Steve Ulfelder was “always a car guy, racing for 15 years” with a burning desire to write a mystery novel–and, during the past several years, more than one of his dreams has come true.
A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Steve spent a couple of decades working as a technology journalist. In 2006, he left his journalism career behind to co-found a company, Flatout Motorsports, with two partners (more about that later) and, in 2011, his first mystery novel was published.
Titled Purgatory Chasm, this book was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America (Edgar Award = the Oscars of the mystery novel world) in the category of Best First Novel and chosen Best First Mystery by readers of Romantic Times.
A Romantic Times book review reads, in part: “Ulfelder’s debut grabs you from its wryly hilarious opening line and keeps going full throttle till the finale. His characters are deep and realistically rendered – sometimes painfully so – and the broken family dynamics are right on the money. Ulfelder writes so well that even non-NASCAR fanatics will get something out of the car talk and racing scenes.”
Steve shares how he wanted his detective character, Conway Sax, to “be gritty, with a working man occupation,” so he created the following backstory: “Conway used to be a NASCAR driver, a very promising one, but life’s problems got in the way, so he quit racing. Now a recovering alcoholic, he works as a mechanic in independent garages. He gets things done, he works with his hands, he does rather than talks.”
Before beginning this book and subsequent ones in the series, Steve created a situation/problem and could picture the final scene in his mind–and then he simply began writing, filling in the story as he went along. “The biggest challenge,” he admits, “is to keep track of all of the threads, because there are lots of moving parts in my novels. It’s hard to remember who did what, who knows what, who talks to whom in what chapter, but I keep writing the first draft until it’s done. Then, in the second draft, I make all consistent. For example, if Jane knows about the gun in chapter 2, she can’t be surprised to learn about the gun in chapter 4.”
Steve Ulfelder successfully followed the adage to write about what you know.
“I love cars and so it’s pleasurable to write about them,” he says. Steve has done more than write about them, of course, working as a mechanic, racing cars and co-creating the Flatout Motorsports company, which now has eight fulltime employees. Flatout Motorsports serves talented amateur race car drivers who don't have the time or the mechanical skills to maintain and/or repair their own race cars.
So, the company maintains and repairs the vehicles for clients; delivers the vehicles to the appropriate race tracks at the right times; serves as pit crew; and then takes care of the vehicles, post-race. “All the drivers need to do,” he explains, “is to show up with a racing helmet and drive.” Flatout Motorsports also rents race cars for $1,000 per day for racers who don’t own one.
At this point, Steve doesn’t do much work on the race cars themselves, focusing on the financing and marketing aspects of the business, plus web site development. He still maintains his own vehicles, though, enjoying the hands-on work.
And, the bottom line, according to Steve, is simple: “I am,” he says, “the luckiest guy in the world.”
We hope you've enjoyed the Advance Auto Parts author interview with Steve Ulfelder. Keep an eye out for more author interviews coming soon.
Editor • DIY'er