Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 10, 2017, 8:48 a.m.
About 48 weeks ago, I had the kind of sleepless, brainstorming night that, yesterday morning, led me to set up a Patreon account for this blog. I decided to write a novel about stock car racing, and it wasn’t a passing fancy. Abruptly, I set aside another novel, mostly completed, and, by April, Lightning in a Bottle was for sale. Before the summer was over, I had written two.
Lightning in a Bottle began with a psychic lightning strike.
It had a practical side. The great majority of people who follow me on social media are NASCAR fans. For the most part, the people who read the first five novels – The Audacity of Dope (2011), The Intangibles (2013), Crazy of Natural Causes (2015), Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2016) and Cowboys Come Home (2016) – liked them. There just weren’t enough of them. I reasoned that, by writing a novel about racing, I could reach more fans through social media.
The practical side has historically been underestimated by me. Writing novels is hard. I can’t justify it, nor do it effectively, without being in love with the project. Until that sleepless night, almost exactly four years after my personal date of infamy – on January 4, 2013, I was informed that my last day at the Gaston (N.C.) Gazette, after 16-1/2 years, was January 4, 2013 – I hadn’t even considered writing another book about racing, let alone a novel.
Suddenly, I missed it. I ached at its decline. Lying in the bed, unable to sleep, I wondered why, and the mechanism was recalling the NASCAR of both my youth and the first years I wrote about it for a living.
During those twenty years (1993-2012) during which I traveled to between 75 and 100 percent of the year’s races, the drivers changed. No one reminded me at all of Harry Gant, Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, Ricky Rudd, Geoff Bodine, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Rick Mast, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, and many others. In my mind, racing hadn’t changed any more than its racers, and part of it was just a consequence of success.
Recent years have seen an end of success, or, to be fair, growth. I arrived on the scene at the dawn of the boom. My departure was certainly due, in part, to the decline.
I never stopped writing about racing. I just stopped being there.
What if a modern Dale Earnhardt came along? My cynical view was that NASCAR would chew him up and spit him out. So was born Barrie Jarman. He wasn’t based on Earnhardt. I never even thought about Earnhardt when I was creating him. What I gave Barrie was a working-class, wrong-side-of-the tracks attitude, coupled with the spirit of modern kids I write about nowadays on gridirons, courts, and diamonds.
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