Tuesday, July 17, 2018


 by K.J. Howe

ThrillerFest XIII was a sensational event from stem to stern.  S. Lee Manning's upbeat debriefing on Sunday covered many of the highlights, and I deeply appreciate her kind congrats regarding my winning Best First Novel at the banquet on Saturday evening.  As I recover from the dynamic week, I'd like to share a few things I hope will help aspiring writers, published authors, and anyone who might be struggling in this ever-changing business.

*It's a marathon, not a sprint.  During George R.R. Martin's spotlight interview, he shared that after his fourth book, which was a critical success but did not sell well, he was unable to sell his fifth book at all.  Full stop.  As George shares, "The Armageddon Rag (1983) essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time."  Did George stop writing?  No, but he shifted gears and wrote television scripts for the Twilight Zone, and then became a writer and showrunner for Beauty and the Beast.  After he had financially re-established himself, he decided to try novel writing again in 1991.  Game of Thrones took off, and look where he is today.  Lessons learned?  Adapt and survive.

*There are many ways to be successful.  Traditional publishing is not the only route to superstardom.  We had Mark Dawson, Kevin Tinto, Lexi Blake, and several other super successful indie authors onsite this year.  These talented individuals have a keen business sense, and they have been able to become entrepreneurs by utilizing strong marketing skills to break through the noise.  Depending on your personality and talents, one type of publishing may suit you more than another. But in either approach, a thorough knowledge of the business aspects and an enthusiasm for marketing are vital for success.  Learn how to spread the word, as discovery is the first step in readers finding you.  Then you can convert them into fans.

*No writer is an island.  Publishing is a complicated business that changes all the time.  You need to surround yourself with supporters, people with skill sets that compliment yours--and people who understand what you are going through.  I spoke to several friends onsite who had been dropped from contracts for poor sales or have been orphaned by staffing changes.  In fact, I've lost both my original U.K. and US editors, and I've only just published my second novel, SKYJACK.  It's heart-wrenching to lose your champion, the person who had vision for your book and series.  But you have to find a way to adapt, and talking to authors who have gone through this experience before will be able to guide you, offer sage advice.  Robert Dugoni has achieved blockbuster success with Thomas & Mercer, setting records all the time.  Yet at one point in his career, things were bleak, and he wasn't sure he could sell another book.  I admire Bob's tenacity.  His family and friends supported him through the tough times, and now he has become an icon.  I love being part of the Rogues, as I know that our members are very supportive and offer a soft place to fall when things don't go well.

*Write a damn good book.  Master CraftFest and CraftFest offer valuable writing advice for new and published authors.  Writers are entertainers, and we compete with video games, binge watching TV shows, surfing the internet, and a host of other activities.  We need to offer readers compelling tales with seamless prose, stories that really resonate and stay with readers long after they finish the book.  Go the extra mile and study the craft of writing, as it will make you stand out in a crowded field.  Dig in, attend intensive classes.  Our own Rogue Gayle Lynds is a talented teacher who understands the art and craft of storytelling.  Students in her class benefit from her insights as well as her understanding of the business of writing.  She gives back to the community tenfold.  I'm a big believer in honing your craft.  I have studied writing at retreats with Lee Child, David Morrell, Karin Slaughter, and Steve Berry, and each one of them helped me learn about writing, offering an objective analysis of my book.  I'm forever grateful for these lessons.  And Karin saw something worthwhile in my scribblings that she offered to introduce me to her agent, who is now my agent.

*Never give up.  It will be hard.  You will face rejection.  You will have days that it all feels hopeless.  But if you're meant to be an author, you will find a way to weather this adversity.  It may take years, even decades, but if this is your dream, don't let anyone discourage you.  I've been executive director of Thrillerfest for nine years now, and I've seen people come back year after year trying to get published.  Then one day, something wonderful happens.  My friends Lynne and Val Constantine are perfect examples.  They came to the conference, always volunteered, learned, worked on their craft--and today, they are bestselling authors.  Reece Witherspoon chose THE LAST MRS. PARRISH for her Hello Sunshine book club.  What if they had given up because during the tough times?

I'm a big believer that if you want it badly and you work hard, you can do it.  It's 10% talent and 90% effort.  Find your tribe, rally your troops, and ride their energy and your inspiration through the rough spots, and you will find the path to success opens up for you at the time you might least expect it.  And have fun along the way.  Even the rough times teach you life lessons that will give you fodder for your next book!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A few of my favorite things - from this year's ThrillerFest

S Lee Manning:  My apologies. I’m a little late with my post today. I’ve been at ThrillerFest with four of my fellow Rogues – and I didn’t take my computer. I can only carry so much on New Jersey transit and the subways. Instead I took my new Nikon camera – and spent much of the conference annoying people with my insistence on playing photographer. And since I planned to write a recap of my experience of Thriller, it would have been a little hard to write the post in advance. So, now, visiting my son in New Jersey, I am once again equipped with computer – and ready to go.

So the recap of my personal experience:     

Nothing to do with Thriller. Times Square. 
It was great.

Short column, eh?

Ok, I was just kidding.  So let me start with the end. 

Awards and Banquet
First and foremost, a shout out to Rogue KJ Howe for her novel The Freedom Broker winning the 2018 ITW Award for Best First Novel.  Well deserved. If you haven’t read it, do so. And you won’t have to wait long for the sequel – it’s called Skyjack and is already out.

As for the rest of the awards banquet, check ITW’s site or your email for other winners. Great books all – nevertheless, I’m not listing them. I love ITW and ThrillerFest, but listing awards by non-Rogues - not in my job description.

As for the rest of the banquet - The presentations were entertaining, with the audience serenaded by “Jon Snow” and another character from Game of Thrones. Not quite sure who – because the person who reported this to me wasn’t familiar with the GoT characters. (Confession – I wasn’t there. I was in the Village and Times Square playing with the
The Village. Yup. Lots of pics.
new camera. See the pictures to the right.)

And for those of you thinking I’m just cheap and didn’t want to dole out the extra bucks for the banquet – keep this in mind. George R.R. Martin was 2018 ThrillerMaster. I do know what happens at large banquets that are supposed to be happy occasions when George R.R. Martin has anything to do with it.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about: Google "Red Wedding." 

The Rogue Panel
There were five of us on the Rogue panel – with the great John Lescroart as moderator – moi, Gayle Lynds, Karna Small Bodman, Chris Goff, and KJ Howe.  It was standing room only – with a camera crew from CBS Sunday Morning to catch our wisdom. Well, to be honest, they were there to catch the Queen of Espionage – our own Gayle Lynds – but the rest of us lived up to our Rogue reputation. Gayle delved into how conspiracies are part of our novels – by definition. KJ terrified us all out of ever flying again. Karna shared an incident from her time in the White House, when notes she wrote during the assassination attempt on President Reagan were confiscated because she didn’t have a high enough classification to read what she had just written down. Chris entertained and informed with inside information from her trip to Russia. And my contribution: orthodox Jews have separate dishes for milk and meat – but vodka can go with either. Then there's the fact that I'm the one who will have to be bleeped out for using a word that starts with “s” and ends with “hit.”

John and Gayle at the post-panel signing
Chris, K.J., with just a glimpse of Karna.
Karna and friend

Other highlights:

Mantras, meditations and goals – writing resilience

After the Rogue panel – this was my favorite for sheer hilarity. They verbally just wandered around discussing various topics that had nothing to do with the alleged subject as stated above. 

Lee Child stated that a writer should never use the subjective tense. Peter James: what is the subjective tense. Lee Child: didn’t you go to school?

Lee describing literary writers as barnacles on the ship and derided literary writers for thinking that they could write thrillers. But, according to Lee, any thriller writer could write a literary novel: just take out plot – and character – and suspense.

Friends, Good Times, and New York

No, this wasn’t a panel, but it was the heart of what I enjoyed about ThrillerFest – this year and every year. Yes, I go there for professional reasons – to promote myself as a writer – to promote the Rogues – and sometimes to learn something I didn’t know about the craft or business of writing. But over the years, I’ve developed good friends from around the country – and this is an opportunity to catch up – at dinners and breakfasts. Then there’s the New York experience. It is such a great city to explore – and reexplore – with or without a camera. 
The Village

Why do you go to conferences – if you do – and what is your favorite?

Friday, July 13, 2018


By Francine Mathews

I had one of the best evenings of my writing life this past Monday, when I got to sit down with spy novelists Dan Fesperman and Karen Cleveland at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. Karen, whose debut novel, NEED TO KNOW, earned raves this past spring, is a former employee of the CIA. So am I. We were at the museum Monday purely as Dan's backup singers, while he talked about and signed his latest novel, SAFE HOUSES. Why? The book is a superb rendering of a female case officer's life in the field--and its possibly mortal consequences.  

I first met Dan's books when I read LIE IN THE DARK, set against the backdrop of wartorn Sarajevo. Dan covered the destruction of Yugoslavia firsthand as Berlin bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun. (He also lost friends and former colleagues at the Sun's sister publication, the Annapolis Capitol Gazette, a few weeks ago, for which we cannot offer him enough furious sympathy.) A journalist who has reported from thirty countries and three war zones, Dan is a master of acutely observed detail and a consummate spinner of mordant tales. He has won the Hammett Prize, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and the CWA New Blood Dagger. His books, translated into eleven languages, have earned praise from fans and reviewers all over the world. But I think SAFE HOUSES will rank as one of my favorites. So I asked Dan to talk about writing it with the Rogues.

"With most of my books I can look back to a single moment of inspiration and say, yes, that’s where it all began. That isn’t the case with Safe Houses. It emerged haltingly, from a scatter of unrelated items, and in retrospect it’s difficult to say how they finally came together. Over in the haze of one corner of my memory is a news account about a declassified archive that had once belonged to an obscure spy organization known as The Pond. Across a cobwebbed hallway, peeping above the rim of an old box, are my notes from a long ago research interview with Betty McIntosh, who worked for the OSS and CIA. In the foreground, bookmarked on my desktop computer, is a wire story about the arrest of a CIA station chief in Africa on multiple charges of rape.
     I stirred all those items into the pot, sort of like on one of those evenings when it’s time to prepare dinner and it’s too late to go to the store, so instead I make do with the offerings of the refrigerator. Chop, simmer and stir, while hoping for something flavorful to emerge.
     But as I weighed and measured these ingredients, I clearly remember one important decision. Once I’d settled on the book’s structure – two alternating narratives, set in different eras and places, with the bedrock tale originating in Cold War Berlin – I knew right away that two CIA women would be at the heart of the action. They would be challenging entrenched authority, so I wanted them to be underestimated and perhaps undervalued. And that immediately set the course for my research: I had to learn more about what life must have been like for an Agency female in 1979.
     The first thing I did was go back to the McIntosh interview, which I’d done for a TV project that never went to production. Having served with the OSS during the war, and then, years later, having worked from around 1960 onward for the CIA, McIntosh had plenty of interesting tales. But the item that stood out this time was her description of what the atmosphere had been like when she rejoined the intelligence business.
     During the war, she said, her field contributions to the OSS were welcomed by her male colleagues, who accepted them at face value. But by 1960, the prevailing attitude at headquarters was more dismissive. Men tended to regard her – and other women – as glorified secretaries.
     From there, I consulted a handful of women who I knew had once worked for the Agency. The most helpful of these was Francine Mathews, who, probably because she’s a writer, had an inherent understanding of the sorts of observations and detail that would be the most valuable in shaping a fictional character. (Thank you again, Francine!) (Gosh. I didn't see that coming, Dan. You're very welcome.)
     But to my surprise, some of the most valuable material came from the Agency itself, in a collection of about 120 declassified documents called, “From Typist to Trailblazer: The Evolving View of Women in the CIA’s Workforce.”
     The material wasn’t always exciting reading, but it was often revealing. There was the 1953 Panel on Career Service for Women (the so-called “Petticoat Panel,” a name which says something all by itself.) There were career summaries, personnel evaluations and fitness reports for decorated female employees. There were official Agency reports on discrimination and the glass ceiling.
     The single best and most entertaining item was a 23-page transcript of a panel discussion held in around 2004 (the exact date wasn’t included), titled, “Divine Secrets of the RYBAT Sisterhood: Four Senior Women of the Directorate of Operations Discuss Their Careers.” What a treat! The four participants – Carla, Susan, Patricia and Meredith (Their last names were redacted. I’d love to speak to them further, but so far all my inquiries along that line have been quashed) – had joined the Agency between 1965 and 1979, and their discussion had a loose and casual feel. Not only was the timing of their careers perfect for my own characters, they spoke candidly and in Agency vernacular. They were witty, wise and forthcoming – rich material, which I eagerly plundered.
     More work remained, of course, but from then on I was far more comfortable with the idea of taking my planned leap of imagination. Those four women had put me at ease, and I hope I did them justice."

     Oh, you did, Dan, you did--because your women's voices shout from the pages of SAFE HOUSES with absolute clarity. Thank you for writing it. And Rogues? Look no further for this summer's Best Read.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Publishers Weekly map of New York publishers

by Gayle Lynds

Congratulations, my friend and fellow author!  You’ve just gotten your first book contract.  You’re well on your way to completing your dream to publish a novel.  By now you know that many go down this path, but few complete it.  Why? 

A dear friend who’s a novelist once said to me, “You know how people keep saying writing a book isn’t brain surgery?  Well, I’m a brain surgeon, and writing a book is more difficult!”  (He really is a brain surgeon.)

Years ago, as I worked hard to become a better and better writer, I was feeling beset by problems — day job, money, debt, housework, children, parental obligations, all the things one juggles in life.  One evening as I was driving to my weekly Adult Ed writing class, I saw clearly how exhausted I was.  Overwhelmed.  I longed to write many novels.  In fact, to be a full-time novelist. 

And that’s when I had a brainstorm.  Why not have the problems of being published?  I knew there had to be problems, but I didn’t know exactly what they’d be.  Still, I figured they must be better than the problems of being unpublished, and once I was published I’d be more cheerful about dealing with the rest of my life.

I redoubled my writing efforts and found a new literary agent who had more clout than my earlier one.  He also was able to give me ideas to improve the spy thriller I’d been working on for four years.  I deleted the first 150 pages.  I added a new subplot.  I threw out the last 150 pages and wrote a new ending.  Long story short, my agent sold the novel.  It was called Masquerade, and long story short again, it actually became a New York Times bestseller. 

Since then I’ve written nine more, sold overseas in 30 languages, and won some prizes.  More important, my children have grown up, and I have grandchildren now.  My parents passed away, and I miss them.  My husband at the time passed away, and I miss him, too, but I’ve remarried a wonderful man, John, an attorney and former judge, whom I’ve inveigled into writing short stories with me. 

As you can see, life goes on with the usual ups and downs, but all things being equal, I made the right decision for me — to discover the problems of publishing.

But oh, to have known then what I know now.  This month the Rogues are going to be talking about advice for the new novelist.  What’s important for a new novelist to consider?

My number one piece of advice is to meet your editor.  Sound bone-head basic?  Maybe, but most writers don’t live in New York City, while that’s where most book editors work.  On the other hand, maybe you’re published by someone close by.  No matter where you live, and he or she works, send an email or make a phone call and invite your editor out to lunch.  More than likely, he or she will end up paying for it.

Why didn’t I do this?  Because I lived in California, and although my advance was good, it wasn’t great, and we were in debt, and I had children living at home who’d grown accustomed to regular meals.  And at the same time, I was terribly shy.  I couldn’t understand why an editor would even want to talk to me.  My job was to write books; their’s was to publish.  Right?

Wrong.  Fred Klein, a wise man who’d retired as vice president of Bantam, kept telling me to go, but I’d been poor a long time, and I didn’t understand the cost benefit.  To this day, I regret not taking his advice.

Massive shifts occurred in Doubleday, my publisher, before my book came out.  Steve Rubin, the president, got promoted and flew off to London.  He’d been the one who bought my book and was the mastermind behind a big campaign to get out the word about Masquerade.  A woman was brought in to replace him.  She had no personal investment in Masquerade, and we had no relationship at all, which was far from unusual with an executive that high up in a publishing house.  But by not going, by not making the effort to establish some kind of rapport, by not understanding what she was interested in, and what I could do to help her to achieve her goals, I was becoming less and less visible.

In the end, it wasn’t Doubleday that turned Masquerade into a bestseller, in hardcover, which was Steve Rubin’s plan.  It was Phyllis Grann at Penguin Putnam who did it, in paperback. 

Since those days, I’ve always advised new writers to gather their money and their courage, and find a way to meet their editor.  Many have taken my advice.  All of them have been grateful.  Just by showing up, you’re showing you care so much about your book that you want to help the publishing process.  If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind.  There’s a reason a cliché is a cliché, and that’s because it’s often true. 

Don’t be invisible.  Show your face.  Smile.  Ask to meet the marketing and publicity team who'll be working with your book.  Talk intelligently.  Ask what you can do to help.  You’re likely to get extra help in return.

Entering a new industry can be daunting, but also exciting.  What advice would you give a new author?

Sunday, July 8, 2018


by Chris Goff

A little back story.

In 1986, Summit County, Colorado was a lonely place to be a novelist. As far as I knew, there were no other aspiring authors in town—that is until Maggie Osborne moved to town. An award-winning romance writer, Maggie spoke at the local library one Friday, and by Monday I'd convinced her to teach me how to write a book. I paid her $20 for five three-hour lessons on plotting, point of view, dialogue, pacing and conflict; and I wrote one very bad romantic intrigue novel entitled FROZEN ASSETS.

Eventually she pointed me to a writers' group, in Denver, an hour and a half drive from my home. By then I had written another very bad young adult mystery novel entitled MYSTERY OF PHANTOM RANCH, so I dedicated myself to my craft. I made the 142.2 mile round trip drive once a week for two years. In 1988, we moved to Evergreen, and I drove the 57.4 mile round trip for years.

By 1996, I had written two more bad novels—an adult mystery entitled WARMBLOOD and an adult thriller entitled STALKED—and I'd decided to give myself one big push to "make it" or I was going to quit.

John Billheimer, Craig Faustus Buck, me, and Bill Fitzhugh
REASON #1 — Writers' conferences are where you meet people who get you.

My choice was actually a 10-day workshop. With classes taught by Alice Orr, an agent and writer I'd met once in Colorado, and Peter Rubie, a man who would in a year's time become my agent, the workshop provided me a place to be a writer. Not a wife. Not a mom. Not a part-time bread winner. A writer! It was there I made some wonderful friends—like Roman White, who put a rubber rat under my pillow and taught me how to plot a murder. Writers are a quirky bunch. It's because of the support of writer friends, many of whom I've met at conferences, that I persevered.

REASON #2 — Writers' conferences help you to hone your craft.

Me and Master Criminal #1
I don't care if you are a novice or a New York Times bestselling author, you can always learn new things that will make you a better writer. Attend classes taught by other writers. You'll be surprised how many takeaways you'll get by sitting in on a lecture or two. Take special courses to master special skills. At the Writers' Police Academy, I learned how to set fires (arson),  how to load and shoot a gun, and practiced apprehending criminals in a real-life police simulator.

REASON #3 — You'll learn things you didn't expect to learn.

Not only will you get tips to help you improve your writing, you'll get tips on how to better live the writers' life. Things like: how to organize your desk, tricks for keeping track of your characters, which are the best reference books, etc. 

REASON #4 — Writers' conferences can help catapult your writing career.

Lee Child, with six of the Rogue Women Writers
Once you have a book to sell, it's daunting to tell others why they should go out and buy a copy of your novel. After all, there are hundreds of great books out there for people to buy. But sitting on a panel at a writers' conference puts you in the spotlight, in front of a group of people who are interested in hearing about your work. I'll never forget the time Lee Child moderated the Rogue panel at Bouchercon. 800 people attended. Of course, 799 of them were there to see Lee. But still, the room was full. 

Perhaps more important is the chance to socialize with authors you admire. Conferences offer great networking opportunities. Maybe you'll meet an author in the bar, one who's willing to blurb your book. Maybe you'll meet an editor who will ask to look at your manuscript, without insisting it be submitted by an agent. It was at writers' conferences that I befriended Gayle Lynds. She's the reason I'm a Rogue.

Granted, attending conferences is expensive, but for me the benefits outweigh the costs. What about you? How many conferences do you attend in a year? Why do you attend writers' conferences? What do you appreciate most about the conference experience?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My Top Ten Writing Tips

by Robin Burcell

Anyone who’s been writing for a while can tell you that there’s no one thing that will get you published or make you an instant bestseller. But there are a lot of things that will help you along, and these are my favorite tips. Maybe you’ll find one that works for you. 

Tip #1:
Never waste anything, and always keep your book organized. I always make a folder for the book in progress, and in that folder I create another folder labeled “OLD.” Anything that I cut or make significant changes to goes into the OLD folder. And I mean every little scrap. This means I can easily change it back, days, even weeks later, if needed. Most of what I put there gathers cyber dust. But I once cut a whole chapter containing a shootout that just wasn’t working in the book. Weeks later, my editor said she wanted a novella to come out prior to THE KILL ORDER, so I turned that deleted chapter into THE LAST SECOND.

Tip #2:
Writers Block is only a thing when you make it a thing. If you don’t park yourself in front of the computer or a notepad with pen in hand, you’ll never write anything. So even if there are no ideas, write. Start a letter to your character about your ideas. Have your character write a letter to you. Whatever it takes. See what happens. Just write. 

Tip #3: 
Carve out your time from everywhere and anywhere. The number one excuse I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances who tell me they’ve always wanted to write a book is that they don’t have time to start, because they work 40 hours a week, or have three kids, or (fill in the blank). It really depends on how badly you want this dream. Most fulltime writers I know started their career while working fulltime jobs. I sat in front of the computer every night after working all day as a cop. Sometimes I got a paragraph done, sometimes a page. I got a little more done on my days off. I also kept a notepad in the car and wrote Sunday mornings in the parking lot of church, while my three kids were in Sunday school, or in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office. I’ve written on nearly every vacation. I’ve even written in my hospital bed, once the drugs wore off after my lung collapsed and they had to put a tube in (hello, ROMANOV RANSOM deadline). 

Tip #4:
When you’re stuck, do something brainless. It could be anything as simple (and wonderful) as a nap, or something as mundane as cleaning a cupboard or going for a long drive. My husband always knows when I’m trying to work out a plot line, because he’ll find me organizing a closet or the pantry or a junk drawer. I don’t know what it is about shoving the book to the back of my mind while (seemingly) concentrating on something boring. The pieces usually fall into place. 

Tip #5:
Take a break from the internet. I use FREEDOM, an app that allows me to block out chunks of time and specific internet addresses (FACEBOOK and TWITTER for me) for however long I want. I do an hour at a time, minimum, but should probably up that to two hours. The app isn't cheap. I think I paid about $129 for a lifetime purchase after using the trial. (There is an inexpensive monthly version and a moderate monthly price, but permanent seemed to be the best value.) Our addiction to social media has literally rewired our brains to think and concentrate in smaller batches. We need to train it back, especially if we’re holding down a fulltime job or raising kids and trying to write, therefore $129 was a cheap price, considering I've used it for the last 4 books. Time is precious. Don’t let it slip away.

Scrivener Project Target
Tip #6:
Set goals. I write my novels in Scrivener, which has a daily word count and target date set into the program. It helps keep me honest. I can see at a glance what my projected target date is and how close I am to that day’s word count and to the project’s word count. I divide my project in thirds. You can see I'm a bit behind the targeted goal. No more binging Handmaid's Tale for me.

Tip #7:
And speaking of Scrivener, find a good writing program that works for you. I used to write in Word, but my manuscripts often hit different time zones, different countries. I found Scrivener was useful for helping to organize all of this. It allows me to see the entire project, each chapter or scene, the total project word count, my due date, all on the same page.

Tip #8:
Keep track of your versions. Have you ever opened up a chapter, started working on it, only to discover it was not the latest version of your work? (If not, you’re lucky.) To prevent this, I number each book, chapter and scene like software. The bonus of this numbering system is that it gave me a new fearlessness to taking a chance with vast changes. (Kill your darlings, right? If it doesn’t work, I can always go back to the earlier version. Usually I find that I like the changes better.) 

I also use this technique for numbering scenes/chapters. For instance, 1.26 is the 26thversion of chapter one. (The first few chapters and the ending of the book usually end high.) The old versions get stuck into the “OLD” folder mentioned above so that just in case, I can quickly find it and know at a glance which version I’m looking at. I also give a word title to each scene to go with that software numbering so I know what is in there. For instance: “2.3 Sam and Remi San Fran” immediately tells me Scene 2, version 3, of when Sam and Remi arrive in San Francisco. 

Tip #9
Make use of a good placeholder. There is no rule that says you have to write in order, or name a character right away, or do research at that very moment. Just be sure to mark it. I use “XXX” for a placeholder, whether it’s for a character name, research needed, or something that needs to be fixed later. Let’s say a scene takes place in the rainforests of Brazil. I need a description of it, but don’t want to stop. I’ll type “XXX rainforest” and I can see at a glance where I need to go back and clean up. I don’t waste time going down the rabbit hole of the internet searching rainforests, waste a half hour when I get distracted by headlines, Facebook, etc., then go back to the manuscript, see I still need a description of the rainforests, and head back down that rabbit hole. 

Tip #10. Memorize tip #9 about placeholders. Don’t worry if the scene, chapter or entire story sucks. Or if you have big plot holes. Or you’re missing transitions. Or anything else. I have learned to end my scenes/chapters with: “XXX Need snappier ending” or “XXX Sam rescues woman from cliff” or “XXX exciting shootout” or whatever else I think it might need. This gives me permission to move on. And moving on is the first step to finishing the book. 

Using a placeholder allows you to step away from those pesky details, working your way to the end. This way, when you go back, see those XXXs, you’ll have fresh ideas to fill in those blanks, or tweak that plot, or find that perfect character name.  

So, Rogue readers (and Writers), any tips to add?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Write What You Don't Know

            I have no children (entirely by choice). So when I decided to set my next book at a juvenile detention facility, I knew I was taking a chance. Could I pull this off? Could I make this remotely convincing? Could I stay interested in a topic—childhood development--that had never particularly interested me? Could I write in a milieu (teenagers) which I had always found uncomfortable (even when I was one)?
            The result is Suffer the Children, in which I tackle the eternal task of trying to use all, dammit, of the research I so painstakingly accumulated. Without, I hope, either making my readers feel they are in the midst of a textbook for Elementary Education 101 or putting them to sleep outright.
Children, it turns out, are amazing creatures. That isn’t so surprising considering that human beings are amazing creatures—so incredibly variable and yet we mesh into a society that somehow manages to lope along from century to century without completely self-destructing. The variability is frightening and freeing at the same time. We only have to look at our siblings—beings with the same DNAsource, brought up in the same house, and yet completely different people. In my own group I see so many similarities and yet there are still hidden beliefs and attitudes that seem alien. (My brother Michael, for instance, voluntarily eats Brussel sprouts. Whaaaat?) 

            Recent research has indicated that just because we can’t remember much before age two doesn’t mean those events don’t affect us. Strong emotional events will be learned from and retained, even if subconsciously. When a baby cries and a parent comforts it, the baby eventually learns to self-soothe and self-regulate their emotions. They don’t get too concerned with momentary discomforts because they know a parent will show up to take care of them. If a baby’s cry is ignored or met with abuse, this isn’t learned. The orbital frontal cortex, which acts as a control center over sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, may not develop properly—leaving the child with a lifelong inability to regulate these primitive emotional states. They may truly not ‘be able to help it.’ 

          When the brain is forming (which continues after birth), both the quantity and quality of tissue and chemistry can be changed by incidents of trauma. Infancy and toddlerhood is when it’s at its most malleable, and if attention and capabilities intended for learning have to be redirected to bodily defense, there is less available for higher functioning. Researchers found that when deprived children didn’t get intervention until after age five, their I.Q. stayed below eighty-six. But when they began to receive services at four months, their I.Q. had moved into the normal range by age three.
Chemical effectors such as legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and malnutrition can have the same effects. There is a window of opportunity for many functions which we take for granted—if certain basic capabilities such as speech and even vision aren’t developed by age two, they may not, ever. In the real world, Tarzan would never have learned to say “You, Jane.”

        The good news for parents is that you don’t have to play Mozart to your baby while still in the womb or ensure that they’re bilingual by age three in order to raise an intelligent, well-rounded child. Just talk to them. Show them things. Interact with them. The most important base for your child’s life is a secure attachment to a primary caregiver. This gives them the foundation to learn empathy, control and balance their feelings, and develop cognitive processes.
            And a little Mozart can’t hurt either.  
            What did you find most surprising about your little one(s) during the first few years of their life?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Summer Reads, Reviews and Romance

….Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Ah, the month of June -- when we hope to discover new releases for that beach read, new movies for a relaxing summer evening, and new romances either in print, on the screen or perhaps in a ceremony. After all, this IS the month of weddings. So in keeping with these themes, I'm excited to share word of a new thriller, Gambit,  coming out this week.  My pups are already checking it out since they were named for the title and heroine of the story. (My husband's idea) You too can check it out  here

"Gambit" and "Cammy" -- Well-read Labradoodles
This novel is the second in my White House National Security Series that has been revised and updated for release. 

 Several of my Rogue colleagues also have new releases for summer reads, including Robin Burcell's  GREY GHOST -- which just hit #3 on The New York Times Bestseller List. And don't forget K.J. Howe's  SKYJACK.  Once you've read those great stories, later in the season, look for Lisa Black's  

In some of our previous Rogue articles about the month of June, we have written about love and the single spy (or single hero) and have wondered how an author can "keep the tension" going in a series if the hero and heroine "end up together" in the first book.
I remember leaving a comment on one of those posts about a conversation I had with the great (late) writer, Vince Flynn whose Mitch Rapp series continues with the author Kyle Mills now writing about those characters.  Vince said that he faced this dilemma when Mitch Rapp married
the love of his life.  He said "I didn't know what to do to keep it interesting, so in the next novel I had to kill her off."

I didn't want to go that far in the book I mentioned at the top, Gambit, which features the same characters in my first novel, Checkmate.  So I created a love triangle between the beautiful scientist, the Lt. Col. on The White House National Security Council staff and the dynamic, widowed Vice President.  In the midst of trying to solve a major threat to our commercial airliners with lives and the economy in the balance, Dr. Cameron Talbot ("Cammy") has to figure out not only how to stop the culprits but sort out her personal life at the same time.

When it comes to  movies for your summer . . . you might enjoy some of the light-hearted films on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel where they often employ a similar tactic: the triangle where the hero or heroine in one of their romantic comedies already has a fiancé or very significant other who simply isn't the "right" one.  But when they do find THE ONE -- it always has a (sigh) happy ending (usually a wedding).  This was the exact format of a movie we happened to watch the other night -- it was the re-release of the 2014 one starring the current Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Merkle, WHEN SPARKS FLY. She had also starred in DATER'S HANDBOOK a while back.

I dare say the weddings at the end were a shade bit simpler than her real one that many of us watched as it took place at Windsor Castle where she was surrounded by a royal cast of characters.

In contrast to those romantic comedies, the Hallmark Mystery Series feature heroines who never seem to "nail" the good guy....he's just strung along while she works on nailing the bad guy.  For example, a wonderful author, Charlaine Harris wrote a series of eleven books about a librarian who organizes of group of friends called The Real Murders Club.  They get together to study and solve local crimes.

Hallmark was smart to turn these tales into "Aurora Teagarden Mysteries" starring Candace Cameron Bure, who does indeed manage to ferret out the perpetrator by analyzing unique clues and personalities.  But she never seems to make up her mind about the hunk who obviously adores her - played by Hannick Bisen.
Stars of the Aurora Teagarden Mystery Series
Other films we like to watch are the HAILEY DEAN MYSTERIES based on the books by another great author, Nancy Grace.  These movies star Kellie Martin who had been featured some years ago as a woman who owned a mystery book shop (and we all love book shops - right?) Now she plays a former prosecutor turned psychologist who is great at analyzing the motives of the killers.

I now see that there will be a number of new movies and mysteries on that channel in the coming weeks.  So whatever you like to do in your free time (if you have it)  in June and the coming months of summer -- whether it's settling down with a new book, catching a comedy or mystery, or just relaxing with friends - and pets, of course - I hope you will be able to  enjoy all of the above.  Now do leave a comment and let us know what some of your favorite pass times are and what you will be doing over the summer months. And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

…..Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


by K.J. Howe

The bottom line for our thriller protagonists is getting results:  stopping the crime, discovering the truth, thwarting the threat, defusing the bomb.  Usually, thrillers end with a grand finale that satisfies the reader’s moral and social worldview. Justice is done.  The bad guys pay for their sins, the protagonist triumphs.  But if that outcome is expected—even demanded—what keeps the suspense in suspense novels?  The real question underlying most thriller novels is not “if” the protagonist will succeed, but rather “how” the protagonist will succeed, and which secondary characters will still be standing on the last page.

The tools of the trade for the action hero are both legion and well understood.   There’s always the standard arsenal of firearms, knives, grenades, fast cars, and a well-executed roundhouse to the face.  But to stand out in a crowd of Glocks and Uzis, the author must expand the hero’s toolbox, adding in new ways of conquering obstacles to surprise and entertain readers.

In my Freedom Broker series, Thea Paris is a crisis response consultant who travels to the globe’s hot spots bringing hostages back to their families.  Faced with a kidnapping scenario, the first tool she reaches for is negotiation.  Orchestrating a deal that guarantees the safety of the captive is paramount.  Hey, why fire a shot when you can talk your way out of trouble?

It’s the ideal time to be writing a character who uses negotiation as their “go to” tool.  Many top universities have entire departments dedicated to studying negotiation science.  Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and other elite institutions are publishing a steady stream of studies and articles that explore how the human mind works, both as an individual and as part of a group.  And experts are exploring how this knowledge can be used to shape effective negotiating techniques.  This burgeoning field of negotiation science is a gold mind of ideas for a character who saves lives with her wits (and, hey, those tactical skills don’t hurt as back up).

Even the real field of hostage recovery is being reshaped by this research.  Top security companies are now recruiting more women freedom brokers because the data indicates that they are empathic—which is a key skill when dealing with a hostage’s family—and are often better able to discern the precise emotional state of the captors.  They also instinctively know how to de-escalate.  Further, evidence indicates that male kidnappers from a hyper-masculine culture are less likely to become angry, take affront, or become competitive when they are negotiating with a woman than with another man.  Thus negotiation science tells us that women can often enhance the hostage’s safety in many circumstances.

Negotiation science offers other interesting ideas that can drive the plot and shape character.  The power of language is emphasized.  Certain words are so hardwired into us as human beings that when they are used properly, we can’t help but have certain emotional reactions to them.  These words and phrases vary slightly between languages and cultures, but their power is undeniable.  Weaving them into dialogue makes the story more realistic and exciting. 

Some of this powerful language includes the word “because.”   Simply using this word in negotiation greatly increases the chance of an offer being accepted.  Why? Humans are evolutionarily programmed to want to work together, and the use of “because” says “I’m not invading your territory or demanding your obedience—I just need your assistance for good reason.”  The word “fair” also has powerful subconscious impact.  Phrases like “I’m willing to consider” offer tactical advantage because they show an openness to certain approaches without committing to a fixed position.  The examples and sophistication level of these techniques are virtually limitless.

The field of neuro-linguistic programming also influences writers.  For example, the art and science of reading “micro-expressions” like eye movement or facial muscle movement to understand what a person is actually feeling.  While the technique has not yet reached the stage where someone’s intentions can be read like a book, the micro-expressions can give vital clues to motives and honesty at key moments.  Plenty of story potential here.

The literature provides many fruitful areas to explore:  how to structure offers, when to concede for maximum reciprocity, how to create value, how to motivate people to act or not act based on the way an offer is designed or delivered, how to handle the pacing of offers, how to seize control of the process.  The list is endless.  Simply reading an article or book covering the latest developments in the field can provide countless new plot ideas.

In the same way that new medical breakthroughs can drive change in medical thrillers and quantum computing advances can create seismic shifts in the field of techo-thrillers, developments in the field of negotiation science have the potential to enliven and enrich our storytelling, from a police interrogation to a hostage negotiation.  While the debate on whether to deploy a direct or indirect closing technique may never reach quite the same level as the 5.56 mm vs. 7.62 mm discussion, conquering obstacles in this fresh way can leave antagonists befuddled—and this can be just as rewarding as leaving them battered and bloodied.