Sunday, December 31, 2017

New beginnings: rules

S. Le Manning: It’s New Year’s Eve, the end of 2017, the beginning of 2018. Once again, we celebrate that everything is starting new, that things in the coming year will be different, that we will be different.

So, it’s a perfect time to talk about new beginnings. The beginning of a year always brings self-examination and the hope of change. Do you want to lose weight? Start a new career? Find a relationship? Improve a relationship? Get out of a relationship? Stop talking about relationships?

It doesn’t even have to be a big, life shattering change. Starting a new hobby: learn to ski, golf, shoot, speak French. Travel somewhere new. Join a club.  New Year’s Day operates as something of a start line. Ready, set, welcome 2018, yahoo, something new.

It’s also a terrible time to talk about new beginnings – because it’s expected, because there’s too much pressure, because it’s easy to interpret a lapse as a failure and give up, because everyone’s talking about change in the new year and it feels a little conformist and maybe a little boring. How many damn columns are there now about resolutions and how to keep them and yada yada, which means you’re probably as fed up as I am even though I’m writing this– and which is part and parcel of my general loathing of New Year’s Eve. (See last year’s blog.)

But giving in to the mood of the season, and because I have to write something, this post is my personal list of rules for new beginnings. (I like to make lists – maybe part of the ADHD thing – or obsessive compulsive thing. Whatever.)

So here we go:

Rule 1. Don’t set an artificial deadline for starting. New Year’s Day is a perfectly okay day to start something new – but there’s a whole 364 other days in the year that’ll work just fine. I know this sounds kind of simplistic, but the day you start whatever it is you want to change, that’s the perfect day to do it. Don’t get stuck on starting in the new year or on your birthday or on Valentine’s Day, especially not Valentine’s Day, because it’s another stupid holiday that just gives restaurants an excuse to jack up prices.

Rule 2. You’re never too old, or too young to start something new. There are, however, some limitations based on physical ability – and it helps to be realistic. If your eyesight is failing, I suspect you might want to reconsider taking up target shooting. (Maybe not – but do let me know when you’re going to be at the range so I can hide.) Maybe ski jumping isn’t a great idea at 92 – but then again, I’m not going to rule it out based just on age. I wouldn’t do it myself, but then, I’m not 92. I’m also terrified of heights and ski lifts and clowns – none of which is relevant here, is it?

Rule 3. For many new beginnings, focus not on the end goal but on what you’re doing every day to achieve it – and make it something reasonable to do. You want to give up the law and become a New York Times best seller? You want to give up writing, become a lawyer, and argue before the Supreme Court? (Okay, give me a minute to stop rolling on the floor.)  We’re talking new beginnings here, not a reality show. So, you can become a lawyer or a writer or a teacher – and if in the course of doing so, you become a best seller or win the Pulitzer Prize, terrific. But don’t have that as your goal. And don’t effing tell me about it, either, because I won’t take it well.

Rule 4. Have a positive reason for the change. If you’re only starting something new just because it’s a new year and you feel you should, maybe you should rethink. Do it out of love or excitement or wanting to be part of a community. Take up exercise because it makes you feel good, not just because you have been pressured by your kids or your partner or your doctor and you just want them to shut up. Silencing the nagging voices may be a side benefit, okay a really big side benefit, especially if it’s your husband who is older than you but can outwalk, outrun, and outclimb you –  you get the picture. Still, you need a positive reason to keep going – and this leads into …

Rule 5. Find other people who are also writing or skiing or exercising or leaving bad relationships. Starting something new can be difficult – but sharing that new start with other people makes it more likely that you’ll stick to it. Community is important for all of us, even those of us – like most writers – who are essentially introverts and have a tendency to hide under tables at parties.  However, brief and infrequent it may be, even if it’s over the phone or on-line or at conferences twice a year, having someone to cheer you on can make all the difference. Just make sure that you pick the right person – and not someone who wins the Pulitzer Prize with her first novel, because, well, just because….

Rule 6. Okay, this is the last and most important rule – to hell with rules. What I wrote above might work for some people. It might not work for you. Whatever works is whatever works.  Rule 5 could have been the whole post – but it would have been on the short side, and you would have missed all the side snide comments, which is the real reason I’m enjoying writing this post and maybe the reason you’re reading it as well.

So Happy New Year. Happy new beginnings.  Catch me on-line and at conferences for writing encouragement and power walking. Or not.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Gayle Lynds:  Years ago my mentor was Robert Kirsch.  A growly sort of man with a big heart, for some 25 years he was the lauded Los Angeles Times literary critic.  He was also brilliant and astute.  As I began to publish, he advised me, “Make many mistakes right now.  Later on when people know you and your work, it’s a lot more embarrassing.”

And of course he was right.  I still make the occasional mistake no matter how hard I work to be accurate, and I'm always embarrassed.  Still, I wouldn’t have missed this ride called “writing books” for anything. 

And that leads me to you.  If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve considering writing.  Your mother, spouse, friends, or coworkers may have said you should write.  The books could be works of fiction or about your business, your life, your values, a hobby, or research subjects that fascinate you.

When someone affirms what's already in your mind, it's time to pay attention.  I'm approached at almost every event by someone who says to me, "I've always wanted to write a book, but I don't know how to begin."
Here I am in college, dreaming of writing

If you can dream it, you can do it.  Really.  I can't promise you publication with a major New York house, but I can promise you the intense satisfaction of fulfilling a goal that's important to you, and an adventure you'll never regret.

Writing Is 10% Inspiration, 90% Perspiration.  Creativity is like a muscle.  The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.  If you carve out time to write at regular intervals — whether it's an hour before work in the morning, or two hours on Saturday and Sunday — be sure to show up. In other words, put your butt in the chair, whether it's a rocking chair or a desk chair.  If you show up, you'll start writing.

The Journey Is All.  We live in a highly literate country, but there's a downside to it:  People often think that since you can read, you can write, and after three years you'll finish your book, it'll sell, and you'll instantly be rich and famous.  They seldom stop to think that just because all of us can listen to and enjoy music, after three years of piano lessons no one is going to be so accomplished he or she can solo at Carnegie or the Royal Albert Hall.  So give yourself a break.  To write a book, you're learning a challenging and complex new skill.  There's a lot involved.  What's more important — and rewarding — is to do it. 

No One Can Teach You To Write, But You Can Learn To Write.  Most of us learned by going to writing classes, workshops, and conferences.  Many city colleges offer extension or adult ed classes for free or very little cost.  That's how I started, with a 13-week free city college class taught by a published author.  If possible, also attend weekend workshops or conferences where you live in residence.  And form a writing group of people who are at about the same level as you, to read and critique each other's work.  It's important for you to be around those who share the same dream, and to immerse yourself in writing, editing, and studying.  If you do it, you'll get better and better.

Be Kind To Those You Love — It Can Be Tough To Live with a Writer.   When your eyes glaze over because you've just had an idea for a scene ... when you wake up in the middle of the night to jot a note to yourself ... when you excitedly rip an article from the newspaper while forgetting no one else has had a chance to read it ... remember your family likely can't go in their imaginations where you can.  Living with a writer — just being friends with a writer — can be lonely and intimidating.  Be kind and understanding, because you're going to want those you love to be there to celebrate with you when you finish your book.

The years are going to pass anyway.  How much better it is to spend them doing something you really care about.  If your dream is to write a book, 2018 is a great time to begin.

Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017


by Chris Goff

When I sat down to write, it seemed like a tall order to pick out the worst Christmas or best Christmas or the best present. For me, every Christmas has its special moments, and I've had a lot of great presents.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. It was my mother's favorite holiday, too. I love everything about Christmas from the muzak that plays in all the stores to the cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies played non-stop on TWO Hallmark channels all the month of December. I love the preparations—buying just the right gift, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and decorating the tree.

This year, four of our six kids will be home for the holidays. They'll bring their spouses and offspring and fill the house with laughter and joy. Friday evening, the grandchildren asked where the ornaments on the tree came from, and I realized that each one conjures a cherished memory. There's the small wooden skier (one of the first ever given to me), the golden pecan shell ornament made by my grandmother 90 years ago, the glass chile ristra from my son and daughter-in-law gave us to commemorate one of the best Christmases ever. We have handmade ornaments from each of the kids, a Murano glass Santa that one daughter brought home from Italy, and a Christopher Radko blowfish I bought in honor of our Christmas in Hawaii. For me, Christmas is a time for miracles.

The worst Christmas ever (and even it turned out pretty well).

My dad was building us a new house, across the street and up the mountain from where we were living in Evergreen, Colorado. I loved to go and watch him and this helpers working, and they had been banging away on that Christmas Eve. The next morning I awoke with a very sore eye. It was red and swollen, I was whining and complaining, and the folks were concerned. Evergreen being a small town back then, had one doctor. He often made house calls, but that morning he told my folks to meet him in his office downtown on the second floor above the old Mountain Pharmacy. I remember being upset when I was whisked away before I could open my stocking or see what Santa had left for me under the tree. I was even more upset when it was discovered I had a sliver of metal embedded in my eye. It was a quick fix. Dr. Youberg numbed my eye, my dad held my head still, then the doc extricated the small metal shaving. After putting some goop in my eye, he covered it with a patch to protect it, wished us Merry Christmas and sent us one our way. At the time I didn't realize the gift he had given us. If Dr. Youberg hadn't come out on that Christmas morning, leaving his own family at home, it would have meant an hour-long trip to Lutheran Hospital, the closest emergency room. And who knows how long we would have sat in the waiting room and waited for treatment. Instead, Dr. Youberg was my Christmas angel. In less than one hour I was home, opening my stocking. That was the year Santa brought me a Thumbelina doll.

The best Present ever.

I learned to ski when I was three-years-old, in the time of lace-up boots and cable bindings. At five I was skiing in Aspen and taking lessons from the great Stein Erickson, the Norwegian Olympic gold medal skier, who became the first alpine skier to snare triple gold at a World Championship. I don't remember much about him,  except he scared me. He would yell, "Bend zee knees," then he would smacking the back of my knees with his ski pole. It's a miracle I still like to ski. The year I turned thirteen, I found no presents waiting under the tree. My mother and dad had presents. Even the dogs had presents. Finally, my dad handed me a card with a cryptic message—a clue. It took me a little while to decipher the message and find my present, which was well hidden. That was the year I got new poles, a pair of leather buckle boots, and a pair of 195 cm Head 360s with buckle bindings. Best skis ever!

The best Christmas ever.
Photo by Sara Wright - click on picture to follow link to her blog

We had rented a house in Santa Fe big enough to house our entire family—kids, spouses and grandchildren. We totaled twelve at the time. The house was pink adobe and decorated with lots of Native American, Southwestern and Buddhist art. The owners had a Wii machine with Rock Band on it, and we broke into teams of three, held rehearsals, and had an epic Christmas Battle of the Bands (my son, husband and granddaughter won). We played White Elephant Bingo, worked on jigsaw puzzles, hiked and shopped the downtown outdoor markets. We did the Christmas Eve Faralito Walk on Canyon Road, enjoying the caroling and traditional New Mexican Christmas decorations. But I really wanted to go to one of the Pueblos holding a Christmas Eve service. No one else was interested, but as I headed out the door alone, my husband and one daughter fell in beside me.

The church was near the center of the Pueblo. We lucked out and found a parking space. Most of the streets were blocked off, each intersection staked with wood. Winding our way to the church, we arrived to find that we were one of only a handful of Anglo families in attendance. Warmly welcomed, we were ushered to a pew in the back of the church and for the next hour watched with fascination the "Dance of Los Matachines." First introduced by Spanish missionaries as "The Dance of the Moors and Christians," it was meant to show the superiority of Christians. The dance was adopted by the people, and Indian and Hispanic influences were added. It's said that there are as many as 44 versions of the dance, but it's most basic symbol is good versus evil, with good prevailing.

In this dance, the Matachines weave and swirl at the front of the church. Then a young girl dressed in white appears, chaperoned by mysterious figures. She represents the virgin, or the moon, or light and she moves among the Matachines, drawing everyone's eyes and hearts. She is hope. She is adoration. She is the future.

At the end of the dance, the Matachines dance out of the church, a wave of worshippers in tow. As they reach each intersection of the road, the stacks of wood are set ablaze, ground fireworks are lit, and the dancers swirl and dance in place for a moment, before leading the crowd further.

We followed for a while, mesmerized. Then, realizing that the ritual would continue until the dancers and the followers wove throughout the pueblo and all the fires were lit and they had returned to the church, we slipped quietly away, forever changed. It was magical!

Here's wishing you and your loved ones all the blessings of the season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017



by Sonja Stone

"And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: 'How could it be so?
'It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
'It came without packages, boxes or bags!'
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!'"

Giving and receiving gifts is a joyful way to celebrate love and friendship. As a kid, the gifts were the most important part of my Christmas season. 
My family moved around a lot, but Santa always found us--even on Guam, where we had no chimney. Every year he dutifully stuffed our stockings and littered presents around the tree. 

Naturally, the older I get, the less important the presents become. This year, I've set aside a day for baking, a day for crafting, and a day for reading my favorite (children's) Christmas stories and binge-watching watching holiday movies. If you need inspiration for lightening up your holiday season, check out my list below. Maybe you'll start a new tradition with your family!

Get in the spirit with a holiday jingle! Nothing says wintertime like Dean Martin's Marshmallow World. If you're looking for something a little less mainstream, check out The Five Strings version of Amazing Grace (featuring Alex Boye´).

It's perfectly acceptable to spend days in the kitchen during the holiday season--crafting sugary works of art takes time! The gingerbread church shown below (from a Good Housekeeping magazine from the 80s) is lit from the inside with a plug-in candelabra. The stained glass windows--made with crushed and melted jolly ranchers--glow throughout the night.

Gingerbread church with stained-glass windows

We were pretty strict parents, so when my kids were little, my handmade coupon books were always the favorite gift of the season. I made the books with craft paper and ribbon, and hung them on the tree to be opened Christmas morning. Coupons included things like, have waffles for dinner (instead of what I cooked), enjoy popcorn and a movie on the couch, stay up a half-hour past bedtime, get out of one chore, etc. Every year without fail, my daughter would spend her coupons by the end of January; my son was another story. His coupons were cherished all year, spent carefully and only after much deliberation.

I'm not super-crafty (unless the craft is made with sugar), so I keep it simple. A few years ago I bought a book called Fa la la la Felt, by Amanda Carestio and Kathy Sheldon. I've had so much fun making little ornaments and tiny stuffed owls--this is truly a great gift for a beginner. The best part is that I can stitch away while rewatching six seasons of Downton Abbey with my son!

My holiday bunny
P.S. I just got myself an early Christmas present--DARK WATERS, by fellow rogue Chris Goff!

What are your favorite holiday activities? Please leave ideas in the comment section below!

Sunday, December 17, 2017


By Francine Mathews

Forty years ago this week, my father felt a pain in his left arm and stopped in at his doctor's office for an EKG during his evening commute home. He'd had a heart attack fifteen years before, the year before I was born, and knew the signs. He never mentioned his errand to us over dinner, was charming to me and my mother and her sister and brother-in-law who were visiting from New York. Eventually all of us went to bed. It was a weeknight, and I had school in the morning.

At two a.m., unable to sleep, my father threw back the bedclothes and went downstairs. He'd heard from one of his golf buddies that single-malt Scotch could zap the blood clot that caused a heart attack, so he pulled a bottle out of his liquor cabinet and drank a strong dose. Then he dialed 911. He walked down the driveway to the ambulance twenty minutes later. I never heard the sirens, never woke up. That haunts me still.

He didn't die that night. He was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital, because he was a retired Air Force brigadier general. What I remember most about Bethesda Naval is that a light shines perpetually over the sixteenth floor of the tower, to commemorate the fact that the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, jumped from a window there to his death. Forrestal was being treated for depression at the time. It was my father who told me about his jump. He was lacerated by the lost possibility of Forrestal's life. Like me, he curated strange stories of fateful ends.

I woke up to the news that he was in the hospital and that I had somehow slept through his crisis. I was sent to school "to keep my mind off of things." I went through my classes in a daze, wondering every moment if my father had died while I was ignoring science or math or Man the Mythmaker, our freshman-year English text. As soon as I got home, I visited him in Intensive Care. He was maudlin from morphine, apologizing to all of us for having given us genetically bad hearts.

That was December 13th. All five of my older sisters trekked home immediately at the news of the family emergency, and their trips coincided with the Christmas holiday; so suddenly, our house in Potomac was filled to bursting and the big issue was how to manage meals for a vast multitude. Some of my sisters were married. Some had children. Some were trekking back from jobs or college. My mother was shell-shocked. This was decades before stents, angioplasty, or any of the treatments that make coronary disease less fatal; my sisters were terrified we were about to lose our father. He had always been the domestic god of our particular universe.

On December 23rd, his medical team required him to take a stress test. When several of us arrived to see him afterward at Bethesda Naval, he would not make eye contact or speak to any of us. His face was like stone. I can only guess the news he was told--the prognosis was bad? He required a pacemaker? A heart transplant? He should get his affairs in order? Regardless, he checked himself out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, against doctors' orders, and came home.

I should explain that Christmas was my father's favorite holiday. My deepest memories of the season are due to him--holding strands of white lights while he strung them fastidiously on a birch tree in front of our Chappaqua house in 1972. Holding colored lights while he strung them on our indoor Christmas tree, years before that. Snuggling close to his rib cage and listening to the whorls and whistles of his mysterious interior after an epic Christmas dinner, filled with candlelight and laughter and varied toasts from the characters who populated my extended family.

Christmas, of course, had a dark side for all of us. My only brother, Stephen, died before I was born, on one dreadful December 19th. He was buried at Arlington that year, two days before Christmas, and the holiday was forever tinged with mourning. Even I--the last of the family, who hadn't witnessed this brutal history--inherited its melancholy. 

Stevie had been the apple of my father's eye. He had bled out in his arms.

That Christmas of 1977, Dad got up in the morning, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie, went to morning Mass and passed out the gifts to all of us around the tree. (Where did the gifts come from? How did they happen in the midst of crisis?) He carved whatever roast my mother had managed to hustle out of the kitchen, complete with her signature gravy, between hospital visits and primordial terror, for a collective gathering of at least a dozen people, a testament to the way both my parents rose to occasions whenever required. I remember feeling ecstatic: convinced that my father was back, that normalcy had resumed, that nothing bad would ever happen again. 
That I was safe.

And yet--
As the dishes were being washed that Christmas night, I sat alone in the family room listening to carols. A wave of foreboding washed over me. My father walked in and fussed with tapes on his cherished stereo. I looked at him and said, "Daddy. Do you ever have the feeling that nothing is going to be right in the world, ever again?"

He told me that he did. But that everything would be all right for me.
I went to bed.

The next morning was December 26th, the Feast of St. Stephen in the Catholic calendar. St. Stephen's Day in England, or Boxing Day, as it is commonly called. My father slept late. He had breakfast downstairs, but went back to bed afterward. He seemed content to stay there, resting.

My sisters and I gathered about his bed. I remember lounging idly across his pillow, one arm draped over his shoulders, as a fourteen-year-old girl will. He was in a reflective mood. I told him I was sorry I had ever been born, because I had grown up with the awareness that as the last of eight pregnancies, far advanced in my parents' marriage, I must have been a mistake. But for the fact of me, I told my father, he'd have been free at this point in his life. Free of a fourteen-year-old he had to get through high school, and then, God forbid, college.

He looked at me directly and said, "Francie, you've been the light of my life, the child of my old age." (He was 62, ridiculously young from my current standpoint.) "Always believe that."

He told each of my sisters one important thing he wanted each of them to remember. I only remember mine. But he also told us one immense thing none of us quite knew how to absorb. 

My father was not on any medications that day that I was aware of. He was completely lucid. But on the morning of the Feast of St. Stephen, he said with absolute certainty that he saw our brother Stevie standing at the foot of his bed. That he had been standing there, in fact, for the past twenty-four hours, ever since my father had returned home. Just waiting and watching. Stevie gave my father comfort, he told us, with his presence.

We did not realize Daddy was telling us goodbye.

We left him to take one of my sisters to the train station.
He walked downstairs to see us off, and stood in the front doorway, hand raised in farewell, until our car was out of sight.

We returned to an empty house, the windows of his room flung open, the lamps overturned on the night tables, the sheets torn off the bed.
As a departure, it must have been monstrous.
He had suffered a final heart attack in our absence, and been carried away by an ambulance corps. Dead on arrival, we later learned.

A priest gave us the information over the phone.

But every Christmas, on the Feast of St. Stephen, when I remember my father's life, and his love, and all that he taught me--
I remember also the visit of a possible Magi.
An angel, of sorts.
In the form of the brother I never knew.
Who stood at the foot of my father's bed, in the last few hours of his life, and eased his suffering with eternal love.

My Christmas wish for all of you this holiday is Peace. And the love of those who matter to you, who guide you, whom you hold in your hearts forever. I wish you a faint brush of the wings from a passing Spirit--that may remind each of us of what is Eternal in the Season.



Friday, December 15, 2017

Or, All I Want for Christmas is ... a TV Pilot!

Anthony Franze
by Gayle Lynds:  Meet my friend Anthony Franze: He’s a dazzling legal thriller author who specializes in one of the most fascinating pieces of the American justice pie — the U.S. Supreme Court.  As soon as I read his debut, The Last Justice, I was hooked.  Since then he’s published two more irresistible reads — The Advocate’s Daughter and The Outsider.

How can he lay bare the inner quirks, routines, and relationships of one of the most closely held systems in the country?  Because he’s there, right there at the top, working in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm. 

He’s also funny and self-effacing and really smart (well, you probably figured that out already).  As cofounder (with David Morrell) of International Thriller Writers, I’m particularly delighted to let you know he’s also a vice president of the ITW board of directors.

Thanks for joining us, Anthony.  We’re thrilled about your new TV deal and that we were able to twist your arm to give us the inside scoop.  Take it away, Anthony....

Anthony Franze:  I'm all for humble bragging during the holidays.  At the same time, I was a little concerned about jinxing the recent TV deal for my novel, The Outsider.  But my friends at Rogue Women Writers asked me to fill you in about the production, so here I am.  Since Christmas is a time for surprises (for those who celebrate), I thought I'd write about four things that surprised me about my recent exposure to La La Land.

1.  Family and friends were impressed by the deal; writers not so much. In September, the Hollywood trades announced that “NBC has given a script commitment plus penalty to The Outsider, a legal thriller set in the powerful but often secretive world of the Supreme Court as seen through the eyes of their clerks, the young twentysomethings who struggle to balance their messy personal lives against the incredible demands of their jobs.”  Friends and family gushed on Facebook, a national paper ran a story about it, and the Supreme Court community had fun on Twitter trolling about potential plotlines for the series.
Bouchercon party! Anthony Franze with friends.

But at the Bouchercon mystery conference a couple weeks later, my writer friends were more circumspect.  Don’t get too excited, they said in different and subtle ways.  Wet blankets?  Yes. But they’ve seen how these things can go down—options languishing, projects shelved—and just didn’t want me opening my stocking to a pile of coal.  Call me optimistic, but I think it’s gonna happen.  But in the coming months, watch this space (and NBC’s fall lineup) to see if the Grinch stole more than Christmas.

2.  Things move faster in television. Anyone who’s worked with a New York publisher knows
Phoey on the Grinch!
that things move slowly.  Painfully so.  For instance, it was more than two years from the date my publisher acquired my novel, The Advocate’s Daughter, until it hit bookstores.  But once a television show goes into production things move quickly.  I learned the network had given script commitment in September, I had calls with the production team and met with the showmaker/writer in October, and the first script was done in November.  If things go as hoped, the rest will happen, including filming the pilot, in the next few months.

3.  They care about getting it right. I’m a lawyer and I can’t tell you how often movies and television get things wrong about lawyers, the law, and the justice system.  I imagine doctors say the same thing about medical shows, cops about police procedurals, and so on.  I was therefore surprised at the care the TV team spent on accuracy and authenticity for The Outsider. In addition to being true to my book, the writer seemed to have read every major work on the high court.  He came to Washington, D.C. for a week, got behind-the-scene tours of the Supreme Court and Capitol, met with Supreme Court insiders, and had back-to-back meetings into the night.  Entertaining the audience is always the number-one goal, he said, but that can go hand-in-hand with authenticity, or at least not making mistakes that may take viewers out of the story.

4.  A TV adaptation may not sell books. I had assumed that once it hits the airwaves, a profile-raising show would ramp up book sales or perhaps add leverage in negotiations for my next contract.  My literary agent—who without exaggeration is one of the best in the business—tempered expectations.  Apparently publishers have learned that even hit film or television adaptations don’t always translate to book sales.  Her advice:  enjoy the ride, have fun talking about the show at holiday parties, but get back to work and write the best book I have in me.

With that, I’d better get back to my laptop.  Happy holidays to all, and to all a goodnight.

The U.S. Supreme Court on a wintry night.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Breaking a Family Tradition and the Surprising Result

View from the Bridge at Boston Common
by Jamie Freveletti

I love the holidays, and my favorite is Thanksgiving. I love Christmas as well, but for me the whole point of a holiday is getting the family together and Thanksgiving allows for that without the hustle and bustle of gift purchasing, wrapping, sending cards, buying trees and hanging lights.

Which was why this year when one of the kids, both of ours are in college, said he'd have to remain at school to work over the holiday, I was bummed. I understood, he's at Berklee College of Music and is on a mission to graduate in four years flat with a double major and a minor. During the break the studios at the school are empty, and he revels in the ability to spend hours there pounding out work.

My daughter is studying theater at NYU Tisch and had snagged a lead in a play on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and my husband and I were flying to see it. I proposed something else for after: All three of us would train it to Boston and spend Thanksgiving there. Because my son's apartment is too small for a feast, we would stay in a hotel and eat Thanksgiving dinner at a Boston restaurant.

I'll admit I kind of shuddered at my own idea. My holidays always involved pulling out the china, dressing the table, cooking the meal, and having everyone in the house laughing and watching the parade or movies after. Not many memories involved sitting in an empty restaurant and then heading back to a hotel room. But, I was determined to give it a try. My daughter, the cheery one who has laughed her whole life, laughed again and said, "Sure, sounds fun!" My son was enthusiastic and my husband thought it worth giving a try.

Painting at Yvonne's
I immediately started looking for a restaurant. I landed on a Boston Magazine article that suggested a few restaurants for Thanksgiving and found Davios Italian Restaurant. Perfect. If I was going to be in a restaurant for Thanksgiving, then an Italian one would feel at least a little bit like home. When I called they were already booked in the evening but noon was available.

The train ride to Boston was wonderful, relaxing and filled with good conversation and beautiful views out the window. We landed at the Kimpton Nine Zero and caught two of our son's rehearsals before heading to Yvonne's, a fun Boston speakeasy with books and paintings of celebrities in vintage clothing lining the walls. (This one is Chistopher Walken).

Thanksgiving Day we all went to Boston Common to walk the Freedom Trail. I'd never done this, and for those who haven't I highly recommend it. There's a yellow line on the sidewalk that you follow and brochures with an explanation of each stopping point. Walking the Freedom Trail must be a Thanksgiving tradition for some, because there were plenty of families braving the chill to stroll it. Our daughter read the brochure out loud as we walked, adding a bit of theatrical flair to it that kept us all laughing.

Old State House, Boston
We stepped into Davios and were met with a restaurant filled to the rafters with families, small children, grandparents and couples! They greeted the owner with hugs and smiles. He told us that coming to Davios is a Thanksgiving tradition for many and the slots fill up weeks before. The meal was wonderful and we toasted to family. The best part? No clean up after!

But another surprise was to come. Because we had eaten so early, by eight o'clock that evening we were hungry again and contemplated finishing off the leftovers. The streets were empty, the storefronts darkened, and the occasional tram rolling by was the only activity.  When my son suggested we see if Shabu-zen, a Japanese hot pot restaurant in his Allston neighborhood was open, we all shrugged and said, why not?

We strolled there, stepped in, and the same magic happened. Families jammed the place, all with several generations in tow. The host greeted us with a smile and we sat at a table with a built-in cook top in the center. The host brought a divided pot that he placed on it and poured two types of sauces in each side, one spicy, one less so, and gave us chopsticks, plates of sliced raw steak, chicken, vegetables and noodles. We were to place our choices in the boiling sauces and then fish them out to eat. We had a blast. The food was outstanding and the atmosphere filled with good will. We cooked our food and the conversation was lively. The next day my husband and I had the airport to ourselves as we flew home.

If you would have suggested to me that one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever had would involve eating at not one, but two restaurants and staying in a hotel, I would have thought you were crazy. But this one was truly special and I'm thankful to my family for their flexibility and willingness to try something different. I'd also like to thank the restaurant and hotel employees who helped make the day a lovely one. My son graduates this May, and so who knows what's in store for next year, but you can be sure that whatever it is, I'm ready for it! And I'd love to hear about any of your breaks in tradition that turned out to be wonderful.

Have a safe and joyful holiday season!

Best, Jamie

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Great Christmas Gifts -- Books, of course! Karna Small Bodman

At this wonderful time of the year, we Rogues are writing about favorite Christmas gifts we have received.  I've been thinking about that and have several to share with you, along with some ideas of other great novels you may want to share with your family and friends.  Reviewing the past, some of the gifts I remember the most were books! In fact, how about a Christmas tree laden with them?

Going back many (many) years, when I was a teenager starting out in a big High School, I had so many of the usual concerns: Will I "fit in," make any new friends, be able to contribute anything useful? That's when I was given the book that has sold millions of copies and been updated over and over for the last 50 years. 

This famous book by Dale Carnegie made such an impression on me that I have given copies to  members of our family when they reached those impressionable teenage times.

Decades later I remember receiving a copy of an exciting thriller by one of my (now) favorite authors, Nelson DeMille.  I became a true fan of his writing when I read his 'breakthrough" novel written a long time ago, The Charm School. More recently, I was happy to get to know him when we were both signing at the big publishers' convention, Book Expo, in New York.  (Later he graciously gave me a "blurb" for my second thriller, Gambit).

What about this coming Christmas? What books should we give to our own family and friends? And since there are some three million (!) books published every year, how in the world can we figure out which ones to select? Should it be word-of-mouth, marketing ads extolling the virtues of a particular story, appearance on a bestseller list or perhaps personal comments made by other bestselling authors or reviews by well known publications?

When it comes to New York Times bestselling authors, one place to look is our own list of guest bloggers who have been "In the Rogue Limelight." And one of the best-known, whose latest novel, The Midnight Line,  has been on a bestseller list for weeks now is our friend, Lee Child. He loves to collect and read wonderful books -- check out this shot of his library:

Author Lee Child
Let's also check out reviews and comments about particular novels you could consider giving as gifts this year:

     "Breath-taking suspense," -- Catherine Coulter on Red Sky by

     "Authentic settings, non-stop action," -- Steve Berry on Trojan Horse by

     "You get hooked on page one," -- Nelson DeMille on The Assassins by

     "One of my favorite characters," -- Lisa Gardner on Blood Run by

     "A holiday tour with an ocean view, complete with a murder mystery," -- Publishers Weekly on   
    Death in Nantucket by 

     "Unparalleled story-telling," -- Clive Cussler on The Freedom Broker by 

     "Secrets around every corner and an exciting premise," -- Kirkus reviews on Desert Dark by 

And okay - I guess I'll add my latest endeavor to this list of gift-ideas by my Rogue colleagues:
     "Smart, slick, exciting as hell," -- Christopher Reich on Castle Bravo by

One final comment about favorite books at Christmas time -- I now look forward to an annual tradition at our home here on Christmas Eve....and that is when my husband will gather the children (no matter the ages) around him on the couch and read one of the most famous stories of all:

So, as you do your Christmas shopping, we hope you'll consider a good book for some of those on your list.  And while you're at it, leave a comment to let us Rogues know what some of YOUR favorite Christmas gifts have been and what you are going to leave under the tree for your own loved ones.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


by K.J. Howe

Happy holidays!  Please know how much we at Rogue Women Writers appreciate your kind support of our blog and books, and we'll continue to work hard to bring you quality content.  With the holidays fast approaching, many people will be traveling to visit family and friends, or perhaps jet somewhere abroad.  Air travel is usually the most efficient form of transit.

Are you uncomfortable flying?  My character Thea Paris certainly isn't an avid fan, but the latest facts about airplane safety do give her serious comfort.  Today, I'm hoping to offer you a little peace of mind if you have an upcoming flight.

Why Flying Is Safer than Ever

When it comes to safety, no other mode of transport has researched and incorporated more about what we know about the fallibility of both humans and machines.  Believe it or not, soaring through the air at 500mph six miles above the ground is less likely to result in your demise than any other form of travel.  Every decision--from the seats used to the altitude of the flight--has been confirmed only after careful consideration of its impact on safety.  A few facts will lesson your concerns:

Design:  Airplanes have flown almost a billion hours in the last 50 years.  That's right, a billion hours.   And what makes this instrumental for safety is that there is a meticulous recordkeeping process in aviation that provides experts with critical data, and this information helps them improve the design of airplanes and their engines.

Technology:  The mechanical controls of yesteryear are now being replaced by electronic ones.  These new fly-by-wire planes include the Boeing 777 and 787, as well as the Airbus A330, A340, and A380.  Pilots are now information managers, and technology plays a key role on the flight deck.  Those old movies where pilots are muscling the controls trying to save the day are dissipating.  Instead, satellite global positioning, advanced displays, and telecommunications offer a level of flight precision never seen before.

Back in the 50s and 60s, fatal accidents happened once in every 200,000 flights.  Now the record has improved tenfold, with fatal accidents happening less than once in every two million flights.  And these gadgets--especially the ones that warn pilots about approaching terrain or potential conflicts with other airplanes--have a huge impact on safety.

Pilots:  Today, more than ever, there is intensive training for pilots.  Remember that incredible moment when Captain "Sully" Sullenberger put US Airways Flight 1549 down safely in New York's Hudson River?  Sully attributes his incredible feat to a lifetime of flying, as well as preparation, anticipation, and focus.  The more hours a pilot has in the air, and the better his training, the higher chance you have of surviving an in-air mishap.

Airlines have stringent standards for pilots, and top-level training.  The students start with small planes to build experience and slowly graduate to managing multiple streams of data and larger planes.  Airlines also look for pilots with good communication skills, leadership potential, the ability to work as part of a team, and low risk-taking behaviour.  Good to know!

Cockpits:  Once you have the right pilots, you need to make sure their work environment is ideal for safety and comfort.  The flight controls and displays are compact, multipurpose, and well tested to make sure they provide all the key information.  They must also be easy to see and operate.  Flight-deck engineers have spent hours upon hours creating the best controls, lights, switches, and other features, visible in all light conditions.  Engineers want to make sure everything inside the cockpit is comfortable, ergonomic, and easy to read for the pilots.

Cabin:  Although most of us find the insides of planes a little too compact, a great deal of attention has been given to passenger cabins.  All the seats meet rigid standards for durability and head-impact protection.  A modern airliner seat can withstand 16gs!  And the fabrics are flame retardant and self-extinguishing, unable to emit toxic smoke.  Even the items you find in the seat backs are tested to make sure they are not lethal.  Emergency lighting is instantaneous if there is a fire, making it easier to reach the exits.

Air Traffic Control:  Technology has given an almost Star Wars quality to the behind-the-scenes protection of managing the millions of departures every year.  Planes are guided by GPS, flying self-programmed routes, communicating with each other and the ground.  Challenging terrain, low visibility, bad weather, and other hazards will no longer cause chaos.  By linking onboard and on-the-ground systems, experts have created "highways in the sky" where no one veers out of their lane.

Airport control has also improved, offering movement-detection monitors showing every vehicle on every runway, taxiway, and terminal gate.  And if you still have trepidation?  A key fact to remember:  most commercial aviation accidents are not fatal.  Planes lose altitude, landings are botched, planes slide off runways, but these events rarely cause fatalities.  You are NINETEEN times safer in a plane than in a car.  On your next flight, sit back, enjoy a good movie or a great book, and let yourself relax!  I've tried to do my homework in this arena, because research fascinates me, and I love books with authenticity.  In the next Thea Paris novel, SKYJACK, Thea has her hands full when the BBJ she is on is hijacked--and maybe, just maybe, the conditions are not so ideal.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

My Best Gift and Forgetting to Shop

 S. Lee Manning: Every year, it was the same: Christmas Eve, the Christmas tree laden with lights and ornaments, my two children looking excitedly up at the tree, and with voices filled with hope, wondering what Santa would bring them.

My reaction was always the same. Hell. I forgot to shop. They’ll have nothing from Santa.

I would jump in the car and race to the mall. Nothing. Everything sold out. I’d try the drugstore. Same. More and more desperate, I drove to more and more stores. I’d find maybe one old game with pieces missing.

Then I’d wake up.

I had the same nightmare every year, starting around Halloween and lasting until, well, after Christmas. It was always the same. Christmas Eve, and I’d forgotten to shop.

An odd recurring nightmare for a nice Jewish girl, isn’t it? Since my husband is not Jewish, we celebrated holidays in a secular fashion on both sides – yet I never had nightmares about forgetting the matzo for Passover or forgetting gifts for Hanukah. (To be honest, we didn’t give gifts on Hanukah. We lit candles and sometimes made latkes in all their greasy glory, but no gifts. Hanukah is a minor holiday that was blown up for Jewish kids so they would not feel completely left out amidst the cornucopia of material splendor that is Christmas.  Since my kids got more than their share of stuff for Christmas, they didn’t need more for Hanukah.)

No, my nightmare was always Christmas. Always. Part of the reason may be that from the moment the last bit of Thanksgiving disappeared into turkey chili or turkey tetrazzini or turkey curry, my job, either full-time or part-time when I had actual gainful employment, was Christmas Mom – and my nightmares were simple performance anxiety.

My husband, the one who grew up celebrating Christmas, was more practical than I was.  He wanted the kids to have a good time at Christmas, but he thought I overdid it. Every year, he told me not to go crazy. And every year, I ignored him. 

I was Christmas Mom. Forget writing from Christmas to January. Forget hobbies. Forget anything else. I shopped. Then I hid the presents in a closet downstairs that the kids never visited. Every night, after they were asleep, I hid inside that closet myself with wrapping paper, tape, scissors, and a black felt pen to scribble initials – and I wrapped. I made neat piles of gifts. I counted to make sure both kids had the exact same number of gifts. Which never happened. Which meant I had to go buy something else for the kid who was one down– and then discover that I’d miscounted – so I’d go out and buy something else.

Every year, there were the items that were hard to find but that either Jenny or Dean had specifically requested in their letters to Santa. One year, Jenny wanted a particularly popular doll – that was almost impossible to find. I wound up meeting a friend in a parking lot who’d managed to snag the doll from a Toys R Us somewhere close to Philadelphia. I felt like a drug dealer when we made the exchange.

Every year, Dean wanted the newest Land Before Time video – where talking baby dinosaurs had ridiculous but benign adventures (except for the first video where the mother died). Every year, the damn thing came out just a few days before Christmas, which left me little leeway to find a copy and sneak it into the downstairs closet.

But despite the nightmares, it worked. By Christmas Eve, everything would be wrapped, and the piles would be even.

Every year, leading up to Christmas, we’d watch Christmas movies that featured Santa or reindeer. We’d bake sugar cookies shaped into reindeer, trees, stars, and angels, and ice them with about two inches of pure sugar and fat. We’d decorate the tree, play Christmas music, and sing Christmas carols.

Every year, on Christmas Eve, faces filled with anticipation and thoughts of magic, Jenny and Dean would put out a glass of milk and a few of the iced sugar cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Sometimes a few snowflakes would drift down, most years not. (We lived in New Jersey, and White Christmases were rare.)

After the children drifted off to sleep, my husband and I would carry the wrapped toys up from the basement and pile them around the tree. We’d eat the cookies, pour back the milk, and return the carrots to the veggie bin.  Downing those cookies was a tough job, but someone had to do it. The kids would have noticed if we’d put the sugar cookies back, and we were intent on maintaining the Santa illusion.

So every year on Christmas day, for a few short years, Jenny and Dean came down on Christmas morning and believed in a mythical and giving Santa who flew with the help of reindeer and materialized in our house. We idealize so much about childhood that we sometimes forget childhood is not always a wonderful time. There are slights and hurts and disappointments – and as children grow older, harder realities hit.  Which brings me to the other reason for my recurrent nightmare. I so badly wanted to give them the gift of magic at Christmas – for whatever brief time it lasted.

My yearly nightmares ended after Dean, the youngest, discovered that Santa Claus, as portrayed in books and movies, didn’t actually exist, and my job as Christmas Mom was over. Jenny is now 31 and Dean 25. Christmases are more restrained these days. There have been a few years when we did not see Jenny and her husband for the holidays – although this year all of us will be together.  There will be no carrots for reindeer, although I’m hoping for a sugar cookie with two inches of icing. It will be wonderful and loving, even without any snow. We may watch a Christmas movie or two, I may talk Jenny or Dean into caroling.  And we can exchange fond memories of the Santa years.

We Rogues are writing this month about our best gifts for Christmas. I wasn’t sure what to write about – no one particular gift stood out in my mind – until I started thinking about my old recurrent nightmare. I realized that the best gift I ever received was the gift I worked so hard to give – for a few brief shining years, I had the joy of watching my children experience a world where magical things happened.