When Paul R. Theroux, 91, of Belleair decided last year to finish his first novel, he also decided to have some fun. He took his career as a chemical engineer and his love of tennis and penned a murder mystery, Q-23: A Novel of Espionage and Racqueteering (LibertyTree Press). It's a story of industrial spying, a secret formula that eliminates the need for men to shave, and quirky characters including an inventor, a private eye and assorted bad guys.
LifeTimes talked to Theroux, father of author and travel writer Paul E. Theroux and now fourth published family member, in his Belleair home about Q-23.
How did this novel come to be? What was your motivation?
Frankly, I never expected to be around at 91. I started writing the book at least 15 years ago, so I wrote most of it in my 70s, then finished it up when I turned 90.
What changed after more than 15 years?
It was just sitting there on my desk. I finally had some spare time and some inclination, so I did it.
Why the pun in the title?
I used to be a good tennis player, so most of the characters in the book are tennis players.
How did you decide to combine chemical engineering and tennis, an unlikely pair?
I worked for a number of organizations as a chemical engineer and I saw how people reacted to new ideas that challenged the status quo. I retired 26 years ago. I used to read about a book a week, and I love murder mysteries and adventure.
Were there any other motivating factors?
I have three cousins who are published authors. I figured if they could do it, I could do it.
What was your writing process?
I wrote by hand on a yellow legal pad. I tried using a typewriter. My skills as a typist are very poor. My wife typed up most of it.
How big is tennis in your life?
I moved to Belleair 30 years ago. I used to play tennis at least three times a week. It's been my sport all my life — since high school.
It's a number for an experiment. Experiments are numbered sequentially. This is the one that became the breakthrough chemical formula and became "Hair Ban" in the novel.
So what does Hair Ban do?
It eliminates the need for men to shave. Most men would love it.
What tips would you have for people in their 80s or 90s to write their first book?
It's a good diversion for us older folks. You're producing something. If you're retired and sit, you're not doing anything. Everybody who is retired has some extra time.
So you feel other retirees can write their first novel later in life?
I think most people can think of a plot if they really try.
What's your next project?
I have three children and five grandchildren. I'm going to San Francisco. I lived there for a while and I really enjoyed it.