“Eutrapelia”* is the best single word to describe freelance auto writer John Pearley Huffman. But who would know? Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Barbara. Calif., he did not take the stage out of town as did his Hollywood actor brother Linus and Tony-Award winning sister Cady. Instead, he opted for a career in what he terms the sub-subculture of auto writing.
It was a bright and sunny day when personable young John Pearley Huffman stopped by on his quest nearly 25 years ago to solve the vexing conundrum facing most new job hunters: work needed to get experience but experience needed to get work. He found himself in this situation after deciding his graduate classes in communication studies were worthless and that his days in marketing at Kinko’s held the prospect of copying one another into eternity.
He solved that problem a few months later by recognizing that he wasn’t so much “a car guy” as he was “a car magazine guy.” He had been perusing them since he was six-years-old and their editors and columnists shaped and inspired his writing. He recalls, “When I was a kid, the editors and writers I thought were great were David E. Davis, Jean Shepherd and Brock Yates at Car and Driver. Terry Cook and Rick Voegelin at Car Craft and Hot Rod. Of those, the only one I’ve met is Rick Voegelin. You could add to those Henry Manney III, Gordon Baxter, Warren Weith, Rob Walker, LJK Setright, Pat Ganahl, Jon Asher and Gray Baskerville and only scratch the surface of the writers I grew up worshipping. I loved car magazines long before I loved cars.”
With that self-awareness and the desktop publishing skills he absorbed at Kinko’s, John Pearley created a parody of Car and Driver Magazine titled Car and Pearley. He sent it and his resume to 80 publications and other possible employers. With 30 positive responses and four firm job offers, John Pearley says, “I think it may have been the most successful resume helper since the dawn of time. Since I had no experience whatsoever that was relevant to the jobs I was seeking.” Car and Driver ran a portion of the parody in the magazine as, “Pilgrimage To Maranello.” It can be found on its web site today at Car and Driver.
Not that his technical knowledge of cars is a blank sheet. His first freelance piece for Motor Trend resulted from a 1993 conversation with two GM engineers working on the next Corvette – then still three years down the road. When he ventured that it ought to have a. Lotus-like backbone frame and rear-mounted transmission they confirmed it would. John Pearley told Motor Trend editor Jeff Karr that he had a scoop. Karr agreed, and with the help of illustrator Duane Kuchar, Huffman produced the story of what the next Corvette would be in one day and just made the issue going to press.
Getting that ready access and acceptance on his first try reflects one of John Pearley’s maxims for freelance success: ‘Work with people you like to talk with.” While working at Car Craft, one of the four firm job offers he got from his resume/parody mailing, his outgoing personality made him known, liked and sometimes employed to provide content for other Petersen auto titles in the building. And at press gatherings it helped him meet and learn from pros who guided, mentored, hired and referred him for freelance work. He salutes those who helped him survive in auto writing. At the risk of omitting more than one valued friends he cites: C. Van Tune, Lee Kelley, Don Sherman, Steven Cole Smith, Richard Chang (who once threw him off Super Street Magazine, but still counted as a friend). He also lists editors and contacts at the many outlets that use his work today. Which leads to another Huffman maxim: “Don’t be afraid to say yes.” He explains. “Guys who only want to write road tests spend 40 percent of their time chasing test cars to write about. That’s a quick way to go broke. Be willing and able to write about what an editor is looking for.”
“The best thing about my job is that I get to work with people I really like. And we don’t spend so much time together that they get sick of me.
“And I wouldn’t expect any of them to hire me again tomorrow if I weren’t turning in stuff that was solid, useable and delivered with some timeliness.’
*Eutrapelia– wit, ease and urbanity of conversation – Foyle’s Further Philavery 2008