Sunday, February 17, 2019

SPY SCHOOL: Or Things You Can Learn From the Ex-CIA Guy

by Chris Goff

Gadgets and info every spy needs to have.
I have a confession to make—my husband Wes, a wonderful guy who is my biggest supporter, has begun amassing "spy tools" and "spy tips." Ever since I started writing the Raisa Jordan thrillers, he started following the exploits of a former CIA officer turned survival tactics guru. Then he started ordering things. First it was publications, then it was "toys." We now subscribe to the "Spy Briefing," which offers daily safety tips, as well as facts about spies and spy craft. I'll bet our names are on some alphabet agencies' watchlist.

A little background on Jason Hanson. His bio will tell you he's "born to serve." He graduated from Radford University, joined the Arlington County Police Force, then set his sites on the CIA. He spent nearly a decade in the field before resigning to start a family. But unlike others who quit the spy game, Hanson had a plan. He knew exactly what he was meant to do. His mission: to help good, honest Americans learn critical survival tactics that can literally mean the difference between life and death. In 2010, he founded Spy Escape & Evasion, and began teaching two-day courses on insider secrets and techniques average citizens can use to stay safe. He has appeared on The NBC Today Show, Dateline, Rachael Ray, and been interviewed by Forbes, NPR and The Huffington Post. Jason Hanson is the real deal.

The first "gadget" Wes ordered was a Tactical Bag, sometimes known as a "Bug Out" Bag. It's a must have for a survivalist, or anyone fearing a zombie apocalypse. Filled correctly, it holds everything needed to survive for a minimum of 72 hours in case of forced evacuation. It has seven compartments and comes with a guide that lists all the items necessary to survive a crisis: a water bladder, water filtration system, food, first aid kit, gun.... Our bag even came with a book called "Survive a Crisis."

As for me, I carried it around for months, in the back of my car, in a box marked photos (the advice given to ensure no one sees and covets your bag). After that, I gave it away. Frankly I can't see myself hiding out in the woods drinking my own urine out of a water filter.

Next came the publications. The first was a little book, Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. This book actually made my fight scene in RED SKY. In Spy Secrets, Hanson details how to use your Tactical Pen (see below), which Raisa Jordan did with precision. Thanks to Mr. Hanson, Raisa kicked ass, and so did I. Enough to garner high praise from my editor at Crooked Lane, who said, "You’re incredible at writing action and Jordan really dominates in that last fight." 

Additional publications included: Survive Like a Spy: Real CIA Operatives Reveal How They Stay Safe in a Dangerous World and How You Can Too, the Covert Guide to Concealed Carry, and Alone and Unafraid: Patriot Defense and Survival Guide. We are ready at the Goff house— and definitely on a watchlist, somewhere.

It didn't take long for the "weapons" to appear. First there was the Tactical Pen. This is legal protection you can carry anywhere, including onto a plane. I carry mine everywhere, and I've used it—to write with. I can't help but think it would take lots and lots of training to use it for defense.

We also have a lock pick set, a Survival Knife with Built-In Fire Starter, a plastic knife with serrated edges , 2 micro spy tools and a set of throwing knives that came with a DVD to show you how to use them. The Micro Spy Tools are made of plex and "allows you to strike, slash, gouge, and puncture an attacker." As a trainee at one of Hanson's training courses said, "I have come to prefer this versus my folding thumb flip knife. I like the size of the grip, the leverage I have when wielding it, and the shear amount of tissue damage I can cause versus my smaller locking blade." Watchlist, need I say more?

For those of you who may be concerned, I am not the least bit lethal. Still, I can't help but think it might be fun to take a course at "Spy Ranch."  Who's with me?

How far would you go in the name of research?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


You can never have too many handcuff keys.
How do you make the police procedure in your mysteries or thrillers seem authentic? 

Below are some of the mistakes and overused tropes I’ve seen in books that usually pull me out of a story. The good news is that not everyone who reads mysteries are cops, so they might not notice some of what I consider my top pet peeves. More importantly, just because I've listed them doesn’t mean that you can’t use them. Just that if you do, know why it is they appear on my list. 

The top ten are...

10.   Long radio transmissions no cop would ever make. I've seen authors write a full paragraph of just one radio call. It's just not going to happen. Some departments talk all in code, some in plain English, so feel free to throw in a bit of police lingo to mix it up. Just keep it simple and preferably short. And if you do have a long transmission, you have to add a “break” for any emergencies that might arise while you’re hogging the mike. 

9.  Not knowing the elements of the crime, or what constitutes a crime.  Imagine some cop is parked, writing reports.  He looks up, sees a man bumping into a young lady who falls to the ground as he runs away. Purse snatch? Robbery? Looks like a good pinch, so he shifts to drive, and races to the rescue.  He jumps out, sees the woman is okay, then chases after the suspect, tackles, and cuffs him.  See any problems with this?  He did not see the crime.  He assumed.  While it’s okay to assume (good cops make assumptions based on expertise), at least have your cop stop to ask the victim what happened before he gets in a foot chase.

8. The loner alcoholic cop with the rumpled raincoat, whose wife and kids were murdered by the serial killer (who was never caught) while said cop was out eating donuts.  This is a twofer. One, we've got to come up with better back stories. Two, back in the day, donut shops were the only thing open on graveyard shifts, and that was where the coffee could be found.  That cliché would never work in California, where there’s a Starbucks on every corner, and a bagel shop two doors down. Who eats donuts anymore? 

7. Having cops hired on a whim, or transferring from a different agency without doing a proper background investigation. Since when is it ever a good idea to hand someone a gun and the keys to the building without knowing who they are or where they came from?

6. Evil or stupid police supervisors.  Repeat after me:  Only some of the bosses are evil or stupid (and no, they didn’t all work for my department).  Even fewer fit both descriptions at once. The standing joke is that to get promoted to sergeant, you have to first have a lobotomy.  To make it to lieutenant or captain, you have to have your spine removed.  True in all cases?  No.  

5. The hated, despised Internal Affairs cop, who is usually evil or stupid.  See # 6 above.

4. Dirty cops planting phony evidence. I’m not saying you can’t use this trope, but if you surround the premise of your book around this plot point, do it better than anyone else.  One of the best examples of a well-done plant was from a (decades-old) movie, where a dirty cop was seen committing a crime on a surveillance video that was then booked into evidence by the investigator. The dirty cop set up a “window smash” of another business, using a very large and highly magnetic device to shatter the window.  The device was booked into evidence, and placed next to the surveillance tape, which it then demagnetized, rendering it useless. (Granted, this wouldn’t work in the digital age, but the set up for that time period was brilliant.)
Lofland's Police Procedure & Investigation

3. Stupid blunders by cops at crime scenes. Just knowing the basics can help, everything from keeping a crime scene log to what constitutes trace evidence and cross-contamination. To keep your cop or amateur sleuth from mucking up good evidence, consider picking up a copy of retired cop Lee Lofland’s most excellent Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers.

2. Cops handling major felony investigations alone.  These guys are assigned partners for a reason. Safety is one of them, but so, too, is having a second set of eyes and ears for investigative purposes, as well as for testifying later in court.

And the number one pet peeve...?
1. Throwing officer safety out the window. If you’re going to put your cop in danger, at least give them a very good reason why they’re now ignoring every basic rule they were ever taught from day one in the academy. Just because they do it on TV or on the big screen, it does not make it okay for your book. It makes the story unbelievable. For instance, if a cop knows he is going to contact a bad guy in person, or going on any sort of call with the possibility for a confrontation of any type, he/she always waits for back up or takes a partner. And hot call or not, they never pull out their guns and check to see if they’re loaded—or rack a round into the chamber—just before they go chasing after the bad guy. (Yes, you can have your bad guys do this. But not the police.) A cop’s weapon is always loaded and the safety is OFF. And yet, the cops do this in 90% of the TV shows and movies. It sounds cool, and definitely looks cool, but it’s stupid. When the bad guys are firing at you, last thing you want to do is stop to load your weapon then turn off the safety. Wasted seconds equals wasted lives.

No doubt, those of you in other professions have noticed big mistakes in books (and I'll bet I've made a few of my own). So, Rogue Readers, do you have any professional pet peeves in fiction?

(Due to a deadline, I'm updating and recycling this 2009 blog post from Mystery Fanfare for this month's Rogue post. Hope you enjoy!)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Thrill Kill

Leopold in jail
by Lisa Black
Most all adults know the basics of the original wilding-teens thrill-killing: Nathan Leopold, 19, and Richard Loeb, 18, enticed and then murdered acquaintance Bobby Franks, 14, in 1924. No less than Clarence Darrow defended Loeb, and managed to keep them from the death penalty.
      They had no motive other than the idea that killing and getting away with it would be a fabulous intellectual exercise. Like their emotional descendants at Columbine they began with petty vandalism, then spent months planning the murder. However unlike those philosophical descendants they did not intend to get caught—not getting caught was the whole point.
Clarence Darrow
        By now the idea of murdering for kicks, especially when carried out by privileged white boys, is de rigueur—but I had never thought through how radical this concept must have seemed in 1924.
        For one thing, violent crime belonged to the lower classes— then, as now, more often occurring among those between a socioeconomic rock and a resource-lacking hard place. Well brought-up children were not expected to act out beyond schoolyard pranks.
        Also, victims were known to their killers. They were spouses, lovers, business rivals. Picking a victim purely because they were more or less convenient was unheard of—those killers existed, we now know, but at the time no one had heard of Elisabeth Bathory or Belle Gunness, no one beyond the anomaly Jack the Ripper. The term ‘serial killer’ would not be coined for another fifty years or so and would  not apply to the pair anyway since they only killed one person. But had they not been caught, I at least have no doubt they would have kept honing their technique, proving their intellectual superiority. (Note that like most serial killers, their intellectual superiority existed mostly in their own minds: their overly elaborate ransom drop plan promptly went awry, the typewriter used to make it was found, Leopold got way too chatty with the cops, he also dropped his prescription eyeglasses at the scene, their alibi was instantly disproven, and both quickly confessed when confronted.)
       Third, murders were presumed to have been committed for a reason—anger, lust, a fabulous inheritance. It was a difficult, messy, extremely risky proposition, so why on earth would anyone do it if it were not strictly necessary?
       No wonder the murder of Bobby Franks stunned, amazed, and baffled the populace.
       If we consider mystery/thriller books written before this time—Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, the Sherlock Holmes stories, they mostly dealt with puzzles (likely what Leopold and Loeb were trying to emulate), yet the killers had a definite reason to want the victim dead. Then came the very American gangster stories, with lots of violence, but violence for gains such as contraband or expanding territory.
       But art eventually imitated life. By the 1950s, novels began to appear with remorseless, motiveless killers who not only selected victims more or less at random but plenty, and often— I have thirteen books out, and have not yet been brave enough to keep the body count under three. These killers have no reason for their actions other than enjoyment. Though we find them as inexplicable today as readers did in 1924, these villains are now ubiquitous, slaughtering fictional victims right and left without a single tangible gain other than a quickly faded thrill.
       So in that respect, perhaps Leopold and Loeb changed the face of mystery fiction forever.

Leopold and Loeb.

      Can you think of another example of a real-life incident ushering in a new and lasting mystery/thriller genre? 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Rogue Women January Roundup

Rogue Women Roundup!

We're starting a new monthly RWW Roundup for those who like to binge read their blogs! Here's what the Rogue Women Writers talked about, researched and discussed in January:

It's a new year and the Rogues discussed organizing tips and book suggestions. Jamie talked converting a spare room to an office, which inspired Robin to organize hers, and Gayle culled more than 1,000 pages of research (and check out her boxes of information, which were filmed during her interview with CBS Sunday Morning).

Karna gave a nice list of upcoming thrillers and trends for 2019.

Lisa asked, is it important for the protagonist of a mystery to be emotional? Or is it better to go back to the famous, and unemotional fictional detectives of earlier days?

And because we all write about geopolitical events, there was no lack of interesting information.

K.J. discussed the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that took place in 2002 and the fascinating, but frightening facts about nuclear weapons gone missing (the military even has a term for it). August wrote about the Vanishing Premier - how a statue that was a tourist spot disappeared- (perhaps an attempt to erase the collective memory of history?), and Chris detailed traveling to Kiev to research her book in the middle of the unrest there.

And finally, S.Lee wrote movingly about the history of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Color and Thrillers: Empowerment resides in Red

My first novel's paperback cover
by Jamie Freveletti

I've been flying all over recently, from the West Coast to the East with a stop in the Midwest, and I had occasion to plow through my magazine TBR pile. (I subscribe to a lot of them, from Foreign Affairs and National Geographic to Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair so the stack was high).

One of the magazines, in honor of Valentine's Day had asked a series of women from every walk of life to name their favorite red lipstick and when they first wore it. The answers were surprisingly interesting! Some filched their mother's red, others their grandmother's. They talked about putting on the lipstick, looking in the mirror, and the impact the color had on them. Most felt instantly grown up, others somewhat racy, and still others felt empowered. All from a bright red color.

I have my own story, of course. I never wore much makeup until I was in college, but one year for Halloween I decided to dress as a devil, with a flowing red satin cape. I headed to the nearest drugstore to buy a fire engine red lipstick to complete the ensemble. I put it on in a cab using a tiny compact mirror and so never saw the full effect until later, when I walked by a floor to ceiling mirror in the dance club and stopped dead. The red lipstick made me look alive and powerful in a way that I couldn't explain.

I've since had a love affair with the color. If you're down, feeling unattractive, or just blah, put on
L'Oreal's Ruby Opera
some red lipstick and watch your spirits soar. (I asked some men what works for them, and most said their favorite suit, the one that makes them look put together and prepared to take on the world). And if you love an expensive color but would be just as happy with a duplicate, there's Temptalia, a helpful website that will find a drugstore dupe for you.

But why red? What does the color mean and why does it resonate so much? According to this Psychology Today article the color signals dominance, power and physical attractiveness to all genders, not just women. In fact, sports teams that wore red uniforms had a better chance of winning a physical contest.

But red doesn't always help. On the flip side, studies show that seeing a flash of red before an achievement test can raise fears of failure, so approach red wisely.

I've used red in thrillers as well. My first, Running From the Devil, has a pivotal moment involving red. I won't say more, so as not to spoil the book should you choose to read it, but I'm glad now that I did. I must have instinctively known that the color would mean something to a reader, just as it did to me.

If you're reading a novel that mentions red, my bet is that it's a signal to something powerful, dangerous or exotic. And if you're writing one and thinking about conveying an image, red should be in your arsenal. Part of being a writer is knowing what different images will move a reader. The lush green of a forest or the sandy white of a beach will resonate differently than the soft grey of a dawn sky and red of a villain's bloodshot eyes.

And here's a link to some photos of the most iconic red lipstick  worn by famous women. One woman movie star and scientist (you can read Rogue Karna Small Bodman's great story about her here) had a red lipstick named after her.

If you've read a book that employs the color, or a favorite color and brand of lipstick, and/or a story of your first time wearing red, we'd love to hear it!

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Brilliant Woman -- but who knew?

….by Karna Small Bodman 

Today I want to tell you the story of a brilliant scientist who, for decades, was recognized only for her beauty, not her intellect. But  first I want to let you know that one of our own talented Rogues, August Thomas, author of a terrific debut thriller, Liar's Candle (get it here ) is taking a break from writing articles for us. She offers this note:  "I'm bowing out of the blog, at least for a while, as I work on a new project." Good luck August - hope to have you back soon! 

Now a bit of history about an incredible woman, underestimated and "under-appreciated" for decades...a woman who was known only for her looks. As for her intellect, people would pay no attention. And yet her  inventions gave us technology that we all use today. Some of this woman's ideas inspired my very first thriller, Checkmate, about a female scientist with a new invention that, at least initially, no one would take seriously. 

The true story begins back in Austria in the 1930's.  Known as Hedwig Kiesler, she married the wealthy industrialist, Friedrich Mandl. Reputed to be a fervent fascist, he endeavored to contact several Nazis including Hermann Goring in an effort to sell his wares to Germany.  He had many dinners at his spacious "palace" and often included his beautiful young wife.  As she was always the only woman in the room, the men would admire her, but otherwise pay no attention as she sat quietly absorbing the conversation about munitions, torpedoes and guidance systems. After all, there was a lot of planning and production going on at Mandl's famous factory along with Nazi war plans that were discussed at these events.
Friedrich Mandl's munitions factory
It turns out that she didn't like the arms dealers. She came to truly dislike her husband too. But he kept a close eye on her, or had the servants track her activities.  So she devised a plan where she drugged the maid, escaped the palace, made her way first to Paris and eventually to this country.

As events of World War II claimed more lives, she watched as the Nazis used their guidance systems to target  the American navy; and she was completely distraught when she learned about the sinking of the ship Benares that was evacuating 90 British children to hoped-for safety in the United States.  Of the 90 little ones, only 8 were rescued by a passing ship.

So horrified by these attacks, she got to work on a number of ideas and began a collaboration with well known concert pianist and friend, George Antheil.  
She  told him that the Nazis were obviously able to decipher the frequencies our ships were using to communicate, thus locating and targeting our vessels.  She had come up with a new system of communications - using "unjammable" frequencies- her plan was for them to switch back and forth so quickly, the enemy would never be able to track them. 

She called it "Spread Spectrum," got a patent on the idea and offered it to our military. But once again, people would pay no attention.  After a while, her patent ran out and she never received any money for her work even though many years later this technology was adopted and began to be used in military applications.  More recently it became a key feature in cell phones, Bluetooth and many other items we all use today.  Among her other inventions - where  no one would pay attention  at the time - were improved traffic lights and a better design for the Concorde.  

So who was this woman with the mind of a brilliant scientist, but was known only for her beauty? She had changed her name from Hedwig Kiesler to....Hedy Lamarr, often dubbed "the most beautiful woman in Hollywood."

Though, as noted, she never made any money from her invention of Spread Spectrum or any of her other designs,  it took until 2014 (14 years after she died)  for her to be "officially" recognized and inducted into the Scientific Hall of Fame.  Her incredible story is told in the new novel....aptly titled The Only Woman in the Room, written by Marie Benedict,  an author who has chronicled other important figures from history who were unrecognized for their efforts. 

In this book, which hit The New York Times Bestseller list just last week, the author asks, "Does this history reflect the decades old marginalization of women's contributions? Are there still many misconceptions about women's work and ideas?" You bet -- although, to be fair, many talented women are now - finally - being given their due in industry, politics, and Hollywood, though we still have a long way to go.

Now, would you like to tell us about women you know or have read about who were under-estimated or "under-appreciated" for their efforts? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page (see the icon at the upper left)….and thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Friday, February 1, 2019

STEPHANIE BARRON, aka Francine Mathews, GOES ROGUE: Writing about Winston Churchill's Rogue Mother


Jennie Jerome Churchill

Francine Mathews
I specialize in writing historical fiction with real people at the story’s heart. I’ve written thirteen mystery novels about Jane Austen under the name Stephanie Barron, for example, as well as stand-alone suspense novels featuring Virginia Woolf (The White Garden) and Queen Victoria (A Flaw in the Blood.)

Rogue Women Readers may recall that under the name Francine Mathews, I’ve written two spy novels—Jack 1939, about a young Jack Kennedy, and Too Bad to Die, featuring Ian Fleming during World War II—in which Prime Minister Winston Churchill appears as a secondary character. The Great Man presents such a complex and massive personality that he’s irresistible to a writer, truth being always much stranger than fiction.

History was my focus in college and graduate school, and I often tell readers I write my books in order to do the research. I stumble over a subject I find compelling, take a deep dive down a research rabbit hole, and discover the seed of a novel in the process. 

So it was with my latest book, just out this week: That Churchill Woman, by Stephanie Barron.

It is impossible to read deeply and widely in Winston Churchill’s life without confronting a problem: He absolutely adored his mother and credited her with the basis of his political success, his extraordinary zest for conversation and writing, and indeed, his very physical and emotional survival. Most of his biographers, on the other hand—generally male and British—regard Churchill’s mother with dismissive contempt. She is described as wanton, irresponsible, frivolous, selfish, neglectful, narcissistic, heedless, profligate, and a bad mother.

Oh—and she was American.

It is a perpetual thorn in the sides of British historians that the savior of England—of all Europe—of Western democracy in the face of Nazi atrocity—the Last Lion, Winston Churchill—was only half-English. They wish desperately that he had simply appeared, like Venus on the half-shell, as a gift from the gods: self-made and perfect in his singular genius. It is inconceivable, moreover, that the greatest British hero since Wellington might owe anything to his American antecedents. He was, after all, descended from the first Duke of Marlborough. Surely that is warrior heritage enough?

Obviously, I had to learn everything I could about a woman capable of polarizing the opinion of an entire nation—a woman named Jennie Jerome. Lady Randolph Churchill, as she became.

I discovered a woman born well before her time, a person so complex and interesting she would probably run a corporation today, or star in Oscar-nominated films with the power of a Meryl Streep, or dominate the fashion world, or appear at Nancy Pelosi’s shoulder in Congress. In our time she would be remarkable, but hardly judged. In her time, Jennie was a Rogue.

She was born the second of four daughters to Leonard Jerome, a Wall Street speculator who made and lost serial fortunes. Raised in a palace on Madison Square, with its own opera house that seated six hundred, Jennie was schooled in piano by a protégé of Chopin’s, practicing four hours a day and achieving near-virtuoso status. She summered in Gilded Age Newport with three other girls who remained lifelong friends—Alva Erskine Smith (who became Alva Vanderbilt), Consuelo Yznaga del Valle y Clemens (who became the Duchess of Manchester) and Minnie Stevens (Lady Arthur Paget). Her father was part owner of the New York Times, a member of the New York Yacht Club who helped establish the America’s Cup, a racetrack owner who founded the Belmont Stakes, and one of the patrons who built the Metropolitan Opera. But Leonard Jerome’s money was too new for his daughters to be accepted in Gilded Age Society. His wife took the girls to Paris, and launched them in Europe.

Edith Wharton would later pattern her final novel, The Buccaneers, about four New York girls who chase marriages in England, on Jennie and her three friends. 

I forgot to mention that Jennie was profoundly beautiful. She was also intoxicatingly witty. Lord Randolph Churchill, second son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, had known her only three days when he asked her to marry him.

That Churchill Woman is my attempt to present a full portrait of Winston’s Rogue Mother over the course of her twenty-year marriage and the childhood of her remarkable son. I don’t whitewash her past and I don’t gloss over her failings; she’s too interesting a person to be reduced to banalities. I don’t answer the fundamental question I first posed to myself, either: Who is correct, in his judgment? I leave that to each reader to answer for herself.

I know my own conclusions, and Winston’s.

Happy reading!

For more about Jennie Churchill, check out the 100 Days of Jennie blog posts at, or go to the Pinterest board, THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, behind the novel.