Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Our infamous gobo!

Just back from the International Thriller Writers annual family gathering at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Over one thousand of the world’s premier authors, publishing professionals, and avid fans gather to discuss, explore, and celebrate the thriller genre over the course of an action-packed week. As Executive Director of ThrillerFest, I’m so proud that our Rogue Women played a pivotal role in this year’s success. Discussing all of the amazing events of the week would take a novel length entry, but here is a snapshot of a few highlights:

When Gayle Lynds, one of the co-founders of ITW had to cancel due to an injury, fellow Rogue Woman and my personal heroine, Chris Goff, stepped into the breech and taught Gayle’s Master Class course, sharing her insights on the art of writing a great thriller with an eager and talented group of students. Chris’ selfless willingness to dive in at the last minute exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism that makes Thrillerfest what it is.

Continuing the theme of giving, Harlan Coben received the Silver Bullet Award for his long and extensive history of charitable giving, including his amazing program of Tuckerizations, selling character names in his books and donating the funds to charity. His interview with Heather Graham was warm and informative, providing many laughs and insights. Lisa Unger, a NYT bestselling author of psychological thrillers was interviewed by her long-time friend and fellow superstar Karin Slaughter, and the two professionals provided a thoughtful discussion on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by female authors in our field.

Belgian bestseller Sarah Meuleman
The Rogue Women panel, chaired by James Rollins was jam-packed, and we all had a rollicking good time. James ferreted out secrets about of each of us, both personal and on the craft of writing. I used the divine elixir of chocolate to help teach my class on pacing, giving out white, dark, and milk chocolate Toblerone bars to the attendees as symbolic stand ins for slow pacing, fast pacing and “just right” momentum in your work.  Teaching a packed room of aspiring authors who share an enthusiasm for the craft of writing was one of my most enjoyable memories.  

Stephen Hunter with Chris Goff and K.J.
Spotlight guest Stephen Hunter, the master of the sniper thriller, was interviewed by his close friend and colleague James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor. Stephen’s self-deprecating humour and brilliant analysis were a highlight of the conference. As a bonus, we learned from James Grady that the reason the Six Days of the Condor was shortened to Three Days of the Condor for the film is that the producers didn’t want to show Robert Redford with six days growth of facial hair. Too much! ThrillerMaster John Sandford, author of the genre shaping “Prey” series, was interviewed by his brilliant editor of 30 years, Neil Nyren and the traditional ThrillerFest banquet song by Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks was a rendition of a Bob Dylan favourite. The entire ballroom was lit up--and good thing, as there was a massive blackout in NYC that somehow didn't hit us.

One of my personal highlights was acting as panel master for the “Gunslingers” panel, bringing together an elite group of writers to discuss the effective use of firearms in novels. The group included Stephen Hunter, James Grady, Mark Greaney, Brad Taylor and Simon Gervais, offering decades of author experience with decades of operator experience to provide attendees with complete coverage of the literary and technical aspects of gunfights, along with many laughs.  

The debut author breakfast celebrated the next generation of thriller stars. We feted a record 34 debuts, helping to launch their careers with a long standing ovation. Somewhere amongst that group are our future ThrillerMasters, bestsellers and award winners.  

Actress Judith Light at the banquet

The awards dinner on Saturday night revealed the long-awaited winners of the coveted Thriller Awards.     

The winners were:


Jennifer Hillier — JAR OF HEARTS (Minotaur Books)


C. J. Tudor — THE CHALK MAN (Crown)


Jane Harper — THE LOST MAN (Pan Macmillan Australia)   


Helen Smith — “Nana” in KILLER WOMEN: CRIME CLUB ANTHOLOGY #2 (Killer Women Ltd.)

Teri Bailey Black — GIRL AT THE GRAVE (Tor Teen)


Alan Orloff — PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT (Kindle Press)  

I keenly remember Jennifer Hillier at her debut author breakfast and have enjoyed watching her career skyrocket. Congrats, Jennifer!

A special thank you to all of the attendees and sponsors that make ThrillerFest possible. The international aspect of the organization was emphasized with attendees from around the globe and two new sponsors, The Midas Group from the U.K., and The Sharjah Book Authority from the UAE.

While I'm still recovering from the event, I’m already getting excited about next year’s conference and hope to see you all at ThrillerFest XV, July 7-11, 2020 when Dianna Gabaldon will be our ThrillerMaster. Yes, bring your bagpipes to meet the author who created the heart-stopping hero Jamie Fraser. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


 By S. Lee ManningEver watch a stand-up comedian? Did you think that he/she/they was doing it on the fly, making it up spontaneously?

Me, during a recent performance. 
I am here to disabuse you of that notion. Every stand-up act is carefully crafted, rewritten, honed and practiced to give the audience that final illusion of a person winging it on stage.

 And, for any writer who’s ever thought of writing comedy, it may be useful to know not only how writing stand-up is different from writing novels, but to give some insight into how the process works.

I feel fully qualified to do this. After all, I took one six-week course, and have performed stand-up a total of four times. (Saturday night will be my fifth.) 

So here is the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my – um, three months – as a comic.

The obvious first – length.

The biggest difference between writing novels and writing stand-up, of course, is the length of the piece and the length of time to create it.

I tend to go way too long when I write a novel, and then I have to cut back. Which I do, even if I weep during the process. My average length is between 120,000 and 130,000 words, that I tend wind up cutting back to somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 words.

The first novel I ever wrote was 250,000 words. Ah, but I was young and foolish – and had read Tolstoy and Dickens. When I was finally offered a contract for that novel, I had it down to 83,000 words.

I’m still writing novels – thrillers – with what I hope is witty dialogue. I’m about a quarter of the way through a new thriller. But stand-up provides a nice break. It gets me away from my desk, and I can find out immediately if I’ve written something that sucks. 

My average comedy set is about 3 pages. Never checked the word count. You don’t go by word count for stand-up. You go by time. When you do a set on stage, you’re told how much time you’re allowed. The average open mic is from three minutes to five minutes, (and if you think that’s short, try standing in front of 100 people for five minutes.) But it is bad form to go over your time. If you’re given three minutes, that’s it, end of set. Not three and a half minutes. Not three minutes ten seconds. Three minutes. 

So I write a few pages, and then stand in front of a mirror and pretend to be talking to an audience – with a stop watch going. I have a three minute set, a five minute set, and an eight minute set, which I can drag out longer with dramatic pauses and overblown gestures.

The rule is to try out new material at open mics. If you are fortunate enough to be offered a set at a performance where people actually pay money to see you, it had better be material you’ve honed, polished, and practiced.

The writing process.

I can only speak to my personal three-month experience.

I’m not so much into shock jokes – or sex jokes - or just one liners. I tend to like stories. I like to take something that was painful or scary or transformative – and find the humor in it.

My first draft of my stand-up was long and involved, and I explained way too much. Nathan, who led the class, informed me that it was a good story, but it was more like something for the Moth Hour than a stand-up. (If you aren’t familiar with the Moth Hour, you’re probably not a dedicated NPR listener. Goggle it.)  To explain, it was a personal story with humor mixed in – but the emphasis was more on the personal than on the humor.

In stand-up, you don’t want to go more than a few lines without a joke.

So, instead of having a lot of background leading up to the joke, trim it down to the essential. It’s an art that is more like poetry than novel writing. Every word, every phrase has to be weighed and calculated.

And what makes something funny? I’m not getting into that here. 

So here’s how I boiled a painful story down to a set. I have a three minute routine where I joke about having had a bilateral mastectomy ten years ago.  What I did in the first draft: explain how I had a biopsy, how I then had a lumpectomy and then had to decide about radiation – and then after the recommendation of a bi-lateral mastectomy, also decided not to have reconstruction.

I filled in all the details, and it took ten minutes. It might have engaged listeners because it was personal and painful– but it wasn’t funny.

So I cut out much of it and tried to zoom to the essential – with a joke every few lines. Here’s how my final version went.

The routine

So the doctor told me I had stage zero breast cancer. I went yay, I have no breast cancer. No, he said, you have breast cancer, it’s stage zero.

So apparently zero doesn’t mean zero. Don’t doctors have to pass math to get into medical school?

So we went over various treatment options, and what the chances of recurrence were, 15 percent for this, ten percent for that, and I asked – “What if we just cut the fuckers off?”

(Sorry if anyone’s offended by the language. Comics tend to be more foul mouthed than the average person.)

He said, “Zero to one percent.” 

I like the number zero. A lot of people don’t. It’s one of those glass half full/half empty kind of things. Some people look at zero and think, I got nothing. I have zero money. Zero prospects. But then, there’s the optimistic way to look at zero.

I have zero bears breaking into my house this week.

Zero aliens popping out of my head.

Zero cases of Ebola in my state.

So, assuming the odds really were zero to one percent for recurrence, bingo.

Then the doctor wanted to talk reconstruction. I asked what it would feel like. He said, “Soft and pliable, a lot like what you’ve got now.”

I said, “Na ah. I don’t care what it’ll feel like from yourside. What’ll it feel like from my side?”

Then he gave me what he thought was his winning argument: “A woman doesn’t feel like a woman without her breasts.”

(Dramatic pause. I often get gasps here.)

Really? So what does she feel like? A hippo? A horse? An itty bitty kitty cat. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t feel like a man, unless she already did, which would make her a him, unless she is non-binary, which would make her a they, all of which is great and I support it and goes to show that you don’t need a stinking pair of breasts to feel like a woman.

(I’ve gotten cheers on this line as well as laughs.)

And closing

The final test for a stand-up routine is how it sounds. Because writing it down doesn’t always tell you the rhythm – the intonation to use – gestures – etc.  But that’s what open mics are for – assuming you can’t coerce a close friend or a significant other to sit through your routine. I’ve been lucky: my husband has been a willing listener/collaborator – although he does have his limits. Ten times is more than enough for him.

Now, not everyone will find your stuff funny. Some people will just sit there and stare at you. Everyone who has ever done stand-up has the experience of an audience that just won’t laugh. Sometimes people are looking for a particular kind of humor. Sometimes they’re offended by your language. Sometimes people who’ve had a similar experience don’t appreciate jokes about something so painful to them personally– although after one of the times I did my breast cancer set – I exchanged hugs with another survivor – who was also a comic and who loved my routine.

This is again where writing comedy is like writing a novel. Not everyone responds to the same thing. Some people may love what you do. Some people may hate it. But if you get a good response from enough people, you know you’re on the right path. And you keep going - which is the key to success in any endeavor.

If you’re ever in Burlington, Vermont, catch the show at the Vermont Comedy Club. Wednesday night is open mic. I might be there.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Head Bonk = No ThrillerFest. Damn.

First ThrillerFest, 2006, Scottsdale, AZ
by Gayle Lynds

While many of my author friends are in New York this week enjoying the fun, the books, and the writerly wisdom of ThrillerFest, I’m at home in Maine nursing a bonked head.  In fact, I probably have a mild concussion.  More about that soon.

What do I look like? The deep purple on the right side of my face is resolving into bilious yellow as gravity drags the bruising south toward my jaw and, soon, into my neck.  Oh, yes, I’m not a thing of beauty. No, that's not me today on the right.  Sigh.

First Thriller awards, 2006

(Left: Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Phoenix mayor, Gregg Hurwitz, & James Rollins.)

So what happened?  I’m not exactly sure.  It all went down so fast – especially me.  It was about 10:00 pm  and we were leaving the grand July 4th fireworks display overlooking Casco Bay, heading toward the narrow-gauge railroad that would take us back to the parking lot.

The great Lisa Gardner interviewing me, TFest 2010
Me interviewing the fab CJ Box at TFest
We were far from alone ... there were tens of thousands of us plowing through the starlit night.  Suddenly there was a herd surge, and I tripped.

My hip (the replacement hip, naturally) went down, my thumb gallantly tried to save me and in the process did a sharp twist into the gravel, and my head landed with a thunk on a railroad tie. 

Those rail ties are hard.

I yelled.  Truthfully, I might’ve screamed.  My head hurt like hell.  Only later did I notice the pain in my hip and thumb.

Long story short, at the Emergency Room I learned nothing was broken – hooray!  But as it turned out, I had a wee bit of memory loss and was unsteady.  Also, I was really pissed off, but trying not to show it. 

I know better than to trip and fall.  Shame on me.  Is that thinking logical?  No.  And irrationality can be a symptom.

It appears I had a slight concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.  The Mayo Clinic and other sources explain they’re caused by “a mild blow to the head, either with or without loss of consciousness, that leads to temporary cognitive symptoms like headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, irritability, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue.”
Annual dinner at TFest

(Right: Small annual ThrillerFest dinner, L-R around the table: RL Stine, Steve Berry, MJ Rose, Liz Berry, Lee Child, Jon Land, Kathie Antrim, David Morrell, me, & my husband & collaborator John C Sheldon)

And mild brain injuries are common – more than 3 million people a year have them.  I’m far from alone, which is comforting.

Have you had one, too?  I hope not!

More info that’s hopeful: They’re “usually self-diagnosable and treatable by a medical professional.”  There's no specific cure for concussion, and you should “consult a doctor for medical advice.” 

Treatment includes giving the brain time to recover by resting and cutting back on fun stuff like exercising, sports, video games, TV, computer screen time, or too much socializing. 

Stay off your cell phone!
Hank Phillippi Ryan, Andrew Grant, & me

Swell.  One of the reasons I love ThrillerFest is, it’s like an aerobic workout of the body, the soul, and the brain, all wrapped up in a cloud of happiness and smiling faces.  Which effervescent activity is why I’m not there this week, and longing for it. 

I’m grateful to my author friends who stepped in to replace me, particularly Rogue Chris Goff who took over teaching my all-day Master Class, which is always a lot of work but such a joy.  And to TFest Exec Director and Rogue KJ Howe who rejiggered our panels, the workshop, and my CraftFest class.

And then there are the meetings I won’t have with my fab literary agent Lisa Erbach Vance, editor Keith Kahla, media folks, and fellow authors like Jeff Ayers, Karna Small Bodman, Kyle Steele, and many many others.  I apologize to those I’m forgetting.  (Symptom, symptom.)
Barry Eisler, David Montgomery, me

The prognosis:  I find that I’m better every day – stronger, better balanced, less nausea, less headache, and better able to control my occasional irritability. 

Once a year I wallow in the blessings of ThrillerFest, a true busman’s holiday.  The photos on this page are just a few of my cherished memories.

Although I won’t attend this time, I’m already planning for next year.  I hope to see you there!

My great friends at the first Rogue TFest panel, 2016. From left, Chris Goff, Francine Mathews, Jamie Freveletti, Karna Small Bodman, KJ Howe, me, S Lee Manning, and Sonja Stone

Have you had a brain injury or know someone who has?   Please leave a comment, and if I don’t respond right away, you’ll know I’m resting.  Good Gayle, good Gayle

Sunday, July 7, 2019


by Chris Goff

As you read this, I'm likely 33,000 feet above Ohio en route to New York City for ThrillerFest. I can't wait! This year's ThrillerMaster is John Sandford, best known as the author of the PREY novels. Silver Bullet Recipients are: Harlan Coben, James Rollins, Stephen Hunter and Lisa Unger. The premier conference for thriller enthusiasts has outdone itself! And the Rogues are lucky enough to have James Rollins as their panel master this year.

But I have to get there first.

You would think as much as I fly that I wouldn't be fazed by air travel. After all, I've read KJ Howe's blog on Turbulence. I know I have a better chance of being killed by a meteorite, becoming President of the US or being killed by a shark than dying in a plane crash. Reassuring—except for the fact that this past week's headlines have featured a shark attack in the Bahamas, a plane crash in Dallas, and a near-Earth asteroid that will pass as close as 19,000 miles from us. Hey, that's within the distance that some of our spacecraft orbit Earth.

So, my how-to on how to travel wisely.

First, I refuse to fly on the 737 Max. Rumor has it, they will put them back into service in early July. They maybe have tweaked the software, but I'd rather take the train (1 day, 21 hours). Or drive (27 hours, not counting stops). I'd go by ship, except it isn't an option from Denver. Of course, more people die in car accidents than airplane crashes, trains can derail, and no mode of transportation is fool proof. All things considered, the 4 hour flight from Denver to NYC is worth the risk. Coupled with my fool proof technique of gripping the arms of my seat until my knuckles turn white, all the while praying until we reach altitude, I've got this!

Next, I'm going to heed the advice of experts.

Doing research for my last book, RED SKY, I discovered the newsletter, Black Bag Confidential. In it, Jason Hanson (an ex-CIA agent, who writes about and teaches people "self-defense tricks only a spy knows") offers tips on things from bugging out to defending your home from intruders to safe travel advice. He's got some great ideas, though at times he seems to border on paranoid. I suppose it comes with the territory. 

Here are a few of his guidelines for staying safe while you're on the go:

1. Treat your travel plans like they're top secret.

Dang! All the publicizing I've done of my plans to be at ThrillerFest means that everyone who has seen my FaceBook page or read my Tweets knows I'll be out-of-town. I'm already screwed!

2. Grab an extra key and a higher floor at the hotel. According to Hanson, this is especially important if you're traveling solo. First, two keys will make the hotel desk clerk and anyone watching you think you're traveling with someone. And second, most crimes happen on the lower floors of a hotel. Hanson suggests snagging a room on the third floor or higher. 

My personal recommendation: Don't go above floor seven. I've been told by firefighter friends that the extension ladders on firetrucks can't go any higher than that. Better safe, than sorry. The caveat: The concierge floor is on sixteen. Fair trade off?

3. Don't use the hotel safe.

It only stands to reason! People lock the safes and can't remember their codes, therefore most hotel personnel will have the bypass code to open them. 

This is one rule I never adhere to. I'd rather risk locking my valuables up in the room, than lug them around all day. Plus I can't count the number of times I've left my book bag on the floor in a conference room. I'll take my risks with the hotel.

4. Get a door stopper alarm.

That way, you can lock your door from the inside and, if someone tries to break in, an alarm goes off. 

Of course, that's not taking into account your conference roommate who was holding down the bar with the agent and friends until 2 a.m.

I wish I'd known about this a few years ago when I was staying at the ThrillerFest hotel during a romance conference in the late 1990s. I went with a friend, who had been nominated for a Rita (it's like an Edgar® or a Thriller Award for romance writers). We'd gone upstairs to bed around midnight, and at 1:30 a.m. the phone rang. My friend answered and a woman said, "Hi, I saw you in the elevator and you looked nice. I need someone to talk to."

My friend said, "It's 1:30 a.m." and hung up.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again and I answered.

"Don't hang up," the woman said. "I just need someone to talk to." I told her not to call back and hung up.

Five minutes later, the phone rang. My friend answered.

"You f*&@ing bitch," screamed the woman. "I know what room you're in." We did the only reasonable thing. We called security. 

They said, "Yeah, this has been going on for about the last six months. We think it's an international flight attendant who stays here overnight from time to time."

"You're not sure?"

"Well, it's an inter-hotel call. We can't trace those. So, we don't know what room she's in, but it happens when a specific crew stays in town. Trust me, she's harmless."

We were not reassured. We demanded another room and they obliged, but only after I told them either to give us another room or send someone up to sit outside our door for the rest of the night. We were moved to the concierge floor, but—as luck would have it—the room they put us in had a broken door lock. Being a thriller writer, my mind started working. Maybe the woman wasn't a flight attendant. Maybe she was a disgruntled employee, who had more than just the hotel safe bypass code.

My friend and I jammed a chair back under the door handle. I know, it doesn't really work, but we figured we'd hear the chair splinter before anyone came through the door.

The rules change depending on where you travel.

In December, my husband and I are going on a cruise to Antarctica (oops, mum's the word!) and Jason has a-whole-nother set of safety suggestions for that trip. The high seas are dangerous. In 2017, U.S. authorities reported a total of 106 crimes committed on board ships that reported to US authorities, including: 76 sexual assaults, 13 serious assaults, 8 thefts of more than $10,000 and 2 kidnappings. Hanson points out that crimes are reported to the country the ship is flagged to, and sometimes justice is hard to come by. 

His tips include: using the buddy system (there's safety in numbers), taking your own alarm (doorstopper mentioned above), being extra careful on the balconies (although more spouses shove each other overboard than strangers), taking care of your steward (make him a friend and he'll protect you), and having a weapon.


That's right. Forewarned is forearmed. You may not be able to bring your gun on board, but you can always walk off with a steak knife. 

So, I hope I see some of you in New York. I'll be staying at the...oh, yeah, top secret. But you'll be able to find me in the bar at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street, and know this—all my valuables will be locked up in my hotel room safe and I'll be the one carrying silverware!

In all seriousness, what sort of things do you do to keep yourself safe when traveling? Do you have any special tips?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Rogue Women June Roundup!

Use the links below to binge read our June blogs

Here's what we Rogues talked about, researched, and revealed in June....

Many of you loved Robin Burcell's "Top 5 Most Stupid Commercials" blog. Now she reverses direction in her funny and thoughtful "Top 5 Favorite Commercials." Yes, she does like some, and you do, too!

Rogue Gayle Lynds's investigates her "Weird & Wonderful Dad – an Artist" ... and asks the question did she grow up to imitate him, or is it all genetics, and she's genuinely like him?  

The Real Book Spy's June ROGUE RECOMMENDATION was a big surprise for Rogue Robin Burcell he chose her latest collaboration with iconic Clive Cussler The Oracle. Why? Read here

Looking for a few great summer reads? Karna Small Bodman recommends a number of new thrillers by "co-authors" - including several Rogues. Check out the list here 

Ever wonder what writing teachers mean when they talk about "voice?" Looking for a writing tip? Jamie Freveletti talks about this and gives some tips for writers.

S. Lee Manning offers some history and laughs around the observance of Father's Day. If you don't know how the holiday got started - or you don't know what to do to celebrate it, check it out here.

A scam that cost her locality millions of dollars--Lisa Black introduced us to a set of the most unlikely fraudsters to come along. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fourth of July -- Be Kind to your pets

 By Robin Burcell

Best Friends
Tomorrow is the 4thof July. I have fond memories of waving sparklers at night, watching as they fizzled out and all that was left was the metal wand which still had a molten glow long after the sparkler died. And the little disks that were lit, sending up slate-colored ash snakes, then leaving a nasty black scar on the sidewalk… And Piccolo Pete’s. Who can forget the loud, high pitch screaming that ended with a bang!

For years, the county where I now live outlawed all fireworks due to fire danger. But it wasn’t all bad. The city spent a small fortune putting on a big fireworks show at the lake, free to all who wanted to spend the day at the park, then find a place to watch the colorful bursts in the night sky. We were fortunate in that for 26 years, we lived on the other side of the lake and could watch from our very own backyard. Sadly (for fireworks viewing) we moved last year. Now we get to hear the illegal fireworks that some of the neighbors set off. 

Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who feel the law doesn’t apply to them. It seems every neighborhood has this type. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t for the pets who are affected. And it wouldn’t bother me so much if they only did it the one night. But between the firecrackers, M80s, bottle rockets and the big rockets, the loud bangs start several days before the 4thand continue for several days after.

Backyard View
Our boxer was never too bothered about the fireworks, even when we lived behind the lake and they were being set off just a couple of blocks away. But our standard poodle, like a lot of dogs, cannot tolerate the loud sounds. I feel so bad for her, and it seems there’s little we can do. I’ve wondered if a weighted blanket might comfort her. I recently read about one woman who drugs her dog to keep him calm on the 4th.  I’m not sure that’s the right answer. 

While I wish everyone the happiest 4th, I do hope you’ll take into consideration all the homes with pets who are bothered by the loud noises. Don’t set off illegal fireworks! And for those of you with pets, take precautions. Keep them inside if you can. Make sure your gates are secured if you can’t.

What I’d really like to know, Rouge Readers, is if you have any tips or tricks to keep your pets calm for the 4th?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Bad Deal All Around

By Lisa Black

Fort Myers Federal Courthouse
            Six weeks ago, a 68 year old mother of one was sentenced to ten years in prison, one year for each of ten counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Her name is Kay Gow, an intelligent woman with a doctorate in business education and the author of textbooks. Her husband Richard had committed suicide after the guilty verdicts were handed down, abandoning her to face the sentencing alone. They had been married for over forty years. 

          And the county surrounding Fort Myers, Florida, is still out its 4.7 million dollars.

After the Gows retired from a land development business in Virginia and moved to Florida, they, as so many do, chafed at the inactivity. Their restlessness took them to Singapore, where they adopted a daughter and became interested in herbal supplements not available in the U.S. This led them to found HerbalSciences Group (though the research division in Singapore eventually failed) and then proposed a new company, VR labs, which they said would provide 208 jobs to Fort Myers area residents. In 2011 the county, still reeling from the housing bust and the worldwide economic crisis, gave them a grant worth five million dollars to build and equip a health drink bottling plant. The county had made such grants to other companies such as Algenol Biofuels and Gartner, Inc., with good returns. But this time no one noticed how the Gows had never run a food or bottling concern before, nor had anyone on board with such experience. (Perhaps the fact that they were incorporated in Delaware, the fake company paperwork capital of the country, should have been a red flag. Nothing against the state, it’s just super-easy to incorporate there.)

The shuttered VR Labs building
            Contractors got to work on the plant. The Gows hired John Williams Jr. to set up the bottling system within the plant; a legit company created the bottling system, which Williams and the Gows simply copied onto their own letterhead with a doubled price--half to pay for the equipment, and half into Gow accounts for personal things like $46K for designer clothes and $11K to spend New Year’s weekend at DisneyWorld. And mortgage payments on their $1.8 million home. And the BMW. And the Mercedes. (Williams’ attorney says that Williams had been a true believer who lost a great deal of his own money. He got 2.5 years.)

VR was supposed to have 40 jobs up and running and $9 million added by VR or other investors by the end of 2013. That didn’t happen. The walls of the plant went up with legitimate, impressive scientists in the loop to create the supplements, but contractors soon noticed that they hadn’t been paid. For anything.

The contractors went to a county commissioner, who alerted the feds.

Fort Myers Beach
Fraud is the gift that keeps on giving: Innocent investors lost money; contractors had to lay employees off to absorb their losses. The county’s Economic Development Office was audited to determine its role in this debacle; then four employees who cooperated with that audit were fired. (They sued the county and won settlements totaling $.75 million.)

This is not an isolated incident. Later this summer I’ll be writing more about such state-county-city deals, but economists have long been pointing out that incentives and tax breaks to create or retain jobs is not usually cost-effective. The most egregious example is Wisconsin giving Foxconn $4.5 billion to create ‘up to’ 13,000 jobs. A year and a half later, there are about 122, and Foxconn has changed the focus of the plant from manufacturing to research. Yes, they had to forfeit some tax breaks and yes, it’s relatively early days yet, but no one disputes that Wisconsin paid way too much for what has to be, in the long run, too little.

When it comes to job creation, Thorough Vetting + Realistic Expectations = Good Deal.

Do you have any examples of bad deals in your area? Lay them on me!

Friday, June 28, 2019


On July 19th, the Rogues will reveal The Real Book Spy's THIRD ROGUE RECOMMENDATION. These are thrillers that sizzles with entertainment, break boundaries or in some way stand out as "Rogue, and we're all very excited about this next pick. Some of us know this person, and some of us will have the opportunity to meet him or her for the first time at ThrillerFest in NYC in July.
If you follow the Rogues, you've seen these teasers in the past and you know the drill. Help us spread the word about the ROGUE RECOMMENDATION by sharing this post, our Facebook teasers and our tweets, or by making a comment, and the Rogues will enter you into the drawing for a free copy of the "soon-to-be announced" book. Or, if you think you may know, tell us your guess of who you think the author is! 
Here is the first clue:
Clue #1 — A movie buff and well-respected film critic, this author loves Fred Astaire.

Watch for new clues every week! You can't go wrong with a recommendation from The Real Book Spy. As #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mark Greaney said, "[He's] one of the coolest things to happen in the Thriller community in the last few years. . . He’s the guy people in the mystery/thriller world talk to behind the scenes.” 
Don't forget, tell us your thoughts, ask a question or hazard a guess in the comments section, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Real Book Spy's June Rogue Recommendation. 

Game on!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Writing: Your Voice is the Key to Success

Guitar player at concert
By  Jamie Freveletti

Write in your own voice, don't imitate. 

I'll bet if you're writing a manuscript you've heard that from an endless number of teachers, workshops and other writers and agents. When I first heard this, it did confuse me a bit, because writing fiction is, by definition, not about the writer. Unless you're writing a memoir, your character has nothing to do with you. It's a made up story that's not real. And if you're writing thrillers even more so, because most of us have days that are not thrilling. They're...usual. We wake up, do chores, go to work, and some of us write fiction for a living.

Last month I was talking to a professional actor and we were discussing casting: how it's done, what choices are made. I asked why so many famous actors seem to be really playing themselves rather than the character they're portraying. Harrison Ford seems to always be the upstanding man, Meg Ryan made a living as the "girl next door" character in many romantic comedies. I suggested that a new actor just starting her career might want to inhabit the space that these actors do. Perhaps they can get hired as the upstanding man or girl next door.

The actor made an interesting comment. She said, "Actually, no. The new actor needs to carve out her own space. Because if the casting director wants Harrison Ford or Meg Ryan, she'll simply call their agents and be done with it. The new actor will be left behind. Only by bringing your own unique angle to the work will the new actor get cast in a role. Then one day the casting director will call her for the unique angle she's built a reputation on."

It makes perfect sense when you think about it, and it applies to musicians and writers as well. A musician brings their own unique sound to their songs. While the basic genre of the song might be "rock" or "blues" etc. the angle, interplay and emotion that the musician brings to the song is what makes it stand out.

It's the same for writers. My Emma Caldridge character is a logical, clear-eyed scientist who uses her intellect to get out of tough situations. She's a bit like a female MacGyver, but she also brings a fearlessness to her scenes and will pick up a weapon if required, and this is where she differs. Weapons aren't her first choice, and so she uses her knowledge of plants and chemical interactions to solve her problems. In short, she's a unique blend.

And what about those of us who write for others? I've written for the Estate of Robert Ludlum and there are musicians out there who play in tribute bands that attempt to recreate the sound of famous musicians. Even in these circumstances, voice is required. While I was given the Covert-One characters to bring to life, I created the new story, circumstances and the characters' reactions to it.

If you're writing a novel your voice will emerge most effectively if you do your best to silence the inner critic and think about how the character will react to certain circumstances. Your force of personality will show in glints as you do and it's those glints that make the story yours. And remember, character is an arrow and it works best when the arrow stays straight. What do I mean? Imagine an arrow shooting directly to a target. That's your character's world view. Stay with that for everything that character does. Emma Caldridge views a scene with dispassion, intellect and knowledge of how things will react in real time. She creates weapons from what appears to be thin air, but they work because she knows the rules of elements and chemicals and their interactions. When her arrow flies I need to always follow it in a straight, logical fashion and be aware of the world around her and what tools she'll need to overcome odds.

Another great example is the character of Scarlet in Gone With The Wind. She's selfish and uncaring, doing anything and everything to fulfill her own needs and keep Tara, the rest of the world be damned. She tries to steal others' husbands and boyfriends, lies to those around her and fights to the end. Her arrow never curves. This is why she's a memorable and iconic character.

If you're writing a manuscript think of the character's arrow and write along the trajectory. It's just one tip to keep a character true to themselves, but I hope it helps!

Happy Writing!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Summer Reads by "Special Authors"

by Karna Small Bodman
Looking for a few great thrillers for beach reads over the summer? There are several well known authors who have consistently hit the Bestseller lists for decades.  Some of them have decided to search for special talented "co-authors" they could collaborate with and get more titles on the shelves.  Let me tell you about a few of the latest "coordinated efforts." First, you should definitely check out the brand new thriller, The Oracle, by fellow Rogue, Robin Burcell, writing with Clive Cussler.

How do they work together? Robin explains that Clive usually decides on the basic plot and setting, but if she wants to visit a certain area,  he rarely objects as long as that location fits with the plot.  As the story comes together, they do bounce ideas around, compromise and even scrap ideas that "don't work." She adds that there's a reason Clive Cussler is called the "Grandmaster of Adventure" since "he certainly can tell a rip-roaring story like no one else."  This novel continues the series about husband-and-wife treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo who search for an ancient scroll, deal with a curse, stolen shipments and hostage situations.  Already on the bestseller list, don't miss this one.

Next is the prolific writer, Stuart Woods.  While working in the advertising industry, he published his first novel back in 1981 which won the coveted Edgar Award. He now has produced 75 terrific stories.  An avid sailor and pilot himself, his protagonist, Stone Barrington, sails boats and flies his own planes to chase down various villains and protect any number of gorgeous ladies in the process. 

At an Edgar Awards dinner not long ago he met author Parnell Hall who had written some 40 novels -- so far.  Woods was looking for a good co-author and had just one question for Parnell at that first meeting, "Can't you write faster?"  

They decided to collaborate. Their  newest novel, just released two weeks ago, is Skin Game - centering on one of Stone Barrington's "side kicks," Teddy Fay, who becomes involved with "evildoers trading in money and power along with a global threat on an unprecedented scale." With many scenes set in the gorgeous city of Paris, I can't wait to read this one. 

Woods and Parnell have worked on several other great books together, including The Money Shot, Smooth Operator, and Barely Legal. 
With author Parnell Hall

A personal note here:  I had the pleasure of sitting with Parnell Hall at the Thrillerfest banquet last summer.  He regaled me with stories about his unique background first working as an actor/screen writer, singer/song writer, even a private investigator before turning to writing full time. It turned out to be a most delightful encounter. He will be attending Thrillerfest again in early July at the Grand Hyatt in New York where several of us Rogues will again be in attendance and will be conducting a panel on "Secrets and Privacy" the afternoon of July 12. It's certain to be a great gathering of some 1,000 authors, agents and editors. If you're in the New York area at that time, you are welcome to stop by to check out the books for sale by the Mysterious Bookstore which will be setting up right there in the hotel. You can meet some of the authors as well.

Rogue Women Writers at Thrillerfest last year

Next we have "the world's bestselling author" James Patterson who is also often in attendance at this conference. A man who has donated over 3 million books to schoolkids and the military, donated over 70 million dollars to support education and endowed over 5,000 college scholarships for teachers -- he also collaborates with a number of great writers to produce even more bestselling novels like newly released The First Lady - co-written with G. Brendan Dubois.  I just purchased it and can't wait to read about the woman in charge of the Presidential Protection Division that is called in to investigate the disappearance of The First Lady which comes in the wake of a scandalous revelation just two months before the election of the President's second term.

We see that Patterson has collaborated with many others, including former President Bill Clinton. With such a demanding schedule, you might think that Patterson wouldn't have time to become involved with the details of every story being created under his name.  Not true. I had a (short) experience when I was invited to submit a story idea to him, then asked to write a few chapters. However, it turned out that Patterson later decided to take the story in an entirely different direction, so I never received the final contract. Oh well.

I've been focusing here on famous and "becoming famous" authors working together with books published under two bylines.  There is another category of "special writers" who have been retained by the estates of former authors so their "characters" can be continued for years.  When the wonderful Vince Flynn passed away a few years ago, his family tapped thriller writer Kyle Mills to carry on the adventures of secret agent Mitch Rapp.  The most recent of these is Red War about a Russian
President determined to cling to power and planning a war with the west.  It's a great tale about the world of black ops.  I got to know Kyle when we both had homes in Jackson Hole, WY. I learned that his father was Deputy Director of the FBI, and Kyle had learned many secrets of the trade at the family dinner table.

Any article about "special co-authors" would be incomplete without telling you about two of our bestselling Rogues. One, our founder Gayle Lynds, who has been dubbed "the reining queen of espionage fiction and a "kick-ass thriller writer" (by the London Times!) collaborated with the famous Robert Ludlum to create the Covert One series and then wrote three of the books, The Hades Factor, The Altman Code and the Paris Option. You can get it here .The second fellow Rogue is Jamie Freveletti who continued the  Covert One series, after Robert Ludlum passed away, writing the riveting story, The Janus Reprisal. Check it out here .

Reviewing this list of "special authors" -- it is easy to see how some of the best and most prolific authors of our time, along with estates working to keep series "alive," have searched and found some of the best emerging authors to share a byline....and now you have found them too.

What are some of your favorite co-authors and your recommendations for great books to read this summer?