Sunday, July 31, 2016

Recipes for Heroes and Heroines

...by Karna Small Bodman

Have you ever read a thriller packed with tons of action, travel, chases and stay-up-all-night runs to get away from the villain? Sure.  We all have.  But have you ever wondered why the heroes and heroines never get to stop and eat something? (Or take a nap?) I'm thinking now about stories such as Dan Brown's great thrillers (DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, Deception Point), as examples. Maybe the author thought it would slow down the pacing too much.  I don't think so. I like to try and identify with my characters, and stopping to rest and taking time to enjoy a decent meal makes the  whole scenario much more believable -- don't you agree? (Even if it's only to "rejuvenate their spirit" to carry on, so to speak).

So in one of my new novels, Affairs of State (I will let you know when it is published), there are several scenes in Brazil, both in its capital of Brasilia and the glittering "romantic city" of Rio de Janeiro.  No, it is not pegged to the Summer Olympics next week, which may not be so glittering as only some of the athletic fields are complete, as you can see here  - but housing and transportation are not. I have no clue about the restaurants.  And it may not be so romantic either as criminal behavior is at an all time high, which makes it a tough place for tourists, but a pretty great venue for a thriller. Ah, but I digress.
Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics

Back to the new story: while the hero is trying to evade a dangerous and devious villain bent on revenge,  and the heroine is about to become "collateral damage" -- they do stop and eat once in a while.  So in researching local menus, I discovered a popular area akin to a street fair where Brazilian chefs offer their kitchen creations in booths and colorful kiosks.  I discovered, for example, that Brazilian pizza doesn't resemble Dominos (which is usually lathered in tomato sauce and mozzarella.) In Rio they offer a unique  variety of toppings on a thin crust including hearts of palm, potato sticks, corn and bacon, though they will add fresh tomatoes of you wish.  Some can taste like a delicious BLT!


Classic Brazilian Feijoada

 

In their restaurants you will most likely find an offering of Feijoada -- a kind of beans and pork stew.  I wanted to pass along the recipe to you, but it is terribly complicated  as it includes black turtle beans, cured beef, salt pork, Spanish sausage and collard greens, along with unique South American spices you probably won't find at the Safeway or Whole Foods store. It looks "interesting" and I'm told it is quite the delectable dish.


Another favorite is Cordeiro -- Lamb. In fact, Portuguese Roast Lamb is a something you might like to try at home though this recipe calls for you to be organized enough to combine the initial ingredients and marinate the lamb for 24 hours.  Here's what you do:

BRAZILIAN ROAST LAMB

Combine in a food processor (or just mix really well into a paste):
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
5 slices of thick bacon chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons of white wine

Spread this mixture on a butterflied leg of lamb. Roll it up and tie with kitchen string, put it in a pan, cover it, and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.

Day of serving -- Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the lamb in a roasting pan, drizzle with:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Roast for 20 minutes

Reduce heat to 350 degrees
Brazilian Roast Lamb
Add:
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup Chicken Stock
5 dried bay leaves
Roast for another hour.

Slice, serve with roasted potatoes and a vegetable.



Now, in case you want a lamb recipe that is super simple for your own dinner or to share with guests -- here is one of my favorites that I intend to use in a future thriller:

SIMPLE LAMB SHANKS

Spray some Pam in a large pan - on Medium heat add:
1 medium onion - chopped
2 (or 4) lamb shanks trimmed of excess fat

When slightly browned add:
1 normal size (14.5 oz.) can of "Stewed Tomatoes"
Fill that empty can 2/3 with red wine (whatever you have leftover from a previous dinner perhaps)
1 teaspoon rosemary
Few grinds of pepper

Cover and simmer on lowest possible stove setting for 2 hours. Check frequently to be sure there is still some liquid.  If it's cooked down, add a bit more wine.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a green salad -- it's really terrific.

Now, please tell all of us here at "Rogue Women Writers" what types of recipes --  from what countries (that might be good settings for our thrillers) -- that you would like to try.   And check my website for upcoming novels: www.karnabodman.com .  Now, click on "comments" below and give us your thoughts -- if the spirit moves you!

....Karna



Saturday, July 30, 2016

LIVE TO EAT, EAT TO LIVE

by KJ Howe

Food is crucial for sustenance.  It's also an important part of our social fabric, integral to celebrations and holidays.  Gourmet meals are slaved over for hours, the dishes lovingly selected and created, presented beautifully on a decorated table.

But what if food is unavailable or withheld?  During kidnaps, most captives lose copious amounts of weight as a result of starvation-like diets.  Kidnap hides are usually located in remote regions, restricting the choices for daily sustenance.  Meals are often served once a day, and they can be far from appetizing.

The hostage's location can greatly influence the daily diet.  Bread in all forms is ubiquitous for meals, ranging from cassava to sourdough to rye.  Rice and beans are staples, both easy-to-store and readily accessible throughout the world's kidnap hotspots.  When it comes to meat, chicken and lamb tend to be the most prevalent forms of protein, as small livestock are easier to care for and transport.  Fish is also a predominant food, especially if the kidnap hide is located near water where daily fishing can offer a freshly caught meal.  In the Middle East, falafels are common, the chickpea- or fava bean-based patty is usually fried in a pan, often served in a pita.  Oranges, apples, and other fruits are sometimes offered, depending on the region.  The choices are extremely limited overall, and it's likely the captive will be eating the same thing day after day.


When it comes to beverages, water, tea, and coffee rank high.  And, it seems no matter where you go in the world, the caffeinated, sugary beverages of Pepsi and Coca-Cola are in plentiful demand.

Quantities of food are often in short supply in remote kidnap locales, and the cost of feeding a hostage cuts into the profit of a ransom.  The good news for captives is that in most cases the kidnappers want to keep you healthy and alive so that they can negotiate a substantial sum for your release.  It's important to eat whatever you are given so you can keep your strength, endure the captivity, and eventually return home to your family.  So no matter how unappetizing the food, try to eat it.

Starved, lonely, missing your loved ones for long stretches of time.  It makes one consider what food fantasies would enter your mind while in captivity.  I would choose something called Salzburg Nockerl, an incredible soufflé-like dish that represents the mountains surrounding Salzburg, Austria.  I spent a year in this gorgeous city, and the place holds many fond memories, this dessert among them. I hope you'll give it a try.



SAlZBURG NOCKERL
YIELD  
Makes 4 to 6 (dessert) servings
ACTIVE TIME  
15 min
TOTAL TIME  
30 min

INGREDIENTS

    • 1/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1/4 cup bottled wild lingonberry sauce or any fruit preserves or jam
    • 5 large egg whites
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    • 3 large egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • Confectioners sugar for dusting

PREPARATION

    1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.
    2. Pour cream into a 9-inch pie plate or shallow gratin dish and spoon lingonberry sauce into cream in dollops (it will be sparse).
    3. Put egg whites and salt in a bowl, then set bowl in a larger bowl of hot water and stir whites to warm to room temperature, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from hot water. Beat whites with an electric mixer at high speed until they just form soft peaks, then beat in granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites just form stiff, glossy peaks. Sprinkle flour over meringue and fold in gently but thoroughly. Whisk together egg yolks and vanilla in a small bowl, then fold into whites gently but thoroughly.
    4. Spoon large dollops of meringue onto cream mixture and bake until golden brown and set, 13 to 15 minutes. If you prefer a less creamy soufflé, bake 5 minutes more. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar and cool 5 minutes before serving.
    5. What would be the one food you would crave most if you were kidnapped?


Friday, July 29, 2016

BORSCHT WITHOUT THE BELT

S. Lee Manning: Kolya Petrov, the hero of my international espionage series, was born in Russia of ethnic Russian background with a Jewish grandmother on his mother’s side. (Under Jewish law, that makes him Jewish – which he frequently disputes in conversations with his fiancée or her family.) The book I’m currently writing takes place in Russia.  So when I started to think about food for this round’s blog, I wanted to write about something to reflect my work-in-progress, to honor Kolya's heritages – and my own, as the granddaughter of four Jews who immigrated from the Pale of Russia at the start of the 20th century.


When I was a child, my parents had a particular favorite dish for lunch on hot summer days: cold borscht.  

It would be a milkhig meal – that’s Yiddish for a meal that contained dairy. Kosher rules forbid the eating of dairy and meat at the same meal – so no cheeseburgers, no glass of milk with your hot dog. Jews who keep strictly kosher not only don’t eat milk and meat at the same meal, they have two sets of dishes - one for milk, one for meat -  two of silverware, sometimes two sinks, and even two refrigerators.

We didn’t keep the kosher rules for the most part. We had one set of everyday dishes. We didn’t eat the forbidden pork or shrimp in the house (although my mother loved a shrimp cocktail before a nice steak dinner at a good but highly unkosher restaurant).  We didn’t always buy kosher meat either. We did observe a vague kind of separation of milk and meat – and those were the meals where the borscht would appear.

Those meals had a predictable formula. We’d eat tuna fish – fish can go with either milk or meat – and cottage cheese, sometimes blintzes, sometimes bagels with cream cheese. But before we dug into the tuna mashed with celery and clogged with mayo, my mother would pour a bowl of borscht for each of us.

It came out of a bottle in the frig – from one of those packagers of kosher food for Jews who couldn’t – or preferred not – to cook but who wanted to serve something ethnic. (My mother fit both categories.) It was a thin purple liquid, dotted with a few slivers of  deeper purple things that I tentatively identified as beets. Feh! (That’s a Yiddish noise for disgusting.)  I hated it. I would sit there stirring it, reluctant to bring even a spoonful to my mouth. “Here. It’s delicious.” My mother would plop a spoonful of sour cream into the bowl, turning the liquid from light purple to a creamy light pink, thus tripling its repulsiveness in my mind.

My father would look over at me. “It’s good."

 I wouldn’t attribute my teenage rebellion completely to my parents’ false assurances of the deliciousness of the jarred borscht – but it may have been a contributing factor. Back then, I thought it was an exclusively Jewish dish, to be topped in disgustingness only by gefilte fish - if you don’t know what that is, ask me later. Borscht was a joke to be invoked by Jewish comedians at resorts in the Catskills.


Little did I realize in those young and foolish days that most massed produced canned or jarred products bear little resemblance to the food that is named on the label. So it is with canned peaches and asparagus. So it is with borscht.

It took a visit to New York City and a Ukrainian restaurant on Second Avenue in Manhattan to realize that borscht didn’t always come in a jar – that it wasn’t always tasteless – or disgusting. To the contrary, it was delicious. Nor was it even an exclusively Jewish dish. Like so many Jewish dishes, it was adapted from Russian or Ukrainian dishes and altered to satisfy kosher rules. As I understand it, the climate has a lot to do with the dish. Russia and the Ukraine use a lot of root vegetables in cooking, due to the short growing season that does not favor many of the vegetables found further south. The Jewish cold version has to be vegetarian if it’s going to be kosher to eat with dairy. Ukrainian and Russian versions usually have meat and include vegetables other than beets.

The problem is – I’d never made borscht. So I decided to crib a recipe from various sources and give it a shot. Since I’m giving a tip of my Rogue Women Writer’s hat to my own heritage as well as Kolya’s, I’m making it vegetarian. It’s on the stove as I type. I’m hoping that it comes out decent, because I’m planning to feed it to my non-Jewish husband. Here’s what I’ve done so far:

8 cups of water.
Approximately 1 pound of fresh beets, chopped into slices. (Be careful. Those suckers really are purple, and they’re messy. Wear something that you don’t mind getting stained with squirting beet juice. I wore my bathrobe, already so stained it didn’t matter. More information than you needed, huh?)
½ small head of white cabbage. (You could do purple, I suppose, but I believe in diversity of color.)
1 large Vidalia onion
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
A lot of pepper (I don’t measure pepper. I just pour. You might want to be more judicious.)
Some salt, but less than the pepper

Put everything in a pot. Bring to a boil. Cover, turn down and wait. Don’t make plans for the rest of the day.

Will check back when it has cooked down.

Tip: Do keep checking frequently. Don’t get so caught up in election year politics on  television that you forget you have a pot of boiling liquid on the stove and have to rush in and turn off the fire before everything burns up. In case you do, not that I did anything of the sort, just pour a bunch more water into the pot, dump in more vinegar and lemon juice, don’t bother measuring and bring the whole mess up to boiling again.
When the vegetables are soft, turn off the fire. Let the pot cool enough to refrigerate. Serve cold. Chop scallions or fresh dill to taste. Put tablespoon of sour cream in your husband’s bowl. Maybe in your own as well, but watch his reaction first.

Verdict. Delicious. A great dish for a hot summer night in Vermont.

Eat in good health.








Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE KICK OF A MOSCOW MULE ... OR, HOW GEOPOLITICS AND HISTORY AFFECT BOOZE


Gayle Lynds:  A sense of nostalgia swept over me when I recently read a story in The New York Times about the comeback of the Moscow Mule, a bubbly mixture of ginger, lime, and vodka that launched the popularity of that oh-so-Russian spirit in the United States.  The Mule, as it’s fondly known, has a surreptitious kick and a spicy taste but never screams VODKA.  What’s particularly fascinating to me nowadays is the Mule’s relationship to how the United States and Russia feel about each other.

Which brings me to the next series of posts on Rogue Women — food and drink in espionage thrillers.  My geopolitical interest is in the rebirth of the Moscow Mule — recipe to follow. 

The history of the cocktail has a kick of its own: The story begins in the Cock ‘n’ Bull, a mock British tavern on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood which before its demise in 1987 attracted luminaries ranging from author Somerset Maugham and actor Richard Burton (who allegedly changed his favorite table each time he changed wives) to rock singer Rod Stewart and his soccer team.

But back in 1941, the bar owner had a double problem:  He couldn’t sell the cases of Smirnoff vodka he’d bought or the bottles of ginger beer he’d ordered made.  The bartender, Wes Price, said he was just trying to clear out the basement when he mixed them together and added some lime.


At the same time, an immigrant named Sophie Berezinski was carting copper mugs she’d designed in her father’s copper shop back in the Soviet Union around California, trying to sell them.  She’d brought some 2,000 with her and was worried “lest her husband toss them in a trash heap.”  Seeing a marketing opportunity, the Cock ‘n’ Bull began serving Moscow Mules in her limited edition run. 

The popularity of the cocktail took off like a Soviet rocket, and the tiny company of Smirnoff went along for the lucrative ride as the vodka of choice for a properly made Mule.  And then the Soviet Union became a U.S. ally during World War II, which made drinking the Mule seem almost patriotic.

But all of that changed with the arrival of the Cold War, along with McCarthyism and blacklisting in Hollywood.  A rumor spread across the continent that Smirnoff was a Soviet vodka, and New York bartenders organized a boycott, despite the fact that Smirnoff was actually born in Bethel, Connecticut.

The Mule never regained its popularity . . . until now.  When The New York Times says you’re back, you’re back.  Which is strange, since the United States and Russia are at loggerheads in so many different areas it’s difficult to keep count.  Oh, well.  It’s a nice drink.

And its comeback has included the mugs.  The family responsible has decided to get back into the business after 74 years with Mule mugs made to the same specifications as the ones brought over from the Soviet Union in 1941.  They’re available from Moscow Copper.  And this time customers don’t need to steal them from the bars.

The lesson?  There are second acts in history, especially if booze is involved.  All of this is also naturally inspiration for the spy novel I'm writing, which is set almost entirely in Moscow.

Esquire Magazine’s Recipe for the Moscow Mule Coctail:
½ oz. lime juice
2 oz. vodka
4-6 oz. ginger beer
2–3 ice cubes

Squeeze lime juice into a Collins glass (or Moscow Mule mug) and drop in the spent shell.   Add ice cubes, then pour in the vodka and fill with cold ginger beer (not ginger ale, although what the hell).  Serve with a stirring rod.

Do you have any favorite drinks you met for the first time in a novel?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sex and the Thriller

by Chris Goff

The Cold Hard Truth

At the Rogue Women Writer’s panel at ThrillerFest on July 8, Steve Berry (our panel master) raised the curtain on the gender disparity in writing International Espionage thrillers. It was a great discussion, with audience participation, and everyone could see that there are some problems.

#1, it’s difficult to get thriller reviewers to read our books.

#2, there seems to be a disparity in advances.

#3, it’s perceived that men are the predominate readers of International Espionage Thrillers and those men don't like reading books written by women.

Since readers are important for book sales, which influence reviews and advances, I decided to give #3 a fact check.

Research


Every source I found seemed to support the allegation that International Espionage Thriller readers are predominately men, but none of those sources cited any stats that supported that belief. However, I did find a great blog on criminalelement.com, written by Linda Rodriguez, author of the Skeet Bannion novels, that spoke to the subject. She contends that thrillers and mysteries used to split along gender lines because "thrillers were originally written by, for and about men." To support the allegation, she cites the earliest thriller as The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, published in 1903 and states that "[the book] had not a single female character initially until his publisher forced [him] to add one.” She goes on to mention Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle published in 1978 as the first thriller with a female protagonist.

According to Rodriguez, the books of the time all “shared elements of idealized male protagonists braving physical danger and escalating threat that built to cathartic endings of explosive violence.” Then she goes on to point out, by contrast, the mysteries of the same time period were dominated by female protagonist, written by women and read predominately by female readers.

Of more interest to me is that—according to Rodriguez—things have changed. She contends that thrillers have become more violent, with the offset of cozy mysteries at the other end of the spectrum, and claims that "women are the majority of readers throughout the spectrum...and women [also] write roughly half the books in the combined genres."

She's right.

According to a 2015 US Media Audience Demographics report by MarketingCharts.com young readers (ages 18-33) read more fiction than the baby boomers (ages 46-64) and mature readers (ages 65 and older) combined. Female fiction readers read mystery/thriller/crime books at a much higher rate than male readers (57% compared to 39% even though it is the most popular genre for both genders), and mature fiction readers have stronger preferences for the mystery/thriller/crime genre overall (61% to 48%). Another interesting fact was that in 2015 all ten of the Top 10 favorite authors were mystery/thriller/crime genre authors—and all of them were men. There were also two romance authors listed—both women. The female readers to male readers ratio was huge (37% women to only 3% men).

The take away?

There are no real statistics on who reads International Thrillers, but based on the blogs of the Rogue Women and comments by others, it appears to me that when women add sex to their thrillers, they are actually adding emotion and entanglements versus writing the more gratuitous James Bond-type of sex. Romantic sex gets messy, and may actually lead to the books being labeled Romantic Thrillers, Romantic Suspense or Romantic Mysteries, which—if the above survey is accurate—would likely be off-putting to men.

Another study I found does support the common allegation that women buy more books than men. In 2010, Sisters in Crime collaborated with Bowker's PubTrack Book Consumer research service to gather data on mystery readers. They found that 64% of the mystery readers were women, 35% were men. 47% were over the age of 60. The study also revealed that readers under 40 look for  dark, suspenseful stories and don't distinguish mysteries as different from other genres, while readers over 60 are more loyal to authors or characters.

So, what does all of this mean for the Rogue Women Writers?


Rogue Women Writers (left to right): Christine Goff, Gayle Lynds, KJ Howe with ARC of new novel The Freedom Broker, Jamie Freveletti, S. Lee Manning, Sonja Stone (kneeling on floor), and Francine Mathews.
Fact: we are writing in a traditionally male venue that above all lends itself to violence and action.
Fact: old stigmas of "men writing books by and for men" may not have totally faded.
Fact: women buy and read more mystery/thriller/crime fiction than men, though we don't know the percentages of men and women buying International Espionage Thrillers.

Which leaves me wondering...

#1, Do you think it may be perceived that men write better International Thrillers because it's believed that men stick to action, violence and gratuitous sex, while women writers are seen as bringing emotion and sensibility into their work, something male readers may find uncomfortable?

#2, Do you think it's possible that women, who buy more of mystery/thriller/crime fiction than men, buy books they perceive as bringing in more emotion and sensibility than books they fear may be strictly full of action, violence and gratuitous sex?

#3, Is there anything to do about it?

So back to sex in the thriller

When I need to write sex, I will. When I can fade to black and stick to my story, I will. What matters is the book and what best fits the story. Does it make me squirm? To be continued...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

Want to Know What He’s Like in Bed? Read on…

By Sonja Stone

I feel the same way about sex that I do about weapons. 

No, it's not bigger is betterIt’s this: Safety first. Which is why I pulled out a sleeve of trojans and a cucumber to demonstrate the proper way to apply a condom to my horrified children.

sex quizHaving said that, let me remind you that I write for young adults. I don’t write sex scenes. I know young adults have sex; I’m not an idiot. This isn’t about me taking a moral stand. Exploring our sexuality is a healthy part of being human. But I started my first novel when my kids were in middle school. They’d come home, I’d hand them the day’s pages, and that’s how it went. 

And it’s not that I don’t want to hear about their sex lives; I’ve tried to establish an environment where my kids can talk to me about anything. But no one—I REPEAT NO ONE—wants to think about their parents having sex. Ever. As far as I’m concerned, my parents had sex twice, and both times resulted in a child.

I can’t add a sex scene to a book written for my children without them thinking, “Hmm. Mom’s talking about sex… Wonder how she came up with that.”

So since I can’t write about, let’s talk about it.

KISSING FROGS

Let me tell you what's NOT fun: entering the dating scene at the same time as your kids. I don't know what I'm doing out there. But I know this: what looks cute on 20 does not look cute on 40. Which is why I'm grateful that even though my arms are super buff and I could totally pull it off, I never got that tribal armband tattoo. But that also means I can’t resort to the same tricks I used last time around (let’s just say there was a lot of tequila involved, and leave it at that).

Fortunately, I have a theory that’s always served me well. It’s enabled me to sort the wheat from the chaff without making much of a commitment. Are you ready?

HOW TO TELL WHAT HE’S LIKE IN BED (Without Taking Off Your Clothes)

This is a true statement:

I can tell what a man is like in bed by watching him eat. 


As far as I know, this doesn’t work for women (at least it wouldn’t apply for me—I don’t have sex like I eat). I think the gender discrepancy is about socialization; girls and women are generally more courteous at the dinner table (I said GENERALLY. I know there are exceptions. My oldest child, for example.).

Sensual lovers cooking together
Food is so sensual.
Think about the man you’re with (or the one you want to be with): how does he satiate himself? 

Does he devour his food, jumping from one dish to the next? Does he carefully finish his roasted chicken before moving on to his salad? Does he eat with his fingers, licking them clean after a few bites? Does he offer you a taste? Take from your plate without asking? Is he ravenous, picky, selective, refined, up for anything? Does he sample international cuisine? Does he use his thumb instead his knife to push food onto his fork? Does he say thank you, regardless of what you’ve cooked for him? If you enjoy watching him eat, you’ll probably enjoy other aspects of his appetite.

Please note the absolute lack of judgment in all previous statements. Jane thinks finger-licking is sexy, Sue finds it repulsive. Whatever. I vehemently believe that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is none of my business or concern. 

So no matter  your flavor, I hope you find a lover to suit your tastes. 

Take the quiz to find your perfect match!





Friday, July 22, 2016

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME: HELAINE MARIO WEIGHS IN

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA
"Espionage, suspense, political intrigue, danger, international and evocative settings, secrets…yes. But what about romance?"--Helaine Mario

Francine Mathews: Today I'm happy to introduce espionage author Helaine Mario to the Rogue Women World. Helaine writes international espionage novels from a historical perspective--rather as I do myself--which is one reason I enjoy her work. Another is her penchant for offering readers strong, romantic love stories within her thriller plots. As a result, Helaine's books are often described by reviewers as romantic suspense rather than framed and discussed as the spy novels they actually are. 

I find that puzzling--because growing up as a reader of women's thriller fiction, I knew the difference between the two without having to be told. The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt and Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart were romantic suspense: Naive young woman stumbles on deception and romance, is saved by handsome fellow with dash of integrity, and both live happily-ever-after. I liked those books--I still reread my shelf full of Mary Stewart each year--but even at the age of thirteen I never confused them with the heart-stopping work of, say, Helen MacInnes. MacInnes was a spy novelist, period. She wrote fantastic international espionage that just happened to have both male and female characters. They always tangled emotionally with one another, which added to the psychological interest. Nobody seemed to refer to this as romantic suspense. MacInnes had the profound respect of all espionage fans and authors, regardless of gender--because her credentials (she had worked for British Intelligence during WWII) and her details were impeccable. 

Turns out Helaine is a MacInnes-lover as well.


In a week where we've been discussing the role of sex scenes in suspense, I asked Helaine to weigh in--and she was eager to join the Rogue conversation. 
*   *   *
Helaine Mario

By Helaine Mario
Do you remember the day you discovered a favorite author? I know the exact moment I discovered Helen MacInnes, often called ‘The Queen of Espionage Writers,’ because her books changed my life.

Almost five decades ago, as a new college graduate with no writing aspirations, I visited my parents for the weekend. On the table was a tattered paperback titled The Venetian Affair. The cover lured me in – an attractive couple, clearly in danger, running through night shadows across a Venetian bridge. The opening sentence - “Two men sat in a darkened room… ” – sealed my fate. I read all night and was the first person in the bookstore the next morning to buy Helen MacInnes’ earlier works. I still have all twenty-two of her novels in the bookcase behind my desk.

Espionage, suspense – and romance. Helen MacInnes gave it all in equal measure. As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I was fascinated by her stories of the spies and danger of World War II and the Cold War. My father told me of his landing in Normandy on day two of the invasion, and later, in school, we practiced hiding under our desks in case of a Cold War missile strike. (Yes, really!) So an innocent character caught up in a World War II drama or Cold War spy mystery was the perfect combination for me. And if you added in romance – well, who doesn't want to fall into a good love story?

Only one problem. Other than Evelyn Anthony, I found very few women writers of international espionage. Even today, if you google “top ten espionage authors,” you will find only lists of male writers – Le Carre, Ludlum, Follet, Forsyth, Silva. [N.B.: Gayle Lynds and Stella Rimington appear on a few.-- FMSo I decided that I would have to write the books I wanted to read. And Firebird and The Lost Concerto were born.

Purchase on Amazon
Firebird is the story of a forgotten Russian spy on a collision course with an innocent art curator. The prologue opens with a 
performance of the Kirov’s Firebird ballet during the Cold War. The Lost Concerto, which tells the story of a classical pianist searching for her missing godson throughout France, is set against a decades old secret from World War II. Flashback scenes and memories transport the reader back to 1943.

Espionage, suspense, political intrigue, danger, international and evocative settings, secrets…yes. But what about romance? The author Ken Follett said of Ms. MacInnes that, “For Helen, plot is just a channel through which a love story can flow.” That is how I feel. Like so many of you, my characters come first. I always am looking for a good story, a plot worthy of them. For me, both as a writer and a reader, a good love story takes center stage. I often say that I write romantic love stories masquerading as thrillers.

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Now, I am talking about real, old-fashioned romance. That look, that gesture, that touch. That sudden fluttering spark, that first kiss, that ‘will she or won’t she?’ To me, these moments create the best suspense of all. I know that many thrillers include very descriptive sex – and I enjoy those scenes as much as everyone else. But the genre's action – whether suspense, thriller or mystery – usually takes place within a few days or a week at most. My main character in Firebird, Alexandra, has survived an abusive husband. In The Lost Concerto, Maggie is grieving for her beloved lost husband. While both characters find a way to move on with a new and unexpected love, they are mature women who need the relationship and trust to come before the ‘hot and heavy.’


I could not have predicted that a woman I never met would encourage me to write fiction. Helen MacInnes taught me about suspense, courage and love, and inspired me with her heroic and complex women characters. I learned about building page-turning suspense, finding a voice, dialogue that sounds natural, intriguing international settings, creating a believable and involving romance. The women in my novels, especially, are strong but flawed, smart, independent, a bit quirky, funny, accomplished, brave. The kind of woman who has the courage to do the right thing, who will run toward something, not away.

So, am I a Romantic Suspense writer or an International Espionage Thriller writer? I’ve been listed in both categories, and neither, by itself, is perfect for me. The covers of my books do not feature ‘women in peril,’ so readers who expect romantic suspense are often surprised by the ‘thriller’ scenes, while readers expecting non-stop action can be thrown by the unexpected romance and depth of character. But as I study hundreds of reviews and responses, I am struck by how many readers love the ‘can’t put down’ combination. (Surprisingly enough, only one person has told me there should have been more sex.) For me, the key is to pace the story in such a way that readers will find emotional suspense as well as physical thrills. We love the danger, but the romance gives our stories heart.

My publisher, Oceanview, specializes in thrillers, mystery and suspense – not romance. But they took a chance on me because - like Helen MacInnes, the Rogue Writing Women, and myself - we believe we can have it all. 
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Francine: Okay, Helaine, so about that Top 10 list--I have to throw you 
the hardball question Steve Berry tossed to our Rogue Women Writers panel at ThrillerFest 2016 a few weeks ago: "Why aren't women spy novelists as recognized and read as men? Is it the way our publishers market us, or is there something deeper at work?"

HelaineAs for [my publisher], Oceanview, as far as I know they always have marketed me in the suspense/mystery/thriller category, not romance, in keeping with their mission. They have submitted me for awards based on those categories as well (and I've done well there). They took a chance on my 'added romance'. Sometimes I have wished that they would call more attention to the romance in my books. Men who read my books really enjoy them, but I think they are surprised. Perhaps we need to change the marketing for all of us to reflect how good our stories are - combining suspense, thrills AND romance is possible. Personally, I would begin with how amazon categorizes us. there doesn't always seem to be a rhyme or reason, and amazon is a powerful marketing agent.

Francine: What do you think, Rogue Readers? Is "romantic suspense" a label pitched mostly to girls--while "espionage thriller" is targeted at the boys? Is romance out of place in skullduggery? 

Thanks so much, Helaine!

Helaine Mario