Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Baby You Can Drive My Car

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: One of my smallest skills is--driving. I am a really bad driver. I have no depth perception, and no patience, and I'm too nice. Which means timid. My drivers ed teacher once told my mother that the only reason he'd take me on the road is that he had his own brake, it wasn't his car, and the high school had insurance. Seriously.
      Oh!  And my father made me buy my first car by myself. Do the deal on your own, he said, with his one absolute warning. He said: You tell them you will not pay for Taxes and Title. Never never never.
      I had no idea. I said, sure. And  when the dealer tried to charge me for T and T, I refused, utterly refused, until they relented.  (I was 18).
       I went home all proud, and my father said-- "I never said TAXES! You HAVE to pay Taxes, honey!  I said TAGS and title. TAGS!" 

  Sigh.  What did I know.  But I had my first car, a little black Chevette. Which I had mistakenly thought was navy blue, and so it goes.
        Anyway--choosing a car for my characters, though. THAT I realized was important. Charlotte McNally has a buzzy sporty Jeep. That works. Jane Ryland has an Audi TT convertible--which becomes a bitterly frustrating extravagance when she gets fired.
       Choosing your character's car is a big deal. It means something, telegraphs something.  As the wonderful debut author David Burnsworth explains.        
While I love spending time at my desk killing people on the page, my true passion is automobiles. From the earliest time I can remember, I have always loved them.  Picture books with cars or trucks automatically received more of my interest and mom most likely used that trait to get me to read more.  A book I remember reading with her before bed when I was about six focused around a truck driver making deliveries.
This seems to have carried over into my writing. Selecting what my characters drive is as much a part of their personality as what they wear or how they react to situations. I had a lot of fun choosing rides for all the players in my first book, envisioning the different scenes as mini movies.
Some might call this profiling or cliché, but the vehicle choice should not be a detail that takes the reader out of the story because it doesn’t fit the character. For example, Brack Pelton, the protagonist in my first book, Southern Heat, is an Afghanistan War Veteran and ex-race car driver. His car of choice is a new Mustang GT.
 He won’t willingly drive an economy car, although he ends up having to. Not that there is anything wrong with economy cars, they just don’t fit his profile. Same with putting a high-powered lawyer-type in a clapped out hooptie—it doesn’t work. Also in the book, Brack’s lawyer’s steed of choice is big, expensive, and German. Like movies, the wrong prop could really wreck a scene.
The car becomes an extension of who they are, even if it is not the focus of the story. And I’m happy to say that I picked up this trait from some of my favorite writers. James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux drives a pickup with a toolbox welded in the bed. Dave’s sidekick, Clete Purcel, drives a classic Caddy convertible. 
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher hitchhikes or takes the bus. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch now drives a Mustang, but he used to drive unmarked cruisers. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt has a collection of classics to choose from. (Thank you, Clive!) John Sanford’s Lucas Davenport drives a Porsche and a Lexus SUV. In his latest work, Sanford gives the antagonist several vehicles and explains the relevance behind one in particular. All these character rides, or lack-there-of, are part of a long list of elements that help define them.
When I read a story, I really enjoy when the vehicle fits the character. Even the minor ones. The importance of this depends, of course, on the genre and who the target reader is. If the writing is good, I won’t put the book down just because the car is, in my opinion, wrong for the part. Or if the cars are generic. It’s just one of those little details that helps solidify the personality and keeps me engaged. And keeping the reader engaged is what I as a writer am after.

HANK: This makes me realize--except for the Lincoln Lawyer, I'm not quite sure what any main character drives. Does Kinsey Millhone drive a VW Bug? Who else drives what? And--what was YOUR first car?
(And I am thrilled to give a copy of  SOUTHERN HEAT to one lucky commenter!) (US only, please.)
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Southern Heat is his first mystery. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife, along with their dog, call South Carolina home. 

    Gunshots echo down an antebellum Charleston alley. Brack Pelton, an ex-racecar driver and Afghanistan War veteran, witnesses the murder of his uncle, Reggie Sails. Darcy Wells, the pretty Palmetto Pulse reporter, investigates Reggie's murder and targets Brack. 
      The sole heir of his uncle's estate, Brack receives a rundown bar called the Pirate's Cove, a rotting beach house, and one hundred acres of preserved and valuable wetland along the Ashley River. A member of Charleston's wealthiest and oldest families offers Brack four million dollars for the land. 
      All Brack wants is his uncle's killer. From the sandy beaches of Isle of Palms, through the nineteenth-century mansions lining the historic Battery, to the marshlands surrounding the county, Southern Heat is drenched in the humidity of the lowcountry.


Mark Baker said...

I'm that weird guy who doesn't care about cars. I can't tell you what make or model anything is. I just truly don't care. That translates to fiction where I can't tell you what anyone does or doesn't drive.

My first car? 78 Dodge Colt. Funny story. My family bought it used. When we were done with it, we sold it to my grandparents. Several years later, they gave it to me. My second car was also a gift of a used car, this time an '84 Honda Accord. The first car I bought is my current car, a 2001 Honda CR-V. I bought it used and will probably pass 200K on it this year.

Joan Emerson said...

Confession time --- I don’t believe I’ve ever paid any particular attention to what type of cars the characters in the book are driving unless the author specifically makes it an important part of the story . . . .
I think my first car was a Ford; it was my mom’s car and I sort of inherited it.
Hank, you could be describing me when you talk about driving . . . I have no depth perception, I’m timid and lacking in patience . . . . I absolutely despise having to drive and the best days are those in which I never have to get behind the wheel of my car [currently a Saturn, but then I’ve had a Saturn since 1992 or thereabouts, so I’m not likely to change after all this time.] I love my car . . . I just don’t want to have to be the one that drives it anywhere . . . .

Reine said...

My first car was a very old Chevy Corvair—THE 1961 Unsafe at Any Speed car. That says a lot about the me who drove it. It was cheap.

It was cheap, because no one would buy it. By the time Ralph Nader got through with it you had to pay to have it towed away or to leave it at the dump. Not even junkyard dealers wanted it, because no one was fixing them, not with used parts or any parts at all. In Boston the favorite way to get rid of one was to drive it to Quincy Quarry and push it over the edge.

So if I were a character in one of your books, David or Hank, it would say a lot about me that I bought this world's worst ever car for $35. Oh. Steve reminds me that my boyfriend bought it for me. Now I'm wondering what kind of boyfriend was he for buying me the Unsafe at Any Speed car? And we're still married?

Hank, did they really fill the quarry in? I wonder if they found my uncles.

Anonymous said...

My first car was a kind of hybrid I named Blossom - bought her for $100 cash - locally near Versailles, Kentucky, ( the Calumet Farm country, where most other cars were definitely upper class types) ... when she didn't start well, I just kicked her - and it worked, kinda like an ole horse - that would not have been in the Derby!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan - where my current cars are the local taxis!!!

Hallie Ephron said...

I agree, David - the car has to fit the sleuth's personality.

As in -- "Stella's Jeep, a sweet little green LIberty with chrome aluminum wheels and a sunroof, had been her husband Ollie's pride and joy. He bought it new less than four months before he died and never let Stella drive it once. Ollie said she didn't know how to handle a car that set up off that road like that so she kept driving the crappy little Neon that Ollie himself had creased along a guardrail after a few too many beers coming home from a fishing trip." POINTS for anyone who knows who Stella is

My 91 year old in "There Was an Old Woman" drives a 1975 Ford Mustang, V8 engine with 56K original miles on it and though the seats sag it is in pristine condition.

Sandi said...

My first car was a gray Pacer that I named Charlie Brown, partly because it had the same depressing personality and partly because it was shaped like his head. Remember the Pacer? We called it the fishbowl car because of all the glass. I drove across the Mackinac Bridge in that thing, and I hate bridges. I remember the car had a very skinny steering wheel because after I crossed that bridge the second time, when it took nearly 45 minutes because two of four lanes were closed, one for construction and one for emergency vehicles because someone had fallen off the bridge, I had fingernail marks in my hands from gripping the wheel. The car also went to college with me for one year, where it died of embarrassment.

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

What a fabulous and refreshing post! I, too, think long and hard about the cars my characters drive, not knowing it was indicative of personality traits and other things. Now you've given me something new to think about in my writing. THANK YOU!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

I love this post--thanks David and Hank! Hallie, don't know who Stella is but that sure is a great example of how to use car talk in a novel...

My first car was a slant six Dodge dart with a yellow body and a black top and interior. I loved that car! When I moved to Florida with it, discovered how fast I could scream when my thighs hit the black faux leather...

In the Key West mysteries, Hayley drives a silver scooter:)

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Cars are hard for me as a writer since I'm personally like Mark. My ideal of a good car is one that gets me from point A to point B when I want.

In my novels I do make a point of my main character, who is worth a bundle, drives cars for years after their use by date.

Best of luck with your debut mystery, David.

~ Jim

Deb Romano said...

I don't care much about cars and have never paid attention to what sort of car is driven by characters in the books I read. All cars look alike to me! This is sort of funny, because when I was a child, my best friend's grandfather LOVED cars, and taught us to recognize different makes and models, etc. When he visited her family, we would sit out in front of the building, and he would grill us on all the cars that drove down the street, until we knew the year, make, and model of each car we saw! I retained that ability to distinguish between cars until I was around 10 years old, when my friend's family moved out of town.

All I really care about cars is that my car must go forwards and backwards when I want it to.

My first car was one I bought, used, from relatives, a 1970 VW Fastback. My next car, the first NEW car I owned, was a 1980 Datsun 210. These days, I buy used cars. My current one is an eleven year old Honda that I bought 7 years ago. I love it and hope it will be me to 200,000 miles. (Mark, you're an inspiration!)

I used to love to drive, but after working for around 13 years at jobs that required me to drive to various parts of the state, driving was no longer fun. Now I work locally, and am in the office all day. My big commute now is 3 miles one way and it had better not take longer than 10 minutes!

Amy Mackin said...

My protagonist drives a basic minivan. She's spent a lifetime trying to blend in, so in suburbia this choice is appropriate. It is red, however, because she's got a bit of hidden sass that emerges here and there.

My first car was an old Mazda 626 with 130k miles on it. It spent more time in the shop than on the road, and ever since owning it I've dreamed of living in a place where I could travel everywhere I wanted to go by foot!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I think I know, Hallie? Is the author related to a local crime writer!

And let's talk about naming cars. I never have. Huh. Maybe because I just never had a good relationship with them?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thelma, that's too funny. I can envision that!

MArk, 2000K miles--that's wonderful, right? Didn't cars used to last only three yeras?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Sandi, that is SO bleak!

Lucy, di you call your car The Bee?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

AMy, where would that be, I wonder? When I first came to Boston, I didn't have a car. I figured I could easily get everywhere by public transportation,and even if I took cabs, it would still be cheaper than buying a car, and insurance, and upkeep and parking.... but it was really a pain.

So I got a--hmm...what did I buy? Oh, gosh, a maroon, like a....hmm. It was 1983, and it was a--Oh, I have no idea. You see how attached I was to it.

I later traded it for a black Jetta, which I actually loved. It was very cool, with tinted windows.

Tammy said...

Congratulations on your debut, David!

Cars are important to my Kate Reilly, of course. In her personal life, she drives an old Jeep with hundreds of thousands of miles on it, from driving all over the country to races. Since she's a pro now though, in her second full year of being paid to drive in the big leagues of racing (and being paid for her travel, most importantly), it's going to be time to upgrade her. And that's going to be a tough job!

For her day job, of course, Kate pilots the Sandham Swift #28 Corvette Stingray C7.R (the R is for racecar), with about 500 horsepower. Vroom!

My choice of Corvette was deliberate when I created Kate. I knew much more about Porsches (and more people involved in them), but I wanted Kate and her world to be grounded in American steel. I wanted to talk about the grunt and rumble of the Corvette's V8, rather than the buzzy whine of a Porsche or Ferrari.

It all matters!

Mary Sutton said...

My first car was a 1991 Chevy Cavalier. Drove it for almost 100,000 miles, until kids forced me into a minivan. It has the distinction of being the only car I ever owned that was not white or silver. It was blue.

My main character drives a Jeep - not the fancy, leather-seat, looks good but you can't take it off road Jeep. Just a plain Jeep. Good for driving country back roads, loading up the boat, hauling the days catch of fish, and stuff a muddy dog in the back.

My public defender drives a tan Toyota Camry. Reliable, not too flashy, gets her from A to B, and doesn't cost a fortune.

Funny, I didn't put a lot of conscious thought into choosing vehicles, but now I'm thinking it was some intense subconscious decision making.

Anonymous said...

As others have said, the type of car a character drives is a major clue to personality.
One thing that bugs me about writers is when they don't get the details right - like giving a car that's only available as a 2-door back doors or putting a back seat in a 2 seater sports car.

My first car: 1967 Dodge Dart GT, 273 V-8, automatic, white with a black interior. Got it my third year in college with 18,000 miles on it, paid $1400 for it, traded it in 3 years later with 70,000, got $1700 for it. Wish I'd kept it.

Bethany K. Warner said...

A 1984 Plymouth Relient that had been my grandmother's car. It was a blue box on wheels, but it had power locks and windows which was pretty cutting edge in 1984. Less so in 1996 when it became my car.

Joyce Tremel said...

This post made me realize I have no idea what car my current protagonist drives! I should probably figure that out...

One of my previous main characters (female) drove a ten year old red Jeep, and another (also female) drove an old blue Ford truck.

My first car was a '65 Mustang that my brother in law gave me. I ended up selling it a year or two later for $50 because there was a hole in the frame. My next car was a '70 Plymouth Duster--a total rust bucket. I'm not sure what held it together. My favorite car was a '72 Buick Skylark I named "Surf's Up." Baby blue with a white vinyl roof. I was very sad when that one died.

Lee Lofland said...

My first car was a 1964 Rambler. I truly loved that $100 car even though every time I stopped for a red light I had to get out, open the hood, and jiggle the jammed shift linkage so I could switch to low gear. I also kept extra cans of motor oil in the trunk (it burned more oil than gas) along with several gallons of water for the radiator, which leaked badly.

But, my trusted old Rambler was good on gas ($.35 per gallon back then), and it took me wherever I wanted to go. And, at the ripe old age of 16, that was everywhere and anywhere.

I don't know why, but some of my friends named the car "Tweety." In fact, one of them bought a Tweety Bird magnet and stuck it to the all-steel dashboard, above the 8-track tape player and FM converter.

One of the funniest things about that car was that the windshield wipers moved in sync with the motor - the faster you went the faster the wipers moved. Heaven help you, though, if it was raining really hard and you were caught in slow-moving traffic. Couldn't see a thing.

Jeff Cohen said...

My first car was a 1965 Chevy Impala that I had painted brown from its original yellow. Paid $100 for the car, and it was worth every dime. Big enough to land aircraft on. But the best feature was that you could actually take the key out while the car was moving. Used to freak out my friends whenever possible, ask them to get something out of the glove compartment (which locked) and hand them the key out of the ignition. Good times, good times.

Now I drive a Prius C. And I love that car. When I'm done driving it, I put it in my pants pocket and walk away.

Steve Ulfelder said...

Hallie, I think Hank is correct - does Stella's last name begin with H?

My protagonist, Conway Sax, is a washed-up NASCAR driver and mechanic. To some readers it may seem odd, then, that he doesn't much care what he drives on the street (a series of Ford pickups that he buys used). But I'm a race driver myself, and Conway's choice reflects my own and that of many racing buddies: once you've raced, truly *raced*, automobiles, anything you can do on the public road pales by comparison, so you might as well just choose a comfy ride with A/C and a nice radio. In Conway's world, performance cars are for posers.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Great line Steve: "performance cars are for posers..."

I must also add that I bought a faux woodie Ford falcon station wagon for $200--that came before the dart. the engine worked fine but the entire bottom of the car rusted out and collapsed onto the road. finally after replacing the gas tank and the entire emissions system, I had to give it up.

See I think I have had relationships with cars Hank, but they never told me their names...

Kim said...

I'm fascinated by the responses here - it seems there are 2 camps: car people and I-don't-car people. I'm a car person, and can still remember my parents first car, a beautiful black GTO, and then my own first car, a pristine 1967 hunter green Mustang ... bought back in the day when such a car didn't carry a collector's item price tag.

For my new mystery series, I have agonized over my main character's car, because I feel it says much about her. It took me weeks to discover the Studebaker Lark, and now that I have, the story can begin, because it was impossible to get her from point A to point B without the right car!!

Jack Getze said...

Like Hank's strawberry jam on a bagel, I got tired of cars. From age 15 to 21, working on or racing my '55 Chevy was pretty much all I did. Then one day I placed a frame stand in the wrong place, got pinned underneath when the car fell on me -- within an inch or two of crushing my chest. Sold my drag racer the next week. I was done.

Personally I would only go into great detail on someone's vehicle if it were part of the story. Kinda like showing a pistol on the wall, you'd want to use it later in the story.

Grandma Cootie said...

Never paid any attention to the cars the characters were driving - I guess that's because as David says my favorite authors think of it for me: Haley on her scooter gives us another piece of her personality!

Kinsey drives a Mustang now, and regrets getting it. Too conspicuous.

Good luck David!

Kaye Barley said...

ooooh, I did love my first car, which was a "pre-owned" car I bought myself. I used money I got for cashing in savings bonds. When I was in school we bought savings stamps every week at school and filled little books with them. When the books were filled, they were then exchanged for a savings bond.

My parents kept the savings bonds, which I had promptly forgotten existed.

My sophomore year at college (freshmen were not allowed to bring cars onto campus), my dad took me to buy my car.

I was short $50.

So he gave me the $50 and I paid cash for the car. ($800, I think!)

It was a 1966 Buick Skylark. Red with a white top. Red leather interior. Bucket seats, 4 in the floor.

Honey! I was over the moon.

I am a fool for cool old cars and trucks. Today's cars are just too boring and plain vanilla.

My dream is to own a vintage pick-up truck. One of these days.

cttiger said...

My first car was an ugly beige Chevrolet Vega. Need i say more? the only upside to the whole episode is that I met and dated the service manager for a couple of years. And you needed one with a Vega!
Sleuth car? Mine drives a 15-year-old dented Blazer, held together only by rust and duct tape. Like you, Hank, she's not much of a driver and with a piece of junk, doesn't have to worry about dents.

Keenan Powell, Attorney at Law said...

An VW bug. I glued a collage of photos on the hood, thought it looked very creative. Blew two engines. As it turns out, they need oil. Who knew?

Leslie Budewitz said...

David, congratulations on your debut!

For some characters, the car is key. For others, like for some people, it's "meh." I'm desperately trying to figure out what my protag's brother drives. Nick's a 36 y.o. single wolf biologist in NW Montana who needs that 4 wheel drive and space for gear. He makes a living but is not wealthy; he does not care about money or status. He cares about wolves. And it can't be a Subaru -- the semi-official car in these parts -- b/c that's what his sister drives! Suggestions most urgently welcomed.

Karen in Ohio said...

All my cars have had the same name: Nelliebelle, just like the Jeep in the Roy Rogers show when I was a kid. "WHOA, Nelliebelle!", as my dad always said. It's too good a memory to let go of.

I also don't get cars much, and hate choosing a new one so much that I've been driving good old reliable Hondas now for 37 years. (Which is about to change, but I'm agonizing about what to change to.)

When we bought our Kentucky farm six years ago we realized we would need three new vehicles: a tractor, a 4X4, and a small pickup truck. Coincidentally, I had just begun reading Earlene Fowler's quilt mystery series.

My husband went on Craigslist and found all three of the required items. Choosing the truck was a task, though, since neither of us knew a thing about them (not that we knew anything about tractors or 4X4's, frankly). But Steve found a truck and he asked me if I wanted to go look at it with him.

On our way there I asked him what kind of truck it was. He said it was a Ford Ranger. Which I had never heard of, until the NIGHT BEFORE, when I was reading Fowler's book that mentioned her "Barney-colored purple Ranger). I said, wouldn't it be funny if it turned out to be purple?

Which it did! And it was the same year as the one in the book.

Of course we bought it. It was a sign, wasn't it?

And then the darn thing died, on the expressway, on our way down to the farm one afternoon a year or so later. So we donated it to the local public radio station.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lee. that is hilarious! The windshield wipers--why would that even happen?

I love the idea of a Tan Camry, Mary! Very..background.

Tammy! Brilliant! And of course, you're our resident car expert-you and Steve Ulfelder. Hey--do you know each other?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Reading over all the comments again--such wonderful stories, and proof of how our relationships with our cars is so personal and meaningful, whether it's a love story or a "meh" story.

SO--who has a suggestion for Leslie Budewitz? Jungle Red to the car rescue!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh and my candidate for WORST car name is the "Aspire."

What's that supposed to mean--someday you hope to get a REAL car?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Kim--Studebaker Lark! SO perfect..and fun to write, too. Wonder if your main character is "larkish," the way I would think about it?

Amy Mackin said...

Hank, I know it--probably impossible anywhere in this day and age. I was thinking NYC. But even there, sometimes there's no cab when you need one. I took my daughter in to see a show, but it was raining and people were waiting an hour for cabs, so we took a bike taxi/rickshaw covered with a tarp. Driver got lost, we got soaked, and I was flagging down a UPS Driver at a red light for directions. Hilarious, but not something I want to repeat any time soon!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And the winner (from yesterday) of John Lescroart's THE KEEPER is is HELEN NELSON! Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com and tell me your address!


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Cttiger--I had a Vega, too! Butterscotch Yellow. And yeah, I think it got recalled.Just for being..generally awful.

Fat Cat said...

My first car was a two-tone green MG Magnet 4-door that I paid $150 of cold, hard, babysitting cash to buy. I fondly called her Betty Jean (but my Dad called it The Green Hornet.) I happily drove it for 4 years until I finished college and got married, and my new husband insisted we get rid of Betty Jean instantly because she didn't fit his image of himself. Maybe it was the hole in the floorboard where you could watch the road speeding by? That demand of his should have been a big clue to me, but I was a new bride and eager to please, so sadly, I bid Betty Jean goodbye. Sigh. I miss her still. She was dependable, durable, comfortable and a real conversation starter as there just were not that many of the MG Magnets in the US.

Judy in Owego said...

My first car was a 1967 Triumph Spitfire convertible -- white with a red interior. It was fun to drive but a nightmare to keep running. I dated and then married a guy who drove an MGB and we kept sport cars as long as we could, but the third child forced us into station wagons and then vans.

We didn’t name our cars until the most recent one. Last summer we shopped for a sedan and I grew weary of looking at gray cars. Eventually we found a car I fell for -- a lovely green sedan with beige interior. I jokingly referred to the car one day as “the princess” and the name stuck. My Valentine’s Day was a remote starter for The Princess.

I do think about the cars that characters drive and chuckle at Duncan Kincaid’s sometime embarrassment over what he drives. And I would love a ride in Peter Wimsey’s Daimler.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, an MG! A Triumph! Love it.

We always see this gorgeous Porsche Panamera on the Mass Turnpike and I do wonder who is driving it. I made up a song for it, to the tune of--well, see if you can guess: (You have to say "porsh" so it scans.)

Porsche Panamaera
We want a Porsche Panamera!
Porsche Pa-na-meeeer---ra..
We need a Porsche Panamera.

(Yo soy un hombre sincerero...)

Kathy Reel said...

David, thanks for an interesting post, and I hope your book soars to success. You made me realize that I actually do notice the cars that characters drive, as I can go back and describe (if not name the brand) what vehicle my favorite characters peddle around in. And, I even remember a book where a character drove a car that I thought matched her past much better than her present circumstances. Cars, then, are just another deliberate detail that you brilliant authors include to assure authenticity. Nice.

My first car was a used Ford LTD, and since my father bought it for me in 1970, it must have been from the latter sixties. It was a golden color, and I remember it had a good radio, which is most important when you're a teenager. I would imagine that my father was quite delighted to get me a car, as I was the last of four children he had to ferry around all over the place. We were all quite involved in school activities, and my mother didn't drive. He probably did a hallelujah dance as he handed me the keys. My father was quite the car man, and until I got married at 22, I thought it was normal to get a new car every 2 or 3 years. My husband, coming from the mind set that you kept a car until it dropped, quickly adjusted my thinking. In my father's defense, he used his car in his business as a real estate broker, and so, his car was a part of his business expenses. Now, I'm loathe to spend money on a new vehicle, but there are some enticing gadgets these days. Once I got my leather seats with seat warmers, I was happy and have no desire to upgrade for a long while.

Hank and Joan mentioned that driving wasn't exactly their forte. I actually need to be the person driving most of the time because I trust and like my driving. My husband just asks me not to kill him when we get in the car. Silly man. What he objects to is my lead foot, but one can drive quite safely while driving fast. He, being of the school of "Sunday drivers" doesn't appreciate the fine art of driving like you mean it. Of course, I become quite another, no need for speed driver with my grandchildren in the car.

I have lately been thinking of starting a list or excel sheet on my favorite characters with physical descriptions on it. Now, I would or will add vehicles driven to that information. I love how this blog constantly expand my views.

David Burnsworth said...


Thanks so much for your response! My first car was an 82 Civic. It managed to live through a few accidents. While some want to relive their youth with the cars they had in in their youth, I'm going for something a little faster.

Judy in Oweg said...

The Porsche Panamaera song will probably be in my head all day!

Our last sports cars was a Porsche 914 – the “VW-engine Porsche. We loved that car and drove it for 12 years. It had the engine in the middle and sported two trunks! On trunk held the hard convertible top when it was off.

Pat D said...

Leslie, get him a Jeep. I enjoy reading Stephanie Plum mysteries just to see how many cars are destroyed on her watch. My first car doesn't count. I'd had to move back home to live during college because of a family medical problem. Dad bought this godawful Chevy Impala for cheap because it had been parked next to a lumber yard when a hurricane blew through. that was my ride to school. It looked like it had been in a major accident. It was such a pain to park too. We had to park on the street around the university area. I finally convinced him I needed something smaller. We settled on a used 67 Mustang; its color was Diamond Ice, which was a fancy name for super light green. It had a black interior and black vinyl roof. You did not want to sit in that car wearing shorts in the summertime. Nowadays I drive a 2003 Jeep Liberty we bought new in Minnesota. Don't need 4WD so much in Houston, but you never know...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome, David!

So--what car would you suggest for Leslie's character?

Edith Maxwell said...

Love this topic! The first car I bought was a 64 VW bug. I was working at a gas station and learning to be a mechanic at the time (1974-75) and loved tinkering with it.

My farmer protag drives an old Ford truck of course. My Quaker linguistics professor (who got published first) for some reason drives a small Toyota truck. I never figured out quite why. And my historical midwife sleuth longs to own a horse so she doesn't have to walk everywhere!

Kaye Barley said...

An MG Magnet! Love it!!!!! I had totally forgotten about those.

I drove an MGB for a short while. Up until my soon-to-be-former-husband (we were separated) "borrowed" it while I was out of town and totaled it. He was fine, not a scratch. One person accident - just him and a telephone pole. I guess I should be ashamed to say that accident probably help speed up the decision as to whether I wanted to give the marriage another try or not. But. I'm not.

Deb said...

Hi David! Congrats on your debut! And what a fun post.

My first car was a used '65 silver T-bird. It had power everything and weighed a ton--I guess my dad (who loved to wheel and deal cars) thought I'd be safe in it. A couple of years later my dad traded that one for a yellow used Olds two-door that I called the Banana, and hated.

I am a car person. I like cars and have owned some great ones. A Datsun 240 Z and a 260 Z. And my favorite ever, a bright red 1997 Honda Prelude. Sigh. They don't make them any more. Wish I'd held on to it.

I also think a lot about what my characters drive and what it says about their lives and their personalities. Poor Duncan! When I started the series I have him a red MG Midget, a little clapped-out, but fun. Now he's stuck with a used, dark green, Vauxhall Astra Estate (Brit for station-wagon), a hand me down from his parents. But he now has three kids and two dogs to cart around, and I just couldn't bear to give him a yuppie 4X4, which are all the rage in the tony parts of London. Maybe I'll come up with something better. Any suggestions, readers?

Gemma is still quite happy with her snappy little orchid-purple Ford, although if she gets all three kids in it, she has to leave Duncan at home:-)

Anonymous said...

My first car was a lime green Chevy Vega. I wrecked it within a week of getting it.

Karen in Ohio said...

Judy, my high school boyfriend drove a powder blue MG Midget convertible. We had so much fun tooling around in that little baby.

Then I dated his older brother, who drove a maroon Triumph Spitfire. Their whole family loved tinkering with cool little sports cars.

Marianne in Maine said...

Hi, folks. I've been MIA.

My first car was a Hillman Avenger. Made in England but left-hand drive. It was a standard and I had learned to drive on an automatic so it was on-the-job training to learn to drive it. (Avoiding hills, etc.)

My favorite book car was in an Inspector Lynley book. A character discovered a Fiat Figaro in a barn. That car is so ugly it's cute. I loved Elizabeth George for making that car a star.

I'm a car person and a race car person (did you know race car is a palindrome?) but I'll leave them on the track. My daily driver is a Honda Fit. My performance car days are over.

Hallie Ephron said...

Steve Ulfelder: ding ding ding! It's Stella Hardesty is Sophie Littlefield's A Great Day for Sorry. Love that series.

Debbie Haupt said...

David, your novel looks great!!
Hank & David what a great post. I am so with you about sluethmobiles, but not just the good guy because for me it's the bad guys car that means the most, the black caddy that hits the witness in the back alley...
My first car was a 1967 Camaro RS with a 324 engine and four on the floor and this bad girl could blow the doors off just about any street ride out there!!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH,right! Bad guy cars!

My bad guy (you'll forget by the time you read the book) drives..oh, well, it's just like MY car. Hmm.

A Hillman Avenger? Sounds like a Superhero, right.? Here comes: the HILLMAN AVENGER!

Marianne in Maine said...

Hank, when I hear "Avenger" I think Emma Peel and John Steed. Showing my age? LOL

dale denton said...

Interesting. I haven't written much modern-day, so I haven't had to worry about cars. As a reader, I don't pay much attention to the specific vehicle, but if it's a sports car, there's the expectation of car chases, if it's a pickup or a 4-wheel drive (like a Jeep), I'm anticipating some off-road action. If it's old and rag-tag, the main protagonist is most likely down on his luck, and if it's expensive, then it is--or at least was--the opposite. All that being said, it's most interesting when these tags of character are played against type.

My first car was a 1968 Pontiac Catalina with a 400 cubic inch 2-barrel that would get out there and move. Since then most of my vehicles have been smaller (not too hard to do). I haven't named my vehicles, but one earned itself a name--1982 Datsun 200SX, and it talked in a female voice, so it wasn't long before it gained the moniker of "Blue Bitch". These days my daily driver is a 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid (combines power and economy) and my weekend/fun vehicle is a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, which has capabilities that exceed my skill level. It seems like they should have names, but I've never been into naming non-organic things :-)

dale denton said...

One quick comment on Southern Heat. The write-up makes me assume that the rich person trying to buy the land was behind the murder, and I hope not simply because of this preconception. I like to be surprised.

Reine said...

Hallie, is it too late to say that line is from Sophie Littlefield's A BAD DAY FOR SORRY? I need so many extra points—you wouldn't believe.

Reine said...

Lucy, I love Hayley's scooter. I used to have a red one until I drove it into the back of a car near Santa Monica Pier. It wasn't my fault. Really.

Deb said...

PS You can guess that I love Marc Cohn's song Silver Thunderbird:-)

David Burnsworth said...

I see Leslie's character driving an older Jeep Cherokee or Toyota FourRunner.

David Burnsworth said...


I want you to be surprised, too! Let me know if you were if you decide to read Southern Heat.

Dani said...

My very first car was a loaded Cougar. I must have been crazy to buy that gas hog! My heroine, a child psychologist, drives a dark blue 1972 VW Super Beetle with tags that read DrDoodlbug. My daily driver is a vintage Super Beetle as well, but it's poppy red. Now that I'm writing this, I really should get plates that read DrDoodlbug2. Hey, thanks for the idea, Hank!

Nancy said...

My first car was a Karmen Ghia that I bought new in Germany in 1970. I love small European cars and I now drive a Fiat 500. My husband is purest. Only GMC but I can't complain when sometimes he lets me drive our 63 Split Window Corvette. We have 2 other old Chevies and he drives a GMC truck as his daily vehicle.

Sarah Glenn said...

My first car was a 74 Ford Maverick. Hand-me-down from my mother. It was dinged up when I got it, and after a hit and run incident I had to tie the doors on that side together.

I discovered early that I apparently DO care what my characters drive. I especially enjoy inflicting ugly cars on the deserving, so I find myself looking for them in Florida traffic.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Just home from my speech--and I see you are all having fun without me! David, you rock--and I've loved hearing about all our cars! (These are the times I especially adore Jungle Red....)

See you all tomorrow! ANd I'll announce the winner of David's SOUTHERN HEAT!


Reine said...

Grandma Cootie... Poor Kinsey. A mustang? What happened to her VW?

Go said...

My first car was a '57 Dodge pickup. Manual gearshift and no signal light. Just my arm out the window!

Leslie Budewitz said...

A Jeep it is. Funny -- I loved mine, a dark green '96 Cherokee -- but never considered it for Nick b/c I'd given one to another character. But you've all made me realize she would never drive that -- even though the real person she's modeled on used to have one. So, wheels change! Thanks!

ML said...

My first car was a 1968 Chevy Malibu 327 four on the floor - bright red - convertible. I loved that car!