Monday, September 27, 2010

Safety Patrol

By way of reintroduction, my name is Andy Straka.  I’m slightly north of fifty years old, am fortunate enough to be married to a gorgeous (in more ways than one) wife, have six occasionally gorgeous children, and I write the Frank Pavlicek series of private eye novels as well as standalone suspense thrillers.  Around our house, you’ll also find two spoiled dogs, and, since I’m also a licensed general class falconer, a five-year-old hunting Harris hawk affectionately known as Harris Potter.  

Occasionally, I am asked why I write crime fiction.  A simple enough question.  After all, I’ve published five mysteries and recently completed number six, so it seems like a logical inquiry.  I always answer it by saying that a) I love reading good crime fiction b) as a mediocre plotter but decent descriptive writer I rely on the narrative hook that the mystery form inherently supplies, and c) crime novels in general tend to be popular with readers, just check out any bestseller list.

Recently however, I’ve begun to wonder if there may be a more elemental reason why I tend to build most of my stories around cops, killers, and the like.  Simply put, I think I may be writing my novels because of the safety patrol.  

I grew up walking to school.  Like many others, when I was in the sixth grade, I was recruited into the safety patrol.  I even spent a part of that year as captain and another part as lieutenant. (Lieutenant was the best job because you didn’t actually have to do anything except back up the captain, who kept track of all the other safety patrollers, and fill in for the occasional other kid who was sick.)    

I loved being on the safety patrol.  I loved donning my orange belt and shiny badge every morning and afternoon before and after school.  They made me feel important, and I knew that the job we were doing had a purpose.  Perhaps due to that small taste of protecting and serving, I’ve been sympathetic to cops ever since.  

But something else happened that sixth grade year while was I serving on the safety patrol, something traumatic.  Two weeks after Christmas, quite unexpectedly, my father died.  

All of a sudden, donning a stupid orange belt and little play badge didn’t seem quite so important anymore. I loved my father.  For a week, maybe two--I don’t really remember--I was absent from school, absent from the street corner where I was supposed to be protecting the younger kids.  My mother, a sympathetic pastor, and extended family, provided some support.  But my mother was still in shock and going through her own heartache, and there was no such thing as a grief counselor in my small town in 1970.  

Sometimes I wonder if the real reason I write crime fiction is because of everything that happened that year. In my books I try to create characters that face such a loss. Maybe becoming a mystery novelist has simply become my way of returning to my post.

Andy Straka is the author of the Shamus Award-winning and Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated Frank Pavlicek novels. A licensed falconer and co-founder of the popular Crime Wave at the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, Andy is also the author of Record Of Wrongs, which Mystery Scene magazine calls "a first-rate thriller." His latest novel is Kitty Hitter (ISBN 1594148120 Cengage/Five Star $25.95).


Peggy Webb said...

I love the way you relate your childhood to your profession. That's the hallmark of a true Southern writer. I'm also fascinated that you're a falconer. Tell Harris Potter that I think he's very handsome!

Andy said...

Thanks, Peggy. Having lived beside the Blue Ridge in Virginia for over twenty years, and having grown up in "Northern Appalachia," a/k/a the Southern tier of upstate New York, I do consider myself a Southern writer. A mountain Southern writer. (Slight correction, the bird in the photo is actually a red-tailed hawk, one of my earlier hawks. His name was Bullet. I had a larger female red-tailed hawk at one time as well, appropriately named Scarlett.)

Conservative One said...

HI Andy,

Was just reading about beinga Patrol BOy and you brought many memories of me being a Patrol in NJ in the 60's, I can honestly say I have some good memories of feeling just like you did putting on the belt and badge.

Are you a collector of the badges?