Please welcome Kim Wright, author of Last Ride to Graceland, who’s virtually visiting Luxury Reading to talk about what inspired her latest novel.
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by Kim Wright
Each of my books comes to me a different way. Some of them are slowly and painfully assembled in pieces, sort of like a mosaic, while others arrive in the world quickly, with the idea fully formed. My latest novel, Last Ride to Graceland was one of the easy births.
It started on a rainy Sunday morning when I was lying in bed flipping through my hometown paper, The Charlotte Observer and a headline in the local section popped out at me: Last Ride to Graceland. Yep. I stole the title then and there. The article was about how Graceland had kept a Stutz Blackhawk, the big black hideously expensive muscle car that Elvis Presley drove on the last day of his life, wrapped up for over 35 years. Then they finally, to celebrate the expansion of the car exhibit in the Graceland museum, decided to pull it out and add it to the collection.
The reason all this was in my local paper was that the car was being pulled on a flatbed from Memphis to Charlotte so that it could be restored at the NASCAR museum. Legend was that the car had been Elvis’s favorite and he never let anyone else drive it, so the flatbed was necessary to keep the legend intact. The authenticator said that when he pulled back the wrap which had encased the car for years, it was “like opening a time capsule.”
Like opening a time capsule. Those are the kinds of words that get a writer’s imagination fired up.
By the time I got out of bed that Sunday afternoon I’d sketched out the whole concept for Last Ride to Graceland. I imagined that the car was found not at Graceland, but rather in an abandoned fishing shed in South Carolina and that the discoverer was a down-on-her-luck blues singer named Cory Beth Ainsworth. Cory Beth’s recently deceased mother, Honey, had briefly been a back-up singer for Elvis in her youth but had always refused to talk about her single year at Graceland – including why she had abruptly fled Memphis in the summer of 1977 and returned home to marry her high school sweetheart. Cory Beth was born seven months later and because of the timing, coupled with the gospel grit of her voice, she has always fantasized that she’s the illegitimate daughter of the King himself. Cory decides to dig out the car and return it to Graceland, hoping to gather some long-awaited answers along the way.
The premise came to me fast, but in order to make the details work I decided to drive to Graceland myself, taking the same wandering route through the deep south as my heroine. Cory Beth was traveling in a muscle car with a coon hound, while I was driving in a Prius with a terrier, but the spirit was the same. After hearing about my pilgrimage, Graceland welcomed me with open arms and I got to view a Stutz Blackhawk very much like the one being restored back in Charlotte. (Elvis, being Elvis, had bought a new one every year.) But when I asked the museum guard if I could sit in it, he said “Ma’am, nobody touches that car but the ghost of Elvis.”
I won’t kid you. I would have loved to sit in that car. But I had my story by then, and that’s the main thing. I hope readers enjoy it.