The Last Cadillac: A Memoir

The Last Cadillac: A Memoir

by Nancy Nau Sullivan


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Middle-age is challenging enough, but when Nancy Nau Sullivan suddenly finds herself caring for two children, grappling with her mother’s death, and caring for her ailing father while at the same time navigating a contentious divorce and dealing with long-simmering sibling rivalries, she wonders how she can keep herself sane. Things get even more complicated when her siblings accuse her of “kidnapping” their father and carting him—and his Cadillac—off to Anna Maria Island, Florida, where they are greeted by Hurricane Josephine. In this gripping memoir, Sullivan guides the reader through the chaotic whirlwind of unexpected and unwanted change and offers a common sense and humorous guide to surviving family relationships.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940442129
Publisher: Amphorae Publishing Group, LLC
Publication date: 04/26/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,261,150
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

NANCY NAU SULLIVAN has worked as a newspaper journalist, teacher, and most recently, as a University English Specialist in the Peace Corps in Mexico. She has taught English in Chicago, Argentina, and at a boys’ prison in Florida. In her later years, she earned her master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University. Her stories have appeared in Akashic Books, The Blotter, The Atherton Review, and skirt!magazine. Her story, "Once I Had a Bunch of Thyme" won honors at the Carnegie Center in Lexington, KY. Find Nancy online at and on Facebook at NNSullivan.


How long have you been writing? What do you like about writing? What inspires you?

Since I could hold a pencil! I remember writing squiggly lines to my sister when I was six, and my grandmother mailed the “letter.” I also remember being frustrated because I knew what I wrote didn’t say anything. My grandmother said, “Don’t worry. You’ll be writing soon enough.” That is my first memory of writing.

In first grade we had the alphabet posted around the room; A for Apple, etc. I thought, How dumb. I know those letters, but still, the idea of letters was enthralling...I loved to read all through grade school and into high school. But it was my journalism teacher, Sister Georgia, who got me started on my “writing career” sophomore year of high school. I wrote a column, “Nau’s Notions” about prom fashions and football players and other important news. Sister’s father had been a newspaper man—must have been a hard-bitten sort, like she was, all of four feet, ten inches, or so—and she was tough on me. Made me think about what I was writing, cut the lead, write in the inverted triangle, get rid of the adjectives, cut from the bottom, all the quirks of tight writing.

I was a news writer and editor in college, and then afterwards, a writer and editor in NYC at a decorating magazine, and I was always writing essays and stories. My dream job was writing features for the newspapers; I interned during college for the The Times of Hammond, IN, and then later began writing regularly for newspapers from 1978 for 20 more years. Off and on, I dabbled with short stories and wrote a children’s book, The Sun Machine, a novelette based on the use of solar power with Ronald and his family finding the joys of solar energy for their swimming pool (yet to be published).

I’ve written a mystery, Saving Tuna Street, and am working on a novel about a teacher who works at a boys’ prison where an escape is planned...that would be based upon my experience. For sure, I have an abundance of experience to draw upon...I taught English in Argentina, and in 2014, I ended a year in Mexico in the Peace Corps, which inspired Dust and Rain: Mexican Love Stories, a collection of short stories based on the relationship of Mari, a young American volunteer, and Emilio, a Mexican doctor working in the rural areas of the country. Two of those stories have been published this year (Pillow Man in The Atherton Review and Isla in Gargoyle). I write every day, or I feel like I haven’t taken my vitamins. Writing is something I need to do.

What do you like to write?

That’s a hard one because I like to write in many genre—except fantasy, scifi and, maybe less in romance, although I’m having fun with Dust and Rain: Mexican Love Stories. Recently, I have found a renewed love of reading and writing short stories, and that may be due to my attachment to my ever-loving, long-time hero-writer, Hemingway. The way he writes the mood and character with just a dash of the right verb, the lack of an adjective here and there, the stark, in- your- face way he creates a scene, an often bleak and sad scene, is a joy I wallow in. As for his novels, I’ve read A Moveable Feast many times, and will read it again, even though he is portrayed as somewhat of a cad. (The last time I read it, I’d just finished The Paris Wife from Hadley’s perspective.) I’ve published half a dozen short stories, mostly in literary journals, in the past year or two, and just recently, an essay in a national magazine...My true love and desire is to get my mystery published—Saving Tuna Street, a story of murder on an island where the developers and drug dealers have come to roost. I love the intricacy of how the story goes together, the bad and the good, the strong female lead, the scene-setting that takes on character of its own. I read and watch Agatha and Sherlock, Jessica and Colombo and Matlock, Poirot and Ms. Fisher. My kids used to laugh that I loved Murder She Wrote, but Jessica had such class, the characters were so funny-corny, the scenery gorgeous and comfy, and Jessica always got the bad guy (or girl)...I am also at work on a non-fiction about the Knotts family who founded Gary, IN, and then meandered down to Florida to start up Yankeetown, a sleepy little burg on the edge of the Gulf about 100 miles north of Tampa. They were real 20th century pioneers, traveling across the states on two-lane highways, no motels or lights, arriving in Florida only to cut a path to the Withlacouchee River and build a lodge. The women were as strong as the men; they teamed up to make a way.

(I have primary source material, diaries, photos, notes, etc. My mother’s college room mate was Nancy Knotts.)My newspaper background has given me inspiration to write tons of stories. As Carl Hiassen says, “Some of this stuff you just can’t make up. It’s all there on the pólice blotter.”

What inspires you to write?

That’s sort of like asking, “What inspires you to breathe?” Everything. A comment, an interesting face, a dramatic incident, a fall, an accident, joy, a meeting. I was riffling through a rack of clothes on an island in Florida last February, and the woman next to me reminded me, for some reason, of the people who bought our family cottage and tore it down. A sore spot, to say the least. She wore a huge diamond ring; she was blond, and idle. I went home and wrote Fat Peanut. It was published online in The Toasted Cheese Literary Journal last June. That was a spur of the moment inspiration. The Last Cadillac was hardly that—although I knew I would write a family drama one day. All of the events that led up to my memoir fell into place. One time, my mother asked me, “How do you know where to begin, and where to end, in a news story—particularly, the non-timely feature story?” That was an interesting question. For some reason, in news writing, I could see the arc of the story, from the minute I met the person or place I was writing about to the conclusion of the interview or research. I am extremely curious, and I think that helps. I don’t feel like I run out of questions to ask—The journalism experience, again. I need to cover the W’s—the who, what, where, when, why and how, and then I have it, pretty much. But that is only the start of the story; I like re-writing and editing. Sometimes I think I’ve written the greatest thing, and I go back the next day to read it, and it stinks. Cut, re-write, think. It is never-ending. But at some point, I have to decide to move on. There are other stories to write…

What was the inspiration for The Last Cadillac?

The minute my father told me he was leaving Indiana and coming to live with me and the kids on an island in Florida, the bell went off. I had never thought to write a memoir, but then I did. I knew. I’d been reading Angela’s Ashes and The Corrections, both brilliant stories about dark family dysfunction. I read The Glass Castle later, and was blown away with the dark side and humor. I realized I was sitting on similar material. I must bow to both McCourt, Franzen, and Wahls for their inspiration—but I read so widely while writing this story: Hiassen, Evanovich, McDonald, Larsen, Hall, on and on. I owe a lot to those who keep me going…

Of course, as regards The Last Cadillac, I was apprehensive about the whole adventure from the beginning, but I adored my father and, after my mother died, I wanted the best for him (that would be me). He was devastated, in poor health, and he needed care. So did my kids. We all took on the adventure. There probably wouldn’t have been a story if my siblings hadn’t raised such a ruckus. But, in that, I had major conflict, and so the book grew out of our rivalry and problems as a family. With my journalism background and practice, I was adept at note taking, remembering conversations, setting up the story line and keeping the focus. (I have six brothers and sisters, and five children. But only three of my siblings and two of my kids played a part in those several years I took Dad to Florida.) I really believe that this story had to be told. So many families are finding themselves in crisis, particularly, as in my case, caring for their elderly while the young ones are still at home. My memoir, in part, is a cautionary tale. We were—and are—a communicative family, but that is different than really sitting down and talking calmly and productively about important matters, such as death, money, and caring for each other. As for the former, my parents were averse to bringing up those “vulgar” topics. They didn’t even say the word “cáncer”; it was the “Big C .” Enough already. Get it out there. Come up with a plan. Talk, and love. The sad part of ending the story, the part I knew from the beginning, would be the death of my father; we had lost our mother at the beginning, which set the whole thing off. I knew that was the arc. It is world-changing to lose parents. The glue is gone. We have to grow up, and it was hard. And it took a long, long time of alienation from my siblings. But we have moved on, mostly because of the children, and the grandchildren. There are new stories coming along, and they are the inspiration for all of us.

Who are your favorite characters in The Last Cadillac?

Of course, Tick, Little Sunshine and Dad, who are the key figures of our “adventure.” (I exclude myself, even though I am the main character. I guess I would say it was a favorite time because I learned so much, did so much and met so many people and challenges, and survived!) Dad was the one who suggested the whole thing; he was not going to stay up north after Mom died. He loved Florida, he loved me, and he wanted to go to Anna Maria Island with us. (I had decided to move there after my divorce, which happened before the story began.) Not only did he want to go, but also the kids were excited about The Adventure. They were funny and resilient, and adored their grandfather. So, why not? Nothing was set in stone. If it didn’t work out, we were not doomed to stay down there. But it did work out, in many ways. My father was a funny guy, and he was able to develop special relationships with Tick, who was around 13, and Little Sunshine, 11. He and Tick shared a bathroom, talked about World War II, boxing, and getting along at his new school. (They later smoked together, which I didn’t approve of.) Little Sunshine was somewhat of a tease, but she loved to fix his hair, chase him on his walker, share Lifesavers, ask endless questions and practice her speeches on him...It was curious that, at first, they didn’t seem to miss their father. But, later on, I realized they did. They also missed the old way of life we once had together as a family. I didn’t face it, in the moment of picking up and leaving. I should have.

Divorce leaves deep scars in kids, and mine are no exception. They have grown into successful adults, Little Sunshine, a registered nurse and Tick, a salesman and fine musician. I thank them every day for the faith, and strength, of all my kids.

What will readers enjoy most in the story, and why?

Most readers will identify with many, many elements of the story.

It’s a memoir, to start with. People like to look into others’ lives, for many reasons—to see how others screwed up, how they got out of it, how they became rich, or murdered someone; how they became famous, poor, fat then thin, climbed the mountain and delved into the ocean. When I taught at the prison, I thought the boys would love the escape of novels; not the case—they went for the real stories. And I think the majority of readers fall into that category. I—and my family—survived, strong and intact, through the adventure. I think readers will want to follow along and find out how we made it.

Then, my story deals with familiar family crises. Not one, but several—divorce, death of parents, simmering siblings and rivalries, kids’ growing pains—my growing pains. These problems are not enjoyable, per se, but seeing how they get worked out is rewarding. Seeing how someone else works out these problems is helpful, and entertaining. Picking up a couple of clues on how to deal with family issues. What to do and what not to do. Looking into another’s living room, like in a soap opera, and, saying, well, that is not good. I do not want to go there.

And then, there is the reader who said my story made her “laugh and cry.” Isn’t that what you want in a good story? Some kind of carnival ride of emotion? The story is a memoir, but it is an adventure. We leave one place, a bunch of pilgrims making some kind of progress, I guess, and make our way south only to find a hurricane, devastating health issues, death of a friend—the need for a home, the ongoing family drama of sibling rivalry, and the characters who come in and out of our lives. It is a growing experience for all of us, even in the face of the death. Would I have done many things differently? Absolutely. But that would have been another Adventure altogether.

How will you be promoting The Last Cadillac?

I will be at author signing events in the Chicago área, Bradenton, FL, and Anna Maria Island, and St. Louis, to start. I will also be in the Savannah área. My first event is April 30 at the Westchester Library, Chesterton, IN. With my journalism background, I have contacts at newspapers, especially in the Midwest. I plan on setting up interviews, for print, radio and televisión. I am open, available—and talkative on the subject. It will be a busy spring and summer, and I look forward to it. Please contact me at

What should readers know?

Even with the back story, the main adventure of The Last Cadillac is focused on a short span of a few years, and only a few of the family members. The names of my siblings and children are changed, and some of the occupations, but the conversations and events took place—pretty much the way it all played out in real time. I have six brothers and sisters, but only three were involved in the story. And besides Tick and Little Sunshine, I have three older sons, who were involved in sports and college, and so did not move to Florida with us. To all of them, I am grateful for their humor and strength.

My bio: I grew up the eldest of seven near Chicago, returned to San Francisco for undergrad (where I was born) and studied in Madrid my junior year. I doublé-majored in Spanish and political science, with years of journalism classes and and writing and editing on school newspapers. Following graduation, I worked in New York in editorial at a book publisher and at a decorating magazine, then married a West Point graduate. We lived in Germany, Georgia and Alabama. I went back to newswriting and later earned a master’s in journalism from Marquette in 1987. I began a teaching career in 1998 at a small private school in Bradenton, Fl, then taught at a boys’ prison nearby. In 2005, I went to San Juan, Argentina, to teach English, K-12. I then taught college-level English in Chicago for seven years, and in 2013, I joined the Peace Corps in Mexico for a year. Presently, I live near Lake Michigan in the Indiana Dunes. I have four sons and a daughter, and recently welcomed three more grandchildren—twin boys and another little fella—for a total of seven. Along the way, I have been writing short stories and working on longer projects. I have a lot of story ideas.

Where can readers get in touch with you?

Reach out on Facebook: Nancy Nau Sullivan, or email me at .

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