a fine idea.
We have revised, edited and polished Stardust Dads, and revised it some more. Hopefully, it is a novel that will leave readers, who still grieve over the loss of a loved one, with a lasting, positive vision.