Sunday, September 23, 2018

Research and troubled children

            How I research, in one word: audiobooks. Okay, two words: audiobooks and a wireless earbud. A while ago I discovered how to download library ebooks to my phone, enabling me to listen while I classify fingerprints, wait around for the M.E. investigator to arrive, exercise, or scrub floors. Since at those moments I am desperate for distraction I can be pretty omnivorous in my selections and I’ve wound up listening to topics ranging from the 1918 influenza epidemic to a short tract on “Child Maltreatment and High-Risk Families.” They don’t even have to be audiobooks, as my phone is pretty good at reading text to me with only minor Siri quirks like invariably pronouncing ‘lead’ as ‘the lead in a pencil’ instead of ‘we need someone to lead.’

            I’ve learned a great deal this way. I’d be downright brilliant if I didn’t have a mind like a sieve so that 97% promptly leaks right back out again after I’ve poured it in. But while researching violent kids for my latest book, Suffer the Children, I’ll never forget a story called Healing Emotional Wounds. A single doctor, Nancy Welch, somewhat abruptly decides to adopt two six-year-olds from the Ukraine. All seems promising until the adoption goes through and she takes the children to the local hosts’ home. There, they immediately flip from sweet, grateful tykes to rampaging hellions, literally trashing the place and finding it ever so fun. You think a crying baby on an airplane is annoying? Crossing the Atlantic with these two would have been the trip from hell as the little girl pelted other passengers with airsick bags, the in-flight magazine, anything she could get her hands on. The adopting doctor and a helpful friend quickly learned this safe restraint technique: hug the child from the back, cross their arms in front of them and sit on the floor, using your own legs to pin the kid’s straight out in front. This leaves no moving parts except the head, which the child may snap back and forth to smash into noses, chins, and cheekbones. As quickly as these storms brewed, they subsided, usually once the child completely exhausted herself and turned into a sweet, needy child again.

            It made me wonder if perhaps ancient tales of demonic possession were actually cases of traumatized children acting out, because it really is as if someone flipped a switch. Afterwards they can be dazed by their own violence with no understanding of where it came from.

            It is not a surprise that traumatized or extremely neglected young children (and we never learn exactly what the trauma was; the girl herself can’t remember) would have major behavioral issues. What I did find surprising is how these issues do not manifest themselves as you would suppose. It’s impossible to see the world from their incredibly skewed viewpoint, so we have to throw out every expectation we have of, well, life.

Behavior we take for granted, such as eating regular meals, going to the bathroom in the bathroom, not masturbating in public, wearing a coat when it’s cold and not when it’s hot, are not as intrinsic as one would think. We learn those from our parents.

And those are just the physical manifestations.

            For instance you would think that such neglected and underprivileged children would be enormously grateful for any scrap of attention, food, or material possessions. Nope. They’re contemptuous and oppositional to their caregivers and the word ‘no’ can throw them into a whirlwind of destruction. They’re fussy eaters, or they eat everything in sight even when they’re not hungry, or steal and horde food no matter how many times they’re told that’s not necessary. They have no respect for other people’s property because possessions had never been a factor in their world. They don’t understand gifts as a sign of affection and might break or disregard them. They can be hypersensitive to any perceived slight—you can have a long, fun day designed entirely for their entertainment and they will focus on the one tiny detail that wasn’t perfect. It’s difficult to instill discipline when the normal carrots and sticks don’t work—take away their toys and they will insist they didn’t like them anyway.

All they want, all they need is someone to care about and never leave them…but they make that so very nearly impossible.

             Obviously it takes a great deal of time, determination, strength, and insight—not to mention the patience of a saint—to take on a child under these circumstances and set them on the long, incredibly hard transformation to a content member of the human family. But it can be done, as many brave, strong and loving adults have proven.

            Have you ever encountered a child who behaved awfully, but once you knew their story, it made a kind of sense?  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What (some) Thriller Writers Consider Romantic Comedies

By Jamie Freveletti

The Ripped Bodice bookstore recently asked people to list their top five romantic comedies. Now, I LOVE romantic comedies. I find them to be the best way to spend a Friday night. I put on some sweats and settle in for a happy night watching two people banter, argue and, of course, fall in love. As I was creating my list, I realized that some of the stories I wanted to list included two people solving a problem, puzzle, or crime. So, I decided to create a list of these. I'll try to to reveal any spoilers as I write this, but this may happen inadvertently, so be warned.

The first is shown above. What a classic crime caper. Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole team up to steal a famous piece of sculpture from a museum. She needs a thief to do the job, and he seems to fit the role perfectly. The banter is excellent, and the setting beyond elegant. Even down to the stunning Jaguar E-Type convertible that O'Toole drives. There doesn't seem to be a more gorgeous couple in the world of film.

Well, until this couple: This scene is from Charade. Another one of my all time favorite movies. Charade manages to blend mystery, thriller, comedy and romance into one. And the dialogue is excellent. (In this scene Hepburn asks, "How do you shave in there?)" Great line. And the mystery is engrossing and the final reveal outstanding. If you haven't seen this movie you should. Wonderful.
To Catch A Thief

And no list would be complete without this final movie. Again, one of the most handsome men of his time with an equally stunning woman.

To Catch A Thief is far from a comedy, but it does have some priceless moments. That actress next to Grace Kelly is Jessie Royce Landis. Born in Chicago, this role as Grace Kelly's mom boosted her career, and she would go on to play Cary Grant's mother in North By Northwest (despite being only a few years older than him). I love her acting, and she elevates every scene she's in while remaining believable. Once again the setting in this movie is elegant and every gown is more stunning than the last. Perhaps a good caper movie with romantic elements requires an elegant setting so that we can be transported to a different place.

Kind of interesting that the movies I cite are all classics. But I can't recall a more current movie that includes lighter romantic moments coupled with crime solving. If you have some suggestions, please leave a comment below. And may your Friday movie nights be happy!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Are Thriller Writers Prescient?

. . . by Karna Small Bodman

any thriller writers see a headline and say to themselves, "I see a crisis occurred.What if I could come up with a scenario whereby my hero or heroine stops a similar threat?" Of course, there are wonderful novels that do just that.  However,  what if the headline comes after the book is written? This has happened to several writers. In fact, certain aspects of my own novels later came true. For example: Several years ago I had an idea about creating a story featuring a couple of Putin allies who were steeped in illegal activities and money-laundering. I wrote that these characters were hit by sanctions and needed to replenish their accounts. So they come up with a heinous scheme to target international financiers and get rid of US officials who were trying to close down their accounts. I did the research and wrote Trust but Verify which will be released next week.

Imagine my reaction when I read in this past weekend's The Wall Street Journal, that US officials are now urging international financiers to work with them to police certain Russian accounts saying, "There's an enormous amount of money being moved by both Russian organized crime and cronies surrounding Putin." In Trust but Verify a White House staffer along with an FBI Special Agent race to track illicit accounts and unravel a heinous plot by Russian oligarchs that targets international financiers and could sink stock markets worldwide. You can get it here 

It turns out that our government sensed that thriller writers just might be "prescient" so
selected authors have been invited into the Department of Homeland Security for what we call "Red Team/Blue Team" exercises.  Bestselling author Brad Meltzer was one such writer who met with those officials and laid out possible terrorist threats to our country.  Then national security experts tried to figure out how to prevent such scenarios and protect the country.

Many of Brad's great novels take place in and around Washington, DC, The White House, the agencies - and deal with historical as well as contemporary issues. I always learn so much when I read his well-researched books.

Another terrific author who has written thrillers that turned out to predict the future is our own Rogue, Jamie Freveletti. Several years ago I read her bestselling novel, The Geneva Strategy, that features a man who programs certain kinds of drones.
There are incredible scenes of "killer drones" threatening, tracking and chasing
her characters. That book came out in 2015.  Now think about the headlines you have seen recently about the invention and use of advanced drones that can be used in various combat situations. Yes, Jamie certainly has a crystal ball when it comes to conjuring up great stories.

Here's another example: A decade ago I  interviewed a number of oil and gas experts for a thriller I wanted to write about foreign agents sent here by a Venezuelan dictator who plots to raise energy prices for his own income. The villains come up with a scheme to make natural gas pipelines explode from the inside -- which causes havoc and destruction in American cities. That thriller, Final Finesse, came out in 2009. My publisher wanted to re-release it, so I revised this novel to update the technology along with the situation in Venezuela  --  and it just came out a few weeks ago. See it  here

As for the headline coming after the book, we have now read about the series of explosions of natural gas pipelines in the Boston suburbs last week that caused havoc, destroyed homes and injured people at 70 locations.  A fire chief said, "I've been in the fire service for almost 39 years, and I've never seen anything like this in my entire career. It looked like absolute war zone." And at this writing, officials still haven't figured out the cause of the catastrophe. Our thoughts are with the victims of this devastating event.

Gas line explosions in Boston suburbs Sept. 13, 2018 Photo by: Jessica Rinald 

I have to admit that when these "prescient" things happen, it kind of "freaks me out" and I pray that different threats to our national security that I and other authors write about will never become reality, though I write about them to bring attention to these types of challenges. I recall a great quote by George Bernard Shaw who said, "The best way to get your point across is to entertain." And that's what all of us are trying to do -- create thrillers and mysteries that will make a point, but also entertain you, our readers.   Now, can you think of books you've read that told a story that later came true? Think about it and leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page (the icon is at the upper left). And thank you for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

. . . posted by Karna Small Bodman 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reading (and Writing) on the Spot

by August Thomas

I’m in the midst of packing for my UK book tour for Liar’s Candle.  Our living room is predictably piled with suitcases, too many pairs of shoes, umbrellas, adapters, and tiny hotel shampoos plucked from the dusty shelf where they usually age like vintage wines.  (Hello, suspiciously yellow solidified conditioner from Izmir, circa 2007.)  Since I’m traveling to multiple book festivals, where wonderful author talks will inevitably trigger a wild hardcover-buying spree, I’m sticking to a Kindle-only rule this time.   But luckily Kindle downloads don’t count toward your baggage allowance…

(Image credit: 

Choosing books for a trip often makes me think of the essay, “You Are There,” from Anne Fadiman’s splendid book, Ex Libris: Confessions of aCommon Reader.    Fadiman, the book lover’s book lover, opens the essay with a description of 19th-century historian Thomas Babington Macaulay reading Livy on the ancient site of the battle of Thrasymenus.  She writes,

“The moment I read that sentence, I knew that Macaulay and I were two peas in a pod…we were both hardcore devotees of what I call You-Are-There Reading, the practice of reading books in the places they describe.” 

Like Fadiman (and the Livy-loving Mr. Macaulay), I am a great fan of “You-Are-There” reading.  No matter how vivid the words on the page, there is a special through-the-wardrobe thrill in reading a story set exactly where you’re sitting.  

 Because they so often zigzag to exotic corners of the world, thrillers and mysteries are wonderful vehicles for “You-Are-There” reading – even if a hefty dose of Agatha Christie will keep you wide awake in your sleeper train, ears straining for sounds of the surely inevitable murder.   During my first trip to Moscow, I was so engrossed in Joseph Finder’s spy thriller The Moscow Club that I could almost spot his characters in the crowd when I put down the book and ventured out into Red Square.   
(Photo credit: Lonely Planet)

“You-Are-There” reading doesn’t only enhance the delight of a book; it can also enhance your vision of the real-life place, making you alert to details you would never otherwise have noticed.  For years, whenever I visited my godmother, I noticed a poem by A.M. Harbord about the joy of taking the night train up from London to Scotland hanging in her hallway.  The poem, called “At Euston”, begins,

"Stranger with the pile of luggage proudly labelled for Portree
How I wish this night of August I were you and you were me!
Think of all that lies before you when the train goes sliding forth,
And the lines athwart the sunset lead you swiftly to the North.

Think of breakfast at Kingussie, think of high Drumochter Pass,
Think of Highland breezes singing through the bracken and the grass.
Scabious blue and yellow daisy, tender fern beside the train,
Rowdy Tummel, falling, brawling, seen and lost, and glimpsed again….”

By the time I really was on a train to Scotland, many years later, the memorized lines ran like a melody in my head; the unfamiliar places felt as if I’d known them all before – all because of the old poem in the hallway.

But for a writer, if you have the luxury of choosing, how helpful is “being there”?  On the surface, this might sound like a silly question.  Of course it must help to be in the place where your book is set. And what a perfect excuse to travel, research, explore – and do all the other fun, non-sitting-at-a-desk, definitely-not-procrastinating parts of writing!  Plus, as Robin Burcell pointed out in her fantastic blog post a couple of weeks ago, on-the-spot research can transform the way you imagine a scene.

Still, I have always found it easier to write about the last place I was in, rather than where I am right now.  I wrote about Turkey much more comfortably after I left; now I write about eastern Europe from the comfort of western Massachusetts.  Is it the alchemical process of memory, which transforms the jostles and inconveniences of reality into atmosphere and drama?   Does imagination work better from a distance?  

What was your most memorable “You-Are-There” experience as a reader or a writer?  Do you find it helpful to literally put yourself in the middle of your story -- or does distance make the mind grow sharper?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Appetite for Risk

A big bowl of risk!
by K.J. Howe

“Appetite for risk” conjures up images of kite boarding off the Al-Arab hotel in Dubai or bungee cord jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge in Zimbabwe—but it’s also an insurance industry term.  Appetite for risk reflects the amount and type of risk that an insurer is willing to take on, or underwrite, in order to meet its strategic objectives.  

Some risks are simple to calculate based on proven statistics.  For example, in a sampling of 1,000 men of a certain age, we can predict with some accuracy how many members of that group might pass away in any given year.  This analysis allows insurers to calculate premiums so they can ensure they make a profit when handling life insurance claims.

But calculating insurance premiums for KRE—kidnap, ransom, and extortion—is a more complicated process.  KRE insurance must take these variable factors into account:

·      *Some locales have no data available on the rate of kidnapping and extortion.
·     * Kidnapping and extortion is grossly underreported.
·      *Claims can vary from a few hundred dollars up to fifty million dollars.   

Statistical analysis is a critical tool that insurance companies use to design policies to protect against kidnap, ransom or extortion.  KRE insurance is a rapidly growing field that demonstrates insurers have plenty of appetite for risk.  Estimates suggest that at least 75% of Fortune 500 Companies hold one or more KRE policies.

Kidnap insurance is not a new product, as these types of policies came into being around 1932, shortly after the tragic kidnapping of Charles Lindberg’s son.  KRE remained a niche market for extremely wealthy families until the 60’s and 70’s, when a series of high profile kidnappings of Italian bank executives’ wives occurred, and a corporate response system was needed.  Highly sophisticated insurers like Lloyd’s of London stepped in to fill this need.

KRE insurance can be purchased by individuals, organizations, and families, and the policies can be underwritten on an individual or group basis.  The same way that a large corporation can purchase “fleet insurance” on the hundreds of vehicles, it may go under one policy, a company like Coke or Nike—or an NGO like AMREF—can buy a blanket KRE policy to cover all employees while they are working overseas.  In fact, many people who are covered by KRE policies aren’t even aware they have coverage.  Certain policies include confidentiality clauses that prohibit confirming the individuals are covered, and most policies require the amount of coverage be kept secret from the insured for fear they will tell their kidnappers the policy limits under duress. 

Like other types of insurance, certain losses are covered in basic policies, while more emergencies can be covered through the purchase of further riders or “Cadillac” policies with policy limits of up to $50,000,000 available.  

A basic policy will normally cover:

·         Kidnapping
·         Extortion
·         Illegal Detention
·         Hijacking

KRE policies are policies of indemnity.  That is, they only pay out once the insured has suffered the loss, not before.  In practical terms, this means that the insurer never directly pays the ransom.  The relatives or company responsible for the hostage must pay the funds, and then they are reimbursed later by the insurer.  However, many international banks are willing to advance ransom funds using the policy as security. 

Normal claims under this type of policy will include rehab expenses, loss of income, paying for transport, the ransom, and the insurer providing a hostage response consulting firm—like Thea Paris’ Quantum International Security—to assist in dealing with the kidnappers.  The policy will usually also cover any harm that comes to whoever ends up delivering the ransom.

The types of additional coverages that can be purchased are also fascinating in their own right.  Some of these options include:

  Business Interruption
  Cyber extortion
  Disappearance (they hire investigators to find you)
  Political Evacuation & Repatriation
 Express Kidnap  (usually defined as less than 4 hours)
  Hostage Crisis  (which allow for hostage negotiations to take place when a prisoner exchange or ideological statement has been issued, not just a ransom demand)
  Threat
  Product Loss
  Tiger Kidnap (when an non-insured is kidnapped for the purpose of influencing an insured)

As you can imagine, these policies are incredibly detailed and analyze issues like post-kidnapping plastic surgery, the cost of interpreters, hiring PR agencies, and a multitude of other costs that can arise from a KRE event.

The policy itself can give rise to all sorts of conflicts if an insurer suspects fraud or denies coverage.  And creative plaintiff lawyers add to the confusion as they are now arguing—often successfully—that some of these policies offer coverage for cyber-kidnappings or data or capacity detention by events such as the WannaCry ransomware outbreak.

KRE insurance is just one of a long list of risks that insurance companies will offer coverage for, along with alien abductions, Tom Jones’ chest hair, immaculate conception insurance, and many other bizarre risks.  For most people, reading insurance policies can act as a cure for insomnia, but when I study one, a number of new plot ideas immediately spring to mind.  Which reminds me…time to get back to work on the next book!