Monday, November 2, 2015

Remarks, rides and a reading at the 11/1/15 launch party, Pell Center, Newport, RI

On a glorious fall day, we packed the house at Salve Regina University's Pell Center in Newport, R.I., for the launch party for CAR CRAZY: The Battle for Supremacy between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age. C-SPAN BOOK TV taped the event for broadcast soon, and we had four antique cars on hand, courtesy of Ambassador Bill Middendorf and the great Audrain Automobile Museum. The 1904 Oldsmobile, 1912 Model T Speedster, the 1912 and the 1893 Duryea ran, and our donors gave guests rides. Watch them in action on YouTube.

Pell Center executive director Jim Ludes have introductory remarks and then I spoke, read and took questions, and then signed many books. Below are my remarks. Enjoy the ride!

Author Miller speaking.

Part of the crowd, C-SPAN BOOK TV cameras rolling.

Good afternoon. Let me join Jim in welcoming you. And let me thank the Pell Center, Salve Regina University, The Providence Journal, and my publisher, PublicAffairs. This is my third book with them, and they are the best. Gratitude also to Salve President Sister Jane Gerety, who would have attended if she hadn’t already planned to be out of town.

Two folks have travelled a distance to be here today and I’d like to acknowledge them. Editor Lisa Kaufman, who has played an important role in my writing since my book about NASCAR, Men and Speed, published in 2002, is here from New York. Lisa took a draft of Car Crazy and performed her editing magic, greatly improving it.

Drew Smith, my screenwriting partner and longtime friend, has come from the West Coast.  Drew knows better than most about motoring from driving the 405 near his home in southern California. Welcome to Newport, Drew.

And there are many other good friends and relatives who have travelled shorter distances, from Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England.

In a moment, I will read from Car Crazy. But first, an observation about writing.
The truth is, writing is about the most rewarding and most miserable calling, wrapped into one, that I can imagine. Good that I’m part Irish.

As my writer friends here today can testify, you spend untold hours alone at your keyboard, hoping the dog won’t need to go out, or someone won’t knock on the door, or the phone won’t ring, or there won’t be any other interruptions – at least until you finish this passage that has been haunting you, sometimes even in your sleep.

All this as you obsess – and I do mean obsess -- over the choice of a word, or the smoothness of the narrative arc, or whether this is too much or too little detail, or which character should have a starring role and which belongs on the cutting-room floor.

You endeavor to be judicious with every word, understanding that dialogue is crucial and nouns and verbs are the best tools in your kit. Stephen King’s adage -- “the road to hell is paved with adjectives” -- echoes in your head, and yet you still use them and their evil twin, the adverbs, too freely. Which is when it would be nice if your editor – or better yet, Stephen King himself -- were on hand at that moment to save you.

And despite your focus, you sometimes check your email, social media, or phone.
Go figure.

The alone part and the crankiness that accompanies it when that passage still frustrates you or the narrative arc has imploded is unfair to those you hold dear. Yet they tolerate it -- most times, anyway -- which is probably more than I would in their shoes.

“All this over a word? Really? Really?” is what I imagine I would say.

The rewarding part, by the way, is a day like today -- when your work is finally published and you can forget word choice, at least for a few hours, and just have a good time with family and friends and readers.

So what can I say to someone who knows this obsession intimately: my wife, Yolanda, who beyond being understanding could almost have written Car Crazy herself, since another thing about writers is that when break away from their writing, they like to blab. Sometimes about trivial matters, such as how long it took an automobile to drive from Manhattan to Portland, Oregon, in the spring of 1905, for example.

Forty-five days, two hours and thirty minutes, in case you were wondering.

What I can say is: thank you, Yolanda, for everything.

Thanks also to my children who are here today: Rachel and Kate, who lived with my passion for many years, dating back to my first book, the horror/mystery novel Thunder Rise, published in 1989, when they were little kids. They are why I began getting up at 4:30 or 5 to write, a schedule I still keep, so that I could be present when they began their days. And to think they now have children of their own! A special shout-out to Bella, Livvie and Vivienne!

Before I read from Car Crazy, indulge me in some informal market research. I have four quick questions. Please respond with a show of hands.

-- How many people here today did NOT arrive in a motor vehicle?
[One hand went up]

-- How many of you have ever been stuck in traffic?
[All hands went up]

-- How many of you have ever loved a car -- your own or someone else’s?
[All hands went up]

-- How many think you could live – happily or unhappily -- without ever riding in a motor vehicle of any kind again?
[One hand went up]

As we have just unscientifically demonstrated, the motor vehicle dramatically transformed society -- unlike any other technology in history, I would assert, with the exception of the printing press. The factory, the steam engine, the railroad – and today’s computer, internet, and iPhone -- do not quite compare.

There are more than 250 million motor vehicles registered in America in 2015, and an estimated 1.2 billion or more worldwide. This ubiquitous machine continues to power major sectors of the domestic and international economies. It helped create suburbia. Except for the Northeast, it all but ended American inter-city passenger rail. It injures and kills in still-horrifying numbers. The gas-powered version contributes to global warming -- and its thirst for petroleum has sparked wars. It has been the subject of some of the ugliest corporate scandals in history, most recently with General Motors and Volkswagen.

The automobile, of course, has also been loved and cherished. I myself felt my first crush as a teenager at the wheel of an old black Ford sedan -- and I got a twinge again today driving across the Jamestown and Pell Bridges. I shouldn’t have been but I was speeding. It felt great!

And as we all know, the car is the protagonist or a principal character in countless songs, books, and movies. The Great American Road trip still mesmerizes us.

The automobile was born more than a century ago during a frenzy of invention and contention as the horseless carriage proliferated and the traditionalists, who hated it, took aim. Literally, they took aim: stonings of motorists by mobs armed with rocks, sticks, tea kettles, tin cans and metal pails regularly made the front page of The New York Times.

Stonings were only one front in a war that pitted manufacturers and motorists against those who opposed “the automobile evil,” as a New York state senator called the car in 1902. In legislatures, municipal councils, courts and the press -- in cities and in the country, where farmers sometimes used guns to chase drivers away -- the sides battled over speed limits, traffic control, licensing, registration and taxes. They argued liability and penalties for the mounting numbers of injuries and fatalities. They debated whether horns and lights should be mandated, and whether motorists should be jailed for terrifying horses.

It all began with people like the farm boy from Michigan whose name is on some of the cars, old and new, parked outside today.

[READ beginning of Chapter One]

In closing, let me express my gratitude to the people who brought those incredible classic cars parked outside. Ambassador Bill Middendorf and his motor men Mitch Morin and Kyle Santos brought the 1893 Duryea replica and the 1912 Model T Speedster. The Audrain Automobile Museum, right here on Bellevue Avenue – I highly recommend a visit -- brought the 1912 Packard and the 1904 Oldsmobile, the model that crossed from Manhattan to Portland, Oregon, in 1905, one of many adventures I chronicle in Car Crazy. Museum executive director David de Muzio and mechanics Joe Lanuez and Bill Meteraud are in charge of those great cars.

I will be signing books in the board room, off the main lobby, in a few minutes. And, at 3:30, we will have a running of all of the cars.

Right now, I’d be happy to take a few questions.

[several questions followed]

No comments:

Post a Comment