Tammy Kaehler, left, turned her fascination with auto racing into a series about racecar driver Kate Reilly. Kiss the Bricks is the fifth in this series. Her novels Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags also have won her awards from automotive journalists.
Here’s a question and answer session with Kaehler in which she discusses her novels.
In your novels featuring Kate Reilly, how are you able to generate a crime plot that works logically with the world of racing?
I always say that the racing world is a microcosm of the larger world, just with a little more drama and occasionally higher stakes. So most any crime is still going to be relevant in the racing world, because people are people wherever they go. That said, racing requires enormous amounts of money (they say the only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one), which really has driven people to crime in the past. My story line in Kiss the Bricks about drug smuggling to pay for racing is taken directly from real life. Honestly, with all the competition, speed, violence, rock-star personas, egos, glamour, and money floating around the racing world, it's not hard to imagine every kind of crime or criminal being attracted to it. In some ways, it's only surprising there aren't more crimes.
In addition, people in the racing world are involved in every kind of business and pursuit, whether they're drivers (including amateurs with other day jobs), sponsors, or fans. So I've always been able to tie any outlandish plot idea to someone involved in racing without any trouble.
Kiss the Bricks is set against the backdrop of the Indy 500. What were some of the highlights of being there?
The event is referred to as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," which is absolutely a true description, so anytime I get to see all of the pomp, circumstance, and competition in person, it's amazing. It's also fantastic to be there in person to see my primary book source and friend, Indy 500 competitor Pippa Mann, take to the track in person—it's a real thrill to see someone you know wheeling a car at 230 mph! But by far the most incredible experience, which I've been lucky enough to do for two years now, is actually working in the pits as an assistant spotter for the broadcast team (ESPN/ABC) during the race. It's a behind-the-scenes perspective that most people don't get.
Who were your primary influences in the mystery genre?
I was a mystery reader for years, and in fact, I can't remember when I wasn't dipping into The Complete Sherlock Holmes that was on my parents' shelf as a kid. I also loved Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie's books. But it was really the steeple-chasing mysteries written by Dick Francis that inspired and influenced me to create Kate's world, because I wanted to entertain readers and teach them about a world they probably don't know anything about. I wanted to be the Dick Francis of auto racing with a female protagonist. I still do!
How directly do you connect to the racing world? And how do you conduct your research for the racing scenes?
Research is a huge part of what I do, because I've always made a point of every technical detail being correct. I ask a ton of questions. I go to races to keep in touch with the sources and friends I have, and by doing so, manage to meet more and more people. I'm not shy about asking for help, even for details as small as top speed down the front straight at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Of course, the racing scenes are the most critical, and I rely heavily on professional drivers to make sure I'm doing it right. In every book, I watch as many videos as possible, including in-car video of the exact car at the exact racetrack, and I ask questions of a driver before writing the scenes. The biggest step is then getting a pro to check the driving scenes and correct them. With Kiss the Bricks, Pippa Mann was an enormous help. I sent her lists and lists of questions—on everything from how to adjust the car to what she eats before the race—and she responded with pages and pages of answers. Then we went back and forth twice on the driving scenes, so that I had every detail right.
Do you have aspirations to become a competitive driver yourself?
No aspirations at all! While confident and comfortable on the L.A. freeways, I'm a chicken behind the wheel of a racecar, in part because I've come to appreciate the incredible skill professional drivers have. I absolutely trust the pros I've ridden with to not crash, and I understand just how much work it would take to get my skill to the same level. Not going to happen!