Lifemobile: 'Master of disaster' Rintels gets personal

“Asperger’s syndrome” was the diagnosis given to Charlottesville-based writer Jonathan Rintels’ son, J.B.  “Unsafe at any speed” is what Ralph Nader called the Chevrolet Corvair in 1965. But when Rintels brought home a ’65 Corvair Corsa convertible, some kind of alchemy happened between boy and car that helped J.B. to see himself in a different light.

“I get it,” J.B. exclaimed about the car, says Rintels.  “It’s just different, not defective. Like me.” The story of J.B. and Jonathan and their Corvair became the basis for Lifemobile, Rintels’ first novel, published in June 2012, and nominated for a 2013 Library of Virginia award.

Rintels, whose background is in crime writing for television and who was once known in Hollywood as “the master of disaster,” has lived in Charlottesville since 1991. The 57-year-old Arlington native also received his law degree from UVA, where, he says, he got his start at writing.

After his first year of law school, Rintels wrote a script for the then-popular television show The Paper Chase, which followed fictional law students. Initially rejected, says Rintels, about three months into his second year of law school, the show’s star, John Houseman called saying he’d loved the script and would Rintels like to move to Los Angeles and work on the show. 

Sadly, three days later the show was canceled, but Rintels drew on this early vote of confidence when he eventually decided practicing law was not for him, sold his first script for a made-for-television movie, and moved out to California. He went on to write and produce numerous crime movies for television, and an episode of Law and Order, which was partially based on the case of William Beebe, the former UVA undergrad who was convicted of raping a fellow student more than 20 years later after he mailed his victim a letter of apology.

But, says Rintels, “I always wanted to write a novel.”

J.B.’s relationship to Rintels’ Corvair, a car that government testing later proved safe, only deepened after that first moment of recognition. “He really identified with it,” says Rintels. “He learned about the car, he talked to people, he became this evangelist for the car.” Despite J.B.’s previous disinclination for yard work or working with tools, and Jonathan being a self-described “mechanical doofus,” father and son worked on the Corvair and now proudly drive it around Charlottesville.

J.B. Rintels attended the Oakland School, and is now a 22-year-old finishing his studies at Piedmont Virginia Community College and interested in writing and drama.

The Lifemobile character, says Dania Jekel, executive director of the Asperger's Association of New England, portrays "the core traits common to many young adults: intense passions, love of routines, social isolation, and perseverance in the face of challenges."

“I know Jon has a background in screenwriting," says local writer Cliff Garstang, and Rintels' fellow Blue Ridge Writers Club member. "I expect to see a film adaptation one of these days.”

To get more of the Lifemobile story, catch Rintels at 2pm Thursday, March 21, at the Central Library, on a panel titled, "Novels of Loss and Redemption."

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