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Author Interview: Scott Semegran on The Codger and the Sparrow

Written by Dania Kreisl

What was your inspiration for the story, and what gave you the ideas for Hank and Luis?

In the fall of 2020, the pandemic was upon us and my wife and I got into this unwanted routine of randomly waking up in the middle of the night, probably from stress. I was up late one night petting my cat when I had a vision of two guys in a car driving somewhere, one an old white guy and the other a young Black guy. But in this scene, they didn’t seem like a grandfather and grandson. By the way they were sitting in the car, they just looked like two dudes, like friends. The kid had his feet out the window and the old guy had his arm casually draped over the steering wheel. I kept thinking, “How are these two friends? They seem like friends. How would an old white guy and a young Black guy be friends?” As a humor fiction writer, I liked the odd-couple dynamic right away. I knew there could be humor in the dynamic between different generations and ethnic backgrounds. But once I started to work out their backstories—who they were and what they were like and what their family lives were like, etc.—then their similarities became clear to me. They both have mixed backgrounds—Hank is Jewish and German / Irish, Luis is Puerto Rican. Their past trauma connected these two; it’s what brought them together to be friends. They understood each other on an emotional level; they had similar needs even though their background and appearance was so different, and that was interesting to me.

The car is a very important aspect to the story, what is the backstory behind the car, and why did you choose this specific vehicle?

There is not much in The Codger and the Sparrow from my life personally, but the story of how Hank got the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda painted Panther Pink was my father-in-law’s story. My late father-in-law, Ed Hoadley, had this exact car when he was a young man. He told us this story several times over the dinner table, about how when he was finishing up his tour in Vietnam, he had an opportunity to buy a Barracuda through a military benefit. He ordered one and waited for it when he got back home, but there was a storm in Amarillo that damaged his specially-ordered car, and only a pink one was available with the exact engine he wanted. His stories of having a hot sports car and zooming around in it, confusing a lot of people in his small hometown because it was pink, would get us all laughing until we had tears in our eyes. I remember telling my wife at the time it was just too good a story to not use in a novel. When I started writing The Codger and the Sparrow, it was immediately clear to me that Hank—this tough, surly loner—would own a car like this, a muscle car painted pink. It just seemed like the right fit for Hank. So now, my father-in-law’s story is Hank’s story, how he came about to own a hot pink 1970 Plymouth Barracuda.

Could there be a future for Hank and Luis, and if so, will we get to see more of Hank’s relationship with Doris and how he wrestles his former wife’s death as he pursues her?

There is a future for Hank and Doris! I revisit these two in a short story for a newer project. I’m hoping this new book will be out in 2025. I missed Hank so much that I just had to write something else with him in it. I really enjoyed writing that short story. As for Hank and Luis, there is a future for them, too. That’s why I ended The Codger and the Sparrow the way I did. I felt they remained friends afterwards. Will I write more about it? Not really sure right now. There’s a part of me that isn’t interested in writing a sequel because most sequels aren’t very satisfying. The way this book ends feels hopeful to me, with some possibility for each of them.

Do you relate to any of the characters in the book, and if so, how and which characters?

Yes, I was 49 when I started writing this story and since Hank was 65 and Luis was 16, I found I could relate to both of them. I remember my teen years fondly, so that made relating to Luis very easy for me. And since I was nearly fifty-years old when writing this book, I found I could relate to Hank as well. I had several family members pass away a few years before writing this book, so it was easy for me to channel that grief into Hank’s grief. Having seen all of my kids navigate divorce and the creation of our blended family, I could relate to Luis’s frustration and his longing for familial structure.

What are the reasons why you picked Texas as the setting for the book?

I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and love using Texas as the settings for most of my stories. I’d wanted to write a road trip story between Austin and Houston for a very long time. I’m fond of both cities and have traveled along 71 to I-10 so many times; I can’t count how many times I’ve traveled this route since childhood. I hoped to capture the beauty of the drive, the changes in scenery, and some of my nostalgia in The Codger and the Sparrow. It seemed like fertile ground for a road trip story.