Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Do You Write Crime Novels?

After " Where do you get your ideas?" this is probably the next question readers, audiences, fans, kinfolk, acquaintances, book-store-on-line-shoppers ask you.

The next one, usually with a wink or a knowing nod or smirk, is " How can a nice guy/girl like you write about such weird/scary/awful stuff?"

Just between us friends, I finally pulled out of my checkered past an answer that is more true than some erudite sound bite I'd give to a reporter from the Times, the Washington Post, Vanity Fair or GQ.

I used to travel a lot to bring home the bacon. Back in the day when travel was really fun. You got all dolled up, ate real food, checked your bags free, and revelled in the royal attention from the gorgeous guys and dolls who worked as stewardesses/stewards. Leand back in comfort to watch Cary or Sean or Clark or Ingrid or Marilyn in sexy low-lighting and listened eagerly to every announcement from the pilot's lair.

Once I even went by Greyhound from Chicago to Suffolk, VA., dressed in a pristine white silk suit and heels and silk stockings! Then, when I worked for a Fortune 500 HQ, I flew more than I stayed at home! My digs on the road ranged from Hilton, Starwood, Marriott to Super 8 to Ma and Pa Hick's Cozy Cabins.

Then there were other sides to the equation. More introvert than pushy broad by nature, I learned to operate as an in-your-face-dame, who could dish with the best of them. Stomping in heels to the check-in desk to demand a room closer to the lobby than at the end of a five-mile hike. Plus little perks like working light bulbs, two clean towels, an extra blanket or pillow. AC that breathed air not dust. Coffee machines that boiled the water. You know the drill...

So many of those nights on the road, or super-highway, or urban center, whether on a high-end Hilton bed or a Cozee Motel cot, often with no working TV, I was pressed to get to sleep. Usually I was stuck, alone, exhausted and drained from a hard day's work, running some kind of program or workshop, talking out of both ears and eyes, and the outside world was either a den of iniquity, not fit for a nice female, or the deathly silence of the sticks, where everything closed down with the sunset, and all the locals were in bed or snuggled in their own private compounds. Even the bars closed at dusk.

So, I learned to entertain myself, often falling asleep with the latest mystery book I'd bought at the airport in Chicago, St. Louis, Wilmington, L.A., Dallas, Nashville, Phoenix, Miami – you name it, I probably slept there.

So many nights!

So many books!

Names like John le Carre, Peter Lovesey, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Haley, David Hagberg, Nelson DeMille, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Phyllis Whitney, Thomas Chastain, the MacDonalds, John Creasey, Georges Simenon – to name a few – my thousand and one nights. My sleeping aids of choice...

I vowed then to those faceless but oh-so-valuable friends that some day I'd pay back my debt to them. And try to give other travelers what they had given me.

So, here's to you – countless men and women writers – on both sides of the pond, writers of that world of make-believe that is actually more truthful than what we call the real world!

Wherever you are, still on this planet or on the next level...

Bless you all, my dears!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw


  1. Thelma, you and I really are sisters under the skin! Who but Elizabeth Peters, Carl Hiaasen, Andrea Camilleri, Donna de Leon, and all of the above could have gotten me through all those terrifyingly bumpy flights, those missed connections in Atlanta, or that sleepless night when the ghost of Miss Edna was trying to get back into her bedroom when was alone sleeping in a her huge Victorian home, turned corporate guesthouse on a deserted stretch of the banks of the Ohio River.

  2. Who was Miss Edna? tjs

  3. Miss Edna was the last of her line and died in the room where I was sleeping. After Olin Cororation, my client, bought the house and turned it into a guesthouse for visitors to their nearby plant, she banged in the night on her old bedroom window whenever someone slept in "her" old room. At one point, I opened the window to see if it was a shutter banging in the wind. There were no shutters, but then the banging stopped. The plant manager said that by opening the window, I let her in!! I did not hear until breakfast that the house I alone inhabited that night was haunted.

  4. This sounds like you need to be on the radio show from 1 - 5 A.M. called Coast to Coast... right up their alley!!! tjs