Wednesday, August 24, 2016


BY GAYLE LYNDS:  How do you beat an unbeatable villain?  As an author, it’s a question I grapple with a lot.  For inspiration, let’s take a look at one of history’s most notorious and elusive mass contract killers. . . .

“He almost never emerged from the turbid underworld of international crime, and he had no consistent belief system,” according to Time magazine, September 2, 2002.  “He switched allegiances with ease.  Governments actually paid him just to leave their people alone.  Even so, beginning in 1974, he was responsible for 900 murders in 20 nations, according to the U.S. State Department.” 

Perhaps you remember news coverage of this master terrorist of the Cold War — Abu Nidal of the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO).  But do you remember how he was brought down?

With today’s blog, I’m beginning the next series of Rogue Women posts, this time about the fascinating topic of Great Villains. To be sure to receive each blog, just sign up here
Abu Nidal, 1970s

An Impossible Situation

How difficult was it to stop Abu Nidal?  Imagine the situation:  It’s 1986, and the ANO is highly active, dangerous, and state-sponsored, with the resources of entire nation-states backing it.  Americans are among its favorite targets.  It goes out of its way to kill innocents, even children.  Counterterrorist organizations around the world consider the ANO invincible. “Long before 9/11, the title of most dangerous terrorist in the world belonged to Abu Nidal,” Time magazine proclaimed. 

One prime reason was Abu Nidal himself.  His tradecraft was sophisticated, and his operations and operatives compartmentalized.  He demanded complete loyalty and obedience from his followers.  New recruits were required to commit a crime before joining — a bank robbery, an assault, a murder — which also gave him a way
to control them. 

Since the CIA didn’t allow anyone under its direction to commit such crimes, it was almost impossible to infiltrate the group.  Still, the CIA managed it while also turning one of Nidal’s people into an informer.  All of this was done under the auspices of a brand-new organization — the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC), founded by legendary spymaster Dewey Clarridge in 1986.  Never before had personnel been merged from the Directorates of Operations, Intelligence, and Science & Technology. 

Clarridge’s creation would soon pay off in a big way.

Putting the Pieces Together

The CTC analyzed the information from its agent and informant and added other pieces: Abu Nidal had a financing channel through the London branch of the infamous Bank of Credit & Commerce International, which led to the revelation of ANO activists in France, England, and Germany.  More intel showed an extensive commercial network in Eastern Europe, Greece, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, and even Western Europe.  Those businesses provided cover and help with ANO terrorist attacks while also giving occasional cover to Communist spy agencies.

For the first time, the picture of one of the world’s most secretive and violent terrorist groups was being fleshed out.

“After reviewing this astonishing network of terrorist support, I arrived at the conclusion that the best way to attack Abu Nidal was to publicly expose his financial empire and his network of collaborators,” Clarridge wrote in his memoir, A Spy for All Seasons.  The result was the CTC’s Abu Nidal Handbook, which detailed the inner workings of the ANO, including an organizational chart, its crimes, its members and accomplices, and home addresses, some of which were within countries friendly to the United States.

According to Clarridge, “The publication had the desired effect.  Governments in Europe squirmed, but they terminated their dealings with Abu Nidal.  Like many in his line of work, Abu Nidal was paranoid.  The CTC fueled his hysteria over plots against him — feeding fear to a paranoid is something we know how to do.  Not surprisingly, Abu Nidal panicked.  Those who reported having been approached by us were not rewarded for their loyalty, because Abu Nidal never quite believed that anyone in his group had turned us down.  Their loyalty was suspect thereafter, and the punishment for disloyalty was torture and death.”

The Bigger They Are

By 1987, the ANO was drowning in its own blood.  Abu Nidal had turned his terror campaign back against his own people.  When he grew suspicious of the ANO in southern Lebanon, he ordered more than 300 hard-core operatives murdered.  Soon his surviving lieutenants began to believe he was insane. 

“Abu Nidal’s paranoia, fed by our crusade against him, caused him to destroy his own organization,” Clarridge concluded.

And there you have it — an ingenious, calibrated, well-researched CTC operation that caused one of the world’s greatest villains to take down his own organization. 

Although he lived 15 more years, Abu Nidal never again commanded a world-class group.  In 2002 in Baghdad, he was shot to death — there are conflicting reports about whether he committed suicide or was murdered.  He was 65 years old.  His real name was Sabri Khalil al-Banna.

The Cold War’s stories of assassins such as Abu Nidal inspired my most recent international suspense novel, The Assassins.  Each of the six men of the title came out of the Cold War and, in the book, are still working today.  I faced the question of how to beat the unbeatable.  Do you have any answers?

Monday, August 22, 2016


by Elaine Viets (Guest Blogging for Chris Goff)

I find Elaine Viets inspiring! A multi-published, award-winning writer of four mystery series, she has often gone to extremes to find her story. For example, to know of what she writes, she has worked most of the jobs in her Dead-End Job Mysteries. Now, with her newest series - the Angela Richman, Death Investigator Mysteries - the experience is even more personal. It's impossible not to get a feel for Elaine's sense of humor and her newest characters as she reveals WHO INSPIRED her newest debut. Thank you, Elaine for such a great blog post! I recommend everyone go out and buy a copy of BRAIN STORM today!  Chris

          The first time I heard Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt, I was in bed.
          A hospital bed. He was the brain surgeon who saved my life after I had six strokes, including a hemorrhagic stroke, in April 2007. That's not his real name, and he doesn't look or act like the brain surgeon in my new mystery Brain Storm, but Dr. Tritt, as I baptized him, was a real character. I couldn't make up what he said. I'm not that creative.
          In fiction and reality, Dr. Tritt is a brilliant surgeon, but his bedside manner sucks. I expected someone who saws open skulls for a living to be a little odd. But I liked him.
          I'd arrived at the hospital unconscious and having multiple seizures. "You were circling the drain," he told me later. "Nobody thought you were gonna make it. The ER doctor said you'd be dead by morning. But I knew I could save you."
          Humility isn't his strong suit. But the doc's entitled to brag. Even a paramedic told my shell-shocked husband, "Sorry about your wife, man."

          After brain surgery, I was in a coma for a week and I spent three months in the hospital. When Dr. Tritt got off work at midnight, he'd stop by my room. First he'd check my healing wound – a hideous red-rimmed cobblestone. Then he'd settle in for a midnight monologue. He'd talk nonstop for two or three hours. I was a captive audience – I couldn't walk yet. He'd make jaw-dropping comments, and I'd squirrel them away. His visits were a gift. It took me eight years to use it.
          Brain Storm, the first Angela Richman, Death Investigator novel, is set in mythical, ultrawealthy Chouteau Forest, Missouri. Like me, Angela went to the ER for migraines. We were misdiagnosed and sent home for a PET scan later. Instead, we suffered a series of strokes, brain surgery, and a coma, and encountered Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt. And that's where I used his midnight monologues.
          One night he said, "Do you remember anyone talking to you while you were in a coma?"
          "No," I said. "No tunnel of light, no relatives waiting on the other side. I didn't see or hear anything."
          "Thank God," he said. "I used to stop by every night and say, 'Elaine! This is God! Wake up!'  But the nurses made me quit."

          Why did a surgeon spend hours talking to me instead of going home? He answered that question in another monologue.
          "My wife is divorcing me," he said. "She likes to shop and I don't make enough money. She thought brain surgeons would be rich, but I don't get that much. I only got three thousand dollars for your surgery. She wasn't that good in bed, anyway. She just laid there, like you did, except you were in a coma."
          Huh? The doc wasn't coming onto me. My face was swollen, my skin was bright red thanks to an allergy to some medication, and half my hair was shaved off.
          I'd always been proud of my long hair. I was shocked when I saw it had been partly shaved off for the surgery. Late one night, Dr. Tritt said, "I'm sorry about your hair."
          "In the grand scheme of things, it's not the end of the world," I said.
          "I burned your hair because I knew you were going to make it," he said. "If my patients are going to die, I save their hair because they like to look good in their coffins."
          I was speechless. But then I thought: What would he say if I was going to die? Would he come by one midnight, hand me my hair and said, "Elaine, you're screwed. But here's your hair. You'll look great in your coffin."

          Speaking of coffins – in real life I couldn't kill the doctor who misdiagnosed me. I couldn't even sue the bastard. But I killed him in Brain Storm. A drug-addled, hallucinating Angela learns that the doctor who nearly killed her has been murdered, and the chief suspect is the surgeon who brought her back to life. Angela isn't sure that she can trust her instincts or recover her investigative skills, but she's determined to save the doctor who saved her.
          My real life character saved my life – and he may help me pay off those hospital bills.

          Bestselling writer Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series. With BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, she returns to her hardboiled roots. Elaine passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Course for forensic professionals for this series. Booklist says, "Viets, a stroke survivor herself, builds her unusual premise into a compelling thriller that moves quickly and builds suspense steadily."  Elaine won the Anthony, Agatha, and Lefty Awards. Buy it here:

Sunday, August 21, 2016


by Sonja Stone

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You… Stronger, Bitter, Drunk. It Depends On Your Attitude.

Michael Cerpok, mobile monk, sabakiball
My sensei, Michael Cerpok
I was having dinner with a friend last night, and he said, “I couldn’t help but notice the uncanny resemblance between you and your main character. You’re both five-two, of Irish-Lebanese decent, have dark wavy hair… You also seem to share a childhood history.”

Since I care what my friend thinks, I was unable to state the truth (that I’m a low-key narcissist, lack imagination, and pretty much wrote out my fantasy life thinly disguised as a novel). Fortunately, he has the attention span of a gnat, and a second later our sushi arrived.

Saved by the fish.

It’s true that my protagonist, sixteen-year-old Nadia Riley, shares a bit of my history and backstory. But she’s not me. She’s way better than me.

One of my characters, however, is very much based on someone I know: Nadia’s mentor and martial arts instructor, Hashimoto Sensei. Sensei is reserved, serious, traditional, and focused. He’s quietly compassionate, but doesn’t tolerate excuses.

Enter my sensei, jujutsu instructor Michael Cerpok. Below are a few of the myriad lessons he’s taught me.


  • Pain is Temporary

Respecting that she’s a hard worker, Hashimoto Sensei concedes to Nadia’s request for private lessons. Over the course of her training, Nadia is repeatedly struck with a split bamboo pole, the length of a broomstick. It stings like a giant rubber band and makes a cracking sound as it connects with the body. I’m very familiar with this particular training device. At one point, she complains about his use of the bamboo pole, because it’s quite painful. He responds: 

Crack! “It is only pain. When you are in pain one of two things will happen: The pain will be so great that you will die, or the pain will eventually go away. Either way,” he smiled and bowed his head, “no more pain.”

This is a direct quote from my sensei, who has eagerly tested this theory with great frequency.

  • If You Can’t See Bone, Ignore It

“Sensei, I’m not sure I can grapple today. My shoulder hurts.”

“Of course it hurts. You’re old. Hajime!” (begin)

After my third set of X-rays from the ER (without ever actually breaking a bone), I stopped seeking medical attention, and instead asked my sensei to fix the pain. As part of my training he taught me Kappo, a method of Japanese massage. He insisted that I learn: if I had the skill to injure, I must also have the skill to heal.

The current M.O. of everyone living under my roof is as follows: sustain an injury; try to walk it off; try not to cry because feelings make us vulnerable; watch for swelling and intense pain; text Sensei a picture and wait for instructions. Only once has the response been, “Yeah, I’d get that checked out.”

Michael Cerpok, mobile monk, jujitsu
Sensei in the dojo


Interestingly, Sensei has taught me more about coping with emotional pain than physical pain. (Though he’s inflicted way more of the latter.)

  • Attachment Causes Pain

Though questions during lessons are strictly prohibited (“I will tell you what you need to know.”), at the end of our private sessions, Sensei invites me to sit seiza (on my heels) and speak freely. This is the time when he answers questions, shares his philosophy, and guides my spiritual development. 

Almost every one of my concerns can be addressed with this: Attachment to people, places, and things causes distress. Without attachments, we have no expectations. Without expectations, we have no disappointments. This isn’t to say we don’t love one another; but to love unconditionally is to wish for the greatest good for everyone involved. Sometimes the greatest good won’t include me.

  • Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

My sensei adamantly opposes participation trophies. I don’t get points for showing up and doing what I said I would.

While it’s lovely that small children are presented with an end-of-season trophy, I agree with him on this one. Do your effing job. Your reward is that you haven’t been kicked off the team. (For more on my stellar management skills—aka, “Why No One Wants to Work with Me Ever,” please see my last post, 5 Spy Secrets I Learned In Culinary School.)

I will say this: In all our time grappling on the mat, Sensei only ever tapped out once (indicating that I was the victor). Let me tell you something about that glorious day: I never questioned that I had found the position of strength. I earned that victory, and it was sweet. (Admittedly, he was several months into intense chemotherapy, but still…)

  • Control Your Breath

Breathing is an art. Sensei taught me the Zazen method of breath control. When we began, I was able to sit Zazen for approximately two uninterrupted seconds. I am now able to extend a single breath for over a minute.

The breathing method is as follows: Inhale through the nose for a count of four (to start), then exhale through the mouth as though blowing through a straw for a count of eight. Blowing through the imaginary straw (lips rounded) slows the exhale, which enables one to breathe out for twice as long as one inhales. Why is this important? The heart rate accelerates on the inhale, and slows on the exhale. For anyone who’s ever experienced anxiety, this is a valuable piece of information.

He insisted I sit Zazen to develop self-discipline. Another benefit he promised was endurance: I don’t tire quite so easily in a fight.

Osensei Michael Cerpok and his wife, Sensei Monica Rosen

Having known them for a decade, I consider my sensei and his amazing wife, Monica, to be two of my closest friends. They’ve both helped me thorough difficult times (mostly involving the raising of teenagers). My respect for him is so great that to this day I still address him as Sensei, whether in the dojo or at a party. 

It’s a title he’s earned.

Legal Disclaimer: Any resemblance to any person, real or imagined, is strictly coincidental. ;)

Here’s my question: If you could pick any fictional character to be a real part of your life, whom would you choose? A mentor like Albus Dumbledore? A childhood friend like Scout Finch? A boyfriend like James Bond?

Friday, August 19, 2016


image copyright Mark Ulriksen/The New Yorker
By Francine Mathews

Fifteen years ago, I was drafting a spy novel entitled Blown. It was my second novel about Caroline "Mad Dog" Carmichael, a CIA terrorism analyst very much like myself, who was combatting neo-Nazis at home and abroad. The draft wasn't going well. I was way past deadline. I'd rewritten it twice. To get out of the house and away from my computer screen, I was working out at a local fitness center and reading The New Yorker on my exercise bike. While idly flipping through the cartoons and shorter bits, my eyes were suddenly drawn to a familiar image: a runner in a Princeton University singlet pounding down the main path below Blair Arch.

I had spent four years at Princeton. So of course I was immediately intrigued by the subhead of David Samuels' profile of James Arthur Hogue, entitled "The Runner." 

He woke up one morning and decided to become someone else. 

[The profile is so artfully written that it feels like a travesty to summarize Samuels' work. PLEASE. When you have a moment, immerse yourself in it here.

Suffice it to say that Hogue, a "drifter, petty thief and ex-con," successfully fabricated an identity that almost changed his life, in ways that belong only in movies. [In fact, Con Man--a 2002 documentary by Jesse Moss--tells his story.]
In his college essay, Hogue renamed himself Alexi Indris-Santana and invented European parents, sadly dead, who were artists and intellectuals. He described himself as a teenaged working cowboy on the Plains of the West, an autodidact who'd read the Great Books by firelight while sleeping under the stars. This wistful thought piece appealed to every impulse among the hardened admissions officers at Princeton: a self-taught genius, both sophisticated and rustic! A child of Nature who understood multisyllabic words, and used them correctly in a sentence! A chance to give full aid to a deserving young mind, instead of admitting yet another product of Andover or Groton! And Alexi Santana had a special gift--all those years of rugged living among cattle herds had somehow made him an athlete. He was a runner. Princeton recruited him for Track and Field.
copyright The Daily Princetonian

Alexi Santana was nineteen. But James Hogue was nearly thirty. Becoming someone else on this scale is what is known as fraud.

He was a rousing success at Princeton both on and off the track--short on funds, of course, but intriguing enough that women thought he was dope and teammates carried him through difficult patches. It seemed odd that he was already losing his hair, but maybe that was a European thing. He was skinny enough as a runner that his age never came into question; if he looked haggard, it was attributed to excessive training. He was so accepted and his cachet was so secure that he was considered for admission to the most exclusive of the selective eating clubs on Prospect Street--the one usually reserved for members of the Ford and Forbes families and their wingmen--Ivy. Had Alexi Santana managed to graduate with a Princeton degree and those kinds of social connections, he would never have looked back.

I read "The Runner" without the kind of outrage many people, particularly Princeton grads, felt at the story. I was utterly fascinated. Because I recognized that James Hogue was destined for a brilliant career--if only he'd applied to the CIA instead of Princeton.

You see, what he had done--almost flawlessly--was created a Legend, as it's called in intelligence operations. His alternative version of his identity was so effective that it was accepted within the community he was determined to infiltrate. He had studied his target. He had mastered the cultural expectations and norms. He had adopted the local camouflage and color, he had gone into the hostile environment with profound confidence, and he had recruited every single person he needed into total faith and belief. All of them felt betrayed, used, exploited and violated by the end of James Hogue's run at the Ivies--but a talent that appears criminal in one setting, may actually be a job description in another. His brilliance, however amoral or sociopathic, was sadly misapplied.

Alexis Santana was eventually blown when a Yale student who'd known him as James Hogue in Palo Alto--where he'd impersonated a teenager and run track at a local high school--outed him at the HYPs, the Harvard-Princeton-Yale Track & Field event. He was arrested by the FBI for fraud. He's now in his fifties--still a drifter, ex-con, and petty thief, most recently booked in Boulder, CO, for stealing $1200 worth of sunglasses. 

Hogue's story inspired a secondary character in Blown that I still love today--Raphael, the CIA's master of legend and disguise. Some readers think he's the point of the whole story. Some think he deserves his own. Who knows? Maybe I'll write one for him, someday.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Villain Makes The Thriller

Sherlock Holmes and his brilliant nemesis Professor Moriarty

by Jamie Freveletti

I love writing a villain. In fact, a brilliant villain will make or break a thriller, mystery or cozy. Without a frightening bad guy, the hero will have nothing to play off of in the story. Over the course of writing my books, I’ve come to spend a lot of time thinking about what makes an effective villain, and I usually think of villains in archetypes, because there seems to be a certain number of recurring themes that can be found in literature.

From the earliest stories found in Greek and Roman myths and folk and fairy tales, to the latest techno thrillers, the villains come in types (note, there are spoilers when discussing the movies below):

1.      The brilliant criminal. I I love this villain. Think of Professor Moriarity in the Sherlock Holmes novels, the Judge in Christie’s And Then There Were None. This villain frightens us because we all know that he or she is not only smarter than us, she is WAY smarter than us. The fact that we may never best this criminal makes the story all that more compelling as we watch the hero face off. I remember reading the Sherlock Holmes stories and loving just how much smarter Sherlock Holmes was compared to the rest of the world. Then when Sherlock claimed his brother Mycroft was the smart one in the family, I was impressed, and grudgingly decided that if Sherlock thought he was brighter, then he must have been. But I never believed that Moriarty was smarter than Sherlock. Craftier, perhaps, but smarter? Never! While the brilliant villain is a wonderful character to write, it's a difficult one as well, because the villain's intellect has to come through, but the writer can't bore the reader in the process. Also, in the end the hero should win, or at least lose after a hard fought battle, and a battle with a brilliant villain has to be interesting and unique. The brilliant villain is tough to write,but satisfying when done well. 

  The psychotic criminal. Hannibal Lector in The Red Dragon, Randall Flagg in The Stand, Norman Bates in the movie Psycho, and Annie Wilkes in Misery. Bat shit crazy villains scare just about everyone, because they operate on a wavelength that a normal human being does not. It's no coincidence that the great horror writer Stephen King is listed here twice. No one does villains better than King, and no one writes horror better. Psychotic criminals and horror novels go well together for a reason. They are scary as hell and those who love horror love these villains. 

4   The monster villain. Grendel in Beowulf, Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the zombies in I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Same premise as the horror villain above. These villains have zero empathy and can't be reasoned with by a normal person. Plus, they look awful. 

5   The robot villain.  A variant of the monster villain. The Terminator in the movies of the same name, HAL in 2001 a Space Odyssey, VIKI in the movie I, Robot, and Ava in the movie Ex Machina. Like the zombies and monsters above, these villains can't be reasoned with on any level. Nothing can stop them (The Terminator) and nothing will change them. These are brilliant movie villains, because they make for some great special effects and we all are aware that the workings of these technological beings are beyond our comprehension. We can destroy the computer chip, but perhaps not before it wreaks havoc on the world. A satisfying villain to wipe out in a novel, because it's not human and so the hero can just have at it.

  Play around with these archetypes for your villain. Add some characteristics, remove others, or focus on a key area. Run through each chapter and think if you can add some marker of the villain's true nature. All of this will help bring a sense of the the twisted personality of the character. And sometimes, should you wish to make an evil character turn human, you can have the villain control their tendencies or use their formidable skills in the direction of good. Think of the "criminal gone straight" character. Villains are a key part of any mystery or thriller and getting them right takes time, but this character can make your book rise above and they sure are fun to write!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Can You Identify This Brilliant Woman? Karna Small Bodman

All this week we are talking about how we created the characters in the thrillers we write, and if there were any particular "real" people who were the inspiration for them.  The answer is yes, there certainly was one very famous, very brilliant woman who inspired me to create my first heroine -- but the question is: When I tell you about her background, will you be able to figure out who she was?

...with President Reagan
For my international thriller, Checkmate, I wanted to write about missile defense, or "Star Wars" as it was dubbed by some columnists when President Reagan announced the program back in the 80's.  I was working in the West Wing at the time and was really intrigued with the concept. We were in the Cold War stance with the Soviet Union, and our "defense policy" was known as Mutual Assured Destruction (we called it the "MAD Doctrine") which said in effect that if the Soviets (or anyone else) lobbed a missile our way,  even by mistake, it would kill millions of innocent Americans, and all we could do in retaliation (if it had a return address) was to launch one back at them, killing millions of innocent Russians.

President Reagan said there must be a better way, and in his famous speech announcing this new initiative he asked our best scientific minds, our best technology people to try to invent a system that would stop a missile - before anybody dies. And his great line was, "Wouldn't it be better to save lives than avenge lives?"

So, in my story, my heroine is a brilliant scientist,  Dr. Cameron Talbot.  Working for a defense contractor, she invents a new technology as a defense against cruise missiles.  The key is frequencies. She uses fast-acting algorithms to figure out the frequency that the villains are using to guide the missile.  Her computer program is able to use the same frequency and invade the missile, take control of it (much like a virus invades your computer) and turn it around on the heads of the bad guys.  My husband and I actually came up with that scheme over breakfast one day -- but the whole idea of using frequencies started with my fascination with another brilliant woman who was born way back in 1914 in Vienna.

When she was only 18, she married Friedrich Mandl, said to be the third richest man in Austria. He was an arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who sold his wares to Hitler and Moussolini.  In fact, those men attended lavish parties at the Mandl home.  This woman was extremely attractive and her husband liked to show her off, so he had her accompany him to business meetings with scientists and others who worked on various aspects of military technology.  She watched, listened and learned -- a lot!

However, she never liked those Axis leaders; she didn't like her jealous and controlling husband either. So one night she disguised herself as a maid and, taking her jewelry with her, fled to Paris and eventually made her way to America.

                                                           Do you know who she is - yet?
George Antheil

During WW II she was distressed to see that the Nazis were figuring out the frequencies our ships were using to communicate -- thus learning their location and sending torpedoes to kill our men.  She started to work with a famous pianist, George Antheil, and they thought about old piano rolls with little slots in them where the music "hops around."  They figured that if they could get a frequency to hop around in short bursts among 88 frequencies (like the 88 keys on a piano) -- the enemy would never be able to follow or decipher how we were communicating.  They called their idea "Spread Spectrum." They got a patent, and though the military didn't use it at the time, they did use it on our Navy ships in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. And later, their technology was part of the basis for cell phones, Bluetooth and WiFi. Years later, they both were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

                                                            Do you know who she is -- yet?

Okay, now a few more clues.  When she first fled to Paris, she met Louis B. Mayer who was scouting for talent in Europe.  He hired her, brought her to Hollywood, changed her name (from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) to one I'm sure you will recognize, and he began promoting her as "the world's most beautiful woman." So while she was starring in some 29 films such as Comrade X, Tortilla Flat, The Conspirators, and My Favorite Spy, she was also working on her life-changing technologies.

                                                              Do you know who she is -- yet?

I'm sure many of you do -- of course she is the brilliant woman whose inventions helped our military while she also traveled and entertained them at bases around the world. She not only inspired them to fight, but she inspired me to write.  Certainly now you know:  It was HEDY LAMARR

Hedy Lamarr

Now, please tell us about some of the people who have been inspirations in your lives. We'd love to know. Just leave a comment below.

Karna Small Bodman 


Saturday, August 13, 2016


by KJ Howe

Please welcome social media guru and talented author Ursula Ringham who will be sharing her experiences searching for female role models in Silicon Valley. Thanks for joining us! 

Blurring Reality: Creating a Believable Character

Silicon Valley has never produced a female Mark Zuckerberg.

Does this surprise you? If you live in the area, like I do, it’s a fact of lifeThe cradle of innovation doesn’t make it easy for women to succeed. There’s a reason the hit HBO showSilicon Valleydoesn’t feature female software developerThey’re hard to find. With pay inequality and rampant sexism, it’s no wonder only 20% of all the software developers are female. Women have to work twice as hard for the same recognition. And any success usually comes with criticismSo, when it comes to writing a high tech thriller, do I base my female software developer on a real person or make her up?

We’re taught to write what we know. I’ve lived and breathed Silicon Valley my entire life, having grown up here and established a career in high tech. I’ve worked with female software developers and witnessed their struggles. But I’ve also seen many women succeed. You just don’t hear about their stories because they’re not as sexy or flashy as everyone expectsIt’s a delicate dance. I take bits and pieces of real life experiences to create a character. And every once in a while, a story provides inspiration not only for a character but an entire story. 

Back in 2004, at the age of 19, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford and used her tuition money to fund a start-up, Theranos. The idea was to save lives by disrupting the lab testing industry. Inspiration came from the sudden death of her godfather who’d died of a heart attack. If only he had been tested and known about his condition. Her plan was to provide low cost blood-testing.

Holmes was laser focused on the task at hand. But the company technology was always shrouded in secrecy. And yet, venture capitalists fell in love with Holmes and her story. Theranos took off like a rocket. In 2005,Holmes raised $6 million in venture backing. By 2010, she raised a total of $92 million. And by 2013, she opened Theranos Wellness Centers with $400 million in fundingHolmes became somewhat of a rock star in the Valley. 

She was hailed as the next Steve Jobs. The young blonde even wore black turtlenecks. We all wanted to believe in this young entrepreneur. That she could rise to the top and be seen as an equal to Bill Gates and Elon MuskAnd in 2015, at the age of 30, Holmes was listed by Forbes as the world's youngest self-made female billionaire. 

If this fairytale sounds too good to be true, it is. This year, the cracks formed and everything came crashing down. Federal regulators questioned Therano’s technology and how the company operated its labs. Holmes’ low cost blood-testing product didn’t work as advertised. Regulators have now barred Holmes from owning or operating any medical laboratory for two years. And people have distanced themselves from the once revered wunderkind

Was Holmes manipulated by the male dominated VCs advising herPushed to release a product that wasn’t ready? Or was it all a fabrication from the beginning? Living in Silicon Valley, we never questioned her success. We rooted for the underdog. Blinded by the reality of the situation because we so desperately wanted a female to succeed.

There is much more to this story that we will never know. And that is the beauty of writing fiction. I can take the essence of a real life person and make her into my own Mark Zuckerberg

In my upcoming thriller, DisruptionCasey Ryan is female Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of a promising career. She is given access to a safety deposit box that contains a secret. A secret her father has been working on his entire career. A virtual reality device with the power to manipulate and influence the mind. 

Casey must use her wits to unravel the truth behind the devices capabilities before she becomes another casualty in a conspiracy that cuts through the underbelly of Silicon Valley. 

And that’s how I’ve blurred reality in creating a believable character.  Do any of you have a true-life story to share, one that might provide inspiration for a book?