Sunday, February 24, 2019

Take It To the Limit

By Tim Smith

The topic Pushing Limits reminds me of something I heard once upon a time—“The things you regret are the risks you don’t take.” I wish I could credit that bit of wisdom to a great philosopher but the truth is, I heard it in the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” spoken by Ann-Margaret. It seemed like good advice and it stuck with me.

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 didn’t flex my creative muscles, that malaise would find its way into my stories. It also keeps readers on their toes. With one of my early books, “The Vendetta Factor” (Nick Seven series), I went retro by using chapter titles. Since it was an old-style pulp fiction 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 quite funny, while others were more poignant.

When I wrote the Vic Fallon mystery “Lido Key,” I pushed my limits with some of the sex I depicted. It fit with the characters and plot, so I figured “Why not?” I made the female lead bisexual, enjoying a relationship with her cute housekeeper, and both of them are attracted to the hero. Naturally that scenario called for a threesome in a hot tub. I didn’t receive any complaints from those who read it, so I’m assuming I got it right.

Characters are another way I push limits. I like creating personalities that are unique and a bit off the wall. This makes them step out of the page and come to life. I constantly study people and make note of their fashion statements, physical characteristics and speech patterns. This has gotten me into trouble on occasion, when someone is convinced that I based a character on them or a mutual acquaintance. This is patently false, because I’m careful not to clone someone I know. They’re all composites, and what people want to read into it beyond that is up to them.

I really like to push limits when I give interviews. I have a lot of fun when I can be outrageous with my responses. It plays into something I learned a long time ago—any publicity can be good publicity, especially if it gets people talking about you. As proof, search the name Kardashian and see what pops up. During a live podcast interview, the hostess suggested that the book I was pushing would be great for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I stated that I wasn’t interested in that because I didn’t think Oprah and her audience would understand or appreciate it. A long silence followed while she pondered the future of her program.

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, where most anything I wanted to pursue was shot down. I was at loose ends and restless, and I recalled an idea I had 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 in my popular Nick Seven spy series, “Memories Die Last,” which continues to sell nearly 18 years later and has cultivated a nice fan base.      

One of my erotic short stories has the male lead getting involved with a transgender escort in Key West. This one hasn’t been published yet, because I haven’t gotten up the nerve to release it under my own name. It isn’t that I shy away from controversy, but all of my books so far have been categorized as straight erotic romance. Perhaps I’m not ready to push that boundary yet.


  1. Go for it, Tim! I know exactly the feelings you're describing... the worry that your usual fan base will be shocked or disturbed or turned off by your stepping beyond some limit. But if you censor your imagination, you're not being true to yourself.

    Love the quote, too!

  2. I would be interested in your unpublished novel. If you don't think your regular readers would accept it, you could always get it published under a new pen name. (Have you ever heard of Ainsley Gray? I would be surprised if you had. This is the alternative pen name I was asked to think up by Black Lace Books in the early 00s to disguise the fact that they were planning to include two of my stories in one anthology. I chose two English family names from my family tree. I'm sure Ainsley will return someday.)


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