Sunday, September 30, 2018

RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU LOVE A GOOD THRILLER

by Chris Goff

There's a gamut of books that fit the Thriller genre. Generally defined by pacing and mood, thrillers are jammed with action, pulse-pounding excitement and BIG concepts.

Subgenres abound

Kathrine Roid's blog on Scribbling on the Computer has one of the most complete lists I've found. Add "Thriller" after each category: Action, Conspiracy, Crime, Disaster, Eco-, Forensic, legal, medical, Mystery, Political, Psychological, Religious, Romantic, Spy, Supernatural, and Techno. I would add International and Domestic. ITW listed War. Are there any missing?

Note: ITW stands for International Thriller Writers. If you visit the ITW History page, you'll discover that fellow Rogue Gayle Lynds and Rogue friend David Morrell co-founded the organization. Suffice it to say, what began as a small gathering of thriller writers is now a membership organization with over 4,500 members in 49 countries.

Back to the books 

Studies have shown that each genre has its own readers, and gender biases when it comes to the writers. But times are a changing. There are more men writing in typically women-dominated genres, and vice versa. There's room for everybody―provided they can tell a good story.

I'm conducting an "unofficial" study:

What kind of thriller novels do you love most and why?

What was the last book you bought and by whom was it written?

What made you buy it? (For example, was it the cover, the title, the writer....)

I started, and most of the Rogues have weighed-in. See their answers below.

CHRIS GOFF: I read all types of thrillers, but my favorite are international thrillers with lots of spies, special agents, and/or political intrigue. From the time I could read, I gravitated toward crime fiction. I devoured the traditional young adult mysteries. Then I discovered Helen MacInnes, the Scottish-American novelist of spy fiction. I loved Ride a Pale Horse. Heck, I loved anything she wrote. From there I moved on to Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Ian Fleming, John le CarrĂ©, Ken Follett, Gayle Lynds... 

Notice a trend? Except for Gayle, the writers are all men. 

I'm happy to say, in the last two decades, a number of women have joined the ranks. All of the Rogues; former Rogues: Francine Mathews and Sonja Stone (YA); Stella Rimington; Leslie Silbert; Karen Cleveland; Zoe Sharp; Lea Carpenter; and Elisabeth Elo (whose first spy thriller will be out in March). Am I missing any? 

The last book I bought was The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Swedish author, Jonas Jonasson. It's an hilarious story about a reluctant centenarian and explosives expert who runs away from his nursing home because he's healthy and he's not done yet!

I bought it because my Swedish cousin recommended it.

LISA BLACK: I read every Helen MacInnes I could find — I had to see the Parthenon when we went to Greece a few years ago because of her Decision at Delphi, and actually have a copy of everything Alastair MacLean ever published. From them I learned what I think are the two most important factors in any book: 1) The story must never, ever, slow down, and 2) could always benefit from a touch of romance. (But when I say a touch, I mean it--in every Alastair MacLean book the male and female leads never so much as hold hands, but then decide to get married on the last page. That's the way I write romance, too, except for the marrying part, because if I attempted much more than that it would be painful.)

However, I'm the nerdy, stay-at-home Rogue, microwaving soup in front of the TV in my worn sweaters rather than racing atop the Great Wall in stilettos. My character stays put in her Cleveland forensics lab, and I read murder mysteries a little more often than globe-trotting spy stories.

The last book I bought was Exit Music by Ian Rankin, the story of what's meant to be Detective Inspector Rebus' last case before retirement. But it's in Scotland and involves the death of a dissident poet with a suspect pool of visiting Russian businessmen, so, you know, there's that.

I bought it to get Ian Rankin to sign it at Bouchercon, so I could tell him my story about how I hiked from the Edinburgh Marriott to the Oxford Bar, where he often writes, just to see the place, and how at 4 pm on a weekday there wasn't a soul in the place except the kindly bartender.

CHRIS GOFF: I love it when books have tie-ins to places I've been. That's one thing that makes international thrillers so much fun to read. That and you can imagine yourself in places you've always wanted to go.

David Morrell and Gayle Lynds
GAYLE LYNDS: Thank you so much for the kind words and memories, Chris. It was a tumultuous time for thrillers when David and I decided to see whether any of our fellow writers in the field were interested in forming our own organization. That was back in 2004, and the response was an overwhelming "yes," and then the fun began. Have you ever tried to corral wild cats? Oh, my goodness. Still, so many stepped up that we soon had bylaws, a website, and a list of dreams which we achieved over the next couple of years -- a convention to celebrate all things thriller (ThrillerFest), and awards to recognize the best in the field. The first board members reflect the seriousness and excitement -- Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child, MJ Rose, David Dun, David Morrell, and me. 

Like Chris, my first love of international thrillers started with the great Helen MacInnes, whom I profiled in Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads. But what I didn't realize until years later was, I'd also been reading a host of paperbacks that were under-the-radar in the field -- romantic international suspense (not respected, but a lot of it should have been) and male pulp fiction like Nick Carter and Mac Bolan. At the same time, I was reading the greats -- including John le Carre. What my omnivorous reading habits showed me was I loved that sense of global power, geopolitics both large and small, and secrets, adventure, and the great forces that can change and reveal character. I wanted fun, and I wanted insight. I wanted to write international thrillers!

At the moment, I'm very much looking forward to Elisabeth Elo's debut thriller, coming out this spring. Can't wait for March when it's published!

CHRIS GOFF: I'm excited for this debut also.

ROBIN BURCELL:  I read all over the board. I just love to read, and don't much care--as long as it is goodHmmm... It was a long time ago, but I think I cut my thriller teeth on Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle  and The Key to Rebecca. I think they were my first "big" books after Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, etc. I remember being mesmerized with the stories. Mind you, I hadn't yet decided I was going to be a writer (I knew I wanted to write, just nothing on that scale. I was just out of high school.

Years and years later, a friend convinced me to read Patricia Cornwell, and then Michael Connelly, and that set off my police procedural phase. I thought I could tackle that sort of thing, considering my background, but I really, really wanted to write something like A Key to Rebecca. Funny thing, that. I can't even recall what AKTR was about. I just remember loving it and the international setting. It wasn't until many years later, after finally mastering the police procedural that I remembered my dream of writing a big, international thriller. Oh, and set in World War II. That was what I wanted to write. (How very much I strayed!)

CHRIS GOFF: Robin, you and I have much in common (aside from poker). I loved The Key to Rebecca, and I've also always wanted to write a BIG International Thriller set in World War II. Think Herman Wouk!

S. LEE MANNING: So many of the books I love have been listed - so I have to think to come up with something different. The most recent thriller that I bought was by our very own new Rogue August Thomas, Liar's Candle. It is a spy thriller, of course, and a good one.

If I swivel my chair, I can eye all the books on my large bookcase behind me. It's an eclectic assortment - a number of which I've read, a number of which I hope to read soon, and includes novels by all the Rogues. There's also books by C.J. Box, Heather Graham, Lee Child, Daniel Silva. On and on.

Like so many of us, I have the problem of too many books and too little time. Next to my desk are shelves filled with research books for my novel - next two novels to be honest - and I seem to spend most of my reading time on research and not enough time reading for enjoyment.

So - what were my first thrillers? Chris, I love the idea of a big International thriller set in World War II, since Herman Wouk was one of my favorites growing up. I also loved Leon Uris, for action-adventure. I never read Key to Rebecca, but long ago, and far away, when I was first cutting my teeth on reading suspense, I read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, which is described as a gothic novel - but seems like an early domestic thriller. I loved anything by Mary Stewart, who wrote wonderful stand alone novels like Madame, Will You Talk? or The Moon-Spinners.

This has been a fun discussion. Now back to writing and research.

CHRIS GOFF: I am amazed how many of us listed Helen MacInnes and yet most of us forgot Mary Stewart. I've read most of her books, too.

K.J. HOWE: Chris, thanks for sharing the lovely memories. I'm honoured to be part of ITW. Both co-founders have profoundly changed my life--David Morrell via being my mentor, and Gayle Lynds for being a trailblazer for women writing kickbutt international thrillers. It's incredible to see how the organization has grown since its inception back in 2006. ThrillerFest has become a meeting place of some very special people, our thriller family.

What kind of books do I love most? I adore international thrillers, as I enjoy traveling and experiencing new cultures, foods, people. I recently reread David Morrell's FIRST BLOOD. I was astonished at how even though the novel is 50 years old! it reads like a modern-day thriller with crisp dialogue, tense prose, and a heart-wrenching story of a young soldier damaged by war. And it is unbelievable how David's character Rambo (named for an apple) has become ingrained in modern-day English as an adjective, verb, noun...becoming an iconic symbol.

What books have I read recently and enjoyed? I can share two phenomenal reads, BELIEVE ME by JP Delaney and THE CHALK MAN by CJ Tudor. Both novels were brilliantly written, concise, with powerful characters. As an author, it's tough to turn off that editorial voice, but when it shuts off on its own, you know you're in the hands of masters.

Why did I choose them? I decided to read BELIEVE ME because Marcel Berlins, the London Times reviewer selected it as his book-of-the-month, and he chose very well. Also loved the red-and-white checkered cover. I learned that the book had been an early work of Delaney's and he had re-written it with his honed writing skills. He knocked it out of the park. And I've heard nothing but good things about THE CHALK MAN so I needed to see what it was all about. I really loved the title, so evocative and intriguing. And I was very impressed by the characterization in this debut, so rare for a first book. Bravo to CJ for a blockbuster!

CHRIS GOFF: I've just added your latest reads to my to-be-read pile, which is nearly ceiling high at this point.


KARNA SMALL BODMAN: Chris, I love this idea of sharing our favorite thrillers. Mine have included "political thrillers" set in and around Washington, DC featuring threats, political wrangling and challenges to our country, whether stemming from inside or outside forces. One of the best stories I ended up reading twice was written by former CIA operative, Charles McCarry (who has been a speaker at our International Thriller Writers conferences). It was Shelly's Heart, a great tale of Washington intrigue.

When I began writing my own thrillers which, like Lisa's, do include a romantic twist in each story, I was influenced by so many writers I met and learned from at ITW -- including our own Gayle Lynds, Lee Child, David Morrell, John Lescroart as well as all-time bestselling author, Nelson DeMille and the late Vince Flynn whose character Mitch Rapp "lives on" through the pages of thrillers now written by a good friend, Kyle Mills.

As for men vs. women thriller writers, I am now favoring many of our own Rogues and have been reading the latest contributions by K.J. Howe and Robin Burcell at the moment. I also find that women create terrific stories without a lot of graphic violence. Looking ahead, I plan to check out many more titles by the Rogues -- adding to the current pile on my night table.

CHRIS GOFF: I like your point about women's stories. Do you think that's what men readers like most about books written by men? Graphic violence? I don't believe a book must have lots of violence to be thrilling read, but I do agree that international thrillers written by men tend to have more violence on the pages. 

Now I'd like to know what you think, Rogue Readers. Please comment here and/or on the Rogue Women Writers Facebook page. As a reminder, the questions are:

What kind of thriller novels do you love most and why?

What was the last book you bought and by whom was it written?

What made you buy it?


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

WHY IS MEMORY SO FRAGILE?

THE SHADOWS OF MY MIND: Perception v. Reality
By Robin Burcell

"Memories…"


Altered Memories
Not sure why, but the word itself evokes Barbara Streisand singing her iconic song, “The Way We Were.” So I’m humming the tune and start singing aloud (while ignoring my husband's odd look): “Memories… like the shadows of my mind…” That, of course, leads me to thinking about copyright law for including the lyrics "shadows of my mind," but I'm willing to brave it as I’m certain that when taken out of context the “shadows” mentioned by the song writer surely has a double-meaning. Naturally, I need to look up the song to see if I'm correct. 

Imagine my surprise when I look up the lyrics (thank you, internet) and discover that my own memories of this song are faulty and "shadows" doesn't appear anywhere. The first line actually reads: “…light the corners” of [her] mind. There goes my whole theory on the meaning-behind-the-meaning.

I’m not surprised that I’ve remembered the song wrong. My mistake started with hearing “like” instead of “light.” And hey, my whole life is filled with songs I’ve sung wrong over the years (a search of one of my Facebook threads will prove that I’m not the only one this has happened to). But the point is that the one mistake of hearing/remembering that second word wrong possibly skewed my memory of what (I thought) followed. 

Memory is fragile. This is a proven fact. But sometimes the circumstances of the crime can alter the perception of that memory. The witness can be telling the truth, and yet not be telling the truth. The memory is very real to them. It’s an altered perception. I once witnessed a fistfight, while on patrol. I was on the ground floor, looking up at a balcony where two men were arguing and got in a tussle. One of the subjects went running, the other standing there, bleeding from his back. My victim hadn’t even realized he was stabbed. There was a knife on the ground that the injured man had dropped. But the suspect also had a knife, which he took when he fled. I witnessed the entire crime and never saw either knife. Never saw the stabbing. Wouldn’t have even known had I not gone up the stairs. Now imagine this case goes to trial. (It didn't. Suspect pled.) I’d have to tesify that I never saw a knife. The defense would be all over this. 

A good investigator knows that perception can alter memories, and will keep investigating, because it could make or break a case. But time can also erode memories—even a short amount of time. (Imagine being a witness in a case that takes months and months to get to trial. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.) In forensic art, I’ve had to sit down with witnesses usually right after a traumatic crime such as kidnapping or murder, trying to get a description of the suspect. But I've also had to do this days, months, even years later. I have to carefully query my witness so as not to suggest something, altering what they remember. (I’ve had this happen in a case. Not my questioning, but that by another in the room, telling the witness that what she saw was wrong. After that horrid experience, I learned that if an investigator or support person must be in the room, they don’t get to talk. If they want anything asked, they have to pass it to me on a note, or we have to leave the room.)

Add caption
The courts have recognized that memories can be changed by the way a witness is questioned, which is why it’s always important to ask open-ended questions instead of leading questions. Think of the televised court cases fictional or real, where the attorney is grilling the witness, and the other side shouts, “Objection! Leading!” Well, now you know the reason why. In fact, while I was writing this, my husband and I saw a commercial on TV where someone was looking at a photo album, and the word “Memories” flashed on the screen. I mentioned this blog and that the word evokes Barbara Streisand’s song, and then told him my mistaken first line of lyrics. Normally my husband has an amazing song/lyric retention. But because I suggested the wrong lyrics to him first, “like the shadows of my mind,” he couldn’t come up with the actual lyrics right away. He eventually said, “Something about corners, wasn’t it?” 

I really like my version of the song better. It’d make a great book title: The Shadows of my Mind. Honestly, when I sat down to write this blog, I was going to wax poetic about the times I used memory as a plot device. I have a character with eidetic memory caused by a childhood accident in THE KILL ORDER.  In the Sam and Remi Fargo adventures that I’m co-writing with Clive Cussler, Remi Fargo has a “near photographic” memory (which helps when you need a character to recall obscure facts). But I find the subject of our real memories far more fascinating. How is it we hear something wrong, like the lyrics of a song, and forever more sing it wrong, even though we’re singing along with the actual, real lyrics? We have, essentially, altered our own memories and perceptions of what is actually occurring in that very moment  while the song is playing. We reinforce it wrong, every time we sing it, quite often without even realizing what we're doing.
Miranda Card
Come to think of it, that's one of the reasons why most police departments insist on police officers reading a suspect his/her Miranda Rights from a card. Of course they know it by heart--they've recited it a bazillion times throughout the course of their careers. But, knowing what you know about misperception and fragility of memory, imagine the officer mistakenly reciting it wrong that one time in court. The defense would pounce on that mistake and bring up the whole memory-is-fragile-thing, and if the officer forgot or added a word there on the stand, how do we know the rest of his testimony is accurate? (Never mind the whole other angle of how can the suspect possibly know what his rights really are if the officer screwed up on reciting them. This has actually been used as a defense. In one case I know of, the prosecution defended the mistake by using the suspect's vast criminal record and the number of times he'd been told his rights, leading to the conclusion that he knew them better than the rookie officer who misquoted them.)

So, Rogue Readers, the real burning question is: What songs have you altered every time you sing them because you've heard those lyrics wrong? Really, though, have you ever experienced having a completely different memory of something you're so sure happened exactly one way, only to find it was completely off?


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Research and troubled children


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

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

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

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

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

And those are just the physical manifestations.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What (some) Thriller Writers Consider Romantic Comedies


By Jamie Freveletti

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, September 17, 2018

Are Thriller Writers Prescient?

. . . by Karna Small Bodman

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

. . . posted by Karna Small Bodman 



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reading (and Writing) on the Spot

by August Thomas

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

(Image credit: Bonanza.com) 

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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