Advance Author Series: Diane Flynn Keith and CARSCHOOLING


Diane Flynn Keith“Mom, are we there yet?”

“I’m thirsty. I don’t want water. When can we get more juice?”

“How long until we find a bathroom? I really gotta go.”

“Mom . . . are we there yet???”


 Anyone who has traveled a long distance with a child in the car can relate to some or all of the statements above. The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In fact, the car rides to and from great places can be as rewarding as the trip destination itself. Honest!

Diane Flynn Keith’s book, Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities to Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time, shares ways to make the most of your miles and to turn a potentially anxiety-provoking car ride into a time of fun exploration with your children. For example, if you have a child who is fascinated with stuff that’s a little yucky, have him or her monitor the bugs that splat on the windshield–and then report on what the bug had for its last meal. How, you wonder? Well, if the liquid is green, the meal was vegetarian; black, another bug. If it’s red, that’s not blood; it’s eye pigmentation. A little gross? Sure. An entryway into the world of science, anatomy, medicine and more? Absolutely!

Diane first came up with the idea of carschooling when homeschooling her two young sons.

She would take them to various lessons throughout the week and, with San Francisco, California traffic, she one day realized that they were spending four hours a day, five days a week, in their car. So, what did Diane do? She made the world their classroom.

With something as simple as a magnifying glass, plastic bags, pen and paper, as just one example, the family could explore and record the miracles of nature, from rocks and trees to animals and birds and feathers. They could also explore and record the miracles of themselves, seeing what freckles, blue jeans, hair and leftover French fries look like until the power of a magnifying glass. Keep your field guides in your car, not on your bookshelves, to enrich your experiences even further.

After recognizing how much more her sons learned when learning was fun, Diane began writing a Carschooling column.

This column appeared in a secular magazine that she published, Home Fires: the Journal of Homeschooling. She began asking other parents for ideas they had to entertain and educate the young ones while in the car and their ideas were, according to Diane, “ingenious.”

She compiled the ideas and approached Random House, and her book, Carschooling, was born in 2002. In 2009, she bought the rights to the book back and self published, including on Kindle. Diane has a big platform, world-wide, as a homeschooling mentor, with learning on the road one of her best known specialties.

“Give me an object,” Diane says, “and I will tell you 1,000 fun ways to learn from that object. I’ll show you how to pull a string and see the tapestry of possibilities.”

Each chapter of her book focuses on innovative ways to learn more about a subject, whether it’s math, science, language arts, music, art, foreign language or something else. Ideas go beyond typical car games like Slug Bug and I Spy and will work for any family, not just homeschooling families.

“In a car,” Diane explains, “your family is a captive audience. It’s a perfect place to create heartfelt memories and bind together in the most profound ways. In such close proximity, your children might tell you things they never would otherwise share. You can trigger something within them that allows them to discover that, yes. They can create.”

Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed our author interview with Diane Flynn Keith. Be sure to watch for more author interviews. In the meantime, visit Advance Auto Parts for quality auto parts and more.

Advance Author Series: Jonathan Rintels and LIFEMOBILE

Jonathan Rintels At its heart, the story of Lifemobile focuses on a young man, his father and a car. Not just any car, though. It’s a Chevy Corvair, the sporty car singled out as especially unsafe by Ralph Nadar in his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Nadar’s specific accusation was that the car rolled over more frequently than the average car and, because of that claim, the Corvair became a symbol of dangerous cars. In 1969, Chevrolet produced the last of this line and even a 1972 government study that refuted Nadar’s charge didn’t change the reputation of this model.

Fast forwarding to late 2009, Jonathan thought about buying a Corvair. “My father was a real fan and owned two of them,” he says, “so I decided to buy one on eBay, a 1965 Corsa. My son J.B., who has Asperger Syndrome, wasn’t happy about the purchase. He’s very unsentimental and practical and wants to focus only on facts. The facts, as he knew them at the time were that Corvairs didn’t have good gas mileage, weren’t safe and required lots of maintenance.”

Jonathan bought the car, anyhow.

Change of heart leads to the writing of Lifemobile

At that time, J.B., an honors student, was applying to college. “Independent living was going to be a huge challenge,” Jonathan explains, “and he didn’t get into the program that would have offered support. He was devastated. He decided there was no place for him in this world and that he had no future. He wasn’t even getting out of bed.”

Jonathan tried to get J.B. interested in life again, so he talked to his son about the government studies that showed the Corvair as either safe or safer than comparable cars on the road today. “The scales,” Jonathan remembers, “just fell from his eyes. He said, ‘So the car isn’t defective. It’s just different like me.’ When he said that, my heart broke.”

The conversation did the trick, though, and the car became a huge passion of J.B.’s and he soon wouldn’t ride in anything else. “He lectured people on its safety,” Jonathan recalls, “telling them it is the greatest car ever.”

Jonathan, on the other hand, had a more balanced approach to the car, happy about the positives, but not so thrilled about the negatives, including when the car “stalled all over town.”

The father-son duo began to join car clubs, attend local events and otherwise steep themselves into the Corvair culture. Jonathan, a professional writer with three decades of experience, also began writing a memoir with this as its central theme. “It turned into a novel,” he explains, “as I added characters that my son didn’t actually cross paths with in real life.”

The result was Lifemobile, with Robert Bianco, television critic for USA saying this about the book: In this lovely first novel from Jonathan Rintels, what begins, literally and figuratively, as a reclamation project for the much maligned Corvair grows into a sweet, moving celebration of the bond between fathers and sons – the way their flaws can magnify each other and their virtues can save each other.

Jonathan also started a non-profit agency

He serves as the executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, which is dedicated to preserving free speech and expression, and encouraging diversity in the media’s creative voices. Board members have included Warren Beatty, Steven Bochco, Peggy Charren, Blake Edwards, Sissy Spacek and other professionals who have won an Oscar, Emmy or Tony Award.

Editor’s note: Be sure to watch for other author interviews in this series. In the meantime, check out Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings, service and selection.


Advance Author Series: Ingrid Steffensen and FAST GIRL

Ingrid Steffensen One day, Ingrid Steffensen was a college professor, wife and mother who wasn’t very interested in cars. Fast forward by one weekend and this same professor had passed several cars on a race track–in the rain, no less. Fast forward again and this same professor is now a racing instructor, a “hopelessly addicted speed freak” and the author of Fast Girl: Don’t Brake Until You See the Face of God and Other Good Advice from the Racetrack.

“I didn’t grow up in a car family,” Ingrid says. “Dad saw a car as a way to get from one place to another. Once I started to drive, I found that I liked easily maneuverable cars, but that’s about all.”

As an adult, Ingrid taught art and architectural history at Bryn Mawr. She also happened to be married to a man who loves performance cars. “I remember being unhappy with my husband when he would go to a race track, leaving me home alone with our toddler. I thought that what he was doing was a waste of both time and money.”

Her husband kept inviting Ingrid to go to the track with him, to watch or even drive a race car. When their daughter turned ten, in 2008, Ingrid agreed and found herself behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper S. “I was absolutely petrified,” she says, “terrified out of my mind. I knew I would be driving so fast and figured I’d be so bad at it. I was literally shaking with fear. Fortunately the instructor was nice, seeing my nerves and telling me that I didn’t need to do this.”

Ingrid stayed in the car and, on the first day of the two-day training, she was the slowest one on the track. “I had one of the least powerful cars and I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I had lots of info to process and I was still scared.”

On the second day of the event, it was raining. The instructor told Ingrid that was good, as she would learn more safety techniques. “I also learned that, in the rain, the more powerful cars couldn’t use full horsepower and I started passing up people. That’s because, on day one, I learned about technique.”

Ingrid then headed home, relieved that the weekend had ended. “But,” she says, “I also kept thinking about the experience, replaying it in my head. This was the start of a beautiful love affair. I was hooked, not so much on speed, but on the mental challenge of getting all right, accurately and smoothly. It was extraordinarily liberating and empowering.”

The seeds of a memoir

Fast Girl captures Ingrid’s experiences of tackling new challenges as she falls in love with high performance race cars and shares what she learned about her life and life in general at the track. “I devote a chapter to rain,” she says, “because you learn what you’re made of when life gets more difficult. Both racing and life are great fun when all goes well but, if you can embrace life when life is more difficult, then you should be even more proud.”

Writing the book has made Ingrid braver in multiple areas of life. For example, the tenure track eluded her at Bryn Mawr, so she has changed her career focus rather than continuing to pursue something that wasn’t making her entirely happy. She also became a race car driving instructor, an experience that she says changed her life.

In fact, Ingrid is writing a follow up book that shares her experiences as a driving instructor. “Picture two strangers,” she says, “sitting in the front seats of a car, with one telling the other how to drive, fast and dangerously. This is a very intense psychological relationship where the driver needs to figure out what kind of person the student is, and really quickly.”

The bottom line? According to Ingrid, it’s that “life is uncertain and control is an illusion. You need to accept that, embrace that and go on anyhow, to make the best of what you’ve got.”Fast Girl

Editor’s note: Let us know what you think of our author interview with Ingrid Steffenson. Also, shop Advance Auto Parts for great DIY deals every day.

Advance Author Series: Steve Ulfelder and SHOTGUN LULLABY

Steve UlfelderSteve 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.”

In 2012, the sequel to Purgatory Chasm was released, titled The Whole Lie. And now, the third book, Shotgun Lullaby, has just hit the stands. In 2014, we can expect another one.

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.

Jim Kazliner
Editor • DIY’er

Advance Author Series: Michael E. Gray and AUTO UPKEEP

We interview the author of the popular car manual Auto Upkeep.


Auto UpkeepMike Gray and his wife Linda co-authored Auto Upkeep, a text that, according to Mike, is “used by over 500 secondary and post-secondary schools to teach introductory automotive technology and basic car care.”

They didn’t just sit down one day and decide to write an auto manual, though. The journey of Auto Upkeep actually mirrors the journey of Mike’s life. Raised in International Falls, Minnesota, the “icebox of the nation,” he began working at a service station at the age of twelve, starting at the cash register and working his way to the service station, where he began learning how to repair cars.

At St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, he studied industrial technology while working at an auto parts store. After earning his bachelor degree, he student taught a consumer auto class before getting a teaching job in southern Illinois where he needed to start an automotive program focusing on upkeep. “I needed good textbooks,” he says, “but, guess what? I couldn’t find any, so I created my own material for the program.”

Mike then attended graduate school at Illinois State University in 1999 and 2000 where, for his thesis, he wrote a manual that eventually served as the first draft of his automotive textbook. Then, when he moved to Maryland, he was moved to an administrative job and, during that time, he and his wife decided to publish a book on basic car upkeep.

Co-author Linda Gray adds her special touch to the auto manual

Mike didn’t write the book by himself. His wife, Linda, had learned to do many car repairs as a way to save money, experience that helped when the couple turned Mike’s thesis into a practical, usable book. Linda’s degree in engineering helped, as well. So did her experience at the University of Redlands, where she and classmates designed, built and tested a hybrid vehicle in 1995—and so did her artistic ability.

“After that, we started our own publishing company,” Mike remembers. “We only started out with 250 or 500 copies of the book, I can’t remember which. But, I soon started attending automotive teacher conferences and otherwise marketing the book. In 2007, we came out with a second edition of Auto Upkeep and, in 2008, I quit my fulltime job just to focus on our publishing.”

Third edition of Auto Upkeep

By 2013, this auto manual was being used:

  • in 500 schools around the country
  • by homeschoolers and their families
  • by auto parts stores as refreshers for employees
  • by auto shops as weekend car care seminar material
  • in non-credit courses at colleges
  • as the textbook for automotive introduction courses at community colleges
  • as Boy Scout and Girl Scout badge reference material
Advance Auto Parts

Mike, Linda and Aiden Gray

Mike and his wife are now printing books in batches of 5,000 to 10,000. “We also created a workbook, a homeschool curriculum kit, instructor resource CDs and so forth, and then we package items in different ways for different audiences. This book is also a great guide for an individual car owner.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed the Advance Auto Parts author interview with Michael E. Gray. Be sure to keep an eye out for more author interviews coming soon as part of our new series.

Jim Kazliner
Editor • DIY’er