Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Six Tips For Writing About Exotic Locations In Thrillers

by Jamie Freveletti
Sunset in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Think that as a writer you'll be able to sit in an exotic locale and write? Well, you're half right, I've been known to write in any number of exotic locations, but not for the reasons one would think. I've written in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Germany, England, Italy and every August in Anguilla, where my family and I would spend two weeks on vacation.

But more often than not I've been writing because my daily word count requires that I do. And don't get me wrong, I love it, but there is definitely something to be said for actually seeing the sunset rather than writing like a crazy woman on a laptop as the sun sets around her. Luckily, I usually write in the early am, so sunsets do not occur without me noticing. Like this one above, taken from the rooftop pool at the Hotel Mousai in Puerto Vallarta with a margarita in hand while my laptop remained locked in the hotel safe. 

So let me get to the tips of writing in exotic locales. Some are practical, and some just an observation from my experience and you can take them or leave them as you see fit. 

1. Sadly, most places you'll write about in thrillers are just too dangerous to visit.

My first book, Running From The Devil, was set in Colombia during the time of the FARC paramilitary kidnappings. I obtained most of my information from interviews with locals and research, research and more research. Towards the end I was able to fly to Cartagena to visit one of the beaches that I used for the final scene of the book. I checked into the Sofitel there--past the soldier guarding the door with a machine gun and a German Shepherd police dog, and was told by the concierge that a kidnapping at the beach just three weeks ago made it too dangerous for me to attempt. None of the hotel management thought it was a good idea. At all. l made do with more interviews and stayed near the hotel.

My second book, Running Dark, was set partially in Somalia. More interviews with Somalis here in the US and one reporter who was there as we corresponded by email. Not a chance for me to travel there safely, he warned. More research ensued.

2. But the limitations above will often work in your favor.

The biggest mistake some writers make is when they assume that their experience of a location is all that's required. This is not true. Though I've visited St Martin many many times in my annual trips to Anguilla--we fly there and charter a boat because there are no direct flights in the summer, my actual knowledge of St. Martin was superficial. Sure, I could describe the island as I drove it, could describe the airport, even could talk about the interior, but it took actual research to discover the political and social issues that St. Martin was grappling with. Tourists don't learn of these unless they ask. These issues ended up in my fourth book, Dead Asleep, but I would not have known them had I simply relied on my travel there. Word to the wise, even if you think you are well versed in an area, research will show you even more. Just like those times you've had visitors to your home town, taken them around, and ended up learning more about the city in which you live. 

3. Travel blogs are your friend.

My upcoming Emma Caldridge book is set partially in the Sahara desert. Big portions of the book take place in Mauritania. Not a tourist destination. My research made it sound like a bleak place with lovely people but few natural resources or industry to speak of, and even less opportunity. To research this country, I found blogs written by Peace Corps members and intrepid travelers with photos and video. In many cases these were even better than had I been there, because they had a local connection through their Peace Corps posting. Look for these bloggers. They'll really give you an inside scoop into an area. 

4. Always try to read local newspapers. 

You'll learn about the issues affecting the locals and you'll get a feel for the underbelly of an area. This is even applicable to here in the US. For my first Ludlum book, The Janus Reprisal, I happened to be researching the large ports of Europe and discovered a small report in an Italian paper (in English) about the local police intercepting a shipment of guns with bayonets attached that were hidden in a cargo ship sailing a route between Italy and North Carolina. The reporter noted that this shipping route originated elsewhere, but was a common one for contraband smuggling. I used the information to create a fictional shipment. That report was a great help.  

5. Think about insects and wildlife.

If your locale is exotic it's likely the wildlife is as well. Look into the insects that thrive and the local animals. Check out to see if they have wild dogs, feral pigs, vampire bats, and scorpions. Even ritzy hotels in tropical climates have geckos running around and palmetto bugs the size of collies. Write about them. Adds a lot to your story. 

6. Discover if there is a local brew (or ask if there is a traditional drink).

Aguardiente is quite cheap and common in Colombia and tastes like cough syrup. I drank it in a small bar in Cartagena. Awful stuff to my mind, but many drink it and it plays a role in my first book. Always ask if there is a common drink or drug. Khat is prevalent-and legal-in parts of Africa and some in Mauritania never travel without the utensils to make tea. You don't have to indulge but you should know the local customs and writing about them will enhance your story.

And lastly, if you do get to travel to the locale, enjoy your research trip!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Writing About Exotic Locations

...by Karna Small Bodman

If you could go anywhere, do anything - and write about it -- where and what would it be? That's the question some of my Rogue colleagues have been answering over the past few weeks.  Now it's my turn.  Thinking about a few of my travels over the years,  there were some truly exotic locations where I'd love to return. As for writing novels about these places, let me tell you some stories about them, their histories, along with experiences I've had -- then you decide if they would make good settings for thrillers. 

My all time favorite is Lake Como in northern Italy. And what a history: In 49 B.C. Julius Caesar sent 5,000 Roman citizens along with 500 Greek slaves to colonize Como.  In 1568 the Cardinal of Como built a villa there, and in 1615 the Sultan of Morocco arrived to check it out. In 1815 the Princess of Wales and future queen of England brought her entourage there and changed the name to Villa d'Este.  In 1945 Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were captured in a nearby town and shot.  Can you just imagine a thriller plot revolving around that bit of history?

Villa d'Este on Lake Como
This incredible hotel has inspired poets, writers and artists from the time of Virgil, and more recently became known as a favorite haunt of Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitchcock. I've often wondered if the famous producer got inspiration for his films by gazing at the spectacular blue waters, relaxing in the hotel's many pools or simply reflecting on its storied past.

We've had the pleasure of staying there on three occasions, and we learned that there certainly are some interesting characters roaming the area who would make great heroes in any new thriller.

George Clooney's Lake Como villa
For example, George Clooney bought a nearby villa on the lake. We didn't see him or his wife, Amal, on our various sojourns, and now, word has it he is considering a $100 million offer for the place. I'm sure the local paparazzi are hoping he doesn't sell.

Before those trips, I recall an invitation I received to board a friend's 50' sloop and sail through the Lesser Antilles. A particularly memorable anchorage was at the island of Grenada, known as the spice island ever since early explorers brought nutmeg to its sandy shores. You can don your scuba gear and visit one of their 32 famous dive sites, pick up lots of local art and sample delicacies at dozens of great restaurants. 
The Harbor at Grenada

However, when it comes to Grenada, the residents will tell you that the most harrowing experience they ever had was back in 1983 when there was a bloody military coup. With a Soviet and Cuban presence on the island and a government "shoot to kill" curfew, American students studying at St. George's University School of  Medicine cowered on the floor as bullets crashed through their dormitories.


Then, at the urging of the Organization of American States (OAS), President Reagan launched what he called a rescue mission (although others dubbed it an invasion) as US Marines, Army Delta Force and Navy SEALS landed, evacuated the students and restored constitutional order in a matter of weeks. 

The New York Times reported, "The students endured days and nights of terror before the American troops arrived." And when six military transport planes carried nearly 400 young Americans back to the United States,


"Some were so happy to be home, they knelt down and kissed the ground." Now imagine how that whole episode could be turned into a heart-pounding thriller.


What type of location should I use in my next thriller? At two recent dinners with friends in Washington, D.C., both groups suggested North Korea.  I haven't exactly set foot in that country - but I saw it first-hand standing in the tower overlooking the DMZ from the South Korean side.
At the DMZ
While serving in The (Reagan) White House, I was sent to the Far East (Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) to give talks on administration policies.  Our South Korean Ambassador asked me if there was any special place I would like to see while I was there, and I said, "Yes. Could I possibly go up to the border with North Korea?" And so I climbed aboard an Army helicopter and was transported the short distance to the DMZ (it's about as far from Seoul as Dulles Airport is from downtown Washington - talk about a tense, close environment!).  I received a briefing from the Colonel in charge and, on a lighter note, he told me that every time our staff has American visitors, the North Korean soldiers rush to the border to gawk at them. And the times the most North Koreans raced to have a look was when our troops hosted Miss Universe and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders!

I also learned a lot about the North Korean dictators and their policies that have led to a dire economy, lack of food and scant development of resources (except missiles). Their people don't even have basic electricity.  One only needs to take a look at photos taken at night by our space Shuttle, of the Korean peninsula to see the stark contrast of lights available to the people of the North vs. the South. 

Night photo from space of N. and S. Korea lights

Now I am now doing research on various locations, especially North Korea, for my next thriller. If any of you has a suggestion  about plot lines or intriguing characters I could incorporate in the new novel, I would love to add your ideas to the mix. We would also like to hear what thrillers you've enjoyed that were set in exotic locations. Please do leave a comment below. And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SNATCHED--Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer

by K.J. Howe


Kidnapping has captured the imagination of Hollywood. Halle Berry fights for the return of her daughter in Kidnap, a mama lion ready to defend her cub at any cost. Taylor Shilling engages in a cat-and-mouse game when she hires a company to abduct her in Take Me. And comedic geniuses Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer go off the grid when mother and daughter are kidnapped in Snatched, an outrageously funny jungle adventure.

But kidnapping is no laughing matter. With over 40,000 reported cases a year, it has become an international crisis, one that is appearing daily in the news. With spring break season upon us, it’s critical to be aware of your personal safety, especially if you’re traveling to one of the world’s kidnapping hotspots.

After researching and working with some of the best hostage negotiators in the country and abroad while writing my novel The Freedom Broker, I can offer advice to Amy and Goldie—and others—during a kidnapping. If you ever have the misfortune of being abducted, it’s critical to be prepared for every eventuality. In fact, following the lessons in these five points could be key to your survival:

1    When you’re first kidnapped, remain calm and offer no resistance. The abduction is one of the most dangerous moments during a kidnapping, so your captors will be on edge. They will immediately want to establish their dominance, so be prepared for harsh or forceful treatment. To maintain control, your captors might also drug, blindfold, or gag you. Don’t panic, they want to keep you alive and healthy so they can secure your ransom. If you are able, try to remember the details of your journey so you have a sense of where you are being held.

Never try to negotiate for yourself while being held captive.  Know that despite what the kidnappers may say, your family and/or employer is working diligently on your behalf to effect your safe and timely release.  Gary Noesner, former FBI Hostage Negotiator  


2    While in captivity, try to gain the respect of your captors—without directly challenging them—by asking for small luxuries like extra food or toilet paper. You want the kidnappers to see you as a person rather than a dehumanized victim. Bond with them so you will receive better treatment. To maintain your strength, eat and drink everything you are given. Establish a routine, as you may be in captivity for a long time. Keep yourself clean and exercise every day. Boredom is your enemy, so keep your mind active by taking on a mental project, like building your dream house or writing a book.

Humanize yourself and build a rapport with your captors.  Start small with getting different foods, and build up from there. Peter Moore, former hostage held almost 1000 days in Iraq

      Maintaining hope is critical during a kidnapping. Remember that your loved ones will be working hard for your release. Remain positive knowing the vast majority of hostages survive. This is not the time to be demanding and difficult. Try to blend in with other captives and avoid being confrontational.

“It is extremely rare for a hostage in a kidnap for ransom case to be killedit becomes a bad business model for the kidnappers.  Their goal is to obtain money, plain and simple, and that is less likely when they kill the hostage.  If they killed a hostage after securing the money, future victim families will stop paying money, seeing it as ineffective.”  Gary Noesner, former FBI hostage negotiator

4    If you are attempting an escape, plan a route before you leave. Once you commit to your course of action, don’t hesitate. Act with speed and aggression, and make your way to a previously identified safe haven or secure location. If you are caught, your kidnappers may make an example of you to dissuade other escape attempts.

“If you choose to escape, then you must be totally committed—think it through and prepare yourself now, as later may be too late.”  Dr. Frank Grimm, hostage negotiator, Constellis Group

      During a rescue, make sure you drop to the ground, spread your arms, hands open and flat on the floor. Do not move voluntarily, even if you think the action has stopped.  Follow the rescuers' instructions without hesitation until you are safe again.

Expect to be treated as a suspected hostage taker.  You may be restrained and treated in a forceful manner.  Dr. Frank Grimm, hostage negotiator, Constellis Group

In closing, with kidnapping becoming a serious international issue, it’s critical for travelers to take extra precautions to protect themselves.  Prevention is the best solution.


"Remember that kidnap for ransom is a crime in which both parties, the kidnappers and the family/corporation, both want the same outcome, the release of the hostage.   The kidnappers want money but can only sell the hostage to one entity, therefore the family or corporation has some measure of control over the outcome.   Simply put, the kidnappers need the good guys to pay.  Resolving a kidnap requires a thoughtful quid pro quo negotiation process to be effective.” 

Gary Noesner, former FBI hostage negotiatorOhohHostHOatage


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paris in the Spring


 S. Lee Manning: This round, all of us Rogues are individually answering the question: If I could be anywhere and do anything, what would it be? Well, in my case, I’d be exactly where I am now. I’m writing this blog ten days before my flight, but by the time you read it, I’ll be there.  Paris.

Assuming all goes to plan, I am spending my mornings writing in a cafĂ© near the apartment that we’re renting in the Marais.  I am sipping cappuccinos and nibbling on pastries while scenes and dialogue flow from my mind through my fingertips and onto the computer screen.  Then, after getting down an astonishingly great few pages, I spend my afternoons and evenings exploring the city of lights and trying to improve my very basic French. I am with the man I love who’s been by my side, if you count the time before our marriage, for 36 years.


A bistro in Paris at night.
It doesn’t get better than this.

Oh, yeah, there is the question of reality.  I’m writing this before my arrival in the city. Will the pages actually get written, and will they actually be amazing? Or will I get up in the morning and say, screw writing, I’m in Paris. Will I spend a month eating French pastries and balloon up twenty pounds? Will I be trying to write at a table outside while Europeans light up and cigarette smoke blows over me? Will there be terrorism scares? Will the apartment we rented sight unseen actually be charming and not cramped and a little too small for two big people – and will the bed feel like sleeping on cement? Will my husband and I argue over whether we go shopping or go to the Louvre?

All is quite possible in the real world.

But screw reality. This blog is about fantasy fulfillment.

There is something about Paris and writing. Woody Allen explored it a little in his movie, Midnight in Paris. There is a certain – je ne sais quoi – about the idea of writing in a city where so many have written – a city with so much richness in culture and history.

At the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
There is something about just being in Paris. We were there just around a year ago, traveling with our  daughter, who flew out from LA to join us.  We visited the Tour Eiffel and Notre Dame in our winter coats, because that April was amazingly cold. But there was still the charm – and the magic. The cafes – the bistros – the pastries….

I didn’t even make a token effort to write last year. We were traveling every few days. I didn’t schlep my computer to Europe because I had enough to carry, and I knew I wouldn’t be writing. I did scribble some notes here and there, sort of a travel diary, although I wasn’t consistent even with that. There was just too much to do and too much to see.

Last year was something of a sampling menu. We took small bites of London, Paris, Beaune, Lyon, Arles, Avignon, Nice, Cannes, Dublin, and the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland. All wonderful, but not enough time to really feel a part of any of the places we visited.



Jenny and Jim last year on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

This trip to Paris is different. Three weeks should be enough time to get a real feel of what the city is like. Hopefully, I am relaxed enough about being here to be comfortable, and motivated enough, to spend time writing as well as exploring. After all, these are two of my favorite things to do.

And this time, it's just the two of us. It's different traveling just with my husband. I love my children, and I like traveling with them, but there's something about three weeks in the city of love with just my husband that is pretty damn good.

Of course, my next fantasy is about renting a castle in Scotland. In this fantasy, both my kids, with their significant others, join us. I spend mornings writing and the afternoons exploring Scotland with my family. I produce an amazing novel.  No one argues with anyone.  Everyone has a fabulous experience.

Aren’t fantasies wonderful?

Postscript: May 18. I'm in Paris in an absolutely charming apartment, with a comfortable bed and a view of the Paris streets and rooftops. We have been exploring the city non-stop, and I'm walking between 5 and 7 miles a day, so although I'm eating enough French pastries and French cooking to otherwise put on the pounds, my weight has been stable. We've had wonderful experiences, and we've managed to hold limited conversations in French. Yesterday, I holed up with my computer in a little cafe close to the Picasso museum, sipping espresso and nibbling on a heavenly piece of lemon tart dusted with white powdered sugar. I finished a chapter while jazz music played. Jim will be taking a cooking class at the Cordon Bleu today while I ensconce myself in a cafe close to the apartment and hope for another good writing day.  C'est magnifique.
View from our apartment in Paris.

Waving to you from Paris.