Sunday, February 18, 2018

WHY ARE MYSTERIES POPULAR DURING FRAUGHT TIMES?

by Chris Goff

This is the question being posed to Manuel Ramos, Carter Wilson and me, at the Colorado Book Festival in Denver, March 3rd.

For those who don't know anything about my colleagues.

Both are bestselling authors, Manuel is a retired lawyer and bestselling author of Chicano noir crime fiction, and Carter writes dark domestic thrillers that explore the depths of psychological tension and paranoia. And me? I write espionage-style international thrillers featuring Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Raisa Jordan.

I figured I'd do a little research to make sure they were still popular. According to a 2015 Nielson study, mysteries (which include all the sub-genres of crime fiction) has actually eclipsed romance as the favorite of readers. 47% of readers read mysteries. 27% of readers read romance. Yay!

But wait! Why is it that according to Bookstr.com , Romance makes the most money? $1.44 billion to mystery's $728.2 million. Hmmmm...  Okay, that's a-whole-nother discussion.

Back to the question. 

I hypothesize that mysteries/thrillers are popular because they bring a semblance of order to chaos, provide some type of resolution. In international thrillers, the protagonist saves the day—mostly. In murder mysteries, the killer is brought to some form of justice—generally. During chaotic, fraught times, what is better than having a wrong righted or justice served?

Jason Pinter, an international bestselling author and publisher, a former editor and agent, interviewed a number of reviewers for a Huffington Post article, interviewed a slate of book reviewers and posed the questions: Do you feel like crime novels are adequately addressing issues in our culture? And do they even need to?

The consensus was that mysteries and thrillers don't have to, but most do. The panel went on to say, and I paraphrase, crime novels offer insight into how people perceive and react to society's problems.

Good answer!

Are there pitfalls to tackling issues?


Of course! An author can hammer a point too hard and/or get too preachy on a subject. Doing that will no doubt annoy and alienate some readers. And let's face it, some wounds are just too raw. But shining a spotlight issues of the day can garner great interest. Using real-life incidents to launch a story can bring realism.

I'm going to be very interested to hear what my fellow panelists have to say. In Manuel's last book, his protagonist deals with the gentrification of his Hispanic neighborhood, something that's happening in Denver. Carter's new book takes from a real-life incident where a social media cult leader triggers two young girls to kill.


And me? 

What can I say? International geopolitics provides unlimited fodder.

If you live in or near Denver, please consider coming to join the discussion. The Colorado Book Festival is free to the public. The panel is scheduled at 2:00 PM in the Rick Ashton Legacy Room (Summit Room) at the main Denver Public Library.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

FOR ALL THE GIRLS WHO HAVE SINNED




By Francine Mathews

The news that a jet had crashed today outside of Moscow, killing all seventy-one people aboard, reached me as I deplaned from a red-eye in Denver this morning. Red-eyes combine two things I truly dislike: disrupted sleep and air travel. I'm the sort of fragile buttercup who requires ten hours a night in a great bed, complete with ear plugs and a noise-suppressing fan. And the air travel? This child of an Air Force pilot is terrified of crashing. There was a period in my life when I had full-blown panic attacks at takeoff, fingers gripped on my arm rests and lungs hyperventilating. I love the view from a plane. It's the spectre of plunging five miles to earth I can't stand.

I used to tell people that my panic attacks were probably the result of working briefly on the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded a few days before Christmas, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing everyone on board as well as eleven people asleep in their homes below. This is not strictly true. Pan Am 103 reinforced my pervasive dread, gave it a reasonable outline; See? Look what can happen! None of us can control anything!

But the real source of my fear-of-flying was the consciousness of Sin.

I was raised Catholic. By a very Catholic mother. Who believed quite pre-Vatican II Catholic things. And whether I shared those beliefs or not, I suffered for them. I lived in the long penumbra cast by their certainties. This one, for instance: Thou Shalt Not Have Sex Before Marriage.

As I frequently had sex before marriage, with men other than the one I eventually married thirty years ago, I sometimes took planes to exotic locales and enjoyed torrid weekend liaisons. But, oh, God--the guilt. It haunted me most at take-off. Because I am hiding my life from my mother, this plane will crash and she will discover my sins when I am too dead for forgiveness. 

The Poster Girl for this sort of Vengeance Theory of Transgression
is, and will always be, the irrepressible Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, Jack Kennedy's favorite sibling and 1939 British Debutante of the Year. Kick wasn't a traditional beauty, but as one of her English contemporaries once explained, "She had more S.A. than any woman I have ever known." That's a discreet British abbreviation for Sex Appeal, and with her roguish sense of humor, high spirits, and dusting of freckles, Kick took London by storm when she was nineteen. She had been schooled by Sacred Heart nuns for years, and was so devout a Catholic that when air raid sirens blared in wartime London, where she was living with her ambassador father, Joe Kennedy, she would hurry to the air raid shelter crossing herself "and commending my soul to the Lord." But Kick was also a rebel--and she fell in love with Billy Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire, who was emphatically not Catholic. Billy's father was as violently opposed to his son's match as Kick's mother, Rose. When Kick and Billy finally married in the middle of World War II, Rose Kennedy did not attend the wedding. She regarded Kick as having chosen to live in Mortal Sin by marrying an Episcopalian, and is reputed to have muttered darkly: "God may forgive her, but I never will."
Joe, Kick, and Jack Kennedy, Sept. 3, 1939, entering Parliament to hear the Declaration of War

When Kick's oldest brother, Joe, was blown up in an experimental plane full of explosives in 1944, the new Marchioness of Hartington returned to New York for his memorial service. There, Rose informed Kick that Joe's death was her fault--God had punished the entire family for her sinful marriage to Billy. When news of Billy's death from a sniper's bullet arrived by telegram a few weeks later, Rose expressed her profound relief that at least, now, Kick would not go to Hell. Kick's parents did not acknowledge her grief or speak of Billy again, one reason she decided to return to England instead of remaining with her family.


After the war, Kick fell in love with the Eighth Earl Fitzwilliam, a married Englishman whose wife was an alcoholic. The pair intended to marry once Lord Fitzwilliam obtained his divorce, and in the hope of securing the blessing of Kick's father, Joe Kennedy, they flew across France in a small plane in order to meet him. Kick, of course, was essentially Living in Sin at this point. She had contraceptives in her suitcase. And due to the Vengeance Theory of Transgression, she was a prime target for smiting with thunderbolts.

The small plane encountered a storm, and after what must have been twenty nerve-wracking minutes of extreme turbulence, broke apart in a dive and crashed, killing Kick, her lover, and the two-man crew. Naturally, her father found her birth control among the things recovered from the wreckage, when she was long past forgiveness. I imagine her crossing herself as the plane plummeted, commending her soul to the Lord, aware that her mother would believe she had earned the only fate she deserved. I worry that she might even have believed that as well. She was twenty-eight years old. 

I am no longer afraid of flying. A few summers ago, I even strapped myself into a Cessna and flew over Denali, landing on a glacier. I toy with the idea of learning to fly myself. But I have given my terror and panic attacks to a number of characters in my novels. I find that allowing fictional people to grapple with difficult emotions is sometimes an effective way of exploring fear myself. And I like to think that my diminished panic is the result of spiritual growth. No, I can't control anything. None of us can. And with that acceptance comes freedom from fear--as well as guilt. In the end, I'd rather crash and burn with Kick's sinners than stay safely on the ground with Rose's forbidding saints.

Now, when I board a plane, I utter this simple prayer:
If I cannot be safe--Let me be brave.

Francine

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Roadtripping, Research, and Serendipity

Beaver Creek Colorado

I just completed a two thousand mile road trip through the country from Chicago to California. This probably counts as the farthest I've driven ever. It also counts as one of the least pre- planned trips I've ever taken and it worked beautifully in ways I hadn't anticipated. More on that later.

For this trip I needed to do a little research for a work in progress and most of it involved historical facts of the American West. Oregon Trail, Gold Rush, Native American artifacts--things like that. Some quick research revealed that most of the places I wanted to see were either gone, as in destroyed, or not accessible in one drive west. I'd have to break it into a couple of trips. My final destination was California and so I gave up planning and figured I'd just head west and see what happened along the way.

I packed up the car and barreled out of Chicago. The first bit of serendipity involved a beautiful, blue semi tractor trailer that pulled up next to us on the road to Omaha. I glanced up at the lettering on the door, only to realize that it was owned by the son of my Dad's cousin (so my second cousin), and a part of the extended family that have been truckers for generations. I kept peering into the cab to see if he was driving or another driver, but I couldn't see through the window's glare and I hesitated to text any driver. I ended up texting everyone else in the family to tell them. Still don't know if it was him, but if so, we spent hours passing each other several times, when we would stop for a break and he wouldn't and vice versa. I felt like family was guarding me on my way west.

The second bit of serendipity was Beaver Creek. We hit the ski spot on the second day and decided to stay a couple of nights. We'd ski on the first and snowshoe hike on the second. The skiing was fine, warm weather meant spring-like skiing, but there was just enough snow for all the runs to be open. The second day was snowshoe hiking. Our guide studied wildlife, and she showed us the bear claws on the Aspens. Seems the bears climb the trees for the best morsels, and their brown claw marks are visible on the trunks. They were scratched all the way up. Let's just say that if a brown bear is chasing you, climbing a tree is NOT an option. The guide gave me a lot of facts about the men and women that ventured west, which will be helpful to add to my story.

The third bit of serendipity was our stop at the Fremont Indian State Park in Utah. This is a park along Interstate 70. Unlike the larger Zion National Park, this one is less well known. I had been googling interesting hiking, and found it.

The Fremont tribe is believed to have inhabited this area until around the 1300's. Most of their story is pieced together from a treasure trove of artifacts discovered in the 1980's when the excavators for Interstate 70 began digging. There are rock etchings at locations listed on a short hike through the park and pottery and other artifacts are displayed in a small museum on site.

The serendipity here was when the ranger told me that he had atlatls and spears that we could try our hand at throwing. I had written a scene with a warrior using an atlatl, which is a short stick that attaches to the end of the spear and acts as a propulsion device, much like a fishing rod does, and I was thrilled to be able to actually throw one. He gave my husband and me an atlatl and three spears each and we trooped out to the target area.

You notch the end of the spear onto the back of the atlatl and hold the spear with your two fingers, almost like a pencil. The sketch to the right shows the method. Then you fling the spear, trying to keep your movement even. The first two throws missed the target (a hay bale) completely and the third hit but bounced off harmlessly. We collected our spears and tried again. Eventually we were able to get the accuracy and speed right. You can watch the video of me throwing one that stuck below. This was a lot of fun, and the park hosts a festival the second weekend of May with a spear throwing contest, bartering market and all kinds of fun things for adults and kids. If you're near the area or traveling through, check it out!




We hit Las Vegas and stayed the night. Though nothing was able to be learned about the Wild West, we had a great visit, kept our wallets intact, and landed in California on time. 

Who says research isn't fun? 

All The Best, 

 Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Unleashing Your Passion

.....Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

As we approach the delightful Valentine's Day, I've been thinking about how fortunate I am to have the love of my life as my "Valentine." I've also thought about activities that I love -- and how some have  become a passion. Last week I was invited to come and talk about one of them -- my love of writing thrillers -- to a gathering of four book clubs who met together to hear about my stories.  After reviewing how I've been turning White House experience into political thrillers, during the Q&A one very nice women said, "Yes, but you've had a pretty exotic career" (Her terminology, not mine -- actually working there meant extremely long hours and tons of stress, but still....).She went on with this question, "What about the rest of us who haven't had such exciting experiences? How would we put novels together?"

I replied, "You know there are some three million books published every year, including novels, cook books, travel books, all kinds of books, and not all of those authors had exotic or exciting careers. What they did have is inspiration, and the determination to unleash their passion ...a passion to write." Now, as I reflect on that meeting, I could have given many examples of authors I know personally who have done just that.  For example, one of the friends of all of us here on Rogue Women Writers is the international bestselling author (and former guest blogger on this website) Lee Child:

Author Lee Child
 Lee didn't work in The White House or the House of Parliament. He wasn't spending time in dangerous situations or getting shot at.  He did spend some time as a British TV Producer, so yes, he worked with actors and others with pretty creative ideas. But he wasn't an ex-Army investigator and certainly not a "drifter" who meanders all over the country helping people in trouble.  But that's exactly what his hero, Jack Reacher, does in dozens of terrific thrillers and in a major Hollywood film staring Tom Cruise. 

Author John Lescroart
Another recent guest blogger here was author John Lescroart who started out wanting to be a rock star (he still plays a mean guitar).  When that didn't quite work out, he had many jobs including computer programmer, house painter, bartender, eventually even one where he had to write briefs on coal transportation for the Interstate Commerce Commission. And like Lee, he certainly wasn't an investigator. And yet, he conjured up a terrific protagonist for many of his 27 bestselling novels, Dismas Hardy, who gets into all sorts of interesting and dangerous situations roaming the streets of San Francisco.   


In addition to dreaming up great characters and intriguing plots, authors also have to spend time doing a ton of research...research on history, details, descriptions, and especially locations.  Even though we are writing fiction, if they are setting scenes in well known cities, they better be right.  I remember a novel set in Washington, DC where an author (who obviously had either never been there or didn't bother to take notes) had a car "careening down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of The White House." Of course, you can't do that -- there are security barricades all over the place. In another thriller, the hero "raced out of the Roosevelt Room and up a few steps to the Oval Office." Uh - no. there are no "steps up to the Oval Office." He must not have bothered to even watch a  video on WhiteHouse.gov.

When it comes to researching locations, one of my favorite authors, Nelson De Mille, does an outstanding job.  His new novel, The  Cuban Affair, is the product of a trip to Cuba where he obviously took copious notes so he could share his observations not only of the scenery but the incredible power Cuban state actors wield over the people of that country.  But again, to my knowledge, DeMille never worked as a boat captain in Key West - and yet his protagonist is one of those, and the author certainly describes that  character and his quirky sense of humor in an amazing way.


My point is: these and thousands of other authors may not have had "exciting" or "exotic" careers -- they all have a passion for writing and were determined to take the time to develop the tools and talents needed to make it in the publishing world.

And so, what is YOUR passion? Perhaps it isn't focused on writing stories or a memoire, maybe you've had a secret desire to learn to paint with oils or water colors or charcoal.


Perhaps you love to go to museums and galleries and dream about what it would be like to create lovely scenes or portraits. Remember -- there are tons of classes available at local schools and colleges where even beginners can start to learn a technique.

Then again, you may have harbored a love of music and would give anything to be able to play the piano -- not to perform on stage, but just to enjoy playing the music of Mozart, Gershwin or maybe


   

an original song that's been echoing in your mind for quite some time.  A wise music teacher once told me, "You are never too old to learn and enjoy the piano. If you have the time and the inclination, by all means, go for it." 

Several of my Rogue colleagues have been writing about new beginnings recently. One of them, S. Lee Manning, wrote about how she wanted to rekindle her passion for ice skating.  I confess that I'd like to go back to my music -- singing in quartets.  At least I've now taken my old arrangements out of the cabinet. 

My point is -- if you have a love of writing, of art, of music, or teaching little ones, training dogs, or volunteering --  think about it, ponder the possibilities and the rewards of determination and accomplishment...not especially for "public recognition" but for the knowledge that you really did unleash your passion.

The time  certainly is right - for as I said at the outset - we are approaching Valentine's Day when we all will be thinking about passion and love.

Now, do leave a comment and tell us about the loves of YOUR life and how you might unleash your very own passions! Happy Valentines Day.

....Karna Small Bodman 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

CHARLIZE THERON, KAREN CLEVELAND...and a fabulous story!

 hosted by K.J. Howe

I'd love to introduce the sensational woman behind the recently released blockbuster, NEED TO KNOW...and I'm hoping talented author Karen Cleveland will share everything you "need to know" about her CIA analyst character who will be played by Charlize Theron on the big screen.  I was fascinated by the concept behind Karen's book and the authenticity in the prose because she is the real deal.  Karen was kind enough to share some intel with us....

1.  Vivian Miller is a CIA analyst, and you offer phenomenal insights into this world given you also worked in this milieu.  What attributes are needed to be an effective analyst?

I very much enjoyed working as a CIA analyst. I used to think of my job as being similar to putting together a giant puzzle – but without all the pieces, and without a picture as a guide. Attention to detail is very important. A love of reading and writing helps too!


2.  Were there parts of NEED TO KNOW that were based on real-life cases?  Did you need clearance from the CIA to share of any the information included in the book?

The book isn’t based on a real-life case (luckily!). There have, however, been fairly recent cases of Russian sleepers in the United States – ten Russian agents were arrested in the U.S. in 2010. The book, as with everything I write, had to be cleared by a review board at the CIA. It’s sort of a double-check to ensure that I’m not accidentally disclosing anything classified.


3.  You portrayed two distinct sides of Vivian, as a devoted wife and mother and as a talented CIA analyst.  Did you ever struggle between the two roles yourself?  

It’s difficult to juggle a demanding career and the demands of young kids. I’ve struggled with it, and a lot of other parents have, too. I wanted to make Vivian as real as possible, so I wanted her to have some of the same experiences that so many of us go through.


4.  How realistic is it that Russians could infiltrate today’s governmental agencies?  What kinds of measures are there to protect Americans from the human frailties of the people who work in these arenas?

The Russian intelligence services are sophisticated and aggressive. But I have every faith in the security personnel at the CIA and other government agencies – they’re highly capable and diligent. And they do work hard to vet people in sensitive positions, through measures like polygraphs, monitoring finances, and even vetting potential spouses.


5.  In what ways was your work as a CIA analyst similar to the process of writing a book?

CIA analysts spend a lot of time trying to put themselves in other people’s shoes, trying to predict how an individual or group will act or react to certain circumstances. Authors tend to do the same thing, I think. And at the Agency, everything is really a team effort. So much so that written products never include an author’s name – it’s just a CIA product. A novel is such a team effort, too – editing, marketing, publicizing, etc. It seems wrong to have a single name on the cover!



6.  How many analysts are there?  Can you tell us more about the way the CIA divides the analysts into groups?  Do analysts ever meet directly with agents?

The number of people who work for the CIA is actually classified, believe it or not. Analysts usually focus on a specific “account,” which is generally broken down by subject and country or region. Meeting with assets in the field tends to fall more to operations officers, while analysts focus more on analyzing information and presenting it to policymakers.


7.  What was the most remarkable thing (that you can talk about) you worked on in your career?

It’s hard to talk specifics, unfortunately. But I always got a thrill out of knowing that something I wrote landed on the President’s desk. As an analyst you want to feel like your work is having impact, so that was always a great feeling. 


8.  Did you always want to write a novel or did this idea come to you because of your work?

The idea for the book had been in the back of my mind for many years. I met my husband around the same time I started working for the CIA, and it actually crossed my mind, very briefly, that he might not be who he said he was! Luckily I was wrong, but the idea for the book stuck.


9.  I’m hoping that there will be a sequel to NEED TO KNOW, especially given the blockbuster ending.  Can you kindly share what you’re working on next?

Well, that’s great to hear! I do feel like there’s more of the story to tell. Right now I’m hard at work on another thriller set in Washington, DC. I’m excited about it, and I hope readers will be too!


10. Congrats on the wonderful news about Charlize Theron taking on the role of Vivian for film!  Can you tell us the story of how this happened?

Thanks! I’m so excited about it. She’s an incredible actress, and one who plays such a wide range of characters so well. I’m excited to see what she does with the role. As for how it happened – it was all very fast! I’m not sure of all the details, but there was interest from movie studios at the same time it was being considered by publishers. We had a film deal the day after we had a book deal. I’m so grateful that it worked out that way.

Congrats on your success, and welcome to the world of thrillers.  So happy to have you on today!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Skating on thin ice

S. Lee Manning: When I was around nine, I loved to ice skate. I was one of those weird kids who liked to read all the time and didn’t have many friends. Sometimes it bothered me. But not when skating. I liked to skate alone.

There was an ice skating rink at the Cincinnati Gardens and my parents would drop me off at the beginning of the session. I was not very good, couldn’t do spins or even skate backwards, but I didn’t fall – much - and gliding on ice felt like flying. Ice skating also made me think of snow, and snow, for me, was magic, even though we averaged maybe two big snows a year in Cincinnati that melted within days. But in the heart of the gray Cincinnati winter, with brown grass and barren trees, there was the skating rink.  Skating transported me to a fantasy world.


I would skate by myself for hours while tinny music played, and I’d make up stories. Day dreaming, my parents called it back then, and I thought I might be a little crazy, and maybe I was, in the way all writers are crazy. Time on the ice was my time – and I savored it every Saturday night. Now, looking back, I wonder what my parents thought about it – and whether they worried about my isolation and my escape into fantasy.

 After a year or two, I grew out of my skates. I developed bad knees. Then I hit the teen years – and it was the late 1960s.  Skating was not what young hippies did in the late 60s – and I was most definitely a young hippie. So I put skating on ice, so to speak.

Over the following few decades, as my life changed again and again, I would go ice skating from time to time – with friends and then with my children.

Then maybe fifteen years ago, I stopped. Life is complicated, and we don’t always have time for things we enjoy. My parents needed help, my kids had issues, and I had a different job. Besides, my feet and ankles weren’t what they used to be.

I thought from time to time about trying to skate again, but the thought of a teenager slamming into me while on the ice kept me from giving it a try.

Then two weeks ago, on a whim, I looked at the ice skating schedule at a local rink while spending a few weeks in New Jersey with my son. There was adult only skating at 8:30 a.m.  I remembered how much I used to love skating. My husband still skies. I am terrified of heights and therefore don’t ski, but the ski resort where he went in December has a skating rink. It would be something for me while he skied.

At 8 o’clock the following morning, I dug out my skates and looked out the window at the inch of snow that had coated the neighborhood overnight.

I am aware that I am no longer nine. (Not going to say how old I actually am.)  I am aware that my balance isn’t what it used to be, nor are my feet.

I am aware that a fall at my age could be a lot more serious than a fall for a nine year old. I know that older people skate, and there’s an 87 year old who competes (and wins) in figure skating. But most of those senior skaters know what they’re doing and didn’t give it up for twenty some years.

But that morning, I just said, what the hell.

The snow was still drifting down as I drove to the rink in my Subaru. The skates were tighter than I remembered, but they still fit. Kinda. I strapped them on and wobbled to the side of the rink. There was a wall all the way around the rink for grabbing purposes. There was only one other person on the ice. Perfect. I took a deep breath and stepped on the ice.

And didn’t fall.

But I didn’t glide either. My feet felt like lead, and I clung desperately to the wall, taking baby steps to move forward.

The sole other occupant of the rink skated over to me and introduced himself as Jeff. “Bend your knees,” he suggested. He was fifty-nine, and he also had started up skating after twenty years or so off the ice. That was reassuring. He also thought that I was younger than him. That was more than reassuring.

I bent my knees. I tentatively pushed off with my left foot. I glided a foot and then I grabbed the wall.

I made it around the rink, never far from the wall, clutching it every few feet. I celebrated my success by getting off the ice and tightening my skates. Then I tried again. This time, I would make it maybe twenty feet before grabbing the wall. Then fifty feet. I made it around five times staying close enough to the wall to grab it if necessary. By then, my feet were protesting the too tight skates. I had felt the flush of victory – but it was time to leave.

The next day, I was back with my son’s wider and slightly better fitting skates.

I did better, lasting forty-five minutes on the ice. I wobbled here and there, and never strayed far from the wall, but I rounded the rink, gliding. I remained afraid of falling, but there were moments when I recaptured that old feeling of flying. Then I grabbed the wall again. My son’s skates were better than my old ones, but not perfect.

Jeff was there and gave me a thumbs up for persistence. Jeff had been joined by a man in his seventies who skated backwards to me to offer his suggestion.

“Buy some skates that fit.”

A week later, I called my cousin, two years younger than me, and told her that I had gone ice skating.

“You’re brave,” she said.

Am I? I didn’t feel brave on the ice. I felt scared. But I felt something else as well. I felt alive. There will come a time when I am physically unable to do the risky things I used to enjoy as a younger woman, but while I still can, I damn well am going to keep trying. As we age, we have to distinguish between what we can actually do and what we are afraid to do. I hate that my body will eventually limit me. I am not going to be limited by my fears.

So I’m in the market for a new pair of skates. Suggestions?