Cars, Cars, Cars–Where Does Max's Obsession Come From?
"I come by my mania for machines honestly. My dad was an RAF pilot, but after a couple of bad crashes invalided him out, he’d turned from planes to cars, much to my mum’s dismay." Max Grant, At First Sight
This was my first car. Not exactly this car, but a 1953 Buick. It wasn't really mine, it was my mom's by way of my dad's Aunt Bess. It was 1967, I was sixteen and had just passed my driving test. In fact, my mom took me for my first attempt in the Buick. Unfortunately the car failed.
Second time was the charm in my dad's new Chevy Impala. The biggest problem, besides the fact that I wasn't used to driving it, was being able to see over the steering wheel. The examiner told my dad to be sure I sat on a pillow if I was going to drive his car. Then I went to college, where I didn't have a car. Needless to say, I was not one of the cool kids.
The first car that I bought, right out of school because I needed a way to get to work, was a Chevy Nova. It lasted five years before the expense of the repairs outweighed the value of the car. By then I had finished grad school, gotten married, and moved to Northbrook. Peter drove it more than I did by the end. He had the long commute and I got a ride with a neighbor who also worked at Scott, Foresman Publishing Company, where I was a proofreader.
After that we had a series of cars. All were compacts or subcompacts and we kept them until they wore out. In fact, one of my students asked me why I drove a beater. We were not car-proud people. When we moved back to Champaign-Urbana in 1979, the bus was our main form of transportation, so when our twelve-year-old Toyota Corolla was totaled, we only had 80,000 miles on the speedometer.
Now I live in Rogers Park, the farthest northeast area of Chicago. When I moved here in 2017, I sold my three-year old Toyota Prius Compact (less than 10,000 miles) and started taking public transportation. City driving. Not so keen. Driving around for half an hour to find a parking space. Not appealing. The expense—parking fees, gas, repairs, insurance—I had better uses for my money. The bus stop is around the corner; the "L" station a few blocks away.
So when I started writing At First Sight in July 2018, why did I create a hero who loves cars?
Early on in the book, Max muses about the car he is going to drive to Cress' book signing.
"I’m a keen car collector and I fell in love with the three-wheel Slingshot the first time I saw one sprinting down an alley, the morning sun sparkling on it. A cross between a sports car and a motorcycle, no doors or roof, waterproof interior, it has a futuristic shape that reminds me of the bullet-shaped sports cars of the 1930s."
My first sight of a Slingshot was seeing one driving down Pratt Boulevard past my condo building in 2018. It stood out with it's unusual design and the fact that it is a three-wheeler. A few days later, I was doing a writing exercise, asking Max to tell me what he was interested in outside of work. Cars, he said! Formula One racing. I was surprised.
But I knew nothing about race cars, fancy cars, or racing. My friend, Merritt Scott Collins, came to the rescue. Among her other accomplishments, which include being a fabulous knitter, she is a race-car driver. Merritt told me everything I needed to know to make Max's passion come to life. And she approved of the scene I eventually wrote where he really lets go about his love of cars. There is also a scene at a car museum that she hasn't read but that I loved writing.
Am I now a car enthusiast? Do I watch races on TV? Will I buy a car? Is a trip to Road America in Wisconsin in my future?
I don't miss driving. Public transportation—"L" and bus—work fine for me. Writing about Max hasn't changed me, but if someone offers me a ride in a Slingshot or a Ferrari, I won't turn it down.