Tuesday, August 15, 2017


by K.J. Howe

The theme for the Rogue Women Writers this month is...sex.  Well, an interesting topic to be sure.  If you're writing an international thriller featuring espionage, you might want to consider giving your protagonist a romp in between missions.  After doing a little research on the hidden benefits of sex, I finally understand why James Bond was so active in this milieu...all in sacrifice of His Majesty's Service.


*Sex reduces stress.  If you had to face Odd Job, Goldfinger, and other nefarious villains, wouldn't you struggle with the demands of your job?  Studies show that people who had sex at least once over a period of two weeks were better able to manage stressful situations.  Endorphins and Oxytocin are released during sex, and these feel-good hormones activate the pleasure centres in the brain, helping stave off anxiety and depression.  It's a must to stay in good mental shape.

*Sounder Sleep.  Spies combat jet-lag, long nights of surveillance, and intense missions.  To survive and prosper, these elite professionals need to grab some shut-eye whenever and wherever they can.  And sex is the perfect primer for quality rest.  During orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released--and prolactin levels are naturally higher when we sleep,   And if you need to pull a all-nighter to pick up a dead drop message, just have some chandelier acrobatics, as it can make you feel energized, ready to take on anything and anyone.

*Minimizes pain.  Any self-respecting action hero gets in a few tussles now and then, and sex is the perfect antidote for pain.  The surge of hormones can ease any annoying battered body parts.  Endorphins closely resemble morphine, and they can be the ideal answer to bruised and cracked ribs.

*Enhances the immune system.  The life of a spy is go, go, go...after all, espionage happens 24/7.  No time for illness or annoying colds.  People who have sex have higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA), and these antibodies help combat diseases and keep the body safe from colds and flu. You'll notice that Q doesn't make any special tools using Kleenex.

*Fitness.  It's critical for spies to stay in shape given the gruelling nature of their jobs.  Sex counts as cardio!  A romp can burn anywhere from 85 to 250 calories, depending on the length and intensity of the session.  Skip the treadmill and get a fabulous back, butt, and thigh workout instead.

Whether you're a fan of Daniel, Sean, Roger, Pierce or any of the other talented actors who have played the uber-spy, I hope you'll agree that half the fun of watching the movies is to see the connection Bond has with the opposite sex.  I'm hoping now that there is a female Doctor Who, there might be a female Bond in the near future.  If so, who do you think would do the part justice, both in and out of the bedroom?

Sunday, August 13, 2017


S. Lee Manning: Okay, I admit it. The title is to get your attention – and to do an acknowledgement of the topic of the month even though I’m writing off-topic.

Just in case you ever wondered how we Rogue Women Writers select the topic for the month: we brainstorm ideas and then narrow them down to about eight months worth of topics. Once approved by all of us, dates are attached and an e-mail circulated. The topics are suggestions only. Each of us is free to write something completely different in our individual posts – and we often do. But there’s always the topic of the month to fall back on if we don’t have anything we’d find more interesting.  This round was supposed to be about sex. What’s more interesting than sex?

And yet – I decided to write about something else. I decided to write about my brain.

I can even connect it to the topic de la month – because after all, the brain is a sex organ – maybe the most important one. What’s more sexy than intelligence? After all, Mr. Darcy (played by Colin Firth) after diving into the pond looked really fine in his wet clothes, but it was his mind and his spirit,
Wet Colin Firth - for reader interest only.
(okay and maybe his body in those wet clothes), that had me drooling back in the day. But I digress. I tend to do that, which is part of what I’m posting about.

Back to my brain.

About a month ago, I had a chat with my son. He’s an extremely bright young man, who majored in psychology and soon will be starting graduate school. Anyway, he informed me that he had ADHD – and that he thought that I did too.

What I knew about ADHD, or thought I knew, had to do with children, particularly young boys, who had trouble sitting still in school. My son never had that problem. I never had that problem.

So really?

Yeah, he said. Really. He pointed out how frequently I will switch from topic to topic, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.

But…but…I sometimes, focus so intently on my writing – or on something I’m interested in – that bombs could go off.

It’s called hyperfocus, he told me. It’s also a symptom of ADHD.

My son’s a smart guy – and very observant. So I took him seriously and went to the internet.

Here’s what I found:

Along with the hyperactivity that I associate with ADHD, there’s something called inattentive ADHD, which is more common in girls than in boys. Girls with inattentive ADHD in the past have been under diagnosed, and girls with ADHD tend to suffer from low self-esteem and depression.

Low self-esteem and depression as a teenager? Check.

Other symptoms, according to Web MD, include daydreaming, procrastination, disorganization, and careless mistakes. There’s also a failure to follow through on plans. There can be a tendency to not listen to other people – because you’re formulating a response, and a tendency to interrupt other people’s conversation.

Intelligence to some extent can mask it, but smart children with ADHD tend to be classified as underachievers – because while they will hyperfocus on subjects that interest them, they will zone out when they get bored.
Not my brain, but nice image anyway.


Symptom check.

I interrupt people all the time. Family hates it. I know the family hates it. Still do it. I sometimes don’t listen to conversation because I’m so busy thinking about what I’m going to say. EVERYONE hates that.

Check on the other symptoms too. Daydream constantly. I’ve gotten better at procrastination, but still do it. Underachiever – that was my nickname. In high school, I had top grades in English and history, Cs and Ds in science and math – maybe in part because I was always at the back of the classes reading novels.

Failure to follow through? Don’t get me started. (Of course, I probably wouldn’t finish once I started, but just saying.) I started so many classes that sounded interesting in college and then just dropped them. After college, the trend continued. Projects. Novels. Hobbies.  Started …focused intently for a bit…and dropped.

Things were significantly better in law school. I was really motivated. I was tired of being the smart person who didn’t live up to potential. The motivation paid off. I could read and focus on long texts by making notes in the margins to keep myself from zoning out – and I graduated with honors.

ADHD technique to help focus, my son said.

Sometimes having a smart son can get annoying.

I must say it explains a lot about my son, who’s figured out ways to cope and graduated college at the top of his class. It seems to explain something about me too.

I took the question to my primary care provider. There’s no blood test or physical exam that can detect ADHD.  The only test is your history. I filled out forms on my life and on my current self, took them back, and she said, yup, looks like you have ADHD. She also noted that my lifelong addition to coffee may have been my trying to self-medicate  – that coffee does some of the same things that medication does for ADHD, just not as well.

Damn again.

So what does it matter? 

I’m an adult. I’m no longer practicing law. What does it really matter if I didn’t live up to my potential in school – or in the legal profession?

It does matter, and in important ways.

There’s the issue of self-esteem. I always thought I was lazy. I blamed myself for being disorganized and underachieving. Blamed myself for not accomplishing more than I have – for the novels I’ve started and never finished, for the other projects I’ve abandoned. There’s something rather pleasant about learning after all this time that maybe it wasn’t just laziness.  Maybe my brain just works differently – and maybe there are ways to work with my brain.

Then there’s going forward with my life.

I am a writer now, and I plan to continue to write for the next thirty years, give or take a few.  When I get into hyperfocus mode, writing is great – and I can pour out the pages. But hyperfocus doesn’t happen all the time.

Sometimes it’s hard to make myself focus. Sometimes, I get distracted – Colin Firth’s wet clothes – or maybe a SQUIRREL. Sometimes, instead of writing, I get into arguments on Facebook or look up
vacation homes in Paris. Then the old I-can’t-get-anything-done-I’m-a-lazy-underachiever kicks in. Except that now I know. I have an ADHD brain, and it’s a question of managing it – and I can stop beating myself up.

That alone is worth a lot.

So managing…

There’s behavioral techniques. I had already developed some of them without knowing it. Creating routines.  Getting up early, drinking my coffee, sitting down at the computer is my writing routine that I’ve discussed in another post. It does help. As does turning off Facebook. But most importantly, knowing that I’m neither lazy nor hopeless because I have an ADHD day when I’m focused on Paris or political fights or squirrels.

Then there’s medication. This morning I took a pill. It’s a stimulant that’s suppose to help the ADHD brain focus.  I’m not sure if it’s doing anything – but I do seem more focused, more alert. Maybe it’s the five cups of coffee – or maybe it’s the pill. I kind of like this. I need to give it some time to see how I feel – and, more importantly, how I work. Do note that I just knocked out this post in under three hours – not a bad sign.

I just hope I’m not up all night – possible side effect from taking a stimulant – but if I am, hey, more time to write. It would be the perfect time to write a sex scene. After all, what’s more sexy than a working brain?  (Yeah, yeah, Colin Firth, wet shirt, yada yada.)

So a big thank you to my son for clueing me in.  It will not change anything about the past, but for all the above reasons – it’s good to know.

Friday, August 11, 2017

International Bestselling Author TESS GERRITSEN GOES ROGUE and shares her formula for writing inspiration

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

We are delighted to welcome International Bestselling Author, Tess Gerritsen to our Rogue website.
Tess Gerritsen
Tess graduated from Stanford and received her MD from UC San Francisco.  Taking a break from her practice as a physician she wrote the screenplay "Adrift" which aired as a CBS movie. In addition to numerous thrillers, her series of novels about detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the TV series "Rizzoli & Isles." But where does Tess get HER inspiration? Here is her own story:

Want to Come Up With Something New?  Combine!

 By Tess Gerritsen 

“Where do you get your ideas?” Every novelist has heard this question, and most of us can pinpoint the moment we read a news article or overheard a juicy bit of gossip and instantly saw it as an idea for a story.  But too often that story idea feels anemic and not quite enough to sustain an entire novel.  It might work as a starting point to launch the plot, but it’s lacking that special something that gives it truly new twist.

That’s the time to use my tried-and-true formula for creativity: 1 + 1 = 5. 

Translated: When you find a way to combine two unrelated ideas in a way that hasn’t been done before, you’ll end up with something greater than the sum, something unique and fresh.
Years ago, I read about the declassification of a government document concerning the “Dugway Sheep Incident.”  Decades earlier there’d been an accident involving military nerve gas in Utah.  Errant winds had blown the gas into a place called Skull Valley (I’m not making this up) and overnight, thousands of sheep and countless birds were killed.  For decades, the sheep deaths remained an unsolved mystery – until the incident was finally declassified. 
I read that article and instantly thought of the story possibilities.  What if people had been killed in that accident?  What if a whole town was killed?  How could that disaster be hidden from the public, and how far would the responsible parties go to escape prosecution?  I played with various plot scenarios, but I couldn’t come up with a story that felt fresh, so I set the article aside in my “ideas” folder, where it sat for a few years.
And then I had a little GPS misadventure.  I was trying to navigate to a bed and breakfast in upstate New York and I faithfully followed my GPS straight into a cornfield.  Luckily there was a rudimentary path plowed through the cornfield, and I could see tire tracks already there, so I continued through that field and rejoined the pavement a few hundred yards later.  When I arrived at the B&B, the owner asked: “Did you come through the cornfield?”  Some GPS glitch had sent many a driver through that same field, which explained the earlier tire tracks.
Mine was a minor calamity, but other drivers have blindly followed their GPS’s into lakes, onto railroad tracks, even to the edge of cliffs.  I began to imagine all the possible disasters (that’s what writers do, after all) and suddenly the magic story combination struck me. A GPS mishap.  A group of stranded travelers stranded in a snowstorm.  A town where everyone has mysteriously died.  That’s how the plot of Ice Cold came together.  I melded two ideas -- the Dugway Sheep Incident and GPS mishaps -- into a story that felt fresh and unique. 
My newest novel, I KNOW A SECRET, came together in a similar way.  While traveling in Italy, I found myself weary of viewing portraits of the same religious figures in art museum after art museum.  After seeing twenty versions of “Madonna and Child,” how many more can you take?  Then in Florence, I bought a book called How To Read A Painting and suddenly I saw symbols that I’d never noticed before.  Now I knew that a woman holding an ointment pot must be Mary Magdalene, the wild-looking man dressed in shabby animals hides is John the Baptist, and the man shot with arrows is St. Sebastian.  I became obsessed with decoding the meaning of every painting.  Then (because I’m a crime writer) I thought: what if a killer staged murders in the same way medieval artists depicted religious scenes?
            It was a start, but it wasn’t a plot yet.  It needed that special “something” to make it unique – something that I took from my own life.  A few years ago, my son Josh and I joined forces to make a horror feature film called “Island Zero,” about islanders off the coast of Maine who are suddenly cut off from the outside world after the ferry suddenly stops coming.  Their phones are dead, and every boat sent to the mainland fails to return.  I wrote the script, Josh directed, and we shot the film during a very cold March in Maine.  Immersing myself in the world of horror films was a quirky, exhausting experience, and we faced all the challenges of indie filmmaking, from hiring crew and actors, dealing with bad weather, and of course the inevitable snafus.  Now that “Island Zero” is on the film festival circuit,  I’ve discovered that horror fans are pretty cool people, and I thought it would be fun to set a novel in their oddball world.
I combined those two themes, horror filmmaking and religious symbolism, to come up with the plot for I KNOW A SECRET.  The story kicks off with a murder scene that baffles Det. Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles.  The victim is a female horror film producer whose eyes have been removed post-mortem, and Jane and Maura wonder if the killer is copying scenes from the victim’s films.  Other murders follow, each crime scene bizarrely staged, and the ultimate clue might be the one hiding in plain sight – on a movie screen.
If you ever find yourself not quite satisified with a story idea, consider falling back on the 1+1=5 formula.  Collect and keep all your possible story ideas in a dedicated folder.  Some of those ideas you may never use.  But someday, when you’re stuck for a plot twist or you have only half a premise, you may find the one idea you need in that folder, the missing piece that you can plug into that equation to make your plot shine. 
Tess's new thriller "I Know a Secret" will be released August 15.  then she will be embarking on an extensive nation-wide book tour.  For dates and details, visit: www.tessgerritsen.com. Thanks, Tess, for sharing your 1+1=5 "formula" with all of us here.  As for our Rogue visitors -- leave a comment below -- we'll share it with Tess. 
...Karna Small Bodman 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


by Gayle Lynds:  Is sex really necessary in fiction?  I have industry secrets to reveal about this hotly debated subject, at least about how it relates to my career and the careers of other authors.  Then you should judge for yourselves....

I wrote my first novel, Masquerade, without a literary agent or a publishing contract.  Which means I had no one to answer to and was able to create the kind of novel I very much enjoyed reading.  In this case, that included a couple of sex scenes because I felt the characters and story called for it.  No one questioned what I’d done, and the book was published with the scenes untouched.  Readers enjoyed Masquerade, and it went on to win good reviews and hit the New York Times bestseller list.  I thought the response was an indication I kinda knew what I was doing.

A Top Ten Spy Novel, Publishers Weekly
I wrote the next book, Mosaic, another spy novel, in the same way, with the characters dictating a sex scene.  But my editor’s boss said no, no.  Not enough sexual tension.  Steam, you must have steamy tension!

I thought I’d accomplished that.  Still, how bad for the book could it be to heighten the sexual tension? 

So I took a deep breath and inserted a few lingering looks and body assessments and pauses fraught with, well, steam.  The manuscript was approved and published.  More nice reviews, and a prize. 

Okay, I was getting the hang of this. 

My third novel was with the same publisher, so I knew what sort of sex was expected of me.  Done.  Book published.  Lovely responses, etc.

But then I jumped to a different publisher, joining a terrific editor.

“No sex scenes,” he told me. 

Shocked, I explained I’d gotten good at them.

Margaret Mitchell received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book.
“Nope, no sex scenes at all.  Thrillers don’t need them.  You don’t need them.  You’ll be taken more seriously as a novelist without sex scenes.”

But I just wanted to write great books that people would find riveting, seriously.  My editor assured me they'd be riveting.  And so I turned down the sexual heat.  Still, I managed to sneak in sex scenes in my subsequent novels.  Come on, sex is part of many people’s lives.  What’s a sex scene here and there gonna do to my reputation? 

Ohmygod, she knows about sex.  Horrors!  Geesh.

By the way, just for clarification, I consider my sex scenes tasteful but, well, also sexy. 

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to moderate a panel at ThrillerFest with some heavy-hitting authors who had earned good reviews, prizes, and large followings.  I was amazed to discover half of them didn’t write sex in their books.  They believed the scenes weren’t necessary.  Sex could take place off the page.
Roger Ebert: one of the "10 Best Movies of 1981"

But what about relationship development, I asked.  One can reveal character through sex scenes, I argued. 

A few on the panel agreed with me.  Others remained unconvinced.

So let’s approach this from a different direction: quality.  I’d been assuming all of us were talking about quality sex scenes.  You no doubt know there are books with awfully written sex in them.  This happens often enough that the Brits at the Literary Review have created an award for it.

Here’s how the review explains it:  “Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.”  To read a sample of what the judges consider Really Bad Sex, click here.

"For People Who Devour Books"
Meanwhile, other Brits countered.  In “Good Sex in Fiction” in The Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Gibbs writes, “It’s easy to sneer at the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award – sneering at the sneerers, as it were – but it’s no lie that writing well about sex is difficult, and perhaps more difficult in prose than in poetry....  Nevertheless, good sex writing does exist – and here, sticking to the parameters of the award, I essentially mean the sex scene in the literary novel or short story, ignoring outright pornography or its kissing cousin, erotica. Which is not to say the scene should not be arousing, but its primary object should be to serve the story. The writing should teach us about the characters. Ideally, it should teach us about sex, too.” More here.
Since I’ve been quoting the Brits, I leave the coup de grĂ¢ce to them.  A recent story in The Independent announced the Good Sex in Fiction award “hoping to end the ridicule of erotic literature:  The Erotic Review has had enough of the infamous Bad Sex in Fiction award, which it fears may dissuade authors from writing about sex, starting up the Good Sex in Fiction award in protest.”  More here

Yep, the Good Sex in Fiction award.  Given by The Erotic Review.   

So here I am, out on a literary limb, advocating for well-done sex scenes that reveal character and enhance the story.  I’m working on a new book.  Will it include a little sex?  As Dr. Seuss would write:  Tell me, what would you do?

Monday, August 7, 2017


by Chris Goff

I didn’t get to attend many panels at ThrillerFest 2017. The fact is, I ended up sick—really sick. I felt it sneak up on me on Friday afternoon, halfway through conference. So I ditched out. I went back to my hotel room around 4:30 pm, lay down for a nap and woke up the next morning with a raging fever. So I did what any responsible writer would do—I got out of bed and went to a meeting with my agent and editor. I also monitored the session I’d committed to monitoring before dutifully showing up at my panel (NOTE: I am the one in exile on the end).

The bad news

After my panel, I bailed. In the end, while I slept, I missed giving out the Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and seeing “Come From Away” on Broadway with my daughter and her boyfriend who live in Manhattan. I also cancelled my backend trip to Maine to visit family and friends, instead dragging myself home to be diagnosed with pneumonia to spend another two plus weeks sleeping and/or watching bad TV, alternating between coughing uncontrollably and dosing my cough into submission with Tussionex.

The good news

I survived. Plus, I came home from ThrillerFest with new insights on writing—despite attending only a few panels. At two of the sessions an audience member asked the same question.

How do you deal with Writer's Block?

The compiled answer: There is no such thing.

On both the "MEET THE MASTERS: Past & Present" featuring Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Heather Graham, Nelson DeMille, David Morrell, R.L. Stine, and Jeff Ayers, and "HIGH TECH, HUNCHES OR SHOE LEATHER? Tools in the Investigator’s Kit" with Sandra Brannan, C.J. Box, Sandra Brown, Peter James and Val McDermid, the majority of authors—if not all the authors—indicated they write every day, whether or not they feel like it. It’s their job, so they treat writing like a 9 to 5. Sure, some write early in the day, some write later at night. Some write in longhand on pads of paper, some type into computers, and some dictate for transcription. But the one thing they all share in common is that they produce words and pages on a daily basis. Most even have a number of hours they work, or a quota of pages or words they hold themselves accountable to produce.

More bad news: I realized that I don’t do that.

Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to succeed as a writer I had to be more disciplined about my work. To that end, I extricated myself from a lot of my extracurricular activities. I stepped off the board of my local Mystery Writers of America Chapter, a board I’d served on in some capacity for over 20 years. I took my dear friend Jedeane’s advice to start saying no to requests that put strain on my time, and I actually wrote two books that first year and another book the second year. But lately I find I am easily distracted. While I visit my desk every day, sometimes instead of writing, I will read and send emails, work on blog posts or focus on research. And sometimes I find reasons to all together do other things. In the last couple of months, while I figure out the next book in my head, I’ve not been super productive.

But there is that old adage, that to be a writer the most important thing you can do is put butt in chair. I think it’s true. The past two years, I’ve been better about writing every day. I had to. It was my job. Some days it was easier to put words on the page than others; some days it was easier to know what to write. Some days the prose was inspired, some days it was pure dreck, but eventually the characters came alive, the work took shape, and the resulting book was—IS—good.

Another thing I learned from the panelists is that all writers at some point question their ability.
It’s that point in the book where a writer wonders if their book will ever come together, or decides the book is total dreck. It happens to me about midway through, and it was nice to learn I wasn’t alone in that.

Good news: I realized that I am on the right path.

Most of the panelists had taken circuitous routes to success. Many had worked other careers. Most had tried their hand at writing different types of fiction, or non-fiction, before finding their niche.

I came up as a writer in scattershot mode. When I first started, I wrote non-fiction—newspaper columns, magazine articles and essays. I even edited rock and ice-climbing guides and did some graphic production work. When I first tried my hand at fiction, I attempted to write YA. Then I tried writing romance, a serial killer novel, and crime-based women’s fiction. But it was when I turned to mystery that I found success. After publishing six books in a cozy series, I wrote my first thriller—DARK WATERS—and knew I had found my strength and passion.

What I need is discipline.

Since the launch of RED SKY in June, I have been busy—promoting, moving houses and, lately, getting well. But I haven’t been writing. Is it any wonder I’m behind on Book #3?

Writing is fun. I can’t think of a better way to make a living. But if I want a career, maybe—just maybe—it’s time to take a lesson from the masters, stop making excuses and starting thinking of this as a job.  

Oh, and while I'm at it, let me apologize for being late with the blog. You see, I had Writer's Block....

Wednesday, August 2, 2017



Two days ago I woke up in Crested Butte, Colorado. It was 43 degrees. This morning, back in Phoenix, I woke at 0400--it was already 90 degrees.

I've just returned from a semi off-grid road trip to Alpine country. I panicked for the first 36 hours or so, unable to link my laptop to the internet, getting spotty cell service at best. But around the third morning, I lost track of the days of the week and my corresponding to-do lists. The few times my mind drifted to my manuscript I stopped, took a deep breath, inhaled the scent of the fir trees and the fields strewn with wildflowers.

I've always loved the beauty of the desert; the stark rocky outcroppings juxtaposed against the tenacious, evolutionary marvels that dwell here: tall saguaro cacti and thick stands of fine-leafed chaparral. The desert mouse, able to go a month without water. Pads of prickly pear, carefully barbed against predators looking for a meal. I've never found a place that rivaled the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Until now.

My boyfriend and I stayed at a lodge on Mt. Crested Butte. We enjoyed daily adventures--hiking, visiting a fish hatchery, more hiking, sightseeing, window shopping, hiking again. I can't recall ever taking a vacation where I didn't check my email, read a manuscript, hash out a plot line. It was terrible timing--I'm again facing a revision deadline with my current work-in-progress, and I can't tell you the level of anxiety that grew in my chest as we reached the Arizona border on our drive home. But can you blame me?

Case in point: the next two pictures are views from the side of the road. In case you didn't hear me, I said the side of the road. Like, pulled over, rolled down the window, and snapped a picture on my otherwise useless phone.

Gunnison State Park, Colorado

Can I really be expected to work under such conditions?

I have to say, though, a few of my blog sisters live in Colorado, and I salute their fortitude. Going from my usual 1,000 feet above sea level to between 8,000-12,000 feet nearly did me in. I managed to drag myself up long enough to enjoy a favorite pastime.

My target block is just past the fir tree.
The good news is I'm back home, refreshed and ready to buckle down. This works out well, because it's too hot to go out and play here in the Valley of the Sun.

What about you? Do you return refreshed from vacation, or do you need a few days to recuperate? Leave your comments below!

Sunday, July 30, 2017


By Francine Mathews

So it's August in Colorado, which means it's monsoon season--the time of year when the arid heat of summer gives way to daily waves of cumulus rising over the Front Range and bearing down in thunderheads above the plains. The temperature falls and the humidity goes up. The plants in my small garden sigh in relief and drop leaves that are crackling and scorched for a second round of hopeful green growth. And I start working again.

I find it hard to write when the sun is shining. My best possible work days are when there's a blizzard raging and a good fire in the hearth. Second best is rain and fog. At the tail end of summer, thunderstorms will have to do. I'm not actually writing at the moment in any case--I'm about to embark on a revision of my latest novel, and the research for my next. Which brings me to an issue that plagues writers as well as readers: How do I absorb information best? And what's the most effective way to revise?

I'm talking here about digital vs. print, of course.

One of the major revolutions in publishing I've witnessed in the past twenty-five years is the transition to digital manuscripts. When once my editors and I traded a ream of paper, a manuscript that grew shabbier and more precious with each mailing--redlined, corrected, crossed-out and stapled with sudden inspired insertions--we now trade digital files, from beginning to end of the editing process. I submit my manuscript electronically; it is edited that way; returned to me via email; and sent to the printers in digital format. There is no longer foul matter--which, in addition to being a humorous crime novel by Martha Grimes, is also a beloved publishing term for that shabby manuscript, once the actual book appears on a store shelf. 

Digital editing means there's nothing for archives to inherit.

And nothing, in hard copy, for me to revise this August.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I am about to descend to the bowels of my house and the printer I keep in my basement office--nearly as obsolete, absent its scanning function, as the fax service it also provides--to print out my manuscript in draft. Because to truly retain a sense of my story arc, I need to read it on paper. A digital pass--something that might take me only a few hours this Sunday--won't embed the story in my brain the way turning actual pages does. And that's true for me with research, as well. When I'm learning about a subject in order to write about it, I have to read actual books, not digital ones. Otherwise, the information slips away like water draining through sand.

I do not retain what I read electronically.

My friend and fellow blogger Jamie Freveletti would figure out exactly why this seems true, find studies that prove it, and offer up statistics that verify my hunch. I love this about Jamie. But today (because I have to get to printing out that manuscript), I'm throwing down this assertion on gut feeling alone. And a bit of chastening experience as a reader-for-entertainment. I download a LOT of books for pleasure on my iPad, my preferred travel companion. In the aftermath of the last presidential election, I sought solace amid chaos by devouring the entire oeuvre of Patricia Wentworth, a Golden Age mystery writer whose works are comfortingly predictable. I probably downloaded over thirty of her books. I scan the titles in my eLibrary now, a few months later, and have no idea what any of those stories were about. 

Gone from my head, like a sandcastle at high tide.

So tell me, folks--am I alone in this? Or does your brain need paper, too?



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Book Covers: How Much Do They Influence You As A Reader?

One of the books offered by https://blinddatewithabook.com/
Our last blog post asked whether it mattered to you if the author was a man or a women and many, many of you read it and some commented. One bookseller stated that while selling books they noticed women buy books written by men but that few men bought books written by women. This bookseller noted that covers should be neutral to avoid this issue. This comment got me thinking, how much are we driven to read a book by the messages we receive from the cover?

I started researching, my favorite thing to do, and found this site above, which offers books wrapped in brown paper and with only a quick synopsis on the cover. This image caught me. Those five lines are some of my favorite elements in a thriller and I wouldn't need more to buy it. And if it introduced me to a new author or to one I hadn't yet read, all the better! So what would happen if I unwrapped this book and the cover wasn't to my liking? Based on that first impression I'd still read it. How lucky would it have been that the author would have reached me despite a less than desirable cover?

Before I go any further, I should mention that as authors we often have little control over the covers we receive. We get to view them in advance and weigh in and sometimes our suggestions are adopted, but we rarely have the final say. In my case I've been more than willing to let the cover designer have at it--I'm an author not a graphic designer and more often than not the cover has been well done.

And this intriguing idea led me to think about all of the misleading covers on books that I've seen over the years. Most of these covers must have been driven by a marketing decision made somewhere by someone who didn't really understand the book or who picked up on one aspect of it but not the rest. For example, check out the cover to the right. If you saw this, what would you assume? Romance, right?

But you'd only be half right. This book is a sweeping story of India and two English citizens caught in the brutal Siege of Lucknow in 1857. At almost 800 pages and based on an actual wartime event, it's more aligned with Gone With The Wind, and the battle scenes are brutal depictions of historical fact. The incongruous cover must have been the subject of discussion, because I also found the alternative cover below, which plays up the exotic locale more than the romance.

All of this is not to say that covers that point us in a certain direction are bad, they're not. It would be strange to have a romance novel set in Regency England with a picture of a woman in modern dress, but I think that the idea of neutral covers and perhaps gender neutral names has some merit. I haven't yet gone that route, but I'm currently working on a historical thriller and it's not inconceivable that I use a pseudonym in order to clearly delineate that historical from my present day thrillers. I haven't yet made up my mind, but Karna's last post and the recent Wall Street Journal article discussing such names have me thinking.

Whatever I decide, I'll try to keep my covers true to the full expanse of the story and still give the reader an idea of what's within. In the meantime, I've written five short lines about my upcoming Emma Caldridge novel:

Dark Secrets
Conspiracy Thriller
Ruthless government
Tracking Assassin
On the Run

How do covers affect your choice of what to read? Do you recall any covers that surprised you once you've read the book? Would love to hear about it! 

Best, Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Is the author a man or a woman? Does it matter to you?

....by Karna Small Bodman

When you are buying a book, do you care of it's written by a man or a woman? If you're a woman do you instinctively pick up a novel with a woman's name on the front cover or vice versa if you're a man? And what about author's names that don't give you a clue to whether a woman wrote it or a man did  such as J. P. Delaney, A. J. Finn, or J. K Rowling (okay, so we know that's a woman, but she later used the pen name Robert Galbraith), or "gender neutral" names like Riley Sager, Dima Zales or (here's a clever pen name I found on Amazon) A. American.

J. K. Rowling, a.k.a. Robert Galbraith
It turns out that some of these authors go to great lengths to "disguise" who they really are. And their publishers cooperate by eliminating the usual book jacket photo, avoiding male or female pronouns in an author's bio, even keeping the author from appearing on book tours.  As one male author writing female narratives put it, "I didn't want to have people think I'm trying to deceive them, but at the same time I think it's cool to have a little mystery." 

The world has certainly changed since Mary Ann Evans decided she had to write under the name George Eliot to be taken seriously back in Victorian times.
Mary Ann Evans, a.k.a. George Eliot
  In fact, according to an interesting front page article in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal several male authors are trying to give the impression that they are female since their novels are written in a woman's voice, and they're afraid their stories won't be seen as "authentic" by women book buyers. Adding to the incentive, they have learned that 59% of all fiction (according to NPD Books) are purchased by women.

In addition to "name confusion" there is the question of whether a male author really can adopt a female persona when writing his story. I remember hearing New York Times bestselling author Andrew Gross explain how he got his start.  He said that of several writers  James Patterson was considering as a co-author, he chose Andrew because he felt that Andrew could really write from a feminine point of view. When asked how he did it, he explained that for some 20 years he had worked for a company selling women's lingerie.
Andrew Gross
The same question can be asked of a female author, of course.  How do we construct a scene where a villain is talking to his partner in crime if we've never been a villain or had an illegal thought in our heads? All of us authors, particularly my Rogue colleagues who write thrillers, suspense, and international intrigue, have to figure out the "GMC" of each of our characters...that's a term we learn in our Thrillerfest conference workshops -- it stands for Goal, Motivation and Conflict - which each character needs to have in order to construct a great story.

How do we - how does any author - identify with a goal of world dominance or a motivation of extreme revenge? Ah - now you have the challenge we all face: to dream up scenarios, interview interesting characters from all walks of live and do extensive research for each of our novels.  As for me, when I was a TV reporter and anchor in San Francisco, I remember gaining access to a prison where I interviewed a member of the Charles Manson gang.  I subsequently learned that Manson's mother once sold him to a waitress for a pitcher of beer.  That mother along with his uncle ended up in jail for committing several robberies. Bad seed? Bad childhood? Bad experiences? None of that could in any way excuse his later involvement in seven murders - and yet authors (and screen writers) have figured out just how to portray these monsters in believable novels and films.
Patty Hearst

Another of my own experiences "learning" about goals and motivations was when I had to write news stories and go on the air to describe the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the "Symbionese Liberation Army" and her eventual acceptance of their goals by joining the group.  (What a wild story that turned out to be!).

So yes, authors do have to "identify" with each of their characters, figure out how they would act, what they would say, and make it all believable to the reader.  And yes, it is quite a challenge but one that my fellow Rogue authors have done with great success.

You have writers like our own Francine Mathews who figured out how to write great dialogue attributed to the young Jack Kennedy in her novel, Jack 1939. She writes under her own name and uses her photo on her website and book jackets. No question about her identity.

Then you have other Rogue authors, Jamie Freveletti and Gayle Lynds writing Jason Bourne thrillers, K. J. Howe creating a new novel about kidnappers,  S. Lee Manning conjuring up a male Russian protagonist in her upcoming thriller. Chris Goff has a story, Red Sky, about Chinese prisoners and international intrigue, and Sonja Stone writes about a 16-year-old who is in training to be a spy (Okay, so she's raising teenagers, which helps when you're handling realistic dialogue, just as I have four sons and listening to their banter gives me all sorts of ideas.) All of my Rogue friends here have worked hard to "climb into the heads" of their heroes, heroines, villains and secondary characters -- not an easy task, but one with great rewards once an author can see she has a book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

So the question is: what books have you read where a female author portrays a male character in a very realistic way or where a male author can truly write from a woman's perspective? And when YOU select a book to read, does it matter to you whether it was written by a woman, a man, or an author with a "mystery" name? Please leave a comment and give us your thoughts -- we'd love to know.

...Karna Small Bodman