Petra Perkins is a Colorado author of memoir, fiction, poetry, essay, humor, and stage play. She decided to get serious about writing in 2011 after retiring from her management career in aerospace engineering. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Colorado Independent, The Denver Post and other newspapers, as well as Sports Car Digest, ArtAscent and other journals and online publications. Learn more at

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

Petra Perkins: There exists an ultra-special car which is currently (arguably) the world’s most valuable and iconic — the Ferrari 250 GTO. There were 36 of these cars made in Italy, but this story is about the very first one, born in Italy. No one knew much about it or its lifetime of incredible experience. 

The car kept coming into my radar over many years. So, I decided to take what I knew, discover more, and tell the whole story with the help of my husband, Larry Perkins, who was its owner in 1963-66. He raced it in bigtime races against bigtime racers. The funny thing: Larry was not primarily a racer but had another job, a consuming one, as a rocket scientist who worked on the Apollo moon program. 

With his team, mostly nonprofessional racers with other jobs (some were rocket jockeys), Larry had to scrape the money and time together to buy this car and make it race-worthy. At the time, this was as hard as going to the moon! The actual story — his, mine, ours, and Sophia’s — covers nearly 50 years of exciting and unbelievable adventures. The car was nicknamed Sophia for actress Sophia Loren, as she was sleek, elegant, sexy and in her prime, just like the Ferrari GTO. 

The backstory has so many unusual and interesting parts that people often urged me to write a book about it. I began the memoir nine years before its publication date. I was inspired to get the story out there but had no idea, then, what form it would take. I knew it would require a fair amount of time to bring it together and figure out how best to tell it. 


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The backstory did not initiate a mere car story — it also tells the human story of the people associated with this car and the exciting era of 1960s racing. It is also an amazing account of how, throughout a long and varied life, things seemed to come back around, full circle. I could see in the backstory how people were changed by this car and by the passion for racing. This led to, most definitely, a different kind of love story. 

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

Perkins: The excerpt is the book’s first chapter. I selected it because it sets the tone, pace, and underlying energy of the writing. Also, it exemplifies the very intimate personal nature of this memoir. Although there are bits and pieces of dialogue throughout the book, this chapter is the only one with mostly dialogue. And I wanted to show, upfront, the creative way the story is approached. Most of all, it establishes the primary voice. 

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

Perkins: I interviewed several key people, mostly my husband, Larry. I was thrust back into the 1960s. I did research and watched videos of car racing at Sebring and Daytona. I had actually been to one race when I was 15. From that experience, I wrote a pre-book sports car magazine article which eventually became one of the chapters. 

Larry and I discovered after we were married that we had been at that same race at the same time in 1964, and that I had seen him and his car race around the track. It was the only car race I had ever been to in my life, and it was a fluke that I ended up there on a trip to Florida. The magic of that experience really helped me put myself into this rarefied environment of ’60s racing. 

SunLit: 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?

Perkins: Yes! Over several years the story did take me into different directions: dead-ends, scenic vistas, and long road trips. This was probably because I was experimenting with it in various memoir workshops with different instructors. Each class and teacher would have different feedback than the last which took the book into vastly different directions. 

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In the beginning, I had wanted to use two (or three) voices. Teachers urged me not to do that, although fellow students liked this style. I tried alternative approaches, none of which worked quite right, because the story kept leading to a switch in narrative voice. I eventually returned to my original idea of two different voices, yet under the umbrella of an omniscient narrator, a style which finally worked perfectly. And when it did work right, I knew it immediately. Things began to flow easily after I got the structure down.

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

Perkins: The biggest surprise, after nine years, was the result being something way better than I had envisioned early on. The biggest challenges were: 1) writing succinctly about the highlights of a 50-year time span; 2) writing about a subject of which I knew little at first and had to learn thousands of details; 3) writing a joint memoir with another person, my husband! (See question #8).

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

Perkins: Fortunately, the book is the type that would really not provoke strong opinions (other than raves) or questions. We received many fan letters and excellent personal and publication reviews. I knew there was an audience for this book of not only car lovers, Ferrari aficionados, and racing fans, but also people who read biographies, memoirs, and those who just love a good story. We heard from them.

SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

Perkins: I’m not too structured about having a process, except for doing it daily, if possible. But I do need to be alone. (How do people write at Starbucks anyway?) When I feel like starting something new, I just pound out the “shitty first draft” as fast as possible. 

I write in bed with my laptop propped up on my knees. I do real-time research while writing so I may Google a hundred times a day. At some point, I make a box of popcorn and start editing. I edit from start to finish a zillion times and then I hand it over to diverse people to get a variety of reactions. 

Often, based on those reactions, I may change things. I do my own final editing in most cases. When I get toward the end of something, entire days may go by that I don’t leave the computer. In general, if I don’t write something every day, I get the heebie-jeebies. (Like runners, I guess.)

SunLit: What was it like writing a book with your husband? 

Perkins: I am working on a seriously funny essay about this! It was not easy-peasy to write a creative nonfiction joint memoir. Ten years ago, I conceived the idea for the book. It was a good story that needed to be told and I was the best one to tell it as I had an intimate understanding of most characters, but more, I had the bird’s eye view. I could be objective. 

So I started doing research and interviews. I interviewed my husband, Larry, probably around 100-150 hours. During this time I wrote the first chapter to see where that would take me. Then I wrote subsequent chapters, not in chronological order. While doing this I would give them to Larry to read and comment and edit. 

He became interested in the process and created his own chapters which he gave to me to read and comment and edit. Over several years we did this back and forth until one day we decided we really had to finish this book immediately. So, we stopped doing everything else in our lives and sat in an office for many months. 

I outlined a table of contents which we both changed several times. We had a set of tall boards in our office where we posted the latest chapters, photos, project schedule, action items, and communiques. The photos were extraordinarily difficult to do because there were so many we had to cull, plus create them to the right size and pixels. 

Each chapter is written around 1 to 7 photos. One problem we had was that I use a PC laptop and he uses an Apple desktop. We had some inter-computer formatting issues to iron out. We had to agree on configuration control which was easier for him as an OCD person; I am the opposite of OCD, as I inherently reject order as if it were an authority figure. Alas, he was right about that. We had a few arguments, but strangely they were not about what we were writing, but how we were doing it. 

A third person came into the picture (yes, crazy) when we decided to get the help of a book designer. At first, this brought some order to our process and then it became much more difficult as we were both sending him different things: photos, text, edited text, instructions, and wish lists. It became three of us putting a book together with me as the chief writer. Sometimes, the urgency of the schedule, and meeting milestones, overran the original intent. Some of the things we wanted to stay in the book did not, unfortunately, because we had to choose our battles and move on quickly. 

The best thing about writing a book together is the diverse product. It does really work with the weaving of the omniscient narrator and the two voices. We’ve (gratefully) been told many times how much people enjoyed the way it reads. That made all the agony worth it. 

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Perkins: I’m writing another joint memoir but this one, alone. It is for my daughter who can’t write her own memoir because she is an invalid with advanced multiple sclerosis. It’s the story of her fascinating but challenging life, and my journey with her through this devastating disease. 

Thematically it’s about profound loss, shared grief, eventual redemption, and a different kind of mother-daughter relationship. The style is of a necessary lightness with some great humorous scenes. It’s called: “Ms. Suzy & Mom: Correspondents from the Trenches.”

The Colorado Sun

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