Saturday, March 23, 2019

ELISABETH ELO GOES ROGUE and shares secrets

photo credit: Sean Sliney
Elisabeth Elo's latest book, Finding Katarina M., is about Natalie Marsh, a Washington D.C. physician whose mother, a Russian immigrant, is haunted by the fact her parents were sent to the Russian gulag when she was a baby. Then Natalie discovers her grandmother may still be alive. As Elisabeth takes us on an extraordinary journey across Siberia, Natalie must decide how far she will go heal her mother's pain and protect her family and country from a dangerous threat. 

Growing up in Boston, Elisabeth attended Brown University, and earned a PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University. She has published scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as Walt Whitman and Cinderella, and her essays and Pushcart-nominated short stories have appeared in a variety of publications. She worked as a magazine editor, a high-tech product manager, and a halfway house counselor before beginning to write fiction. Her first book, North of Boston, received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and was named a Booklist Crime Fiction Debut of the Year in 2014.

We are delighted to have her blogging with us, and even more delighted that she decided to answer the Rogue list of In the Limelight questions. Here goes:

Elisabeth with Sakha Family doing research in  northeastern Siberia
Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence?
There’s no question that the first sentence is harder, maybe the hardest of all. Everything has to be right: the voice, the tone, the setting. What the sentence is about ought to be what the book is about, too. Oh, and it should fire up the plot. That’s a tall order! I have no idea how to accomplish all that in one sentence, but I try. The first sentence of FINDING KATARINA M. is terribly mundane: “There’s one more person to see you,” my assistant said. Not anything to brag about. But it does nod in the direction of one of the most common and durable plots in storytelling: A stranger comes to town. Only Natalie, the main character, is soon to become that travelling stranger herself.

What's your favorite word?
Serendipity. I was asked that question in a job interview once, and I gave that answer and got the job. So that’s been my favorite word ever since.

Where do you like to write?
I write at home sitting at my desk. I used to go to coffee shops or libraries, but there was a lot of going and setting up and then closing down and coming home, not to mention parking, so in the end I found it simpler to just stay home and get to work. The coffee isn’t as good, but it’s cheaper, and now I have a dog and I don’t want to leave him alone for hours. So here I stay. I usually keep a vase of fresh flowers on my desk, so that makes it special.

What do you do when you need to take a break from writing? 
I go into the kitchen and look through the cabinets for something to eat. There usually isn’t anything because I rarely go grocery shopping. I get frustrated, smear some peanut butter on crackers, turn on the TV, watch three minutes of the prevailing network news insanity, shut the TV off in horror and disgust, and go back to work. Then I remember music and turn on my favorite Apple music jazz station. That usually calms me down. If that tried-and-true sequence fails, I take the dog for a walk around the block.

If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be? I don’t want to live in any era of the past. For me, the past is full of horrifying wars, gross inhumanity, sexism, racism, poverty, and terrible diseases. Given what I just said, you might find it hard to believe that I’m actually a starry-eyed optimist. I agree with Martin Luther King Jr. that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I want to live in a more just future where amazing scientific advances have alleviated most forms of human suffering, and where we’ve all grown much kinder to children and more respectful of the elderly. I figure that’s…hmm, the year 3015? With any luck, the planet will still be around.

What's your favorite drink? 
If I say a skim decaf latte, will you still want to talk to me?

When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? I love this question. It’s so much fun to remember how confidently and enthusiastically my childhood-self dreamed about the future. My very first chosen profession was movie star. Around nine years old, that switched to architect. A perfectly logical transition, as anyone can see.

Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories? 
My mother was fluent in poetry and talked about famous fictional characters as if they lived next door. Because of her, I grew up thinking that words and stories were a portal into the only world that really mattered, the one where meanings and emotions and true understandings lived.

Do you write what you know or what you want to know? When I write about relationships, I’m writing about what I’ve experienced or observed. In every character I create, there’s some sliver of a real person from my life. But I also love taking my characters and myself to unusual places where we are completely out of our depth and have to adapt quickly to survive. I always want to be learning new things when I read and write, not just stumbling about in the kinds of situations I already know too well.

Thank you, Elisabeth. Finding Katarina M. went on sale March 19th. I'm reading my copy now. Let's compare notes. Meanwhile, when you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Here I am at the first ThrillerFest
By Gayle Lynds

Ignorance is bliss, or so we’re told.  Personally, I find ignorance is also destiny.  I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to write international thrillers.  No one told me.  Who would’ve thought!  I loved them.  My girlfriends and guy friends loved them.  It was the 1990s, and everywhere I looked, from beaches to board rooms, from sweaty locker rooms to jam-packed passenger jets, adults and 'tweens of all sexual persuasions, skin colors, ages, religions, accents, and percentages of body fat devoured books by Robert Ludlum, John Le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Follett.

Let me back up here....  A few years before I wrote thrillers, I hadn’t realized I wasn’t supposed to cover what those of us in the trade called hard news.  I was a kid reporter for the Arizona Republic, a fine old rag with a reputedly progressive outlook about gender equality.  As far as I was concerned, that was a license to write, and the globe was my beat.

Then, when riots erupted in downtown Phoenix, I asked, then begged (when I want something, I don’t mind a little public humiliation) to go out to cover the mean streets.  But as my male pals rushed off to fulfill the public’s need to know, the city editor explained the work was too dangerous for a girl, and he assigned me to obituaries.

Some consider writing obits an art form.  That's what I told myself, and I really tried to like it.  I worked to convince myself it was enough to know I was doing a service.  Plus, maybe if I just threw in some multisyllabic words, extended my sentences until each was a paragraph long, and used “darkling” a few times, I’d be the Faulkner of Phoenix. 

Right.  All I could think of was Dante’s Inferno.  I was in hell.

For those in the know, obit desk was the classic punishment in a city room.  I could see no escape.  Then a new reporter arrived, general assignment like me, hungry to learn.  Fueled by desperation, I took him to lunch — hot tacos washed down by a multitude of icy margaritas, emphasis on the margaritas.  We talked about the future and his dreams of becoming a first-rate reporter.  Of course, to achieve that, he really needed to experience all that the city room had to offer.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t take over obits. 

Too bad.  I had that juicy assignment.  Obits.  Yeah.

He couldn’t believe I liked it.  But at that moment, writing obituaries became to me the most fascinating, most rewarding, most career-enhancing job ever.  I was reluctant to switch with him.  Still, by the end of lunch, I let him talk me into it.

Sometimes you get what you want not because it’s right or fair or even smart, but because you just don’t know any better.  The city editor threw up his hands, then threw in the towel.  As it turned out, the forces of society’s progress had become evident even to him.  My goal had been escape, but my reward was far greater.  After a lecture and several growls of disapproval, he sent me out to cover the end of the riots.  I went gladly and returned with news stories.  Both of us had done our job — at last.

Thus, in 1996, when my debut novel, Masquerade, was published, I knew international thrillers — or spy novels, if you prefer — had been the domain of male authors for decades.  Still, women were such big fans that they not only accounted for a significant percentage of sales, they also introduced them to their boyfriends, husbands, and sons.  Since I loved spy thrillers, that’s what I wanted to write.  As I said, ignorance is destiny.  It didn’t occur to me I wasn’t supposed to.

But it occurred to others.  The first publisher to whom my agent had submitted Masquerade was a woman.  She turned it down because “No woman could’ve written this.”  Fortunately, my agent sent it next to another publisher (interestingly, a male) who loved it and bought it with no questions asked.  But when the book was published, a couple of men who reviewed for large publications were graphic — telling me in person that they’d never review my books because I was, in effect, cutting off the private parts of male authors.

Then in the early 2000s I was with a publisher who wanted me to write a romance novel next.  She turned out to be terrific, because when I explained that now that I was co-authoring international thrillers with Ludlum, readers would be unlikely to want to read romances by me.  I'd be hurting her bottom line.  She laughed, and agreed.  Whew.

There was also an issue with dust jackets.  One cover sported a woman in a black body suit, aiming a lethal-looking pistol and wearing stiletto heels so high they probably made their first appearance in a comic book.  Another thriller cover showed a couple trotting and holding hands as if they’d just discovered love — not a dangerous international conspiracy.  And those were the two best covers.

You may have noticed that the dust jackets of spy thrillers written by men have little in common with the ones I just described.

To say I was being marginalized is an understatement.  I have no idea why I didn’t quit.  Stubbornness, perhaps.  Or maybe it was simply that I am besotted by the work, by the joy of words and ideas, by high adventure and low politics, by secrecy and smart skullduggery, by the imperative to try to make some sort of sense of our confounding universe, that as long as I can crawl to a computer or a quill pen, I will write.

And, too, if I’d given up, I would’ve missed a lot of fun.
David Morrell & I, 2005 ITW party

Finally, Keith Kahla, a brilliant executive editor at St. Martin’s, found my work, liked it a lot, and took me on.  He helped to repackage my books in such a way that they spoke to large numbers of readers. 

Another change was in the times — because of 9/11, readers’ desire for international political fiction was reignited. 

Then, in 2004, David Morrell and I founded International Thriller Writers — ITW — which has become a force in the industry (who could’ve predicted that would happen?).  But then, look at the terrific thriller authors who joined us on the first Board of Directors: Steve Berry, Lee Child, David Dun, Tess Gerritsen, James Rollins, and MJ Rose.

In another indication in the change of culture, the Military Writers Society of America awarded my latest spy thriller, The Assassins, the Founder’s Award for Best Novel.  Do they care that I’m female?  Obviously not.
Board 2007: Kathy Antrim, Lee Child, David Dun, Jim Rollins, moi, Diane Capri, Steve Berry, MJ Rose, David Morrell

When the erudite Peter Cannon of Publisher’s Weekly compiled a list of 15 top spy novels.  Masquerade was on it.  What a wonderful honor.  BookNotes claimed, “Lynds has joined the deified ranks of spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre.”  With Ludlum, I created the Covert-One series.  I was hoping that the change in culture and my bits of success would help women enter the field.

Still, women struggled.  So in 2016 a group of eight of us banded together to celebrate books, reading, the writing life, and all things thriller.  The result is Rogue Women Writers, and if you’re reading this, you know a lot about us — from our thrillers to our travels, research, and lives.  Today I’m immensely proud that Rogue Jamie Freveletti continues the adventures of Covert-One, while Rogue Robin Burcell has created a series with Clive Cussler.  Other Rogues today are Chris Goff, KJ Howe, Lisa Black, Karna Small Bodman, and S. Lee Manning. 
2016: Chris Goff, moi, KJ Howe, Jamie Freveletti, S Lee Manning, & Sonja Stone

Staying the course is hard, especially when it seems as if everything is going wrong.  Our only solace as writers is in the work itself, and perhaps also in a penchant for blissful ignorance that allows us to gamble, to risk, to keep going where others would tote up the odds and stop.  But these are the sweetest victories of all, and with a soupcon of luck, our destiny.

So reading and writing friends, please tell us about some of the great thrillers you love ... whether written by women or men. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

THE PROS AND CONS OF DNA TESTING...are you sure you want to know?

Kata gård
Last year, I started doing genealogical research on my grandmother's side of the family. We were taking a trip to Sweden to see family—cousins I'd met 40 plus years ago. The research was straightforward. Both of my grandma’s parents were from Sweden, both from farming families in the heart of Västergötaland.

It was there, in the 10th Century, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest. When they found the bones, everyone believed they were those of a man—until a DNA test proved that "he" was, in fact, a "she," a high-ranking female Viking warrior based on the items buried alongside her. They named her KataGård. I’m thinking maybe we’re related. If only we could get them to let us compare DNA.

A Brief History of DNA

1n the 1920's scientists discovered that humans had four different blood types, inherited biologically. It allowed physicians to safely perform certain medical procedures, but that's about all it was good for.

In the 1930's scientists discovered Serological Testing, where proteins on the surface of blood cells could be used for identifying people. The power of exclusion was still too high to make this an effective test.

In the 1970s, scientists discovered Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA), a protein present throughout the body, except the red blood cells. They found a high number of HLA and found they could predict biological relationships about 80% of the time, 90% if coupled with the other two tests.

Then, in 2011, Duane Reade began selling over the counter DNA tests called Identigene, for use in paternity testing. Buy a kit for $29.99 and have it administered by the pharmacy chain's walk-in clinics for about $300, including lab fees and other charges.

Flash forward to 2019 and DNA testing runs rampant. It’s projected to be a $20 billion-dollar industry by 2020. (Let's pause and give credit to the Home Pregnancy test that spurred the movement.) Today there are tests to determine your health risks (Gerd, cancer, whether your sense of smell is keener than your brother’s, or your hair bleaches in the sun). There are even tests that will tell you what type of dog your loveable mutt is. 

If you're looking for genealogy clues (my main interest), the test is only as good as the pool of others tested. For example, my results differ between 23&Me and My Heritage. Your genetics are predicted by comparing them with the other DNA samples on record.

What you might discover.

I am 43.6% British and Irish, 20.1% Scandinavian, 19.1% French and German. A closer look at the report shows my ancestors mostly live in Scotland. Makes sense. My maiden name is McKinlay, and I can trace my father's heritage back to the homeland. The Scandinavian doesn't surprise me knowing my grandmother’s heritage, and my middle name is Lantz, which accounts for the German. The other 17.2% breaks down as Broadly Northwestern European (from Ireland, Norway, Finland to France), Broadly European (mostly Eastern) and Native American. 

The AHA moment!

Since I was a little girl my father had told me it was rumored that one of my great, great grandfathers married a Native American woman. When I asked my aunts, they were both apoplectic. But 23&Me, at the most conservative level, says it’s true. It’s right there in bright yellow.  And, even more compelling, is they say I have five matches to others with Native American blood, who appear to be my 4th cousins. The next step is contacting them to find out who their ancestors are, and look for the connection. 

I haven't done it yet. 

Why? There are some pros and cons to DNA testing. People have discovered lots of things they don't want to know. For example, my cousin's wife took the test and learned she has a half-brother she never knew about. When she contacted him, he was traumatized and responded by pulling everything off the internet.

According to a report on DNA testing, done by CNBC on June 16, 2018, there are FIVE major reasons for NOT having your DNA tested. Surprisingly they didn’t list shock as one of their reasons.

1. Hacking. It's happened. I'm not sure who benefits by hacking DNA, and CNBC didn’t know what resulted, just that it might be bad. There has to be a thriller in there somewhere.

2. That someone else profits using your DNA. The premise here is that research conducted using DNA might fuel the development of pharmaceutical drugs that can be sold for exorbitant prices. Hmmm. If it accelerates someone finding a cure for cancer or Parkinson's disease, I think I could live with that. Again, there has to be a thriller in here. 

3. Laws covering genetic privacy are not broad enough. This has more merit. For example, right now there are select groups of people who receive insurance from the government and are protected from genetic discrimination. Say I’m one of them because of my Native American heritage. But then my DNA test shows I'm below the percentage eligible for benefits. You see the problem. Another thriller.

4. Some of the major DNA testing companies will share their data with law enforcement. The first high-profile case was the capture of the Golden State Killer, and I, for one, am glad they caught him. But say I'm not a serial killer, but my brother got himself into trouble. Do I want my DNA to be the reason the cops are able to track him down and arrest him? Maybe not.

5. The company's situation or privacy statement can change. What if the company sells, goes bankrupt? Who ends up with your DNA and what can they do with it? Likely you would have to agree to new privacy rules, but they already have your DNA, so….

Just know, if you venture down this road, you need to move forward with your eyes open. And, if you discover that your father is someone other than who you were raised by, be prepared to seek therapy.

Bottom line

One through 4 are definitely thriller material, but DNA testing was worth it for me. I proved an old family rumor true and I discovered one set of great grandparents on my mother's side came from "Bohemia.” Gypsies. I see a trip to Czechoslovakia in my future.

How about you? Have any of you opted-in for DNA testing? Did you find out you’re a NPE ("Not Parent Expected”)? I just know there's a book in here somewhere.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Top Five stupid TV Commercials in 2019

You’re probably wondering what commercials have to do with thriller novels. In our case, it has to do with branding. We, the Rogue Writers, are testing out our emerging brand, hoping you’ll be eager to see what we come out with next. Some of our readers might notice a few tiny differences in our blog header, one being the tagline beneath our name: “Kick-ass thriller writers. With Lives.” We dropped the international, because some of us are writing books that take place squarely in the U.S. We’re trying to let people know that the Rogue Women write kick-ass books, but that’s not all we do (hence, the "With Lives.") Obviously, the goal is that if you see Rogue Women, you’ll identify us with good books. It’ll take some time to see if this branding thing works. 

Geico Spy Commercial
Like books, I’ve always believed that the best commercials are memorable and tell a good story. They draw you in, or make you laugh, or make you cry (in a good way). Think Budweiser Clydesdales and dogs for loyalty and tears of joy. Jack-in-the-Box and Geico have the market on laughter. When the above brands come out with a new commercial, I often rewind the DVR to watch. They succeed, because they tell a story—usually in less than two minutes. (Do you recall the gum commercial where the high school kid left wrappers for his sweetheart? Same concept, but serial installments.) The bad commercials fail to tell a decent story. They lack thematic structure. Or if they have a theme, they fail on plot. 

Keeping that in mind, here’s my list for the first quarter of 2019. These are, without a doubt, commercials that I’d like to never see on my TV screen again:

5.  Burger King (with the plastic head). Okay, I haven’t technically seen one of these in 2019, but they’re so bad it still lingers in my memory banks—especially the one where the king is stalking someone sleeping in their bedroom. I get that Jack-in-the-Box has hit a home run with the plastic-head-thing, but the difference is that Jack is funny. The king is creepy. It makes me not want to eat at BK. Ever. 

4.  Liberty Mutual.  I suppose on the one hand, that because I remember their name, they’ve succeeded. But not in the way they’d hoped. Their jingle (Liberty, Liberty, Liberty…) reminds me that I need to record any show they’re on, so I can fast forward after making a mental note to never buy their product. Face it Liberty, these are not funny. Not even a little bit. 

3. Chevy.  (At least I think it’s Chevy. As far as branding, it’s that unmemorable.) This truck company tries to amaze you (and fails) by showing these “real people, not actors” who are taken into a big warehouse or a desert, or wherever, and get to see a pickup put through the ringer in a way they couldn’t possibly have imagined. Then the twist ending (on some), where they’ve dragged their relative in to witness their amazement. It does nothing to enhance the brand, and only proves that people will do anything to get on TV. (That being said, the Provincial Progressive Insurance spoof of this particular set of commercials is excellent. Branding, however, not so good. My husband had to correct me on insurance co.)

2.  All fabric softener, detergent, or room freshener commercials that brag about fresh scent.  Every one of them shows a person sniffing someone else’s clothes or barging into a neighbor’s house to smell their kitchen or teen’s messy bedroom. One unmemorable brand had an annoying campaign where we actually heard someone sniffing loudly (and which caused me to switch the channel, every single time before I heard the product name). Not only don’t I want people to invade my space like that, I don’t like my clothes to smell like the chemical version of a “spring day” or “clean, fresh scent.” Clothes shouldn’t smell period. (Truth: I buy unscented everything.) My version of a spring day is to walk outside and stand in the sun. If I want to smell a flower, I’ll walk up to one. 
Charmin as far as the eye can see.

And my top choice for worst commercial: 

1.  Charmin toilet paper.  The current ad campaign with the bears is so bad, I had to look up the brand, because I refuse to waste space in my memory banks. Unfortunately, the tagline is firmly burned into my brain: “We all go. Why not enjoy the go?” (Said no one ever.) To the ad agency who came up with this inane branding concept, I get that you need a way to make it memorable—and you have, just not in a good way. For the sensitive readers, just skip down to the end, and let me know your fave or most hated commercial. For those of you who agree that swearing is okay (per Rogue Gayle Lynds' (2/20) post), I have to say: WTF? There are so many ways to interpret this tagline, and all of them bad. Think triple X rating. Honestly, stick with the bears if you must. We all know what they do in the woods. That was clever. But reality is that the majority of us (and the bears) aren’t “enjoy(ing) the go,” and those who do, I don’t want to know about it. Please, please, please retire this stupid campaign!

So, Rogue Readers, who wins your vote for worst commercial ever? And would you buy one of their products? Or steer clear? I’d love to know!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Missouri Model of Juvenile Incarceration

by Lisa Black         

Here in Florida we recently had the first anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, making me think about research I did for my last book, Suffer the Children. What, exactly, should we do with children who have committed, perhaps not mass murder, but violent crimes?

About the worst thing you can do with a problem child is put them in jail. Isolated from their families and meaningful intervention programs, their education stunted, this nearly guarantees that they will remain a problem. When two-thirds of nonviolent first time offenders never reoffend without any sort of sanction or intervention, whereas forty percent of incarcerated juveniles will wind up in adult prison later on, obviously the best thing to do is to keep juveniles out of custody wherever possible.

Bad behavior (especially drug use) is often a mechanism to avoid the real problems of abuse and neglect. The most important thing for children to learn in terms of functioning in society is self-control and empathy, and those things have to be learned within a family. Unfortunately too many families now depend on day cares, schools and prisons to teach their children what they should have. Quality child care is essential but exorbitantly expensive in all fifty states. On top of that, schools have turned to zero-tolerance policies instead of increasing the mental health screening and services so desperately needed. With the increasing pressures of standardized testing, schools in some states (like Florida) have been accused of shedding their low-achieving students into detention facilities and ‘alternative’ high schools in order to get their test averages up.

Schools in other states (such as Ohio) are unable to expel even extremely disruptive students and have to take on extra staff to provide one-on-one monitors. But most of the disabled children in schools are learning disabled (not physical), and more and more of a school’s budget goes to this sector. Schools need help to screen, monitor and intervene if necessary the lives of their students, including simply keeping track of who is coming to school and who isn’t. Truancy sounds like a minor thing, the plot of a Little Rascals skit, but it is very important. It’s the first step for all delinquency.

Also, increasing numbers of children in America, particularly the ‘problem’ ones, are on psychotropic medications. One study showed that fifty percent of children in Florida shelters were on psychotropic meds.

Of course, never putting kids in jail wouldn’t work either. All bad-behaving kids, whether their act is skipping school or killing somebody, need to face appropriate punishment, or there is no reason for them to stop.

So what to do? Read up on child delinquency and you will quickly hear tell of ‘the Missouri model.’ Since the 1980s, the Missouri Division of Youth Services has experimented and tweaked their system, boiling it down to six distinct points (source: Anne E. Casey Foundation):

1. Missouri places youth who require confinement into smaller facilities located near the youths’ homes and families, rather than incarcerating delinquent youth in large, far-away, prisonlike training schools.

2. Missouri places youth into closely supervised small groups and applies a rigorous group treatment process offering extensive and ongoing individual attention, rather than isolating confined youth in individual cells or leaving them to fend for themselves among a crowd of delinquent peers.

3. Missouri places great emphasis on (and achieves admirable success in) keeping youth safe not only from physical aggression but also from ridicule and emotional abuse; and it does so through constant staff supervision and supportive peer relationships rather than through coercive techniques that are commonplace in most youth corrections systems.

4. Missouri helps confined youth develop academic, pre-vocational, and communications skills that improve their ability to succeed following release—along with crucial insights into the roots of their delinquent behavior and new social competence to acknowledge and solve personal problems.

5. Missouri reaches out to family members and involves them both as partners in the treatment process and as allies in planning for success in the aftercare transition, rather than keeping families at a distance and treating them as the source of delinquent youths’ problems.

6. Missouri provides considerable support and supervision for youth transitioning home from a residential facility—conducting intensive aftercare planning prior to release, monitoring and mentoring youth closely in the first 15 crucial weeks following release, and working hard to enroll them in school, place them in jobs, and/or sign them up for extracurricular activities in their home communities.

All this individualized attention sounds expensive—except it isn’t, relatively. With smaller facilities and less children in custody overall, Missouri spends less money on its youth than most states and substantially less than many (including Florida).

Is it perfect? Of course not—nothing ever is, right? Missouri has reoffenders and recidivists…just less than in other states. So as school shootings become commonplace and at least twenty-three states now have no minimum age at which to try juveniles in adult court, it’s nice to know that occasionally progress is made toward a brighter future for all.

Have you had any experience with your local juvenile justice system? What do you think needs to be changed?

Friday, March 8, 2019

Rogue Women February Roundup!

Our monthly RWW Roundup is designed for those of you who like to binge-read your blogs!  Here's what we Rogues talked about, researched, and revealed in February....

Author and former Rogue Francine Matthews, writing as Stephanie Barron, kicked off February with a post about her new novel, THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN.  It sheds a different light on Winston Churchill's fascinating and politically powerful American-born mother, Jennie Jerome.

Rogue author Karna Small Bodman tells the story of a brilliant woman known only for her beauty and not for her intellect and the inventions all of us use today. Can you figure out who she is? Find out here.

And in honor of February and all things red, Jamie Freveletti explores what the hues signal to us and what the iconic women who wore red lipstick must have known.

Lisa Black dives into the infamous Leopold and Loeb joy-killing of a stranger and how it's influenced mystery and thriller fiction ever since.

Ex-cop Robin Burcell has serious pet peeves on police procedures dramatized in books, TV, and movies. Get the inside intel with her Top Ten.

When Chris Goff's husband gets on board to help her research her international thrillers, she ends up with a library on spy craft, a cache of spy tools, and just enough knowledge to guarantee her a spot on some alphabet agencies' watchlists.

For the benefit of herself and her characters, Gayle Lynds takes a trip into science to see what researchers have learned about swearing.  #$%@&

We Rogues are THRILLED to announce that our own Lisa Black is a finalist for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award!  Congratulations, Lisa! 

K.J. Howe explores seven dynamic courtroom trials in the U.S., questioning readers on which one befits the title "Trial of the Century."

S. Lee. Manning describes her head-scratching (and entertaining) efforts to find an affordable flight to Paris in search of the perfect croissant. The result?  She'll be enjoying mud season in Vermont. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Avid Reader? Want to meet others? Twelve Writers Conferences you may enjoy.

Murder and Mayhem Conference Chicago, March 23rd
by Jamie Freveletti

It's March, and in Chicago that usually means that though Spring is around the corner, it's still cold and blustery. It also means that it's a perfect time to stay indoors and head to a writing conference.  I'll be speaking at the Murder and Mayhem Conference, shown above, along with Scott Turow and Sophie Hannah.

I started attending writing conferences when I was writing my first manuscript. I'd always been an avid reader and sometimes attended signings of my favorite authors, but it took the manuscript attempt to prod me to attend a writers' conference, and the result was....magical.

My first was a conference called Bouchercon. This conference focuses on mystery and thriller books and because I was, at that time, writing a mystery, I thought it would be of interest. I rode my bicycle down Lake Shore Drive on a beautiful September weekend, walked into the conference and gaped. Within fifteen minutes three authors that I recognized strolled past me. The extensive list of panels and presentations was varied and interesting. By the end of the weekend I was hooked.

So began my foray into conferences. Since that time a couple of my favorites in the Chicago area have discontinued (Love is Murder, The Aurora Literary Fest), but some new ones have sprung up ( Murder and Mayhem Chicago shown above, the Chicago Writers Association).

And there are many others, each with its unique perspective. Love Thillers? Then the International Thriller Writers Thrillerfest is where you should go. ITW, started by our own Gayle Lynds and David Morrell hosts this conference. There you'll see most of the Rogue Women Writers. Last year, in fact, Rogue K.J. Howe won the Best First Novel award for The Freedom Broker. She wrote a recap here.

Thrillerfest Conference New York, July 9-13

Love Romance? The Romance Slam Jam is held in Kansas City every year. And if you love historicals, there's the Historical Writers of America conference and the Historical Novel Society of North America.

Harry Potter fan? There's Leaky Con, which is dedicated to all things Potter and one I attended with my teenage daughter. Three thousand young people celebrating their favorite books. This one travels the world and I highly recommend it.

And there's also Sleuthfest in Florida and Killer Nashville in that city. On the West Coast? Try Left Coast Crime and on the East Coast try the Crimes, Creatures and Creativity (C3) Conference.

This is just a small sampling of these conferences and only a list of those in the United States. Writers conferences span the globe. England has The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Conference.

If you love books, then conferences are a fun way to connect with other readers. Check these out, and if you have any other favorite conferences we'd love to hear about it!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Tips from the experts

By Karna Small Bodman 

Are you an aspiring writer, published author or avid reader who would like to know how bestselling authors create their novels? The best advice I have heard (and continue to hear) is from the pros at our annual conference of the International Thriller Writers organization called "ThrillerFest" - coming up in July at the Grand Hyatt in New York -- a gathering of some 1,000 writers, readers, agents and editors.. Anyone can register on the ThrillerFest website.

Besides featuring such top authors as John Sanford, Harlan Coben, Margaret Maybury, Lisa Unger and many others who will give talks and interviews, published authors and industry professionals will be presenting workshops and panel discussions on everything from how to plot, develop heroes and villains, to creating tension and innovative  marketing techniques. I just went back to review some of the voluminous notes I've taken at previous conferences, so I could give you a flavor of this great gathering.

TAndrew Gross, who got his start writing with James Patterson and is now a bestselling author in his own right, gave a great workshop on "Plotting a Good Thriller." Andy has written many thrillers as well as historical novels, including his latest, Button Man. Andy advises, "You want an 'I couldn't put it down' story where something large is at stake, where bad things happen to ordinary people, and the pacing propels the narrative. In action scenes, don't fill it with incidentals, read it out loud and eliminate excess descriptions. Start with a riveting opening and make the reader feel how the hero feels. Make me care about the characters -- are they trustworthy, funny, romantic, or straining to overcome adversity? Whatever it is, make me care!" He and others say, "Have a twist at the end, but don't rush the ending. Choreograph it well with an emotional payoff."

Our own Rogue, Gayle Lynds, is a master at creating a riveting thriller.  Besides writing some of the Robert Ludlum books, her own story, The Assassins, is a roadmap to the creation of great villains. Gayle conducts workshops on the subject where she points out, "The villain is the hero of his own story.  He should have strength and power -- don't make fun of him, have respect for him. If you don't, the reader won't either.  Include some characteristic in your villain that are good." (Remember Hannibal Lecter had good taste and Hitler liked dogs. Maybe your villain loves his mother). She goes on to advise, "The villain must be mighty in order for the hero to rise up and be heroic." And, "The villain drives the plot in the clash with the hero." The story can also have multiple villains, as you'll see in The Assassins.  

When creating your characters, we are often reminded that each should have "GMC." That means:  give every one of them a goal, motivation and conflict. Think about it, perhaps put together a list of characteristics (along with descriptions, of course) of each major player. Some authors then write an extensive outline - while others, like Lee Child, often say they would rather "wing it" and "see where my characters take me." Whatever your writing style, after you have written your first draft, now it's time for the editing process. And do we ever get lessons on editing from the masters as ThrillerFest.  

The late great Michael Palmer is famous for giving advice that is invaluable to writers of all genres.

Here is a summary of his advice on editing: Read it five times, take out the dead words, sprinkle in back story, don't include too much research or "your own experience," check the time line for realty, double check POV changes (only one character's "point of view" should be described in any one scene), strive for technical accuracy, check your choreography, try to include references to at least two of our senses in each scene, make gestures differentiate your characters, look for awkward sentences and misplaced modifiers, avoid long paragraphs, check sentences that begin with "It" (Palmer says, "That's kind of lazy."). Also, avoid similar names, don't keep repeating full names, only give names to the major characters, scour your draft for repeated words, avoid as many adverbs as possible, examine and get rid of metaphors.

As for punctuation and other specifics, he advises the author to spell out numbers. If you use abbreviations be consistent (e.g. Lt. or Dr.). Put a comma before the "and" in a sentence (e.g. He walked outside, and as he gazed at the moon he felt so alone).  Minimize or eliminate the use of ; or :  And when you are finished, be sure to add page numbers to your manuscript in the header or footer.

Okay, now the author has written and edited the manuscript, nailed down an agent and publisher (or perhaps decided to self-publish, as 1.2 million writers opted to do in 2018, according to Publishers Weekly),  how in the world does one achieve bestseller status? Since Amazon has some six million titles for sale,  the challenge is obvious.  But take heart. We're talking about the best in the business here, right? They all have their own stories to tell about perseverance.  For example:

Steve Berry
The former President of International Thriller Writers, Steve Berry, tells aspiring writers about how he wrote novels for a decade and had some 85 rejections from various agents and editors before he nailed his first publishing contract. Today Steve is definitely a Bestselling Author with some twenty-three million books in print in fifty-one countries.

Steve is always a presenter at ThrillerFest and is one of the most encouraging people on the planet, often offering "blurbs" (cover comments) to first-time novelists.

Then there is author David Baldacci who wrote for fifteen years before his novel Absolute Power was made into a movie which propelled him to 'bestseller-dom." 

One line we often hear at our workshops and panels is, "You never fail until you quit." Something else you will encounter if you decide to attend this year's ThrillerFest, is a panel of Rogue Women Writers.  Last year our "panel master" (M.C.) was ITW's Co-President, John Lescroart.
Rogue Women Writers Panel at Thrillerfest

This year, our panel will be handled by another "Bestselling Author" James Rollins.  We would love to see you there. 

….Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

Friday, March 1, 2019

AUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN GOES ROGUE, and talks about her latest book.

Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Rogues are delighted to have Ausma Zehanat Khan blogging with us today. Her latest novel in the award-winning Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series is just out. Ausma is the author of eight books—5 mysteries, 2 fantasies and 1 middle grade novel. In addition, she holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. All around remarkable!  

In difficult times like these, I thought, why not write a difficult book? So I contemplated writing a crime novel loosely inspired by the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada. My lead detective, Esa Khattak, is a Canadian Muslim, and for some time, I’ve been wanting him to grapple with how he would investigate a crime where his community was targeted because of their faith—a crime that was unmistakably a hate crime.

Mysteries by Khan
As a former immigration lawyer with a research focus on human rights, I’ve been keeping an eye on hate crimes for more than a decade. But after the 2016 election in the United States, my focus on both hate crimes and hate speech intensified, and I began to document incidents of hate with more rigor. Then two major events made it so that I began to feel the urgency of writing about this subject: the shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015, and the previously mentioned mosque shooting in Quebec.

After these incidents, it became clear to me that fomenting hate against vulnerable groups, whether through political posturing or through views that were propagated on TV, radio, and online forums, was having a measurable dehumanizing effect. The scourge of hate was moving beyond speech – and those who are not members of targeted groups may not fully appreciate the damaging nature of speech alone – to actions against vulnerable groups, that were increasing in severity: hence Quebec and North Carolina, two of the more extreme incidents.

So I wanted to send my detectives, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, into a similarly volatile situation to explore the fallout of hate. I thought this would be a challenging book to write, and in many ways it was. I spent more time than I want to recount on various online forums listening to how hate speech was expressed, and how it gathered intensity and traction as general support for it increased. What shouldn’t have surprised me but did was that this type of speech wasn’t only expressed by extremist groups on the fringe. It was becoming mainstreamed with perhaps a more respectable veneer disguising the conversations in the mainstream. This was an ugly place to spend time, but I realized that over the years, the impact of exposure to it had lessened due to a long period of conditioning. We were being conditioned to accept hate speech as a conversation moving from the margins to the mainstream—it didn’t surprise me anymore, I’d become desensitized to it.

Writing A Deadly Divide was my attempt to re-sensitize not only myself but my readers. To understand the human costs of hate, and to understand that hate spreads rapidly beyond the borders of what we are willing to tolerate because we think it will remain at the margins. Writing this book was my way of trying to measure those costs.

You can order your copy of A Deadly Divide today!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


by KJ Howe
There is no drama like courtroom drama. High stakes, aggressive arguments, forensic evidence, and the riveting uncertainty of what the verdict will be. What’s not to love?  The American legal system has produced some of the most compelling trials in history. But which one was truly THE trial of the 20thcentury. The criteria: the trials had to involve massive public interest, memorable personalities, set in America, be criminal in nature, and be real (sorry Harper Lee and John Grisham—we still love you!). Without further ado, in chronological order, here are seven nominees, you pick the winner:

The Trial of Leon Czolgosz (1901)

This one just creeps in just under the wire. On Sept 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot and killed President Leon McKinley at a public event. Anarchists like Czoglosz assassinated political leaders and royalty across the globe and the United States was no exception. The Czologsz case is the epitome of speedy justice. The trial began nine days after McKinley expired from his wounds, the proceedings lasted just eight hours (you read that right—hours), the jury deliberated for thirty minutes, and Czolgosz was executed by electric chair on Oct 29, 1901, barely seven weeks after the shooting. Whiplash justice.

The Trial of Leopold and Loeb (1924)

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb killed young Bobby Franks in cold blood in Chicago.  The case was reviewed brilliantly by Rogue Lisa Black here. The most interesting aspect of the case was the legendary closing statement by controversial defense lawyer Clarence Darrow which lasted some 12 hours (longer than the entire Czologsz trial!) and saved the defendants from the death penalty.

Clarence Darrow
The Scopes Monkey Trial (1925)

This case featured historical giants Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant slugging it out over the legality of a law that forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools in Tennessee.  The case attracted media from all over the country and had to be held outdoors due to the extreme heat of the summer. While the trial has spawned books, plays, and movies unlike any other case, it had a most humble beginning. The town of Dayton Tennessee was dying out economically when a group of local businessmen drinking soda saw an ad from the ACLU offering to finance a test case about teaching evolution. The men convinced substitute teacher John Scopes, who was really more interested in playing tennis and courting a certain local lady, to say he had taught evolution to help out the boys. The truth is he probably never taught evolution and never even testified at the trial where he was convicted. While his conviction was eventually overturned on a technicality, the law survived and similar laws remained on the books in a number of states until many decades later.

The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping (1935)

On March 1, 1932, twenty-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the legendary aviator, was boldly snatched from his bedroom. The publicity exploded nationwide and the press swarmed.  Famous journalist H.L. Mencken referred to the kidnapping as “the biggest story since the resurrection.” Even though the ransom was paid, the child was found dead a short time later.  Eventually, the notes and bills used to pay the ransom were traced to Bruno Hauptman who was arrested for the crime. Sketches of the make-shift ladder used in the kidnapping and the remaining funds from the ransom were found in his home. While he denied his guilt until the end, Hauptmann was convicted and died in the electric chair.

The Tate/Labianca Murders (1970)

On August 9 and 10, 1969 a group of cultists murdered eight people, including Sharon Tate who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Police work cracked the case, and cult leader Charles Manson was tried for the murder despite not having been at the scene of the murders. Manson claimed to be receiving messages from contemporary music about a great race war called “Helter Skelter”, and he planned these murders to help initiate the war. In what might be the first of the modern media circus trials, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s brilliant strategy led to Manson’s conviction. Manson recently died in jail.

The Rodney King Trial (1993)

On March 3, 1991, construction worker Rodney King was pulled over by four Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed chase. An altercation with the officers resulted in King being struck multiple times by night sticks and kicked while on the ground. A nearby civilian filmed the beating and sent the tape to a local TV station. The four officers were charged criminally, but were acquitted by a jury. This lead to a six-day period of rioting and civil disobedience that cost the lives of 63 people. 2,373 more individuals were injured and the riots resulted in over one billion dollars of property damage. Eventually, the officers were charged federally and two of them were convicted and sentenced to thirty months in jail.  

The O.J. Simpson Trial

On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death
in Los Angeles. When former NFL star, O.J. Simpson refused to turn himself in, he was involved in the most famous “low-speed” vehicle chase in a now notorious white Bronco. The trial was the pinnacle of the media circus, stretching over eleven months while Judge Lance Ito, “The Dream Team” of defense lawyers led by Johnny Cochrane, and Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark became household names. At the end of the trial, Simpson was acquitted, but later he was found civilly liable for the deaths and jailed on unrelated charges.

Significant trials come in all shapes and sizes with all types of outcomes. 

Which trial would you call the “Trial of the Century,” and are there any you would add to the list?

Sunday, February 24, 2019


S. Lee Manning: Every day, I check my e-mails and Facebook. And, every day for the last month, they pop up: ads for amazingly cheap flights to Paris. Now, I know why those ads are showing up in my e-mail and my Facebook feed – because a month ago my husband and I chatted about a trip to France in the spring– after all – isn’t that where all writers go - and I researched flights. Google knows everything I do on my computer– which means Facebook knows –  et viola– quicker than I could down a croissant, the ads started appearing.

Will take aim at Google and Facebook another time. This is about booking a flight.

So, there it is – that appealing price for a flight to Paris. ROUND TRIP FOR UNDER $300!  We can afford that. I yell to my husband  (or I did the first time I saw one of these – I’m wiser now), “Hey, we’re going to Paris.”

Then I click on the link.

It’s a site called something like Low Low flying or CHEAP CHEAP AIR.  I put in dates and watch the flight possibilities appear. For the low low advertised price of a round trip to Paris for under $300, there will be one flight from the Newark Airport (my preferred departure spot). It’ll leave at midnight, have three stops: Chicago, Dublin, and Barcelona, and we’ll arrive in Paris fifteen hours after departure. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. Poetic license.)

So I think about how exhausted we will be on arrival – but it’s still cheap – right? Under $300 – round trip - each. For $600, we can visit Paris. Imagine my excitement. The Marais. The Seine. The Left Bank. French pastries. French crepes. French croissants. Can’t wait. So I click on the sole $300 flight out of Newark. Then I am directed to select my return from Paris. I scroll down the flights. Every single flight adds additional cost to the alleged $300 round trip fare.  The return three stops in Chicago, Dublin, Barcelona  adds $200 onto the price - which means that there is no such thing as a round trip for $300. It was just a lie.  For a direct flight instead of the scenic route– add on $350. For a flight that doesn’t leave at 6 a.m. but maybe after 9 a.m. – add on another $200.

For the hell of it, I click on the return through Barcelona, Dublin, Chicago. My price for two round trip tickets – has skyrocketed to approximately $1200 – or double what I thought it would be. Much less affordable. Maybe doable – if we cut back on eating out in Paris – although the whole idea of Paris – is somewhat diminished if you don’t eat out. 

Still, not ruling it out yet.

Then I realize the sad truth. The not-so-bargain fare for a flight to Paris with stops in Chicago, Dublin, and Barcelona – is something new –  the fare is for BASIC ECONOMY.

It sounds like a freshman university class on the workings of the economic system. It’s not.

In Basic Economy, you have to pay not just to check a suitcase but to use the overhead bin. I mean, I know how that works on domestic flight – since airlines for years have charged to check suitcases - you just stuff two pairs of jeans, three shirts, underwear, and a sweater into a carry-on. Not no more. That carry-on is no longer free. If you happen to be Jack Reacher (a nod and a wave to Lee Child) and you just buy clothes as you need them, that’s okay. I consider that option. I mean, it’s Paris. I can just buy clothes over there and toss them when they start to smell – like Jack Reacher. Or, being myself, I could ship them back. But any of those options still adds on to the costs.

OK, what other delights are in store with Basic Economy?

You can’t choose a seat ahead of time. Well, yeah, you can. You have to pay for it. Otherwise, you have to wait until you get to the gate to board and then you get assigned a seat. Maybe on the wing? The outside wing? After all, who needs a seat?

Can’t cancel or change your ticket for any reason. You’re the last to board. I imagine you’re also the first to be bumped – although they don’t advertise that fact.

Seat size is the same in economy and basic economy – both of which mean risking deep vein thrombosis on a long flight. Both of which mean either staying awake for fifteen hours or risk drooling on a stranger’s shoulder – if I happen to lean in the wrong direction and not towards my husband.

I tell my husband all of the above. He says Vermont is lovely in the spring. It’s not, the spring is mud season, but I agree.

The Marais. The Seine. The Left Bank. French pastries. French  crepes. French croissants – will still be there next winter when fares will be down. Maybe. And if not, Vermont is lovely in the winter.