Friday, September 20, 2019


I've written extensively over the years about both Mitch Rapp and his creator, the legendary Vince Flynn, and the impact that they’ve had on me. 

It’s honestly no stretch to say that without Vince and Mitch, there would be no Real Book Spy. Flynn sparked my love for the genre, and though he passed away in the summer of 2013, his presence is still felt. Ask any political thriller novelist working today, and I guarantee you that they’ll point to Flynn as one of the greatest literary titans the genre has ever known—and many of them are longtime fans of his work.

Nobody loves Mitch Rapp more than me. In fact, my youngest son is named Mitchell Ryan, because let’s face it, I wanted to create a world where Mitch and Ryan were together and could grow up to be BFFs. (I also have a son named Ryan Junior. This might be a good time to mention what a loving and supportive wife I have. Thanks, babe!)

Again, nobody loves Rapp more than me. When he returns each year, even though I know it’s only for roughly 100,000 words and, give or take, 400 pages, I can’t help but feel like my best friend is back in town for a weekend—and I can’t wait to hang out with him.

When news broke in 2014 that Kyle Mills had been hired to continue Flynn’s series, I’ll admit it, I was totally skeptical. I wasn’t in love with the idea of another writer coloring inside Vince’s world. However, at the same time, I really wanted another go-around with Rapp. So, I dove into The Survivor, Mills’ first contribution to the franchise, eager to see what he could do with Mitch, Scott Coleman, Irene Kennedy, and everyone else. In the end, I was stunned.

Mills, more than any other writer hired to keep an iconic author’s franchise afloat after their passing, cares deeply about getting things right. Every detail. Every fact. Every nuance and mannerism of even the smallest setting or side characters. I was floored with just much his first book felt like, well, a true Mitch Rapp thriller. Because it was. It is.

Now, here we are in 2020. Lethal Agent is Mills’ fifth book set in the Rappverse, and there’s no question—this is his series now.

Kyle, who I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know over the years, puts everything he’s got into every book that he writes, and it shows. He’s been bold. He’s been daring. He’s taken some chances. But he’s always stayed true to the characters Vince Flynn created, and for that, I am so thankful. If you’d have told me back in 2013 that someone else could step in for Flynn—and that not only would there be no drop-off whatsoever, but that they’d actually elevate the series higher—I would have laughed you out of the bookstore. But that’s what’s happened. Kyle Mills has done an amazing job, and he deserves a ton of credit for his work with Rapp and the gang.

Here, in Lethal Agent, not only does Mitch Rapp go a bit rogue—making it an obvious choice for my Rogue pick—but he does so to go after a rogue terrorist who is planning a devastating biological attack on American soil. Honestly, what more do you need to know than that? Just sit back and relax as Rapp does his thing, because you already know that when he shows up, bad guys tend to stop breathing in bunches. Especially in this one.
Happy reading!

Lethal Agent: The Classic Flynn Structure Meets Rapp’s New Threat
by Kyle Mills

Even after twenty odd years in this business I still get anxious every time I sit down to begin a book outline. The blank page glares up at me while I flip through a folder stuffed with undeveloped concepts scribbled on scraps of paper. Having lots of ideas is definitely a good thing but it also presents an obstacle that weighs on my mind until I figure it out: How can a handful of unrelated fragments be transformed into a coherent and appealing story?

Lethal Agent followed this familiar pattern but with a twist. I’d already decided I was going to return to a very recognizable Vince Flynn framework after using a freer hand with Red War. The book would include a threat from Islamic terrorists, sleazy politicians, and Mitch Rapp largely on his own doing whatever’s necessary to get the job done. But how would that old-school structure work when Mitch is confronted with a biological weapon—a challenge he’s never faced? The more I dug into viruses and pandemics, I realized that nature offered a terrifying way to test both Mitch’s skillset and Vince’s style of storytelling. Suddenly, Rapp’s next do-or-die mission began unfolding in my mind.

I’ve been thinking about biological attacks since the 2003 SARS outbreak. My wife and I were getting ready to embark on an around-the-world trip when we were bombarded by news stories about this terrifying and highly contagious disease. Our families wanted us to cancel the trip but we refused because, frankly, we were cheap and had already paid for it. I momentarily regretted our decision when we arrived at the Singapore airport and were forced to walk through sensors that tested passengers for fever. Fortunately, neither of us ended up in quarantine, but the experience stuck with me. Over time, I became increasingly intrigued by isolated illnesses that escalate into pandemics.

The truth is that nothing in history—advancing technology, war, politics—has matched the sheer impact of disease. Plague wiped out nearly a third of 14th century Europeans, with casualties reaching as high as eighty percent in parts of southern France and Spain. It’s hard to fully grasp how much this changed the known world. To this day, we can see the effects of plague on politics, religion, art, and literature. Humanity’s relationship with death and its outlook on life were fundamentally transformed.

The Spanish flu, which broke out around the end of World War I, killed about thirty million people worldwide. Extrapolated to the present day population, that disease would have taken the lives of 150 million.

Again, it’s hard for a citizen of the 21st century to imagine the scale of this pandemic. Surgical masks were worn in public. Stores were prohibited from having sales to prevent people from gathering in confined spaces. Some cities demanded that passengers’ health be certified before they boarded trains.

If a similar pandemic broke out in modern society the toll would be unimaginable. We live in an interconnected, heavily populated world. A disease that starts in Asia could be in the US, Europe, and Africa in a matter of hours. Medical services would be overwhelmed. Commerce would stall as authorities tried to slow the spread of the disease. The machines that make our society possible—from food production and delivery to power generation and sanitation—would break down as critical workers were incapacitated or died off. Bodies would go unburied and people would flee the cities. World economies would collapse.

But how likely is another pandemic similar to the ones of the past? Unfortunately, it’s almost inevitable. Humans continue to move into unfamiliar habitat, bringing us into contact with animals and germs we haven’t encountered before. The massive demand for meat puts us in close proximity to livestock including pigs and birds suffering from infections that can jump species.

Pondering this inevitability is where I finally found my story. People tend to think of bioweapons as being engineered in some complex way, but it doesn’t have to be so. Lethal Agent is based on the terrifyingly plausible scenario that a SARS-like virus breaks out in Yemen. With no medical infrastructure to speak of and a war that prevents organized intervention like we saw in 2003, the disease is left to incubate in remote villages.

Much has been written about crop dusters and other elaborate delivery strategies. But in reality none are necessary. Just smuggle a handful of sick people into a developed country and you have bioweapons that are intelligent, adaptable, and mobile. They could loiter in airports, go to nightclubs, or get jobs in food service. The structure of modern society would do the rest. Once again, we’re lucky Mitch Rapp is on the job.

Kyle Mills is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of nineteen books, including the latest in Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series, Lethal Agent.

Growing up in Oregon, Washington, DC, and London as a the son of an FBI agent, Kyle absorbed an enormous amount about the intelligence community, giving his novels their unique authenticity. He and his wife live in Wyoming where they spend their off hours mountain biking and backcountry skiing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Why does it take so long to publish a book? Answers!

by Gayle Lynds:  What an exciting day!  In the Rogue Limelight is the amazing Karen Dionne – yes, THAT Karen Dionne, author of THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, the hypnotic psychological suspense novel that set the publishing and reading worlds ablaze with celebratory reviews and awards while topping bestseller lists around the globe.

I love Karen.  Not only is she a magnificent storyteller, she’s also one of the most generous authors around.  In fact, with Christopher Graham she created the immensely popular online writers' community Backspace to help other writers achieve their dreams even before she published her first novel, FREEZING POINT, in 2007. 

We’re fortunate to have her here today to share insider intelligence about the steps a publisher takes to turn a manuscript into a bound book and send it successfully on its way to store shelves across the nation.  Karen wrote the following article a couple of weeks ago for her newsletter, and I was so taken by it that that she gave me permission to republish it here.

Plus, just for fun, Karen has inserted three deliberate spelling and punctuation mistakes.  Be sure to watch for them as you read.  The answers are at the end of her blog.

And here’s the great Karen Dionne, giving us the inside scoop about how publishers do it....

As most of you know, my second psychological suspense novel, THE WICKED SISTER, is wending its way through the publishing process as we speak! Because THE WICKED SISTER won't hit bookstore shelves until June 2020, I thought I'd share a bit of what's going on behind the scenes to explain why it takes such a long time to turn a manuscript into a book.

After the author and her editor have agreed on the final manuscript, the editor sends the manuscript to the copy editor. The copy editor's job is to check grammar, spelling, and internal consistency, and having recently been through the process, let me just say that copy editors are worth ten times whatever they're paid. Punctuation, capitalization, word usage, dates, places, the novel's internal timeline—every aspect of the text is examined in minute detail, and thank goodness, because none of us who care about language and punctuation enjoy coming across mistakes when we're reading a book—least of all the author who wrote it!

And while we're on the subject of copy editing, I'm currently reading Benjamin Dreyer's Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style and learning a lot! Dyer is Random House’s longtime copy chief and his book is a sharp, funny grammar guide, offering lessons on punctuation, from the underloved semicolon to the enigmatic en dash, to the rules and nonrules of grammar, including why it’s OK to begin a sentence with “And” or “But” and to confidently split an infinitive. Dreyer will even help you brush up on your spelling—though, as he notes, “The problem with mnemonic devices is that I can never remember them.” (As a side note: how would you like to be the copy editor who was given the task of copy editing that book?)

Back to the publication process . . . after the copyedits are finalized, the book goes to layout and production, who have the job of turning what has previously existed only as an electronic file into an actual physical book. At the same time, the art department works closely with the editor and author to come up with an amazing cover. This is also when the marketing department begins working with the editorial department to develop marketing strategies to help get the book in front of the account book buyers. This includes sending ARCs, or "Advance Reader Copies," to reviewers and influencers to create buzz for the book in advance of it's publication.

While all of this is going on, the sales department is also working to "sell in" the book to the many and varied places who carry books—from small independent bookstores to chain bookstores, to big box stores such as Costco and Sam's Club.

Then about six weeks before the book publishes, the publicity department kicks into high gear, working to get the book mentioned in broadcast, print, and online media. THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER was reviewed in The New York Times and featured in People and Cosmopolitan magazines thanks to the efforts of my wonderful publicity team.

Again, all of this takes place BEFORE the novel is actually published. And many of these departments continue working hard long after publication to get the book into the hands of the consumer.

I hope this overview helps folks better understand why it takes roughly a year to ready a book for publication.  And here are hints to those three deliberate spelling and punctuation mistakes:

Gayle:  Thank you, Karen!  We're all waiting for THE WICKED SISTER – June can't come fast enough!  And dear Readers ... please tell us – did you find the highlighted mistakes?

Sunday, September 15, 2019



Artist: Tom Richmond
imitating Jack Davis   

Consider this TV Guide cover. There’s no date, but it would have been around 1963. It features a cartoon of Jake Cahill, the main character of a half-hour TV Western called Bounty Law. Actor Rick Dalton portrayed Jack Cahill in that series. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Rick Dalton in Once upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s new film, which is about Hollywood in 1969. That year, four members of the Charles Manson cult murdered actress Sharon Tate (who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant), hairstylist Jay Sebring, and three other victims at a Cielo Drive  The house was once rented by record-producer Terry Melcher, to whom Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys had introduced Manson.

Now consider this fan magazine from 1969. The cover features Rick Dalton. Inside, there’s a photo-essay about him. There’s also an article about Rick’s friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (portrayed by Brad Pitt in the film). There are ads for horseback tours of the Spahn movie ranch (where the Manson cult hung out) and for Wolf’s Tooth dog food (rat and possum flavors). A full page is devoted to Red Apple Cigarettes.

Artist: Tom Richmond imitating Jack Davis
Now look at this cover for Mad magazine, October 2019, the last original issue. From now on, Mad will consist of reprinted articles (except for a few special issues) and will be available only in comic-book stores and by subscription. There’s Jake Cahill in Bounty Law again. Just to be clear: Bounty Law never existed. Jake Cahill is an imaginary character portrayed by an imaginary actor portrayed by a real actor. Despite that, Mad magazine—for the first time ever—pretended that a non-existent actor and TV series were real.

Maybe Rick Dalton did exist. I showed these three covers to an acquaintance. I explained that Quentin Tarantino invented all this, including Hound’s Tooth dog food and Red Apple Cigarettes (which have been in almost every Tarantino film, even though they don’t exist). I explained all of this (clearly, I thought). The acquaintance pointed at the cover of the (fake) fan magazine and said he could understand why Tarantino cast DiCaprio in the role, because DiCaprio looks amazingly like Rick Dalton.

Artist: Renato Casaro
In Once upon a Time … in Hollywood (the ellipsis is a deliberate part of the title), Rick Dalton’s cratering career is saved when he becomes a star of Italian Westerns. One of them, Nebraska Jim, is helmed by (we are told) “the second-greatest director of spaghetti Westerns,” Sergio Corbucci, a real person who directed Django (1966), which influenced Tarantino to direct Django Unchained (2012), which features non-existent Red Apple Cigarettes, which Rick Dalton advertises in an episode of Bounty Law in Once upon a Time … in Hollywood.

Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth (a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard advertised the film merely by showing a huge photo of Brad Pitt and two words CLIFF BOOTH, as if Cliff Booth were real, which I’m beginning to think he is) are supposedly based on the friendship between Burt Reynolds (who was scheduled to appear in this film but died before the production started) and famed stuntman, Hal Needham. But Rick could also be a version of Clint Eastwood who co-starred in a TV Western, Rawhide, before establishing a film career in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

Rick Dalton could also be a version of Steve McQueen, whose half-hour TV Western, Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-61), is the inspiration for Bounty Law (complete with imitations of the cigarette commercials McQueen delivered while dressed as his character). McQueen (portrayed by Damian Lewis) has a role in the film. Rick Dalton fantasizes about having been cast in McQueen’s role in The Great Escape. Thanks to the technical wizardry of John Dykstra, we watch a scene from The Great Escape in which Rick replaces McQueen. At the same time, Margot Robbie (portraying an idealized version of Sharon Tate) goes to a theater to see the spy movie, The Wrecking Crew ((1968), in which she watches the real Sharon Tate do pratfalls with Dean Martin and then win a karate fight against Nancy Kwan. Yes, the real Sharon Tate is in Once upon a Time … in Hollywood, which turns out not to be a Manson movie but instead gives us a fairy-tale alternate view of 1969 in which events might have been drastically different and our culture might have veered from the trajectory that gave us the mess of today.

Artist: Renato Casaro
This world-within-an-imaginary-world, self-referential approach is called post-modernism, aka metafiction or meta for short. Tarantino specializes in it. As someone who wrote a book about the metafiction of John Barth, I admire Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood to the point of obsession. My wife and I saw it three times (we know people who’ve seen it eight times.) We collected the posters for Rick Dalton Westerns, such as Comanche Uprising (with Robert Taylor), Hell-Fire Texas (with Glenn Ford), Tanner (a TV movie), and (translated from the Italian) Kill Me Quick Ringo, Said the Gringo (a spaghetti Western).

These films don’t exist. But I can always hope. Indeed Tarantino wrote five episodes for the imaginary series, Bounty Law, so that he could shoot scenes from them. In an interview he indicated he’d be willing to write another three episodes and direct them as an actual series.

In a year when most films have been squeezed through an algorithm sausage grinder, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is a non-sequel, non-superhero movie that passed the $100 million domestic box-office threshold and is now past $300 million worldwide. I’m thrilled that Tarantino’s meta approach proves there’s still an audience for distinctive storytelling.

David Morrell created Rambo in his debut novel, First Blood. His espionage novel, The Brotherhood of the Rose, became the only TV miniseries to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. His Victorian thrillers, Murder as a Fine Art, Inspector of the Dead, and Ruler of the Night, are meta versions of sensation novels that could have been published during the 1850s.


Friday, September 13, 2019


Lisa Unger and Lynne Constantine Chat About Writing

Lynne Constantine:
First of all, your book is AMAZING! I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. The characters were so well-drawn and the tension! So, for my first question:

In THE STRANGER INSIDE, Rain struggles with what she sees as two conflicting desires: to be a good mother and to successfully pursue a career. Is this a struggle that you’ve had as a mother and successful author, and do you think society still puts unfair pressure on women to be the primary caregiver in the family?

Lisa Unger:
Thank you so much for all the kind words about THE STRANGER INSIDE! I'm so glad you loved it.  I'm deep into THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and it’s twisty, smart, and totally engrossing. I’m hooked.

Rain Winter is a former investigative journalist, turned stay-at-home mom. She left her career behind for a number of reasons—she wanted to be present for her child, the injustice she saw in the world was grinding her down, and it was an agreement in her marriage that someone should be a full-time parent. But the work she chose was meaningful to her; it defined her. And she chose it because she was looking for answers to dark questions from her own childhood trauma. So, when the work calls her back, she finds it impossible to resist. However, her adoration for and commitment to her daughter Lily has not diminished. So, she engages in a fairly chaotic—and in her case dangerous—juggling act.

Of course, nothing in fiction is autobiographical—and everything is! I do relate to this struggle, as I’m sure will any mom who has an involving career. Before my daughter was born, nothing ever rivaled my desire to write. But when she was small, the conflict was painful. When I was with her, I was often worried about deadlines, and the pressures of the publishing world. When I was writing, I often just wanted to be with her. But, with the help of my husband, I found my way, learned to work around her schedule, be present when she needed me, be present for the work during the scheduled time. I have always been a writer. And I love being a fully-engaged mother. Those are two big, all-consuming, creative enterprises. So, even though the juggling act can be quite stressful, I feel blessed to have two things that I love so much. (And my poor husband! I love him, too! And he’s my partner in this and in all things.)

I think there is external pressure—this idea that not only can we have it all, but, in fact, we MUST have it all. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself, as well, holding myself to impossible standards and then face-planting. I think it’s all slowly changing. Women are making choices. Leaning in, maybe, or choosing to stay home, if they have that option. Finding balance, supporting each other, relying on spouses, if they're fortunate enough to have that kind of marriage. At ALA last year in New Orleans, I heard Michelle Obama speak and she said something that made a lot of sense to me: You can have it all, just maybe not at the same time. 

In THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, you dive in deep to twisting, complicated female relationships. (And I know you write with your sister, which must be twisty and complicated—at least some of the time!) What fascinates you most about the dynamics between women?

Lynne Constantine:
Female friendships have always been emphasized in my family. I remember my mother admonishing me to never lose touch with my girlfriends and stressing the importance of these close relationships. I think in some ways the intimacies we share with our close women friends can be at times even greater than those we share with our partners. Women have such an amazing capacity for supporting and empowering each other while at the same time, the ability to do the complete opposite when rivalry is at play. 

In THE LAST MRS. PARRISH we wanted to explore the ways in which the lack of a close female friendship could make someone vulnerable to a predatory female while at the same time turning the idea of the man being the prize on its head. Daphne has a great void in her life—the loss of her sister who was her best friend. When Amber comes on the scene and pretends to have also experienced the same loss, it bonds the women and makes Daphne blind at first to Amber’s manipulations. In THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU we delve into the dynamics of a broken friendship and how those wounds never fully heal, exploring whether or not you can truly forgive someone who has deeply hurt you and if a friendship can be repaired and restored. The relationship between Kate and her mother Lily is also one the book examines and how that foundational relationship influences the way Kate sees herself as a mother. 

My sister Valerie and I are extremely close even though fourteen years separate us. Fortunately, the most complicated aspect is just syncing our schedules. As we now approach our fifth book together, we’ve developed a sort of ESP where we can anticipate what the other is going to say, or both come out with the exact idea at the same time. We joke that we might be turning into one person.

Another aspect of relationships that it seems all of our writing encompasses is trauma. In THE STRANGER INSIDE three best friends’ lives are forever changed by a single incident. Despite Hank and Rain surviving, they are never able to recapture the closeness they once had, a source of heartbreak for both of them. What do you think it is that allows some survivors of a joint trauma to emerge more bonded than before while for others it essentially ruptures the relationship? 

Lisa Unger:
Even though I don’t have a sister—and what a special relationship you have with yours!—my female friends, colleagues, and mentors have always held such an important space in my life. I value that closeness and support, that special way women have of tag-teaming problems, supporting each other through the rough patches, and celebrating successes. It’s a theme I touch on a bit in UNDER MY SKIN in the relationship between Poppy and Layla, life-long friends that are as close as sisters, there for each other in a way that their families can’t be. Their relationship was forged in childhood—but of course there’s another side to that, too.  

In THE STRANGER INSIDE, Hank and Lara have that special bond of childhood friendship until extreme trauma tears them apart. When Tess and Lara (later in the book, she calls herself Rain), are attacked by a violent, mentally ill man, Hank tries to save them. Rain escapes, but Hank and Tess do not. Tess doesn’t make it home at all, and Hank returns altered by his experiences. One of the many losses of that day, as you say, is their friendship.

Extreme trauma is a crucible. And every person reacts to its pressures differently. It makes some people stronger; it tears other people apart. The psyche might split—Jung calls this a “splinter psyche”— stronger aspects of the self emerging to protect weaker. Hank and Lara have dissimilar experiences that dark day, and their responses are not the same. Lara seeks to forget. Hank can’t move on. It's those different responses to trauma that sunder their friendship, rather than the trauma itself. And, yet, they remain bound by what happened—though not in a healthy way.

My research into psychology, biology, trauma, and addiction is ongoing. Questions about the human psyche, and what makes us who we are is a bit of an obsession for me. I’m constantly reading, watching, listening, learning. If I weren't a writer digging deep into these subjects, I’d probably be a psychiatrist. What type of research do you do for your novels? Do you have any obsessions that you find yourself exploring again and again in your work?

Lynne Constantine:
I feel the same way about how fascinating the human psychological makeup can be. My undergraduate degree is in Human Development and for a long time I thought I wanted to be a therapist. My favorite class in college was Abnormal Psychology, and I find myself continually drawn to research on personality disorders and the complex factors that contribute to the way we relate to others and how we react to situations. It was only after I examined my own subconscious drivers and became more in touch with who I was that I decided I didn’t want to spend my life listening to other people’s problems. So, now I spend my life creating problems for my characters! I am a bit obsessed with understanding sociopathic behavior and drawn to writing characters with varying degrees of sociopathy. I do a lot of reading on the subject and interview a good friend of mine who has a Ph.D. in psychology to make sure the profiles I create are authentic. I find the more flawed the character, the more I enjoy writing him or her. 

In your writing, do your characters drive the trajectory of the story and do they surprise you, or do you know from the beginning the path they will take and how the story will develop?

Lisa Unger:
All plot flows from character. Each story begins with a germ—it might be a news story, or a line of poetry, a photograph. In one case, it was a piece of junk mail. This germ usually leads to some kind of an obsession with a topic, a swath of research. And, then the best way I can explain it is that if all of that connects with something deeper going on within me, I start to hear a voice or voices, and I follow those voices through the narrative. I write without an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up day-to-day, and I don’t know what they’re going to do. I certainly don’t know how the book is going to end. I write for the same reason that I read—because I want to know what is going to happen to the people living in my head.

I’ve always been fascinated about how writers work together on a book. How does it go for you and your sister?

Lynne Constantine:
We work in a manner similar to you in that we start with a basic idea—sometimes we know the twist from the start as with THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and other times it begins with a theme. We don’t outline but rather write our way into the story. After we’ve developed the setting, characters and basic story, we assign each other scenes and email them to each other every day. We FaceTime in the afternoon and discuss what’s been written and give each other our marching orders for the next day. We often don’t know the ending and in THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, the killer changed in the third round of revisions. We also brainstorm quite a bit and often an idea that was thrown out as a joke turns out to be something we end up pursuing. It’s a very fun collaboration and we’re both continually surprised by where our characters take us.

This has been so much fun! I look forward to when we can sit across from each other and have a conversation in person!

Lisa Unger:
Me, too! Hopefully over martinis!