LSQ: Popular music is significant to your characters. Can you comment on how a certain song can evoke powerful memories and why this is so important in your story?
Jennifer: I think research states that scent memories are the strongest, but it seems like music memories produce a far more visceral feeling for me. Certain songs are like a needle dropping into the record grooves of my brain, and there are some songs that I know I’ve heard all my life; there’s such a deep seated sense of satisfaction every time I hear one, like finally reaching an itch. Anytime I got in the car with my dad, the radio was on. I have the same habit.
I also think that sometimes, when you don’t have the emotional vocabulary for what’s going on, music can help bridge that gap. Sometimes things are just too sensitive to touch, emotionally speaking, but if you can hear the right song, share the right song, it helps to get around that.
LSQ: How far in the future do you imagine this story taking place?
Jennifer: I didn’t have a specific year in mind for it, but before a crewed mission is sent to Mars proper. I think NASA pretty recently put the year 2029 on that goal, so I’d have to say 2027, if they’re going to meet that deadline. I wrote this story prior to that announcement, though, so in my head it was more like 2040. If we get there sooner, that’d be great.
It’s actually been a profound disappointment of mine that humans haven’t yet returned to the moon during my lifetime. I don’t think we ever should’ve stopped those missions, and I feel like there might be a better sense (any sense?) of global unity had they continued. I think of this often, especially when considering the Pale Blue Dot photo taken by Voyager 1. Earth is what we have. It’s everybody, living and dead, right here. That is humbling and terrifying and other -ing words I’m sure about, and that perspective is I think a valuable one to keep in mind.
LSQ: Some of the most intriguing aspects of the main character, Suzanne, are unsaid. For her to be chosen as the one astronaut for the mission, she must have been extremely qualified (even to become an astronaut to start with) and yet she doesn’t mention her accolades at all. Can you comment on her character?
Jennifer: I suppose I could’ve covered her Top Gun journey in some way, but honestly, I didn’t think of it. The story is such a narrow slice of crisis-time, and those earthbound exploits don’t really intersect with her musings on her dad and those involved feelings. It didn’t seem like it needed to be told, which does admittedly leave gaps for the reader. Maybe someday I’ll write a prologue of sorts, or a companion piece, but there’s something I like about a story that happens later. After the main adventure, after the dragon was slain, after all of the blood and sweat and tears to become an astronaut.
LSQ: What did you draw on to create such a strong father-daughter bond in the story? Where did your inspiration for the characters, their relationship, and the NASA mission come from?
Jennifer: I am not a pilot or an astronaut; other than that, this story is entirely autobiographical. I did meet an astronaut, Pete Conrad, when he was on some kind of a speaking tour to get kids interested in space. I was younger than the age range the program dictated, and I do still have his autographed picture. I did lose my balloon.
When I was little, I thought that radio worked the same was TV did, so I would ask my dad when “Werewolves of London” would be on, and he’d tell me something like “oh, five minutes.” When I was little enough to have the radio confusion, I also couldn’t really tell time yet, so this strategy worked out pretty well, I guess. I don’t remember what beer it was that had that werewolf cutout at the liquor store (Bud Light? Was that the silver bullet, in the 80s?) that howled and talked when you walked past. I did swim out just a little too far out once, a little too close to the jetty at Asbury Park, and my dad did beat the lifeguard to me. I do remember saying “I’m okay” and his reply.
I do have that empty Wish You Were Here jewel case. I do have his watch. He and Pete Conrad did both pass in the same way.
My family did go to Florida one spring break, and woke up in the middle of the night to hopefully see a shuttle launch (it must have been delayed; we didn’t have quite the connectivity, in the 90s, to be able to check live updates). With these tidbits of space interest, it’s kind of a wonder that I never tried to go down any kind of NASA career path, but I didn’t.
LSQ: It seems Suzanne’s situation is fatal, but can the reader interpret NASA’s reply that there are “a couple of options” with a glimmer of hope?
Jennifer: I suppose there’s always hope? ‘Does she survive’ isn’t a question I was asking.