Saturday, May 23, 2009

Need a Hero?

by KJ Howe

Please welcome talented thriller author Shane Gericke to the lair. Today Shane touches on a subject near to our hearts--everyday heroes. Here's our friend Shane enjoying a beignet at Cafe du Monde, a landmark New Orleans coffeehouse.

With Memorial Day around the corner, I find myself thinking about heroes.



But not just the heroes of Important Things.

I think of everyday heroes, too.

Nurses who work overtime because a frightened patient needs reassurance.

Widows who raise their children by themselves, with class, pride and dignity.

Couples who work three or four jobs to give their kids a little bit extra . . . or maybe just to put food on the table every night.

What they have in common is courage.

Tons of it, every day, in every way.

I find such courage incredibly romantic. Being brave is one of the more romantic things we do for somebody else. It's not an easy gift, like chocolates, cards and violins. It takes effort and risk that might--or might not--be reciprocated.

It takes guts.

Which brings me to New Orleans.

My wife, Jerrle, and I vacationed there this past week. We were delighted to see the Big Easy coming back from the death blow of Katrina. It's dried out. It's rebuilding. It's lively. It's looking good and walking tall.

And it's filled with those everyday heroes.

One was a vendor in the French Market near the Mississippi River. We were looking for New Orleans spices to bring back as gifts for friends. We got his name from another vendor, and went to visit. We found the spice packets we wanted, and spoke for a while. The talk turned naturally to the hurricane. Turns out that he lost $200,000 worth of property he'd worked his butt off to buy. It was gone. Vanished. He got the princely sum of $10,000 from FEMA, and that, he said, was dispensed with an attitude that they were giving him gold. Basically, he lost nearly everything.

But he kept on grinding his spices and packing his bags and getting them to his various customers. He worked the spice cart and sold us what we wanted. He never gave up. To me, that defines an everyday hero—knowing what you have to do, and doing it without complaining.
Another example literally walked right up to us. Jerrle and I were heading out of our hotel in the French Quarter one night. We'd have a bite to eat, then go listen to Dixieland music. We recognized a Japanese woman who was also staying in the hotel. We’d never met, just saw each other once in the elevator.

She walked up to us and asked, in halting English, where we were going. We told her, and she asked if she could join us. We like talking to people we don't know, so we said sure. We found a small restaurant, and ordered drinks and gumbo.

Turns out she was traveling the Southern United States to see some of the things she'd only read about. Her husband couldn't get away because he was running their business—they teach English as a second language in Japan—so she was getting around by herself, taking buses to various cities. After a few days in New Orleans, she'd head to Memphis, then somewhere else. It was important to her to "walk the walk" instead of just talking the talk. So here she was, by herself, in her sixties, learning everything she could about America.

She'd asked us if she could come along because walking around the Quarter by herself at night worried her a little, and she was just plain lonely. So she asked. Imagine that courage that takes, to ask strangers in a strange land if you can put yourself into their hands for the night. We had a lovely dinner, spent several hours listening to jazz, and learned a lot from each other.

Yet another everyday hero is New Orleans itself. Jerrle and I hung out with a friend of mine, Erica Spindler. This being Romance Bandits, you probably know Erica's work—starting as a romance writer and moving into romantic suspense. I write crime thrillers, and know Erica from the book conventions that all us writers attend to meet fans and each other. She and her husband volunteered to take us to lunch, and then show us around the city they love.

Lunch was terrific--my shrimp-and-oyster po'boy couldn’t be beat. Then, we took the "Destruction Tour"--seeing the areas hardest hit by Katrina in 1995. Ironically, it was raining.

A good portion of the city is still flattened, by flood waters or FEMA bulldozers. The spray-painted X of condemnation is a scarlet letter on hundreds, maybe thousands, of buildings. But even in areas like the Lower Ninth Ward—the hardest hit area of them all—everyday life is alive and well. People are rebuilding. Kids are playing basketball in the streets. They're laughing, and high-fiving, and taking back their lives. Brad Pitt, the movie star, is building homes in the Lower Ninth. They're brand-new, affordable, and use green technology to the utmost. It takes a monumental amount of courage to come back from the biggest natural disaster in American history, and these folks showed it by the bushels-full.

But what could be the biggest act of courage came from my wife, Jerrle. Because on June 3, we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. That’s 30 years of putting up with me and the odd, romantic life of a writer.

She's my everyday hero. Happy anniversary, hon. Here's to 30 more.

National bestselling author Shane Gericke (pronounced YER-key) began writing professionally in high school. He spent 25 years as a journalist, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before plunging into crime thrillers. His first, BLOWN AWAY, was named Debut Mystery of the Year by Romantic Times magazine, and appears in five languages. It's followed by CUT TO THE BONE, and in summer 2010, MOVING TARGET, the third in his cops vs. serial killer series featuring police detective Emily Thompson. Shane is an original member of International Thriller Writers, and a director of the International Festival of Thrillers in New York, aka ThrillerFest. He belongs to Mystery Writers of America and Society of Midland Authors, and will speak with any group that will have him. He lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, where the series is set. He invites you to visit him at He'd buy you coffee while there, but it's digital, and the powdered creamer wouldn't dissolve.

Shane and romantic suspense superstar Erica Spindler stand atop a bare foundation in the Lower Ninth Ward, the hardest hit area of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. This was a family’s home, and for weeks, it was submerged by tons of filthy flood water. It had to be bulldozed. Despite such rampant, widespread destruction, the Big Easy is coming back, walking tall, looking good.
Shane, thanks for joining us today! As for everyone else, we'd love to hear who your everyday heroes are...


limecello said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
limecello said...

Oh gosh - what a post. Thanks for visiting with us today, Shane, and telling us about your trip!
The people you met were incredible, and how nice for you to have gotten the chance to talk to them. Too often it seems we - as people generally - want nothing to do with strangers, for a myriad of reasons.
As for every day heroes... a number of people come to mind. Some of my friends overcame a lot of adversity to finish law school in the "allotted" three years. Working three jobs to help support disabled parents, surviving cancer, having a kid taking off a semester then taking 8-9 classes in one semester to finish on time. Or, family friends, first generation immigrants who came to the state with nothing but 2 suitcases and $200 - and while life wasn't always great for them, a number of their kids have their masters, are doctors, lawyers, and the like.
There are a ton of wonderful "every day" stories out there. I think it's important to look, and thanks for reminding us with this post!

Joan said...

Welcome to the Lair, Shane. And as a nurse, thank you for your compliment though I think it takes courage to write thrillers....

My very first visit to New Orleans came with my first National RWA conference. I fell in LOVE with the unique culture, both European and Southern at the same time.

And Brava to the lady from Japan! I had that same type of determination five years ago when I made my first ever trip to Ireland. I couldn't believe that I was actually going over the Atlantic to another country.

Been there and done going on five times!

When I win the lottery tonight there will be more trips like that

Anna Campbell said...

Lime! He's back with you. He's definitely doing a tour of old girlfriends at the moment. He even called on Fedora couple of days ago.

Kim, what a great blog. You bring us the most interesting guests.

Shane, welcome to the lair. Pull up a chair, grab a margarita. Watch out for Donna - she swings from the chandelier instead of doing step class.

Shane, I really enjoyed your take on New Orleans after Katrina. I've never been to NO but I'd love to visit one day. If only to eat one of those oyster po boys! I found your post really moving. As you said, bravery is everywhere.

Laughed at FEMA acting like they're handing out gold - I think all those government agencies are the same!

Treethyme said...

That is quite a post! When did you work at the Sun-Times, Shane? I used to sell advertising there, years ago - when Mike Royko and Ann Landers were there.

Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

I spent the day with my 86-year-old aunt, who was a WAVE in WWII and is one of my favorite relatives. The stories she can tell!

Amy Andrews said...

Great post, Shane. I couldn't agree more - everyday heroes are all around.

Last night at work the 39 week pregnant mother of a 22 mnth old who'd just come back from theatre to have a massive tumour removed fom her brain and spine, broke her waters. She was torn as mother's often are between the urge of wanting to be with her sick child while needing to "be"(in a manner of speaking)with the other.
She was terrified for her daughter, barely keeping it together and frightened for the hours she knew she had ahead.
She kissed her daughter on the forehead, looked at me and said "I'll be right back."
She gave birth seven hours later to another little girl and ninety minutes later was back at her daughter's bedside.

I think she deserves a medal.

Virginia said...

Congrat lime on nabbing that rooster!

Great post, I have never been to New Orleans, but would love to go. I know it was really bad after Katrina! FEMA is about useless. I know because of when the ice storm hit KY if was useless, its about a joke! The help is not there when you really need it.

Everyday heros are everywhere when you think about it. Nurses are heros because if they can put up with some of the doctors out there, then they are heros. I have worked in a doctor's office before and I know how they can be. The one's I worked for where big A's. Power to the nurses.

Helen said...

Congrats Limcello have fun with him

Kim thank you so much for inviting Shane to the lair I loved the post and I agree there are so many heros in everyday live and you have mentioned them all. I have never been to New Orleans but visiting teh States is something that I would love to do one day hopefully I wil get there.

Amy your story had me in tears what a strong mother

Have Fun

Marisa O'Neill said...

Hi Shane, thanks so much for your post. You reminded me that everywhere I look there are people with understated courage doing what must be done.

Kim Howe said...

Congrats limecello on the GR!

Kim Howe said...

Joan, nurses are a group of unsung heroes and you should be very proud of what you do. I've been in the hospital a few times and a warm-hearted nurse can make all the difference in how a patient feels!

Kim Howe said...

Anna, you must come do the North American tour to see NO and other fascinating cities...just don't forget Toronto! :)

Kim Howe said...

Treethyme, what a small world! And your aunt sounds like a fascinating woman...maybe you should write her memoires?

Kim Howe said...

Thanks for stopping by, Virginia. It's sad when a government body doesn't accomplish what it's set out to do. I really feel for those folks in NO who were left homeless.

Kim Howe said...

Amy, that's one powerful story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Talk about a selfless woman.

Kim Howe said...

Helen, thanks for dropping by. Talking about everyday heroes, Shane is one of mine. Whenever he's at a writer's conference, he makes sure that if anyone is sitting alone, he invites them into his circle of friends. He's an absolute gentleman.

Kim Howe said...


Couldn't agree more that we need to watch for everyday heroes in our lives and thank them. I appreciate your stopping by!

PJ said...

Thanks Kim and Shane! What a wonderful, thought-provoking blog. I'm so glad to hear that NO is coming back to life. I haven't been there since Katrina but I hope to return one of these days.

Everyday heroes are all around me - volunteers who work the local soup kitchen, build Habitat homes and run their thrift store, mentor at risk children and volunteer in our local schools, bring comfort to patients and their families at our local hospital and handle scores of routine tasks that free the nurses to devote more of their time to patient care. Then there are the wonderful people in my neighborhood who are always there to lend a hand to a neighbor in need. When someone has surgery, neighbors line up to make meals for the family. When I was last in the hospital they took turns walking my dogs. When a neighbor's house burned down, before the firemen even had a chance to clean up and leave, the family had received multiple offers for places to stay, clothes and necessities by the bagful and more than $5,000 donated by the people of my neighborhood. In my book, they are all everyday heroes, more-so because none of them think they are doing anything extraordinary.

PJ said...

Limecello, he's missed you!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Good morning, Shane and welcome to the Lair. Hey Kim, lovely post!

As the other resident nurse of the Lair, I thank you for the note about nurses. To me, it's what we do everyday, but some days are better than others.

Because of the call to be a nurse, I get to witness courage in my mothers-to-be almost daily. Just having a child in this day and age seems to take courage, but some mothers face insurmountable odds even before their children get here, and some the moment they're born. Knowing that, they still bring life into the world. That to me is courage!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Treethyme, I've worked with former WAVES from WW II and some M*A*S*H nurses from both the Korean and Vietnam wars. I used to LOVE talking to them about the things they did, the places they went and the men they met. Absoloutely enthralling!! And talk about courageous.

Suzanne Welsh said...

OMG Amy! Yes that mother does deserve a medal and lots of love, hugs and help. That has to be one of the hardest stories of motherhood that I've ever heard.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Virginia said: The one's I worked for where big A's. Power to the nurses....

LOL...and thank you, Virginia!

Joan said...

Treethyme, how cool that your aunt was a WAVE!

When I visit DC this summer I want to see the memorial to the women who served (isn't there a memorial to military nurses?)

And Virginia, appreciate your umbrage on our behalf of doctors but to tell you the truth...doctors are as a rule, no longer blusterbutts. The challenge in modern day nursing are the patients who do not want to participate in their care to get well and are often times ugly about it.

Doctors alone can't get you well. Nurses alone can't get you well.

Doctors + Nurses + the patient....THAT can get you well.

PJ said...

Yes, Joanie, there is a memorial to military nurses. It's very moving.

PJ said...

Becke, my stepmom was a WWII WAVE. She had so many fascinating stories to share.

PJ said...

Oh my gosh, Amy. That poor woman! I'll be keeping her and both of her daughters in my prayers.

Joan said...


That poor mum! Prayers on their way.

jo robertson said...

A hearty welcome to the Lair, Shane. What a terrific post about everyday heroes and a poignant look into the Katrina tragedy.

I think a lot about everyday heroes, those persons like my husband's ancestors who crossed the plains to settle the west, who left everything familiar and comfortable to follow a dream.

Your books sound intriguing. I love crime thrillers and will definitely check them out.

Happy 30th anniversary and have a wonderful time in Louisiana!

Quick question: Can you tell us how your journalistic work prepared you for writing?

Anna Sugden said...

Welcome Shane - what a lovely, touching post. Thanks for enticing Shane into the Lair, KJ.

I have a soft spot for New Orleans, as I went to my very first Romantic Times convention in Baton Rouge. There, I met some fabulous authors who encouraged me to 'give it a go'. I owe them (Jean Brashear, Merline Lovelace and the late Suzanne Barclay) a huge debt of gratitude!

Hubby and I then drove down River Road to NO. What a fabulous and memorable trip (not just because of the speed limitsigns with bullet holes in them!).

For me, everyday heroes are those who do the little things as well as the big things. The person who gives up his seat on the bus for an elderly or pregnant person. The person who lets a frazzled mother with cantankerous kids ahead of them in the check-out line at the store. The person who puts the garbage bins out for a disabled neighbour. The friend who critiques a manuscript at the last minute to help you stop panicking!

They are heroes to me because they do something which may seem small to them, but is huge to the person they are helping - and they do it without a second thought.

Anna Sugden said...

Becke's comment reminded me of all the people who did so much during WW2 - especially those in the Resistance or those undercover in Europe. Also those who took in the orphans and children evacuated from the cities. Otherwise ordinary people who risked everything to help, because they believed in fighting evil.

Caroline said...

Very interesting! What a gift to spend an evening with the woman from Japan. Those are situations usually found in fiction. If only the whole world would open up to each other as would be a better place.

Thank you for your post!

Kimber Chin said...

SO cool that you mentioned an entrepreneur as one of your everyday heroes.

Entrepreneurs rank way up there on my hero list. The odds are stacked against them (4 out of 5 businesses fail - and I think that is a low figure), they suffer natural disasters, financial disasters (they were the first people to have their much needed credit lines pulled) yet they are SO important for the well being of any country (they are our future).

A great, great post!

Trish said...

Shane, what a great story and trip to New Orleans! And congrats on 30 years with the hot wife. Sounds like you two still have a lot of romance and adventure in your lives. Very inspiring! :)

Louisa Cornell said...

He's all yours today, Lime! I think La Campbell is right. He is doing a tour of his old girlfriends!

What a great interview Kim and Shane. You are talking about one of my favorite places in the world - New Orleans! I went to grad school at USM in Hattiesburg and my late DH and I spent A LOT of time in New Orleans. Two of his colleagues are married and practicing psychiatry in New Orleans. They fled during Katrina and were lucky that only the basement apartment beneath their house was flooded and they had some roof damage.

They have been bugging me to come down and I really want to as I have not been down since Katrina.

I have to agree that nurses are definitely the unsung heroes of the medical profession. I cannot tell you how much the care and humor of the nurses in the cardiac ICU unit meant to us during my Dad's last six weeks of life. They were so good to him and to my Mom who never left the hospital the entire six weeks. Truly great ladies.

All of the animal rescue organizations who went down to New Orleans during Katrina and in its aftermath are real heroes to me. They rescued so many abandoned animals and reunited lost animals with their owners. So many people lost everything they had and to find the pets they lost meant the world to them. My dog Boudreaux was rescued from the Ninth Ward by a friend who went down to help one of the rescue organizations. Boudreaux was found standing guard over his dead master in their flooded house. He'd been there for weeks and was nearly starved to death. Now he still gets upset during storms and tries to climb his sixty pound basset hound butt into my lap.

My cousin's son is a policeman and he is definitely a hero to me. It is tough to be a policeman in this day and age in a city where there is a shooting sometimes once a day, but at least three times a week.

Donna MacMeans said...

Watch out below!

(Donna swings in on the chandelier) Sorry about that, but aerobics class was cancelled due to the holiday weekend (grin).

Hi Shane! You know - I think your wife might be my long lost sister! Usually my hair is poker straight - compare her photo to mine in the side bar.

Love to hear that New Orleans is coming back. I was there for about two weeks right before Katrina doing research for a book. I had to set that project aside - too many emotions when I tried to write about a city I loved. Now - however - I've pulled it back out and contemplated returning for an update.

Amy - That woman truly is a hero. My heart goes out to her. Hope her little girl came through the surgery just fine.

Lime - congrats on the GR. Are you still celebrating your graduation?

Back to doing holiday cooking, why does every holiday require copious amounts of food? Not sure - but thank God it does (grin)

Kim Howe said...

Hi there,

Shane has had a major computer problem and that's why he hasn't been able to log on today. He promises to send me answers to all the questions tomorrow. He asked me to thank everyone for coming today...he really appreciates your interest and support!!!!!!

Donnell said...

Mr. Gericke: what a great blog. Kim, thanks for inviting him to Romance Bandits. Love your thoughts on everyday people being heroes. So true. They're all around us. And that lady from Japan who walked through the Quarter with you, she's my hero. I'll bet she has fond memories of America thanks to you. I'll bet you and your wife were her heroes.

limecello said...

Anna - haha, thanks; I said last week I probably wouldn't get the GR anymore... because I can't stay up late - have very early morning classes now. So, no, Donna, definitely no celebrating. At all.
And thank you too, to Virginia, Kim, and PJ!

Kim Howe said...

Message from Shane who had major computer problems...

A lot of you talked about nurses being your everyday heroes. They're mine, too. My family has spent more time in hospitals the past few years than we care to (among other things, my wife Jerrle had breast cancer in 2002, but now is a proud seven-year survivor, yay!). Each time, the nurses were the real troupers in the medical team, caring for us like we were family. I can't say enough nice things about them.

New Orleans IS back, no doubt about it. Very refreshing after that national tragedy. The people are friendly, and the food and drink are great. What could be better? It was our first time ever in the Easy ... and exceeded our already high expectations. As for our new Japanese lady friend, she’s in Memphis, visiting Elvis.

Treethyme, it's great to meet a fellow Sun-Times alum. I started in 1982, when Mike Royko, Ann Landers, and all the other greats were still there. In 1984, the paper was sold to Rupert Murdoch--the Antichrist, as we fondly thought of him. Royko et al left for greener pastures, but I was 26, just landed a dream job at a big-city paper, and was going to stay and see what happened. I left in 2000 to start my thriller novel career. I love the new form of writing and have never looked back—writing in jammies is just too cool—but I miss the newsroom. It had a ton of intellectual wattage, great storytellers, and happy drunks. Ah, the news biz :-)

Jo, you asked about journalism as preparation for writing fiction. What reporting and editing gave me was the ability to capture the world for the written page, fast, accurately and under deadline. That applies to any kind of writing, from letters to Mom to the biggest books of fiction—you take in from all six senses and transform those impressions into letters on a page, so a reader can see, hear, smell and feel what you did. Even though you're making up your scenes, they need to feel real to the reader. So observing and describing the small details—the sound of a fluttering leaf; the yellowish hue of curdling milk; that a baby’s head smells like peanut butter--is critical to your success. In commercial fiction, we write 2,000 to 5,000 words per day in order to meet deadlines. Fast and accurate pays off handsomely under that kind of pressure.

Trish, you are so right ... Jerrle is still a babe after thirty years, and we still have a lot of fun. I guess I'll try another thirty, see if that changes any, and report back to y’all. Naturally, I haven't aged a bit over thirty years, as I am still 22 and studly. Or so my daydreams tell me.

Donna, I'll check with pops-in-law to see if he had any daughters I don't know about. At eightysomething, he'll like that :-)

You folks might like my crime thrillers. They feature a fortysomething female police detective, Emily Thompson, who battles serial killers in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, where I live. Her best friend, Annie Bates, is a SWAT commander and soldier, and plays Thelma to Emily’s Louise. Between bullets, bombs and general mayhem, there’s a really nice romance between Emily and her true love, Martin Benedetti, another cop. The irony is, I didn't know I was committing romance till RT named my debut, BLOWN AWAY, the Debut Mystery of the Year. I was delighted, if confused! My current Emily is CUT TO THE BONE, and the next is MOVING TARGET, which comes out in summer 2010. I'd be pleased if you'd check them out, or come visit me at

And finally, Kim, you're gracious and special for letting me hang out with your friends here. Thanks.

With fondness,