At some point in our lives, each of us comes to learn of one luxury that we feel is vital to our way of life. Obviously, I think the internet is my most important luxury. Video games are probably in there somewhere, too.
But after that, it’s nice cars.
I’m no expert on cars, but I enjoy them. I’m always eager to drive something new, though the opportunity doesn’t come along all that often. My list of things I’ve driven is relatively short – Short enough that I can recount it right here.
As far as manuals go, I’ve driven a Chevy S-10, a Toyota Corolla, and a Dodge Neon.
For automatics, I’ve driven a Mazda Protegé, a Mazda 3, a Chevy HHR, an Oldsmobile Intrigue, a Dodge Caliber, a Ford Focus, a Ford Windstar, a Chevy Cavalier, a Chevy Malibu Maxx, and two different Ford Mustangs.
I don’t know what it was about the Mustangs that drew me to them, but I love those cars. Hot Wheels versions, still in the packages, hang above my sewing machine. A book about them sits on my shelf, there’s pictures of them on the calendar in the kitchen, a sticker of one on the back of my phone. That one serves an important purpose, at least; my husband and I have the same kind of phone, so a sticker means I can tell at a glance which one is mine.
There is also, of course, the Mustang that sits in my driveway. Her name is Rosie II.
But what does all this have to do with writing? It seems like a stretch, I know.
Writing Death of the Sun was an interesting experience for me, largely because it’s a genre I don’t even really read. I’m just not that interested in fiction set in modern times, I’d rather re-read The Chronicles of Narnia. Writing a book that was set in the real world presented a unique set of challenges. I had to bend the rules of the world around me to make something supernatural fit in.
I’ve always heard people say that it’s best to write what you know. I did a lot of research, but in the end, the things that make the fictional additions to the world seem believable are the ties they’re given to real places.
I spent some time thinking before I decided to set the story in St. Louis. It’s no secret that I grew up in that area, and I feel like adding a little fantasy flair to places I knew was what would really make it seem real. I’ve had several readers from the St. Louis area mention that they love the local references.
But as an extension of writing what you know, I decided to explore one of the facts of life that I learned when I was a teenager, and that’s where cars come in.
I suppose I was about sixteen or so at the time. A dear friend of the family came to spend a few nights with us, and his dad was the one who came to get him when it was time to go home. I’m sure I will never forget seeing him roll up the driveway in a brand new black Trans Am.
He’s always seemed like a quiet and mellow kind of guy. Serving in the Air Force, he had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He didn’t really want to talk about the war, I couldn’t blame him for that. Just speaking of coming home seemed to make his voice shaky. My mother asked him about the new car, and he just sort of laughed. “Well,” he’d said, looking the Trans Am over with an appreciative eye. “Life is too short to go without nice cars.”
I wrote a lot of life lessons into Death of the Sun. They often don’t show clearly, but that one line was something that had always stuck with me. Blaine, of course, speaks of the same wisdom. He may repeat it with some sense of irony, but since I ended up writing him with an awfully nice car, it’s easy to see that it’s some tie to humanity, some simple wisdom that can apply to anyone.
I’m not in love with Blaine’s car. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong – But it’s not my dream. I gave him his car, a 2002 Pontiac Firebird, in homage of that car being my husband’s dream. He may never get it, but that’s no reason to forget.
But the idea that life is too short to live without nice cars… that’s why I made the push to get a Mustang as my first car, because it was what I really loved. Once I had that, and I got to experience driving the winding paths that Route 66 cut into the southern Illinois countryside, I understood a little better. There’s a real freedom in having a car. And if you’re going to give yourself that freedom, why not go all the way? Our time here on Earth is so brief. We might as well ride it out in style.
Everyone’s got a life luxury like that. What’s yours?