Crises Made Into Thrillers

by | Nov 12, 2017 | Karna Small Bodman, The Writer's Life | 3 comments

Posted by Karna Small Bodman

This month we are writing about crises we have experienced – personally or professionally — that we may have woven into our thrillers. My Rogue colleagues have gone through many harrowing and challenging emergencies – from hurricanes and tornadoes to national security disasters.  How we deal with them — and how a great hero or heroine would handle them — is, of course, the stuff of great stories.
While I did experience earthquakes living in San Francisco some yeas ago,  the calamities most seared in my memory occurred during my service in The White House. Many of you will also recall these developments, even after so many years.  The first one occurred just two months after the inauguration of President Reagan.  I was scheduled to be in the car with Press Secretary Jim Brady on March 30, 1981.  But I recall standing in front of his desk there in the West Wing explaining that I had a ton of press calls to return and research to do before his next briefing (I was his Deputy at the time)I remember his replying that this event was “No big deal – just a speech over at the Hilton Hotel. I have to go anyway. You stay here and do the work. I’ll see you after lunch.”  As everybody knows, when the President and staff walked out of the Hilton that fateful day (I would have been standing right next to Jim, I’m sure) — that’s when John Hinkley fired 6 shots in 3 seconds, combat style, using two hands — wounding Jim, two others and then hitting the President as he raised his arm to wave to the crowd.
Pres. Reagan – Assassination Attempt
Secret Service Chief, Jerry Parr, seen to the left in the trench coat here, shoved Reagan into the car which then raced to the hospital.  After the surgery we learned (but did not report to the nation at that time) that the bullet was lodged ONE INCH FROM HIS HEART.  While several members of the senior staff went to the hospital to monitor this disastrous situation, I spent the day in the Situation Room as members of the Cabinet gathered to handle the investigation of Hinkley and any other “potential attackers” along with contacting leaders of Congress, allies and especially watching for any reaction of the Soviet Union during our time of crisis.  Many books and article have been written about this whole scenario, and while I have not included this specific set of events into my thrillers, I have used the “tension” felt in the Situation Room, settings throughout The White House along with composites of many key personalities on hand.
When President Reagan recovered, like all presidents, he had to handle many other crises here and around the world. One of the first was the strike by the air traffic controllers – known as the PATCO strike.

When the controllers asked for a raise, Reagan looked at the numbers and offered them an 11% hike.  But they said it was not enough for them, and even though they ALL had signed an agreement NOT to strike, when 13,000 of them walked out, the President fired them and wrote the statement himself. Some 7,000 flights were cancelled, but order was eventually restored when many controllers from military bases rushed to fill the void until new ones could be hired and trained.  All the while the world was watching “the cowboy from Hollywood” to see just how tough he would be. Sometime later I recall Secretary of State George Shultz saying, “The statement Reagan wrote firing the air traffic controllers was the most important FOREIGN  POLICY statement to date.” And I took his point.

I did use that incident in my second novel GAMBIT which is a story about a threat to our commercial airliners.  I was inspired to write it not only because of the fall-out from that PATCO strike, but watching the disaster of the shooting down of a Korean Jetliner (KAL 007) by the Soviets when it happened to stray into Russian territory.  269 innocent passengers were killed, and that included an American Congressman who had been on board.

As in every administration there were many other terrible incidents that the President had to handle — any one of them could be the genesis of a thriller. For example, the attempted assassination of the Pope, the hijacking of the Achille Laura cruise ship by Palestinian militants who murdered an American on board simply because he was Jewish — and, he was in a wheelchair!!!

Then there were numerous threats from the Soviet Union. When President Reagan took office, the Soviets had about a 3-1 advantage over us in large inter-continental missiles, to say nothing about their force of intermediate-range missiles.  This challenge led the President to announce a program I have written about before because it was so new, so unique, and so maligned at the time as being expensive, unworkable and “crazy.” I am talking about his Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI – or “Star Wars” as one columnist dubbed it. Now, so many years later, these defensive systems have been deployed around the world for the protection of our troops and allies and have had a rather impressive record of “shoot-downs” of enemy missiles, especially in Israel, and most recently in Saudi Arabia. The system is now also being deployed as a counter to the biggest threat to our nation in recent history — the threat of an EMP attack. 

EMP attack fries all electronics

If an enemy ever detonated even a small nuclear device high up in the atmosphere, it would create an “Electro-Magnetic-Pulse” that would “fry” all electronics on the ground. And just a few weeks ago, the dictator of North Korea threatened just such an attack on the United States.  If he ever pulled that off, certain parts of our country would be left with no communications, cell phones, computers, refrigeration, sanitation, transportation — in effect setting us back to the year 1910.  It is this very threat that led me to write my latest international thriller CASTLE BRAVO.

As I said at the outset, many of my Rogue colleagues, along with other great authors of thrillers (and mysteries) have experienced any number of crises in their lives and have featured them in their in their stories.  So my question for you is this: what crises or challenges have YOU experienced that you believe could be the basis of a pretty good thriller.  Think about that and do leave a comment at the end here.

We would all love to have your thoughts.  Now, thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

…submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Rogue Women Writers

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Gayle Lynds

    What an exciting, stimulating, and perilous time that was, Karna. And you captured it so beautifully. No wonder your books are infused with all of that, and the human costs and bravery that went with it.

  3. S. Lee Manning

    Fascinating to read about situations that I knew about from a distance – from someone who experienced it on the inside. And what a resource to call on for your fiction.