Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W
The weird thing is I never set out to write a book about Elvis Presley. LAST RIDE TO GRACELAND was just one of those stories that came to me fast and fully formed and when a writer is lucky enough to get that kind of inspiration, believe me, she doesn’t fight it.
It all started when I was lying in bed one Sunday morning looking at newspaper headlines and one just leapt out at me: LAST RIDE TO GRACELAND.
The article was about how the car that Elvis Presley drove on the last day of his life — a big shiny muscle car called a Stutz Blackhawk — was finally being taken out of mothballs and put on display in Graceland. But first it was being taken to my hometown of Charlotte NC, where it was going to be restored to top circa-1977 condition by one of the NASCAR museum specialists. The guy said that when he unwrapped the car and opened the door that it was “like opening a time capsule.”
That was all it took to get my imagination going. I sat there in bed and wildly scribbled out a premise: 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. So Cory Beth decides to dig out the car and return it to Graceland, hoping to gather some long-awaited answers along the way.
But of course an idea only takes you so far. I needed research, so six weeks later I was on the road, actually driving the route I’d imagined Cory Beth would take, this meandering trip through the deep south, from Beaufort, SC to Memphis, with lots of stops along the way.
It’s a bit dangerous to write fiction about a real person, especially one as beloved as Elvis Presley and especially one who died fairly recently. After all, if you write about Julius Caesar it’s not like his relatives are going to come crawling out of the woodwork saying “That’s not what really happened.” A lot of people, including me, remember where they were on the day that Elvis died and are protective of their memories. I just have to trust that they accept that this is a work of fiction, one woman’s imaginings about how the last days of Graceland went down, and that the book was written in total respect for Elvis and his talent.
Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?
Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.
A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister’s daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.