Sunday, December 30, 2018

JANUARY - THE WRITING MONTH

S. Lee Manning: Do you write more in the winter?  I do. January tends to be my most prolific month, and right now, I’m trying to figure out why – so I can hopefully export those elements to other months and other seasons in my never ending search for ways to increase productivity. 

You’d think the reason I write more in the winter would be obvious, wouldn’t you? After all, people who read my posts know I live in Vermont. If you were stuck inside a house in Vermont, surrounded by ten feet of snow – and after you’d made a cake, and some bread, and cleaned the cat litter box, what else is there to do?
WINTER IN VERMONT


Yeah, sounds good. Except – I’m not in Vermont. I’m in New Jersey. No snow. Not really cold either. Not at the moment. And, I’m about to be even warmer. A few days after New Years, I’ll be in Florida – where the temperatures should be somewhere in the 70s. 

This migration south from Vermont has been going on for several years, and every year, January has been my most productive month. So, the coldness of the month can’t be the reason – can it?

I’ll put it on the list of possibilities, but I think I already know the answer here.

So all the possibilities: 

1. January is the coldest month. Being cold means you want to stay in and write. Yeah, but I spend most winters either in Florida or in Los Angeles. One could argue that it’s colder than usual, even in those semi-tropical climes, but it isn’t exactly persuasive. Yeah, sure, people who live there will sometimes think it’s cold. I have a cousin who complains about the frigid air as it dips into the 60s – and if I try really hard, I can control the laughter. To keep perspective, I frequently check the temperatures back home in Vermont. It’s like a rocket launch in reverse. Count down. Minus seven. Minus eleven. Minus twenty. Blast-off. Nope, it is not cold in Florida in January. Not even close. 
WINTER IN SOUTH FLORIDA


2. I spent all of my money in December. Yup, it’s true. I did, and I do. Every year, I resolve not to get carried away, and every year, around January 3, I sit glumly regarding my credit card statements and my lack of will power. So January means cutting back. No shopping. Or at least – minimal shopping at grocery stores. No malls. No eating out. As a result, I’m at home. Television gets boring. I can only read for so long every day. I would argue that I’m motivated to write in order to earn back some of the money I blew on the holidays – but let’s not go there. I’m laughed out.

3. January is the most depressing month of the year.  It’s certainly the darkest month. December has as little daylight – but in December, houses and stores and trees are decked with lights and fake reindeer, which can at times be a little much, but certainly the decorations do put a dent in the darkness. January is just grim. Dark. Even in Florida, where it gets dark a little later than in Vermont. How does the most depressing month of the year translate into more writing time? I dunno. You have an answer?

4. I receive a lot of books as presents in December – and reading those new books and authors inspires me to write more myself? 

5. I don’t write in December. I spend my time preparing for the holidays, visiting family, and feeling vaguely guilty at all the stuff I should be doing and that I’m not because I’m shopping or going out or mediating family fights or starting family fights. Then, January rolls around. Suddenly, I have free time – and a lot of guilt. Guilt is motivating. as any Jewish mother will be happy to tell you. And I’ve had a lot of time off to recharge my energy.

So which is it? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure that there’s a way to inspire myself to greater productivity in other months by using January as an example. But here’s to giving it a try.

How about you? Do you find January to be productive – or just depressing?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

IT'S THE MORNING AFTER CHRISTMAS, & I'M UP EARLY

Happy Christmas morning here in Maine, after opening gifts

Greetings from Gayle Lynds.  It’s the morning after Christmas at our house, and peace reigns.  Such excitement yesterday, with children and grandchildren and mouth-watering food and laughing and opening of gifts.  Favorites were books and patterned socks in bright colors. 

But now I’m awake before everyone else, sitting with my feet up on my desk, writing this blog.  Domino the Cat followed me and is purring on my lap.  The house is so quiet I can hear the chickadees land on the bird feeder outside my window.  The sky is pink with dawn. 

Although I’m tired from yesterday, I have a deep sense of fulfillment that I don’t quite understand.  Perhaps it’s because my children live far away so to have them here with John’s children brings me a sense of completion.  The family is complete. 

It’s also true I want to know who each of them is now, right this very moment, and one way is to see them interacting.  At the same time, it’s important to me to be alone with each, to close my mouth and listen as they tell me what matters in their lives.  I think we wish for our children no pain, no struggle, an easy life.  But then there’s no challenge, no richness, no opportunities to test ourselves and achieve our own joy. 

They’ve given me a great gift — they've let me see the river of their life, from birth to today and, hopefully, far into the future.  As a parent I feel a swell of happiness for them, and gratitude to be here to enjoy them.

They are waking now.  The kitchen is filling with the sound of footsteps and voices.  I smell coffee.  The aroma reminds me of my own mother who has been dead many years, but her cheery morning voice and the smell of her percolating coffee are imprinted on my brain stem.  I loved walking into her warm, bright kitchen and seeing her smile.

I can hear my brood laughing and talking, so I’m going to say good-bye to you.  I’m off to my kitchen to join them.  What do they have planned for today?  Will they be wearing their Christmas socks?  I will listen and watch and smile with all my heart at them.

What is your day like, and what will you do?  Please tell us!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

SPICING UP THE HOLIDAYS

by Chris Goff

Little bling tree I found at a crafter's market
The holidays at our house can be a bit chaotic. First off, we have six kids in a blended family. Add six significant others, two grandchildren and a grandpuppy or two, and things can quickly border on mayhem.

It's long been known that crime tics up during the holidays, with theft, identity theft, drunk driving and domestic violence topping the lists. Experts attribute it to the stress of gift giving, celebrations, and the close proximity to family. Is it any wonder that Rogue Lisa Black found so many holiday murder mysteries? Let's face it, holidays have a tendency to exacerbate family drama, and bring out the worst in some people. But, while there may be no way around it, there are things you can do to diffuse the tension.

I don't want to play.

Let me start by saying I was an only child. I do have two brothers from my dad's second marriage, but the first one came along when I was 21. I can remember my youngest daughter asking me once, "Mommy, what was it like when you were a lonely child?"


Me and Gram at Breckenridge 1963
It was great! I was the center of attention. With only one of me, my parents could pull me out of school and take me skiing for weeks on end. I spent summers at my Grammy's in Laguna Beach, or at the McKinlay cottage in Friendship, Maine, or at my other Gram's in Elgin, Illinois. The point is, when it comes to sibling interactions, I don't quite get it. I'm the one who always wants to try and stop the arguments or squabbles. (Bad idea!) I've been told more than once, "Stay out of this, Mom. It's a sister thing."

So when I married a man with three kids, two brothers, and numerous extended family, suffice it to say, I had no idea what I was getting into. We had custody of the kids, and I can remember being a little "deer in the headlights" that first Christmas spent at the farm in Michigan. Suffice it to say, I wasn't the favorite daughter-in-law. I wasn't the least favorite, either. Recounting—or maybe lamenting about—that fact to a girlfriend, she gave me advice I still use today. She said, "Whenever you feel like you're being goaded, smile brightly and think in your head 'I don't want to play.'"

I laughed, and then I tried it. I told my husband what she had said, and the next Christmas, when the "favorite" (FYI, she did eventually fall from grace.) tried pushing my buttons, I smiled brightly at my husband who mouthed 'You don't want to play.' It became our mantra! Just don't engage.


Hawaiian Christmas selfie
Stand on tradition.


Just like the other Rogues, I love traditions. Like Robin Burcell, I love my Christmas tree and the ornaments that go back to my great grandmother's time. But, like Jamie Freveletti, we also like to try switching things up.

One year we took the family to spend Christmas with our daughter who lives on Kauai. We rented a compound. (I'm not kidding.) There were sixteen of us there (including my step-mother and my son-in-law's father). We ziplined, swam with turtles, and played Goff Family Bingo—a "white elephant" version that's become a family tradition.

Another year we rented a house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a sprawling five room, adobe. It was agreed: no presents. Of course, I brought some for my grandchildren and got in big trouble with a few of my kids, but what's a grandma to do? Oh the drama!

That was the first year we played bingo.

Goff Family Bingo - Fa la la la la…

It was also the year of the Band Competition.

The house had Wii Rock Band in a little room off the living room. We divided up into teams (there were enough of us to field four three-man teams) and each booked a practice session. We all laughed when our granddaughter chose her father and grandad to be her teammates, convinced she was down for the count. We should have known better. Team Kayla crushed the competition! Kayla sang her heart out. Her dad was wonderful on the drums. And grandad, he was genius on the guitar—no matter that he played it laid across his lap, like a harpsichord.

This year, we are once more on the go, headed to Salida, CO for the holidays. Everyone but our Kauai daughter and son-in-law will be there (it's crunch time for Hawaiians.) Sunday there may be tubing and/or skiing at nearby Monarch ski resort. Monday we're scheduled for massages and some relaxing at the nearby hot springs. And, in keeping with the "fun," this year the sisters have planned a "Disco Christmas." They're hosting a Christmas Eve cocktail party, complete with a 1970s Christmas playlist, disco party lights and fondue. We've all been encouraged to come in style. Daughter Mardee went so far as to help with suggestions, putting together a couple of Pinterest boards. I will be wearing a wide-legged pantsuit. Who knows about the others, but there will be pictures!

Disco throwback - 1970 Jr. High Continuation Dance
FYI, I'm bringing a few of my theme-appropriate ornaments (tradition), and there will be Goff Bingo.

Pace yourself.

With all the frivolity, drinking, cooking...don't forget to breathe and enjoy. So what if dinner doesn't hit the table right at 4:00 p.m.? Don't worry if someone drinks a little too much (just make sure there's a DD or you can call an Uber). Figure there will be a squabble or two, or three, and remember the internal mantra. "I don't want to play."

What about everyone else?

There isn't much you can do about the aggressive driver or aggressive shopper or local Scrooge. But I'm going to leave you with a video that my son-in-law shared. This is one man's solution to the package theft problem—you know the one, where people are stealing packages right off of other people's doorsteps. I can tell you. I want one of these!!





Last, go dark.

As family begins to arrive in town, I am about to do what all of us should do—unplug. This is a time to enjoy family and friends, and a break from our daily routines. A time to embrace our traditions and reflect on the meaning of the holidays, and a time to consider what we want for the New Year.

From my family to yours, we wish you joys and miracles of this holiday season. And here's to a fabulous 2019! Chris

P.S. I'm always in the market for tips on surviving/escaping the drama that surrounds the holidays. Do you have any tips I can add to my repertoire?

Friday, December 21, 2018

TAYLOR STEVENS GOES ROGUE: From Commune, to Destitute, to Best-selling Novelist!


Gayle Lynds: Welcome, Rogue Readers, to the thrilling and astounding world of Taylor Stevens, whose latest novel, Liars' Paradox, launches a brand-new series.  It hit store shelves just this week.
New York Times bestseller Taylor Stevens

Taylor's first thriller was the runaway hit The Informationist which introduced Vanessa Michael Munroe, a mercenary information hunter.  Published in more than 20 languages, the novel was optioned for film, shortlisted for the MacCavity Award, won the Barry Award, landed on the New York Times best-seller list, and launched the high-octane Vanessa Michael Munroe series.

Now Taylor has started anew with Liars’ Paradox, which stars Jack and Jill, 26-year-old feuding twin assassins who give a whole new definition to the meaning of family dysfunction.  We Rogues admire the book a lot:  

Liars' Paradox is a kinetic masterpiece, rattling readers to the bone” —KJ Howe
“A twisting tale of espionage and revenge ” —Jamie Freveletti
“The adventure of a lifetime!” —Gayle Lynds (moi)

How did Taylor become a critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning, New York Times bestselling author?  For her real-life tale, read on for inspiration and awe....


TAYLOR STEVENS:

I fell into writing thrillers by accident. I mean, not “accident” accident—it’s not like I tripped on a keyboard and found a story waiting for me on the screen — the dogged three years of trial-and-error it took to get the first book finished most definitely happened. But the “thriller” part of it? That was an accident.

I’d had very little contact with fiction before I started writing it. Such was a byproduct of being born into an apocalyptic religious cult. I grew up in communes and, because the world was ending and therefore education beyond sixth grade was a waste of time, spent the bulk of my childhood and adolescence cooking, cleaning, caring for younger children, and out on the streets begging for money on behalf of the cult leaders. In that world, novels were the devil’s work and unquestioningly forbidden.

I was nearly thirty, married, and mother of two small babies by the time I was able to read whatever I wanted, though “want” was relative. Our small family had entered the outside world with no education, no job history, no social support, and the instantaneous need to pay a lot of bills. Those first years were hard and we were very broke. When I did buy books, I bought them at garage sales, which was what led to discovering Robert Ludlum and, in turn, to Jason Bourne.
Taylor, the future thriller author, at about age 2

I fell so hard in love with Jason Bourne. Reading those stories felt like being swallowed whole and there was a moment in the middle of the series where I came up for air with this overwhelming wish that I could do this, that I could let others feel how I felt while immersed in this fantasy, and my brain went ... wait a minute. I’d lived further off the map than any place Ludlum wrote about, and imagination had been my best survival mechanism growing up. I was home with the kids all day, had no career path or any directed sense of future focus, and so pretty much just like that, I was going to write a book.

I’d barely passed fifth grade English. My spelling sucked, my punctuation was atrocious (and still is). I had no idea what I was doing—had no plot, no characters, no clue—but our entry into the real world had been a lot like aliens crashing on a foreign planet. We’d already had to figure out how everything else worked and I didn’t see how writing a book was any different. I hadn’t read enough fiction to even know that genre was a thing but I knew the stories I loved most were “exciting,” and Jason Bourne was the pinnacle of exciting, so that’s what I set out to emulate.

And so you see, thrillers were an accident.

I shudder to think what might not have been if I’d fallen for, say, Jay Gatsby instead.

Gayle Lynds:   And we’re very glad you did fall for thrillers, Taylor.  We encourage all of our readers to buy or check out from the library your new one, Liars' Paradox!  What a story!

Dear Rogue Readers:  Do you have any twins in your life?  Are they like Taylor's Jack and Jill — clever, resourceful, and ... well ... trainable?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

HOLIDAY MADNESS

By Robin Burcell


NO MORE SILENT NIGHTS.

The end of the year is a busy time for writers. We might be working, but  many of us are also thinking about Thanksgiving, do we brave Black Friday shopping (no, we don’t—at least not in this house!), or do we get out the holiday decorations that weekend or wait until December. A lot of writers also participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month. You can read Rogue Jamie Freveletti's post about it here.). Some hit it officially, others use it for inspiration to jumpstart word counts for an impending deadline.

I would fall into that latter category, frantically trying to juggle my daily word count with the approaching holidays. I’m not sure how I’m so lucky to always have a deadline smack dab in the middle of this holiday madness, but I’m grateful for the work, so I really can’t complain. My kids know all about December deadlines. If I’m close to meeting it, the Christmas tree gets decorated that year with all the wonderful ornaments, many of which are older than my grown children. If I’m lagging behind, the tree gets decorated with bells and bows (easy to put on, and even easier to rip off and shove in a box). And a few times over the years, though my twins might not remember it, when they were babies/toddlers, I decorated the tree so the bottom had no breakable ornaments. Same thing the year we got a new puppy. No matter which way we go, full-on decorating or easy-peasy unbreakable, the trees are pretty. The former, though, with the ornaments I've collected over the years, is the one they look forward to. It reminds my kids of home.


With the decorations up, it's time to think about what's going under the tree. I have friends who start shopping for gifts in October. I wish I was that organized. One year, I had such a tight deadline that I was writing on Thanksgiving Day, then ordering all my Christmas presents online that same evening when the so-called Black Friday sales officially started. While it was great, because I had my entire list done in a couple of days, I lost track of a couple of boxes, and didn’t find them for months. (In my defense, we were having tile installed throughout the house right before Christmas.) I found the missing packages a few months later. (Thank you, Nordstrom, for your generous return policy!)

This year, my deadline was December 15th. (Another co-written book with Clive Cussler, THE ORACLE, which hits the stands May 2019.) I was offered a deadline in January, but asked for it earlier on purpose. My goal was to finish the book at the end of November. (Those who know me can quit laughing now.) I planned to unofficially participate in NaNoWriMo to up my word count, thereby being able to enjoy all of December and the holiday fun and madness that comes with it. For those who don't know, the NaNoWriMo goal is to write about 1600 words a day. I needed a mere 800 words a day to make that goal. No problem, right? 

My brain, however, refused to participate. 

The TARDIS
As usual, I typed THE END and emailed the manuscript exactly on my due date. Had I been given that January deadline, my subconscious would know this, and I'd still be working on the book. So, yes, since I don't own a time machine (unless you count my TARDIS ornament), I had to work a bit harder, my ten hour days turning into fourteen hour days. Still, I made it and I now have nine full days to get shopping done. 

I'm curious if my fellow Rogue Writers have similar difficulties working through the holidays, or if they participate officially or unofficially in NaNoWriMo as a way to jumpstart that end-of-year-writing.  But what I really want to know, Rogue Readers, is when do you start your holiday shopping? 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

HOLIDAYS ARE MURDER?



            Our theme this month is holidays, but since we all write stories of intrigue and suspense, this begs the question—what role do holidays play, or shouldn’t play, in telling a mystery or thriller?

            I find them handy because they orient the reader with a host of backgrounds and impressions. Mention any holiday and the pictures instantly come to mind: the weather, the traffic, the decorations, the family issues at stake.  
            My first published novel, Trace Evidence, took place just before Thanksgiving. I needed it to be cold enough in Cleveland, Ohio for the rivers to be icy but not necessarily frozen solid. Plus my character, recently divorced with a daughter in the surly teenage years, had to wonder how she might best approach the family-oriented holiday. Or for another take on the holiday you could try Broken, by Karin Slaughter.

            Fourth of July: It can be sweaty and sun-beating-down hot (and if you live near me, there’s a raging thunderstorm every afternoon). School is out and the kids want to see fireworks. The corn is getting high, co-workers are on vacation, and there will be flag decorations in public areas. See Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, by Joanne Fluke.
 
            New Year’s Eve: Most people, except perhaps the twenty-somethings, are a little burnt on holidays altogether, but will try to rally for one night of heavy drinking combined with icy roads. They might also be thinking about resolutions, pondering what has gone wrong—and who might be to blame for it. See Name Withheld, by J.A. Jance.

            Easter/Passover: Spring has sprung and the flowers are pushing up from the earth, even if it’s through a dusting of snow. I don’t know of too many stories set around Easter. Perhaps it seems a bit sacrilegious, or that besides chocolate bunnies and Manischewitz, the holiday doesn’t give you a lot to work with. Check out The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny.

            Labor Day and/or Yom Kippur: It’s fall and the leaves are turning, the kids are going back to school. Yom Kippur means a full day of fasting, which might make some of your characters a little hangry. I set Trail of Blood on Labor Day weekend because Cleveland has an air show every year, and that gave me a dramatic background for the discovery of a body. Plus, my character’s daughter--a young teen in Trace Evidence--was leaving for college. Major angst. See Running on Empty, by Sandra Balzo, or Day of Atonement by Faye Kellerman.

            Halloween! The favorite of thriller writers everywhere. You need an ominous atmosphere, and for once the world cooperates with you. The dark comes quickly at night, trees are bare and scratchy, and our normal instincts cannot be trusted. Is that a body, or only a decoration? Are mysterious noises emanating from your neighbor’s basement, or is your imagination getting the best of you? On the other hand, Halloween is about the most baggage-free holiday there is. You can dress up, or not, let your kids put decorations in your yard which would otherwise precipitate a visit from Children’s Services, or not, binge on candy, or not. There are no rules, therefore no stress, and without stress you can’t write much of a thriller…unless, of course, that body over there isn’t a decoration. Read Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. (This one is a rule.)

            Christmas/Hannukkah: The mother of all holidays. Set a scene, especially at a mall or some other public area, during December and everyone will know what that means. The weather (at least in the north) is cold, unpredictable and uncooperative. There is shopping, baking, cleaning, partying and visiting required to panic-inducing degrees. On top of all that it’s the time of year we’re supposed to be particularly friendly and loving and merry. No wonder somebody ends up dead. See Tied up in Tinsel, by Ngaio Marsh. 
            What about you? Have you read a novel that made great use of a holiday, with all its joys and stresses?
           
           

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Family Traditions: We're switching them up and here are the hits and misses


By Jamie Freveletti

This is a photo of the wreath on the wall facing my glass front door. It's an artificial wreath that we've had for a few years now. My daughter made the red velvet bow and we managed to hang it without adding nails to the wall. It's not perfect, as you can see, but something about it always makes me smile. It's set on a timer (thank goodness for these devices!) and it manages to illuminate our front stoop through the glass door.

Like most families, we have our traditions, and this season brims with them, but lately we've been trying new things. Shaking it up a bit, as it were. And some of the new ideas have been great hits and some just a little "meh."

Hit: Thanksgiving in Boston last year with an Italian restaurant luncheon turkey, and later a Chinese restaurant for dinner, which I posted about here.

Also Hit:  A new turkey recipe.

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving back at the house and that morning we googled a new turkey recipe, figuring it was time to switch up our usual one. The new one included Champagne, and since we didn't have any we looked for a substitute. The recipe suggested Ginger Ale. We didn't have any of that either, but we had fresh ginger and my son googled how to make ginger ale and ended up mashing it and turning it into ginger syrup, to which we added some sparkling water and voila! Homemade Ginger Ale. It was delicious and the turkey the best we'd ever made. Restaurant quality. HUGE hit on this break from tradition.

Bit of a miss (one)  and also a huge hit:  Ritzy chocolate advent calendar (miss) and Beauty advent calendars (huge hit).

I love advent calendars and this year I ordered several for my friends and family. I sent my daughter's roommate and my son's girlfriend beauty advent calendars from Sephora (pictured here) and my friends beauty calendars from QVC. These are wonders of marketing and packaging, with different products in each window. Both were hits, despite the fact that it takes a hammer and chisel to remove the items from the CD quality packaging. The items are pre-selected though, and next year I may try to devise my own with items of my choice, but overall these were very well received.

The ritzy chocolate calendar, not so much. While the chocolate was top notch, my daughter would have preferred the standard calendar I buy at the Christkindlmarket every year. Duly noted.

Also hit: Laughter. Sometimes in these turbulent times this last year laughter has been at a premium. I made a conscious decision to seek out laughter and to be grateful for the things I have. I started looking for books with a funny twist rather than a mournful one and I'm searching for that perfect funny novel to read over the holidays. If you have any suggestions I'd love to hear about them. I'd also love to hear about what traditions you have and whether you've had your own hits and misses over the years. Do tell!

My wish for you is happiness, health and a wonderful New Year.

Happy Holidays! Jamie

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Gifts for Listeners

By Karna Small Bodman 

One of my Rogue colleagues wrote a great blog about audio books the other day and it reminded me of the time I first learned about them.  It was back in the early 90's when I began serving some 11 years on the Board of Directors of a wonderful organization first named RECORDING FOR THE BLIND. Later we expanded it to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic and recently, the name was shortened to Learning Ally.  This terrific enterprise was begun in 1948 by founder Anne T. MacDonald who wanted to help our servicemen who had been blinded in WWII so they could take advantage of the GI Bill. She encouraged members of the New York Library Women's Auxiliary to begin reading textbooks -- recording them on vinyl phonograph discs, (then books were available on tapes, CD's and now Mobile Apps).  She also recruited professionals to do the recordings, including Walter Cronkite.
Years later, I was asked to record chapters of my first thrillers in their Washington, DC studio when they expanded their offerings to include fiction.  Today all kinds of books are being recorded in studios across the country for students of all ages. In fact, if you would like to volunteer to read for their clientele, please check out the opportunities here

Over the years audio books have become so popular that their sales have doubled in the last five years, while print and e-book sales are flat.  Those statistics appeared in an article in Sunday's New York Times titled "Listening to a Book vs. Reading it."  Their Book Review section along with several other publications recently have suggested a ton of audio titles as Christmas gifts.  So I'd like to add a few of my own....as well as highlight my favorite narrators for your consideration.

First on my list is the multi-talented Scott Brick -- actor, screenwriter and narrator of over 600 titles!
Scott Brick
This man has "voiced" books by authors we thriller writers and readers always appreciate including Lee Child, Michael Crichton, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Nelson DeMille, Tom Clancy, as well as Any Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Ron Chernov's Hamilton.

In fact, he also is the narrator of the CD version of Grey Ghost by our own Rogue, Robin Burcell and Clive Cussler.


Another narrator I have enjoyed listening to is Tony Roberts who has been an actor in film, on Broadway and was twice a Tony Award nominee.  He stared in several shows including Barefoot in the Park, Xanadu, and Victoria, Victoria.

 Now he is the narrator of most all of NYT Bestselling author Stuart Woods' clever novels, the most recent is Desperate Measures -- featuring continuing hero, Stone Barrington -- former detective turned New York attorney who endeavors to protect a young attractive woman from the worst kinds of characters.

The book I am listening to right now and highly recommend is the new thriller by British author, Jeffrey Archer, Heads you Win.  This extremely well-written novel is about Russians who escape Soviet domination and go on to become involved in  an extraordinary double-twist. And...this is a book with an astonishing ending.

In this case, the narrator is another Brit -- Richard Armitage who is well known as an English TV and theater actor.

Tavia Gilbert

Not to be outdone by gentlemen in the business, there are many wonderful women narrators as well, of course.  In fact one who truly stands out is Tavia Gilbert.  She is the 2018 Booklist "Voice of Choice" and won the 2017 Audio Award as Best Female Narrator. Talk about talent -- this woman has voiced everything from Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography to children's books such as Gingerbread Man & Other First Tales to The Wizard of Oz. 

 So as we look ahead to selecting gifts for friends and family who enjoy books, you just might want to check out some audio books. And if you already have some favorites you would like to recommend,  please leave a comment below and also on our Facebook page at the icon top left.  I'm sure all of us Rogues along with our visitors would enjoy your suggestions!  Now thanks for checking us out here on Rogue Women Writers -- and a very MERRY CHRISTMAS to all!

. . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman  

Saturday, December 8, 2018

NANCY BILYEAU GOES ROGUE: Goodreads & BookBub herald her new historical spy thriller

Nancy in Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis XV rooms


Gayle Lynds:  Some authors just have that historical espionage touch, and at the top of the list is the multi-talented Nancy Bilyeau.  It's an honor to welcome her here today.  

Nancy is a historical fiction author (her first, THE CROWN, was an Oprah pick); she’s written articles for such heavyweights as Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly; and recently she was editor of ITW’s own The Big Thrill.

A while ago she quizzed me about whether it made sense for her to combine her hefty talents for historical tale telling with her fascination for spying, and I said, fill my cup with cyanide — I can’t wait to drink!  The result is THE BLUE, just out and already getting blue ribbons for riveting reading — it’s a top Goodreads pick and a BookBub Editor's Pick.

Nancy knows how to bring spies & the past to fire-breathing life!   Here’s the great story behind it all....  Thanks, Nancy, for Going Rogue!

Porcelain, the most seductive of commodities

Nancy Bilyeau:

I’ve been completely fascinated by stories of espionage for years, from devouring John le Carré to binge-watching The Americans, but I hesitated to write a thriller about spying. I’m a writer of historical suspense. Murders, yes. Conspiracy, sure. Duplicity, certainly. But I was a little scared to make the leap to attempting a novel about espionage.


Then the idea came to me....

I’m addicted to tours of historic houses, and while visiting my sister Amy in Alexandria, Virginia, several years ago, she suggested we visit Hillwood Estate and Garden in Washington D.C. The house was owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heiress — she inherited General Foods!— who was for a time the richest woman in the United States. A socialite, she married four times and had three children, the most well known being actress Dina Merrill. She owned Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, as well as one of the most spectacular jewelry collections in the world, some of the pieces belonging to Marie Antoinette and Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise.

Marjorie was an avid collector with a large budget, and prominent in her standing collection shown at Hillwood is Sevres Porcelain, a French manufactory near Versailles. These pieces of porcelain were elaborate, ornate, luxurious — extreme Rococo. At a certain point on the tour, a guide said, “In the 18th century there was a lot of competition among the European workshops to produce the best porcelain. It was the Space Race of its time.”
Sèvres pot-pourri vase in the shape of a ship, 1764

That was the moment that my novel, The Blue, was born. I was ready to write about spies.

So I had my time period and my subject. Next I created a main character. For that, I dug into my own family background. I’m descended from Pierre Billiou, born in what was then French Flanders, near the modern-day border of France and Belgium. He left France because he was a Protestant in a Catholic country hostile to the religion: a Huguenot.

In 1661 he sailed on the St Jean de Baptiste for a city in the Americas called New Amsterdam. He built a stone house on an island, still standing, and rose to prominence as a colonist. However, when the British sailed into the port and took over, renaming the growing town New York City, Pierre was shifted down in the hierarchy. That was the last time our family was important in New York.

I decided to make my character, Genevieve Planché, an artist involved in porcelain and a Huguenot. Since the action needed to take place in Europe, I researched the Huguenot experience in France and then in England. As persecution of Protestants increased, the Huguenots fled in huge numbers in the 17th century, continuing into the 18th. They were such a large presence in London, taking over Spitalfields in the East End, that a word was coined to describe them: refugee.

Now what about the spying? To be honest, that was the toughest part of my research because there is not a great deal written about espionage between the time of Sir Francis Walsingham, the spymaster of Elizabeth I, and the intense spying that took place during the American Revolution. The TV series Turn does a great job of dramatizing it.

A bit daunted, I reached out to Gayle Lynds, co-founder of International Thriller Writers, whom I had met at ThrillerFest. Gayle, a leading writer of spy thrillers, encouraged me to keep at it. Later, when I wrote the book and found a publisher, she was one of my first readers of an advance copy. I’m extremely grateful for her support.
Nancy herself, photo credit: Joshua Kessler

And what did I eventually learn about spying during the mid-18th century? A world of fascinating facts and dramatic stories:
Secrets stolen from China.
A chemist imprisoned in Germany until he figured out how to make porcelain.
Formulas ferreted out from hidden places in France.
Ferocious competition in England.
Designs and colors imitated—and fortunes lost among the craze for porcelain: “white gold.”

This was industrial espionage indeed.  And in The Blue, I bring this lost world to life.

Gayle:  Thank you, Nancy!  Folks can order The Blue in the U.S. and the U.K, and read the first chapter here.  Enjoy!

Dear Rogue Reader ... If you wanted to write a historical spy novel, in what century or period would you place it?  Please tell!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Stories in the Air: The Dorky Charm of Audiobooks by August Thomas


If you’re, say, Raisa Jordan or Emma Caldridge, your daily life might be packed with thrilling adventure.  But for the rest of us, the average day involves a certain percentage of less-than-fascinating chores and obligations.  Tidying up.  A long commute.  Sometimes, Ella Fitzgerald crooning in the background is enough to take the edge off the boredom.  But for the truly story-addicted, is there anything better than an audiobook?

(Most things are sweeter with a little Ella Fitzgerald!  Photo credit:
Courtesy the Fraser MacPherson estate c/o Guy MacPherson - Ella Fitzgerald /Wikimedia Commons)

My own audiobook habit began as a child.  When, on occasion, I could no longer put off tidying my bedroom, a peculiar collection of audiocassettes kept me company: ancient Egyptian mythology, a Cabbage Patch Kids singing story tape that should be banned by the Geneva Convention, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.  Dozens of times, I listened to travel grouch Paul Theroux griping his way around the shores of the Mediterranean, teaching eleven-year-old me mysterious new vocabulary words like “priapic” and “Albania”.
(Photo credit: zanny/Wikimedia Commons)

At their best, audiobooks can almost simulate the experience of imagination itself, without the pesky hard work that making up your own story actually involves.  The words, the pictures, the story…they materialize fully formed, like magic, in your head, without the intrusion of page or screen.  And if you find yourself sitting rapt on the floor 45 minutes later, closet still un-organized…surely that is a small price to pay? 


Years later, after my grandmother died, my mother and I spent many weekends commuting three hours each way to clean up Grandma’s house and take care of all the endless paperwork and admin that goes along with a 21st-century death.  A laugh riot it was not.  But audiobooks saved the day.  The longer, the better!  We had over six hours of driving to fill.  We listened to Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, the ultimate nightmare tale of post-death legal wrangling.  We listened to Anthony Trollope.  I found myself finding excuses to stay in the car longer, to finish a chapter.  As many people have observed, 19th-century popular fiction is especially wonderful read aloud, because that’s how it was meant to be enjoyed. In World Literature Today, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming writes,

"Dickens habitually read his work to a domestic audience or friends. In his later years he also read to a broader public crowd, first for charity purposes, then as a second profession. Episodes of reading aloud also abound in Dickens’s own literary works. More importantly, he took into consideration the Victorian practice when composing his prose, so much so that his writing is meant to be heard, not only read on the page."

The original “audiobook”!

As a writer, I’ve come to appreciate audiobooks in a new light.  Listening to a book read aloud instantly clarifies what is essential and what is not.  When your eyes cannot skim, there is no hiding from description that should’ve been trimmed, or dialogue so canned it should be checked for botulism.  Does the plot hold up clearly, when you can’t easily flip a few pages back to check?   Listening to excerpts of the audiobook of my first novel, Liar’s Candle, was like an out-of-body experience.  It wasn’t an adaptation – the words were still all mine – and yet, in another voice, with the added inflection of the actress’s performance, they took on a life entirely apart from me.   

In times of stress, audiobooks can offer distraction and companionship, even if you’re too rattled to sit down and read.  Jonathan Cecil’s perfectly plummy readings of P.G. Wodehouse  make the ideal tonic for a bad day.  One my all-time favorite reading memories is of a rainy, cold February night in Amsterdam.  My mother was lying in our tiny hotel room with walloping pneumonia.  There was no TV.  We couldn't go anywhere.  She was too sick to read.  But I had Auntie Mame on my Kindle.  And as I read it aloud, we laughed and laughed.  

How do you feel about audiobooks?  Do you have a favorite?  Have you ever read a whole (grown-up length) book aloud?