A Novel Road Trip, Literally!

On my office desk is a small placard that states, “What would you do if you could not fail?” My answer is simple: write a best selling novel.

Over the past several months I have purposely slowed my magazine work to focus on penning a thriller set in the automotive industry. It is something I have wanted to do for years, and have worked on it here and there but never truly devoted myself to it. The planets have now happily aligned for the undertaking, and it has been a most interesting journey.

Roads like this are why automotive companies head here when the temperature is sizzling. This environment definitely tests the durability of any car.

Roads like this are why automotive companies head here when the temperature is sizzling. This environment definitely tests the durability of any car.

What kicked the writing into high gear was a several week period in the summer where I did not work on it at all. There’s nothing like picking up your earlier work, feeling pretty confident about what was written, only to discover it wasn’t nearly as good as you thought! I’m now on my third attempt, and the voice desired has finally hit. In earlier versions there was a tendency to “road test” the narrative, where everything was described in great detail whether it was important to the plot or not.

Thankfully that habit is gone, and a goal I’m seeking is to blur the line between fact and fiction so the reader doesn’t know where that line starts or stops. I’ve found a number of experts in fields I know nothing about to make sure what is written is correct, and sometimes research is conducted over the phone, sometimes in person.

Earlier this month I took a road trip to the Mojave Desert to interview a park ranger for an upcoming scene. If you are looking for an ideal time to travel there, the first part of December is it! The weather was drop-dead gorgeous, crisp in the early morning and comfortably sunny and warm as the day progressed. Several desert locations serve as inspirations for scenes in the novel, so I used Las Vegas as a base but could have easily stayed just about anywhere, for hotel and road traffic was quite light.

And if you love to drive, there isn’t a better time of year than this! As I bounced from location to location, it was mind boggling to think that people crossed these barren, foreboding environs on foot or horse, yet there I was, frequently putting the right foot to the floor in the Shelby, windows open, exhaust howling away, nothing but beautifully desolate and very empty roads in front of and behind me.

One stretch of tarmac had the most fabulous craggy red colored hills and rolling plains you can imagine, and I moved along at a decent clip, often stopping to take photos of the idling Shelby in the middle of the road. The sun was slowly going down, the light becoming ever softer, and for probably two hours I didn’t see another car. I called designer Jason Castriota from out in the middle of this nowhere, telling him he needed to get his newest car (the spectacular Shelby Supercars Tuatara) done so I could photograph it there. The juxtaposition between Tuatara’s futuristic shape and the mountains’ topography and color would be nothing short of fabulous.

Staying in northern Las Vegas allowed me to drop in on Shelby American (which is not related to Shelby Supercars) before heading home. Back in 2007-2008 Shelby American was making several thousand cars a year and prospering greatly. Then came the economic meltdown, and production was hit hard. Over the past 18 months the company has been “right-sizing” the operation so they can turn a profit on considerably less cars. GT350 demand is picking up as the word gets out on the model, and there are always guys (and some gals) who want the gonzo horsepower the GT500 Super Snake delivers.

And the Speed Shop, where I had my Shelby custom built, is really booming. They can do just about anything there, from 1000 horsepower monsters to simple custom tunes on a variety of marques, not just Ford and its Mustangs.

Here comes Shelby's Four Horsemen. Left to right, they are Roger Sorel (director of sales), Gary Davis (VP of Manufacturing and R&D), John Luft, (president), and Keith Belair (CFO).

Here comes Shelby’s Four Horsemen. Left to right, they are Roger Sorel (director of sales), Gary Davis (VP of Manufacturing and R&D), John Luft, (president), and Keith Belair (CFO).

I frequently see Carroll at Shelby, but not this time. No question he serves as an inspiration for all who work there, but he knows a time will come when he will no longer be around. A number of years ago we spoke about this, and he said, “I have surrounded myself with the right people. In fact, a number of them like Gary Davis (VP of Manufacturing and R&D) and Gary Patterson (VP of Operations) have been with me longer than any of my key people were in the 1960s.”

In short, this next generation gets his philosophy. I like the prospects for the company (there is no way Ford will let this name get away), and actually bought some shares (it is publicly traded, right now the price is around $0.25), feeling it was a reasonable speculation (which is something I don’t often do, so I limited the amount). And if it doesn’t pan out, well, I owned a piece of the legend for a while.

And yes, Shelby cars will appear in the novel—and play a critical role in one scene where…Well, here is my cheesy plug to say you are just going to have to wait until the book comes out! I think you’ll enjoy it, for it is about a lot more than “just cars.”

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