Wednesday, April 26, 2017

by K.J. Howe

Kidnapping has been in the news a great deal lately.  On Easter weekend, Abu Sayyaf terrorists had been planning a mass kidnapping at a vacationer resort, knowing it would be packed to capacity.  But safety forces were able to engage these kidnappers in a military battle, and six militants were killed--as well as three troopers and a policeman.

Abu Sayyaf chief Moammar Askali, also called Abu Rami, who was involved with the beheadings of Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel and German Jurgen Kanter was one of those killed in the raids. Philippine intelligence helped stopped more tourists from being captured and potentially killed.

In North Korea, Kim Jong-Un has threatened to kidnap foreigners from South Korea.  Uno-gil Lee, a former clandestine special operator who escaped shared that diplomats, tourists, and foreign businessmen will be at risk of Kim bringing them to the North and ultimately killing them.  Lee shares that covert operatives will be traveling to the South in search of targets.  North Korea possesses as many as 20 nuclear warheads, and this volatile country is in the news daily.  The regime claims that 220, 000 people died during the severe famine in the 1990s, but Western reports say around 3 million people died.

Now North Korea has detained a Professor Tony Kim who is a US citizen.  Is this a sign of where things are headed?  There are already two other US citizens known to be in North Korean custody.  Otto Warmbier, a twenty-one year old student was detained and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly removing a political sign from a hotel wall.  Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized citizen of Korean origin, was arrested in October 2015, and he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on espionage charges.


The world is changing, and freedom brokers like my character Thea Paris are going to be in high demand.  But what Thea wants most is protect people from becoming hostages.  Prevention is the single best way of dealing with kidnapping.  How can you stay safe while traveling abroad?  Here are a few tips to help you avoid trouble while you are on the road:

*Avoid traveling alone, if possible.  Kidnappers tend to zero in on solo targets, as it's much easier to abduct a single individual than a group of travellers.  If you must travel alone, talk about your colleague or partner who is waiting for you at the hotel.
*Leave your jewelry and expensive electronics at home.  Do not look wealthy, or you'll become an attractive target.
*Don't use taxis.  Instead, ask your hotel to arrange for a trusted driver.  It may cost a little more, but your safety is worth it.
*Give a detailed itinerary to loved ones at home, so they know where you are while abroad.  Have specific check-in times to confirm you are safe.
*Before heading to a country, read about any travel advisories.  If there are warnings, consider cancelling the trip.  Your safety should be paramount.
*Avoid using your cellphone or any other distractions while out in public.  Foster a situational awareness, looking around for any potential sources of trouble.  Trust your gut if something feels wrong.

The world offer phenomenal travel opportunities, and whether it is for business or pleasure, seeing spectacular vistas and learning about other cultures is a special part of life.  Just take the proper steps to stay safe.  And remember, Thea Paris is there for your anytime, anywhere if you find yourself in hot water.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How a dead dog led to my writing career


 S. Lee Manning: So, provocative title, eh? But it’s true. A fictional dead dog is the reason I am writing spy novels today – or at least it’s how I got started.

OK, this wasn't my house, but my porch looked a lot like this, at least in my memory.

Like most writers, and especially my fellow Rogues, I spent my childhood wrapped up in novels. My mother taught me to read when I was around 4, and from then on, I was never without a book. We had no air conditioning, but we had a large front porch with an awning. I spent long summer days, basking in the heat, or listening to the pounding of the rain, while I immersed myself in fictional worlds.


In my pre-reading days, with my very young mother and my sister.

I didn’t consider myself a story teller. Still, I did have an active imagination. I was continually pretending to be something or someone other than who or what I really was. A cowboy. A mermaid. A witch. A race horse. A spy – but that was later.

So still waiting on that dead dog, aren’t you?

Despite my love of books and my love of creating worlds of my own, I never thought of becoming a storyteller. Then when I was eight or nine, there was this book. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I vaguely remember the story. It was set in Australia. A boy finds a dog, teaches him to help with the sheep on his farm, and then, somehow, the dog dies. I don’t remember the details. I just remember the dog dying.

Told you I’d get there.

I loved all animals. We had cats and kittens, and I loved them, but I wanted a dog to follow me around and love me unconditionally. Cats love you, but they are a little less demonstrative and a little more independent – and while I adore cats as an adult and actually prefer a little more independence – as a child, I didn’t want independence, I wanted slavish devotion. Hence a dog.

We never had one. Too much work. My mother was a rarity back in those days, a working mom, and neither she nor my father felt the impulse to take on another burden. So I satisfied my impulse towards dog ownership with books and television shows – and fantasy. I watched Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. I read Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight about a dozen times. Then there was the book - and the dog that died.
We tuned into this image every Sunday night, back in my childhood.

I remember closing that book, sad and angry. I decided then and there, I could do better. I wouldn’t kill off the dog.

So I wrote what might be called fan fiction today, which was an alternative version of the book with the dead dog. Instead of sheep herding, the dog herded cattle. Instead of a boy, I inserted a girl. And instead of dying, the dog lived happily ever after – or however long a dog naturally lives -  with his beloved mistress.

My older sister was impressed with my handwritten twenty-page story – until she read it and then read the jacket of the library book about the Australian sheep herding dead dog. She changed her mind and said that I’d stolen the story. I stoutly defended myself – saying the dog didn’t die, so I didn’t steal the story. And there were cattle. Looking back, she was more right than I was. But does it really matter? That was the moment that created the impulse to write stories. That was the moment that I decided I would be a writer.

I could go through the twists and turns of becoming a writer: writing for school newspapers, winning school awards for essays, publishing short stories, but none of those individual moments rise to the significance in my mind of an Australian sheep dog dying. Maybe, given my love of books and words, I would have come to the decision to write sooner or later. But this is the way I came to it.

So now, I write espionage novels. I regularly kill off humans. In the one I’m writing now, a nine-year old child dies in a terrorist attack. But I have stuck to one rule – I have never killed off a dog – or a cat – or a horse.

Dead dogs make bad books.





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

AT MY MOTHER'S KITCHEN TABLE

Council Bluffs, Iowa, where I grew up.
By Gayle Lynds.  We had no front porch with chairs for sitting when I was young, but we did have a kitchen table.

Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner and Eudora Welty are famous for crediting their relatives with front-porch storytelling that inspired them to write fiction.  But the families and neighbors of those literary giants had nothing over the group of housewives around my mother’s kitchen table.

In the afternoon, Mom’s girlfriends would drop by for coffee.  Marguerite Dingman always parked in front of the house, where her car stuck out into the traffic on Highway 64.  Marguerite had a strong and delightful rebel streak.  As trucks whizzed past inches from her car, she hurried unconcerned toward our front door.  I’ll never forget her lipstick, hot red and, like her, glamorous.

At the same time, Maxine Mether walked up the block.  Maxine was an ├╝ber mom, deeply involved with her two little boys, and very kind.  And then there was gorgeous Vernelle Lainson, smart and chatty.  She came down the hill from next door.  Greeting all was my mother, Marian Hallenbeck, tall and striking, with a great heart.
from newspaper
Mom's photo, from newspaper

The inviting aroma of Maxwell House would fill our kitchen.  The colorful melamine cups and saucers would come out, the girlfriends would sit, and what they called gossip would begin.  I was often there, too, listening and drinking Pepsi from a 16-ounce glass bottle.  I was the eldest of all their children, and they found my curiosity amusing.  In truth, I was in training.

With a simple trip downtown to run errands, they’d bring back tales: The grocer’s wife who’d run away with the postman.  Very racy.  The city councilman arrested for embezzlement.  How could he.  The local jewelry store robbed by out-of-town gangsters who later turned up dead in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The worst (and most exciting) story of the year. 

They argued politics, discussed home cures, and exchanged theories of child rearing. Nothing was sacred, including religion.  When someone was sick or died, they baked casseroles and spent hours on the phone, listening to each other’s pain, reminding each other that tomorrow could be a better day.

It was an era abundant with something we seem to lack in our modern era — time.  Time to build deep friendships based on the intimacy of the day to day.  Time that seemed to stretch ahead unchanging, giving life a certainty that allowed the focus to be on now. 

At every coffee klatch there were new stories, new details for ongoing stories, and stories coming to a close.  The coffee pot perked.  The trucks swerved.  And the girls talked. 

I was riveted by the rise and fall of their voices, the intensity of their gestures and postures.  They told the tales and reacted at the same time, simultaneously writers and readers.  Every story came with something to hold on to, to learn, to care about, to remember. 

As the years passed, the lines on their faces deepened.  Their eyes faded and softened.  Their insights grew.  And their stories continued. . . .

Until a few years ago.  All are dead now, alas, but I can conjure them up in a heartbeat.  As I write my books, I hear their voices in my mind.  Very racy.  How could he.  The worst (and most exciting) story of the year.  Your turn, Gayle.  Tell a story.

Now I understand this is the spine of life, as true today as it was then.  We still tell each other stories.  In Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and Skype, we harvest the past and plow into the future.  Although I spent far more years as a journalist, editor, and writer than I spent in childhood, my life as an author was settled here, at my mother’s kitchen table.
 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

THE EVER CHANGING MUSE

by Chris Goff

View from my childhood home in Evergreen

The Dog Days of Summer

The summer I turned eight, I discovered the library, in a small stone house perched on the rocky hillside above the Episcopal Church, right at the bottom of our hill.

Some History

The original town library was founded in a storefront on Main Street, in 1917, by Miss Julia Brewster Douglas, a Newark librarian who had moved to Evergreen to be nearer her brother. In 1921, Josh Spence, a local contractor, built Miss Julia a stone building to house her 4,000 books, and by 1935, Miss Julia had amassed over 12,000 volumes. She and the nuns from St. Mary's ran the library until 1943, when Mrs. Olive King bought the library building as her home.

Evergreen Circa 1925
Everyone knew that was the end of the library—except for Mrs. King. To the town's surprise, she kept it open for years.

Here's where I come in.

I am an only child, and we lived in a small gray house, off a dirt road, about halfway up Independence Mountain. It was nearly a mile to town, and well over a mile to any of my friend's houses. Mr. and Mrs. Angevine lived at the top of the hill. Mr. and Mrs. Fooks lived in the house just below us. And Mr. and Mrs. Kintner lived in the white house on the steep part of our road.  They were all old, which left me to play alone. Hence, I wandered.

Our mountain was a safe place for a kid. Sure, we had the occasional mountain lions and bears, but I had my faithful companion—a blond, collie-husky mix named Blueberry. One day in our travels down the hill to the river, I encountered Mrs. King. She was also old, a little dusty and a lot crabby. She asked me what I was doing taking a short cut through her property. When I told her I was bored and looking for something to do, she kindly invited me to come in.

Blind Trust

Being long before the days of "stranger danger," and not smart enough to equate her invitation to that of the hag in Hansel and Gretel, I cheerfully followed her through the door. She offered me a glass of lemonade, which I happily drank, then led me through another door into the bowels of her house.

In that room was Miss Julia's library. It was there, on the little window seat, tucked into the back by the children's section that I fell in love with reading. My dad had read me Pinocchio when I was six, a chapter at bedtime, every night. Then Wind in the Willows and Silver Pennies. But, here were books written just for me. I met Honey Bunch and the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. As my reading skills improved, I graduated writers like Emily Loring and Agatha Christie and Helen MacInnes.

The Evolution of a Writer

It was in the winter of my eighth year that I first tried my hand at writing. The book was entitled The Haunted Mansion, and it was a great story about these kids who discover a haunted mansion occupied by a witch. One night, after waiting for the witch to go out flying, they snuck inside to mess around with her Eye of Newt. Of course, the witch returned early and chaos ensued.

That book never sold. Though, I think it did find a spot in my mother's scrapbook.

After that first attempt, I moved on to writing short stories, essays, and poetry. I studied journalism in college, and it was years before I tried writing another book. When I did, I went back to my. We were still living in a small town and there were no other writers, so I enrolled in an Institute of Children's Literature Novel Writing Course and wrote The Mystery of Phantom Ranch. It was a great book about these two kids who venture down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and discover the ghost of Bert Loper.

That book never sold.

My next attempt was a Harlequin Intrigue. This time I found a mentor, and I wrote this great book entitled Frozen Assets. It was about this woman who lived in a ski town, who stumbled upon a counterfeiting operation and fell in love.

That book never sold.

Do you see a pattern forming? It took me two more false starts before I sold my first mystery. Then it took five mystery novels before I worked up the courage to try my hand at a thriller. DARK WATERS was the debut and the book has done well. It sold to book clubs and overseas, it garnered some great buzz and praise, and was nominated for several awards, including the Anthony for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook and the Colorado Book Award. Its sequel, RED SKY¸ comes out in June. (One quick note of BSP—for anyone who hasn't read DARK WATERS, to promote RED SKY the publisher is down-pricing the eBook for the whole month of May.)

And so I persevere

Mrs. King and the little stone library are long gone. So are my mother, my first publisher and biggest cheerleader; my grandmother, with whom I traded books; and my father, who thought my mystery series trivial and didn't live long enough to see me publish a "real" book. But what they left behind is a legacy of education and encouragement, and thus inspired me to find my voice.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL

by Sonja Stone

Leap and the net will appear. 

Or you'll plummet to your death. It could go either way.



HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

I started my first novel on a whim. My kids were in middle school, and a popular book series had just been made into film. All of my kid’s friends had already seen it. Girls were swooning over the love story. I’m a very slow reader, so I went to the theater to prescreen the movie (yeah, I’m that mom). The resounding message I heard from the story was this: Hey, girls. If you want to be with that hot boy, you have to change everything about yourself. Yes, he’s just told you he’s dangerous and you shouldn’t hang out with him. Yes, he warned you that he’ll hurt you—deeply. But go ahead… It’s worth giving up every part of yourself, all of your friends, your family, just to be with him.

Needless to say, I didn’t approve the movie for my kids. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the film—it was an exciting storyline. But this wasn’t the message I wanted my children to hear. I hadn’t yet discovered The Hunger Games (if I had, I probably wouldn’t have written a book—I would’ve just passed that one along to the kiddies), so I decided to write the story I wanted them to read, the one where the girl saves herself, and then she saves the boy. And so, DESERT DARK was born.

Each morning after driving them to school I’d settle in at my desk and write the day’s pages. Each afternoon they’d read the story, offer critiques, ask questions. At dinner we’d discuss the plot—I’d get stuck, they’d give me ideas. I fumbled my way through the process because, as usual, I couldn’t be bothered to learn HOW to do something before jumping in (again, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have written a book. Ignorance really is bliss). I wrote the manuscript, found an agent, sold it to a publisher… I had arrived, right?

WHICH BRINGS ME TO...

I’m currently in the thick of the second draft of my second novel. My oldest child is away at college; my youngest is a senior in high school. They have neither the time nor the inclination to read my manuscript several dozen times. I find myself rudderless; I relied on their help even more than I realized. I’m left to plot alone, to breathe life into my characters without the guidance of my target audience. I’m at that point in the writing process where I hate my work. I hate the story, I hate the setting, I hate the people. The first book was a fluke; when the sequel goes to print I’ll be found out—exposed as the hack that I am.

I’ve been here before. I remember hating drafts of my first novel. But I can’t for the life of me recall how to navigate from this place. I had time. TIME. I’m slow. I’m a slow writer, a slow reader, a fast processor but slow to articulate the thoughts that break the sound barrier in my mind. I had seven years to write my first novel. Years to tweak, refine, polish. The second book is due in less than a month. I’ve been working diligently for the past year… I’m just slow.

Writing is solitary work. I require silence; no music, no people, no television in the background to keep me company. As an introvert, I love working by myself. But when it’s not going well, it gets lonely.

Want to know what’s keeping me off the ledge? Steve Berry

Steve Berry with KJ Howe, celebrating the release of THE FREEDOM BROKER
Steve Berry with KJ Howe, celebrating the release of THE FREEDOM BROKER

Last July at ThrillerFest, Steve led a panel discussion on this very topic: he calls it second-book-itis. David Corbett, Barry Lancet, Chris Reich, M.J. Rose, John Sanford, and Simon Toyne shared their struggles—and they were many—about pushing through the second book. 

Corbett said he had ten years to write the first book and ten months to write the second; he thought it stunk but the reviewers loved it. Toyne claimed to have written his on pure fear (which for him translated to high-octane energy). Sanford tracks his daily word count, as he finds himself lost and depressed mid-book: he can’t see the end nor can he remember the beginning. Boy, I can relate.

I’m comforted to know that I’m not alone. For many writers, this struggle is par for the course. I’d hoped to be the exception, but such is life. And I’m so grateful to the authors named above for sharing their second-book-itis trials and tribulations. These are the voices inspiring me.

Steve Berry moderates SECOND-BOOK-ITIS: ThrillerFest 2016
SECOND-BOOK-ITIS: ThrillerFest 2016 

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, USE A MANTRA

If you don't have one at the ready, feel free to borrow mine.



Leave your zen-like advice in the comments below!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE MASTERS: SPRINGTIME IN AUGUSTA, AND IN MY HEART


By Francine Mathews

My father had his first heart attack when he was forty-seven. The year after that, he had me.

I was the last of eight children, six of whom--all girls--survived. After the heart attack, my dad's doctor told him he needed consistent and moderate exercise. This was the Sixties, before stents and bypass surgery and the medical advances that have made coronary disease survivable; exercise was our family's magic bullet. So my father took up golf. He was late to the game: the best golfers learn the skills in childhood. But what he lacked in time, he made up for in enthusiasm. 

I was born into Arnie's Army.

For those of you less familiar with the sport, this is the massive crowd of fans who followed Arnold Palmer around every golf course he tackled, over roughly sixty-five years. It's also the name of Palmer's charitable foundation, which seems apt--a call to turn that fan ardor into something meaningful. But to get back to my childhood: it was an indoctrination into something beyond sport, something that came to define my family's ethos, my passionate love for my father, and ultimately my view of America--as an honorable testing ground for people of skill, who could lose their hearts' desire on the drop of a putt, a gust of wind, a slight miscalculation, or the seeming whim of the gods, and yet shake hands and throw their arms around each other as they walked toward the clubhouse, ready to battle another day. 

Golf dominated every weekend of my young life. If we were not watching Arnie face his arch-nemeses Julios Boros or Gary Player or, Heaven Forbid, that upstart Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, we were out on a range or a golf course ourselves, hacking away at those infuriating white balls. The drink of choice for watching tournaments was my father's Old Fashioned, whipped up according to his private recipe that no one has been able to quite replicate. Golf became the litmus test for my devotion to my father. By the age of eight, I had learned how to drive a cart correctly up to a green without leaving tire tracks; how to rake a sand trap by walking backwards toward the lowest part, rake in hand, to disguise any hint of my footprints; how to delicately fix a ball mark with the tip of a tee in the turf, and how to replace a divot. I was reverent as I pulled the flag at the stroke of my father's Ping putter, making sure the shadow did not fall across his line and never, ever, dropping the flag on the surface of the green. I knew each green cost tens of thousands of dollars to construct, and that they were shaved daily. 

I grew up in the leafy privilege of Congressional Country Club, one of the most hallowed golf grounds in the country. By the age of twelve, I was a member of the girls' junior golf team. When I was thirteen, Congressional held the 1976 PGA, one of the four major tournaments every top golfer lives to win, and Arnie was of course in contention. My father was a marshall that weekend in August, dressed in regulation bicentennial red, white, and blue clothing. One of his jobs was to stand at the fairway rope and hold up the Quiet, Please sign when players were about to hit. I have a vivid memory of him silhouetted against the silent gallery as Arnie swung an iron on the eighteenth hole. I had broken my arm that summer. As Arnie finished his round, my dad stepped up to him and said: "Arnie, would you sign this little girl's cast?"

And Arnie did, offering his roguish smile and a scrawl of magic marker. His hands were enormous.

A year later, when I was fourteen, my father died--of a heart attack. A gust of breeze, the ball rims the cup, and life changes on a whim of the gods. We quit Congressional, and I quit golf. I would return to the club as a waitress each college summer, earning tuition. But I have remained a lifelong member of Arnie's Army, particularly on Majors Weekends: those four-day stretches of the Masters, in April at Augusta National; the US Open in June; the British Open in July; and the PGA in August. I put up my feet, pour a drink, place a pliant dog on my lap, and analyze every stroke. I'm rooting for Ricky Fowler today--he's one off the lead--but I would not be unhappy with any outcome. The leader board this weekend in Augusta is epic.
Ricky Fowler at Augusta National, April 8, 2017


Arnold Palmer used to open the Masters each April with a ceremonial tee-off, alongside Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. It was always a throat-choking moment for people who love the sport and its heroes; these warriors of the past, increasingly frail as time goes by, their backs and joints aching, their faces weathered. This year, Jack and Gary stepped up to the tee alone. Arnold died this past fall, at the age of eighty-eight. His green jacket, the symbol of Masters glory, lay folded over an empty chair. 

For the soldiers in Arnie's Army, however, he lives forever in this moment: shrugging history over his shoulders for the very first time.

A part of my past lives with him.

Cheers,

Francine
www.francinemathews.com


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writer? Musician? Follow Your Joy.

My son's bedroom wall with two of his many guitars. The framed photo is of Jimmy Page
By Jamie Freveletti


I was out last night late after a book signing with two friends, a writer and an avid reader, and we were discussing life, books, publishing and all of the things that friends discuss during an evening out. We got to chatting about our parents and inspiration. I asked my usual question: did your parents encourage you in your endeavors in life? Did they discourage you? Or were they neutral, as so many parents were in past years when life was different for kids growing up. Many of us had parents that simply waved to us on a Saturday morning as we bolted out the door to roam the neighborhood, alone or in packs, not returning home until dinner time. I'll never forget being in a park pretty far away from home and hearing the piercing whistle of my mother-she could do that thing where you put your fingers to your lips and create a loud whistle, and we'd drop our baseball bats and run home for dinner. Yes, my mother literally stood on a porch and whistled to find us. I laugh when I think of it. The whole free range kids movement? Not a problem in the sleepy town that I grew up in and everyone I knew was free range as well. You would think that this laissez-faire attitude carried over into a choice of profession for the free range set, but I don't think that's necessarily the case.

The question about encouragement is one I often ask. I'm fascinated by the different messages we get as we mature. I've heard over the years that those who wish to pursue creative endeavors are often discouraged by their parents, and in some cases, actively so. They're told they'll starve, they'll never amount to much, they don't have the talent so they should just stop now.... you name it. People in response to my question have given me all sorts of answers. Many of these often well meaning warnings end up burned into some people's brain and some never get over it. Some tell me they never believed it and pursued their dreams anyway, but some allow it to stop them. Often those that stop harbor scars. It's not that warning someone of the risks of a certain action is wrong, it's just that for the people pursuing the creative endeavor the warning sometimes dampens them. 

I'll never forget walking to my then teenage musician son's rock concert in Lincoln Park. He and his friends, all gifted musicians and singers and some in conservatory college music programs now, were playing a summer fest called Peace Fest. It was a blast from the past. Attendees had tents set up, many were in tie dye clothes and the smell of pot hung in the air. Some clean cut people were strolling by--they looked like retired lawyers and investment bankers now but I guess they were hippies back in the day, and all stopped to listen to the kids play and they'd call out requests: Zeppelin, Stones, Cream, and Hendrix, and talk about the concerts they'd attended. Chicago cops in full gear hung around and just shrugged as a woman in a long, Woodstock- type tie dye dress carried a tray of bongs and pot pipes, offering them for sale. When I smiled at the cop he said, "It's a pleasure to hang out with a calm, peaceful crowd like this and listen to some great guitar riffs." It was that kind of day. 

One man, I'd say he was about thirty, no more, saw me wave at my guitar playing son on the stage. He immediately turned to me and said, "Is that your son? He's great! Are you going to let him be a musician?" I shrugged and said, "Sure. I'm a writer, my mom was a jazz singer and a movie actress, so, why not?" He looked stunned, and then said, "I was a wonderful drummer. I took lessons all through high school, but when I went to college my parents said they wouldn't pay for it unless I became a doctor, lawyer or some other profession." I asked him what he did now. "I'm an accountant. It's fine. I drive a BMW, but I wish I had continued drumming instead." He wandered away, looking sad and I stood there and thought that what his parents had said to him bothered him even to that day. Who knows what would have happened had he given drumming a try? He may have spent a year at it and decided it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be and headed to college to be an accountant. But then at least he would have tried it and given it up on his own. Now he was left with doubt. Shortly after the kids finished the set and my son bounded down off the stage. The pot lady offered him to buy a pipe and he waved her off with a side glance at me and a smile. 

My son's in college now, still playing guitar and learning music production and he plays gigs all the time. Other parents he meets will sometimes ask him what his parents think of his choice and he tells them we're fine with it. We are. He's got the talent and the drive and he's making it happen.The same could be said about any kid in college, be they lawyers, doctors, engineers, you name it. They all can't do the same thing. Someone has to be a rock star. In this case, it will be him. 

And to the writers out there, keep going. If it brings you joy then don't suppress it. Joy is a lovely gift. And remember:  Someone has to be a writer-it might as well be you!




Sunday, April 2, 2017

An Author's Inspiration

...by Karna Small Bodman

My great Rogue colleagues here have recently been writing about where they found inspiration for their novels -- some ideas came from a rich family heritage, some from particular authors, others were gleaned from unique travel and experiences -- or all of the above. 

When it comes to my own family history, my father's ancestors were English and arrived in this country over three centuries ago, fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and traveled in wagon trains. Somehow I just never got the hang of writing historical thrillers, so put some of those scrapbooks aside.  

My mother's parents came here from Sweden (her maiden name was Larson -- you can't get much more Swedish than Larson - right?) There are indeed many very talented Swedish authors. I recall when Stieg Larrson's novels were all the rage, I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker of an editor pouring through a manuscript and saying to the author, "Great premise, terrific dialogue, wonderful tension . . . but could you make it Swedish?" But, alas, most of those Swedish thrillers, while very well done,  were a bit "darker" than what I might create.

I decided I wanted to write contemporary (even "prescient") thrillers, if I could pull that off, and I do remember getting a great deal of inspiration from several wonderful authors as well as from some of my personal experiences.  Many years ago I became a great fan of one particular writer, Nelson DeMille, when his terrific story of international intrigue, The Charm School, set in Russia was published back in 1989. I never forgot it.  DeMille often takes a headline and does a "what if?" American soldiers are taken prisoners-of-war -- what if they are stashed in a complete replica of an American town and forced to train Russian spies to speak and act like Americans so they can infiltrate our country?  What a great premise.

A later inspiration came from a former operative in the CIA who (in addition to my fellow Rogue writers) produces some of the best espionage fiction around. It is Charles McCarry, author of a number of wonderful novels, including my favorite, Shelly's Heart, about a Presidential election fraught with trouble and nefarious plots.  One thing I learned from this great writer is that it's a good idea to put a List of Characters in the front of the book. I did that too and received so many comments from readers that they loved being able to refer back to refresh their memories since they often had to put down a book, pick it up later and try to recall who-was-who.  And by the way, Charles McCarry has been a frequent speaker at our International Thriller Writers annual conferences at the Grand Hyatt in New York.

When I actually sat down to create my first novel, Checkmate, I was inspired by an experience I had serving on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan White House.  I had a vivid recollection of the night the President gave his (literally) ground-breaking address to the nation calling for the development of a missile defense system -- his Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI (later referred to by columnists as "Star Wars.")



I became fascinated with the concept of a "bullet hitting a bullet" to protect us from a missile attack and wanted to write a story about it.  So I created a character, Dr. Cameron Talbot, who works for a defense contractor and invents a new technology for a defense against cruise missiles. (I love to write about women way smarter than I am, accomplishing way more than I ever could!).  But then, every thriller needs villains. Who would be my villains? I did a ton of research and finally came upon a (then) rag-tag militant group operating over in Kashmir...a disputed area between India and Pakistan...the group called themselves "Lashkar-i-Taiba." I named them in my story and wrote that they were planning an attack on India. Of course, my heroine has to use her technology to stop the mayhem.  The thing is, certain aspects of all of my thrillers came true sometime after publication -- and that kind of freaks me out.  In fact, two years after Checkmate came out, there was indeed an attack on India -- in the city of Mumbai by none other than the militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba. And remember Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber?" It's because of him that we must take our shoes off at airports. Well, that character was trained by the same Lashkar group.  

I'm sure there are many other thriller writers who have created a scenario that later seemed to play out in the news.  As for the characters we create, I'm reminded of a quote from the great writer, Ann Tyler.  When asked, "Why do you write novels?" she replied, "Because it means I can experience more than one life."  Now, think about it.  We are creating heroes and heroines, villains and all sorts of others with clever or nefarious schemes. And yes, we do have to "get inside their heads" to get them inside our chapters.  

However, I have one other motivation.  When I put together my own thrillers, each one focuses on a different national security threat to our country -- at least the way I see them, and I'm trying to call attention to these possible scenarios.  I recall another great quote from George Bernard Shaw who said, "The best way to get your point across is to entertain."  And that's what I, along with our other  Rogue Women Writers, try to do. 

Now, thanks for visiting -- please leave a comment and tell us about your favorite thrillers and if some of those stories came true too -- we'd love to know.

...Karna Small Bodman