How I Get Ideas for my Thrillers

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I find ideas in the most unusual places which I’ll write more about. But, sometimes it’s real life crime that catches my eye. My third book, Without Her Consent was about a woman who had been in a coma for years suddenly goes into labor. Believe it or not, that kind of thing has really happened. I was at a barbecue and the story had been in the newspapers for a few weeks. Everyone at the party was talking about it and I thought….hmmm….what if I wrote about the same thing but only my story was different?

And that’s how Without Her Consent came to be.

Anything Can be a Weapon

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It’s a strange life being the author of suspense/thriller novels. Since most of my plots involve murder and mayhem, I find myself constantly thinking and googling all sorts of grisly things. My husband often jokes that there’s probably a file at the FBI with my name on it containing my Google search history. I’ve looked up “poisons that are undetectable”, “killing someone with a vacuum cleaner cord”, and “how much is a murder for hire?” These are just a smattering of the murderous factoids I’ve accumulated since I became a mystery writer. I’m fairly certain that after all my research, I probably could kill someone and get away with it. Fortunately for the public at large, I have no desire to do that. But I do have this newfound annoying habit of looking at everything as a potential weapon or crime scene.

Lethal items lurk everywhere. Things that most people think are innocuous, like a pen, a plain old ball point pen for writing out holiday messages or thank-you notes is really a deadly weapon in disguise. That very same pen jammed into someone’s jugular would be fatal. Opening a kitchen drawer, others see potato peelers, knives and can openers. I see a serial killer’s toolbox.

It’s not only household items, it’s locations, too. A beautiful glistening yet remote lake becomes the perfect place for an unexpected drowning, a woodsy hiking trail ideal for a bludgeoning, and an empty city street at night the backdrop for a quick shiv into the side of a stranger.

While taking a tour of Florida sugar cane farms, I commented to my husband how one could take a sugarcane stalk (which are quite thick and heavy) beat someone over the head with it and then neatly push the body into the irrigation ditch beside the rows of sugarcane. I thought I had been discreet with my comments but based on the terrified look of a woman in the group, I guess I hadn’t whispered as softly as I had thought.

Recently our apartment building, the grounds and the parking lot had security cameras installed so that the images could be seen by our doorman from the front desk. Entering our building with my husband one night, I asked the doorman, if there were cameras everywhere on the property.

“Yes,” he said, “well, almost everywhere, except by the pool and barbecue area.”

“Oh,” I said more interested with a deadly serious face, “so technically, a person could strangle someone by the barbecue and you’d have no record of it? No video whatsoever?”

A look of confusion and I think fear crossed the man’s face. My husband jumped in. “She’s a mystery writer, don’t pay any attention to her. She always does this.” The doorman sighed with relief. As we walked to the elevator my husband turned to me and said, “You’ve got to stop doing this, you’re scaring people.”

“Okay,” I mumbled. When I opened our apartment door, I made a beeline for a bottle of cabernet. I placed the wine on the counter and reached for a corkscrew. “You know,” I said to my husband while holding up the corkscrew, “I’ll bet you could easily pop someone’s eye out with this.”

The End.

A Single Moment in Time Can Change Your Life

Sometimes seemingly insignificant moments lead to your greatest adventures.

In 1988, I started working on Madison Avenue in New York selling advertising. I went on a ski trip to Colorado with two friends. After our first day skiing we headed out for a drink. Many hours and several beers later we chatted with some waiters and noticed they all had foreign accents —Aussies, New Zealanders, Irish, Germans and Swedes.

We wanted to know what they were all doing in Colorado.

  “We’re traveling” they said.

“What do you mean traveling?” we asked, thoroughly confused.

 “We travel around the world. We see things, find jobs, make a little money and move on.”

This concept blew my little New York urban mind. People traveled indefinitely? Not for one or two weeks like everyone I knew, but for as long as they liked? Nobody in America did that. My friends and I were astonished and sat up the entire night imagining and talking about how we should become world travelers too.

By the time we left Colorado, the three of us had agreed. We would quit our jobs, sublet our apartments, buy round the world tickets and go. As soon as I got home to NYC, I began plotting and planning my great trans-continental adventure. 

Two weeks later I called my two friends to see how their plans were shaping up.

Sadly, two weeks were like two years and the magic travel fairy dust of Colorado had worn off. My friends said they wished they could do it, but they just couldn’t.  I  was desperate to become a world traveler and go to far flung places; eat Indian food in India and walk on the great Wall of China.

But how could I do it alone? I hadn’t even gone to Miami by myself.  I was a New York City girl. I would have to travel with a backpack and stay in youth hostels. That was practically like camping and I hated camping. 

 Since my friends had abandoned the mission, if I was going to do it, it would have to be solo.  Before I could think about it too long and talk myself out of it, I cashed in everything I owned and bought an around the world ticket and told my boss I was resigning from my job.  He thought I needed counseling. 

My parents were not surprisingly terrified at the thought of their little traveling around the world by herself. My friends thought it was cool and threw me several going away parties. With a few months of prep, I acquired a fabulous backpack, and got a round of vaccinations. I sublet my apartment, had my final NYC haircut and kissed my boyfriend goodbye.  Yes, I actually left my boyfriend for a year.

My plane ticket took me west from New York to Colorado.  where I spent a few months working and skiing. From there I went to LA and then to Hawaii. On the plane from Honolulu to Sydney, leaving the borders of the U.S., with only a backpack and a Lonely Planet guide, I realized I was going to be completely alone for a long time. There were no cell phones or internet then and international calls cost a fortune. I found being alone both scary and liberating at the same time.

 I arrived in Australia and left the Sydney airport by bus headed towards a hostel  located in the red light district called King’s Cross. At the hostel, I was in  a room with seven girls; three Swedes, two English, one German and one Dane. We became fast friends, saw the sights together, shared food, told stories of home. I learned almost as much about the world from my fellow travelers as I did by going to different countries. The Danish girl,  and I agreed to travel up the eastern coast of Australia together. For the next six weeks, she and I hitchhiked about a thousand miles and became certified to scuba dive at the great barrier reef.  (fun fact: It was on that trip that we were picked up by a big rig ten wheeler, which started my lifelong fascination with trucker cabs and continues to this day.) From there I headed alone to Hong Kong  where I was asked by several men to smuggle hot watches into Taiwan. I declined.

Next stop, mainland China. This was  actually a big deal. In 1988, China was only open to escorted groups and no one spoke English. Throwing caution to the wind, into China alone I went.  I almost died of food poisoning in Xian, but lived to go on to Indonesia,  Singapore and even did an elephants safari in Thailand. (fun fact: elephant safari’s look way cooler than they feel, very bumpy) Then it was off to India. As a very young woman alone, I found travel in India the most difficult and was often harassed by Indian men. Still, the sights, sounds and smells of the country were worth the trip.

After six weeks in India, I was thrilled to get to super clean Germany. Western 

food had never tasted so good after so many months in Asia living mainly on rice. I remember sinking into a feather bed in a cheap German hostel and stuffing myself with cheese and bread.

In Vienna, I met two Italian sisters who invited me to stay with them in Rome. From there I traveled  around Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England , Ireland, and my sister even met me for a week in Greece. I took a train from Italy to Turkey and then went to Cairo where I took a bus thru the Sinai Peninsula and saw the Suez Canal. I ended up in Israel before I flew back to the UK. My big global adventure lasted about a year, and my boyfriend was waiting for me in NYC when I got back. He eventually became my husband.

What was most surprising to me was how I slipped back into my old life with more ease than I expected. I thought I had been changed so much, but pretty soon I was selling advertising again and getting my nails done. On the surface, it looked like I hadn’t changed, but inside I was a different person. I had developed a curiosity about the world that I never had before and for that I am eternally grateful.

I believe every now and then, a single moment can change your life if you pay attention to the whispers. My novel, The First Husband, was based on a couple I met in India all those years ago. If I hadn’t met those traveling waiters in Colorado all those years ago, I wouldn’t have traveled the globe and met the couple on which the The First Husband is based. 

Writing Thrillers Can be Dangerous

….at least my husband thinks so.

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As a writer of crime thriller novels I do a lot of unusual research, much of it online. Typical searches include things like murder, poison, weapons, illegal drugs, racketeering, etc. You get the picture. In order to make characters and stories realistic, I google search on a lot of things like what kind of drug can kill you but won’t turn up in an autopsy? Or, is there a way to manipulate someone’s neck to give them a stroke?

The Question my Husband keeps asking…When should we expect government law enforcement agents to burst through our door and slap handcuffs on me?

McGarvey Black