Sunday, November 11, 2018

Possibly the best place to write a book!

….by Karna Small Bodman

What is it about a certain town or area that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Of course there are writers living in all parts of this wonderful country, but there happens to be one small part of my state of Florida that is the home of so many creative souls, I wanted to tell you about it.  The place is Collier County which encompasses Naples, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Captiva and other smaller islands -- all populated with bestselling as well as aspiring writers of all stripes. Well known for having a very friendly atmosphere, great restaurants, first-class philharmonic cultural center, attractive shops, nature trails, sailing, and fishing -- it's probably best known for our gorgeous beaches.

Yes, there are all sorts of beaches along coasts, but Naples offers miles and miles of the most lovely and soft WHITE sand beckoning gentle waves from the Gulf. Imagine relaxing here, taking a stroll and then jotting down your thoughts as the warm breeze ruffles your hair.

Okay, now that I've enticed you with the setting, you might say, "it's too relaxing -- too distracting -- I need to concentrate in order to sit down and craft a good story." Not so fast.  It turns out that a very long list of authors have found Southwest Florida to be THE perfect place to put together a bestselling
Author Robert Ludlum
novel including the famous Robert Ludlum who lived and worked here for many years until he died some years ago...but his character, Jason Bourne "lives on" through the pens of two of my Rogue colleagues, Gayle Lynds and Jamie Freveletti. Can you believe that there are now 225 million Ludlum books in print!

Speaking of Rogues, one who lives here on Cape Coral is Lisa Black, who has turned her professional experience as a crime scene investigator into a number of bestselling thrillers. Her latest endeavor is titled Suffer the Children. This book has been described as " with intriguing details...a story with a sharp psychological edge."  She certainly knows her subject, having testified at over 50 trials along the way.

Other well known authors who live in Naples include the ever-popular Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum stories have kept her readers laughing for decades.  Now Janet, who lives here year-round  just down the block from us has a brand new novel coming out on Tuesday (!) where she weaves in some of her own experiences working as a waitress in a Howard Johnson's during college days. It is Twenty-five Alive....Janet has had such success - that one of her books was also made into a Hollywood feature film.

As for film adaptations, author Robin Cook, also of Naples had one of his first novels made into a movie several years ago -- and has kept writing medical thrillers ever since.  His new one, Pandemic, is available for pre-order as it will be out in December - timed for Christmas sales. 

One more book-turned-into-film is by local author Suzi Weinert.  I was on a panel here in Naples not long ago with Suzi, a delightful woman who explained how she loves to go to garage sales. So she came up with the idea of creating a mystery involving special things you can find at such sales.  The Hallmark channel was so intrigued that their producer bought the rights and now we can all watch "Garage Sales Mysteries" on the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel.

Over on Sanibel Island we have Randy Wayne White, a former fishing guide turned bestselling author. His novels feature Doc Ford, a marine biologist who gets into all sorts of wild situations and challenges.  The newest adventure is described in Caribbean Rim, a story of murder, sunken treasure and pirates -- both ancient and modern.

On a lighter note, we have resident Lynnette Austin whose romance novels have garnered her many awards along with bestselling status.  Her new novel is titled Must Love Babies --who could resist that subject? It turns out that I will be joining Lynnette and some FORTY Naples area authors who will be signing our books this weekend at the Collier County Regional Library Book Fair.  And for a relatively small town like Naples, Florida -- you have to admit we have a ton of talent around here.  So again, I pose the question, what is it about an area  that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Perhaps it really IS the way we live, think and dream as we all watch the sun go down every single evening in this very lovely place.
Naples Pier at sunset
 If you are a writer, do you have a special place that inspires you? Or have you heard of other places where many writers have found their own inspiration? Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page (icon is at the top left). Thanks for visiting us today.

. . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


by K.J. Howe

With all the heartbreaking strife in the world these days, I'd like to light a candle of hope. Perhaps we can build more kindness and acceptance by uniting over a shared passion--BOOKS--as they can truly bring the world together, at least that is what I'm experiencing this week at the Sharjah Book Festival.

Saudi Arabian booth--fond memories for me as I spent a lot of time there
Irish chef Kevin Dundon
From October 31 to November 10, Sharjah--which is about half an hour away from Dubai in the UAE--has over 2.3 million visitors to the Expo center, everyone gathering to celebrate the written word. I've met poets, chefs, evolutionary biologists, professors, tech gurus, real estate experts, translators. and a host of other fascinating people who have come together to discuss literature in all forms and languages.

Just walking down the bustling halls of the Expo center, you feel immersed in a world of acceptance, positivity, and enthusiasm. People are busting around the seven halls to learn about the different venues, drink tea, and chat about their shared passion. I'd love to share a few highlights to demonstrate that we need to keep events like the book fair in the forefront of our minds as a way of understanding different cultures and finding shared joy.  You could find almost anything inside the expo center, including booths selling antiquated books hosted by Austrians, novels in a host of different languages, and even had a Baskin Robbins stand.

Speaking of food, I met Lee Holmes from Australia and Kevin Dundon from Ireland, both famed chefs with impressive backgrounds and kind hearts. Watching Kevin share his Irish cooking secrets with attendees from many nations was inspiring. Who can't agree on the brilliance of lemon zest on seafood served inside puff pastry?
Mystery and Suspense Panel
At my panel on mystery and suspense, I was on stage with Dr. Ahmed, a renowned professor from Saudi Arabia and Lamya, our brilliant Egyptian moderator from Dubai. We discussed the key components of crime fiction in both Arabic and English while a translator spoke into the headsets of any audience members who didn't speak both languages. There was such interest in novels from all cultures, and it brought the crowd together even though we all came from different parts of the world.

Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria, Channels TV
I met the charismatic Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria who was one of the most dynamic interviewers I've ever met. We shared our common interest in African culture and books...and guess who his favourite author is--Lee Child. See, we all love the vigilante retribution that Reacher delivers to the bad guys.

Another highlight was visiting an American school here in Sharjah and speaking to 100 young girls about writing and career choices. Some were from Syria, others from parts of Africa, others from the Middle East and beyond. The hugs I received at the end of the session will stay with me long after I leave the UAE.

After the talk at the school, chatting with the girls
What fun meeting the drivers who took us on a wild adventure in the dunes. I broke bread with an economist from the U.K. and his wife who was from China along with two publishers from Spain, and a special couple from Australia.

The culture of the UAE and the government of Sharjah are both very supportive of literacy and literary traditions.  The ruler of Sharjah has started a program called Knowledge Without Borders with the goal of putting a library in every home in the Emirate. They deliver and install a special bookshelf to each home along with fifty free books for each family.  So far, they have delivered about thirty thousand "libraries" and one million free books.  In addition, they fund a large share of the festival, including programs encouraging young people in developing countries to read and seek higher education.  I had the privilege of meeting three young Nigerian students whose book reports had scored them a trip to the festival. You can see a very bright future in their eyes.

The authors are all staying in the same hotel and the cross-pollination of creativity and positivity is unbelievable. At breakfast, you might be discussing chimpanzees with a top evolutionary biologist. Lunch brings about the power and traditions of poetry from African and Lebanese poets.  Down by the pool, a discussion is ongoing about the power of social media and what it means to grow up in the internet age. And dinner features top chefs sharing cooking secrets.

Yes, there is heartache and pain every day as a result of hate and intolerance, but I remain hopeful that positive people can unite against evil, resist it, and focus on what amazing things we can do if we work together.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Something wicked

S. Lee Manning: Something wicked has crawled out of a box where it has been locked up. Something evil has dressed itself up in Sunday best and is strolling down Main Street, smiling and nodding, as if everything were normal. Something ugly is sunning itself on top of the rocks, when it used to hide under them.

We Rogues write thrillers. Our heroes fight evil head-on. They fight serial killers and mass murderers, villains who kidnap, villains who torture, villains who use drones to attack innocent people, villains who use poison or bombs. Our heroes sometimes fight against long odds. They are women and men, using their intelligence and their skills to win the day. My protagonist Kolya faces down those who intend to do harm to others. He’s a lot tougher than I am (maybe because he’s imaginary), and despite the odds, he wins the day, fighting with guns and fists. 

But this isn’t fiction. It is real. Something truly wicked has crawled out of the box. 

And it feels personal. People who don’t know me want to kill me, my children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. People who know nothing about us – except one thing. 

We are Jewish.

My father’s mother had to hide under a table in Russia when Cossacks fired guns into her home because she was Jewish. She fled for the United States soon after, as did all of my grandparents – fleeing anti-Jewish violence that had been sanctioned by the Russian government. In America, they found a home, and they knew they were safe. 

Some of the family stayed behind – thinking they could make it through the bad times, and they didn’t want to lose their homes. Those cousins and great aunts and uncles wrote letters to my grandparents and my aunts and uncles until sometime between 1941 and 1943 when men in black uniforms with swastikas rolled into the region and rounded them up. My relatives were stripped naked, marched to the edge of a pit called Babi Yar, and machine-gunned. 

I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. I knew that people wanted to kill Jews for no other reason than that they had been born Jewish. I knew they would have killed me and my parents. But that was in Europe. It was far away and long ago. 

There have always been Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists in the United States. For the most part, over the last 30 years, they stayed hidden in cellars, writing little manifestos to a handful of people. I knew they were there, but I never considered them a real threat. Yes, there was prejudice and bigotry, but it was not openly proclaimed or celebrated. This ideology was done - except for a few nutcases.

I live in America – and I love this country.  My wonderful husband is not Jewish. Raising our children, we celebrated Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover. It might seem confusing, but it worked. 

But something ugly is sunning itself on the rocks.

Last Saturday, a Nazi shot and murdered eleven people for the crime of being Jewish – elderly people, a doctor who treated AIDS patients when no once else would, two disabled brothers who always greeted people with a smile.      

After he was wounded and captured, this gunman said, “I just want to kill Jews.”

The ideology behind Nazism and white supremacy, that one group is superior and others subhumans to be dominated or eradicated, an ideology of hate is no longer the province of a few nutcases holed up in cellars. And let me be clear - while the man who murdered innocent people in a synagogue may have indeed been unbalanced, the people who perpetrated the Holocaust were coldly and ruthlessly sane believers - and they coldly and methodically plotted the extermination of every Jewish man, woman, and child in Europe - failing only because they lost the war. People again believe in that ideology, and they are no longer hiding.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent over the previous year, and that previous year had been a record high. In 2017, men carried swastikas and chanted “Jews Shall Not Replace Us.” Jews are less than two percent of the population of America, but they are the targets of half of all hate crimes in New York.

The generation that experienced the Holocaust is disappearing: the Americans who liberated the camps and the survivors, who have told their stories. My uncle Leon, who died five years ago, lost his mother and his sister to the gas chambers of Auschwitz – and spent his teenage years taking bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium. The family knows his story – as does the family of every Holocaust survivor – although the children will have to carry the stories forward. But now there are people who deny the Holocaust even occurred.

For Halloween, a man dressed up as an SS officer and dressed his child as Hitler – and then insisted he is merely a history buff – while his wife posted on Facebook: “There is no objective proof of the six million Jews he supposedly murdered.”

In Vermont, where I live, Jewish middle school children have found swastikas carved on desks. Swastikas have been painted on the side of barns up here. On the University of Vermont campus, white nationalist posters are appearing. On Wednesday, a California synagogue was defaced with the words, “Fuck Jews.” On Thursday, someone broke into a reform temple in Brooklyn and painted “Kill the Jews” inside, causing the temple to cancel an election event – out of fear for their safety.

We thriller writers know – because we write about ugly things and evil people – that evil has to be fought. Our heroes know it, and they fight, even at great personal cost, even at the risk of their own lives, against bad odds. They are sometimes injured, physically and emotionally, but they know when something wicked is strolling down Main Street, and they go for it.

Something evil is strutting its stuff, and we have to fight.

But the fight looks a little different than the fights in our books – because there is no ultimate show-down with the bad guy. There is no one person to kill – and order will be restored. There is an idea – that we thought had been shoved into a box and under the rocks - that has wormed its way out. It is the idea behind Nazism and white supremacy: the idea that one group is superior and that others are inferiors to be exterminated or enslaved. Jews are not the only targets of this ideology, other groups, other peoples are victims and targets - the LGBTQ community, people of color. I am writing about Jews, however, because I am Jewish, and eleven Jews just died for being Jewish at the hands of a man spouting Nazi hate. We have to fight this evil– and we have to fight with the most powerful of weapons.

Love – and kindness.  

I am heartened by the outpouring of love. My tiny synagogue in Stowe, Vermont was packed last weekend at an interfaith service. Christians, Jews, atheists, all coming together to express solidarity against hate.  A Muslim organization has raised almost $200,000 for the victims and their families.

It’s not a fight that will end soon – or maybe ever. We will never totally destroy hate or the ideology that nurtures it. But like the heroes in our books, when we see evil, we have to fight it – even if it’s a quiet, long, and sometimes frustrating fight. Together, with love and with kindness, we can push this evil back to where it belongs.