Tuesday, March 28, 2017

YOU ARE NORMAL--WRITERS UNITE

K.J. Howe here.  We're delighted to host talented editor and all-around fabulous person Jacque Ben-Zekry.  I've had the pleasure of knowing Jacque for many years, first through her job at Thomas & Mercer, and now as a freelance editor with an incredible track record.  She's fun, sassy, and full of great advice.  Take it away, Jacque.

You are normal:

As an editor who has worked both in a publishing house and as a freelancer,  I am often asked if I have any advice for writers.  I do, trust me, I can blather on about what you should do with your talents, but the best advice I can give anyone on the craft of writing isn’t about the craft of writing at all. 

For those of us who have worked in an “author facing” role in publishing, the job is really about being a therapist 30% of the time. Most writers spend months (years even) toiling away on their own, crafting a communication to the world.  Because writers are so alone, but ultimately want to be read, most end up accidentally writing about the intimate things happening in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a runny-jumpy-shooty thriller, or a tender memoir of your life on a dairy farm outside Spokane, WA, it’s always personal and vulnerable and it often impacts the writer in unexpected ways.

I have worked closely with authors at every stage of the process—from brainstorming a new book, to waiting for the reviews to come in, to being immersed in the development of a movie/TV adaptation, to the launch of a big marketing campaign, to the discussion of the font for the cover. I have been privileged to see the truth of these people because of the vulnerability of writing, and I have learned one thing, over and over:  You are normal. 

Whatever drove you to make up stories has linked you on a deeper level to the same thinking/feeling/creating that drove every great storyteller since the dawn of time. And they all have felt the same as you, no matter what they may say. Trust me. 

Are you the author who has written nearly a dozen bestsellers, been reviewed everywhere, nominated for awards, sold millions, and find yourself today scrapping several ideas, spinning wheels, and hopelessly blocked? I know you are normal, I’ve seen “you” in this situation many times before.

Are you a new writer who has never had another person read their stuff, who is terrified that the magic that makes some words “work” never found its way to your process? You are normal.

Are you one of the genuinely gifted, prolific writers who can’t seem to refine her craft into “more mature writing”? You are normal.

Are you terrified that despite selling a half million copies last time, no one will remember your name if you take a year to get the next book out? You are normal.

Are you paranoid about the industry? Your agent?  Your editor?  Are you worried you can’t trust anyone to tell you the truth about your work?  Do you think that your book will be torpedoed to help another book be more successful?  Shit, you are the most normal of them all.   

Friends, you are normal.  I promise.  Obviously, I am not here to diagnose any exact mental issues, but I know  they are not weird.   Thousands of people are struggling to write, publish, find an agent, get a TV deal, and create under the exact pressures you are facing.  The good news is, many of them find a way through, and so can you. 

Okay, now that we all understand each other, have held hands, and done trust falls,  I bet you are dying for a few more practical tips.   

1.    Trust yourself.  Bruce Lee said  “the medicine for my suffering I had within me.”  Wherever you are in your career, trust yourself.  To be clear, you might be wrong, but it’s just words! I edit for a living, and believe me, words can always be fixed later. 

2.    Trust your scene.  I don’t believe in the old advice “show don’t tell.” Sometimes you should tell.  That said, if you can “show” and have it be effective, then choose to “show” and for the love of everything that is holy, DO NOT  “Show and Tell” in the same scene.   Many writers create a great scene and follow it up by telling us what just happened. This is usually a symptom of not trusting the scene you have created.  Remember, you can always fix it later. 

3.    Trust advice.  It’s a common misconception that the best books spring fully-formed out of brilliant minds and emerge spectacularly in stores.  Most books are read by 3-5 trusted readers, an agent/editing professional, and then usually 1-3 people at their publishing house.  Many books, even from very established authors, are story-edited over a dozen times between the writer and their circle.  The point is, you don’t need to nail it at the beginning, and if you are stuck, ask for help! 

4.    Get a hobby.  If reading and writing were how you spent your free time and now you are making a go of writing as a professional…I promise you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t develop a new recreational activity.  



      My final parting words: “Relax, everyone will live!”  We are not curing cancer, we are in the entertainment business.  Sure, our work can impact hearts and minds, but its is just a book. You can write it.  You are normal. Everything will be okay. 
    
      Thanks so much, Jacque!  Sound advice.  Anyone who would like to reach Jacque can do so via her website, www.modifyeditorial.com  She only accepts normal clients.  :-) 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

To Life - and to the ethnic influences in our work

S. Lee Manning: If you’ve ever watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof, the scene will be familiar to you.  The Jewish protagonist and village philosopher Tevye toasts the engagement of his daughter to Lazar Wolf with the other Jewish men in the village tavern, singing the well-known words,  L’Chaim– To Life. In the midst of their celebration, a group of young Russian men begin to sing, starting with the words zha vasha z'darovia – to your health.  Reluctantly and a little afraid, Tevye accepts a young Russian man’s offer –and they dance together. A great example of two cultures coming together – until the Jews are forcibly exiled from their homes by the end of the movie.


And that pretty much sums up the ethnic influences in my novels.

I am one hundred percent Russian Jewish by ethnicity. All four of my grandparents lived in what was known as the Pale – an area where Jews were permitted to live without restriction, encompassing Russian territories such as Ukraine.  In the beginning of the 20th century, my grandparents
immigrated to the United States because of the violence against Jews known as pogroms. My father used to tell me that me that his mother hid under a table as Cossacks shot guns into her house. Those members of my grandparents’ families who remained in the Pale disappeared into the night and fog of the Holocaust after the Nazis took over those areas.

As an adult, I am a non-practicing Jew with strong ties to my ethnic roots.  What does that mean? In my case, it means an awareness of and familiarity with the religious aspects – the prayers, the songs, the rituals – even though I no longer believe or practice.  It means knowing what’s kosher or not when I’m picking up a tray of something to take to my cousin’s house. It means an affinity for bagels and lox, for Chinese food on Christmas, for jokes with a Yiddish twist, for a certain range of mountains in upstate New York, for matzo dipped in egg and fried in oil. It means going to Jewish themed movies in Boca Raton. It means Seinfeld and Jerry Lewis and Mel Brooks. It means an awareness of history, including what happened to Jews in Europe 70 years ago, an eye out for swastikas being carved in cars, and knowing how to react when an acquaintance laughingly suggests sending all the Jews here to Israel.  (Yep, that really happened. She didn’t realize I was Jewish until a minute after she made the comment. She’s no longer an acquaintance.) It means a pride in our survival and in our diversity of opinions and practices, in our support of social justice for everyone, and in our sense of humor.

So no surprise that when crafting Kolya, the hero for my thriller series, I made him one-quarter Jewish and made his fiancée a non-practicing Jew from an orthodox family.  Sound familiar? You know the old saying - Write what you know.

But what about the other three-quarters ethnicity for Kolya?

Remember the dancing Russian men in Fiddler on the Roof?

In my teenage years, I became interested in Russia and Russian culture, despite the strong strain of anti-Semitism in Russian society.  There was – and is – a dark brooding quality to Russian culture and literature that appealed to my teenage dark brooding mind. Okay, I know it’s a cliché, but sometimes clichés are true – like dinner in France really is generally better than dinner in England. Sorry, England. Love the literature. And there really is a brooding quality to Russian literature.

Russia straddles east and west, and has never completely belonged to either, despite the efforts of Peter the Great to Westernize Russian society of his time. In my younger years, Russia was our enemy – we faced each other across the cultural and political battleground that was the Cold War. Final element in my fascination with Russia was the fact that my grandparents came from a part of what was then the Russian empire.

So back in those dark and brooding years – teenager remember - I launched into an investigation of Russian literature. I read Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground. I tried to read The Brothers Karamazov, but quickly reached my limit on my Dostoyevsky fascination. I read short stories by Gogol and plays by Chekov. I read Tolstoy – although I admit to skimming a bit in War and Peace. I found and read Mikhail Bulgakov’s  The Master and Margarita, a biting satire on Soviet society yet filled with religious fervor.

Then there were the Russian composers who reinforced that dark brooding theme. Stravinsky, Rite of Spring. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. Okay, okay – so my first introduction to both of those pieces was due to a Disney movie -- not quite the height of cultural knowledge – but damn it, the music is both dark and disturbing. After all, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring started a riot in Paris.  


I talked my grandfather into teaching me Russian, but we didn’t get very far. We did the alphabet – and then he handed me a book and told me, “Go learn.” I tried a bit, but Cyrillic is difficult – and as a teenager, I had little patience. I gave up on the language until recently when I discovered Duolingo. (Now I can confidently order coffee with milk and sugar.)

And now, as a writer of espionage fiction, I remain fascinated by Russia – not only because of its cultural history and my personal history, but because it is once again an enemy – after a brief period in the 1990s and early 2000s, when things seemed like they might be different. No longer.

So, in crafting my protagonist, Kolya, I put my Jewish heritage and my interest in Russia together to create a character who never completely fits in anywhere. In Russia, he’s the ex-pat who left the country at the age of fourteen – and who is part Jewish. To his Jewish fiancée’s family, he’s a non-Jew. To American spy agencies, he’s Russian – which is useful for operational purposes but which exposes him to a level of suspicion from certain fellow intelligence officers.

For many of us, especially for writers, there is a delicate dance between our desire to belong to a community and the emotional distance we often experience. What better way to illustrate that dance than with a character who straddles multiple cultures?

Zha vasha z'darovia.

L’chaim.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

HOW THE JACKAL BECAME MY WRITERLY INSPIRATION

By Gayle Lynds..... In the mid 1980s I was writing and publishing not only literary short stories but books in a genre the industry considered among the lowest of the low — male pulp fiction.
First UK edition, 1971

Some called my ability to do both artistic range.  But it puzzled and slightly offended others, and after a while I began to wonder myself — was there something wrong with me?  Maybe I was literarily schizophrenic.  Okay, let's ask the real questions:  Who was I?  What in heck did I think I was doing?

And then I got lucky and was able to dig deep.  I found my muse, my inspiration, maybe it was really my siren's song — I stumbled on The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

What follows is a tale of hubris and, perhaps, redemption.

Published first in the United Kingdom in 1971, the novel dramatizes the desperate hunt for an international assassin hired by a secret paramilitary organization to kill French president Charles de Gaulle in 1963.  The assassin is so clandestine even his employers know him just by a code name – the Jackal. 

First US edition, 1972
From the French police inspector under unrelenting pressure to stop the Jackal, to the young war widow who seduces an elderly government bureaucrat to extract from him the inspector’s plans, the author guides us unerringly into the hearts and fears of the story’s characters – on both sides of the political drama.

In the end we resonate with all of Forsyth’s characters not necessarily because we approve but because he reveals each’s humanity, and once we understand we can’t help but care at least a little – a feat of high artistic skill.

I’d avoided reading The Day of the Jackal when it was first published because, although many attempts were made on De Gaulle’s life, he died quietly, a private citizen in his own home, in 1970 — seven years after the novel’s purported events. 

Movie poster, 1973
The daring of Forsyth’s concept and marvelous conceit that an author could create not only believable but compelling fictional suspense about an assassination that never happened had been lost on me.  Instead, it buttressed my naive arrogance – if the book was a hot bestseller, it couldn't be good.

Fast forward to the mid 1980s:  I'd begun writing pulp adventure novels and experimenting in them with literary techniques from my short stories.  At the same time, I had two young children to support, and words-on-paper isn’t a food group.  (The literary journals paid in copies, while the pulp fiction paid in checks just large enough I could buy extra copies of the journals.)

That was when a paperback copy of The Day of the Jackal stared at me from the shelf of a thrift store.  It had been read so many times the spine was cracked and the pages tattered.  Obviously it had riveted readers.  I wondered why.  I bought it. 

Forsyth's autobiography, 2013
As I read, I felt as if I had finally come home.  Forsyth’s prose was rich and smooth, often lyrical.  The characters were memorable.  The insider details of the workings of the French government were not only accurate but, under his hand, fascinating.  The Jackal’s violence was remorseless, as it should have been. 

My love of history, culture, geopolitics, and fine writing had finally come together in the pages of this exemplary novel.  I was more than grateful; I was inspired.  My future in international espionage was sealed.  Thank you, Mr. Forsyth.

With this post, I begin the next month of blogs by my fellow Rogues.  From music to literature, we're revealing what inspires us, gives us ideas, pushes us into the next book or story.  

We'd love to know what inspires you....

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Cone of Silence


by Chris Goff

My first exposure to the spy world came in the form of Ian Fleming and Helen MacInnes novels, the Bond and Flint movies, and Get Smart, I Spy and Man From U.N.C.L.E. 

My best friend Cynthia and I were so enamored with the spy world that we created our own spy organization. We called it XCPLE (pronounced X-C-piddle-E), and don't ask me what it stood for. I'm not sure I knew even back then. We built our spy headquarters in the woods behind the house where I grew up, dragging a hooked rug (I'm sure my mother cherished) out into the forest and secreting it in a copse of pine trees, where scraps of the rug still remain. We built a communications system, developed a secret code and begged our mothers to buy us spy gadgets—disappearing ink pens, tiny cameras, decoder rings, toy guns. The year I turned ten, for Christmas, I asked for a pair of shoes with a hiding place built into the heel.

Four years later, came the Beatle invasion. Cynthia and I abandoned XCPLE to form a girl band using my mother's wicker laundry basket fitted with pot lids as the drum, my father's Martin guitar and broomsticks tied to music stands as microphones. Still, I never swayed from devouring spy fiction and I admit to having an unhealthy obsession with the Cold War era.


How much do you know about spies?


Fellow Rogue Woman, Gayle Lynds, has a great Spy IQ test on her website you can take to find out how much you know. I did fairly well. But that said, when I was a full-fledged member of XCPLE, there was a history of spying I knew nothing about. Clearly I wasn't getting all the facts from Get Smart. For those who need or want a Spy 101, or those who need a refresher, here's a quick recap.

Since the beginning of time, leaders have had spies. As Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote in his famous treatise The Art of War: "Enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements."

The earliest recorded spy activity goes back to the times of the Pharaoh Rameses. The Bible references surveillance for the purpose of gathering information. The Royals used spies and spy craft, developing codes for passing information. During the American Revolution, secrecy and subterfuge were keystones of both the British and the Revolutionaries (think Benedict Arnold and Ann Bates), and, during the Civil War, spies took photographs of enemy batteries. In 1907, a German inventor named Julius Neubronner invented the "pigeon camera"--the precursor to today's drone. He produced a small, automatic camera that could be strapped to a homing pigeon and set to take pictures at specific times. With the onset of the Cold War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed William J. Donovan, the first "Coordinator of Information." Then, in 1942, Roosevelt made him head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner to the CIA.


Now, with a restructured intelligence community, there are currently 17 distinct U.S. intelligence agencies, each operating under a shroud of secrecy and funded by classified budgets reported by Business Insider Magazine to be somewhere around $75 billion. We have a Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, a Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a Director of National Intelligence. We still have the CIA, FBI, NSA, INR, Air Force ISR, NSB, INSCOM, and more, on a list of acronyms I'll never remember.

So what's the truth?



Classified information about spies and spy gadgets is hard to come by. No doubt the world has grown more complicated, and technology has allowed for advancements in espionage capabilities. We see glimpses of real gadgets in today's movies—the spy cams, cell jammers, encryption devices, night vision, aerial snooping, anti-bugging, spy coins (during the Cold War, these were used to carry a spy's cyanide pill). And then there's the "Switchblade" technology—remember the plane with the invisibility cloak technology that was described in the movie I Spy (2002)? Not real! There are the contact lenses that have cameras in them, allowing spies to each see what the other sees. Not...actually, this one I'm not sure about.

When it comes to writing spy fiction, I think Lee Child had it right when he said in an interview posted on Tangled Web UK: "It can drive you nuts. You've done the work, you've done the research and you know you are right. But in a sense it's not about being right, it's about being convincing."

XCPLE

If, like me, you ever wanted to be a spy, pretended to be a spy, or just love espionage and spy gadgets, I recommend you pay a visit to the International Spy Museum. Then come back and tell me your favorite spy gadget and I'll tell you mine.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

EVERY NIGHT IS LADIES NIGHT

AKA: Why Women Make Good Spies

by Sonja Stone

As many of you know, March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, my blog sisters have written about the unsung intelligence officers throughout history—women who have risked their lives for their countries and causes.

History has proven time and again that women make excellent spies. We used to be underrated and overlooked, which gave us a natural edge. Women are cunning and clever, careful and courageous. We’re strong, soft and serious. And we carry great accessories.

KGB Cold War lipstick gun
The KGB's Cold War lipstick fired a .177-caliber round

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, several of my rogue sisters deserve recognition this month. Francine Matthews actually served in the CIA. Several others have climbed the corporate ladder with hammers in hand to pound against the glass ceiling. Karna Bodman was the highest ranking woman in the White House during the Regan administration. Gayle Lynds, together with David Morrell, founded International Thriller Writers, and she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that we, as women writers of international intrigue and espionage, are treated with the same respect as our male counterparts. Gayle and Robert Ludlum co-created the Covert One series, and Jamie Freveletti was later selected by the Ludlum estate to write for the series. KJ Howe, the Executive Director of ThrillerFest, has received rave reviews for her debut novel, THE FREEDOM BROKER, while promoting awareness for Type 1 Diabetes. Jamie and S. Lee Manning are both former lawyers, and S. Lee championed for rights that changed state legislation. Chris Goff’s debut thriller, DARK WATERS, has been nominated for a handful of prestigious awards, and she continues her hands-on research as she travels the world.

I want to take a moment to thank the women who came before me. Women who diligently fought for the right to vote. Women who bravely entered the corporate world. Women who selflessly stayed home to raise a family. And the women who seemingly did it all: worked full time, nurtured the children, cooked the meals, paid the bills... Women like my mother, my sister, my dearest friends.

Lastly, a thank you to the men standing by our sides. The men who supported our fight for equality, who welcomed us into the workforce, who do the dishes after dinner. Some of you make excellent spies, too. ;)


Sunday, March 12, 2017

DEATH AND TAXES


By Francine Mathews

April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot assures us, but March can be pretty lousy, too. I feel April's pain on the fifteenth each year, but I spend laborious hours all March assembling the information for my tax accountant to deliver his terrible news. I realize this falls into the category of First World Problems--and that if I only kept up with my Quicken entries all year long it'd be a snap to do--but hey, I have a lot on my hands. Books to read, books to write, clothes to wash and children to send off to college. And then there's the loss of people I love. That seems to happen with brutal frequency in the month of March. My mother, for example, died on the fifteenth--the Ides of March--and so did my uncle, several years before her. It is a date rife with foreboding for me as well as Caesar. 

Hence today's Meditation, which purports to be about Death and Taxes. I confess right now that the title is a bait and switch--I intend to talk solely about Death.

I lost a good friend a few weeks ago. I will call her simply My Friend, out of respect for her privacy and that of her family. Hers was a death foretold--whose, really is not?--but it crept up on all of us who loved her. A bout of indigestion at a July 4th barbecue, diagnosed twelve hours later as Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. She lived eight months after Independence Day and spent most of it exploring what she called "a better dying." As she had taught all of us for years how to live a better life, I wanted to learn from her in this as in everything. But the apprenticeship came to end early one Saturday morning. Yesterday, hundreds of us gathered in an intimate and lovely old Episcopalian church to weep as a soprano sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Bear with me. I need to tell you about My Friend. It will help me come to terms, a little, with her absence, and perhaps a little with my own life. It may even help you to come to terms with yours.

When I first walked into her house years ago I was startled by the existence of a woman drunk on words. I had heard from a mutual acquaintance that My Friend was an aspiring writer; it was the proximate reason for us to meet. But the truth is, aspiration had nothing to do with it. My Friend lived in a sea of words, ran her fingers through them like a bowl full of jelly beans, caught them on her tongue like fresh snowflakes. She painted quotations from Ecclesiastes on the risers of her stairs. Her comfortable porch cushions were covered with hand-lettered phrases (my favorite: "Bunter, Launch the Lagonda!" from a TV production of Peter Wimsey.) And her remarkable walled garden was lined with massive zinc panels, hand-painted with stanzas from Andrew Marvell's 17th-century poem, "The Garden." I called these the Stations of Eden because the poetry led you through the various beds and garden rooms My Friend had formed with her own hands. The entire back terrace of raised beds and iron sculptures was paved in herringbone brick--and I say herringbone, because it requires involvement and thought. My Friend loved the pattern. But to achieve it, each brick had to be hand-cut at a correct mitered angle. So My Friend bought a brick saw. She measured and cut every brick before laying each of them in the earth. A quarter-acre of art, rugs and patterns and paths of brick, woven among the flowers and the Andrew Marvell:


Here at the fountain’s sliding foot, 
Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root, 
Casting the body’s vest aside, 
My soul into the boughs does glide; 
There like a bird it sits and sings, 
Then whets, and combs its silver wings; 
And, till prepar’d for longer flight, 
Waves in its plumes the various light. 

She wrote poetry her whole life long as a way of processing the oddities and emotions and gifts of life; she embraced everyone she met; and never did I hear her say a negative thing about another human being. Her novel, unpublished, is a work of art.

And now my bitter confession: I wasted the time I had with her. Being a busy person, as she was herself, I found many reasons to put off our meetings. I would think in my mind: I must see My Friend again soon. I must walk the dog with her. Drop her a note. Push open her picket fence gate and walk up her stone steps to sit on her vine-covered porch and talk a while. 

never did it enough, and now I can never do it enough again.

In the months following her diagnosis, we struggled against the inevitable and our own inability to change the outcome. We traded spurious good news and clutched at straws. When you feel powerless, you look around for something to do. Another friend organized a cooking schedule. We all signed up. In the months remaining to My Friend's life, I needed this more than anything--the dates on the calendar that said I could spend the day in my kitchen, making soup. Making dinner for My Friend's family. Of course she was a marvelous cook herself and a great gatherer of love around her table, and so dropping containers of steaming pasta and polenta and curry and beef ragu on that front porch was all each of us who loved her could do to feel better about ourselves.  Less lonely. Less out of time.

Ten days before she died, My Friend sent us all Valentines that she and her husband had hand-drawn and written to each other, with phrases of her most beloved poet, Walt Whitman.
Then with the knowledge of death as walking on one side of me, And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me, And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions, I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not. 
When she was truly gone, those of us she left behind appeared out of the woodwork to help her daughter, who is in large measure My Friend still walking on this Earth, to  move tables in from the brick terrace that was waking in Spring, from the porch where she will never sit again, now, propped up by those cushions with words. We scrubbed the tables and moved chairs and swept floors and threw open french doors to sunlight and March wind. We held her dog close when he whined. We arranged flowers. It was necessary to me in particular to buy a lot of flowers (see picture at the head of this post, from my kitchen a few days ago), and leave them in bowls scattered around the house. So that when everyone assembled to love all that remains of My Friend, the Garden was there, too.

have tried to absorb the lessons of A Better Dying these past few days as I have walked on from My Friend's picket gate and the people she has left at the foot of Marvell's tree. In order to have A Better Dying, I need to live a Better Life. Be curious and embracing of everyone I meet. Take time to measure and cut, as things ought to be measured and cut. Be drunk on words. Serve love every night and morning at my table, even if I'm the only one eating there.

leave you with one of My Friend's final poems.


Packing

I'm certainly not taking any of this torso claptrap. No need for any
organ reticules, kiss purse cavities, old coils of strap,
stones that have stuck in where they were thrown.
I will fit effortlessly into the overhead, my contents shifting as I sluff
off most of my skin in the lapsarian swoon that is prologue to practically every-
thing.
I will take the precious orbs of my eyes in case they can conjure any
of what glory they have beheld, but if mortal passions
are under suspicion by the authorities, I will relinquish them
to my beloveds--those days when we beheld each other on the turning world.

Francine

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wiretapping and Spies and Writing Thrillers

By Jamie Freveletti
1930's Telephone Operator
Wiretapping is in the news this week and I have been following with interest the articles regarding the need for warrants --or the lack of them. Of course, as a former attorney I am always interested in the procedure and protocol for anything that our government does. But also, as a writer of spy fiction, I think that I, and probably some of the other Rogue Women Writers on this blog, could probably tell you that there are numerous ways to access a smartphone and a whole host of them are utilized without a warrant. How do we know this, you ask? Research! Those of us that write spy novels spend quite a bit of time researching the issues that are important for the type of novel that we're writing. We have to, because our readers love to learn about the life of a spy, and the only way to add such detail is to research it. In fact, as I write this Wikileaks announced that it will release 9,000 pages of CIA documents purporting to give up their wiretapping secrets. I'll be reading those pages and will write a follow up to this post when I'm done.

1965 Martini Olive Bug
Back in the day, a person wishing to wiretap someone had a lot of ways to get it done. As early as the 1930's a device called the "Detectifone" could be hidden in a room and record a conversation much like a dictaphone would. The 1950's and 1960's saw the emergence of small, ingenious devices: watches, (think Dick Tracy), pens and cigarette boxes, and, yes, even a martini glass. In 1965 private detective Hal Lipset created the martini olive bug.

Now the devices are far more advanced and we, as citizens, have unwittingly assisted in the effort by carrying the equivalent of a GPS locator device in our pockets. Yes, I mean that smartphone. And it's not just the government that spies on us, it's our apps as well. Like Uber? Have the app on your phone? That company is currently being questioned with regard to its use of alleged software called "greyball" where the app records your location and collects data. It then uses the data to determine whether you are a threat to Uber. Let's say you spend too much time in City Hall or government buildings (just about every litigator does), the greyball software then decides that you potentially work for taxi or government regulators and might be trying to hail an Uber to see if the company is operating in violation of local laws. If you activate the app it pretends that it's calling a car, but doesn't. The "driver" cancels over and over again. It's an open question whether this data collection is illegal, because you may have agreed to it on the terms of service page for the app.You can read more about greyball and Uber's denial of any illegal use here.

And finally there's the hated Stingray device. There's a current lawsuit here in Chicago over this one. The stingray pretends that it's a cellphone tower and dupes your smartphone into connecting with it. It collects your texts, information, and some say can even pretend to be you and send a text from your phone to another in your contact list. Police departments across the country own them and deploy them. They can collect information off  a whopping 65,000 people when pointed at a crowd. A stingray was allegedly deployed during a Black Lives Matter protest here in Chicago. But while most of us would never know if a stingray grabbed our phone, in this case the stingray got stung, because it hit the one person at the protest who could figure it out. The device zeroed out the phone of a lawyer who, as part of his pro bono work (we all have to do a certain number of free cases each year to keep our licenses) attended protests on behalf of legal aid in order to act as an observer. He knew immediately what had happened and the suit, which claims among other things that the search was a violation of the Constitution's Fourth amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures, is currently winding its way through the court system.

A thriller writer not only has to research the ways one can be tapped, but also needs to know how a spy or other person can avoid the tap. In the case of the stingray? Wrap your phone in aluminum foil before you head out.

James Bond would approve.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

More women who were great spies!

....posted by Karna Small Bodman

Several of my "Rogue" colleagues have been writing about clever women spies. I would like to add to that list as there have been so many whose clever exploits led to battles won and traitors discovered.  Throughout history women have been able to gather and pass along secret information because the "prevailing wisdom" held that since women were less educated, they couldn't possibly understand war plans, the use of weapons and certainly not technology.  Ah, the perils of underestimating the talents of a woman!

Let's go back to the Civil War when both sides received vital intelligence from female informers.  Take the case of Rose O'Neal Greenhow. A well-known hostess in the nation's capital, she actually ran a large Confederate spy ring, was able to ferret out information about troop movements and gave invasion plans to the South -- thus ensuring their victory at Bull Run.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow & daughter in prison

She eventually was put under surveillance by Allan Pinkerton, head of the new Secret Service, confined in the Old Capitol Prison, finally deported to the South, but she never quit. She was sent to Europe to raise money for the Confederacy, and on her return voyage, her ship went aground and lore has it she drowned weighted down with gold sovereigns.  When her body washed ashore, she was buried with military honors in  Wilmington.

Elizabeth Van Lew


Not to be outdone, the North had its share of women who managed spy networks as well. Elizabeth Van Lew helped Union prisoners escape, men who, in turn, gave her information on Confederate troop movements which she was able to pass on to Union commanders. She even got a Union sympathizer  appointed to the prison staff. Her spy ring became known as the "Richmond Underground" where she had operatives working as clerks in the War and Navy Departments of the Confederacy. She developed a cipher system using invisible ink and hid messages in hollow eggs. Clever indeed!



Marguerite Harrison
Moving on to WW I we have the exploits of Marguerite Harrison. As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press, she also offered her services to the Chief of a Military Intelligence Division. Fluent in French, German, Italian and some Spanish she was sent  overseas  to assess Bolshevik economic strengths and weaknesses. At various times she posed as a radical, interviewed Trotsy, listened to Lenin and sent valuable intelligence back via military couriers. But a news story was leaked about a successful American woman spy in Russia which led to her arrest by the Cheka, predecessor of the KGB. She was thrown into Lubyanka prison, but with pressure from some of her influential contacts, including a US Senator, she was finally set free, along with other American prisoners, in an exchange for food aid to Russia.

 Now we come to recent spy activities.  I'm sure you know the name Aldrich Ames, the notorious Cold War spy and traitor to the United States. But did you know that it was a small team of CIA officers who doggedly investigated and uncovered his actions, a team led by a woman, Jeanne Vertefeuille.  Along with another female CIA analyst, Sandy Grimes, she followed the high rate of Russian double agent disappearances and knew there had to be a mole in the organization. It turned out to be an eight-year investigation that led her to Ames's treachery and involvement in a number of those officers' executions.  Ames had exposed them in exchange for millions of dollars.


Jeanne Vertefeuille
We certainly owe our gratitude to the many women throughout our history who engaged in various forms of espionage and spy-craft. Some of these stories have been the genesis of thrillers written by my Rogue colleagues. I also want to give my personal thanks to Gene Poteat for his 30 years of service to the CIA where he was awarded their Intelligence Medal of Merit among many other honors throughout his career.   His research and advice gave me the inspiration to write this article about great women spies.  All of us here at Rogue Women Writers would welcome your comments.

....by Karna Small Bodman