Today I am meeting John Howell for breakfast at the award-winning Elmo’s Diner in Durham, North Carolina, so he can tell me about his new book, The Last Drive, the sequel to Eternal Road – The Final Stop. I loved Eternal Road, which cleverly meshed time-travel, adventure, mystery, justice, and the supernatural. The new book does the same – what’s not to like?
Elmo’s Diner opened in the spring of 1997 in the Ninth Street shopping district of Old West Durham. Large windows, wooden floors, high ceilings, and old red brick grace the Durham location, and give a warm and casual feel. The restaurant also is located in an old building with lots of history, having been a former taxi cab garage, beauty college, and bakery at various times.
Since John offers us wonderful Sunday menus to go along with his Views of the Neighborhood blog post, I thought it only fair to turn the tables on him and offer him the menu from Elmo’s. My recommendation is the baked French toast stuffed with cream cheese and apples, topped with cinnamon apples and whipped cream. It tastes like a breakfast bread pudding and is served with two eggs and bacon, sausage or ham.
After placing two orders for this French toast, plus some eye-opener coffee, I start to pepper John with questions.
NG: John, can you tell me a little about The Last Drive and how it differs from Eternal Road?
JH: Eternal Road and The Last Drive differ in how nasty Lucifer gets in trying to grab off souls that have already been destined for eternal grace. In Eternal Road he sends Sam and James into situations that are dangerous but less evil. In the Last Drive he pulls out all the stops.
NG: Well, that gives me goose bumps. I’ve just started reading the book and I’m already nervous!
NG: Where did the ideas for these two books come from?
JH: When I was ten years old my dad passed away. I had a hard time coming to grips with the loss so I started making up what I thought heaven should be. It came down to heaven is whatever you want it to be which is the theme of both books.
NG: I also think when you get to a certain age, the concept of heaven is on your mind a lot. It’s hard to get your mind around, but I do like your version.
At this point, our breakfast arrives, and we dose our waffles with maple syrup and dig into the eggs.
In between mouthfuls, I ask: What is your favorite breakfast food?
JH: Our local food chain private label Raisin Bran Crunch with bananas and 2% milk.
NG: Do you live on coffee?
JH: I have an espresso machine that makes excellent coffee, but I only have two cups a day.
NG: That’s pretty modest compared to some writers I know, who main line it. My next question is: When do you write and where?
JH: I usually try to write in the morning. I sit on the couch with Twiggy my dog. I have an office, but Twiggy won’t let me write in there. She makes a fuss until I sit on the couch.
At this point, I need to tell our readers that John is the owner of two dogs, the wise older Lucy, who is a boxer, and the irrepressible younger Twiggy, who is a French bulldog. Twiggy thinks that their yard is occasionally inhabited by water buffalo and pumas. Their adventures appear regularly on John’s blog.
NG: Does Twiggy interrupt your writing?
NG: Do you listen to music when you write?
JH: No. I used to but stopped. My first three books were written to Queen’s Greatest Hits.
NG: I would be totally distracted by anything Queen and would want to sing along. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
JH: A pantser from the get-go. When I started writing I didn’t know how to plot. I do know how now but still prefer sitting in front of the computer with the characters and let them run off with the story.
I stop to take a good gulp of my coffee and let John get on with his breakfast. Then I ask a couple of off the wall questions. Where did you grow up, John?
JH: I grew up physically in the Detroit area. Once I left for college I never went back. Mentally I’m still a kid.
NG: What was your first car? Not a 1956 Oldsmobile like the one in Eternal Road, by any chance?
JH (smiling): No but this sounds like you are going to hack into my financial accounts with secret questions. My first car was a Ford Club Coupe. Being a Detroit kid, I naturally had to squeeze every bit of horsepower from it. So, I installed a duel set of carburetors, dual exhaust, souped-up ignition, and floor shifter. It was the fastest thing on Woodward Avenue, the local drag strip.
NG: My first was a 1930 Model A phaeton, and I’ve missed it for all these years. Definitely not a roadster – I think its top speed was maybe 40 mph. Before we finish I have to ask you: Is there another book in the works?
JH: I have two. One is a memoir and the other is a collection of my Top Ten Things Not to Do posts incorporated into a book
NG: Well, I’m looking forward to both! I really enjoy your Ten Top Things Not to Do, since I’ve so often made the mistake of actually doing them.
I call for another cup of coffee…..
So here is the blurb for The Last Drive, John’s new book.