GETTING SIDEWAYS by Lisa Nowak (December 4, 2011)
PJH: When you started writing your story, did you find you put too much detail in? I know that when I'm passionate about something, I want to put in everything I know about it. How did you find the right balance between engaging the non-racing fan and staying true to the sport?
LN: As a matter of fact, I did put in too many details, but not just about the racing aspect. I think every writer tries to over-explain things at first. While I ultimately cut a lot, the balance came fairly easily with the racing info. I tried to give enough information that I would sound convincing to a race fan, without giving so much that it would bore people who weren’t into racing. At times, I’ve had people ask why I didn’t define a racing term. That was a judgment call. I can’t define every word in the book. I look to sports authors like Chris Crutcher for my cues. I don’t expect to have every football or swimming term explained when I read his books. If I don’t know something, I’ll look it up, and I expect my non-racing readers to be savvy enough to do the same. All of my critique group members have been women, and most of them middle-aged. They’ve often commented on how easy-to-follow the racing stuff is. Just the other day, my editor told me the racing parts of my second book weren’t a turn-off at all, and that I’d presented the subject in a way that made it interesting for her to learn about. That’s pretty much been the universal response from readers. Though I did have an agent or two say they thought no one beyond stock car racing fans would be interested in my books. But they’d probably also have been the first to tell Chris Crutcher no one but football fans would be interested in his.
PJH: I've been to a handful of races myself, and there is nothing like that first lap when the cars come around the turn. I get chills every time. How do you think, as writers, we can give our readers those same chills?
LN: OMG. I know just what you’re talking about! The sound of those engines and the way you can feel the vibrations in your chest as the cars roar by .... Where were we? Oh yeah, giving readers chills. It’s all about two things for me, immediacy and emotion. By immediacy I mean making the reader feel like he’s living the moment with the character. Part of that is voice and point-of-view. Part of it is providing sensory details that “show” rather than “tell,” to go back to the old adage. Racing really lends itself to sensory details, particularly those that go beyond the normal visual, which people rely on so heavily. You have the sound of roaring engines, squealing tires, and sometimes even tearing sheet metal. You have the adrenalin-inducing scent of racing fuel, which is sort of a sweet, zingy scent that smells like adventure. You have the feel of a pack of cars vibrating the pavement as they roar by, as well as the sensations of centrifugal force if you’re character is actually driving. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of sensations. But giving chills is about more than just those things, in my opinion. It’s also about emotion. Detailing a character’s fears, embarrassment, elation, and pain is also important. For that, I draw on my own life, finding a similar experience to connect to my character. Kids tend to think their angst is so personal that no one has ever felt the things they have. When you can show them that what they’re experiencing is not a one-of-a-kind thing—that it taps into a universal truth or the collective unconscious—it can be a very profound moment for them. I think it’s important for kids to discover this. Otherwise they go around feeling like there might be something wrong with them for having these thoughts and emotions.
PJH: Because you are so close to the sport of racing, having raced yourself, were there any scenes that were super hard to write?
LN: I can’t think of anything that was hard to write because of my experience. One of the most difficult things for me was describing a race. I’m a stickler for not repeating words, and that’s tough when you’re talking about cars going around a track. How many words are there for “lap,” after all? Now I know why sports writers say, “The Ducks creamed Stanford,” and “Boise pulverized the Bulldogs.” You’ve got to use colorful verbs to avoid repeating yourself. The funny thing about those racing scenes is I get a lot of compliments on them, but I find them boring to re-read, myself. :)
PJH: Conversely, what was your favorite race-related scene to write?
LN: There have been several. It’s always fun to fictionalize events that actually happened. Like when Race’s nemesis, Jerry Addamsen runs him off the backstretch. My friend Danny Bell was a victim of that, with the same outcome from the officials. I also like writing scenes that show the racing community in a positive light, such as when Race lends his friend Denny a carburetor, even though they’re competitors. That’s just how racers are, and it’s such a nice illustration of speedway ethics. It’s also fun to teach by incorporating facts into the story in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed. For example, in my second book Getting Sideways, Cody discovers that trigonometry actually has a purpose when Kasey shows him how to use it to calculate the angle of the bends for the door bars of his roll cage. I like learning from the fiction I read, and I also appreciate accurate details, so it’s fun to be able to deliver that to my audience.
PJH: Let's talk about stereotypes. Though in general we want to avoid these, at times, a stereotype can play a useful part, especially in a book that deals with a subject not often written (like racing). Do any of your characters have stereotypical traits? Do any bust the stereotypes wide open? And who was your favorite character to write?
LN: Wow, tough question. First I’d have to determine what the stereotypes are. With Cody, I suppose that would be “bad boy with a heart of gold.” Only he’s not very successful as a bad boy. Sure, he’s a pain in the ass, but he never does anything that terrible. He just pushes people’s buttons and talks back. The way he breaks the stereotype is that he’s really a very loyal person who’s never found an adult worthy of his devotion.
I suppose the stereotype for a racing hero is someone who’s fearless, unbeatable, and (except in those Harlequin racing romances) something of a redneck who loves country music. Race kicks butt on the track, however he also can’t eat before competing, grew up in a wealthy family, and listens to Jimmy Buffett (relentlessly, much to Cody’s distress). Race isn’t a typical guy, in that he’s not embarrassed about being a compassionate person.
I’m not sure where Kasey falls. As a tough woman in a racing community, you might find her somewhat stereotypical. She owns a business, isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, and loves cars. But she’s also something of a control freak and so stubborn she can’t see past her own reality sometimes. Then there’s the fact that even though she’s a strong, competent woman, she isn’t very good at running a business. She’d rather spend her time turning a wrench than managing the books.
PJH: Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt? :)
LN: I’m gonna have to go with Earnhardt, even though I was never really a fan until I read his biography. That’s probably not fair to Gordon, since I don’t know as much about him. I understand he’s not the same guy these days as he was when he was Wonder Boy. But then, who of us is? To be honest, I took something of a break from racing when I stopped doing it myself, and I just recently got back into it, only to find a whole new crop of drivers. Of the old guys, I had a lot of admiration for Tommy Houston who competed in Busch Grand National (now the Nationwide Series). He went years without ever missing a race. I respect that kind of dedication. On a humorous note, when I was living in North Carolina, Tommy once offered to check my lug nuts for me and I blew him off, not realizing who he was.
Getting shipped off to live with his uncle Race was the best thing that ever happened to fifteen-year-old Cody. Then a wreck at the speedway nearly ruined everything. Cody's making every effort to get his life back on track—writing for the school paper, searching for the perfect girlfriend, and counting the days until he gets his drivers' license—but there's no escaping the nightmares that haunt him.
A chance to build his own car seems like the perfect distraction. Until Cody realizes he'll have to live up to Race's legendary status. But that's the least of his worries, considering he doesn't have his dad's permission. All he has to do is the impossible: keep Race from discovering his lie until he can convince his dad that racing's safe.
Yeah, sure. That'll be easy.
And in case you missed it...
RUNNING WIDE OPEN by Lisa Nowak (Webfoot Publishing, June 2011)