Layover author David Bell describes the normal and not-so-normal habits in the daily life of a thriller author.
When I was a kid and I could only dream about writing a book, let alone publishing one, I used to imagine what writers’ lives were like. And how did I picture their lives? I thought all writers lived in faraway places—far away from where I lived in Ohio, at least—and they spent their days sipping fancy cocktails and relaxing in their fancy villas.
But if you’d asked me to imagine the life of a thriller writer, someone like Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard, I would have pictured something very different. I would have thought a thriller writer would have been spending their days in dive bars, sipping whiskey and smoking cigarettes. Or maybe they’d be at a race track, hanging out with seedy characters, exchanging scandalous stories that would eventually end up in one of their novels.
Why did I imagine such edgy, offbeat lives for the thriller writers? Because I was young, and I didn’t know much. For one, I didn’t know how different many writers’ lives are from the things they write about. I write thrillers about kidnappings and murders and—so far at least—those things haven’t touched my life. (Knock on wood.) Also, I didn’t realize as a young person how much hard work a writing career required. I guess my imagination focused on the wealthy, relaxing, drinking, and smoking part of writers’ lives instead of the sitting-down-and-getting-stuff-done-side of the writing life.
So what’s it really like to be a thriller writer?
I can begin by saying I know a lot of thriller writers, and, for the most part, they seem like pretty normal people. They have families and pets and hobbies. They take vacations and visit their parents. I really don’t know any thriller writers who spend their days at the track or wandering back alleys among the broken people. Maybe they do, and they just don’t talk about it.
As for me, my own daily life is pretty mundane. In the summer I like to wake up early so that I can go for a walk before the day gets too hot. Okay, maybe this is something offbeat. I do walk in the cemetery by my house. Does that qualify as dark and mysterious?
You can’t see me, but I’m shaking my head no. You see, the cemetery by my house is really beautiful. It’s full of tall, old trees and teeming with wildlife—birds, squirrels, deer, foxes, turtles. And Duncan Hines is buried there. What if he rose from the dead to chase me? If he caught me, would he simply offer me a cupcake? What would he do for all the other people who walk there with their dogs and their kids?
When I return from the walk I drink a cup of tea—I know, radical—and work on whatever writing project is calling my name. In the evenings and on weekends, I spend my time with my wife watching TV and movies or reading. When the university where I teach is in session I have to go to campus. The darkest thing that happens there is attending faculty meetings in which I nod thoughtfully while pretending to be awake.
Recently, however, I did come very close to a brush with crime. Molly and I went out of town, and while we were gone we hired someone to water our plants. When the person tending to the plants arrived at our house one afternoon, she found the front door wide open! What?! The police were summoned. They went through the house, searching every corner for the criminal. And what did they find? Well, every electronic device, every piece of jewelry, even all the valuable copies of books written by David Bell were untouched.
So what really happened?
Hmmm … we think the same person who was watering our plants had opened the front door a couple of days earlier to bring in a package. She didn’t lock the door properly, and it blew open in the wind. For a couple of days, anyone could have walked in and helped themselves, but they didn’t. Not even the ghost of Duncan Hines. So it goes on the mean streets of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In a way, I kind of hoped something crazy would have happened. Then I’d have a leg up on an idea for my next book. Instead I’m going to have to rely on the things that most thriller writers rely on. News stories, observations, research. And our own imaginations where we work out our darkest thoughts so our daily lives remain mostly uncluttered, peaceful, and calm.
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