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SunLit interview: How a family estate battle turned Collin Brantmeyer into a novelist

The divisive elements of that experience, plus an episode of "This American Life," gave the author lots of material for a whodunnit -- and also offered an alternative to therapy

Collin Brantmeyer lives in Longmont, Colorado with his wife and son. He has a B.A. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. “Death of a Car Salesman” is his first novel. 

Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate? 

Growing up, my family was torn apart over an estate battle, which unfortunately I think is a common experience. It’s this incredibly difficult time in life when you’re not only grieving over a loved one but all of a sudden you’re severed from family members you’ve known for your entire life as well. So, instead of going to therapy like a normal person, I wrote a novel about it. 

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it? 

The novel is told through multiple points of view of a well-to-do family fighting for their “fair share” of their inheritance after a suspicious death to their patriarch, a famous car salesman. This excerpt is from Alice Washington, the estranged daughter, as she returns home after a long absence. Alice eventually gets thrust into solving who killed her father in order to get her portion of his estate. 

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Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

I selected it because I find the beginning of any mystery the most engrossing. As a reader, you have no idea what’s coming next. The story can go in a thousand different directions and the mind can wander to dangerous places. 

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

There’s this incredible “This American Life” episode called “129 Cars” from 2013 where the producers follow around a few different sales people in their quest to meet their monthly sales goal of selling 129 cars. The episode exuded everything that fascinates me about car dealerships and what it takes to be a successful car salesperson. And oftentimes, the more successful the salesperson is, the worse off his or her family situation becomes due to the long, demanding hours of the job. And a broken family creates a lot of suspects. 

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Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own? 

Absolutely. As a “pantser” writer, I just had a general idea for a whodunit story involving a car dealership and then spent the next five years taking the story in the most interesting direction I could think of everytime a character hit a crossroad. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

Since the story takes place in the near future when autonomous cars and AI are beginning to become mainstream, I had to make a few guesses on what that world may look like. And as a

non-car person, I imagine I’ll be wrong with some of my predictions. But, hopefully that won’t distract too much from the mystery and the different family members scheming against each other. 

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them? 

My Grandma didn’t care for the curse words (sorry, Grandma!), but I always wanted to be true to the characters. I don’t use colorful dialogue to be gratuitous, but If a character is at her most desperate moment, she’s not going to sanitize her language because she’s worried about what her grandma may think. 

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? Blank screen. Coffee. Bad writing. Walk. More coffee. Edit bad writing. 

Tell us about your next project. 

I’m working on my next novel “Bait and Switch.” It’s about a low-stakes heist involving three college friends that quickly evolves into a mystery when one of the friends goes missing. Hopefully this one won’t take five years to finish.


Read an excerpt from the book.


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