Wednesday, January 31, 2018

KAREN CLEVELAND GOES ROGUE dishing on CHARLIZE THERON...and a fabulous story!

 hosted by K.J. Howe

I'd love to introduce the sensational woman behind the recently released blockbuster, NEED TO KNOW...and I'm hoping talented author Karen Cleveland will share everything you "need to know" about her CIA analyst character who will be played by Charlize Theron on the big screen.  I was fascinated by the concept behind Karen's book and the authenticity in the prose because she is the real deal.  Karen was kind enough to share some intel with us....

1.  Vivian Miller is a CIA analyst, and you offer phenomenal insights into this world given you also worked in this milieu.  What attributes are needed to be an effective analyst?

I very much enjoyed working as a CIA analyst. I used to think of my job as being similar to putting together a giant puzzle – but without all the pieces, and without a picture as a guide. Attention to detail is very important. A love of reading and writing helps too!

2.  Were there parts of NEED TO KNOW that were based on real-life cases?  Did you need clearance from the CIA to share of any the information included in the book?

The book isn’t based on a real-life case (luckily!). There have, however, been fairly recent cases of Russian sleepers in the United States – ten Russian agents were arrested in the U.S. in 2010. The book, as with everything I write, had to be cleared by a review board at the CIA. It’s sort of a double-check to ensure that I’m not accidentally disclosing anything classified.

3.  You portrayed two distinct sides of Vivian, as a devoted wife and mother and as a talented CIA analyst.  Did you ever struggle between the two roles yourself?  

It’s difficult to juggle a demanding career and the demands of young kids. I’ve struggled with it, and a lot of other parents have, too. I wanted to make Vivian as real as possible, so I wanted her to have some of the same experiences that so many of us go through.

4.  How realistic is it that Russians could infiltrate today’s governmental agencies?  What kinds of measures are there to protect Americans from the human frailties of the people who work in these arenas?

The Russian intelligence services are sophisticated and aggressive. But I have every faith in the security personnel at the CIA and other government agencies – they’re highly capable and diligent. And they do work hard to vet people in sensitive positions, through measures like polygraphs, monitoring finances, and even vetting potential spouses.

5.  In what ways was your work as a CIA analyst similar to the process of writing a book?

CIA analysts spend a lot of time trying to put themselves in other people’s shoes, trying to predict how an individual or group will act or react to certain circumstances. Authors tend to do the same thing, I think. And at the Agency, everything is really a team effort. So much so that written products never include an author’s name – it’s just a CIA product. A novel is such a team effort, too – editing, marketing, publicizing, etc. It seems wrong to have a single name on the cover!

6.  How many analysts are there?  Can you tell us more about the way the CIA divides the analysts into groups?  Do analysts ever meet directly with agents?

The number of people who work for the CIA is actually classified, believe it or not. Analysts usually focus on a specific “account,” which is generally broken down by subject and country or region. Meeting with assets in the field tends to fall more to operations officers, while analysts focus more on analyzing information and presenting it to policymakers.

7.  What was the most remarkable thing (that you can talk about) you worked on in your career?

It’s hard to talk specifics, unfortunately. But I always got a thrill out of knowing that something I wrote landed on the President’s desk. As an analyst you want to feel like your work is having impact, so that was always a great feeling. 

8.  Did you always want to write a novel or did this idea come to you because of your work?

The idea for the book had been in the back of my mind for many years. I met my husband around the same time I started working for the CIA, and it actually crossed my mind, very briefly, that he might not be who he said he was! Luckily I was wrong, but the idea for the book stuck.

9.  I’m hoping that there will be a sequel to NEED TO KNOW, especially given the blockbuster ending.  Can you kindly share what you’re working on next?

Well, that’s great to hear! I do feel like there’s more of the story to tell. Right now I’m hard at work on another thriller set in Washington, DC. I’m excited about it, and I hope readers will be too!

10. Congrats on the wonderful news about Charlize Theron taking on the role of Vivian for film!  Can you tell us the story of how this happened?

Thanks! I’m so excited about it. She’s an incredible actress, and one who plays such a wide range of characters so well. I’m excited to see what she does with the role. As for how it happened – it was all very fast! I’m not sure of all the details, but there was interest from movie studios at the same time it was being considered by publishers. We had a film deal the day after we had a book deal. I’m so grateful that it worked out that way.

Congrats on your success, and welcome to the world of thrillers.  So happy to have you on today!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Skating on thin ice

S. Lee Manning: When I was around nine, I loved to ice skate. I was one of those weird kids who liked to read all the time and didn’t have many friends. Sometimes it bothered me. But not when skating. I liked to skate alone.

There was an ice skating rink at the Cincinnati Gardens and my parents would drop me off at the beginning of the session. I was not very good, couldn’t do spins or even skate backwards, but I didn’t fall – much - and gliding on ice felt like flying. Ice skating also made me think of snow, and snow, for me, was magic, even though we averaged maybe two big snows a year in Cincinnati that melted within days. But in the heart of the gray Cincinnati winter, with brown grass and barren trees, there was the skating rink.  Skating transported me to a fantasy world.

I would skate by myself for hours while tinny music played, and I’d make up stories. Day dreaming, my parents called it back then, and I thought I might be a little crazy, and maybe I was, in the way all writers are crazy. Time on the ice was my time – and I savored it every Saturday night. Now, looking back, I wonder what my parents thought about it – and whether they worried about my isolation and my escape into fantasy.

 After a year or two, I grew out of my skates. I developed bad knees. Then I hit the teen years – and it was the late 1960s.  Skating was not what young hippies did in the late 60s – and I was most definitely a young hippie. So I put skating on ice, so to speak.

Over the following few decades, as my life changed again and again, I would go ice skating from time to time – with friends and then with my children.

Then maybe fifteen years ago, I stopped. Life is complicated, and we don’t always have time for things we enjoy. My parents needed help, my kids had issues, and I had a different job. Besides, my feet and ankles weren’t what they used to be.

I thought from time to time about trying to skate again, but the thought of a teenager slamming into me while on the ice kept me from giving it a try.

Then two weeks ago, on a whim, I looked at the ice skating schedule at a local rink while spending a few weeks in New Jersey with my son. There was adult only skating at 8:30 a.m.  I remembered how much I used to love skating. My husband still skies. I am terrified of heights and therefore don’t ski, but the ski resort where he went in December has a skating rink. It would be something for me while he skied.

At 8 o’clock the following morning, I dug out my skates and looked out the window at the inch of snow that had coated the neighborhood overnight.

I am aware that I am no longer nine. (Not going to say how old I actually am.)  I am aware that my balance isn’t what it used to be, nor are my feet.

I am aware that a fall at my age could be a lot more serious than a fall for a nine year old. I know that older people skate, and there’s an 87 year old who competes (and wins) in figure skating. But most of those senior skaters know what they’re doing and didn’t give it up for twenty some years.

But that morning, I just said, what the hell.

The snow was still drifting down as I drove to the rink in my Subaru. The skates were tighter than I remembered, but they still fit. Kinda. I strapped them on and wobbled to the side of the rink. There was a wall all the way around the rink for grabbing purposes. There was only one other person on the ice. Perfect. I took a deep breath and stepped on the ice.

And didn’t fall.

But I didn’t glide either. My feet felt like lead, and I clung desperately to the wall, taking baby steps to move forward.

The sole other occupant of the rink skated over to me and introduced himself as Jeff. “Bend your knees,” he suggested. He was fifty-nine, and he also had started up skating after twenty years or so off the ice. That was reassuring. He also thought that I was younger than him. That was more than reassuring.

I bent my knees. I tentatively pushed off with my left foot. I glided a foot and then I grabbed the wall.

I made it around the rink, never far from the wall, clutching it every few feet. I celebrated my success by getting off the ice and tightening my skates. Then I tried again. This time, I would make it maybe twenty feet before grabbing the wall. Then fifty feet. I made it around five times staying close enough to the wall to grab it if necessary. By then, my feet were protesting the too tight skates. I had felt the flush of victory – but it was time to leave.

The next day, I was back with my son’s wider and slightly better fitting skates.

I did better, lasting forty-five minutes on the ice. I wobbled here and there, and never strayed far from the wall, but I rounded the rink, gliding. I remained afraid of falling, but there were moments when I recaptured that old feeling of flying. Then I grabbed the wall again. My son’s skates were better than my old ones, but not perfect.

Jeff was there and gave me a thumbs up for persistence. Jeff had been joined by a man in his seventies who skated backwards to me to offer his suggestion.

“Buy some skates that fit.”

A week later, I called my cousin, two years younger than me, and told her that I had gone ice skating.

“You’re brave,” she said.

Am I? I didn’t feel brave on the ice. I felt scared. But I felt something else as well. I felt alive. There will come a time when I am physically unable to do the risky things I used to enjoy as a younger woman, but while I still can, I damn well am going to keep trying. As we age, we have to distinguish between what we can actually do and what we are afraid to do. I hate that my body will eventually limit me. I am not going to be limited by my fears.

So I’m in the market for a new pair of skates. Suggestions?

Friday, January 26, 2018


Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Please welcome our guest blogger, New York Times bestselling author, John Lescroart, whose terrific novels have been translated into 16 languages in over 75 countries.  I first met John at one of our initial International Thriller Writers Conferences over a decade ago. He was already a well known author, and yet he took the time to give encouragement to me along with many other aspiring writers. Then, when my first thriller was published, he offered to do a joint signing with me at a major bookstore in San Francisco.  I never forgot that gesture and have enjoyed reading his great mysteries ever since.  Today John is Co-President of ITW, still working hard to advise authors from all over the world.

Author John Lescroart

John has a new mystery which will be published soon -- so we invited him to tell us just how he created his clever, continuing character, Dismas Hardy, a San Francisco attorney who becomes quite the resourceful sleuth.  This is his story:

            Here are two of the biggest decisions I've had to make in my publishing life:  do I want to write a series based around a finite cast of regularly-recurring characters? And, if so, do I want to have those characters live in "real time"?
The first decision pretty much got made for me by my publisher at the time.  I wrote my first Dismas Hardy book, DEAD IRISH, as a stand-alone novel that I didn't even consider to be a mystery.  At least, that was my feeling until the first set of revisions arrived at my desk. 

My editor/publisher, Donald I. Fine, liked the tone and voice of my manuscript well enough, but felt that withholding some information from my readers until later in the book would not only make it more readable and commercial, but would place it squarely in the ranks of mystery fiction.  I could have said no, of course, but upon reflection, I decided that he was right.  I made many of his suggested changes, and suddenly I was a writer of a contemporary mystery, with a publisher who was ready and willing to give me an advance for a sequel!  Another mystery!  In fact, another mystery featuring the same main character(s)! 
This had not been my plan at all, but at the time, given the albeit meager financial incentive, I eagerly accepted the challenge and within a year I'd finished the second book in what was beginning to look very much like the beginning of a mystery series.  At the same time, DEAD IRISH got nominated for the Shamus Award for Best Mystery.  It appears I was committed. 
As I embarked on the third book, I came up head to head with my second major decision.  In the first two books, Dismas Hardy was very much a former working attorney.  His full-time job was as a bartender at a San Francisco bar, The Little Shamrock. 
The two cases in which he'd so far been involved put him squarely into the sphere of a neighborhood kind of guy who happened to solve crimes on the side, a bit like Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote."  I loved that television program, but I had grander ambitions for my hero.  I didn't want him to have to depend on someone's cousin dying to motivate him to become involved in a murder case.  He had to be more involved in the big picture, in all facets of contemporary life itself, if he was to have the kind of gravitas that I envisioned.
So for Book 3, I moved him ahead several months, put him back to work as an attorney, got him married, gave him a child (and another one on the way) and an extraordinary case to solve.  In short, I committed myself to follow my hero's growth. 
I little realized the can of worms I was opening with this decision, but it also set the stage for twenty-six books (and counting) in which Hardy and the other people in his universe -- wife, children, friends and enemies -- live and sometimes die in real time.  Taking nothing away from Travis McGee, Kinsey Millhone (RIP Sue, we'll miss you!), Jack Reacher, and all of the other sleuths who don't age, I have found that the advantages inherent in my approach has provided a richness and reality to the stories that more than compensates for the complications I encounter trying to fit these moving-target elements into my plots.
All this is by way of introducing this year's novel, POISON, which Atria will be publishing on February 13. 
Last year, after deciding that I needed to give Dismas Hardy and company some time to grow (and heal from gunshot wounds), I left the series alone and came out with a stand alone novel, FATAL. 
When I returned to see what was up with my old pal Dismas, I discovered that sure enough, there had been a major change in his life.  Much to Hardy's dismay, he had grown somewhat estranged from his millennial son, Vincent, who now was a full-fledged adult with a serious job at Facebook.  Vincent remains glued to his screens, phones, and other technical devices, and not so much connected to his father, as he used to be.  
At the same time, and also much against his will, Hardy feels duty-bound to take on the case of a young woman, a former client, who had been arrested for murdering her boss.  In the course of his investigation into that homicide, Hardy comes across another murder victim with ties to his son Vincent!  And Vincent, ignoring his father's entreaties to the contrary, begins to conduct a low-key but incredibly dangerous investigation of his own. 
This is exactly the kind of story -- suspense about the ever-changing dynamic in family relationships -- that I never would have had a chance to consider as the driving engine of a complex, kaleidoscopic plot if long ago I hadn't made the decision to let my characters become whoever they were destined to be over time. 
I'm so glad that I made that decision, and I hope that after reading this new book, you'll be glad I made it, too......John Lescroart
Thanks, John, for telling us about that creative "journey" you took with Dismas through your 26 novels -- now it's time for me to pre-order my copy of Poison -- out on February 13 just in time to be a great Valentine gift! And for all you fans good mysteries, this new novel can be pre-ordered at:  I hope  you readers will enjoy John's stories as much as I do! So glad he could be with us here In the Rogue Limelight.
...Karna Small Bodman

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Our front yard.  Yep.
By Gayle Lynds:  It’s true that winter can drive some of us writers into dark metaphorical caves, but then we escape the despair and boredom by throwing ourselves into our writing.  Whew.

Or instead, winter invigorates us, and we head outdoors to challenge the snow, bask in sunshine beneath crystal blue skies, and wallow in sport ranging from shoveling the sidewalk to skiing downhill at blistering speeds.  The result?  We return to our desks with adrenaline rushing and nowhere finer to put it than into our latest book.  Fun!

I’m always suspect of those who find winter little different from any other season. Yes, those crazy folks exist, especially in California and Florida.  Since I lived in Southern California for a few decades, I get to say it: The subtlety of the seasons is often lost in the day-to-day beauty, although there’s graphic evidence of change.  For instance, bottle brush bushes, prickly pear cacti, and poinsettias blossom at different times.  On the other (confusing) hand, roses bloom all year round. 
That's me, bundled up & out for a brisk hike on our driveway.

No wonder so many writers of murder mysteries live there — they’re drumming up emotional excitement.

In Maine, winter gives us plenty of thrills.  Think how much fun it is to write about blood steaming in the snow.  Or about tromping through a humid jungle while an Arctic snowstorm blasts past our windows. 

John and I find winter swings both ways for us, with periods of lassitude and meandering minds, and long stretches of focus and work.  This is my seventh winter here, and I’ve discovered a lot of joy not only in the challenges of the elements but also in their visual feast. 

I watch the mountains beyond my office windows the way I used to watch the ocean in Santa Barbara.  Shadows and storms, sunrises and sunsets ... all feed my writerly soul.  Our isolation here in a forest is new for me — I’ve always lived in cities, concrete as much a part of my life as the daily buzz of electrical wires, the drone of traffic, and the cadences of different languages as I walked to a theater or the grocery store. 

But here in our forest, deer pause to look at the house as if they can see me at work, and I smile.  When I spot a fox running near the treeline, my heart skips a fluttering beat.  There’s nothing like the array of birds who partake of our birdfeeder — chickadees, cardinals, bluebirds, blue jays, red-headed woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, and pileated woodpeckers.  And of course there are the hawks and bald eagles.
Dawn.... I'm sitting at my desk & glorying in this view.

Much of life is decided for us.  But not all.  We can choose how we see what we see, how we experience it, whether we want feast or famine.  I had no idea how I would feel about Maine until I got here.  Imagine my joy in the adventure of it all.     

So take heart all you writers and nonwriters.  Winter is our friend. 

Monday, January 22, 2018


Every year people across the world celebrate the New Year by making resolutions. I’m no different, but this year I decided to keep it doable.

Gone are things like: Lose 200 pounds. In are things like: Join a Fitness Club and find one activity that you enjoy.


Not only did I join the club, but I found one activity I love and one I really hate. I may do both. The first is DEEP POOL, the second is BARRÉ. The first is exercise that is water-resistance weight and aerobic training. The second is 60 minutes of pure torture.

Gone are things like: Stop Volunteering. Learn to say “No.”  In are things like: Choose carefully what you agree to do. Limit the number and scope.


For years I have taken on more “jobs” than I can effectively do. I sat on the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s (RMMWA) board for twenty years, helped or ran various conferences, judged numerous awards competitions. For a number of years, I’ve accepted every opportunity that’s come along to appear on panels, teach workshops, sign books and meet readers.

This year I’m committed to serving on two new boards. In October I began a four-year term on the Executive Council of the North American Chapter of the International Association of Crime Writers, and I just recently agreed to sit on the Education Committee of Sisters in Crime administering a new scholarship program for members. Both are exciting opportunities. And I’ve limited the number of conferences I plan to attend. Come say hello if you’re going to Left Coast Crime 2018 in Reno, ThrillerFest 2018 in New York City, and Bouchercon 2018 in St.Petersburg, FL. Otherwise, I’ve planned only a few local appearances spread out in the year.

Gone are the lists of things I must accomplish in 2018. In is one edict: Shoot for more balance in life, which means HAVE MORE FUN.


This year I’ve already taken a spontaneous, impromptu trip to Hawaii to visit Daughter #4 and frolic in the sand with she and Daughter #3, who invited me along on her “sister visit.” We’ve been having a blast! Next up in the fun category, a three week trip to Sweden and a cruise on the Baltic Sea with the husband. Can’t wait!

And, finally, gone is the finish a book in “blank” number of days or months. In is: write your best book.


For most of my writing career (8 books), I have written on deadline. The one book I wrote on my own timeline, DARK WATERS, was the best received—nominated for three awards (a Colorado Book Award, a Colorado Author’s League Award and the Anthony for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook Award), published internationally, well-reviewed and sold to numerous book clubs. Currently I am out-of-contract. RED SKY was published in 2017, and received lots of critical acclaim. It’s too early to know if it’s been nominated for any awards or what may happen in the next year, but I am not finished with the Raisa Jordan series. Stay-tuned for book number three. Meanwhile, I’m working on a standalone thriller for my publisher at Crooked Lane Books. It’s in its baby stages, and I’m getting excited about it. Working title: BLACK ICE. I’m taking my time, because I want it to be my best book to date.

So far, 2018 is going well. I haven’t broken any of my resolutions, and I’ll let you hold me accountable. Here’s to making 2018 the best year ever!

What have you resolved to do this year? Keep it real.