Writing for Kit Car Builder
From 2006 to 2014 I had the extraordinary good fortune of writing a humor / human interest column called “Actual Mileage” for Kit Car Builder, a magazine for men and women who are crazy and adventuresome and passionate enough to build their own cars and take them out and drive them and even race them. Most of them are replicas of cars they fell in love with when they were too young to afford them, and have never been able to forget. Sports and racing cars mostly, from powerhouse Cobras to spoke-wheeled MGs to Lamborghinis, Bugattis, Jaguars, and Lotus Sevens to the car I fell in love with – the Porsche Speedster. I was lucky enough to own an old original Speedster back in my twenties. A few years back I was lucky to have one again – this time as a replica I was able to build with the help of some friends. I included two photos of it in “A Story to Go.”
Back in 2006, when editor Jim Youngs approached me about doing a regular column for the magazine, I asked him what he wanted me to write about. Anything you want, he said. Go crazy. As long as you work in a car somewhere. I gave him a very long very hard very skeptical look. Anything I want, I said, and you’ll run it. He wasn’t kidding. Anything else? I asked. Keep it to one page, he said. Around 1200 words. I liked that. Any writer can use the harness of a word limit. I took the heading for the column – Actual Mileage – from a short story Raymond Carver wrote called “Are These Actual Miles?” and got writing.
Since then, I’ve taken all kinds of chances with Jim’s “anything you want” instruction, from crazy to serious, heartrending to gutbusting, deeply personal to wildly implausible. I could touch on cars at the beginning or the middle, or end on them, but from there I could take the column anywhere. At times I’ve taken it right to the edge of a cliff or almost flown it off a tall building or come close to leaving it in the fast lane of a busy highway. I’ve always kept it about people. Eating an onion raw in memory of my father’s sex life, two cars talking about the guys who built them, spending a winter weekend drunk in Lake Placid, using the bodies of six sleeping women as the mold for the fiberglass body of a Speedster, writing a novel (you’ll see that it’s not that much different from building a car), and torching a Pontiac Fiero on a ten-story hoist a la Burning Man. Jim never blinked. Apparently, he knew what genie he was letting out of the bottle, because the columns ended up catching on with people everywhere. It’s been one great gig for an audience of wonderful and amazing people across the country and around the world. I’ll always be deeply grateful for the rare chance to write for them. You can read a sample column in “A Story to Go.” You can also contact me for a signed collection of all 47 stories.