by: Joelle Charbonneau
There are drunken assholes, and there are assholes who are
drunks. Take a drunken asshole and stick him in AA for five or ten years, maybe you come out with a decent guy.
Now take an asshole who’s a drunk. Put him in AA as long as you like. Send him to a thousand meetings a year, have him join the Peace Corps for good measure. What you come out with is a sober asshole.
Tander Phigg was a sober asshole.
From the opening lines of Purgatory Chasm, Steve Ulfelder sucks the reader into the world of Conway Sax. Conway Sax is a mechanic, a former professional race car driver and a recovering alcoholic who belongs to an AA group known as the Barn Burners. It is his relationship with the Barn Burners that pulls him into meeting Tander Phigg and starts him on a path filled with dangerous characters, an interesting mystery, self-discovery and quite of bit of violence and blood.
Yeah – it’s pretty great. So great that I thought the readers of DSD should meet Steve. So, I roped him into answering a few questions about himself and his writing. And if you have a question for Steve - ask away! I'm betting he'd be happy to anwer!
(Me) Welcome to DSD Steve. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the release of Purgatory Chasm and I’m certain the Do Some Damage readers are going to be pretty stoked as well.
Hi Joelle – It’s an honor! DSD is on my bookmarked list of must-visit-every-day writing blogs, so I’m pretty damn thrilled to be mentioned here.
Conway Sax is a fabulous character. He has demons that he is battling, but I find it interesting that it is his thus far successful battle with alcoholism that leads him into trouble in this book. Can you give everyone who isn’t lucky enough to have gotten an advanced copy (yes, I’m gloating) a quick introduction to Conway and the trouble he’s found himself drawn to in Purgatory Chasm?
Conway Sax was once a promising race driver who looked like a future NASCAR star. But he drank away that opportunity, along with his family and his pride. He spent many years as a full-on bum knocking around hobo camps, county jails and the like.
Conway believes his life was saved by the Barnburners, the unconventional Alcoholics Anonymous group he stumbled onto just in time. As the book opens, he’s got a good chunk of sobriety behind him. Loyalty is one of Conway’s traits; to repay the Barnburners, he has a personal policy of helping any member who gets in a jam, no questions asked.
Tander Phigg, a Barnburner who Conway doesn’t especially like, needs help recovering his vintage car from a shady restoration shop. Conway reluctantly agrees, and gets his head bashed in for his trouble. That loyalty I mentioned, plus stubbornness, prompts him to look harder at the case, and next thing you know there’s a dead body hanging from a pipe – and Conway’s the prime suspect …
I admit that I am able to check my tire pressure, check my oil and that is about it so your background as a race car driver and now a race car builder has me in awe. But I have to ask, race car driving and building sounds glamorous and exciting. With that kind of cool job, why did you sit down one day in front of a blank screen and begin writing?
Hmm, the racing business doesn’t seem so glamorous when you have 30 minutes to change an angry customer’s transmission on a 105-degree day, or when you’ve got 72 hours to drive a trailerload of cars from Sacramento to Boston! I was actually a journalist for 20 years, and racing was a hobby. When some friends and I formed Flatout Motorsports, I went for a midlife career change: I quit journalism, began putting a lot of energy into the racing business, and took a night class on writing novels.
The funny thing is, when I was a journalist I could never build momentum for fiction writing; by 5:00, I was all worded out! The contrast between the writing and the racing stuff seems to give me plenty of energy for both.
Race car drivers get a reputation as people who like living on the edge. They also take a lot of calculated risks, which Conway Sax certainly does. Those risks sometimes pan out, but he takes a number of lumps along the way and doesn’t seem overly concerned about his own health. Is that part of the race car driver mentality as well? And because I asked that, I have to ask what is the worst injury you ever received as a result of driving race cars?
That’s a good observation about Conway. He’s definitely a tough guy, but I never wanted him to be invincible. He can and does take a beating here and there. His history has taught him there’s always somebody tougher (or in possession of a bigger gun) than you, so these beatings don’t bother him much; rather, they are occupational hazards.
Now here’s the dirty little secret about auto racing: It’s actually very safe! Everything about the cars, from the stout roll cages we build to the harnesses and the HANS devices and the fuel cells, is designed with safety in mind. We wear fire-resistant gloves, suits, shoes, even underpants.
Having said that, I admit I’ve had my share of wrecks. The only notable injury I’ve suffered was stretched ligaments in my neck when I backed into a concrete wall at about 105 mph.
What’s the first thing you did after you got ‘The Call” that Purgatory Chasm had sold to Minotaur?
Warmed my fingers! It was February, and I was outside the shop hosing off race wheels. I nearly missed the call because my hands were so numb. See what I mean about the racing business not being as glamorous as it may look from afar?
My fantastic agent, Janet Reid, enjoyed that call as much as I did. She worked so hard for two years, through a bankrupt publisher and the usual near-misses, to sell a book for me. I’m eternally grateful.
And most important – what is your favorite drink? We want to make sure all your fans know exactly what to buy you when you are saddled up to the bar at conferences.
I’m a cheap date; it won’t surprise anybody to learn that my favorite beverages are non-alcoholic. Buy me a Dr Pepper and I’ll be your friend for life.