Please help me welcome Larry and Carolyn Watts as my guest today. They are the husband and wife team who wrote Dishonored and Forgotten – a fictional account of a 1950’s narcotics scandal that rocked the Houston, Texas Police Department.
Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the post about how some characters are created.
The thin black man navigating streets on a riding lawnmower often drew our attention. Vehicles steered to oblige a dog sleeping on sun-warmed Main St. Quiet towns attract old cops dreaming of simpler, country lifestyles. Living in the picturesque 1904 stucco, red-tiled roof home was like stepping back in time.
The previous owner left pages filled with homeowner tips ranging from local utility peculiarities to best repair and service businesses for everything from air conditioning to landscaping. The information left for us was that George, the lawn man, was inexpensive, dependable, and liked jazz music. As an afterthought, she scribbled that he didn’t drive a car. The lawn service recommendation was not only a good one, but aspects of George’s life became fodder for characters in several novels.
A few days after we moved in, George knocked on our door. With a steady gaze and genuine smile, he wasted no time explaining his business, “I’ve done the yard work here for years. Do you need help with it?”
His riding lawn mower, with yard tools packed neatly in a small trailer hooked behind It, was parked on the street. George wore blue jeans and a Houston Texans t-shirt, both so well-fitted and pressed, he appeared to have stepped right out of the pages of a fine gentleman’s clothing magazine. The jeans were starched with a well-defined, straight crease ironed down the center front of each leg.
After introductions, George confirmed he loved jazz music and was too ‘nervous’ to drive a car, though, apparently, the slower pace of the riding lawn mower worked for him. Over several months we visited with and learned much about George. His early years had been under the watchful guidance of his grandmother and mother. He’d only left his home town once, for a year, when he worked on some vague government program outside Texas.
Nowadays, George lived alone in his childhood home. Retired from a janitorial job with the local school district, he supplemented his income with the lawn service business.
As our relationship grew more personal, George visited our home on social occasions, for a Super Bowl party and Thanksgiving dinner. We learned he saved his earnings so that each year he could take a trip or two away from Texas.
Just after our first Thanksgiving there, he traveled to Washington, D.C. where he spent a week visiting and taking photos of such sites as the Reflection Pond, the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Institute Museums.
The following year we drove him to the airport for a trip, this time to New York City, to experience the Macy’s Day Parade. When he walked out the door of his home, we hardly recognized him. He was wearing a moderately expensive black pin-striped suit, topped off with a handsome derby. His shoes shown like glass. He was gone for a week and, upon returning, reviewed his travels with us. George had taken a bite of the Big Apple. He’d lived like a king for a week.
Home again, George worked in our yard, dressed as the locals expected, mowing to save for his next adventure. As we watched him, we began to speculate. What if George’s life wasn’t as it appeared? He might be using the cover of a small-town, unpretentious black man to cover his actions traveling a couple of times each year to carry out assignments for some clandestine spying operation.
A character was born.
Sometimes we’re asked, “Where do you get your stimulus for the stories you write?”
We wink at each other before giving the standard answer that our stories come from our life experiences. The truth is, we pilfer other peoples’ life experiences to write about. The character in our Tanner & Thibodaux series didn’t turn out quite as imagination first led us, but George became Thibodaux, and we love him.
Our latest book, Dishonored and Forgotten, is based on a true story just as bizarre as the exploits of the character we have created with George. The first narcotics scandal in the Houston Police Department in 1953, may leave you asking questions of law enforcement you’d never considered before.
One officer was dead with two gunshots to the heart and a nasty laceration on his head. The death was ruled a suicide. Another officer was sent to prison for selling heroin back to those he arrested. A captain was fired and a police chief lost his job. Dr. Julius McBride went to prison for supplying that police chief with codeine illegally. High profile federal narcotics agent George White came to Houston and challenged the locals, including the police chief, city attorney, mayor, district attorney and every officer he thought was dirty.
Larry’s career in law enforcement began in Houston, Texas, as a police officer. He became active in police labor issues and served on the board of directors of the Houston Police Officers’ Association and the National Association of Police Associations.
Carolyn worked for Continental Airlines for 16 years. She was a flight attendant scheduler early in that career and worked in Continental’s Public Relations Department before returning to school to attain a BS in Psychology and an MS in School Psychology. She has held positions in education, a non-profit counseling center and shelter for victims of domestic violence, and a private practice.
While Larry has written a number of other books, fiction and nonfiction, this is the first collaboration with his wife.