Milestones, Murder and Marriage

Four photo booth pictures of Jon Schwartz and Sheilia "Shay" Thurmon being silly.
The writing team of Schwartz and Thurmon at a fundraiser for Atlanta Workshop Players. November 2017

I started my professional writing career by accident. First, I was mistaken for an actress and got hired to act in a murder mystery. Then I was hired by another company to write mysteries. Soon after I met, Jon Schwartz, and we would begin writing and producing our own murder mysteries for corporate events mostly under Bacchus Mystery Theatre.  But the first mystery we wrote together  was for Seven Course Theatre, 25 years ago!

It was the spring of 1992 and we wrote a 1920 mob murder mystery called “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Gun.” We had dancing girls, a jazz singer, comedians Rob Cleveland and Kenny Raskin, a cute entertainer named Dan.  Dan was hired to do his one man show within our mystery.  Well, sort of.  You see, every time Dan got on stage and proclaimed he was an entertainer and started doing his act, Jon would shoot him and inform him he was a “bus boy.”  We actually had a film company squib him, so his shirt would explode and a blood pack would splatter from it!  We called Dan’s character “Lucky.”

I never set out to write live murder mysteries, but it was a lot of fun and I learned to “kill my darlings” as William Faulkner and Stephen King have said.  It means editing out the unnecessary and unimportant.  Writing is rewriting and that requires cutting out the fat, keeping it tight and moving the story forward.

Jon and I loved the dénouement of that first mystery.  It lasted 20 minutes, had about 20 actors and eight guns firing at the same time.  It was LOUD, chaotic and WAY over done.

It was just hours before the show, but the first chance we had to run it with the whole cast and the blank guns.  The client was understandably concerned and panicked, asked the Producer if there was something she could do to get us to change the ending.  (Did they really thing we would refuse?)  By the time our Producer made her way over to us, we had cut it down to 5 minutes and two gun shots.  We rewrote the ending with two elderly star-crossed lovers/mobsters getting shot and moving in slow motion across the room to each other, with a variety of incidents happening before falling into each others arms.  It was much quieter, more satisfying and way funnier.

I learned early on not to be “married to my writing.”  I can love a scene, love a line, even love a character, but I will cut it in a heartbeat to make the script better.

I did, however, fall in love and marry that cute Dan Thurmon. We will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year!  I’d say I’m the lucky one!

Sheilia and Dan Thurmon pose for a photo in a house.
July 1992 Sheilia and “that cute Dan Thurmon.” The next year they would marry.


Idiosyncrasies comes from the Greek word for idiot, right?

A woman as a drug stiffing dog sniffs luggage while a police man holds her leash.
Utilizing her super human sense of smell, Shay successfully acquired a job as a drug sniffing dog. Unfortunately, it paid in dog bones.

Most people aren’t aware of their idiosyncrasies.  (Most people can’t even spell it.  Thankfully Siri can or I’d still be looking it up.)  But me, I’m different.   I’m actually aware of my differences compared to most of the population.

For instance, I twirl my hair when I’m thinking. Back in the old days people would fiddle with worry beads.  Now people use fidget spinners.  So, twirling my hair shouldn’t seem so weird, but people judge. Like the guy on the airport train. Granted we were crammed in there like sardines so as I twirled my hair it was actually hitting the side of his face.  But still, it was only for thirty seconds or less.  Yeesh.

Another thing is I have a super human sense of smell.  Seriously.  I have actually smelled the smoke of a cigarette from a person five cars and two lanes away, with my windows rolled up!

I can tell when a baby has a poopy diaper before the person holding them realizes it.

I’m also really tuned into the physiology of my body.  I can literally feel a vitamin dissolving in my stomach.  I felt the egg stuck in my tube during an ectopic pregnancy, at four weeks post ovulation, even though the doctor insisted no one can feel it under eight weeks.  Two weeks later it ruptured and I felt THAT like a silver bullet! Sometimes it sucks being right.

There are a few other things, one might consider idiosyncrasies, but they’re probably things you do too like:

*putting Fritos in my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches;

*lifting my feet when riding over a railroad track – (which can be tricky when you’re the one driving);

*practice saying “hello” four or five times before making a call;

*turning around three times before using the bathroom;

*talking baby talk to my dogs – even when it’s a picture of them on my phone;

*saying “yellow one” every time I see a yellow car;

*sticking my chewing gum on the bathroom mirror at night before brushing my teeth in case I’ll want it in the morning (I may have accidentally left some in a few hotels);

*using a foreign accent when making dinner reservations; and

*seeing a penny on the ground, picking it up, making a wish then setting it back in the same spot.

The point is, we all have harmless little idiosyncrasies that can make us endearing or annoying.  I may or may not, do some or all of the above idiosyncratic things.  Subscribe to my blog anyway.




Networking 1 Oh! 1

Three business men in glasses hold money in hand while a woman's leg in fishnet stockings and high heel is seen in the foreground with a stripper pole.
It never occurred to Bob that the only ones benefiting from their “networking meetings” at the Cheetah were the dancers.

I like people.  And I like meeting new people.  But I don’t think that’s the same thing as networking. I was talking with a friend of mine at lunch before leaving for a conference involving “networking.”

“The fact that it has the word ‘work’ in it, is an indication, it’s not supposed to be fun.  Am I right, or am I right?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re right, girl. But you gotta know how to work it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“I’m just saying, networking is about gettin’ out there and meetin’ the right people.”

“I can network, I just don’t like to.” I said defensively.

“Hmm-humm.” She said with one of those “Girl, you are lying through your teeth” side smirks that involves a half cocked eyebrow.

“I can! I’m actually pretty good at it.” I said lying through my teeth.

Now, a polite friend would have let it drop there, both of us knowing it wasn’t true, but Evette is not one of those friends.  She’s the friend you go to when you REALLY want to know the truth, because she can lay it out like a chemistry teacher breaking down the periodic chart with scientific truths and charged chemical reactions!

“Tell me about one of your networking successes.” She demanded.

Ten minutes later I finally blurted out “I talked to Carol Burnette!

“You did not!” she began.

“I did too.  Remember, it was at the Fox Theatre ten years ago and a few of us talked to her after her program…” I continued with revisionist history firmly in place.

I could see the gears spinning as she tried to recall what I told her all those years ago.

“You’re talking ‘bout the time she took questions from the audience and you were up in the second dress circle?”

“It may have been.  I don’t remember.” I said standing to search for the waiter.

“And you yelled out a question while she was still talking?”

“I didn’t- it – the microphone wasn’t working!” I explained.

“Oh that’s right.” She agreed and proceeded to laugh loudly as she retold the story.  “That’s why you started yelling!  And, the security thought you were a heckler and tried to have you removed!”

I gave up looking for the waiter and sat down, hoping her laugh fest would soon pass.

“I think I know what your problem is.” She said seriously.  “You don’t know what networking means.”

“Networking means talking to people you don’t know, so you can sell them something they don’t want, while trying not to be boring or intoxicated.” I said, confidently regurgitating a networking 101 blog I read.

For some reason she thought this was hysterical and fell into another fit of laughter, drawing the attention of a friend of ours entering the restaurant.

“Evette!  Shay!  Hi.  What’s so funny?” Kimberly asked coming over to join us.

“It’s nothing.” I said, spotting the waiter coming from the kitchen and waived profusely.

“Shay thinks yelling at someone on stage is networking.” Evette said laughing.

“Like when you heckled Carol Burnett?” Kimberly asked, trying to understand.

“What? No! She’s just – she’s joking. See how she’s laughing?  How’s Benjamin?” I asked Kimberly, trying to change the subject.

“I don’t know. I just don’t think this long distance romance is going to work.” She said thoughtfully.

“Long distance? I thought you lived together.” I said.

“We do.”

Evette stopped laughing and we both looked at Kimberly confused.

“It’s the long distance romance, that’s the problem.” She reiterated.  When we continued to look dumbfounded, she whispered “We’re only having sex once a month. Don’t you think that’s a pretty long distance in between?”

Evette and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  If networking were as easy as getting together with friends and laughing at each other, I’d do it all the time.


Epilogue: My networking skills failed once again while at the Austin Film Festival when I only managed to network with a homeless man that wandered in and a call girl looking to get “discovered.”