Sunday, April 21, 2019

Passover Primer in Four Questions, More or Less

S. Lee Manning: It is now officially spring, except of course in Vermont, where it goes from winter to mud to summer, but that’s not my topic today.  Today is Easter. Happy holiday to all of you who celebrate it, but that isn’t my topic, either. For Jews, we are officially into the second full day of the eight days of Passover – so hag sameach.  (Means happy holiday.) 

Today, for those non-Jewish readers and writers who don’t know much about the Jewish holiday of Passover – I thought I’d offer a primer – in the form of questions and answers. After all, the four questions that are asked at the Seder table (get to that in a minute) are at the heart of the holiday.  

So here goes:

1.What is Passover?On Passover, or Pesach– as we call it –Jews around the world celebrate freedom. We were slaves in Egypt; we’re not anymore. Pass the horseradish and the matzo.

2. The horseradish? Why horseradish?It’s just one of those required items we eat at the Seder (yeah, I know, I promised to explain the Seder, still getting there.) We eat horseradish to remind ourselves of the bitterness of oppression. It’s also useful for drowning out the flavor of gefilte fish, which, while not a required ritual item, is a traditional item eaten for Passover dinner, reminding us all that our grandmothers slaved over hot stoves to boil white fish down into a gooey mass for the ritual meal– and now we are free to just pop open a jar of the stuff made by Manischewitz and serve it.  The jarred version tastes nothing like fish. Tastes nothing like anything your grandmother would have made. But we’re celebrating freedom, and anyway the gefilte fish is slathered with horseradish, so who cares? Slather paper in horseradish – and it’ll taste the same as gefilte fish. You also put horseradish on matzo, by the way, that’s part of the ritual at the Seder  (getting there).

3. About that matzo, what is it? Why do you eat it?Matzo is the bread of affliction. I mean it, both figuratively and literally. It symbolizes the fact that when Jews fled Egypt, they had to move fast, and the dough didn’t have time to rise. Instead, the dough baked in the sun as a flat tasteless sheet that kind of resembles a cracker-- although that’s insulting to crackers. To this day, we celebrate our freedom by foregoing all bread and eating matzo – which in its original form also does something not so good to our insides – which also is why the Seders in my youth involved cooked prunes as part of the desert. Things have improved since those carefree days – now matzo comes flavored with fruit juice, or as whole wheat – with five grams of fiber; thus, we can forego the cooked prunes. And, also, to be fair, I’ve always loved matzo bri – which is sort of like French toast, only with matzo.

4. So, no bread for the Seder – whatever that is? Or no bread for eight days?  Well, this depends on your level of observance. The orthodox not only forego bread; they don’t eat anything made with wheat except matzo or products made from ground-up matzo. The orthodox not only just eat matzo, it has to be matzo specially made for Passover. It’ll say so right on the box. Kosher for Passover. Same with everything else. I mean everything. Bottles of Coke have to be kosher for Passover. Dishes. Orthodox Jews have a separate set of dishes, just for Passover – so actually four sets of dishes. One set of dishes for meat. One set for anything containing dairy.  And the separate meat and dairy dishes for the rest of the year - that are put away for the week of Passover. The orthodox scour their houses right before Passover to clear out any possible crumb of non-Passover food. They blow torch their ovens to eliminate even a molecule of non-kosher for Passover food – and a blow torching can have deleterious effects on an electric appliance.  One of my more religious cousins wanted to blow torch the oven of a religious - but-not-quite -as-religious aunt. She refused to allow it. He covered the inside of the oven with aluminum foil. Four hours later, with the turkey for the celebratory meal completely raw, my aunt ripped out the silver foil.  The cousin refused to eat.

Non-orthodox Jews differ in what they eat and won’t eat for the eight days. My parents would eat normally, except they swore off bread. Me, I’m not religious. I eat matzo for the Seder (yeah, I know – getting to it) and maybe for a day or two beyond that – trying to honor my ancestors and my heritage – but usually somewhere around the 4thday, I’m sick of it – and I sneak off for a thick slice of Elmore Mountain bread and peanut butter.

5. What is a Seder? So, here we are finally. Seder means order. It is a ceremony before the meal on the first and second day of Passover that retells the story of the Jews leaving Egypt, punctuated by drinking wine and eating various ceremonial foods – like the above discussed horseradish, and to do this retelling, Jews read from a booklet called a Haggadah. The traditional Haggadah is in Hebrew and English. When we went to Seders on my mother’s side of the family, we read the English; we read the Hebrew; my uncle would then discuss what various  rabbis actually thought the text meant; we’d discuss our personal views on what the various rabbis thought the text meant, and we’d wind up eating dinner at maybe eleven at night. There would be an hour or two left of the ceremony after the meal, but my father, who would have been barely holding in his impatience all evening, would stand and announce – time for the book of Exodus – and we’d troop off.

The highlights of the Seder are as follows: The four questions – chanted in Hebrew by the youngest child able to chant in Hebrew - about the food and the rituals with answers that all come down to – we were slaves. We’re not. The blessings on food and wine: then you get to eat the ritual foods and drink the ritual wine. The reciting of the ten plagues: on the naming of each plague, we dip a finger in the wine to remove a drop  – to try to show that we sympathize with the Egyptians who had to suffer because their Pharaoh was a jerk. 

There are less traditional Haggadahs, incorporating stories of oppression that are more contemporary and expanding the universe of concern to everyone fleeing or fighting persecution. Then, there’s the reader’s digest version of the rituals– cut out much of the story and the rabbinical discussions and skip to the blessings on the wine, the horseradish, the matzo etc. – and then dig in to the meal. These days, I tend to go for the Seders with some combination of the two.

6. Are there other ritual foods and important aspects to the holiday that aren’t discussed here?Of course there are. And there’s tons of information on line. I am just providing a few highlights from my personal experience. And, okay, it wasn't four questions - it was six questions. Details. Details.

So happy holidays. Hag samaech. May the gefilte fish be with you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Exciting news: The Real Book Spy & Rogue Women Writers have formed a lethal alliance!!

What's happening? 

Beginning Friday, May 10th, the Rogues will team up with The Real Book Spy to bring you the Rogue Recommendation of the Month. The Real Book Spy provides full coverage of everyone's favorite thriller authors, and their characters. Here’s just a sample of what authors are saying :

“There’s a new go-to site for all things thriller—Ryan Steck’s The Real Book Spy” 
— Kyle Mills, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Order To Kill 

“One of the coolest things to happen in the Thriller community in the last few years is The 
Real Book Spy. . . He’s the guy people in the mystery/thriller world talk to behind the scenes.”
— Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times bestselling author 

“If you’re not following The Real Book Spy then you’re doing it wrong…
Incredibly cool and supporting thriller writers around the world.” 
— Don Winslow, #1 Internationally Bestselling Author of The Cartel and The Force 

What can Rogue Readers expect?

On the second Friday of every month, Rogue Women Writers will publish a new The Real Book Spy's Rogue Recommendation, highlighting a thriller that sizzles with entertainment, breaks boundaries or in some way stands out as "Rogue." The blogs will be uniquely his and may include, among other things: author interviews, author blogs, reviews and photos.

Who will the hero, heroine or villain be? 

You tell us! Every few days leading up to the 10th, we'll be posting more clues. This is your chance to win more than just bragging rights! Can you figure out who wrote what book before the big reveal? Tell us your thoughts, ask a question or hazard a guess in the comments section, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Real Book Spy's May Rogue Recommendation. 

Game on!

Sunday, April 14, 2019


by Chris Goff

The family I'd never really planned on having.
Everyone has a list.

Admit it. All through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we bear witness to the world around us and make mental notes of everything we're never going to do. Sometimes we learn from others mistakes, and never do. Other times we discover some of the things we thought we'd never do are those that bring us the most joy and happiness. The things that free us to live our best life. Or not!

Here are a few of my emphatic no-nos:

#1 - I'll never smoke pot.

Did that! And, I have to admit, I inhaled. Let's face it. I went to high school and college in the early '70s. The irony is, now that it's legal to smoke pot in Colorado (where I live), I don't smoke. That said, learning they have marijuana engineered to treat pain, I did try edibles. My discovery: pot doesn't help my arthritis pain, and what they're smoking and eating today confirms—no one in the '70s was breaking the law. We were all smoking oregano!

#2 - I'll never get married.

Just as drug usage escalated in the 70s, so did the rate of divorce. I decided the only way to beat the odds was to never, ever get married. I'm batting a thousand. Not only did I tie the knot, I married a man with three kids, and then had three more. Me, the girl who was going to travel the world and live like a vagabond. What is this world coming to?

It's funny how some things work out. April 3rd marked our 37th Anniversary. During our marriage, we've traveled to four of the continents, children in tow. And this year, just weeks after our youngest gets married, Wes and I will embark on a cruise to Antarctica. Departing from Santiago, Chile, we'll cruise the Chilean fjords, land on the ice in Antarctica in Zodiac boats and walk among the penguin poop. Then we'll head to the Falkland Islands and our end destination, Buenos Aires. I'll be checking two more continents off my bucket list, leaving only Australia to conquer. You might be able to corral her, but you can't take the wanderlust out of the girl.

#3 - I'll never say to my kids, "Because I'm your mother and I say so."

Did that! It was one of those statements I hated as a kid. What do you mean "because you said so?" If there's a rule against doing something, there ought to be a reason. And, for full disclosure, this may not be the worst of my indiscretions. There's the I'll never use my own saliva to clean my child's face in public, I'll never bribe them with candy, and I'll never use the TV as a babysitter. Raise your hand if you can sing the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid—or worse, The Barney Song. I can. That said, I do have my limits. I can honestly say, I never put my child on a leash—though I will admit to entertaining the idea.

#4 - I'll never live in a condo.

I'm still wrapping my mind around this one. This is part of my new reality. It's not all bad. It's not like the apartments I lived in before buying a house. And it's not one of those high-rises where the entrance resembles a hotel lobby. Or worse, a nurses' station. It's a third floor, 1727 sq. ft. unit, with wood floors, marble counter-tops and a view of my beloved mountains. Now that we've added some built-in bookcases, we have adequate space for all the stuff we absolutely must have to survive. Granted, it was tough downsizing from 4,000 sq. ft., but we don't have to mow or snow-blow, and—on most days—Wes has a three-minute commute to his office.

Will this be our forever home? Doubtful. But, for now, we can lock and leave and know our treasures are secure.

#5 - I'll never be a pack rat like my father, mother, and grandparents before them.

Marie Kondo and I are working on this! She's the author of "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." My daughter, Mardee (a former pack-rat), gave it to me three years ago, when we began our downsizing adventure. The concept is to go through every item you own and keep it ONLY if it "sparks joy." You are supposed to go through every item in your home, hold it in your hands and ask yourself, Does this fill me with happiness? If the answer is no: Hello, Goodwill.

My husband is a major offender. When we moved from the house where we'd lived for 30 years, I found a box marked 1971, meaning he'd moved it-UNOPENED-from house to house to house. Three moves and, in truth, it may still be in storage. I also unearthed two small steam engines on the back of shelf in the garage. When I asked him why we had them, he replied, You never know when you'll need one. Hmmmm.

Of course, I only poke fun because then I'd have to face my own pack-rattery.  I had drawers full of clothes I hadn't worn in 40 years. You'll never know when they'll be back in style, ignoring the fact I will never again fit into any of them. There were cabinets full of writing supplies (I'm a sucker for pens and sticky notes), three separate seashell collections (I love the beach), and boxes full of other boxes (you never know when you'll need one). There were linen closets packed with towels that should have been ripped into rags years earlier, hutches full of crystal and silver (some we never knew we had), and a pantry full of canned goods that expired decades ago. And let's not forget the boxes of treasures given to us by the kids over the years. We're talking: 30 year old macaroni necklaces, paper-mâché statues, wreaths made of paper plates and stamped with their toddler hand prints....

Need I go on?

Needless to say, some things were pitched, some things were re-purposed and some things went straight into storage. It's the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy. But, as an only child of an only child, I'm just not ready to get rid of all of the things my ancestors saved across five generations just so I could have them. Who cares if they "spark joy?" It's the guilt of getting rid of them I'm avoiding.

#6 - 

Sure, I have more, but I'm going to stop here. How about you? What have you sworn you'd never do, yet did? Please don't tell me I'm the only one with a list?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

HELP! Ten Reasons I Shouldn't Get a New Puppy.

I have puppy fever. 

This is a serious disease and I need help to find a cure. I’m almost positive that I was coming down with it when I took off for Left Coast Crime in Vancouver this past March. I’d recently finished the edits for The Oracle, which comes out this June. That means time off that I could devote to a pup.

BFFs. Best Furry Friends.
We have two dogs. One is a 12 year-old boxer, a pound puppy rescued when she was one. She’s been having seizures. The doc put her on phenobarbital, saying she’d act drunk, but she’d start to adjust. Only she didn’t. She started losing function of her backend (unable to walk), which made us suspect she actually has a neurological problem that will only worsen. Doc took her off the pheno, put her on prednisone which should slow the progression. She’s doing great, considering. Our other dog is a standard parti-poodle (black and white). She’s almost 9. A 9 year-old puppy that could really use a more active sister.

I really want another poodle. I’d take any standard poodle puppy. As adults, they’re not high-strung or yappy like most little poodles. They come in a rainbow of colors. Not sure about white or cream colored poodles, because they’re almost too beautiful, but if someone gave me one, I wouldn't turn it down. Honestly, I’d take any color from apricot to black. The kids want a parti like our black-and-white. Doesn't matter what color. They're super-easy to train, because they're super smart. Even so, I need to talk myself off the ledge, and to that end...

Ten reasons I shouldn’t get a new puppy:

10.  I need to start a new book, but don’t know what to write about. I have several very good books started, many abandoned when a new contract got in the way. One of them is even a mystery/thriller. But do I work on one of those, or start something new? (As you can see, indecision is an issue.) A puppy might get in the way.

9.  I have not yet finished getting my new house unpacked and in order. We’ve been here a year. My office is not set up. (Hello, laptop!) I should really work on it. And my closet. And the garage. Unpacked boxes… I think I’ve worn out the “excuse the mess, we just moved” excuse. But I could say, “excuse the mess, I have to watch a puppy.” 

8.  We already have two dogs. Adding a puppy to the mix…?

My first poodle pup. 4.5 pounds of fluff. 
7.  I might want to take my daughters somewhere for a couple of weeks this summer before ThrillerFest. My husband would take care of the puppy. But that means we’d miss at least two whole weeks of puppyhood!

6.  They cost money. Food, vet bills, grooming… Ignore that recent money from old books I wrote that I wasn’t expecting… just burning a hole in my pocket… puppy, puppy, puppy.

5. Puppies are really cute. How do you even narrow down the choice?

4.  Puppies are so soft and fuzzy, who would ever want to put one down to write?  

3.  No, I really did not spend the entire past day searching the internet for a standard poodle puppy. It was closer to two days. Maybe two and a half.

2.  Did I mention they come in so many colors?

1.  What do I name her? No. I haven't gotten a pup. The above photo is from nine years ago. But look how cute she is!!!

Help me, Rogue Readers! 
Do I get a puppy? Or do I start a new book? I. Need. Help.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

My 32-year love affair with Key West

As I prepared for my wedding, back in the dark ages when no one I knew had a cell phone and ‘the internet’ was a new, unfamiliar word, airlines had 800 numbers you could call for travel agency-type help. I told the nice lady there that I had $1000 and wanted to go to a beach, and she suggested Key West, the southernmost tip of Florida (and the continental United States). I’d never heard of it but it fit my two requirements so that May my new husband and I boarded a plane and flew to Miami. We began to drive, and when we ran out of land we found ourselves in Key West--a little over seven square miles of palm trees, beaches, naval bases and homes that list for half a million dollars but could be bought for maybe $50K anywhere else.

We had a fun time despite sunburn and swimmer's ear. We ate at the Half-Shell Raw Bar, remarkable to me because they never overcook the fried shrimp. (Not easy, given that the difference between cooked shrimp and overcooked shrimp is approximately ten nanoseconds.) In the ramshackle plaza near the Half Shell sat a small gift shop called Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet’s first foray into retail. I was delighted to find that among his other offerings, he stocked the complete set of John D. MacDonald books. The teenage cashier remained smarmily unimpressed with my knowledge of detective literature, though she did unbend enough to say they had been very sad when John D. had passed away only six months before.

The secret to the island is that there isn’t that much to do—a few sites of historical significance, Ernest Hemingway’s home, the house Harry Truman worked from on his frequent visits, the ruins of a Civil-War era fort, a small aquarium, a cemetery where many of the victims from the U.S.S. Maine are buried, and that’s about it. It presents no obligation to improve one’s mind, merely to swim, eat, drink—there’s plenty of drinking—and do a little shopping. One is forced to actually relax.

My husband walking through Fort Zachary Taylor
Fast-forward fifteen years. My husband and I had moved to Cape Coral, Florida, and as our anniversary approached we realized we could drive to Key West in 5-6 hours. We went for a long weekend. When we mentioned our story to local residents they invariably asked how we could recognize the place— in their view ‘so much had changed!’ Yet even today, the Best Western where we honeymooned is still there. The Sears where we bought a camera because neither of us had brought one is still open. Sloppy Joes, of course, is still a fixture, even though (myth alert) it is not the location at which Hemingway used to hang out, that bar is around the corner and now called Captain Tony’s. My beloved Half Shell Raw Bar is still there. (When we first returned I asked the hostess if fifteen years previously there had been a store called Margaritaville across the way—it had since migrated to a national scale. Then I looked at the hostess and realized that fifteen years previously she would have been too young for preschool, and shut up.)

I’m not saying it’s a perfect vacation destination. In many ways it’s a Sin City full of alcohol, obscene T-shirts and overpriced gift shops. In many ways it’s a testament to perseverance—hundred-year-old homes here survive hurricanes because they’re built out of recovered ship timbers, as solid as granite. But to me it’s the place where I leave everything behind, all the stress, work, decisions, uncertainties of life and instead keep nothing more pressing on my agenda than debating how much shrimp I can eat in one week. Everyone needs a place like that.

What’s your place?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Rogue Women March Roundup!

Rogue Women Roundup!
Exciting news: The Rogues make the cover of The Big Thrill.  And there's a terrific feature story with lots of interesting stuff about us inside, too.

How do authors achieve "bestselling" status? Check out Rogue Karna Small Bodman's "Tips from the Experts" where she shares notes from ThrillerFest workshops conducted by the best in the business: here.

Avid reader? Writing a manuscript? Rogue Jamie Freveletti compiles some great writing conferences that you might enjoy.

How good of a job do we do with our youngest criminals? Rogue Lisa Black discusses kids and jails.

Rogue Robin Burcell shares her picks for the Worst Commercials of 2019, giving us an idea of how branding affects a product.

Ever wonder where you got those chocolate brown eyes? Rogue Chris Goff did, then shared some insights on what it means to have your DNA tested.

The adventures of a female thriller author in publishing.  As Rogue Gayle Lynds discovered, yes, she -- and you -- can!

This month the Rogues highlighted two guest speakers. First, Ausma Zehanat Khan describes her attempt to re-sensitize herself and her readers about the human costs of hate in her latest book, A Deadly Divide.

Then Elisabeth Elo, author of Finding Katarina M., shares some tips on writing, how she works, what she thinks, and insight into the mind of her childhood-self.

How do books get turned into movies? Find the highlights to writing a novel film companies will want to produce here. 

And just for fun, and because we're all readers ... here's confirmation you’re brilliant, strong, and very nice!  Happy weekend!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"I read books." Three Days of the Condor and what a good story teaches us.

By Jamie Freveletti

Our previous post by Karna talked about books made into movies and you can find a link on the Rogue Women Writers' Facebook page about a study that found that reading fiction increases your "social cognitive performance." In other words, reading fiction can make you more empathetic, something that I think is always a great quality to have. While I was reading both of these interesting posts it occurred to me that I learn a lot from reading books, and also from reading the musings of other authors and watching the stories captured in other mediums. 

I've been on a writing and running tear these days and in the evenings I've been watching some of the classic movies from my DVD collection. These three are on deck. Three Days of the Condor is a classic movie taken from the original book, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Robert Redford plays a CIA code breaker on the run after his colleagues are attacked. More a nerd than a James Bond, when asked he says "I'm not a spy, I just read books." What I love about the line is later, when he uses the knowledge he's gained to outsmart the CIA's technology, you know he learned it from a book.

Charade is also a favorite and this story began its life as a screenplay, and only later did the author, Peter Stone, turned it into a book. I haven't read it, but now that I know it's out there somewhere, I'm going to track it down. I was also surprised to learn the other day that some of my friends haven't seen it! Now, I'm a classic movie buff, so I immediately told them we'll have a Charade viewing party this summer at my house.

What I love about Charade is the twist. I won't reveal them here, that would be a spoiler, but this story has quite a few and I love how it all ties together. It's ingenious, funny and thrilling all at the same time and taught me that there are a lot of ways to stash money and not all of them are obvious. When you're a thriller writer stashing money becomes a real issue. You can have your protagonist keep offshore accounts, of course, and we've all seen the movies where the protagonist has a Swiss numbered account (The Bourne Identity comes to mind), and I've used crypto-currency like Bitcoins in my own Ludlum novel The Geneva Strategy, but I'm always looking for a new way for a protagonist to access hidden money. Charade nails it.

If you're writing a thriller, these stories can really show you how a twist can make a reader say "aha!" And often it's that moment that the novel goes from good to great.

And speaking of money, Pride and Prejudice is the quintessential story of how money moves the world. Mrs. Bennett spends all of her time cataloging the various incomes of the men that come into her orbit, and Elizabeth Bennett spends a lot of time running away from those men, despite their wealth and status. It's a classic tale of class distinctions based upon money and it highlights the plight of the women of the era. Too rich to be allowed to work, but too poor and on the wrong side of estate law to depend on receiving any more of it once their father dies.  And if you love this story with it's central issue of the rich versus the not so rich, you'll absolutely love Loretta Chase's Silk Is For Seduction. Set in a similar time frame, it's a delicious tale of a working woman who chases a Duke, but not for the reasons he thinks. Which teaches us once again that you can't keep a determined woman from insisting on living her life in her own terms.

And if you have any other books that you found fascinating please let me know. I'd love to add them to my TBR pile!