Friday, May 8, 2009

Julie James: Does the car make the man?

As an author, I’m a plotter. Before beginning a new book, I draft detailed outlines of the plot (my last one was over 20 pages). I use these outlines as a starting point, and also as a way to tell, going in, if I have enough of a story to sustain an entire book.

What’s strange, though, is that I don’t do detailed character sketches. Actually, I don’t do character sketches at all. Sure, I know the basics: the heroine and hero’s personalities, their professions, what they look like, and the key parts of their backgrounds as they relate to the story, but that’s about it. Going into a new book, I couldn’t tell you my hero’s favorite color or whether he sleeps on the right or left side of the bed. I also couldn’t tell you my heroine’s favorite food or her best childhood memory. I learn these things—if they become relevant—as the story progresses. I like the freedom that comes with not having my characters cast in certain molds going into a book. And through the writing process, they often think, feel, and do things that surprise me as I uncover more about them.

There is, however, one characteristic that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about early on in the writing process: the kind of vehicle my hero drives. I’m not exactly sure why this is—I don’t know much about cars myself, as my husband would surely tell you. Particularly after that time I drove our car into the garage wall. Twice.


I think the fascination with my hero’s vehicle has to do with the fact that so many men are obsessed with cars. I find anything that gets the majority of the male species so revved up to be. . . intriguing. For me, researching the hero’s choice in transportation is a great way to get into his head. Essentially, it’s an easy way to start thinking “like a guy.” And oddly, the trick works every time. Once I have the car, I feel like I have big piece of his character locked down: whether it may or may not be true in real life, the cars that my heroes drive say something about them.

For example, the hero in my first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, is the biggest movie star in Hollywood. He’s confident, larger than life, and what I like to think of as “amusingly arrogant.” His car of choice? An Aston Martin Vanquish.

Okay, so I might not be a car girl, but hot damn that’s a nice-looking vehicle.

One thing I like about men and their cars is how possessive and protective they get of them. Kind of sexy, that whole “Hands off, this is mine”-thing an automobile can bring out in a guy. Take this scene in Just the Sexiest Man Alive, when the heroine (who drives a PT Cruiser) asks to drive the hero’s car:

As Taylor followed Jason out to his car, she tapped him on his shoulder. “Hey—can I drive the Aston Martin?”


“But isn’t that what friends do?”


Jason opened the passenger door for her and walked around to the driver’s side. As he got in the car, Taylor glanced over.

“My, my, you’re awfully grumpy today... Is something wrong?”

Jason looked at her, sitting by his side. Actually, it was the best he had felt in the last two days.

He grinned as he fired up the Aston Martin.

“Buckle up, sweetheart,” he told her. “This ain’t no PT Cruiser.”
Then there’s J.D. Jameson, the hero in my second book, Practice Makes Perfect. J.D. is a driven, ambitious, confident lawyer from a wealthy family. But he separated from his family’s money and chose to make his own way. He’s proud of his success and not afraid to show it. His car of choice is a Bentley Continental GT.

Whew. And like Jason, J.D. is a tad protective of his car (and who can blame him?), as shown by his assessment of the heroine’s home the first time he visits her:

Standing aimlessly on her front stoop with nothing else to do, he looked around, checking out the neighborhood. There were several row houses on the block, including the one that presumably belonged to Payton. The tree-lined street had a quaint yet urban feel to it.

He liked it. Not as much as his downtown high-rise condo with a view of the lake, of course, but he found it an acceptable place to leave the Bentley parked on the street. And for J.D., that was saying a lot.

With my third and upcoming book, however, I found myself in an interesting predicament... the hero in this book doesn’t make the same kind of money as my two previous heroes. And none of the cars I tried out for him seemed to fit. So I decided to go a different route with him, and as soon as I tried this vehicle on for size, I knew I had it:

A Triumph Rocket III. Granted, I don’t know a lot about motorcycles, but 132 horsepower sounds like a lot of muscle to have raring between a man’s thighs. But I won’t say anything else, for now, about the man who rides it. You tell me, ladies—what would your first impressions be of a man who pulled up to your door riding this? What does it say, to you, about him? One random commenter will win a signed copy of either Just the Sexiest Man Alive or Practice Makes Perfect (of his or her choosing.)


Shannon said...

Hmmm... new hero? Could be a solitary man. A tough/rough exterior, but you know he will be an utter softy on the inside once he meets the right woman. A tatoo or two wouldn't surprise me. With a bike like that I would expect that he is a bit more mature (and probably experienced in life) that the average man. That ain't no crotch rocket!

Chris said...

Is he wearing a helmet? If not, my first impression is "organ donor"!

Julie James said...

Hey ladies! So glad to be back here for Day 2 on the island! He, he-- I'm going to love seeing all your impressions of the bike and the man who rides it... I'm very, very excited about this new hero.

Shannon: Solitary and more experienced in life than the average man-- you're right on the money.

Chris: LOL. Yes, he always has his helmet.

Kati said...

Mmm, I love when cars reflect the man.

I'm a fan of the idea of motorcycles, and in fact, once got grounded after riding on the back of a friend's Ninja motorcycle with just sunglasses on, instead of a helmet, when I was 16. We passed my mother doing 70 MPH (I didn't realize it). But when I got home, my ass was grounded.

Anyway, I don't think I'd get on a motorcycle now. They scare me. I hate driving behind them on the highway. I'm always sure they're going to fall off and I'm going to hit them. But I do think it's hot when a guy rides one.

So, Julie, what else can you tell us about this mysterious new hero???!! Hmmm?

Julie James said...

Kati: Love the story of you passing your mom on the bike when you were 16. Too funny. And I can tell you that the heroine of the new book is not exactly a fan of motorcycles, either.

KT Grant said...

Vroom vroom....

I think it is great that authors can learn about their characters as they write them.

Does your new hero wear a leather jacket? *swoon*

Kim said...

I really enjoyed Just the Sexiest Man Alive. Jason seemed so self-confident, yet around Taylor, he was also a bit insecure. Now I have to read Practice Makes Perfect.

When I think of motorcycles, I think that the man is a bit of a rebel. Perhaps he's channeling his inner Marlon Brando. He may even like a little controlled aggression. However, most men with motorcycles also own a car. Does your hero?

Erika said...

My first thought is, I wonder how many different ways we can fit together on that bike....

My second thought is, I love motorcycles, they're so darn sexy.

Julie James said...

Katiebabs: Hero's standard attire consists of jeans and a blazer to cover up his gun and shoulder harness.

Kim: So glad to hear you enjoyed JTSMA! You nailed Jason perfectly. And an excellent question about Hero #3-- most men with bikes do own a car, and it's pretty much a requirement for men in Chicago. Hero's back-up car is a more practical Ford LTD Crown Victoria, a car that's very popular with FBI agents.

Erika: LOL. Yes, there are some interesting possibilities with a bike... ;-)

KT Grant said...

Anything under that blazer? Is our hero a boxers type of guy or perhaps goes commando under his jeans?

Julie James said...

Katiebabs: jeans, t-shirt, gun harness, blazer. Boxer briefs. No commando for this guy-- too much chafing.

KT Grant said...

Boxer briefs are so sexy!! I hear you on the chafing.

Katie Reus said...

That's definitely a man's bike. When I see a hot man on a motorcycle, I automatically think of sex. *shrugs* I'd expect him to know his way around the bedroom ;)

Julie James said...

Katie Reus: Great assumption. Trust me, he does. ;-)

Renee said...

I'm waiting for my copy of PMP to come in, and can't wait to start reading it!

I love the description of your new hero. I dated a boy (I was 16, he was 18) who had a motorcycle. My parents took one look at it the first time he picked me up for a date, and they made him keep it in our driveway while we got a ride with my friend in her mom's stationwagon. lol

Motorcycles=very sexy ;-)

Unknown said...

I personally *LOVE* cars - the faster, sportier, and sexier, the better. I've been known to see a really nice Porche drive by and stare (with an admitted drool) until it passes. What does the guy inside look like? I have no clue and couldn't care less, actually.

Now I will say that if an tall, athletic, and attractive man (who had a day's worth of beard growth, dark brown hair and green eyes) stepped out of an Aston Martin DBS I'd probably beg to have his babies or something. Maybe.

My husband has been warned that though I would never leave him for another man, I would leave him for a car. :)

Unknown said...

As for the hero, I think the fact that he drives a typical car for an agent means that he needs something that gets him from A to B but his real pride and joy is that bike. Crown Victorias can get up there in speed, especially if they've been retrofitted for high-speed stuff (we had an old cop car that was a crown vic, was it ever fun!).

The motorcycle makes me think that he enjoys taking time to think things through on his own, he probably is used to eating lunches on his own, and isn't terribly self-conscious. He's probably fairly self-confident but maybe not over-confident. There are those too, but if he's an agent he is likely a little more low-key to the average joe.

He sounds amazing. I'm 100% down with the boxer briefs, btw!

Caffey said...

I rode a motorcycle with my godfather when I was younger and I used to show off to those kids on the street watching me take off on it with him when he picked me up to spend the day with him! LOL. I thought it was totally neat! I
love reading those heroes on motorcycles (you know how MIK means Men In Kilts, well I was trying to use MOM for Men On Motorcycles but that doesn't look good so maybe it will be HOM :)

Yummy pic and hero!!!

Mari said...

Hi....I would get very excited at the thought of a hero with a motorcycle! My BF has a mc and it is hot!
I like working class heroes also (sorry John Lennon)

Julie James said...

Hi Renee! Ooh... I'll keep my fingers crossed that you enjoy PMP. Too funny about your boyfriend with the motorcycle. Yeah... a station wagon isn't quite the same... ;-)

whateverfor: Great analysis! You definitely sound like you know a thing or two about cars... As for the hero, I'd say: (a) used to being on his own, (b) not at all self-conscious, (c) confident but not necessarily arrogant. Just fully comfortable with himself and his strengths.

Caffey: HOM-- love it! And too cute about you showing off to the other kids. I can only imagine that scored you major cool points. :-)

Hi Mari! So you have to tell us-- what kind of bike does your BF have? I didn't know anything about motorcycles until researching them for this book, but now I know a few...

Bridget Locke said...

The pic wouldn't come up (of motorcycle).

However, I will say that even w/o seeing the picture, the image that comes to my head is a guy who's not afraid to take chances. He likes his freedom and is maybe a little afraid to reveal the inner man.

Maybe looks like a professional during the day, but put on some riding leathers and an earring and yum!

Makes me think of this guy I used to have a HUMONGOUS crush on. I was 19, he was 35. Gorgeous. Looked like a business man during the day (was a lawyer. Ha!), but at night. *fans self* Nothing sexier than him in blue jeans (old and faded), a white t-shirt, black leather jacket and his boots.

'Scuse me. I need to wipe up some drool. :D

Bridget Locke said...

And I also had to comment about the choosing vehicles for your characters thing.

I'm not a pubbed author (yet), but I do the same thing. There's nothing I love more than going to car/motorcycle/truck sites and coming up with the perfect car for the hero of my story. Le sigh.

Julie James said...

Hi Bridget! Ha-- gotta love those sexy lawyers. And I love a guy who's just as comfortable in a suit as he is in jeans (and the white t-shirt, jacket and boots doesn't exactly hurt either.)

Interesting guesses on the hero. I'd certainly agree that Book 3 hero is guarded. Watches and waits to make his move and then when he strikes... oh, boy. (Can you tell how much I dig this guy?)

I love doing car research. It's fun to be able to impress my husband and guy friends with the stuff I pick up. Doing the research for this hero, I knew he wasn't a sports bike kind of guy, yet he didn't seem like a Harley guy, either. I had no clue what other kind of motorcycles even existed, and then I found the Triumph, which was perfect.

Mari said...

Hi Julie,
My BF has a Harley Davidson Buell! He looks so hot when he rides it! It is sort of like an American version of a crotch rocket.

Caffey said...

Ah, I'm married to a mechanic! I can't tell you the number of times we went to car shows (mostly for older classic cars) when we were dating and first married. Now my son is 19 and deals with this, LOL.
But I remember he had an older car when we were dating and I always sat in the middle, never on the passenger side. But now those newer cars they rarely have that area for you to sit.

My godfather rode a motorcycle and used to pick me up once a month on a Saturday and take me for a ride and lunch. I remember getting dressed up for it and making sure the neighbor friends saw. LOL.

Julie James said...

And the winner is...


Congrats! Please email me your snail mail address at, and let me know whether you would like a signed copy of Just the Sexiest Man Alive or Practice Makes Perfect.

Thanks to everyone who posted!

Mari said...

Thank you so much! I will send you an email right away...

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