Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Maine in spring with grandson, remembering book tours.
 by Gayle Lynds.  Springtime has traditionally been when my new novels are published, so I’ve never looked upon March as the Month of Madness.  But I must admit I’ve had some "interesting" experiences while on book tour.

There was the time I signed with a woman who was the daughter of a mob boss, and her son stood behind us, legs spread, shoulders square, and gaze constantly moving.  No one was gonna bother us, no sirree!

And they didn't.  In fact, it turned into a very nice evening, with her fans and my fans interested in both of our books.  I like my fans.  In the end, readers always save me.  Go figure – her book was a cozy!

Here’s another example....  A few years ago, I was on tour when I spotted my latest hardcover in a terrific display in an airport bookstore.

Thrilled, I picked up a stack and went inside and set them on the counter in front of the sales lady.  I took out my pen, explained I was the author, and offered to autograph the books.

She looked horrified. She explained she really couldn’t do that.

This wasn’t the welcome I’d hoped for. 

“No, no,” I said.  “I really did write these.  And I’d love to sign them for the store.” I added what seemed to me obvious: “Autographed books are usually easier to sell.”

By this time, a few other customers had heard and were gathering around.

She looked at the books and then at me.  “How do I know you wrote them?” she asked.

It was a challenge.

I took out my driver’s license ... this is the truth ... and showed her my name and the name on the book were the same.  Gayle Lynds.  Really.

“You could be another Gayle Lynds,” she said.

I opened up the dust jacket and showed her my photo.  “See, it’s me.”

I figured I had her at this point, but instead she looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t let you deface our books.”

I paused.  What could I say to that?  I mustered a courteous thank you, and started to leave.

“I’ll buy it if she signs it.”  It was a woman’s voice, a tall woman with gray hair and a twinkle in her eye.  “I believe her!”

Bless her.  And that turned the tide.  The crowd laughed, others said they'd buy it, too, and the clerk called the manager, who gave permission for me to autograph the books.  I signed the books, and with luck every damn one of them sold.

I am forever grateful to readers.  You guys keep saving me.  Happy March!  Happy spring!

Sunday, March 18, 2018


by Chris Goff

Elizabeth “Betty” Peet McIntosh (1915 to 2015)

During World War II, Betty worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of today’s CIA, lying in the line of duty.

Born in Washington DC, the daughter of a sportswriter, she attended Journalism school, then worked as a reporter for several newspapers. Based in Hawaii, she covered the attack on Pearl Harbor first-hand before returning to work in the Scripps Howard bureau in Washington D.C. It was there, while she was covering Eleanor Roosevelt, the then-first lady, that her supervisors asked her to write a story on a man named Atherton Richards.

It was 1943. Richards was the head of a firm working on the mechanization of the sugar cane industry. He was a friend of her father’s, and a difficult man to get into see. He was also an undercover operative of one of OSS’s top officials, General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan. When she finally wrangled an interview, Richards asked her if she’d ever thought of getting into a “more interesting line of work.”

No one ever used the word “spying,” but the intent was there and so was Betty’s interest. She only had one condition, that her job provide her an opportunity to work overseas. Donovan promised.

Betty ended up one of a few women assigned to OSS Morale Operations (MO), an organization that used the art of spycraft to outwit the Nazis and Japanese army. Fluent in Japanese, Betty was assigned to the Far East division tasked with creating “black propaganda,” rumors that our foreign adversaries would believe. She and her colleagues were taught how to create and disseminate a mixture of truth and fiction using basic tradecraft, the same skills taught to intelligence officers today.

The Far East division was made up primarily of media personnel—newspaper men, radio people, artists, cartoonists and writers. Needed for quick production, her team also included artists from China, as well as several captured Japanese soldiers. Stationed in India,their job was to create and disseminate information that would undermine Japanese troops. 

Already demoralized and retreating, the Japanese soldiers believed, if they surrendered, they would lose their birth right and not be able to return to Japan. Few Japanese would surrender. To countermand this belief, Betty and her colleagues forged an order permitting Japanese troops to surrender under certain circumstances. To pull it off, Betty enlisted the help of a Burmese OSS agent to kill a Japanese courier traveling through the jungle and plant the forged document in his backpack. When the Japanese retrieved the body of their agent, they found the order and deemed it real.

Another time, she delivered what appeared to be an ordinary lump of coal to a Chinese operative of the OSS near a train station in Kunming. It turned out to be packed with dynamite. Betty later told The Washington Post that the Chinese OSS agent took it aboard the train full of Japanese soldiers, waited for the train to cross a bridge over a lake, threw the coal into the engine and jumped out before the train exploded.

Photo credit:
Sometime later, ala Korea’s Seoul City Sue, Betty accompanied future famous chef Julia Child into China, where they worked in a “black radio station,” writing scripts meant to confuse Japanese listeners. At times the fictional scenarios weren’t far off the mark. Wanting to rattle the Chinese and Japanese, Betty created a script for the station’s resident fortune-teller to read on air predicting a catastrophic event. “We have checked with the stars and there is something we can’t even mention because it is so dreadful, and it is going to eradicate on whole area of Japan.” That day we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

Betty's "prediction" of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Japan, was pure coincidence. Colonel Richard Heppner, who later became her husband, later asked her how she knew what was coming, because it was so top secret. She replied, “we just made it up.”

At the war’s end, the OSS disbanded, and Betty returned to the US. For a while she worked for a fashion magazine in NYC, but she found the job boring. After she married, she moved back to DC and wrote a memoir entitled, Undercover Girl, and two children’s books. It wasn’t until 1959, after the death of her husband, that Betty talked the CIA into giving her a job.

What exactly she did for the agency remains a mystery. We know her job was similar to what she did for the OSS, but Betty knew how to keep a secret. She had signed a pledge not to reveal her work, and she kept that promise to the day she died.

During her time with the CIA, Betty remarried, and then, in 1973, she retired and wrote another book entitled, Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS. In it she pays homage to the brave women who served in the OSS as part of “Donovan’s Dreamers,” a group of “glorious amateurs who laid the foundation for the greatest intelligence organization in history.”

To us, Betty is a hero and a patriot. To our enemies, her acts could be deemed immoral. As espionage writers, we are tasked with the job of justifying the action of our “good spies.” 

My question to you, dear reader, are immoral actions ever okay?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018



by Sonja Stone

University of Oregon sign

100 hours doesn't seem like much, does it?

I've just returned to sunny Arizona after a long weekend in Oregon. I went to the University of Oregon to see a theater production--Mother Courage and Her Children. The performance lasted for three hours (and very much felt like it). To be fair, the show started at 7 pm, and I'm usually in bed by 8:15, so it's possible that the one hundred and eighty minutes it took to tell me about the Thirty Years War were necessary, but I found the play wanting an editor. However, the actors were phenomenal, the set exceptional, and the live music sublime. 

We packed a lot into the trip, which took place on the heels of my latest project, Cleaning Out The Garage. As I reviewed my cell phone photos on the plane ride home, I realized something: flipping through my photo stream is like peeking into my psyche. It's very disorganized and fragmented, with very little weaving the myriad threads together. I see something interesting and snap a picture. I currently have over 10,000 photos on my iPhone. My boyfriend is really good about looking through his pictures after every event, and immediately deleting those he doesn't like. 

I'm not that guy. 

Which brings me to the point of the following picture.

In January, 2017, I wrote a post about my New Year's Goals. This past January, as you may recall, I again discussed how I move my goals from the previous year to the current year because I never seem to complete anything. And always first and foremost on the list, organize the house, once and for all. It tops my to-dos every year, and every year it just doesn't happen. Well, not this year, my friends. 

A few weeks ago I started sorting through decades worth of treasures in my garage. I've discarded a lot, donated a lot, and still have a long way to go, but I found something equally charming and creepy tucked along the block wall by the electric door.

lizard eggs, Arizona
These are the cutest little things I've ever seen. Each was the size of my pinkie nail. I tried picking one up, but they're so fragile, it crushed between my fingers. So I took a picture.

After finding a stack of books to donate, I drove to the public library. It was time for a new library card, and I discovered my library now offers a choice of photo cards--and the cards include a mini version for your keychain. I was so charmed, I took a picture.

The next morning we flew from Phoenix to Portland, then drove to Eugene. It rained the whole first day, which is always a treat for those of us from Arizona. So much so, in fact, that I felt the need to snap a picture of this rainy highway sign:

The following day we went for a hike. Notice me in my parka. Anything under 74 degrees is chilly. (This one is actually a legit time to have captured a memory on film. Also, I airbrushed myself with an awesome iPhone app called Facetune. I'm telling you this because I love and respect you.)

hiking in Eugene, Oregon
The last day, we drove along the coast to return to the Portland airport, and stopped for a hike and a walk along the beach. The tidal pools inside rocky crevices teemed with muscles, barnacles, and sea anemone. About 100 of the new pictures I took over the four day period are of sea creatures. Why do I need 100 photographs of sea anemone? Time will tell...

the Oregon Coast

Finally, back at the airport, I snapped a picture of one of my favorite bookstores, the infamous Powell's Books. WHY? Why do I need a picture of the storefront of Powell's Books at the Portland airport? What possible use will I ever have for such a photograph?

Powell's Books, Portland Airport
So my organizing continues to progress in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance. I toss a box of old clothes, I take fifty new pictures. 

I have to admit, the digital clutter snuck up on me. I didn't even see it coming.

What about you? What's your vacation collectible? Where are your hidden stores of stuff? Confess in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tips for When Writer's Block Hits

I love this piece of art at the Riverside Public Library in Illinois. The little red book by the typist says "20,000 words." I think I know the artist, but want to check and will update this post once it's confirmed, but for now suffice to say this is how I feel on any given day.

Writing sometimes feels like you're disgorging your dreams directly from your brain onto the typewriter. That's when the words are flowing and you know exactly what you want to convey. Well, not exactly, because you're going to revise, revise and revise again, but for the moment, when the words are flowing, it feels great.

And for those times when they're not? I have a few tips for that.

First: Research.

While I don't advocate stopping a regular flow of words to research, when you're blocked a little can go a long way to unblocking you. Often research gives you an insight into a character. I was halfway through my first book in the Covert One series, The Janus Reprisal, and looking into financial shenanigans when I came upon the (then) rare world of Bitcoins. I loved the idea of a currency not tied to any country, not subject to regulation and freely mined on the Internet. I resolved to buy some, but once I read that they were created by a Japanese man no one had ever seen or even was sure existed, I backed off. Suffice to say I wish I have bought them now! But just reading about them gave me an idea for a character in the story.

Second: Exercise

When I'm really blocked I head out for a run. Right now I'm writing in California (see my road trip post here) and I have the luck of being a block or two from the gorgeous beach in the photo you see below. I run there, kick off my shoes, and continue to run barefoot. By the time I'm done, I usually have some inspiration. Exercising rarely fails me and I highly recommend it.

Third: Power Through

Sometimes when you're blocked you just have to power through the moment, refusing to leave your chair until you've written your daily requirement, whatever that may be. After staring at the computer for half an hour I'll sometimes tell myself "Okay, done. You have forty five minutes to write one thousand words. Now GO!" I start pounding the keys and the self imposed deadline seems to motivate me. While I don't always make those thousand words in that short of time, I always end up getting it done within a few minutes of the goal. Which tells me that deadlines motivate me in a way that nothing else will.

I hope these tips help the writers out there that find themselves staring at a blank screen in frustration. We've all been there, and you're not alone. Write on!

 Best, Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Great Books and Films about Great Spies

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Stories and films about spies, real and fictional, have always been popular but seem to have engendered even more readers and movie-goers of late.  Many are on the bestseller lists and even heading for a theater near you.  This weekend we'll see the opening of the new movie "Red Sparrow" starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of a former Russian ballerina who is recruited to be a Russian spy and sent to "Sparrow School" to learn the art of seducing her targets. .

Jennifer Lawrence
 This one is based on the terrific thriller of the same name by Jason Matthews, a member of International Thriller Writers.  (our Rogue colleague, Gayle Lynds was a founder of the organization). I remember attending our annual conference, "Thrillerfest" at the Grand Hyatt in New York when Jason was given the award for Best First Novel. Now in addition to the film, his third thriller, The Kremlin's Candidate, featuring the same characters, was just released.

While these books are works of fiction, they are all inspired by Matthews' 30 plus years' of experience serving as a CIA agent in Russia. Verisimilitude indeed!

And while the New York Times Review of Books usually features literary fiction and non-fiction, I saw that last Sunday they asked Jason Matthews to give his list of great books about great spies -- several featured Russian operatives who ended up spying for the United States.  

Oleg Penkovsky
One of those spies was Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in the GRU -- Soviet military intelligence -- and the highest level Soviet officer to spy for us and Great Britain at the time. He volunteered to help western intelligence and was handled by both MI6 and the CIA.  His story was written by Jerrold Schecter and Peter Deriabin in their terrific book, The Spy Who Saved the World. Penkovsky provided us and our allies with papers about Soviet military systems along with the location of launch sites. But his greatest contribution was giving us information during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the KGB started watching him, eventually arrested, tried and killed him for his "treachery."

Another Russian  that our agents recruited was Adolf Tolkachev, an aviation specialist working on stealth technology.  He left notes on the cars of US diplomats near the American Embassy in Moscow saying he wanted to meet with CIA officials.  His life as an informer was described in a recent non-fiction book that many say "reads like a high-tech thriller." The title, The Billion Dollar Spy, is by David Hoffman and was taken from case files of the CIA. As for Tolkachev's demise, he was finally arrested and executed by the Russians in 1986.

Of course, in addition to men who gave our country incalculable information, these blogs have featured many female spies who made enormous contributions.  I'd like to add one more: Nancy Wake, an elusive American spy whom the Gestapo dubbed the "White Mouse." She was among the most decorated secret agents of the Second World War. Born in New Zealand she was described as "a good-looking girl with a streak of rebelliousness."  At a young age, she set off to explore New York and Europe, supporting herself as a freelance journalist.

Nancy Wake

After Hitler's rise, when she heard from refugees about Nazi brutality and the persecution of Jews, she said, "If I ever get a chance, I would do anything to make things more difficult for that rotten Nazi party." And so she did. Parachuting into France, she embarked on a double life as a courier, establishing an escape route from Vichy France across the mountains into Spain. In fact, she escorted escapees and also provided a safe house in the  Alps. Nancy was also involved in ambushing German convoys, destroying bridges and railway lines and was on a raid that destroyed a Gestapo's headquarters leaving 38 Germans dead.  She described it as "the most exciting sortie I ever made.  I entered the building by the back door, raced up the stairs, opened the first door, threw in my grenades and ran like hell." The incredible story of Nancy's life was told by Peter Fitzsimons in this bestselling book. Her exploits were also made into a fascinating documentary. But unlike those Soviet spies listed above, Nancy led a good life and died at the age of 97!

Now, do you have a favorite book or movie about a famous spy to share with us and our readers? Please leave a comment and tell us about it. Thanks for visiting us here at Rogue Women Writers.

...Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


by K.J. Howe

Stories about double agents pepper the annals of the history of spies, stories showcasing misplaced trust and betrayal.  Still, how could a soft-spoken physician become a triple agent, deceiving those who live and breathe the trade?   That is exactly what happened on December 30, 2009 when a doctor named Humam Khalili al-Balawi arrived at a CIA base near Khost, Afghanistan.  Although little was known about the doctor, he breezed through security checks with his promise of intelligence on al-Qaeda.  The end result was the deadliest strike against the CIA in 25 years.  Balawi detonated his explosive vest, killing seven CIA officers, two other personnel, and himself.  The shock wave rippled straight up to Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time.  How could the elite experts on tradecraft have become victims of this triple agent?

The story starts in January 2009, when a Jordanian Mukhabarat intelligence officer named Ali bin Zeid brought in a mild-mannered doctor named Balawi who treated the poor in Palestinian refugee camps.  Balawi had adopted several online personas in highly inflammatory anti-Western blogs.  After three days of interrogation, Balawi "cracked," and Zeid believed he could use him to further his cause.  Sending Balawi into Pakistan was a gamble, but the joint approach of the Mukhabarat and CIA was to imbed as many long shots as possible in an attempt to penetrate al-Qaeda's inner circle.  A grave miscalculation.

After the young doctor was released by the Mukhabarat, bin Zeid attempted to woo him by sharing tales of the Mukhabarat's exploits and offering large sums of money in exchange for tips about al-Qaeda's leadership.  Although Balawi didn't speak Pashto, he had lived in South Waziristan for several months where he met Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander.  Balawi offered to travel to the tribal areas of Pakistan.  Several months passed with no word, but then a video arrived with Balawi sitting with senior al-Qaeda officials in a tent.  Working his way into the inner circle, Balawi was treating Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command.

In retrospect, there were many red flags in Balawi's background.  While the doctor claimed to abhor violence and disavowed his extreme online rhetoric as a hobby, he had tried to join the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi insurgency in Iraq.  Also, while living in Turkey, Balawi and his future wife, Defne, had translated books about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  And, they named their first daughter after an infamous female Palestinian hijacker, and their second daughter after a woman who had made a film about the hijacker.

When Balwali shared that he could lead the CIA to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Americans were excited and wanted to meet him in person.  There were a few skeptics, including Darren LaBonte, bin Zeid's CIA counterpart and friend in Amman.  He felt that this manna from heaven was too good to be true.  Sadly, he was correct.

Balawi and his wife who was supportive of his anti-American sentiments.
It's difficult to believe that there was no formal counterintelligence vetting of Balawi.  Three suggested reasons for this oversight include the CIA being too busy with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that Balawi had been recruited by an allied intelligence service, and the sad truth that top policymakers were too eager to deal a serious blow to al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.  The bomber infiltrated a highly secure base by duping both the CIA and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department who believed he was a trusted informant.  Balawi walked around the side of the car that brought him into camp, began chanting in Arabic, 'God is great,' and hit the detonation switch on his 30-pound suicide vest, killing ten people and proving there is no greater threat than the triple agent.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Josephine Baker – Le Jazz Hot and Le Hot Spy

 S. Lee Manning: I have an affinity for jazz, France, and spies, so for my post this month, I chose to celebrate someone who combined all three.

Many people know that Josephine Baker was an American jazz star, celebrated in France, who in her later years worked for civil rights.

Did you also know she was a spy? While most spies strive to be invisible, Josephine’s very fame allowed her to become a valuable asset against the Nazis.

Her story starts with a rise from poverty to stardom.

Josephine Baker was born in a poor black neighborhood in St. Louis and was hired out to a white woman as a maid when she was eight years old. At sixteen, she joined a dance troop and eventually wound her way to New York and the Cotton Club.

She took the last name of a man she’d married briefly in 1921. In 1925, she left for Paris, which offered her freedoms not available to a black woman in the United States and became an international sensation, promoting “le jazz hot.”

Appearing almost naked except for a string of rubber bananas around her waist, she sparked an
international craze for banana-clad Josephine Baker dolls. By 1936, she was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world. She lived the glamorous life of a star, covered with jewels, strolling in Paris with her pet cheetah. In 1936, she traveled back to New York for a show, but horrified by the prejudice against her as a black woman performer, she returned to Paris. In 1937, she became a French citizen.

The start of World War II changed everything.

In 1939, she toured the front lines, doing shows for the French soldiers. But her more secret work came with her recruitment by the Deuxieme Bureau, the French intelligence service.  As a star, she attended embassy parties thrown by the Italian and Japanese embassies, and diplomats would attend her glamorous affairs – which put her in a perfect position to overhear information.

She would scribble information on her arms, even her hands, and report back to Jacque Abtey, her handler. She brushed off the risk to herself, saying no one would suspect her.

Following the fall of France, things became more dangerous.

Abtey, who was also her lover, holed up in her estate. After the Germans in August 1940 banned black and Jewish entertainers from appearing on stage, Abney and Josephine devised a plan for her to take information from France to British intelligence. With Abtey posing as her ballet instructor, Josephine traveled to Lisbon for a scheduled performance, delivering notes written in invisible ink on her music. The two succeeded in their mission and received new orders. From Lisbon, they traveled to Casablanca to set up a liaison station.

In Casablanca, she continued to mingle with diplomats and continued to gather information. Abtey remained in Casablanca, while she traveled back and forth to Lisbon. According to legend, she not only concealed messages on her music, but also would pin messages inside her bra. After a stillbirth, she was hospitalized in Casablanca for eighteen months. After the Americans captured the city, she was tapped by General De Gaulle to entertain troops in North Africa, and her image was used for propaganda for the Free French.

At the end of the war, her efforts earned her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Resistance.

After the war, her life was tumultuous, and she lost most of her fortune. But she continued to fight for civil rights. While not a featured speaker during King’s 1963 March on Washington, she offered her thoughts during the introduction to the main speakers, saying in that address: I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents... But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee….

In 1975, she died of a stroke at the age of 68, a few days after her last appearance on the stage. Twenty thousand people lined the streets of Paris to say farewell – and she received a 21-gun salute,
making her the first American woman to be buried in France with full military honors.

Bravo, Josephine, a true rogue woman.