Elvis’ muscle car inspires novel

When Kim Wright told me last year that her next novel would be about Elvis’ muscle car, I wondered how in the world I’d slog my way through it.

Well, let me tell you: No slogging required. I zipped through the Charlotte novelist’s “Last Ride to Graceland” (due in bookstores next week) in record time, enjoying the ride all the way.

When Wright saw a notice in the newspaper last year about the NASCAR Museum working with Graceland to restore the Stutz Blackhawk Elvis drove on the last day of his life, she wondered “what if?”

What if, instead of this virtual time capsule of a car having been stored at Graceland, someone had chanced upon it in an old shed? Say, an old shed in Beaufort, S.C.? What if Cory, the 36-year-old woman who found the car, had for years wondered if the dad she grew up with was actually her biological dad? What if this woman’s late mother once spent a year at Graceland as a backup singer for Elvis?

So Cory drives the Blackhawk from Beaufort to Graceland, tracing her mother’s route when she left Graceland 37 years before in the Blackhawk – depressed, confused and pregnant. Along the way, Cory gets closer to the truth of who fathered her, and learns more and more about her mother.

Wright lives in Charlotte and has written three previous novels: “Love in Mid Air,” “The Unexpected Waltz,” and “The Canterbury Sisters.” Each of her female protagonists has a knack for witty insights and a well-steeped curiosity about people.

I confess to being an Elvis fan, so I was happy to revisit in a novel the facts of Elvis’s life: That his twin brother died in birth. That Elvis refused to sleep alone. That Elvis’ backup singers tended to look like each other and to resemble him. That he loved fried peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. That Ann-Margret was the love of his life.

All true, says Wright by telephone. She did a prodigious amount of research, and then she says she put her notes away and started writing.

I admire Wright’s no-nonsense approach to her craft. She’s at her computer by 6:30 each morning, she says, and writes until she has 1,000 words. By 9 a.m., she’s usually finished. Then it’s on to being an “author” – doing research, revising and promoting.

Her schedule pays off. This is Wright’s fourth novel in four years, and, yes, the great news is there’ll be another next year – a mystery novel involving a group of writers. I say, bring it on.