Tuesday, March 27, 2018

AUDIOBOOKS WITH RENOWNED NARRATOR THERESE PLUMMER

hosted by K.J. Howe

Audiobooks are on the rise, as people unwind listening to stories as an alternative to reading them.  What better way to diffuse the boredom of a long commute than listening to a gripping novel?  I'm honored that Audible is handling my audiobooks.  I had the distinct pleasure of connecting with my narrator, Therese Plummer, as I have many international names and places in my books.  Therese is a true professional, so she wanted to make sure she pronounced everything correctly.  I was quite curious about the process of creating an audiobook--so I asked Therese if she might join us here today at Rogue Women Writers to answer a few burning questions!


Therese in action!
What is the best thing about being an audiobook narrator?

Telling stories for a living.  Becoming characters someone else imagined and being trusted to bring that world to life through audio and characterization and emotion.  It's never the same day, and I love being transported into these different stories.

How long does it take you on average to record a novel?

I can record a 400-page book in about 5 days recording from 10a.m.-4p.m. with breaks.  Must use the bathroom, eat lunch, drink water and coffee and tea and laugh with my fellow narrators and engineers.


Can you kindly fill us in on the preparation necessary for recording—any tools of the trade?

I receive a pdf of the book and download it immediately to a program called iAnnotate on my iPad.  This allows me to prep with highlighters and notes and underlining and anything else I need so that when I walk into the studio I'm read to rock-n-roll.




Who are some of the authors that you read for?

I have worked on Robyn Carr's Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan Crossing's series as well as Charlaine Harris's Aurora Teagarden series.  I have recorded over 350 books for various authors so you only have to look me up on audible and they are all there.  :-)

We all stumble over words from time to time.  How do you handle it when you make mistakes?

I make mistakes for sure and I work with a method called punch record, which means the engineer will play the last line before the mistake and I get to say the line again and keep going.  Mistakes are part of the process and even if I didn't flub the line I may want to redo it for emphasis or emotion.  My engineers rock!


Therese Plummer

How do you keep your voice strong for such an extended time?  If you’re sick or have a cold, do you have to cancel the recording session?

I will definitely cancel if I have a cold and it is severe enough to affect my voice, but for the most part I've developed strong coping skills to stay active for 6 hours a day.  The biggest one is sleep.  I will get at least 10 hours.  The other is hydration and the third and most important is to have fun and maintain a good sense of humor.  

Rumor has it that you have an impressive blooper reel.  Can you share a story or two about these wild forays?  

It seems to be in my nature to joke around with my engineers a lot and I will go off script sometimes and start improvising a scene off the top of my head just to blow off steam.  Word has it some of them have been recorded and they are pretty epic.  

How did you get into this field—we’d love to hear more about your background?  

I'm from a family of creatives and have the acting gene.  I loved psychology and studied it in college and worked as a counselor in various facilities for 5 years before taking the plunge to head to NYC to give acting a professional try.  It took about three years, but I gained momentum and was asked to read for Audible when they were still building headquarters in Newark, NJ.  The rest is history.  Between film, TV and voiceovers, I have been a successful self-supporting artist for the last 15 years.

How are you assigned your books?

Each publishing house has producers that cast the projects and as I have built a reputation for myself in the industry, I'm cast for many of different projects.  They will usually email me that they have a book for me or want me to read an audition for the book and then depending on the author, I either get the job or not.  It's important the author has the right voice for their project.


In THE FREEDOM BROKER or SKYJACK, which scenes were the toughest for you to read?

In TFB the toughest scenes emotionally were the memories of Nikos' abduction and what he endured.  Physically was the end of the book.  :-)  no spoilers!! 

Click on this link to hear Therese giving an audio blurb to SKYJACK!

How did you enjoy the international names and places in my novels—are you ready to move to Salzburg?

I loved it, as I felt like I was back in school and learning about the world.  Some things, like in history class, I wish were not happening but I'm so much better off being informed.  And now onto SKYJACK!!!


Thérèse Plummer is an actor and award-winning audiobook narrator.  She has recorded over 350 audio books for various publishers.  Therese was recently awarded the 2018 Listen List Award from the American Library Association for her work on SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan.  She has been nominated for 5 Audie Awards in 2018 for her narration, most notably ANY DAY NOW by Robyn Carr, SANDPIPER COVE by Irene Hannon and I LIKED MY LIFE by Abbie Fabiaschi.  She is the recipient of the 2016 SOVA award for Irene Hannon’s, Sing You Home.   She has received multiple Earphones Awards for her work.  Most notably on Sing you Home by Jodi Picoult, Faith by Jennifer Haigh and We Are Water by Wally Lamb. She was named AudioFile’s Best Voices of the Year for 2015 for her work on Robyn Carr’s A New Hope. She is the voice of Maya Hansen in the Marvel Graphic Motion Comic Ironman Extremis, Dr. Fennel in Pokemon and for various Yu-Gi-Oh characters.  Learn more at www.thérèseplummer.com

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March Madness


 S. Lee Manning: So the topic of the month is pet peeves, especially writing pet peeves. I was debating writing about people who mix up fewer and less – it’s fewer than six items, fewer, not less (can’t tell you how many grocery clerks loathe me) – or those who can’t quite grasp that it’s means it is and its is possessive – and other infuriating mistakes along those lines that shouldn’t be made by anyone who paid attention in seventh grade, but today, these all seem trivial. Grammar. Schmarrar.  Let me talk about what’s really pissing me off this morning– the intersection of real life events and my novels.
This is me, determined not to write books about funny cats, while Xiao
tries to persuade otherwise.

I write espionage thrillers. By definition, I write books that should be a little more exciting than life, that are believable with a bit of a stretch – and kind of scary, but not really, because it’s fiction.

You know where I’m going, don’t you?

The current political and international scene makes it very hard to write thrillers. Think about what’s going on in the news right now – today, Friday, as I’m writing this, President Trump has fired his national security advisor and hired John Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq war. Earlier this week, President Trump ignored advisors and called Putin to congratulate him on his “victory.”

Mathew Quirk, who writes political thrillers, wrote an essay on VOX last fall, stating: “I write political thrillers, which means spinning fantastic stories out of everyday headlines. But when reality becomes utterly implausible, what’s left for an author to do?”

Yeah, well, exactly.

My latest book, finished draft but in the final edit stage, centers on weapons grade uranium smuggled into the United States either by terrorists or by Russia in a false flag operation. There’s twists and turns, and an exciting finish, but now, I don’t have to worry whether it’s too unbelievable – just whether it’s too close to real life.

Are my readers going to be bored? After all, if we’re about to go to war with North Korea, is my book old stuff? The possibility of a nuclear bomb going off in the United States? Yawn. An unbalanced psychopath willing to kill millions of people for his own ego? Double yawn. Been there. Seen that. Next.

Or conversely, is my book too exciting? Are people sick of thrilling twists and turns, and unscrupulous leaders, and the possibility of war wiping out millions? Should I turn in my thriller hat and write funny books about cats?

And it’s not just that I have to worry about reader boredom or burnout. I have to worry about plot theft. There are only so many plots, and I’m sick of real life stealing mine. Come on.

My first book, which has still to come out, involves a digital attack on nuclear power plant computers. So imagine my dismay at the news last week that the Russians had hacked into American nuclear power plants. If that novel had been out, I could have charged the Russians with copyright infringement. But no.  Now, whenever it comes out, it’ll look like I took my ideas from the news.

This is really irritating. Really, really irritating. I’m annoyed enough that I don’t even notice when signs use possessives instead of plurals – “World’s best haircut’s.” Okay, I do notice, but my focus is elsewhere.

I’m not a speed writer. It takes me at least a year, sometimes a year and a half to go from idea to finished draft.  I’ve started outlining my next novel – and what if world events make it old before I even start the first chapter? I can’t write fast enough to keep up with this stuff. Even if I wrote a book in six months, which, nope, don’t do either, I couldn’t keep up.

So I’m peeved. Really peeved. I just want it to stop. I just want to wake up, watch the news, and not say, damn, another plot point blown.

I don’t want to write funny books about cats.
Lizzie attempts to look mysterious so I'll write about her.
 Not going to work.

I need to get back to trivial annoyances. I need to get back to harassing clerks and store owners for poor grammar on signs while writing books that aren’t too close to real life.

Can we get back to a world where we thriller writers are the ones providing the scares?




Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ADVENTURES OF A SPRING BOOK TOUR

Maine in spring with grandson, remembering book tours.
 by Gayle Lynds.  Springtime has traditionally been when my new novels are published, so I’ve never looked upon March as the Month of Madness.  But I must admit I’ve had some "interesting" experiences while on book tour.

There was the time I signed with a woman who was the daughter of a mob boss, and her son stood behind us, legs spread, shoulders square, and gaze constantly moving.  No one was gonna bother us, no sirree!

And they didn't.  In fact, it turned into a very nice evening, with her fans and my fans interested in both of our books.  I like my fans.  In the end, readers always save me.  Go figure – her book was a cozy!

Here’s another example....  A few years ago, I was on tour when I spotted my latest hardcover in a terrific display in an airport bookstore.

Thrilled, I picked up a stack and went inside and set them on the counter in front of the sales lady.  I took out my pen, explained I was the author, and offered to autograph the books.

She looked horrified. She explained she really couldn’t do that.

This wasn’t the welcome I’d hoped for. 

“No, no,” I said.  “I really did write these.  And I’d love to sign them for the store.” I added what seemed to me obvious: “Autographed books are usually easier to sell.”

By this time, a few other customers had heard and were gathering around.

She looked at the books and then at me.  “How do I know you wrote them?” she asked.

It was a challenge.

I took out my driver’s license ... this is the truth ... and showed her my name and the name on the book were the same.  Gayle Lynds.  Really.

“You could be another Gayle Lynds,” she said.

I opened up the dust jacket and showed her my photo.  “See, it’s me.”

I figured I had her at this point, but instead she looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t let you deface our books.”

I paused.  What could I say to that?  I mustered a courteous thank you, and started to leave.

“I’ll buy it if she signs it.”  It was a woman’s voice, a tall woman with gray hair and a twinkle in her eye.  “I believe her!”

Bless her.  And that turned the tide.  The crowd laughed, others said they'd buy it, too, and the clerk called the manager, who gave permission for me to autograph the books.  I signed the books, and with luck every damn one of them sold.

I am forever grateful to readers.  You guys keep saving me.  Happy March!  Happy spring!


Sunday, March 18, 2018

“SPY GIRL”


by Chris Goff

Elizabeth “Betty” Peet McIntosh (1915 to 2015)

During World War II, Betty worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of today’s CIA, lying in the line of duty.

Born in Washington DC, the daughter of a sportswriter, she attended Journalism school, then worked as a reporter for several newspapers. Based in Hawaii, she covered the attack on Pearl Harbor first-hand before returning to work in the Scripps Howard bureau in Washington D.C. It was there, while she was covering Eleanor Roosevelt, the then-first lady, that her supervisors asked her to write a story on a man named Atherton Richards.

It was 1943. Richards was the head of a firm working on the mechanization of the sugar cane industry. He was a friend of her father’s, and a difficult man to get into see. He was also an undercover operative of one of OSS’s top officials, General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan. When she finally wrangled an interview, Richards asked her if she’d ever thought of getting into a “more interesting line of work.”

No one ever used the word “spying,” but the intent was there and so was Betty’s interest. She only had one condition, that her job provide her an opportunity to work overseas. Donovan promised.

Betty ended up one of a few women assigned to OSS Morale Operations (MO), an organization that used the art of spycraft to outwit the Nazis and Japanese army. Fluent in Japanese, Betty was assigned to the Far East division tasked with creating “black propaganda,” rumors that our foreign adversaries would believe. She and her colleagues were taught how to create and disseminate a mixture of truth and fiction using basic tradecraft, the same skills taught to intelligence officers today.

The Far East division was made up primarily of media personnel—newspaper men, radio people, artists, cartoonists and writers. Needed for quick production, her team also included artists from China, as well as several captured Japanese soldiers. Stationed in India,their job was to create and disseminate information that would undermine Japanese troops. 

Already demoralized and retreating, the Japanese soldiers believed, if they surrendered, they would lose their birth right and not be able to return to Japan. Few Japanese would surrender. To countermand this belief, Betty and her colleagues forged an order permitting Japanese troops to surrender under certain circumstances. To pull it off, Betty enlisted the help of a Burmese OSS agent to kill a Japanese courier traveling through the jungle and plant the forged document in his backpack. When the Japanese retrieved the body of their agent, they found the order and deemed it real.

Another time, she delivered what appeared to be an ordinary lump of coal to a Chinese operative of the OSS near a train station in Kunming. It turned out to be packed with dynamite. Betty later told The Washington Post that the Chinese OSS agent took it aboard the train full of Japanese soldiers, waited for the train to cross a bridge over a lake, threw the coal into the engine and jumped out before the train exploded.

Photo credit: cia.gov
Sometime later, ala Korea’s Seoul City Sue, Betty accompanied future famous chef Julia Child into China, where they worked in a “black radio station,” writing scripts meant to confuse Japanese listeners. At times the fictional scenarios weren’t far off the mark. Wanting to rattle the Chinese and Japanese, Betty created a script for the station’s resident fortune-teller to read on air predicting a catastrophic event. “We have checked with the stars and there is something we can’t even mention because it is so dreadful, and it is going to eradicate on whole area of Japan.” That day we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

Betty's "prediction" of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Japan, was pure coincidence. Colonel Richard Heppner, who later became her husband, later asked her how she knew what was coming, because it was so top secret. She replied, “we just made it up.”

At the war’s end, the OSS disbanded, and Betty returned to the US. For a while she worked for a fashion magazine in NYC, but she found the job boring. After she married, she moved back to DC and wrote a memoir entitled, Undercover Girl, and two children’s books. It wasn’t until 1959, after the death of her husband, that Betty talked the CIA into giving her a job.

What exactly she did for the agency remains a mystery. We know her job was similar to what she did for the OSS, but Betty knew how to keep a secret. She had signed a pledge not to reveal her work, and she kept that promise to the day she died.

During her time with the CIA, Betty remarried, and then, in 1973, she retired and wrote another book entitled, Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS. In it she pays homage to the brave women who served in the OSS as part of “Donovan’s Dreamers,” a group of “glorious amateurs who laid the foundation for the greatest intelligence organization in history.”

To us, Betty is a hero and a patriot. To our enemies, her acts could be deemed immoral. As espionage writers, we are tasked with the job of justifying the action of our “good spies.” 

My question to you, dear reader, are immoral actions ever okay?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

100 HOURS (IN PICTURES)

FOUR DAYS. FOUR HUNDRED PHOTOGRAPHS.


by Sonja Stone


University of Oregon sign

100 hours doesn't seem like much, does it?

I've just returned to sunny Arizona after a long weekend in Oregon. I went to the University of Oregon to see a theater production--Mother Courage and Her Children. The performance lasted for three hours (and very much felt like it). To be fair, the show started at 7 pm, and I'm usually in bed by 8:15, so it's possible that the one hundred and eighty minutes it took to tell me about the Thirty Years War were necessary, but I found the play wanting an editor. However, the actors were phenomenal, the set exceptional, and the live music sublime. 

We packed a lot into the trip, which took place on the heels of my latest project, Cleaning Out The Garage. As I reviewed my cell phone photos on the plane ride home, I realized something: flipping through my photo stream is like peeking into my psyche. It's very disorganized and fragmented, with very little weaving the myriad threads together. I see something interesting and snap a picture. I currently have over 10,000 photos on my iPhone. My boyfriend is really good about looking through his pictures after every event, and immediately deleting those he doesn't like. 

I'm not that guy. 

Which brings me to the point of the following picture.

In January, 2017, I wrote a post about my New Year's Goals. This past January, as you may recall, I again discussed how I move my goals from the previous year to the current year because I never seem to complete anything. And always first and foremost on the list, organize the house, once and for all. It tops my to-dos every year, and every year it just doesn't happen. Well, not this year, my friends. 

A few weeks ago I started sorting through decades worth of treasures in my garage. I've discarded a lot, donated a lot, and still have a long way to go, but I found something equally charming and creepy tucked along the block wall by the electric door.

lizard eggs, Arizona
LIZARD EGGS
These are the cutest little things I've ever seen. Each was the size of my pinkie nail. I tried picking one up, but they're so fragile, it crushed between my fingers. So I took a picture.

After finding a stack of books to donate, I drove to the public library. It was time for a new library card, and I discovered my library now offers a choice of photo cards--and the cards include a mini version for your keychain. I was so charmed, I took a picture.


The next morning we flew from Phoenix to Portland, then drove to Eugene. It rained the whole first day, which is always a treat for those of us from Arizona. So much so, in fact, that I felt the need to snap a picture of this rainy highway sign:



The following day we went for a hike. Notice me in my parka. Anything under 74 degrees is chilly. (This one is actually a legit time to have captured a memory on film. Also, I airbrushed myself with an awesome iPhone app called Facetune. I'm telling you this because I love and respect you.)

hiking in Eugene, Oregon
HIKING IN EUGENE
The last day, we drove along the coast to return to the Portland airport, and stopped for a hike and a walk along the beach. The tidal pools inside rocky crevices teemed with muscles, barnacles, and sea anemone. About 100 of the new pictures I took over the four day period are of sea creatures. Why do I need 100 photographs of sea anemone? Time will tell...

the Oregon Coast
THE OREGON COAST

SEA ANEMONE
SEA ANEMONE
Finally, back at the airport, I snapped a picture of one of my favorite bookstores, the infamous Powell's Books. WHY? Why do I need a picture of the storefront of Powell's Books at the Portland airport? What possible use will I ever have for such a photograph?

Powell's Books, Portland Airport
POWELL'S AT PDX
So my organizing continues to progress in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance. I toss a box of old clothes, I take fifty new pictures. 

I have to admit, the digital clutter snuck up on me. I didn't even see it coming.

What about you? What's your vacation collectible? Where are your hidden stores of stuff? Confess in the comments below!


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tips for When Writer's Block Hits

I love this piece of art at the Riverside Public Library in Illinois. The little red book by the typist says "20,000 words." I think I know the artist, but want to check and will update this post once it's confirmed, but for now suffice to say this is how I feel on any given day.

Writing sometimes feels like you're disgorging your dreams directly from your brain onto the typewriter. That's when the words are flowing and you know exactly what you want to convey. Well, not exactly, because you're going to revise, revise and revise again, but for the moment, when the words are flowing, it feels great.

And for those times when they're not? I have a few tips for that.

First: Research.

While I don't advocate stopping a regular flow of words to research, when you're blocked a little can go a long way to unblocking you. Often research gives you an insight into a character. I was halfway through my first book in the Covert One series, The Janus Reprisal, and looking into financial shenanigans when I came upon the (then) rare world of Bitcoins. I loved the idea of a currency not tied to any country, not subject to regulation and freely mined on the Internet. I resolved to buy some, but once I read that they were created by a Japanese man no one had ever seen or even was sure existed, I backed off. Suffice to say I wish I have bought them now! But just reading about them gave me an idea for a character in the story.

Second: Exercise

When I'm really blocked I head out for a run. Right now I'm writing in California (see my road trip post here) and I have the luck of being a block or two from the gorgeous beach in the photo you see below. I run there, kick off my shoes, and continue to run barefoot. By the time I'm done, I usually have some inspiration. Exercising rarely fails me and I highly recommend it.

Third: Power Through

Sometimes when you're blocked you just have to power through the moment, refusing to leave your chair until you've written your daily requirement, whatever that may be. After staring at the computer for half an hour I'll sometimes tell myself "Okay, done. You have forty five minutes to write one thousand words. Now GO!" I start pounding the keys and the self imposed deadline seems to motivate me. While I don't always make those thousand words in that short of time, I always end up getting it done within a few minutes of the goal. Which tells me that deadlines motivate me in a way that nothing else will.

I hope these tips help the writers out there that find themselves staring at a blank screen in frustration. We've all been there, and you're not alone. Write on!

 Best, Jamie Freveletti


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Great Books and Films about Great Spies

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Stories and films about spies, real and fictional, have always been popular but seem to have engendered even more readers and movie-goers of late.  Many are on the bestseller lists and even heading for a theater near you.  This weekend we'll see the opening of the new movie "Red Sparrow" starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of a former Russian ballerina who is recruited to be a Russian spy and sent to "Sparrow School" to learn the art of seducing her targets. .

Jennifer Lawrence
 This one is based on the terrific thriller of the same name by Jason Matthews, a member of International Thriller Writers.  (our Rogue colleague, Gayle Lynds was a founder of the organization). I remember attending our annual conference, "Thrillerfest" at the Grand Hyatt in New York when Jason was given the award for Best First Novel. Now in addition to the film, his third thriller, The Kremlin's Candidate, featuring the same characters, was just released.

While these books are works of fiction, they are all inspired by Matthews' 30 plus years' of experience serving as a CIA agent in Russia. Verisimilitude indeed!

And while the New York Times Review of Books usually features literary fiction and non-fiction, I saw that last Sunday they asked Jason Matthews to give his list of great books about great spies -- several featured Russian operatives who ended up spying for the United States.  

Oleg Penkovsky
One of those spies was Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in the GRU -- Soviet military intelligence -- and the highest level Soviet officer to spy for us and Great Britain at the time. He volunteered to help western intelligence and was handled by both MI6 and the CIA.  His story was written by Jerrold Schecter and Peter Deriabin in their terrific book, The Spy Who Saved the World. Penkovsky provided us and our allies with papers about Soviet military systems along with the location of launch sites. But his greatest contribution was giving us information during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the KGB started watching him, eventually arrested, tried and killed him for his "treachery."

Another Russian  that our agents recruited was Adolf Tolkachev, an aviation specialist working on stealth technology.  He left notes on the cars of US diplomats near the American Embassy in Moscow saying he wanted to meet with CIA officials.  His life as an informer was described in a recent non-fiction book that many say "reads like a high-tech thriller." The title, The Billion Dollar Spy, is by David Hoffman and was taken from case files of the CIA. As for Tolkachev's demise, he was finally arrested and executed by the Russians in 1986.

Of course, in addition to men who gave our country incalculable information, these blogs have featured many female spies who made enormous contributions.  I'd like to add one more: Nancy Wake, an elusive American spy whom the Gestapo dubbed the "White Mouse." She was among the most decorated secret agents of the Second World War. Born in New Zealand she was described as "a good-looking girl with a streak of rebelliousness."  At a young age, she set off to explore New York and Europe, supporting herself as a freelance journalist.

Nancy Wake

After Hitler's rise, when she heard from refugees about Nazi brutality and the persecution of Jews, she said, "If I ever get a chance, I would do anything to make things more difficult for that rotten Nazi party." And so she did. Parachuting into France, she embarked on a double life as a courier, establishing an escape route from Vichy France across the mountains into Spain. In fact, she escorted escapees and also provided a safe house in the  Alps. Nancy was also involved in ambushing German convoys, destroying bridges and railway lines and was on a raid that destroyed a Gestapo's headquarters leaving 38 Germans dead.  She described it as "the most exciting sortie I ever made.  I entered the building by the back door, raced up the stairs, opened the first door, threw in my grenades and ran like hell." The incredible story of Nancy's life was told by Peter Fitzsimons in this bestselling book. Her exploits were also made into a fascinating documentary. But unlike those Soviet spies listed above, Nancy led a good life and died at the age of 97!


Now, do you have a favorite book or movie about a famous spy to share with us and our readers? Please leave a comment and tell us about it. Thanks for visiting us here at Rogue Women Writers.

...Karna Small Bodman