Take it to the limit

by | May 13, 2021 | General | 1 comment

“The things you regret are the risks you don’t take.”

I wish I could claim credit for that bit of wisdom but the truth is, I heard it in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.” It was spoken by Ann-Margaret to Jack Lemmon about relationships, and it seemed like good advice.

As writers, we’re obligated to take chances and push boundaries. Some of us pushed our limits simply by finishing that first book and getting it published. That’s not as easy as some people seem to think. It requires a lot of commitment and hard work, and that’s just the creative part. Once you decide to make writing a career, you really have to push your personal limits with regards to promotion and marketing. Some of us also push the limits of our bank accounts.

I like to try new things with my writing. I become bored easily and if I don’t flex my creative muscles, that malaise will find its way into my stories. It also keeps readers on their toes. I’m really happy when I come up with a unique “Gotcha!” that catches people off-guard.

With one of my early books, “The Vendetta Factor” (Nick Seven series), I went retro by using chapter titles. Since it was a pulp fiction-style crime thriller, it seemed like a good fit. One of my romantic comedies, “Anywhere the Heart Goes,” took the title thing one step further. I began each chapter with a quote about love and relationships, to set the mood. Some of them were funny, while others were poignant.

When I wrote the Vic Fallon private eye mystery “Lido Key,” I pushed my limits with the sexual content. I made the female lead bisexual, enjoying a relationship with her cute Latina housekeeper, and both of them are attracted to the hero. Naturally that scenario called for a threesome in a hot tub. In looking back at that book, it’s probably the sleaziest story concept I ever came up with. Not only is the heroine a switch hitter, she’s a former lap dancer turned rich trophy widow. She needs the help of my hero because she visited a swinger’s club and is now being blackmailed. During his investigation, he encounters a nasty strip club owner and a famous writer with a taste for booze and women. As I said, a sleazy concept with a cast of characters to match. I think Mickey Spillane would’ve been proud.

Speaking of characters, that’s another way I push limits. I like creating personalities that are unique and off-the-wall. I constantly study people and make note of their fashion statements, physical characteristics and speech patterns. I don’t limit people watching to those I see every day, but will often pick up on something an actor did and make a mental note. This habit has gotten me into trouble on occasion, when someone I know becomes convinced that I based a character on them. This is patently false, because my characters are composites. What people want to think beyond that is up to them.

I really like to see how many fireworks I can set off when I give interviews. I have a lot of fun when I can be outrageous with my responses, whether it’s print, podcast or TV. It plays into something I learned a long time ago—any publicity can be good if it gets people talking about you. As proof, search the name Kardashian and see what pops up. One print interview I did nearly cost me an invitation to a family reunion, though, because a relative was embarrassed by my answers to certain questions. They dealt with my opinions of sexual fetishes, some of which were unconventional, and I felt obliged to give honest responses.

The biggest limit pusher for me resulted in my becoming a published author in the first place. I had recently gotten out of a bad marriage, I was at loose ends and restless, and I recalled an idea for a story I had always wanted to write. I challenged myself to either write the damn thing or stop talking about it. The result was the first entry in my popular Nick Seven spy series, “Memories Die Last,” which continues to sell many years later and has cultivated a nice fan base.

The second-biggest was my decision to use my own name to publish contemporary erotic romance with explicit sex. That was nearly 20 years ago, and there have been many occasions when I felt I should have ignored Ann-Margaret’s advice. Sometimes I think this was one risk I definitely regretted taking.

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 Comment

  1. Lisabet Sarai

    I definitely agree, Tim.

    You have to grow, or your creativity will whither away.

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