By Shane Gericke
I grew up with enormous expectations of myself. Mostly because my parents' expectations for me were sky-high. I was born in the 1950s, in a rural town of 300. I was the first-born, and the only son. My dad was a police officer, mom a homemaker. Their expectations for my life were never overt, but rather bubbled constantly in a deep, unending undercurrent: you will do well ... you will succeed ... you will make us proud ...
I heard the message and became an Eagle Scout. Won a bunch of high school and college awards. Edited the student newspaper. Became a sportswriter for the town weekly at 16, then won a job straight out of college at a good daily newspaper. Married a wonderful gal. (Which is what we called women in rural America back then: gals.) Bought a house in a swell suburb. Mowed the yard and raked the leaves. Joined the Chicago Sun-Times at age 26, almost unheard-of because I was so young. Headed the reporters' union, and despite that got promoted a couple of times. I was a star, destined for greatness.
But I quit anyway.
To become a crime novelist.
Because it seemed a helluva lot of fun.
Mom said, "I never thought any of my children would be unemployed."
I did care enormously about what my family would think of my books, because at the time I mistook that for what they thought about me. (More on that in a bit.) Newspaper journalism was easy to show them--no swearing, no graphic violence, no nudie pix. Why wouldn't they be proud?
But the novels, well, those were a different kettle of fish. I have a dark streak in my writing that surprises even me at times. My violence can be heavy and mean: cutting a baby out of a mother while she's still alive; murdering prisoners in the electric chair, eyeballs popping, skin steaming like poached chicken. Rape. Dismemberment. The whole nine yards. I also like sex and love, because it leavens the darkness with hope and humanity.
In other words, stuff that wouldn't appear in Reader's Digest. I approached my first launch with not a little trepidation, wondering what they'd think.
Mom and dad were fine with the violence, but disliked the sex. My in-laws were the same way. Something about that generation, I suppose; they like sex just fine but seeing it in print embarasses them. They didn't mind the cussing as long as it wasn't overdone. In other words, they were America: We Americans are fine with blood and guts, get all squeamish about sex and cussin'. Go figure.
My sisters, Marianne and Diana, and most of our friends and relatives had what I thought was a wonderful reaction: They couldn't believe it was me. As Diana said when the debut, BLOWN AWAY, came out: "No way my sweet wonderful big bro can write this kind of stuff!!!"
Which didn't mean they didn't like it; they did, all of it, the sex and violence and swearing and other tasty treats of modern crime fiction. They just couldn't square what they were reading with how they pictured me all those years. They were expecting cozies, and I gave them serial killers. Another reason why it's sometimes tough for readers to know the authors personally, I suppose--it colors their perception of the stories the writers tell.
Now, about those expectations from my folks I lived with all these years. I'm glad they instilled in me such a fierce sense of pride in doing well. It's gotten me far in life. But I also used to confuse what they thought about what I did with what they thought about me. That wasn't the case, and it wasn't until I got older that I realized it. My family gave me a great sense of fair play, justice, and love of the written word. They filled me with curiosity and a fascination with the world around us. And they're cool enough that I could actually be a serial killer and they'd love me anyway. Not that they wouldn't hate that I killed people; they would. (As would I.) But they wouldn't confuse it with hating me as their son and brother.
Which is why, ultimately, I'm so glad I abandoned the "yer a helluva guy" steeplechase to write crime novels:
It let me learn about myself.
Shane Gericke is the national bestselling author of TORN APART (July 2010, Kensington Books), CUT TO THE BONE and BLOWN APART, the latter named Best First Mystery by RT Book Reviews. His works have been translated into Chinese, German, Turkish and Slavic. He's the chairman of the international book festival ThrillerFest, and you can visit him at www.shanegericke.com.