Sunday, November 11, 2018

Possibly the best place to write a book!

….by Karna Small Bodman

What is it about a certain town or area that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Of course there are writers living in all parts of this wonderful country, but there happens to be one small part of my state of Florida that is the home of so many creative souls, I wanted to tell you about it.  The place is Collier County which encompasses Naples, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Captiva and other smaller islands -- all populated with bestselling as well as aspiring writers of all stripes. Well known for having a very friendly atmosphere, great restaurants, first-class philharmonic cultural center, attractive shops, nature trails, sailing, and fishing -- it's probably best known for our gorgeous beaches.





Yes, there are all sorts of beaches along coasts, but Naples offers miles and miles of the most lovely and soft WHITE sand beckoning gentle waves from the Gulf. Imagine relaxing here, taking a stroll and then jotting down your thoughts as the warm breeze ruffles your hair.

Okay, now that I've enticed you with the setting, you might say, "it's too relaxing -- too distracting -- I need to concentrate in order to sit down and craft a good story." Not so fast.  It turns out that a very long list of authors have found Southwest Florida to be THE perfect place to put together a bestselling
Author Robert Ludlum
novel including the famous Robert Ludlum who lived and worked here for many years until he died some years ago...but his character, Jason Bourne "lives on" through the pens of two of my Rogue colleagues, Gayle Lynds and Jamie Freveletti. Can you believe that there are now 225 million Ludlum books in print!



Speaking of Rogues, one who lives here on Cape Coral is Lisa Black, who has turned her professional experience as a crime scene investigator into a number of bestselling thrillers. Her latest endeavor is titled Suffer the Children. This book has been described as "riveting...one with intriguing details...a story with a sharp psychological edge."  She certainly knows her subject, having testified at over 50 trials along the way.

Other well known authors who live in Naples include the ever-popular Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum stories have kept her readers laughing for decades.  Now Janet, who lives here year-round  just down the block from us has a brand new novel coming out on Tuesday (!) where she weaves in some of her own experiences working as a waitress in a Howard Johnson's during college days. It is Twenty-five Alive....Janet has had such success - that one of her books was also made into a Hollywood feature film.

As for film adaptations, author Robin Cook, also of Naples had one of his first novels made into a movie several years ago -- and has kept writing medical thrillers ever since.  His new one, Pandemic, is available for pre-order as it will be out in December - timed for Christmas sales. 

One more book-turned-into-film is by local author Suzi Weinert.  I was on a panel here in Naples not long ago with Suzi, a delightful woman who explained how she loves to go to garage sales. So she came up with the idea of creating a mystery involving special things you can find at such sales.  The Hallmark channel was so intrigued that their producer bought the rights and now we can all watch "Garage Sales Mysteries" on the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel.

Over on Sanibel Island we have Randy Wayne White, a former fishing guide turned bestselling author. His novels feature Doc Ford, a marine biologist who gets into all sorts of wild situations and challenges.  The newest adventure is described in Caribbean Rim, a story of murder, sunken treasure and pirates -- both ancient and modern.

On a lighter note, we have resident Lynnette Austin whose romance novels have garnered her many awards along with bestselling status.  Her new novel is titled Must Love Babies --who could resist that subject? It turns out that I will be joining Lynnette and some FORTY Naples area authors who will be signing our books this weekend at the Collier County Regional Library Book Fair.  And for a relatively small town like Naples, Florida -- you have to admit we have a ton of talent around here.  So again, I pose the question, what is it about an area  that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Perhaps it really IS the way we live, think and dream as we all watch the sun go down every single evening in this very lovely place.
Naples Pier at sunset
 If you are a writer, do you have a special place that inspires you? Or have you heard of other places where many writers have found their own inspiration? Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page (icon is at the top left). Thanks for visiting us today.

. . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

UNITED BY THE LOVE OF BOOKS

by K.J. Howe

With all the heartbreaking strife in the world these days, I'd like to light a candle of hope. Perhaps we can build more kindness and acceptance by uniting over a shared passion--BOOKS--as they can truly bring the world together, at least that is what I'm experiencing this week at the Sharjah Book Festival.

Saudi Arabian booth--fond memories for me as I spent a lot of time there
Irish chef Kevin Dundon
From October 31 to November 10, Sharjah--which is about half an hour away from Dubai in the UAE--has over 2.3 million visitors to the Expo center, everyone gathering to celebrate the written word. I've met poets, chefs, evolutionary biologists, professors, tech gurus, real estate experts, translators. and a host of other fascinating people who have come together to discuss literature in all forms and languages.

Just walking down the bustling halls of the Expo center, you feel immersed in a world of acceptance, positivity, and enthusiasm. People are busting around the seven halls to learn about the different venues, drink tea, and chat about their shared passion. I'd love to share a few highlights to demonstrate that we need to keep events like the book fair in the forefront of our minds as a way of understanding different cultures and finding shared joy.  You could find almost anything inside the expo center, including booths selling antiquated books hosted by Austrians, novels in a host of different languages, and even had a Baskin Robbins stand.

Speaking of food, I met Lee Holmes from Australia and Kevin Dundon from Ireland, both famed chefs with impressive backgrounds and kind hearts. Watching Kevin share his Irish cooking secrets with attendees from many nations was inspiring. Who can't agree on the brilliance of lemon zest on seafood served inside puff pastry?
Mystery and Suspense Panel
At my panel on mystery and suspense, I was on stage with Dr. Ahmed, a renowned professor from Saudi Arabia and Lamya, our brilliant Egyptian moderator from Dubai. We discussed the key components of crime fiction in both Arabic and English while a translator spoke into the headsets of any audience members who didn't speak both languages. There was such interest in novels from all cultures, and it brought the crowd together even though we all came from different parts of the world.

Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria, Channels TV
I met the charismatic Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria who was one of the most dynamic interviewers I've ever met. We shared our common interest in African culture and books...and guess who his favourite author is--Lee Child. See, we all love the vigilante retribution that Reacher delivers to the bad guys.

Another highlight was visiting an American school here in Sharjah and speaking to 100 young girls about writing and career choices. Some were from Syria, others from parts of Africa, others from the Middle East and beyond. The hugs I received at the end of the session will stay with me long after I leave the UAE.

After the talk at the school, chatting with the girls
What fun meeting the drivers who took us on a wild adventure in the dunes. I broke bread with an economist from the U.K. and his wife who was from China along with two publishers from Spain, and a special couple from Australia.

The culture of the UAE and the government of Sharjah are both very supportive of literacy and literary traditions.  The ruler of Sharjah has started a program called Knowledge Without Borders with the goal of putting a library in every home in the Emirate. They deliver and install a special bookshelf to each home along with fifty free books for each family.  So far, they have delivered about thirty thousand "libraries" and one million free books.  In addition, they fund a large share of the festival, including programs encouraging young people in developing countries to read and seek higher education.  I had the privilege of meeting three young Nigerian students whose book reports had scored them a trip to the festival. You can see a very bright future in their eyes.

The authors are all staying in the same hotel and the cross-pollination of creativity and positivity is unbelievable. At breakfast, you might be discussing chimpanzees with a top evolutionary biologist. Lunch brings about the power and traditions of poetry from African and Lebanese poets.  Down by the pool, a discussion is ongoing about the power of social media and what it means to grow up in the internet age. And dinner features top chefs sharing cooking secrets.

Yes, there is heartache and pain every day as a result of hate and intolerance, but I remain hopeful that positive people can unite against evil, resist it, and focus on what amazing things we can do if we work together.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Something wicked

S. Lee Manning: Something wicked has crawled out of a box where it has been locked up. Something evil has dressed itself up in Sunday best and is strolling down Main Street, smiling and nodding, as if everything were normal. Something ugly is sunning itself on top of the rocks, when it used to hide under them.

We Rogues write thrillers. Our heroes fight evil head-on. They fight serial killers and mass murderers, villains who kidnap, villains who torture, villains who use drones to attack innocent people, villains who use poison or bombs. Our heroes sometimes fight against long odds. They are women and men, using their intelligence and their skills to win the day. My protagonist Kolya faces down those who intend to do harm to others. He’s a lot tougher than I am (maybe because he’s imaginary), and despite the odds, he wins the day, fighting with guns and fists. 

But this isn’t fiction. It is real. Something truly wicked has crawled out of the box. 

And it feels personal. People who don’t know me want to kill me, my children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. People who know nothing about us – except one thing. 

We are Jewish.

My father’s mother had to hide under a table in Russia when Cossacks fired guns into her home because she was Jewish. She fled for the United States soon after, as did all of my grandparents – fleeing anti-Jewish violence that had been sanctioned by the Russian government. In America, they found a home, and they knew they were safe. 

Some of the family stayed behind – thinking they could make it through the bad times, and they didn’t want to lose their homes. Those cousins and great aunts and uncles wrote letters to my grandparents and my aunts and uncles until sometime between 1941 and 1943 when men in black uniforms with swastikas rolled into the region and rounded them up. My relatives were stripped naked, marched to the edge of a pit called Babi Yar, and machine-gunned. 

I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. I knew that people wanted to kill Jews for no other reason than that they had been born Jewish. I knew they would have killed me and my parents. But that was in Europe. It was far away and long ago. 

There have always been Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists in the United States. For the most part, over the last 30 years, they stayed hidden in cellars, writing little manifestos to a handful of people. I knew they were there, but I never considered them a real threat. Yes, there was prejudice and bigotry, but it was not openly proclaimed or celebrated. This ideology was done - except for a few nutcases.

I live in America – and I love this country.  My wonderful husband is not Jewish. Raising our children, we celebrated Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover. It might seem confusing, but it worked. 

But something ugly is sunning itself on the rocks.

Last Saturday, a Nazi shot and murdered eleven people for the crime of being Jewish – elderly people, a doctor who treated AIDS patients when no once else would, two disabled brothers who always greeted people with a smile.      


After he was wounded and captured, this gunman said, “I just want to kill Jews.”

The ideology behind Nazism and white supremacy, that one group is superior and others subhumans to be dominated or eradicated, an ideology of hate is no longer the province of a few nutcases holed up in cellars. And let me be clear - while the man who murdered innocent people in a synagogue may have indeed been unbalanced, the people who perpetrated the Holocaust were coldly and ruthlessly sane believers - and they coldly and methodically plotted the extermination of every Jewish man, woman, and child in Europe - failing only because they lost the war. People again believe in that ideology, and they are no longer hiding.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent over the previous year, and that previous year had been a record high. In 2017, men carried swastikas and chanted “Jews Shall Not Replace Us.” Jews are less than two percent of the population of America, but they are the targets of half of all hate crimes in New York.

The generation that experienced the Holocaust is disappearing: the Americans who liberated the camps and the survivors, who have told their stories. My uncle Leon, who died five years ago, lost his mother and his sister to the gas chambers of Auschwitz – and spent his teenage years taking bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium. The family knows his story – as does the family of every Holocaust survivor – although the children will have to carry the stories forward. But now there are people who deny the Holocaust even occurred.

For Halloween, a man dressed up as an SS officer and dressed his child as Hitler – and then insisted he is merely a history buff – while his wife posted on Facebook: “There is no objective proof of the six million Jews he supposedly murdered.”

In Vermont, where I live, Jewish middle school children have found swastikas carved on desks. Swastikas have been painted on the side of barns up here. On the University of Vermont campus, white nationalist posters are appearing. On Wednesday, a California synagogue was defaced with the words, “Fuck Jews.” On Thursday, someone broke into a reform temple in Brooklyn and painted “Kill the Jews” inside, causing the temple to cancel an election event – out of fear for their safety.

We thriller writers know – because we write about ugly things and evil people – that evil has to be fought. Our heroes know it, and they fight, even at great personal cost, even at the risk of their own lives, against bad odds. They are sometimes injured, physically and emotionally, but they know when something wicked is strolling down Main Street, and they go for it.

Something evil is strutting its stuff, and we have to fight.

But the fight looks a little different than the fights in our books – because there is no ultimate show-down with the bad guy. There is no one person to kill – and order will be restored. There is an idea – that we thought had been shoved into a box and under the rocks - that has wormed its way out. It is the idea behind Nazism and white supremacy: the idea that one group is superior and that others are inferiors to be exterminated or enslaved. Jews are not the only targets of this ideology, other groups, other peoples are victims and targets - the LGBTQ community, people of color. I am writing about Jews, however, because I am Jewish, and eleven Jews just died for being Jewish at the hands of a man spouting Nazi hate. We have to fight this evil– and we have to fight with the most powerful of weapons.

Love – and kindness.  




I am heartened by the outpouring of love. My tiny synagogue in Stowe, Vermont was packed last weekend at an interfaith service. Christians, Jews, atheists, all coming together to express solidarity against hate.  A Muslim organization has raised almost $200,000 for the victims and their families.

It’s not a fight that will end soon – or maybe ever. We will never totally destroy hate or the ideology that nurtures it. But like the heroes in our books, when we see evil, we have to fight it – even if it’s a quiet, long, and sometimes frustrating fight. Together, with love and with kindness, we can push this evil back to where it belongs. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

PIE ... You, Too, Can Undo the Curse of the Jack-o'-Lantern!


By Gayle Lynds

Okay, folks, ‘fess up.  You’ve got a pumpkin with an expiration date that’s today – Halloween!  In case you haven’t noticed, tomorrow is post Halloween.  Your front porch or windowsill likely will still boast the evidence, but you’re going to have to do something soon about the Big Round Orange Guy, whether he’s intact or been carved into a glorious jack-o’-lantern.

Of course, you could dump Jack in the trash.  But jack-o’-lanterns make garbage cans awful heavy.  When I first moved to Maine, I learned that lesson the hard way.  Oh, my aching back.

On the other hand, John (my husband, not “Jack”) and I are fortunate to live in a forest inhabited by deer, foxes, turkeys, bears, coyotes, and squirrels.  The first October here, I figured surely someone in the Animal Kingdom other than homo sapiens would want our carefully sculptured orange jewel.  Yum.  Tasty treat.

Cradling Jack, I hiked off through the trees to the edge of a clearing, far enough away from the house to discourage the idea that there’d be more goodies from us.  I set Jack on a pile of oak leaves where he looked mighty handsome, even jaunty.  Definitely a culinary temptation.  With an affectionate “good-bye” and a “best-of-luck,” I walked away.

Jack stayed on my mind.  After a couple of days, I hiked back in, expecting to find he’d been so popular that nothing remained.  But no, there he was, still on his bed of leaves.  Sadly, his grin was deflating.  He was rotting.

I left and tried to forget Jack.  The last of the autumn leaves fell.  The temperatures plunged.  A light snow dusted the trees and grasses.  Our wildlife needed food, I told myself.  They must be hungry.  And so I returned, but Jack was still there.  He was as flat and brown as a pumpkin pancake.  I didn’t see a single nibble mark. 

I got the message:  No one wanted him. 

And then it struck me ... I hadn’t wanted him either.  How is it that something so enticing one day can become unwanted the next?  I considered the meaning of loyalty.  I poked Jack with the toe of my boot.  Hard as granite.  He’d frozen from neglect and rejection.  Just like some people I know. 

Maybe I was feeling my own sense of past isolation.  What about the high school boyfriend who went away to college and never wrote me?  Or my first husband who thought he’d married a housewife but got stuck with a writer instead — now there’s a horror story.  And then there were the rejections of editors when I'd first started out.  I could've papered a bathroom with them.  Worse, what about the times editors tried to rewrite me?  Talk about rejection!

Self-pity rose in my throat.  I kicked Jack – after all, he was just an orange rock now – and stomped away. 

A year passed....  

The next October, we bought a magnificent pumpkin and carved it.  After Halloween, I used my mother’s recipes to cut it up and make a remarkably delicious pumpkin pie.  Mom never rejected me.

So for you, dear Rogue Reader, here are Mom's recipes, which relieved my guilt and set me free, with a full and happy Pumpkin Tummy....

Mom's Easy-Peasy Pie Crusts

Makes 2 crusts:
2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
1/4 to ½ cold water

One of the secrets of great pie crusts is to understand the chemistry of your shortening – keeping everything cold (brrr) until you slide the crust into the oven encourages it to bake into a flaky, mouth-watering pastry. 

So put your mixing bowl, utensils, and ingredients in the refrigerator (or ice box, as my family used to say) until they’re truly chilled.  Then cut your shortening into the flour and salt until the mix is crumbly, about the size of peas.  Add in – as little as possible – cold water.  Pat the mixture into a ball and put it back in the refrigerator until all is chilled again.

Sprinkle cold flour on your table top and roll your pie crust thin as you can.  Drape the crust into a pie tin.  Make the edges pretty.  Now you can refrigerate until you’re ready to bake your pie.

Here's what to do with your Jack-o’-Lantern

Gird yourself ... you've got to gut Jack.  He won’t mind – he’s going to turn into a beautiful, aromatic pumpkin pie your family and friends will discover is far tastier than the stuff you get out of can.  For great instructions on how to take possession of Jack's innards, click on this link: Pick Your Own.

Pumpkin Pie Heaven

Or, if you’re like me these days, you’re going to fling aside any potential guilt and buy a can of pumpkin to use as your base.  It’ll be delicious, too! 

2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup milk or evaporated milk
3 lightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Bake your pie crust for 10 to15 minutes at 400 degrees to minimize it from getting soggy.  While it's baking, gently stir all of the pumpkin ingredients together.  After you remove the crust from the oven, pour the pumpkin mix into the crust.

Bake the pie 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake 45 to 50 minutes until the crust is brown and the pumpkin mix is starting to set.  Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  Welcome to Pumpkin Pie Heaven!

What are your favorite holiday pies?  Is pumpkin among them? 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I WOULD LOVE TO FIND PENNIES

by Chris Goff


Touched is the word that comes to mind. Which of course can be taken two ways. This Halloween, as the Rogues reveal their scary encounters (or attempted encounters) with those from beyond, the word so aptly describes my experiences.

It's well known in my family that I'm the crazy one. For years I've seen spirits. Shadows that swirl around and seem to multiply just before someone I love passes. And, more than once, I've seen actual people.

The first ghost I ever saw was a rattlesnake ghost. I was six. My father was sitting beside my bed reading to me from Pinocchio when I the snake stuck its head up at the side of the bunk near my feet. I shrank back toward the head of the bed and told Dad to be careful. He turned off the light and told me to go to sleep. Right!

The second spirit was one I conjured. I grew up in an triad A-frame house that my father built. It had two lofts—one that was my play loft and one with two bunks where I hosted sleepovers with my friends. You could only get up into them by ladder. An only child, I thought it would be fun to have a playmate, so I made up the ghost of "the girl in the loft." The weird thing was, when I no longer wanted her there, she refused to leave. Eventually I left for college and my folks sold the house.

The first full blown spirit I saw was a young man standing near the stereo in my home in Frisco, CO. He was short, with dark hair and dressed in shamrock green. It was March. A leprechaun? No one else could see him, and he disappeared when the phone rang. The caller was my mother telling me a close childhood friend of mine had died from a drug overdose. I was nine months pregnant. They chalked my vision up to hormones.

We've all heard that it's not uncommon for dying people to "see" family members who have already passed, but I admit to being surprised when I received a frantic phone call from my grandmother's nursing home. They wanted me to come right away. My grandmother was "talking in tongues."

Not exactly. It turned out she was speaking Swedish As I walked in the room, she brightened, more animated than I'd seen her in months. "Christy," she said. "I'm so glad you're here. You've never met your great-grandmother, have you?" For the next hour, Gram proceeded to switch between English and Swedish, introducing me to her mother, Emma Christina, and translating our conversation. Clearly she believed my great-grandmother was in the room.

What frightened me was, I was seeing spirits at home. It wasn't the first time I'd seen "shadow people." I first saw them when my mother was dying from cancer. Swirling figures who would gather in my house, and follow me room to room. I saw them when my father-in-law died, when my mother-in-law fell ill, when I lost my dear friend Janet. The take awayI see ghosts when someone close to me is about to pass. 

A week after being introduced to my great-grandmother, I became aware of the gathering spirits and bolted up the stairs toward my bedroom. For the first time, I could actually pull faces out of the crowd. Taking the stairs two at a time, I bumped into someone halfway up. We hit shoulders hard, and I shouted, "Get away." My husband called down from the bedroom, "They're only trying to comfort you."

With Wes snoring, I convinced myself it was all in my head and crawled under the covers without waking him up. Then a couple of hours later, I sat straight up in bed. My heart pounded. My breath shallow. Wes—who still appeared to be sleeping—said, "Lie back down. They won't call for an hour." I lay there awake until the phone rang at 1:30 a.m. My grandmother had died at 12:30.

I hate seeing spirits. They scare me. Though, sometimes I'll see them now and nothing bad happens. Once in our Denver house, I saw a young girl standing near the fireplace. We lived in an historical residence, but I have no idea why she was there. She looked to be about seven, dark-haired, wearing a pink wool coat and hat with black velvet piping and black patent leather shoes. She just stood and stared, her eyes wide, as though she was just as surprised to see me. I was sick, recovering from surgery. Everyone around me blamed it on drugs.

Still, I must admit, I am that person. The one who can't handle scary movies; who sleeps with the bathroom light on if I'm home alone. After seeing "The Haunting," a 1963 film based on "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, I can no longer sleep with an arm or leg draped over the side of the bed. I still sometimes feel ghost animals walking across the duvet. And, just the other night, when my husband was out-of-town, I felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed. It was 2:35 a.m. The light was on. I was terrified.

Were I braver, maybe I'd try and engage with those that gather. I've never sensed malevolence. They're likely family and friends, and I would love the chance to talk with my mother again.  

In a comment to Robin Burcell's blog, "There's a Ghost in my Bedroom" (Oct 2018), Gayle Lynds wrote about how her daughter kept finding pennies in unexpected places after her grandmother died. I LOVE the idea of finding pennies. The closest I've come is an earring. I was in my new office, sitting in a new chair, when I heard something drop to the wood floor. Looking down I found a small, gold hoop earring. It was one of a pair that my grandmother had brought home from Sweden and given me when I was sixteen years old. They were my favorite, and I had lost it six month earlier. Fortunately, I'd never thrown away the mate. I still wear those earrings, everyday.

I am convinced, if we're honest with ourselves, that everyone has experienced something that cannot be explained, something that defies reason. A roommate I had after college told me about her mother, who had lost a little sister in a fiery car crash years ago, when they were still in high school. Fast forward ten years and Shelley was born, and her mother heard her sister's voice telling her to "come into the other room. I'm there." Her mother did as asked, but only Shelley was there, lying in her cradle. Her mother never said a word, not until Shelley was a young adult and seeing a therapist to help her with her pyrophobia.

Rogue Readers, I'd love to hear some of your stories of the unexplained. Care to share? I promise, I won't call you crazy.

Friday, October 26, 2018

From Mystery to Bradbury to her next, Virtual Sabotage, NYT Bestselling Julie Hyzy!



We're lucky to have Julie Hyzy, the NYTimes Bestselling author of a string of mysteries talking to us about her writing process, a close encounter with Ray Bradbury, and the challenges of parallel parking an old Ford LTD sedan as a teenager. Read on!

Rogues:  Which is harder to write -- your novel's first sentence, or the last?
First sentences, by far. Every novel starts the same way: with my jazzed brain dancing with new-project excitement. It’s as though I have a million shiny jigsaw puzzle pieces bouncing around in front of me. All of them are SO important, so attractive, so exhilarating. But then I take a deep breath and realize that if I attack them all at once, I’ll wind up with nothing but a jumbled mess.

Choosing the perfect point to work from in order to build the whole picture in a satisfying way is the hardest part for me. I agonize forever. Then I type, erase, repeat.
By contrast, last sentences almost always deliver themselves—though that’s not to say I haven’t struggled over a few of them as well. I tend to play around with a final scene for a bit and at some point, the right words emerge to form language that I’m particularly satisfied with. Boom! Done!

What do I do then?

Go back and revise the first line again, of course.

Rogues:  What's your favorite word?
If by favorite, you mean the word I accidentally use most often, it’s probably “just.” At the completion of every novel, I do a word search and invariably have to change buckets of them. For favorites I use on purpose, it’s probably “launched.” Fun, active verb. I do adore the word “luminous” although I don’t use it often.

Rogues:  Where do you like to write?
At home in my cave. At least that’s what the family calls it. In here, I have everything I need: Desktop computer, comfy chair, books, window, calendar. If I need chocolate or coffee, I’m not far from the kitchen.

Rogues:  What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?
My two favorite things: I read or I eat. Sometimes both at once.
I have several TBR piles, all of which contain more books than I’d be able to get through in a year, even though I usually have multiple titles going at once. I know that many people prefer to read one book at a time. I have at least one book going per pile and, when I sit down to relax (or have lunch), I reach for whichever one is closest.

Eating is one of my absolute pleasures. Whether we’re dining out, or gathering around a table with friends, or I’m spending a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, food-related activities take up a whole lot of my mental and physical energy. I enjoy trying new combinations and I absolutely love researching new restaurants. How else do you think I achieved my VIP status on OpenTable?

Rogues:  If you could have lived in a different time period, what would it be?
I would want to be born fifty or even a hundred years from now. I have high hopes for the continued evolution of humankind (which probably explains my Star Trek obsession) and I’m optimistic about the future. And consider the technology! In Virtual Sabotage, I offer a view of where current technology may take us. But there are so many possibilities, I can’t even imagine what we’ll have at our disposal by the end of this century. I’d sure like to see and experience it all.


Rogues:  What's your favorite drink? 
Non-alcoholic: Water. Lots of it.
Alcoholic: It’s a tossup. Either a raspberry lemon drop martini (no sugar on the rim, please) or a full-bodied red. Right now I’m partial to tempranillo.

Rogues:  When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For a short time, I thought acting would be fun, but writing has always been my passion. At age 10, I was producing a neighborhood newspaper that I sold for five cents a copy, netting me fifty cents per week. (We had kind neighbors.) By then, I’d also started my first mystery series.
My eighth grade English teacher wrote a note in my autograph book (remember those?) telling me that she expected to see a published novel out of me some day. That meant a lot to me then, and it still does. The coolest part? She and I have reconnected to become grown-up friends!

Rogues:  Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author?
Ray Bradbury is my author hero, no two ways about that. Someday, if you haven’t already heard the story, let me tell you about my interaction with Ray Bradbury (Rogues: Check out the letter she received!). The world is a better place because of that awesome man.

Rogues:  Describe your very first car. 
How about the car I learned to drive on? My parents had a light brown Ford LTD with a black vinyl roof that we named Frances. No idea what year it was because we bought her used at Crazy Frank’s on Western Avenue in Chicago. Frances was huge by today’s standards. I learned how to parallel park driving her which means I can parallel park just about anything.


Rogues:  Do you write what you know or what you want to know?

While I much prefer to write what I want to know, the truth is that much of what I do know gets sprinkled in there whether I intend it to or not. I love researching and, if I’m not careful, I can lose whole days chasing one interesting detail after another. Research is that addictive. There are so many fascinating tidbits to uncover. The trouble comes later, after the book is published and I’ve forgotten a good deal of what I learned along the way. Apparently, old information needs to make room for new stuff moving in—juicy stuff that I’m eager to share.

If I could remember even half of what I learned along the way as I’ve written my twenty-plus novels, I’d be a shoo-in on Jeopardy!

Rogues:  Thanks Julie!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

There’s a Ghost in my Bedroom!

by Robin Burcell

One of my Halloween pumpkins.
Do you remember the show PUSHING DAISIES? I ask because it figures into my real-life ghost story. With Halloween nearly upon us, and after reading the great posts by Rogues Jamie Freveletti (Haunted Chicago and Sherlock Holmes) and Lisa Black (My Visit to a Real Life Ghost Town), I was inspired to tell my own encounter with a very real-to-me specter. I’ll let you decide if it was or was not a product of an over-active imagination. After all, I’m a writer, and, to misquote Lewis Carroll, all the best ones are slightly mad…

Quickly, though, let me catch up those who are not familiar with Pushing Daisies.

It was a wonderful TV series about a pie-maker, who discovered that when he touched someone who was dead, he could bring them to life for a few seconds, whereby they’d utter something, usually a vague clue about how they died, and it was up to the pie-maker to solve the murder. Billed as a comedy, drama and fantasy, it didn’t take itself too seriously, obviously, but it was a delightful show during its two-year run (2007-2009).

Anyway, sometime after that show ran, my father was ill and in a convalescent home. We were not particularly close (I was raised by my grandparents after he and my mother divorced), and I felt a mix of emotions when I and my siblings went to visit him that last occasion. He was no longer eating or drinking and we were told at that point it was just a matter of time. Therefore, it was no surprise when, a few days later, my stepmother called early one morning to tell me he had died. It was still dark out and the sun wouldn’t rise for another three hours, but I was wide awake, thinking about my father. I recall my husband and I exchanging a few brief words about whether or not I should call my siblings—he said to wait until later—and eventually I fell back asleep. 

Daisies in my garden.
I awoke twice that cold January morning before sunup. The first time was not too long after the call. I dreamed that my father was standing at my bedside, and he reached over and touched my ribcage. I felt  that touch. It startled me awake. As I lay there, thinking how vivid  that dream seemed, I wondered if it came about because of the phone call, probably mixing with memories of the TV show Pushing Daisies. Suddenly, my dog barked, jumped up from her corner, leaped onto our bed, ran across it, jumped off, raced around the room, then finally settled down. Mind you, my dog going crazy was within seconds of my waking up from the dream—and she had never done anything like this before. Ever.

Okay, creepy, but easy to justify, right? When I startled awake, it simply caught my dog by surprise. Simple. We must have woken each other. I waited for my heartbeat to slow and I fell asleep again. A couple of hours later, I hear my cell phone ringing in the living room. I have no idea who would call my cell phone at that hour, but I trudge out there to answer it. It’s my mother, calling out of the blue, at 5:30 AM. (If you knew my mother, you would know that this is not normal.) She figured I’d be on my way to work, sorry to wake me. I tell her my father died, so I am not going to work. She tells me she’s sorry to hear it. We have a brief discussion, probably about funerals, notifying siblings, that sort of thing, but it was a few minutes long, and I go back to bed. 

My husband is awake this time, I assume from hearing the phone ring, so I tell him about my dream and how the dog went ape right after. I explain how vivid it all seemed. He tells me "not to push this woo-woo thing further" but our youngest daughter just woke him. She brought a music box into our bedroom, because it started playing by itself.  He told her to put it on the dresser and go back to bed. I look over at the music box, which is one of four the twins have on a shelf several feet above their little beds.  Each is a different bird, and each plays a different song. Sparrow, cardinal, bluebird and robin. Is it a coincidence that my namesake, the robin, was playing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on its own? My daughter would’ve had to stand on the bed to get it down to bring to our room. What caused it to play on its own? 

Alice in Wonderland.
“I do believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do…”  (Bonus points if you can guess where that quote came from!) Some time after, I told this story to a few friends, only to discover that they've experienced similar ghostly phenomena after the death of someone close. It’s just not a thing they talked about—perhaps, because, unlike Lewis Carroll’s Tea Party, where all the best people are "bonkers," not everyone wants to admit they might have had a close encounter. But since I know I'm bonkers (just ask my kids), I'm not afraid to admit anything!

How about you, Rogue Readers? Do you believe in ghosts? I’d love to hear your stories.