by KJ Howe
When I first read that title, my mind kept playing the Tina Turner song by the same name that was a blockbuster hit! Well, today our guest Shane Gericke is going to rock the house with his blog about two of my favorite things: love and bullets. Here is Shane with his first typewriter, and the man he developed into as a result of that gift! Please welcome Shane to the lair.
Love is in the air.
Along with a few thousand bullets.
Those are the two things that define my thriller novels. Love. And bullets.
Love coming first.
Sounds strange for a crime thriller, I know: love, not blood, ruling the roost.
But it’s true. My books are heavily caffeinated: Bullets fly. Buildings collapse. Cars race. Thunder crackles. Bombs explode. Knives flash, and blood is spilled, often in crimson jets. Bad guys are cruel. Good guys are heroic. Both fight to the very edges of their existences to get what they want.
But without love, it’s just another boring Hollywood actioner with a high body count of who–cares.
I think more of my readers than that. So I take great care to make my characters people you care about deeply. Men and women to whom you relate. People that could be your friends.
For that to happen, I need to infuse them with rich, human qualities. Otherwise, they’re mere cartoons, not to be taken seriously. So my characters are tough, but not unafraid. They’re strong, but falter. They love deeply, but not without bumps and bruises and bitching and balking.
In other words, they’re us.
And love is what makes them successful.
By “love,” I don’t mean sex. Sex is part of it, of course—my good guys dig each other in all the fun ways that make the world go around. But sex isn’t all of it. Or even most of it. To me, love means you respect and honor and cherish people. You care about what they think. Worry that they’re all right. Hope you’re doing your best for them. Feel your heart skip when they get home. Trust them in any situation. Share them freely with others, without jealousy or fear, knowing they always, always, consider you No. 1 in their lives.
Let me share some examples of what I mean from my new thriller, TORN APART. It’s the third in my national bestselling crime series starring Chicago suburban police officers Emily Thompson, Martin Benedetti, Annie Bates, Hercules Branch, and Kendall Cross. This chapter is near the beginning of the book, as a storm of ruthless killers (symbolized by the real thunderstorm crackling outside) gathers to invade these cops’ lives:
“Uh, sorry, ma’am,” Marty murmured as he drew back.
“Honey, it’s okay,” Emily said, interlocking her long, slender fingers with what Marty called his “knockwurst with nails.” She paused to let the thunder echo out. “It happens.”
“Not to me.”
Emily studied Marty’s cupped hand. What it held looked so sad. So drained of possibilities. She reached up, gently pushed the tip to the side.
“Emptied that bad boy faster than we thought,” she said.
“Yeh,” he said.
A string of thunder claps walked her mother’s tortoise-shell comb and brush set across her triple dresser. Wet wind howled through the open windows. Her hair blew across her face. She finger-combed it into place, opened the emerald sheets.
“You’re still full, though, right?” she said with an arch of the thin white scar that would forever bisect her left eyebrow.
Slapped the empty can of whipped cream onto the lamp table.
Dove into bed.
Sheets tangled. Pillows flew. Squeals erupted.
“Go away,” Emily groaned.
“Can’t,” Marty said. “You asked her to call.” He checked the number, picked up.
“Nice technique on those stairs,” Marty said. “You learn that in ninja school?” (Note: Annie is head of the SWAT team. She fell off a flight of stairs during a raid earlier that evening. Emily rescued her, and the bad guys were captured.)
“Shut up,” Annie said.
“I would, but I’m too busy laughing,” Marty said. “How are your eyes?”
“Terrible,” Annie said. (Her gas mask failed during the raid and she was engulfed in a tear gas cloud, which is why she fell off the stairs.) “They won’t stop itching.”
Marty sympathized, having swallowed his own share of gas over the years. Raids were the very definition of “Man plans; God laughs.” “They reformulated that brand. Sticks to your eyeballs something fierce now. But I know a cure.”
“Really? I’ll pay anything . . .”
“Go wash your head in grape juice.”
“Say . . . what?”
“Grape juice,” he repeated. “Sounds weird, but it works. Use a gallon or so, and work it in real good. As cold as you can stand it. Get the girls to help you scrub. Don’t rinse, just go to sleep with your hair wet.”
“Huh. And that really works?”
“Well, no,” Marty said. “But thinking about you doing it makes me all smiley inside.”
Annie’s reply was pointed.
“Guinness record for cuss words in one breath,” Marty said, laughing. “Seriously, get a good night’s sleep. That’ll take care of it.”
Annie slowed for the turn into her subdivision. “I’m glad we nailed those creeps, Marty,” she said. “Reminds me why I got into this business.”
Marty nodded at the phone, recalling his undercover infiltration of a violent biker gang. It was a soul-sucking job in which he’d been forced to beat a young man to death or be killed himself. But it ended with twelve whack jobs in maximum security and thirty million dollars of cocaine seized. Ten years later, he still got death threats from their pals. He pinned them on the bulletin board outside his office to his colleagues could vote for the most deranged.
“I know Em was unhappy to be sent home early,” Annie continued. “But Chief Cross was right to get that gas off her skin.”
Marty looked at Emily, whose freshly scrubbed body, backlit by the lamp, slid softly against her emerald silk nightgown. He felt himself stir for the umpteenth time. “Couldn’t agree more,” he said. “And with that I’ll sign off—”
“Wait, wait. I need her one more time.”
“Only a minute, I promise,” Annie said, grinning at the phone. “Oh, and not that you care, but don’t eat too much fat and sugar while you’re gone.” (Marty and Branch will head out around dawn for their annual week in Wisconsin hunting deer.)
“You’re right,” Marty said. “I don’t care.”
He heard her laughing as he handed the phone back to Emily.
“Nice work with that thermal imager,” Annie said. “You handled it like a pro. Keep it up and I’ll put you on SWAT permanently.”
“Cool,” Emily said, knowing her best friend was really saying, Thank you for pulling my ass out of that fire.
“See you in a few hours,” Annie said.
They groaned simultaneously, and then hung up.
“So, my little commando,” Marty said. “Need to get some sleep?”
Emily pulled the gown over her head and held out her arms.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Marty said.
Oh, and did I mention I love humor? It’s the most human of emotions, so I dose my books liberally with it.
In fiction as in life, love is not just boy-girl. There’s friend-friend, as between Marty, Emily and Annie in the passage above. There’s the love of work partners. And there’s the deep love of fathers for their children, as in this scene between Sergeant “Hawk” Hawkins and his daughter Samantha, whom Hawk is trying to keep from dying from a rare cancer:
Hawk wrapped his freckled arm around his daughter’s shoulders, fingers lightly brushing her hip. Its emerging boniness alarmed him, but he made sure not to show that in his hug.
“I love you, Ladybug,” he said.
She whispered, “I love you more.”
“You more,” he said, tickling her belly.
“No fair, Daddy,” she shrieked through high-pitched giggles. “I can’t breathe through the tickles to talk.”
“You more,” she said. “That means I win. Yay!”
“Yes, you do,” he said.
He kissed Samantha’s scalp, breathing in her soapy scent. She sang the Alphabet Song backward, to show she knew how. It was only a little out of key. He told her a bedtime story, which started with the Brothers Grimm but tumbled into wizards, soccer, joke-telling vampires, and Barbie going to prom. She squealed when Barbie smeared orange lipstick on Ken.
Thunder shook the house. Sammy clapped her ears, cringing. Hawk shook a knotted fist, warned the storm that this very special 7-year-old was under his protection so scram, and furthermore he’d spank any monsters that came in from the rain. Relieved, Sammy settled back into his chest. Her breathing slowed. Her eyelids fluttered, then closed.
Hawk felt his tension leak away.
This was the time he loved most. Just father and daughter. No doctors. No disease. No runaway mom. Just a long black ponytail that smelled of peaches. Not the canned kind with stale metallic perfume. Fresh peaches, sodden with juice, snapped off the drooping tree in Grandpa’s backyard and broken into clumps by a delighted little girl as Grandma spooned maple ice cream from the hand churn . . .
“Daddy?” she murmured from somewhere near dreamland.
“Yes, baby?” Hawk said.
“Will I’ll be dead by Christmas?”
And finally, lest you think my thrillers are entirely love and tenderness and emotion and understanding, read this passage, in which a Wisconsin sheriff’s sergeant is under attack by four ruthless criminals armed with an Uzi submachinegun:
Abbott pulled the trigger of his pistol, sending flame-geyers at the gunmen. They wheeled and ducked, and the hollowpoints thocked uselessly into the grille of their van. Abbott sprinted for the assault rifle in the trunk of his patrol cruiser, which would shift the momentum back to him. The Uzi acquired him, belched fire and smoke. He barely heard the gun go off. Silencer, his lizard brain screamed.
He jinked like a Green Bay receiver. Most of the slugs flew side. But one smashed into his belt, sending his key ring into the river below. Another whacked into his bulletproof vest. The shock wave sucked out his momentum. He lurched now rather than ran.
The Uzi fired . . .
Three bullets stitched his vest, breaking ribs underneath. The crushing pain made his brain clicky.
The Uzi fired . . .
He tripped on a pothole, smashed face-first into the bridge deck. Bullets buzzed just over his head. He rolled like dervish, blood sputtering from his broken nose. Bullets pinged off the pavement the moment he left it. He reached the back of the cruiser, where he was relatively protected. He fumbled for his keys. Looked down when he couldn’t find them. Shot away, he realized. He couldn’t unlock the trunk to get to the rifle.
Bullets closed in on him.
He returned fire one-handed, the other fumbling for the panic button on the radio. His numbed index finger dropped it like a one-putt. He bared his teeth. No matter what happened to him, his brothers would blow so many holes in these bastards they’d look like a Swiss fuckin’ cheese—
He heard a clatter. Looked down again. Went cold. The panic button had fallen off the radio, along with the faceplate and battery. One of the bullets had shattered his two-way.
Did the signal get off in time . . .
Thanks so much for reading. It’s a pleasure talking with you.
Great job, Shane! Thanks for joining us today. I'd love to hear which passages people like and why. Also, another intriguing question I've always wondered is if men write love scenes in a different manner than women. Can you tell Shane is a guy from his passages? I'd pay big money to hear your thoughts on that one!
Shane Gericke is the national bestselling author of TORN APART and other thriller novels. His work, published by Kensington, is in translation worldwide, and his debut, BLOWN AWAY, won the Debut Mystery of the Year award from Romantic Times. He’s a past chairman of ThrillerFest, a founding member of International Thriller Writers, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors. A senior editor at the Chicago Sun-Times before switching to thrillers, Shane lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, where his series is set and is also the home of famous crime-fighter Dick Tracy. See more about Shane, whose last name is pronounced YER-kee, at www.shanegericke.com