Sunday, April 22, 2018

WRITING ON PLANES


S Lee Manning:  I’m trying to write on a flight to Los Angeles to visit my daughter. It’s a six-hour flight, and I’d planned to get a lot done. The best laid plans – yada, yada. We’re four hours in. I’m currently wedged into a seat where my elbows almost touch those of my neighbor, a nice young woman, but I don’t want to get too intimate. I was going to go over some notes and start revising some scenes. It seemed like a good way to spend six hours when I don’t have Internet access, and
yes, I know you can pay for limited Internet access on a plane, but I’m cheap. The notes are in a folder on the floor under the seat in front. To get them, I’d have to fold up my laptop, put up the tray, lean over, without banging the laptop, my neighbor, or the guy in the seat in front. And even if I managed to get hold of the notes, the laptop takes up the entirety of the tray, so I’d have to juggle notes on my lap without dropping them on the floor or my neighbor.

So instead of working on my novel, I’m writing this. No notes required. I was going to write a post about how I interweave real world political figures and the imaginary world I create, but I decided I’d rather whine about flying. Have I mentioned that I don’t like flying? I even wrote an imitation Dr. Seuss poem about it:
I hate it when we take off.
I hate it when we land.
I hate it when I’m sitting.
I hate it when I stand.
I do not like it with a fox.
I think I’ll wind up in a box.

You get the idea.

So now let me wax poetic on the ever-shrinking seat size. I’m tall for a woman, 5’9”, which is an average man’s height, and I’m cramped. My husband at 6’2” has his knees jammed against the back of the seat of in front of him – and that’s before the passenger in front decides to decline his seat. Motive for murder? “I’m sorry officer, I was already in pain and then he pushed his seat back – so I smothered him with the in-flight pillow – which took a lot of effort considering that the pillow’s the size of a not particularly large napkin.”

I don’t remember it being this uncomfortable from when I flew back in the good old days of the 1990s – and my legs haven’t grown since – well, since before the 1990s. I look at the young people on the flight and realize with sadness that they’ll never know the joy of sufficient legroom on a flight – not unless they want to pay for it. Which leads me to…

Every time I check in for a flight, the airline offers me extra legroom to upgrade to Economy Plus for a mere $89, or sometimes $189 – per person. Did you know that sitting in a cramped seat on an airplane is a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis? Have I mentioned that along with being a hypochondriac, I’m cheap? Of course I have. Probably several times. So, okay, I’m a walking stereotype. But in the battle between hypochondria and cheapness, cheapness generally wins. I’d rather sit here and complain and plot suits against the airline than pay an extra $200 or $400 each way for what the airlines should be providing – sufficient room to stretch your legs.
 
Or figure out a cheap way to stretch my legs and avoid deep vein thrombosis: which is why my husband always wants an aisle seat, and for a long flight, I also like the aisle – so we chose seats on opposite sides of the aisle – which is also why I’m rubbing elbows with a nice young woman instead of my husband.  He’s close enough I can hold his hand on takeoff and landing; we can pass snacks and drinks back and forth, but otherwise we’re on our own. Every person who passes on the way to the bathroom inevitably bumps into my arm or my shoulder. Sometimes they apologize, but mostly they don’t. On the good side, I can periodically stick my legs out into the aisle, wave them around, and trip people.
Me, stressed on a plane.

It used to be on cross-country flights, you were served a meal. It wasn’t great, but it was something to keep you from eating the in-flight magazine. It maybe didn’t taste much better, but usually there was cake or cookies. The meal took up time, and making fun of the food was entertaining. Or you could order a kosher meal. It was usually a step up from the regular airplane food. I knew non-Jews who pretended to be orthodox just to get the kosher food.

Now, all you get is a can of soda and some pretzels – if you’re lucky. The air flight attendants handed out pretzels to some of us, but not to others. I’ve been puzzling over who was chosen and why. Maybe it’s just another life lesson, to teach us the randomness of good things – except that I don’t even like pretzels all that much. I just feel I deserve pretzels as much as any other passenger.

I know some people like to write on planes, and I’m trying to understand why. Do they fly first class? I could write in first class, maybe, I’d have room for notes and books, maybe two laptops. I’d have good snacks, and access to all the coffee I want – another thing I can’t get on a plane. Would I feel bad about the people in economy who were deprived even of pretzels? I like to think I would.

The pilot just announced that we’ll be touching down in half an hour. Tomorrow, I’ll have a table, my notes, snacks, and a lot of coffee. While my daughter’s at her job, I’ll be working on the novel – in between exploring West Hollywood. Today, to my surprise, I wrote an entire blog post in an hour and a half. So maybe writing on a plane isn’t impossible after all.


So what about you? Can you get anything done on a plane?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I NEED TIPS TO GET BACK MY WRITING GROOVE!

Unless kids, cats, dogs, pizza, or a new hip arrives

Gayle Lynds:  There’s an old saying in an author’s life — writing is 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.  So what do you do when you run out of perspiration!?!  I recently had complete hip replacement surgery.  So did 94-year-old Prince Philip.  He’s my hip hero, and I'll bet the hospital gave him the same ugly white socks to wear that mine gave me.  Still, my new hip is grand.  I hope his is, too.  I move easily and am pain free.  Dare I believe my hip is bionic? 

But, oh, the ongoing recovery from surgery!  I feel as if I’m an 8-cylinder Jag operating on a lawn mower engine.  Where's my energy?  Worse, where's my mind?  I didn’t realize I’d have anesthesia fog, or meds fog ... or whatever the heck it is.

Then last night I had a revelation.  I was curled on my side, my forehead pushed against my husband’s shoulder for comfort.  As I lay in a semi-haze, images started appearing in my mind.  The faces of strangers.  Houses.  Mountain landscapes.  A cargo ship.  As I watched the cavalcade I realized I was witnessing my imagination at work.  I’ve always been visual, and I create from that.  Hallelujah!  Does this mean I’ll be able to write fiction again soon?  

Tell me, dear Rogue sisters ... how do you get your groove back!

S. Lee Manning: When I'm in the zone and writing every day, I hyper focus. The writing is all I think about — even when I'm not writing — and I'm probably more than a little boring to be around. It's part of the curse and maybe the blessing of ADHD. So, when I get out of the groove for any number of reasons — illness, travel, family emergencies, stuff on the news that has me transfixed like a deer in the headlights — I find myself floating in a sea of anxiety and self doubt, asking — how could I think I had the ability to be a writer? No one's going to read this garbage, and what did I think I was doing, writing books? Concurrently, I damn myself for being lazy, for not writing as much as other writers, or for lacking ability to focus. Yada yada.

So, here's my five-step plan ...
     1. Forgive myself for lapsing. It's how I operate. It's how I've always operated — and I get things done — eventually. Stop calling myself names. Chant it like a mantra. I am not lazy, and I am not a screw-up.  
     2. Ask someone close to read what I think is garbage — because usually, even if there are flaws, it's not garbage. And if it is, my kids or my husband isn't going to tell me.
     3. Turn off the TV. The TV has always been my refuge when depressed or anxious — and I have wasted too much time, curled in its warmth.  
     4. Write something short. A post for Rogue Women Writers. A comment on someone else's post. Anything that forces me to use words and form coherent thoughts.  
     5. Go back, revisit, edit whatever I was doing when I was in the zone, until I get into the mindset that I can go forward.

Sometimes the entire process takes a few days, sometimes a few weeks, but in the end, so far, this has worked for me.

Gayle:  What terrific suggestions, S. Lee.  It's a Five Step Program for those of us who've fallen off the writing wagon.  Ah-hem.  That's me.  In my mind, I'm leaping for the first rung on the ladder.

Karna Small Bodman: Interesting question, Gayle (first, so glad you're getting back on track).  Now I figure with your imagination, combining mountains and a cargo ship, perhaps a great setting for your next thriller could either be Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong — two exotic places where nearby mountains cascade down to the sea. 

Gayle:  You're giving me chills, Karna.  I wrote about mountains and a cargo ship in The Last SpymasterI can actually remember writing.  So that's where my dreamy sequence must've come from.  Wahoo!
Russian Embassy, Washington: Look for spies!

Karna Small Bodman:  You're on your way!  For me, getting back in the groove after an hiatus is sometimes through a setting, too. For example, we spend spring and fall in Washington, DC and I recall being invited to an event at the Russian Embassy. As soon as I had a chance, I grabbed a piece of scratch paper from my evening bag and jotted down descriptions of their unsmiling security guards, the foyer where ID's were checked and double checked, then the grand ballroom where vodka was liberally poured for all ... and imagined my hero having an encounter over in the corner with a Russian spy he was trying to "turn." 

It's all about keeping your eyes — and mind — open at ALL times.  Now, sit down, Gayle, and conjure up a great plot — can't WAIT to read your next one.   

Gayle:  You're so right that that's what I need to do, Karna.  Spasibo!

Chris Goff: Isn't it amazing when you start moving better? I didn't have a hip done, but I had a knee done, and it was like getting a new lease on life.

Chris knit this fab McKinlay Tartan Sweater. Wow!
Usually when I struggle to write, I don't let myself write. Sort of like when you feel like sneezing but try to make yourself sneeze, you can't sneeze. Sort of like reverse psychology. I tell myself I don't want to write. Anytime I find I want to write something, I don't let myself. I go to the pool or gym. I go play tennis. I go for a walk.

I knit a sweater. I have a thing for knitting baby or kid sweaters. It feels like such an accomplishment, and it's a lot faster than knitting a sweater for an adult. This is a sweater I made for my niece. She and I are both McKinlays, and this is the McKinlay tartan — or the closest I could come with yarns from the Lamb Shoppe. It took me a while to figure out the pattern, and there was a bit of tearing out involved, but I love the end product.

This Easter I painted blown-out eggs.

I go to great lengths not to write. The thing is, I hate being deprived, and it doesn't take long for me to get antsy. Then I want to write. Let's face it, we're professional writers. We have to write. So when all else fails, I set a timer, and sit and stare at the screen, and tell myself I can do anything for an hour.

Gayle:  I'm not gonna write.  I'm not gonna write!  I'm not gonna write???  Oh, no!  I want to!

Jamie - runner, author!
Jamie Freveletti: Well, I can't knit but I've always wanted to learn, so perhaps, Chris, you can teach me! And I love Sandy's suggestions, especially forgiving yourself for the lapse. I tend to beat myself up for the words I didn't write, so I'll have to remind myself that it's a marathon not a sprint. Which brings me to my method - I run! When I'm stuck I slap on the running shoes and hit the track. As I do, I wear earbuds and listen to music and inevitably my mind starts churning with scenes and ideas. It's kind of odd, but perhaps the movement shakes things up. Whatever it is, it works every time! Great to hear that you're healing Gayle!

Gayle:   Ah-ha, movement.  You're right, Jamie — and I have fond memories of my running days.  As soon as I get out of physical therapy, I'm gonna hit the pool for my new fave — deep water aerobics!


Lisa Black:  Love the Easter eggs! I have a very regimented approach to writing, I think, and that is both a blessing and a curse. I don't start until I have a solid plan in mind (which is, somehow, never solid enough and halfway through the first draft I'll be berating myself for starting before I was ready), but once I start I have myself on a strict word count requirement for each day. That is suspended only for vacations, major holidays, and if Cape Coral happens to have a homicide that week.

Lisa, forensic scientist, author!
So I usually don't have a problem until the second draft, where I don't have that definitive method of charting progress ... then the procrastination sets in. By this point there are household projects that have been neglected and other work that has piled up and on top of that I'm bloody sick of the whole thing and never want to see the horrid concoction that no one is going to want to read ever again. (I'm at this stage right now, as you may have guessed.)

I agree with the forgiveness aspect; this is where I cut myself some slack and let myself take a day or two or three to think through something that isn't working. Eventually an idea will surface. And if I'm really lucky, it will be something that doesn't require a lot of rewriting!

Gayle.   You are where I want to be right now, Lisa.  I love second drafts and revisions. Can we trade???

KJ Howe.  Research fuels my writing passion.  Meeting experts in the international kidnap and ransom field provide excellent fodder for what can and does happen across the globe today, and then I get to write about it!

Gayle.  Thank you, KJ, for taking time out from your whirlwind book tour for your new Thea Paris thriller, SKYJACK.  And you're right — research fuels me, too.  But first, I can't wait to read SKYJACK!

Robin Burcell: Oh, my! What a good question, Gayle! (And glad you're feeling better!) For me, I find the biggest obstacle I have is me. I was in Anaheim recently, where I heard DP Lyle, MD, say that another writer (name escapes me) says that the single best advice is Bum Glue. In other words, plant bum in chair and simply start writing. That seems to work for me.

Robin, clearly not in her chair working!
My problem is that my glue doesn't stick. It's always an excuse: oh, if I had a better desk (like one that doesn't get messy), or I need to clean the pantry (like I'm big on cleaning. Ha! Trust me, I'm not). In other words, it's like my mind is actively searching for ways to not write. One thing that really helps is a contractual deadline fast approaching. But it's amazing how much time I can fritter away when that deadline is weeks away. When it's on the horizon, we're talking 15 hour days!

Gayle.  My heart speeds up at the thought of 15-hour work days, Robin.  You're inspiring me!  Those were some of my happiest writing times, but then I also ended up with back surgery and now hip surgery because of Bum Glue.  But I regret not a moment of it....

We'd love to hear your tips and tricks! So, Rogue Readers, have you ever lost your groove? And if so, what did you do to get it back? 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

MAD AS A MARCH HARE


by Chris Goff

www.freerangechicken.co.za


The Rogue topic this month was March Madness, and here we are nearly midway through April. Still, after reading Robin’s post about Mad, Mad, March, the writer in me decided this madness in March required some investigating.

If you look up mad in the dictionary, you’ll find several different meanings. There’s mad as in angry, furious, irate, raging. There’s mad as in very enthusiastic about someone or something. And then there’s the original definition, which appears first in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to be mad as in mentally ill or insane. Hmmmm.

Working backwards, today’s March Madness is all about college basketball. It began in 1939 with the Illinois High School Association when Henry V. Porter wrote an article entitled “March Madness” for the organization’s in-house magazine. Its madness has evolved.

But where did the term actually originate?

From what I find, it propagated from hares. To be as “mad as a March hare” is an English phrase, derived from the observed antics of the European hare during their breeding season which goes on for several months in the Spring. Hares consistently display odd behavior—boxing, jumping, etc., etc.

The first recorded mention of the hares’ madness appears to be circa 1500, in a poem called “Blowbol’s Test.”  Thanne [th]ey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare. The first citation using the phrase in the form we know was in 1959 in Sir Thomas More's “The supplycacyon of soulys.” As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge.

The term “hare brained” refers to the same behavior, and was first referenced in Edward Hall’s Chronicle, 1548. "My desire is that none of you be so unadvised or harebrained as to..." And of course Lewis Carroll took it a step further in his 1865 novel, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by creating the iconic March Hare.

Where I grew up, March Madness equated with cabin fever. Statistically, in Colorado, March is the snowiest month and spring comes 30 days (sometimes 60 days) late. Although, come to think of it, this year March was pretty darn nice, and I’m sure I saw a rabbit hopping around like mad last night when I was walking the dogge.

This Spring, there is lots of madness happening with the Rogues. Last month we bid farewell to Sonja and welcomed Robin Burcell. This month we bid adieu to Francine Mathews and welcome Lisa Black. The changes are bittersweet and exciting.


Francine leaves us as her career takes a turn, and she focuses on a new direction. Her twenty-seventh novel is  straight historical fiction. THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, tells the story of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s American-born mother, and is scheduled for publication next Spring.

Bringing elegance, reason and expertise to the Rogue Women Writers, Francine shared personal stories of her life—summers on Cape Cod, a heart-wrenching accounting of her father’s death from a heart attack her freshman year of high school. She educated us on interesting figures and events in history. She regaled us with stories of her four-years in the CIA—investigating the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland and sleeping on a horsehair mattress in a Spectre-era casino in the middle of Bratislava.

We can’t thank her enough for all the time and energy she gave to the Rogues. Francine, we are going to miss you, but we’re also very excited to see where your new endeavor takes you. We wish you all the best with your upcoming novel and can only hope someday you’ll tackle another thriller and come back to blog with the Rogues.

And, we are DELIGHTED to welcome Lisa Black as our newest Rogue Woman. Lisa has spent over twenty years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and recently as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police department. Her books have been translated into six languages, with one reaching the NYT Bestseller’s list and one being optioned for film. Now, with twelve books under her belt, the fourth book in her Gardiner & Renner series, Suffer the Children, comes out in August. We’re excited Lisa has signed on and look forward to getting to know her better. Her first blog will post on June 3rd. 


Please join us in saying farewell to Francine and hello to Lisa, and share your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mad, Mad March and a Mystery to be Solved


When I received the wonderful invitation to join the Rogues, I hesitated—only because I had a few things on my plate and worried about keeping a commitment to come up with something coherent to say. I was a bit distracted at the time, packing for a move to a new house, dealing with lenders and agents, acquiring documents associated with said move, and nursing my husband who’d just had knee replacement surgery. But surely things would be back to normal in early April, I thought. I could handle this.

Note to self: don’t respond to emails while drinking alcohol. (My kids know this. Ask them about asking for money when I am sipping my fave wine. I am such a lightweight drinker!)


Seriously, I was thrilled by the invitation. What a wonderful group of writers. I couldn’t wait to get started. Writing a blog piece was not going to be an issue. Finding clean clothes was, however. Did I mention that our washing machine quit right after my husband entered the hospital for his surgery? That darn Whirlpool couldn’t wait three weeks to break down. So, in that mad month of March, before we moved, I had to have a new washer and dryer delivered to the old house. And delivery took another week and a half. We had a few loads waiting when the new LG arrived. (Decided to switch brands based on reviews. Let’s hope that research paid off.) 



Moving day started off with a massive downpour, but it was bright sun shining on us when the movers left, and I was feeling pretty good about the trip to Reno the next day for Left Coast Crime. Some of the regulars, including fellow Rogue, Chris Goff, would be at the poker table that night. The drive was smooth, I made it to the panel with 5 minutes to spare (my kingdom for another cup of coffee!), and that night, I made about fourteen dollars playing poker. (We have a 20 dollar buy-in, so this is really good! Usually I’m down about 3-4 bucks.) Of course, being that we had just moved, I had to scoot out early the next day, and so I headed downstairs to find that elusive coffee, and went to pull out my credit card, only to find out that my wallet was gone. Security and I were on a first name basis by the time I checked out. For the record, I actually found my wallet at (mumbles something unintelligible). 

Hey, I was sleep-deprived from husband’s surgery and the big move. And it’s highly possible I was instrumental in stopping some nefarious activity. I’ll let you be the judge.

As a result of going to look for my wallet in my car, I made an interesting observation (besides that sleep-deprivation will turn me into an airhead and bad conversationalist). There was a hinky-looking, gang-banger-type in the stairwell/elevator bank, second level of the parking garage. He was standing in front of the control panel, charging his phone from the plug that was between both elevators. I reached for the button, politely saying excuse me. He unplugged his phone, moving to the side, keeping his back to me the whole time. Odd, but no big deal, I thought, reading the tattoos on the back of his neck. I headed to the car on the third level, returned, and he was still there, still carefully keeping his back to me, but doing it so casually, that I didn’t give it too much thought. Well, not until my friend and I left to drive home about a half-hour later. This time, he was on the third level. Still holding his phone, still keeping his back to us as we moved around him to get off the elevator bank, and doing so as though this were a familiar dance to him. Not sure what our Rogue Readers might have done, but I drove straight to the front of the hotel and reported him to security. When I mentioned my first encounter, security told me that a lot of people charge their phones there. (Really? Because it was snowing out, and I could think of a lot warmer places to stand than an exterior stairwell.) When I mentioned my second encounter, his brows went up a tad. When I mentioned my former profession as a cop for nearly three decades, he said, “We’ll go check it out.” And he immediately left to do so. 

The writer in me is thinking: plot point! Way to kick off a novel! (And way to distract everyone from that whole lost wallet thing, right?) My question to the Rogue Readers is: what would you think if you’d seen this person? Would it have raised your suspicions? Would you have assumed his presence/actions were suspicious? And would you have reported it? Or is it that writer’s brain, turning everything into the plot of the next book?


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

CONGRATS, FAREWELL AND WELCOME

Rogue Women Writers sends out HUGE congratulations to fellow Rogue, K.J. Howe, on the nomination  of THE FREEDOM BROKER for the 2018 International Thriller Writers' Award for Best First Novel. The book not only introduces hostage negotiator Thea Paris to the world, but introduces author K.J. Howe, who tells a spellbinding tale that keeps your blood pumping from start to finish. Most of the Rogues will be in New York City for ThrillerFest, ITW's premier event, where the award will be presented. All of us just know you're going to bring home the prize—though as they say, it's an honor to be nominated. Indeed it is!!


Even as we celebrate, the Rogues must also bid a fond farewell to Sonja Stone, the talented author of the young adult thriller, DESERT DARK. Sonja has been a dedicated and valuable Rogue since our first blog in 2016, and our first joint appearance at ThrillerFest. Increased time demands from work and writing necessitated her decision, and we will miss her. She's shared recipes for apple pie, taken us along the Oregon coast, explained how to get into character, offered tips on being a good spy, and demonstrated how to use a lipstick gun. Her new novel, DARK DIVIDE, a mix of Hogwarts and the Bourne Identity, comes out at the end of July. We hope you will continue to follow her exciting career! Thank you, Sonja. We wish you much success with future novels and in all your future endeavors. Please come back and visit us!


But, just as Sonja brought her own special insights, our newest member, Robin Burcell, brings her own skill set. She has a background in law enforcement as a police officer, hostage negotiator, investigator and forensic artist. Her novels have won the Anthony and the Barry, and with Clive Cussler, she co-authors the New York Times' bestselling Sam and Remi Fargo series. Her first post as a Rogue member appears tomorrow . Please stop by and  help us welcome her. We're very happy to have you aboard.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

FRESH BLOOD

By Francine Mathews

When people ask why I write under two names--Francine Mathews and Stephanie Barron--I like to quip that it's because I'm a Gemini. If only it were that simple! I've fostered a split personality as an author because there are too many good stories to tell, and not all of them fit my brand. It makes complete sense for a former CIA intelligence analyst to write spy novels. Less sense for her to craft a series featuring Jane Austen as a detective. Complex interests can make for even more complex work arrangements--and a tangle of incompatible storylines. Publishing as two different people helps to clarify the mess.

One thing has united my previous titles, however: an emphasis on suspense fiction. Lately, I've been struggling as Stephanie Barron with a beast of an entirely different color. I'm writing in another genre--straight historical fiction, without a dead body anywhere--and it's nowhere as simple as I'd hoped. 


Lady Randolph Churchill
A few years ago, on the sidelines of Thrillerfest, I sat down with an old friend and mentor who'd edited twenty of my previous books. I told her I wanted to write a novel about Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's American-born mother. I came to this story from various directions. Churchill is a character in several of my spy novels, which required me to research his life heavily; but I'd also dipped into biographies of his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, purely as an interested reader. One of the first Dollar Princesses to marry into the British aristocracy, Jennie had an enormous personality and cut a glittering social swath through the last decades of Queen Victoria's reign. She juggled politics, parties, lovers, debts, and a flamboyant husband who kept deadly secrets--all with a smile for the camera. I saw her as a twenty-first century Rogue Woman trapped in the nineteenth, and I suspected her unconventional choices may have shaped her son Winston in significant ways.

My editor agreed to read various drafts of my work over the subsequent years. 
Yes. Years. 

What has finally emerged as THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN has undergone at least ten revisions. The manuscript just reappeared on my doorstep via overnight mail, in redlined hard copy, for yet another polishing. There are moments when I despair of ever telling this story successfully. And yet Ballantine appears to be publishing it next spring.

I've been writing books for twenty-five years. This is my twenty-seventh novel. So why is Jennie proving to be such a bitch?

Suspense fiction offers its own tight architecture, the puzzle plot. It lives or dies by its pace and sustained sense of jeopardy. Risk is inherent in every scene, and the period of time that transpires from beginning to end of the story arc is usually quite brief. Master those truths, and you'll have a book that's a page-turner.

But how to summarize an actual life? How to define it? How to choose the episodes, the passions, the tragedies that convey the essence of a character? How to shift from Manhattan to Newport to London to Paris over a period of four decades? How to paint the backdrop of a different historical era in ways that illuminate Jennie, rather than obscure her? 

How to persuade a reader to care as much about this woman as I do?

I've had to acquire a set of subtlely different skills. I've had to alter my voice, beef up my adjectives, expand my descriptive repetoire and hone my sense of dialogue. And boy, I've had to embrace revision.

Revision is to editing, what gutting the interior of a house is to applying a fresh coat of paint. Thank God for editors who say: What if you blew out that wall, and explored a different room?


Robin Burcell and Friend
Which leads me to more fresh blood, and another Rogue Woman: Robin Burcell. Robin takes the notion of multiple personalities and a tangle of lives to new heights: over the past three decades, she has worked as a police officer, a detective, a hostage negotiator, and an FBI-trained forensic artist. Those are intimidating chops--but add to them the awards she has won as an author, and Robin is fairly swoon-worthy. Her books have won the Anthony, the Barry, and the Macavity awards. Plus, she gets to live in Wine Country, and she clearly has a sense of humor, if this picture with a rooster is any indication. Robin has enthusiastically agreed to join Rogue Women Writers, and her first post will appear here in the blog on Wednesday! We're so thrilled to have her--and hope you, our readers, are excited as well.

Anything you'd like to ask Robin about her years of crime? Or her forthcoming novel--THE GRAY GHOST, written in collaboration with Clive Cussler? This is the latest in the Sam and Remi Fargo series, and it lands in bookstores May 29th. If so, you know what to do....Leave your questions in the comments below.
Cheers,

Francine

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Spring Break, Running Trails and Writing Retreats

Fearless Gull Watching The Restaurant
Thanks to the need to write and the need to get away from the cold days in Chicago, I decided to take the first "writing retreat" of my writing career. For those who are writing around their day jobs, family responsibilities and weekend chores, believe me I know what that's like. For years I wrote after work and in the evenings after dinner was over and the kids bathed and put to bed. I had, and still have, a small nook in the corner of the master bedroom with a window to my left that overlooks the garage and alley. (Chicago always has an alley). Not a lovely view, but somehow I've grown into that nook and can't imagine where else in the house I'd settle down to write. Oh, there's the occasional laptop in bed when I wake up moment, and the occasional kitchen table moments, but for the most part I sit in my corner watching the garage doors open down the alley as the various residents leave for their workday. 

But this year I had some networking to do in Los Angeles and I decided to find a small place to write there. I would write from a new location. The good weather for running would be a bonusI've never been on a writing retreat, though there are many places that allow writers to be "in residence" and write their hearts out with no distractions. Ragdale in Lake Forest Illinois, one of Chicago's nearby suburbs, is one. Located on 50 acres of a native prairie, most who have gone there have raved about the experience. 

I headed west and settled into a coastal rental near a train line to Los Angeles and began writing. The first thing I noticed was that, like most writers, I'm happy all by myself. I thought I'd get lonely. Nope. I thought I'd get distracted by the quiet that is so alien in Chicago. Nope. But I did discover that writing in a location where I can pick up and run when the well runs dry is brilliant. 
Mailbox Patriot Trail Los Ramblas

I rarely get writer's block, but when I do I tie up the running shoes and hit the track for a few miles. I always return refreshed and ready to tackle the blank screen. That went double for a location where the average temperature is about fifty-five degrees and sunny. I found a weekly running group that leaves from a nearby Fleet Feet store and picked their brains about the best trails in the area. They recommended Los Ramblas. This trail located in San Juan Capistrano has some steep elevations and, when you get to the top, gorgeous views of the nearby countryside. At the top of Patriot Hill there's a mailbox. Open it and you'll find two notebooks and a pen. Here's where you write whatever you want, or simply sign your name.
Notebooks inside

I loved reading the different comments, funny quips, and touching sayings that people wrote in these journals. I added my own lines and placed them in the box. There's something about writing your thoughts and leaving evidence of them in a location for others to find. Like a message in a bottle, it feels as though you're sending your hopes and dreams out into the universe where someone, someday, will read it and laugh, nod, or brush a tear away. 

Writing is magic. Whether from a corner nook overlooking a city alley or at the top of a beautiful trail overlooking the Pacific. It's this connection and ability to convey our feelings into the written word that keeps us alive, I think. 

The journals you see in the photo are full. This week I'll run up the trail again and bring a new, empty essay book for the hikers to use. If I come again next year, I look forward to reading it. 

Happy Spring everyone! 

Jamie Freveletti


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring into Books - for children - and the rest of us.

....by Karna Small Bodman

As many of us have been celebrating Easter and Passover, we can also rejoice in the promise of  sunshine, cherry blossoms, and all sorts of new beginnings. So what better time to discover new books to read on a Spring break.  Since some of you may be taking young ones along, I thought I would highlight a selection of new children's books (along with a few for the rest of us).  First up: the brand new bestselling story of a pet bunny.
Not just ANY pet bunny, this one, "Marlon Bundo" belongs to the Vice President. Otherwise known as BOTUS, (Bunny of the United States), he begins his new life by attending White House events, riding on Air Force 2 and using his Instagram account. What a great way to show our youngest where our VP lives, but also some of the settings in the one building in the world that not only is the home of all of our Presidents, but is also a museum.

The next hit with the young set is the latest offering in a very popular series, "Little Blue Truck's Springtime." This delightful story is described as "celebrating the beauty of springtime where little ones learn about how baby animals begin their new lives."


Children certainly do love animals and here is another book to capture their attention and stimulate the imagination: "Dog Man and Cat Kid," the fourth in this particular series.  Many of us love to read mysteries where we try to figure out who did what. (In fact, our own Rogue, Francine Matthews,  has written a terrific series of "Merry Folger Nantucket Mysteries" you should check out). Now,  I'll bet children will enjoy this  new mystery about a heroic hound with a new feline sidekick who must solve the puzzle of a missing movie star.

It is definitely an exciting new beginning for an ingenious cat-cohort. And, of course,  if and when they find the film personality, it will certainly mean a new start for that star as well.
One more for your consideration is a clever story about a bear. The title is "Mother Bruce."  It turns out that Bruce, the bear, usually forages for eggs, but on one particular hunt, he discovers that his favorite breakfast has hatched and he's surrounded by live goslings.  Okay, so he can just ignore the new babies, right? Wrong! It turns out these tiny creatures are convinced he is their mother. Now it certainly means new beginnings for this brood. But what is a bear to do? Can he escape the challenge?

On the subject of escape, here is a suggestion of a blockbuster thriller for the rest of us -- released just three weeks ago and already hitting every bestseller list I've seen to date. The Escape Artist by the talented author, Brad Meltzer, one of the only writers to have fiction AND non-fiction books on the bestseller list.  (His non-fiction hits include History Decoded and Heroes for my Sons and Heroes for my Daughters.) Brad's new thriller is about the search for a painter with the US Army who faked her own death.  Now think about it...if she is found alive, you have to admit that would be an incredible new start. By the way, I referenced The White House in the first book listed here and wanted to tell you  I heard that a group of national security experts in the George W. Bush administration invited Brad Meltzer into The White House to give them his ideas about threats to our nation so they could then strategize about how to foil the plots. 

Now, in time for Passover, came the release of an incredible true story about a Jewish family in Poland that became separated at the start of World War II.  These brave souls were determined to survive and find each other again. The title is We were the Lucky Ones. It is described as a "tribute to hope and love against all odds." 

These accounts of bravery and determination are such an inspiration, it is no wonder that this book received great reviews and became featured on a number of bestseller lists as well.  



Finally, I would like to suggest a wonderful novel which is not new.  However, it is such a good story and so well-written that I wanted to highlight it here.  I had the pleasure of reading it when it first came out and it became the choice of hundreds of book clubs across the country (including three I belong to).  I am referring to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This is the tale of how Russian Count Rostow begins a new life under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel across from the Kremlin. Since we are talking about new beginnings, this term also applies to the author who, you might say, reinvented himself. You see, Amor Towles first worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for 20 years.  Then he created his own fresh start when he wrote his first novel, Rules of Civility which was ranked by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of the year.  Now A Gentleman in Moscow has been on the bestseller list for the last TWO YEARS!

And so, fellow readers, I hope you and your family will enjoy these suggestions along with many other great books during this glorious spring season.  My family joins me in wishing you all a Happy Easter - thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers. 

....by Karna Small Bodman