Tuesday, June 19, 2018


by K.J. Howe

The bottom line for our thriller protagonists is getting results:  stopping the crime, discovering the truth, thwarting the threat, defusing the bomb.  Usually, thrillers end with a grand finale that satisfies the reader’s moral and social worldview. Justice is done.  The bad guys pay for their sins, the protagonist triumphs.  But if that outcome is expected—even demanded—what keeps the suspense in suspense novels?  The real question underlying most thriller novels is not “if” the protagonist will succeed, but rather “how” the protagonist will succeed, and which secondary characters will still be standing on the last page.

The tools of the trade for the action hero are both legion and well understood.   There’s always the standard arsenal of firearms, knives, grenades, fast cars, and a well-executed roundhouse to the face.  But to stand out in a crowd of Glocks and Uzis, the author must expand the hero’s toolbox, adding in new ways of conquering obstacles to surprise and entertain readers.

In my Freedom Broker series, Thea Paris is a crisis response consultant who travels to the globe’s hot spots bringing hostages back to their families.  Faced with a kidnapping scenario, the first tool she reaches for is negotiation.  Orchestrating a deal that guarantees the safety of the captive is paramount.  Hey, why fire a shot when you can talk your way out of trouble?

It’s the ideal time to be writing a character who uses negotiation as their “go to” tool.  Many top universities have entire departments dedicated to studying negotiation science.  Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and other elite institutions are publishing a steady stream of studies and articles that explore how the human mind works, both as an individual and as part of a group.  And experts are exploring how this knowledge can be used to shape effective negotiating techniques.  This burgeoning field of negotiation science is a gold mind of ideas for a character who saves lives with her wits (and, hey, those tactical skills don’t hurt as back up).

Even the real field of hostage recovery is being reshaped by this research.  Top security companies are now recruiting more women freedom brokers because the data indicates that they are empathic—which is a key skill when dealing with a hostage’s family—and are often better able to discern the precise emotional state of the captors.  They also instinctively know how to de-escalate.  Further, evidence indicates that male kidnappers from a hyper-masculine culture are less likely to become angry, take affront, or become competitive when they are negotiating with a woman than with another man.  Thus negotiation science tells us that women can often enhance the hostage’s safety in many circumstances.

Negotiation science offers other interesting ideas that can drive the plot and shape character.  The power of language is emphasized.  Certain words are so hardwired into us as human beings that when they are used properly, we can’t help but have certain emotional reactions to them.  These words and phrases vary slightly between languages and cultures, but their power is undeniable.  Weaving them into dialogue makes the story more realistic and exciting. 

Some of this powerful language includes the word “because.”   Simply using this word in negotiation greatly increases the chance of an offer being accepted.  Why? Humans are evolutionarily programmed to want to work together, and the use of “because” says “I’m not invading your territory or demanding your obedience—I just need your assistance for good reason.”  The word “fair” also has powerful subconscious impact.  Phrases like “I’m willing to consider” offer tactical advantage because they show an openness to certain approaches without committing to a fixed position.  The examples and sophistication level of these techniques are virtually limitless.

The field of neuro-linguistic programming also influences writers.  For example, the art and science of reading “micro-expressions” like eye movement or facial muscle movement to understand what a person is actually feeling.  While the technique has not yet reached the stage where someone’s intentions can be read like a book, the micro-expressions can give vital clues to motives and honesty at key moments.  Plenty of story potential here.

The literature provides many fruitful areas to explore:  how to structure offers, when to concede for maximum reciprocity, how to create value, how to motivate people to act or not act based on the way an offer is designed or delivered, how to handle the pacing of offers, how to seize control of the process.  The list is endless.  Simply reading an article or book covering the latest developments in the field can provide countless new plot ideas.

In the same way that new medical breakthroughs can drive change in medical thrillers and quantum computing advances can create seismic shifts in the field of techo-thrillers, developments in the field of negotiation science have the potential to enliven and enrich our storytelling, from a police interrogation to a hostage negotiation.  While the debate on whether to deploy a direct or indirect closing technique may never reach quite the same level as the 5.56 mm vs. 7.62 mm discussion, conquering obstacles in this fresh way can leave antagonists befuddled—and this can be just as rewarding as leaving them battered and bloodied.

Sunday, June 17, 2018


S. Lee Manning: As I write this, I am glancing over at the picture of a young handsome man in an Ohio State baseball uniform. His arms raised, he is winding up to throw the pitch. He’s fresh out of the service, studying journalism and hoping to become a writer. He never did. Instead he went into advertising. 

Years later, he taught me how to throw a baseball and how to hit, pushed me to write, wept when I left Cincinnati for New York, and wept when I returned for a visit. 

This is the fourth Father’s Day without him, and I can feel the tears rising in my eyes just thinking about him.
My Dad, who almost made it to the Cincinnati Reds

June is the month of love and marriages. It seemed like the perfect month to write about love and protagonists in thrillers, which is why it’s the topic of the month on RWW – should we choose to write the topic of the month. I was contemplating writing on spies and romance – and then I realized that my post would be out on Father’s Day. 

Somehow Father’s Day doesn’t seem to have the cultural emotional outpouring that Mother’s Day does. Fathers wind up receiving the ceremonial golf balls or ties, and then stand at the grill to cook hot dogs and hamburgers in their own honor. But little is said about their importance in our lives. So in honor of the two men closest to my heart, my late and beloved Dad, Lou Katz, Louie Baby, and my wonderful husband, Jim, the father of my two children, it’s time to correct this wrong. 

And after all, if the topic is love, maybe the place to start is with fathers – if you were lucky enough to have a good one. 

So here’s to my Dad who bought me my first guitar, who loved to hear me sing, who hated a column I wrote in my early twenties but defended me against anyone who dared to criticize me. Here’s to my Dad who took me for ice cream and to hit golf balls, who pitched softballs, making me the best softball player in the fifth grade, and who took me swimming and to Cincinnati’s Coney Island. Here’s to my Dad who accepted my non-Jewish boyfriend (who would become my husband) the first time I brought him home, despite the disapproval of my mother and other more orthodox family members. Here’s to my Dad who always thought I was a better person than I am, who believed in me when I sometimes didn’t believe in myself.
Jim with our daughter Jenny.

Jim with our son Dean

And here’s to Jim who slept in a blue chair next to my hospital bed for two weeks when I had to be hospitalized after breaking my water at 24 weeks pregnant with our oldest child. Here’s to Jim who left his job early every day for three months to visit our newborn baby in the ICU – which wound up hampering that job, who, when I was pregnant with our son and on bed rest for seven months, took care of our five-year-old daughter after getting home from a long day at work. Here’s to Jim who spent years commuting long distances to difficult jobs - for his family.  Here’s to Jim for putting up with – and eventually forgiving – members of my family who took years to accept that I’d married a non-Jew. Here’s to Jim for wanting the best for both of his children, for accepting and supporting their choices in life.

I wouldn’t be the person I am without my father – or without Jim. 

Happy Father’s Day. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Douglas Preston Goes Rogue

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

We are delighted to welcome great thriller writer Doug Preston as our Rogue guest blogger today. 

Doug is the author of thirty-five books, both fiction and non-fiction... New York Times bestsellers....several reaching the number 1 position!  This great writer has worked as an editor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and taught nonfiction writing at Princeton University. He is known for collaborating with another terrific author, Lincoln Child. Publishers Weekly describes the duo this way: they "stand head and shoulders above their rivals." Doug wrote his first novel, RELIC, with "Linc" and it was made into a movie by Paramount Pictures

Doug Preston and Linc Child

We invited Doug to tell us where he gets the inspiration for his novels and what the latest one is about. Here's his story: 

One of the most common questions a novelist gets is, Where do you get your ideas? Often the ideas come like a bolt out of the blue with no known source. But others often come out of our life experiences—especially my work as a journalist.

            Linc and I have an unusual way of working. He will often read some article I wrote for a magazine, ponder it, and come up with an amazing idea for a novel. RIPTIDE was borne this way, from a novel I wrote about the Oak Island treasure in Smithsonian Magazine. Read it here .

When I wrote an article about prehistoric cannibalism for the New Yorker, Linc read it and came up with the idea for THUNDERHEAD.

            This is how it often works: I’ll research some strange phenomenon, and Linc will work his imaginative magic on it and turn it into a brilliant novel.
            The Gideon Crew series is one where this method of working has been particularly fruitful.  The first novel we wrote in the series, GIDEON’S SWORD, came out of research I was doing on historic burial grounds. I stumbled across an article on the web about Hart Island, the largest “Potter’s Field” in the world, where the indigent dead from New York City have been interred since the Civil War. I learned that there is an area on Hart Island where amputated limbs from hospitals are buried, even though the original owners are still going about their business, very much alive. This was due to certain religious beliefs, in which human body parts must be buried with religious rites and not discarded as medical waste. I told Linc this idea and he came up with the brilliant concept that a scientist is smuggling an object of immense scientific value into the United States hidden inside the flesh of his leg. He is involved in a car accident, the leg is amputated and buried on Hart Island—and then it has to be retrieved. That retrieval involved a scene of dueling backhoes and other excitement.
            But perhaps the longest gestating idea of all is the one at the heart of this last novel in the Gideon series, THE PHARAOH KEY, which was published on Tuesday, June 12. It came out of a story I wrote for the New Yorker magazine back in 1996. Read it here  

 An archaeologist named Kent Weeks had discovered a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, known as KV5. It turned out to be the largest tomb ever found in the valley—the final resting place for the fifty or so sons of Ramesses the Great. The tomb was vast. 
Thebes Mapping Project 
At the time I arrived, Kent and his team had already uncovered 97 rooms in the tomb, many of which were blocked by debris and had not yet been entered.
            When I was a child, I often fantasized of being the first one to enter an Egyptian tomb, but when I grew up I realized that all the tombs had been discovered and even if one or two still remained, I’d never be the first in one anyway.
            But when I got to KV5, I realized that maybe my childhood dream could come true. I asked Kent if I could be the first one into one of those blocked chambers.
            “Absolutely not,” he said. “It would be highly irregular.”
            “It would make a great ending to my article,” I said.
            I pleaded with him for a while and he finally said, “Oh well, all right. I don’t see any harm in it.” He pointed out that the tomb had been thoroughly robbed in antiquity anyway, with not much left of value. “Just don’t touch anything.”
            So he brought me way into the very back of the tomb, through several pillared chambers, down one long corridor and to the end of another. He picked out the smallest, meanest, least significant doorway he could find and said, “How about this one?”
            I was thrilled.
            He directed his archaeology workmen to break through the debris blocking the very top of the door below the lintel, making a hole big enough for a person to fit in. Two workmen threaded a light in a cage through the space and then, to my consternation, picked me up and shoved me head first through the opening. I fell into the room, choking in dust, rubbed my eyes and looked around.
            “What do you see?” I heard Kent’s voice from outside.
            “Gold—everywhere the glint of gold.”
            There was a short silence and then I heard him burst out, “Bullshit! You’re just quoting what Howard Carter said! You’re pulling my chain!”
            The room was, in fact, trashed and thoroughly robbed, the ceiling partially caved in, with nothing but broken stuff lying all around—and not a hint of gold. Later Kent told me I had given him one of the worst moments of his life, thinking that he had just ceded a fabulous discovery to some unworthy journalist.
            This long-winded story finally brings us back around to THE PHARAOH KEY. Linc read that article I wrote in the New Yorker and was captivated.
            “We’ve got to figure out how to turn this into a novel,” he said. We talked about it, and talked again, but we just couldn’t come up with that stunningly original idea.
            That was twenty years ago. Every few years, he’d bring it up again. “Surely there’s some way to turn your Egyptian experience into a novel!” and we’d brainstorm again, and again, but we were never satisfied with our ideas. Ancient Egypt, it must be said, has been thoroughly mined by fiction writers. We just couldn’t come up with that truly original idea -- one that would surprise, thrill, and delight the reader.
            That is, until two years ago, when Linc once again brought it up. We brainstormed yet again—and suddenly the central idea to THE PHARAOH KEY popped up. That’s it! We cried. Finally we had that truly original, unexpected, and fresh idea that had not been used by anyone else, but was historically accurate and believable. 

            THE PHARAOH KEY opens like this (don’t worry—no spoilers here):

            The company Gideon Crew and his partner Manuel Garza works for is suddenly shut down and the head of the company, Eli Glinn, vanishes. The two are given an hour to collect their belongings and vacate the premises. It is the most ignoble of terminations -- until they decide to rip off EES on their way out.
            What they steal is a translation completed by EES of a three thousand year old clay disc. The “translation” turns out to be not a translation at all, but a strange sort of map to a desperately remote location in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. But it says nothing about what is there—it only gives the place. Is it a tomb? Buried riches? The lost gold mine of the pharaohs? Gideon and Garza, angry at having been fired, decide to journey to the unknown place and, if they find anything of value, steal it from EES.

            And thus was born THE PHARAOH KEY......Doug Preston

What an incredible story. Thanks, Doug, for sharing your research with us here on Rogue Women Writers. Now, I hope you will leave a comment and share your own methods of research  (whether it's for writing a story, planning a trip -- whatever) and tell us how it all compares with the terrific work by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

....Karna Small Bodman

Sunday, June 10, 2018

From Russia With Love

Or what I did on vacation...

The film "To Russia With Love" played on the cruise ship's big screen by the pool the night before we sailed into St. Petersburg. Passengers lounged on the deck chairs, side tables littered with drink glasses, munching popcorn and wearing Bose headphones to maximize the sound experience. Never mind that the movie took place in Turkey, where Bond was sent to assist in the defection of a Soviet consulate clerk, and where SPECTRE planned to avenge Bond's killing of Dr. No. We were headed to Russia.

At around 11:00 p.m., I closed the blackout shades on the sunset. At 7:00 a.m., I took pictures of the view entering the harbor at St. Petersburg.

I'm sure you notice from the pictures the same things we did. First there was the smog. It saturated the air. Then there were the nuclear reactors rimming the harbor. The cooling towers only omit vapor, so they aren't the source of the pollution, but there's no denying their presence.
Border Control

The one thing we discovered as we planned our trip is that you cannot venture into Russia unless you're on a cruise tour or have a personal visa.

The personal visa is expensive. You must have a valid reason for visiting, and you need a Russian sponsoring organization or individual. If you're going as a tourist, you also need to have a "contract for provision of tourist services" with a tourist organization registered with the Russian Federal Tourism Agency. Be prepared to give fingerprints, proof of medical insurance, documents of ownership of property in the US, certificates verifying family membership, a salary certification from your employer, and bank statements. You must list all areas of Russia you intend to visit (there are restricted areas), and if you violate your visa hours of arrival and departure there will be penalties. THEN, there's the cost—anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to as much as eight hundred to one thousand dollars—and when you go through border control, expect to be questioned.

If you're going ashore with a cruise tour, it's simple. The cruise ship arranges visas for their passengers. You are given documentation showing the tour you're taking, when it departs, when it returns, and you simply pass through border control and go ashore—unless Russia decides you aren't welcome at the time you arrive and you simply cannot disembark. According to the cruise director, it's happened.

Fortunately, we were allowed to take the tours we'd signed up for. Every tour we had to pass through border control, pass back through border control, and then pass through border control again for each consecutive tour—even if
they were scheduled back to back. The fact the Russians are serious became clear when, just before departure, we were not allowed to reenter Russia through border control to mail postcards in a postbox visible from the guard station. Reason? We didn't have a visa to do that.

The tours we took were phenomenal.

The first day we visited Peterhof Palace and Gardens, then took a Panoramic tour of the city by coach. The guide was knowledgeable and forthcoming, but the crowds of tourist groups were brutal. Stern-faced museum guards marched us through the palace rooms, not allowing anyone to stop and pause over an exhibit, just to keep things moving. And, getting a picture of the fountain without a sea of people was impossible. I was even body-slammed out of the way by an Asian woman with a selfie stick who clearly wanted the photo more than I.

The second day was more our style. We had signed up for a canal tour of St. Petersburg, a visit to Peter and Paul Fortress (where the Romanoffs are all buried)—and yes, Anastasia is there. We encountered sunbathers à la Putin (men tanned to a deep brown, wearing speedos and flexing their muscles at the edge of the Neva River) and a scout jamboree. We ate lunch at the Restaurant Metropol, Gregoriy Rasputin's favorite hangout, and a spot popular with St. Petersburg's intellectuals such as poets, artists, journalists and students. In later years, the VIP Hall was reserved for local Party Elite and visiting dignitary. Today, it's open to everyone and serves strictly Russian cuisine.

We had a little extra time before lunch, and as our luck would have it, there was an Ice Cream Festival taking place on the square adjacent. I asked if we could go, and our guide, Maria, looked surprised. She asked how many would like to walk around the festival for the twenty minutes we had to wait. Only about half of us were game. Interesting. The rest stayed in the lobby of the Metropol under the management watchful eye, while the rest of us were led down an alley to a back entrance to the festival. In route Maria revealed that she had never, in her nine years of leading trips, ever been able to take a group to a local event.

The pièce de résistance was a visit to the Hermitage, where they were preparing the square for a ballet and musical performance.We visited the French Impressionists building—my favorite type of art. I was in heaven.
Things I learned from our guide that stuck with me:

1. When the Soviets decided everyone should own land, each citizen was given their share—4 sq. meters, or approximately 36 sq. feet.

2. The average middle class and above middle class family live in apartments of approximately 450 sq. feet.

3. There are still people who choose to live in kommunalkas (communal living apartments). Each family gets one room that belongs to them and then they share a kitchen and bathroom with six or seven other families. Each family is allowed to keep one bar of soap in a special soap dish and one towel hanging in the bathroom. The kitchens usually have multiple stoves. Cleaning is shared.

4. Much of the repairs to the city were actually facades. If you look behind the facade, you discover crumbling buildings. According to Maria, "The people also put on a happy face because they are taught to be happy with what they have. There's not much else we can do."

Would I go back to Russia? In a heartbeat. But, I think I would want to try and arrange for a personal visa. Do you think they'd issue a work visa for an espionage writer?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

THE MOONLIGHTING CURSE: And No, We're NOT Talking Werewolves

June. Love is in the air, weddings abound, and this month's topic is "love and the single spy."

And that begs the question: Is it possible for spies to have a love life? I can only imagine this is a balancing act for the real-life spy, especially when the stakes are high. But what about their fictional counterparts? And how do you sustain this love-life in a multi-book series?

starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepher on my desktop.
For those of us old enough to have watched the TV series Moonlighting, we probably remember how the two main characters, Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, walked a tightrope as they tried to work together while denying their sexual attraction. (Okay, they were PIs, not spies, but the example holds.) The fans tuned in each week for the will-they/won’t-they-EVER-get-together set-up. And then, one day, it happened. The two got together. And the show went downhill from there. 

In fact, the ratings dive was so significant, it’s known in the TV writing world as the “Moonlighting Effect” or “Moonlighting Curse.”  In novels and movies, that push/pull of the (often) main characters as they deny their sexual attraction is an integral part of the story. Sure, we tune in for the weekly episode to see if they survive, solve the mystery, save the world. But when it comes right down to it, what we really tune in for are the characters.  We are invested in them. We want to root for them. We like it when there’s a love interest. In fact, we love it when there’s a love interest. The most successful movies/books quite often have some element of romance in it. Why? It’s not about the sex. Not totally. Nor is it all about the sexual tension which can add depth to the story. 

What it’s really about is conflict. 

That, Rogue Readers, is a word dreaded by almost all new writers. We know good conflict when we see it, but creating it is a lot harder than it seems. We’re not talking about the little fights and misunderstandings easily resolved. We’re talking about the major stumbling blocks and obstacles that keep our protagonist from reaching his/her goal.  Without conflict, at least in the romantic sense, we get to the “Moonlighting Effect” much faster.  The whole idea is to keep the viewer or reader glued to the seat, anxious to turn the pages to see how these two are going to get together—if they’re going to get together. (Should you be wondering how this pertains to spy thrillers, think 007. Every James Bond flick managed good conflict and sexual tension in each and every incarnation. It’s why the movies are still very popular.)

We watch (or read) a story, that, if it’s done well, has us feeling that essential chemistry between the two characters. We want to know more. And, just when we think “ha!” they’re going to get together, that pesky conflict gets in the way. Or the bad guy gets in the way. Or the kids, the ex, etc., etc. 

Case in point. The Sydney Fitzpatrick FBI forensic artist series. Sydney, the main character, an FBI agent and forensic artist, meets up with Zachary Griffin in book two of the series, THE BONE CHAMBER. They are definitely attracted to each other. Problem is, they work for two different agencies, usually on opposing sides with completely different goals. Knowing I wanted the series to run the length of several books at least, I had to come up with some clever ways to keep them apart. By the fifth and last book of the series, THE KILL ORDER, we know/hope these two are destined to be together. But, we also learn that Griffin technically is under orders to kill Sydney. (Remember those opposing sides I talked about?) So, what’s a spy to do? Well, clearly the book is about how they get around that particular obstacle--while saving the world. 

I must have gotten something right, since THE KILL ORDER was named as one of Library Journal’s Best Thrillers of 2014.

But what happens when your spies are married? Now that I’m co-writing with Clive Cussler on the Sam and Remi Fargo books, I have a whole new set of issues. Okay, technically, they’re not really spies, they’re treasure hunters, and in our most recent outing, THE GRAY GHOST (5/29/18), the Fargos are hunting for the stolen prototype of the 1906 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Even so, this husband/wife duo fight off villains evil enough to give James Bond a run for his money. (And without all the cool spy gadgets, too.) Regardless, Sam and Remi are happily married, so no worries about the Moonlighting Effect dampening the novels. 

And that, Rogue Readers, presents a whole new challenge. How to add conflict and excitement to a multi-book series with married protagonists. 

What I’ve discovered after co-writing our third Fargo book (the 11thin the series) is that the surrounding characters, new and old, can pick up the slack in creating obstacles and conflict that help to enhance the story. In THE GRAY GHOST, the conflict comes from the past, an old journal telling a story of cousins at the turn of the century, which in turn leads to clues and conflict in the present-day story as the Fargos hunt for the stolen Gray Ghost. I think Cussler and I pulled it off quite nicely in this book. So far, the reviews have been very positive, with Kirkus giving THE GRAY GHOST a starred review.

So, Rogue Readers, I’m wondering if you have any examples of the “Moonlighting Curse” in anything that you’ve watched on TV or read in a favorite series? Leave a comment and I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a free copy of the audio CD version of THE GRAY GHOST (read by the incomparable Scott Brick). 

I’d love to hear what you think!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Writing and Renovation

Writing and Renovation

       My summer plans? Changing the look of my kitchen. It will be a process, and that made me realize how many similarities steps there are in both a home reno project and writing a novel.

1. The sudden idea. The impetus for my first published book sprang to my mind after reading two particularly gruesome murder mysteries. Lying in bed on my day off as my husband got ready for work, I found myself saying: “I’m going to write a book in which the killer doesn’t harm a hair on the victim’s head, barely even touches them…until he encases their legs in cement and drops them in the river.” The kitchen cabinets had a less positive beginning—one day I walked in and decided that 18 years with the builder’s minimum was enough. Hey, I wrote my first screenplay simply because after watching yet another ill-advised remake of a 70’s TV show, decided I could do better. (Not naming any names, Dark Shadows.)

2. Research. In Trail of Blood, a good chunk of the book occurred in 1935. How did cops investigate crimes without DNA, videotapes, and Google? Who knew that spaghetti was the hip thing to eat, like kale or power grains today? Who knew that there was paint made just for laminate? 

3. Planning decisions. What is going to happen, and in what order? This is of vital importance in mysteries as the protagonist discovers clues, suspects try to hide the clues, and the writer drops clues designed to go unnoticed because their importance is not yet apparent. In That Darkness, as seemingly unrelated deaths occur, each one brings Maggie a clue as to their connection to homicide detective Jack Renner. In my kitchen I could—provided I could afford it—replace the cabinets, or change the doors. Paint, or re-laminate?   

4. Juggling. How many subplots are too many? When does the perky comic relief seem forced? Jack has a partner, Riley, who always has a snappy comment and a lunch menu on hand. But have I handcuffed this perfectly intelligent character into a role of sidekick? (Though where would a cop story be without the trusty sidekick?) And can I trust any contractor to show up on time for the long process of sand, prime, paint and paint again?

5. Stretch, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. In Perish I really wanted to write about the 2008 financial crash, but there was no way to transport 2008 Wall Street to 2018 Cleveland, or to convincingly recreate the same events in present day Ohio. Instead I focused on one aspect (predatory lending) and the role it played in the 2008 crisis. I’m pretty sure I can handle painting the laminate boxes. But installing hinges and handles on the doors and the doors on the cabinets, and getting them all straight, even, and properly opening and closing…yeah, I think I’m going to hire someone for that.

6.  Enjoy. My sister’s favorite part of redecorating is when the dropcloths are all folded away and the helpers have all left and she is left with nothing more to do than decide where to put this vase—or would a framed photo reinforce the square motif? Does this wall need another touch of the accent color? She will spend hours doing this. Me, I love the feeling of not having to write for a while, of being able to tell myself the book, for better or worse, is at my agent’s and there’s nothing I can do about that now and let’s get to all those little jobs that piled up while I was writing every day. Let’s plan some trips and get a massage and look at the volumes on my shelf that have my name on the spine and walk into the kitchen and think how much better it looks now. Because, before I know it, I’ll get an idea. Then it’s back to #1.

      What would you rather tackle? A home improvement project, or a novel?