Children's author Heather Hartt-Sussman and her Lexus. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

My Car: Heather Hartt-Sussman

From Hollywood to hybrids and Hortense

Special to The Globe and Mail

Heather Hartt-Sussman

  • Profession: Children’s book author
  • Age: 47
  • Hometown: Montreal

Notable achievements

  • Began her writing career as a copywriter for BCP, an advertising firm in Montreal, before moving to LA in 1991; former host of the daily series The Gossip Show on E! Entertainment Television in the United States; former reporter and assistant international editor for the Hollywood Reporter; editor-in-chief of international news for TV Guide in French Canada, where she also wrote the column Heather Hartt in Hollywood
  • Author of Nana’s Getting Married and Noni Says No


Upcoming

  • Here Comes Hortense (Tundra Books), the sequel to Nana’s Getting Married, will be released in April 2012
  • Noni Says No nominated for Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading, Blue Spruce Award; winner will be announced in May


She was a top entertainment journalist in the 1990s: the face of The Gossip Show on E! Entertainment Television and a reporter and editor with the Hollywood Reporter. But Heather Hartt-Sussman dumped that glamorous life of dishing out the scoop in tinsel town for a career as a children’s writer.

The married mother of two boys still drives a luxurious, but environmentally conscious ride – a 2007 Lexus RX450h SUV.

Why did you choose a Lexus hybrid?

I drove the GX470 before this one and I needed the space because I’m a driving parent and I have kids who play hockey and bring friends.

I carpool, so I needed a big car. But I’m much happier with a hybrid because I feel less guilty. It’s not quite as big.

I need something reliable, safe and comfortable because I’m in my car a lot.

There was an ad for a car – I can’t remember which one, but it had a mother holding her daughter in her ballet outfit and her son with a bunch of friends and their hockey gear in the back of the car. It said, “Whoever invented the term stay-at-home mom was out of their mind.”

That really defines my relationship with my car – I’m always in it. I’m always driving here and there. If I can do that without emitting as much as I do in another car, that’s great.

Do you know how the hybrid system works?

I know a bit about it. This one doesn’t need to plug into a wall. That’s always a good thing – not charging by an external source. I think that’s a positive for someone like me. A hybrid … is a guilt-free way to go.

Do you notice big savings in your gas consumption with a hybrid?

I’m not going to say huge savings, but I noticed savings.

If I’m told it emits less bad things into the environment, then I feel a little bit less guilty about driving a luxury vehicle.

Did you cross shop it against a clean diesel like the Mercedes-Benz ML?

No. I didn’t. I have an aversion to the idea of the mom in the big gas-guzzling truck, especially the higher-end ones.

I could never bring myself to buy a Mercedes. Nothing against Mercedes – I just couldn’t do it. I find the Lexus a little less showy and it does the trick for me.

What does a Lexus hybrid say about you?

It says I like my creature comforts, but I’m also sincere about my concern for the environment.

We own a hybrid but we were the first house in our area to install solar panels. We do little things. It says I’m concerned about the environment and we do what we can.

What was your first car?

I was lucky I had a super dad and he bought me a red RX-7 when I was younger.

When I was on my own I had a VW Rabbit convertible, which I enjoyed very much. I had a Miata as well.

But that’s before kids. Now, it’s a whole other set of needs.

I see them as markers for times in my life. I went away to college in Boston so my dad wanted me to be safe. He figured I could buy myself a jalopy or he could buy me a safe new car. The RX-7 was my car of gratitude. My VW Bug was me and my autonomy. My Miata was my pre-kids life – no responsibilities. It was a little stupid because I lived in Montreal at the time and Miatas don’t handle well in the winter, but I wasn’t thinking responsibility then.

What’s your driving style like – do you like to drive fast?

I don’t drive fast. I’m a Montreal driver so I drive offensively not defensively.

I go when it’s safe to go. But I go. Some people just wait for a red carpet.

What did you drive in L.A.?

I drove my Rabbit in L.A. I bought it second-hand when I moved to L.A. when I was 25 and by myself.

Then I drove a Jeep Wrangler, a Jeep Cherokee and we moved on to Lexus at the end of our 15-year stay in Los Angeles. We started to have a family there and bought into this safety thing right away.

Do you work in your car?

I wrote my last book, which I just submitted, I’m not sure if it’s accepted or not, in the back of a taxi.

I can’t be driving and writing, but it had been in my head for a very long time.

It was just a question of it coming out and jotting it down. It came to fruition while I happened to be sitting in the back of a car.

If I trust the driver and I tend to trust taxi drivers, I can let my mind wander in a car and actually do some writing

Are there any rules in your car like no eating?

No. No rules at all.

There were rules in my family growing up and I will not do that. I don’t treat it like a precious thing. Because we live in it sometimes, we have to eat in it. It’s part of our lifestyle.

There’s nothing precious about our car.

What rules were there when you were growing up?

The rules parents had: no jumping on the couches in the living room and no trashing their car; no crumbs. I don’t live that way – not in my house or in my car. I can clean up the crumbs.

If I can bring you the keys to any vehicle what would it be?

Maybe this is a flashback to my VW days, the artist who did my newest book, Here Comes Hortense, made the grandfather in our book a total hippie and he drives this van with peace sign and hearts. It’s colourful and cool.

I’m going for that one – the VW full-out, full-blown, hippie van [VW Westfalia] That’s fun! Put a surf board on top, then I’m happy!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

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