Deford visits The Early Show to talk about it.
Although Deford is known best as a sports writer, "An American Summer" is his eighth novel. He says he has always jumped between fiction and non-fiction, noting that even in school he wrote for the school paper while also penning short stories.
And says he loves fiction: "It's ultimately more satisfying…It's more creative, it's all coming out of you and there's no safety net." Deford says he put a lot of himself in "An American Summer."
First of all, he grew up in 1950s Baltimore, he says, and he poured himself into the main character, Christy.
"I used some of me to flesh out Christy," he says, adding that his family was not like Christy's. He also used his daughter Alex, who died at age 8 from cystic fibrosis, as a model for the character of Kathryn.
"The experience of living with someone so brave gave me the confidence to write about Kathryn," he says. "I borrowed Alex's spirit and her tone."
What does he want readers to take from his book?
"I hope this reminds people of the polio epidemic and how horrible it was. I'm amazed how the whole thing has basically been forgotten. For those who don't remember it, I hope this instructs them how awful it was."
He adds the book focuses on the idea of honor, something that's not necessarily "out" but is hardly in style.
"It used to be if someone offended your honor, you would duel," he says. Honor just doesn't mean as much as it should these days, he says, and the word "honorable" is hardly ever used.
Finally, Deford wants readers to think about different types of love. He says that "An American Summer" is really a love story, although not in the traditional sense. Christy and Kathryn are in love and this bond allows them to help each other through difficulty.
Deford actually started work on the novel a long time ago and had set it aside. He had hoped to release it in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Salk's discovery of the polio vaccine in 1955. However, in October, an editor called his agent, looking for something to reflect the "new tone" of the nation after Sept. 11. He saw Deford's nostalgic novel, set in a time when youngsters were innocent and everyone was taught morals and respect, as the perfect answer.
Deford has begun work on a new novel, but that won't be ready "for quite some time," he says.