Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Things We Do for Love

When my three kids were very young – riding in car seats, waking my wife and me in the middle of the night, needing nearly constant attention through the day – I read mysteries whenever I had an hour (or five minutes) to myself. At this time, I mostly was writing nonfiction articles and book reviews, but, enjoying the mysteries as thoroughly as I was, I decided to try my hand at writing one. The plot, I decided, would involve the murder of a stripper. (And yes, as a father who spent his days changing the diapers of three young kids but chose to spend his imaginative life thinking about strippers, I was compensating.)

The problem – which some (for example, my wife) would consider less of a problem than a virtue – was that I knew no strippers. What was a would-be mystery writer to do when he lacked the necessary information for his story? Research, research, research. It would be the responsible thing to do. It would be tax deductible.

That summer, we took a driving trip from Florida to Illinois, where I’d decided to set my mystery. We bought a car-top carrier, strapped it onto the roof of our station wagon, and stuffed it with suitcases, strollers, and toddler toys. We crammed the kids into the car and strapped them into their car seats. We drove north looking like we’d just entered the world of National Lampoon’s Vacation – though, for all his mishaps, Chevy Chase never takes his family to a strip club.

I’d researched the strip club online before we started driving. Located in an unincorporated stretch near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, it was the perfect spot for my murderee to work. Isolated. The kind of place frequented by long-haul truck drivers and lonely dairy farmers. The kind of place where the prairie wind would blow away a girl’s dying screams. And best of all, we would pass it during one of our vacation side trips. “I’ll just run inside for a few minutes,” I told my wife. “You know, take a quick look around, talk to a couple of strippers. No more than a half hour. I promise.”

So, early on a July afternoon, I steered the station wagon onto the mostly empty parking lot of the strip club – the car-top carrier bulging above me, my kids hollering in their seats behind me, my wife seemingly willing if embarrassed beside me.

The bouncer – precisely the man I’d imagined: burly, barrel-chested, thick armed, wearing a black t-shirt and black polyester pants – stood outside the door to the club. He eyed the station wagon. He eyed my wife and kids inside it. He eyed me climbing out of the car with a notebook in hand. He didn’t look amused.

I don’t know what he thought was happening. In his mind, was I there to offer salvation to any sinners who would leave the club and follow me to a church? Was I there to offer a family act? Whatever I was there to do, he wanted none of it. He charged toward me, waving his thick arms, shouting, “No, no, no! Get back in your car! No!” I would have opened my notebook and recorded the scene right then except for those thick arms and my aversion to being punched in the face by the fists at the end of them.

I got back in the car. I did as I was told. And as we pulled from the parking lot onto the highway, the bouncer looked very relieved.

For a while my wife and – for the first time in over a thousand miles – my kids were quiet. Then my wife asked, “Have you thought about writing a cozy?”


Wendy Dingwall said...

Thanks for sharing this. It is one of the funniest new mystery author anecdotes I've read. LOL

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

OMG! What were you thinking? This is so hysterical and visual. This really does sound like something right out of a movie. You know, like Chevy Chase or Adam Sandler, etc. stops and tries to convice the Hulk at the door to let his 4 yr old into the strip club to pee.

Meredith Cole said...

Hilarious! I love that the bouncer kept you out of the club. Maybe in another place (NYC?) the bouncer would be world-weary enough to just let you come in... You have a very understanding wife, BTW.

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Wendy. As you might imagine, my wife won't let me forget this one.

Michael Wiley said...

I really can't say what I was thinking, Sue Ann. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I like to call it "commitment," though most others would call it "bad judgment."

Michael Wiley said...

The look on the bouncer's face was amazing, Meredith. He looked as frightened as he looked angry. Maybe he was a bouncer with a moral conscience.

And as for my wife: yes. If I were blogging last week (Thanksgiving week) my greatest thanks would go to her.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

That IS commitment, but some things a writer needs to do alone. I'm guessing you did somehow get that research in, because you got the book done.

Your wife is a very Supportive Writer Spouse. She deserves one of those spouse awards too.

Great story, Michael!

Michael Wiley said...

I see a future Edgar category in this, Rebecca. The problem is that there would be so many spouses deserving of the award.

lil Gluckstern said...

So how did you do your research? you are now on my must read list. Is there more coming?

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Lil -- I hope you like the books! I'm always writing and so, yes, I hope more will be coming.

I'll continue to blog about the research in the future, too. It's a favorite part of mine (and not just because I write books set in the occasional strip club).