What’s In Your Playpen?

by | March 13, 2020 | General | 3 comments

Every writer has a special place where they rendezvous with their muse. Some find inspiration by writing at their favorite coffee bistro. Some may seek it under a shady tree in the park, surrounded by nature’s glory. Others might opt for the comfort of their bed, where they can sit cross-legged with their keyboards and pound out sultry tales while nibbling on bon-bons and sipping hot cocoa.

My own creative space is a spare bedroom in my house that I converted into a home office. When people visit, they often mistake it for Fred Sanford’s junk yard, but everything in there has a purpose. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I have an old desk that’s been in my family for years, with several stacks of papers that I know were important once upon a time. The walls around it are adorned with posters from some of my favorite movies, along with awards I’ve won and obscure artwork that I found interesting.

There’s a bookcase filled with old paperbacks I’ve had for years but just can’t part with. They include the complete works of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, among others. I have reference books, such as The KISS Guide to the Kama Sutra, an English-to-Spanish dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, and Romance Writing for Dummies. I didn’t say I had all the answers. There’s also a dog-eared copy of The Godfather that I’ve read so many times, the pages are falling out.

Research is important when you write atmospheric thrillers set in exotic locations, and I strive for accuracy. To that end, I have a credenza where office supplies share space with things I’ve brought back from my travels. These include photo albums, maps, tourist brochures, and copies of local newspapers. I often refer to these things when I’m trying to set a mood or accurately describe a location. When I’m writing about a sunset over the Florida Bay, it helps to look at some of the pics I took for inspiration. The maps and brochures are invaluable when I want to feature a landmark, but can’t remember where it’s located or exactly what it looks like.

Earlier, I mentioned my collection of paperbacks. A few years ago, I found some at a yard sale that were written in the early 1960’s. These were the ones you’d find on a rack in the drug store that sold for 25 or 50 cents. Can you imagine the royalties on a book that goes for half a buck? No wonder the writers were called starving artists! I read a few of these steamy potboilers to get a sense of what people were into back then, when censorship was still holding sway. The titles alone were enough to push boundaries. They include such classics as Station Wagon Wives, Nude in the Mirror, Nude in the Sand (probably a sequel), Suburban Sin, Strip the Town Naked, and The Lady is a Lush. That last one sounds like a Sinatra tune.

And the tag lines they used to entice readers! Get a load of these:

“The shocking portrait of a pretty wife who fell victim to the soft and corrupt passions of another woman.”

“She showed men the way—the wrong way!”

“A novel of women who trade husbands, of men who borrow wives!”

“The full, terrifying story of a woman trapped by the desperate demands of her body.”

“A man, a woman, and a bottle. John and Mary sought escape through alcohol and sexual excesses.”

“Sex and savagery in the advertising jungle.”

“They knew each other’s bodies—but not each other’s names!”

Most of these books would be considered politically incorrect today, and I’m not advocating for a return to this type of storytelling. If there was a woman’s point of view in any of them, I missed it. These were clearly written for the suburban Martini crowd, the folks who populate old Rat Pack movies and episodes of Mad Men. I doubt that Harriet Nelson read any of these, but Ozzie may have perused a chapter or two while she was at the PTA meetings.

So…what’s in your playpen?

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. Lisa Stone

    great sharing, as if you were at your home 🙂 I wish the muse stays always with you

  2. Lisabet sarai

    What amazing tag lines! Wish I could come up with ones that are equally provocative.

    My playpen is the spare bedroom/office I share with my husband. In fact, there’s not much in it to inspire me (lots of computer books… lots of computers, actually), though I do keep a dictionary and thesaurus convenient to hand.

    The thing is, I use this same office for much of my everyday work (though not the same computer, for purposes of isolation!)

    Most of my inspiration comes from within… or from my erotic dreams!

  3. Rose B. Thorny

    When I *was* still writing (past tense, alas), my physical playpen was the entire house. I have to admit that the whole house is, for lack of a better description, decorated in a style that one might generously call eclectic packrat Bohemian. There are lots of books everywhere, a great number of which were my late husband’s (he was a voracious reader). Much of the decor is just stuff we collected…paintings, knickknacks, dog toys, candle holders, stuffed animals, plants (hanging and potted), etc., etc. I have a “studio”, designated for making art, which I sometimes do, but the only writing I’ve done there is in a little journal. It isn’t anything like a hoarder’s house (and I’m not in denial…there’s still plenty of room and open space to move around and play tug and fetch indoors, with Jasper the dog. My husband built the house himself and it’s big on the inside, though it looks smaller from outside…it’s kind of a Tardis house. One of my favourite things is in the walk-in closet — a rack of “toys” that, alas, has been purely decorative for 4 1/2 years, but I simply cannot part with it, and, besides, most of it isn’t the kind of stuff you put into a yard sale, unless you’re hoping for a few members of the equestrian crowd.

    So, our (now my) entire three floors (2100 square feet) is my physical playpen, buy my *real* playpen has always been right between my ears. Sadly, that playpen has been bereft of activity for…well, about 4 1/2 years. Every once in awhile, a couple of characters open the door to it, look in, and maybe even take a stroll through, but then, like people viewing a house, leave after the showing and don’t come back. I’m still holding the open houses, but there haven’t been any takers. The space is still wholly occupied by ghosts. Perhaps there is a story in that.

    Rose 😉

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