Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sharjah International Book Fair: The Trip of a Lifetime

Two weeks ago Lynne and I had the honor of attending the Sharjah International Book Festival, held in the United Arab Emirates and the third-largest book festival in the world. Over one million readers, young and old, visited during the course of the eleven-day event. Authors, poets, and publishers from around the world participated. It was an education for us in so many ways.

The sheer numbers were astounding, and the diversity electrifying. It took us two days to explore the entire venue, and the number of books on display was staggering. We sat on a panel of writers, one of whom was Kuwaiti. When the moderator asked what one of the most difficult things about being a writer was, she answered, “Staying alive.” It was a stark reminder to us of the bravery that many of our fellow authors show in the face of persecution by repressive regimes.

We had the opportunity to visit a GEMS school in Abu Dhabi and speak to over 200 students (who, of course, speak fluent English along with Arabic, Hindi and French!). They were bright and curious, polite to a fault, and asked thoughtful and spirited questions. There is no free primary and secondary education in the UAE. All students pay school fees and must buy their own textbooks and uniforms.

Sharjah, one of the seven Emirates of the UAE, was named the Book Capital of the World for 2019, by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), and the International Publishers Association (IPA). The Festival slogan was “Open Books, Open Minds.”

This Emirate has determined it wants to be a knowledge center and to take UAE and Arab literature to audiences around the world. They promote literacy for prisons and rehabilitation centers, have programs for refugees in Syria and other parts of the world, and most importantly have projects that get books to the migrant population of the UAE by translating books into their native languages such as Hindi, Tagalog or Urdu. Migrants make up 90% of the UAE’s population.

There are mobile libraries, libraries in parks and even in Bedouin tents. One government project––“Knowledge Without Borders”–– provided 42,000 local families with free home libraries of 50 fiction and non-fiction books. The government also provides tax-free status and office space to publishing companies.

Naturally, not all of our time was spent on books. We took in the sights, and they were breathtaking. Roaming the souks, we saw enough gold to refill Fort Knox and wondered why something so plentiful could so valuable. One of the 90-degree afternoons was spent reading on the beach and swimming in the Persian Gulf––the perfect de-stressor for a hectic schedule! 

In Abu Dhabi, we saw the incredibly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, built over the course of three years at a cost of $545 million. It is one of the largest mosques in the world, with room for 40,000 worshipers.

Spending time in Dubai, we marveled at the mind-blowing architecture, with the most amazing structure of all being the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. We sat at its feet and watched a light and water show that kept a crowd of thousands (and us!) mesmerized.

We were welcomed at the U.S. Consulate for a wonderful reception where we were able to mingle with other authors and heads of state.

Of course, a visit to the Emirates wouldn’t be complete without an evening in the desert, so we buckled up in jeeps and held on as we rode the steep, curving sand dunes. Watching the sun go down over the golden red sand was a sight we’ll never forget. A dinner by candlelight under the stars capped off the night.

The people were wonderful, welcoming and couldn’t do enough for us. Wherever we went, we were struck by the magnificent mosques and the immaculate cleanliness of the country. If you ever have a desire to visit a mall that has every high-end product in the world, then the Dubai Mall is the place for you. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen, with a giant aquarium smack in the middle of it. The downside was the traffic––just horrendous.

It was the experience of a lifetime, and we are both so grateful to have had this wonderful opportunity.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


by The Real Book Spy

Replacing a legend is never easy. Replacing two, well, that’s pretty much unheard of . . . and yet that exactly what Marc Cameron did a few years back when he stepped in and took over the Jack Ryan universe, following the footsteps of Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney.

Over the last three decades, fans have watched Ryan, one of the few, true household names the thriller genre has to offer, grow up and climb the career ladder. When we first met Jack way back in the 1987 novel Patriot Games, he was teaching history. Later he would work for the CIA as an analyst (note: The Hunt for Red October did come out first, but Patriot Games remains the first book in the series, chronologically speaking), before eventually becoming Deputy Director of the spy agency. Then came a stint as the National Security Advisor, a promotion to Vice President, and, of course, Ryan was named Commander-in-Chief following an attack on the United States Capitol Building during the State of the Union—a position he still holds in this year’s Tom Clancy Code of Honor.

After numerous mega-hit thrillers and multiple film and now television adaptions, the world is still craving more Jack Ryan—and though nobody will likely ever capture the magic Tom Clancy flashed throughout his career, to say that his franchise has been in good hands since his passing would be the understatement of the decade.

The Gray Man author Mark Greaney began working with Clancy several years before the author’s death and carried Clancy’s legacy brilliantly before exiting the Ryanverse in 2016. At the time, fans were crushed that Greaney was moving on, but excitement quickly grew when it was announced that fellow New York Times bestseller Marc Cameron had been chosen to replace him. Now, three years later, Cameron is riding a two-book high, following a couple of critically acclaimed, fan-pleasing additions to Clancy’s franchise. And not for nothing, but his latest, at least in my opinion, is his best work yet.

This time around, President Ryan is desperate to help an old friend from his undergraduate days at Boston College. Father Pat West, after leaving a cushy career in Georgetown’s philosophy department, went to Indonesia, where he’s since been working with poor people and trying to make a real difference in the world. That is until he’s arrested for committing blasphemy against Islam—putting the priest’s life in grave danger.

Ryan, of course, cannot move “officially” on Indonesia. Whereas we’ve seen his power and influence as POTUS help him in the past, it actually restricts him in this one, making it much harder for him to help a friend a need. Of course, things take a turn when Ryan receives word that Father West might have stumbled upon an impending attack on American soil—and from there, it’s off the races as Marc Cameron slams the gas pedal to the floor and never lets off of it for a second.

Whether you’re a longtime Clancy fan or new to the franchise, trust me, Tom Clancy Code of Honor is not to be missed.

Happy reading!

And stay tuned. In the coming weeks, you can expect a post from the Man of the Hour himself! Wait for it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Writer's Block, Blunders, and NaNoWriMo

November means NaNoWriMo!
It’s November, which means a lot of writers are doing NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month (which for me is only half a novel). I participate every year in an unofficial capacity, usually because I’m on a deadline, and I am looking for any way possible to boost my word output. 

As usual this time of year, the days go by faster than I could possibly hope. Before I know it, my deadline that was 3 months away is suddenly upon me. I tell myself that this time, I will do things differently. I will stay off Facebook and Twitter. I won’t check email before I’ve made my word count. I’ll ignore the headlines. I will write.

And it works for a day or two.

But then I’m back to the same old, same old. 

I can stare at that computer day after day and get very little done. Writer’s Block? Or is it something else? I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block. I think that if Nancy Drew were to investigate, she’d also refuse to believe. She’d find a very practical reason for this lack of progress.

Freedom App on computer
So what is the reason for this frittering away of valuable writing time (besides the obvious social media visits)? I’d hazard a guess that there’s something wrong in the story. Whether it’s plot, or character, or both, I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot possibly write further (or farther) until I discover exactly what that something might be. Unfortunately, until then, I’ll often do anything else but write. 

I’d like to say I know what the absolute answer is but I don’t. No doubt, doing a proper synopsis might be key. I tend to write organically (some call this a “pantser,” a writer term for writing by the seat of your pants). I’m not sure organic works. Perhaps if I spent that month plotting a good synopsis, I might be able to avoid the wasted days of trying to figure out what is wrong or where I'm going. 

I know I need to stay off Facebook and Twitter. (Note: I will be scarce until after the New Year due to above-mentioned fast-approaching deadline.) Thankfully, there’s an app for that. The Freedom app installs right on your computer and helps to manage those particular time-sucks. (You can schedule time to block social media. I paid for the forever version. Totally worth it.) But it’s not the only game in town. There’s a new app that writer Holly West turned me on to. Focus Keeper. (Available on both Apple, here, and Google, here.) This nifty little app installs on your phone. It's like a metronome that ticks away in 25 minute blocks with a 5-minute break between the four blocks. It works. As long as you turn it on. 

Focus Keeper App on iPhone
Apps aside, there’s still that matter of figuring out why the story isn’t working. Interestingly, I heard more than one writer mention in the last couple of weeks that when they write themselves into a corner, they usually find that they’ve played their hand too soon.They go back, deconstruct their story to find out where, then fix it. Elizabeth George was one of those writers who mentioned this 
particular writerly phenomenon, that, until this last week, I didn’t even know was a thing. I do now, so will be taking a new look at my story to see if this is where I went astray. 

I’d like to know what other writers do if their story is off track. Do they get stuck or forge on? Go back and write a synopsis? See if they’ve played their hand too soon? Add a thread? Remove a thread?

Chime in, Rogue Writers and Readers who are writers. I’d love to know! (And Happy and Fruitful NaNoWriMo!)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Someone who always gets his man, this author loves the dessert Baked Alaska.

The Real Book Spy is set to release his November Rogue Recommendation on November 15th.

As in previous months, The Real Book Spy and Rogue Women Writers will be giving away a copy of the author's book.

There are three ways enter into the drawing!
1. Comment. If you're brave enough you might hazard a guess!
2. Share the clue with friends and fellow thriller buffs.
3. Tweet out the clue.

As a bonus, here is a Betty Crocker recipe for Baked Alaska, courtesy of Print Recipes:

Holiday Baked Alaska

Top a brownie base with three flavors of ice cream and a heavenly meringue for an easy holiday dessert that will truly wow the crowd.


Ice Cream Dome
2 cups (1 pint) peppermint ice cream, softened
6 cups (1.5 quarts) mint chocolate chip ice cream, softened
6 cups (1.5 quarts) vanilla ice cream, softened

Brownie Base

1 cup butter
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar


1.  Line a 3-quart bowl with plastic wrap. Fill base of bowl with peppermint ice cream; layer with mint chocolate chip ice cream, then finish with a layer of vanilla ice cream. Cover surface with plastic wrap and freeze until ice cream is very hard, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours in advance.

2. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray.

3. Place butter and chocolate in a medium glass bowl over a saucepan of hot water (or a double boiler) and stir the butter and chocolate until melted. This can also be done in a microwave by placing butter and chocolate in microwave-safe medium glass bowl and microwaving on High for 1 to 2 minutes or until melted, stirring once. Set aside to cool.

4. In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla until well combined. In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Pour into cake pan. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

5. When the brownie is completely cool, about 1 hour. Turn brownie out onto a large flat, ovenproof plate. Unmold the ice cream dome on top of the brownie layer. Place back in the freezer.

6. With electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar for 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Increase the speed to high and add the sugar in a slow stream until stiff, glossy peaks form.

7. Remove ice cream dome from freezer. Remove plastic wrap. Cover the ice cream dome with the meringue, covering it completely, using the back of spoon to make swirly peaks. Freeze for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

8. Heat the oven to 500°F. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the peaks start to turn a golden brown color. For easier slicing, let cake stand for 30 minutes. Slice and serve.

Expert Tips

Use a 4-quart bowl to shape ice cream. Bowl should have a 9-inch circumference to match the diameter of the brownie base. Brownie will rise to the top of the pan during baking, but does not overflow. Crack eggs in a separate bowl to make sure egg is okay, and you do not get any shell into the rest of your mixture.  For speed, melt the chocolate and butter for the brownie – 2 minutes on high. 1 minute, stir, then additional minute. ❈ Bake brownie for 50 minutes; bake until set.  Egg whites should be at room temperature to allow for faster development of soft white foam, then start adding sugar for stiff peaks of the meringue. Make sure plate that baked Alaska is placed on is oven proof; about 12–inches in diameter.  While preparing meringue, keep brownie and ice cream in freezer for easier application of meringue.  To create “swirly peaks” of meringue on the dessert, use the back of spoon. ❈ When baking the meringue, watch constantly, as meringue will brown quickly – pending your oven’s thermostat – we found ours to be perfect at 2 minutes.  Once removed from the oven, let the dessert temper 15 minutes before trying to slice.  Use a knife that is sharp, and that has been placed in hot water, makes the dessert easier to slice.  Use your favorite ice cream flavors – such as chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, etc. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A real-life Boardwalk Empire

Nucky Johnson, in hat, next to Al Capone (3rd from right)

            In the fall of 2010 my husband and I began watching the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. My husband never passes up a show about gangsters, and I love a good period piece based on real history. The plot dealt with the action surrounding the Atlantic City treasurer, one Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi), who has his velvet-gloved iron hand inside every pot in town.
Frank Russo
            Only a week earlier, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a twelve-page-long special report of federal charges brought against Frank Russo, the county auditor. Bribery, tax fraud, and every other form of corruption had been part of his makeup for decades. He provided political support to two Common Pleas judges in return for favorable rulings. He guaranteed a construction contract to a company which gifted him a $6,000 gambling junket to Las Vegas. He took bribes to engineer hiring at the sheriff’s office, to provide contracts to build a juvenile justice center and a halfway house for ex-cons, to tweak appraisals of commercial property, and to get free home improvements.
            Russo’s partner of sorts, since the early 80s, was county commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Dimora had spearheaded the city’s purchase of an EPA ‘brownfield’ lot to rehabilitate as a juvenile justice center—except that the land had only been worth $400K when Russo’s office auctioned it to a subsidiary company, who then sold it back to the city for $2.75 million. He made an equally bad deal to rehab a downtown complex for city offices; the taxpayers coughed up $40 million, but the rehab never occurred.
Jimmy Dimora
            The huge dollar amounts are too abstract for my focus; it’s the small details that catch the eye—like how a members of a suburb’s school district staff and their school board used Dimora and Russo’s contractors in return for credit cards and home improvements. Several received a TV set. One was gifted a tractor. Another drove off with the school’s mobile classroom to use as a hunting cabin, which I doubt the deer found very educational. Perhaps cash is more easily justified in one’s own mind…it’s not personal. It’s the cost of doing business. It’s the way things are done. I did a good job, I deserve a little perk. But how does one reconcile a tractor?  
             The fact is cash is often not the most common currency used in these deals. That would be jobs. To get two teaching positions for his daughters a construction manager built a retaining wall around Dimora’s pool, a decidedly less glamorous (or fungible) trade. An official of the plumber’s union winterized Dimora’s icemaker and ran a gas line to heat his pool in order to secure a promotion for his wife and summer jobs for his kids. A financial management company wanted to get on the county’s list to provide financial services to public employees. His cost? A thousand dollars in fake palm trees for each of their back yards. Their dinner parties must have been the stuff of legends.
            The list goes on and on. And on.
            The real-life Nucky Johnson (changed to Thompson in the show) handed out jobs from janitor to mayor and took them away if annoyed, as when a police officer gave his chauffer a ticket. His empire finally fell when the FBI found a copy of an illegal contract he’d failed to destroy; it paid Nucky three-fifths of the profits from a city railroad contract.
Halfway through the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire, I turned to my husband and said, “Nothing has changed.”
Do you see history repeating itself in your town?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

In The Limelight: Thriller Writer Boyd Morrison Goes Rogue

Final Option with Boyd Morrison
I've been fortunate enough to know Boyd Morrison since the first-ever ThrillerFest back in 2005. While Boyd currently co-authors with Clive Cussler in the Oregon seriesFinal Option is their latest collaborationhe's also a successful and talented writer in his own right. It's always fun getting into the heads of other writers to find out how they work and how they think. I don't know about you, but I always learn something that helps me in my own writing. Here are 9 things you might not know about Boyd Morrison. I hope you enjoy! 
1. Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence?
The first sentence is always the harder of the two for me. At the beginning of a novel, there is an infinite number of directions that the story can go. But at the end of the novel, the previous 100,000 words have been leading up to this one moment. Sometimes, I know the last sentence months before I get there, but I think they are both equally important. My view is that the first sentence (and chapter) sells this novel, and the last sentence (and chapter) sells the next novel.
2. What's your favorite word?
I’d say “Yes” is my favorite word. Usually something good happens when someone says “yes.” In the publishing business, we get a lot of rejection, and “yes” is the perfect antidote.
3. Where do you like to write?
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of my writing on a laptop in my living room. There’s a comfy chair where I can see the Cascades above a lake near our house, even on the ever-present cloudy days we have in Seattle, and I have a nice little table next to me for my drink and snacks. I only wish I had three hands so I could type and simultaneously pet my dog, who likes to sit next to me while I work.
4. What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?
I either take my dog to the park to chase the ball or swim, or I watch TV. When it’s raining, TV always seems like the better option.
5. If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be?
The Ark: A Tyler Locke Novel
I’ve never longed to live in the past. I like my creature comforts too much, and I know that even rich folk two hundred years ago lived without running water. Or TV. So I’d probably opt to go into the future to the point when we had daily flights to the moon.
6. What's your favorite drink?
I’m not a coffee drinker, so my go-to beverage for caffeine is Diet Coke. I try to limit myself, but it’s my favorite indulgence when I’m on a deadline.
7. When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely an astronaut. I thought we’d have those daily flights to the moon by the time I was an adult. Alas, I’m still waiting. I did work at Johnson Space Center for a couple of years and was lucky enough to fly on the Vomit Comet, where I experienced zero gravity, so I have gotten just a taste of it. 
8. Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories?
Clive Cussler was the writer who got me hooked on thrillers in the first place, and I couldn’t wait for each of his books to hit the stores. So it’s absolutely amazing that I now work with him and talk to him on a regular basis. He’s taught me so much about great storytelling that I feel like I’m getting a private master class every time I sit in his office to plot our next book.
9. Do you write what you know or what you want to know?
Boyd Morrison
I write what I want to know. Doing research is one of my favorite parts of the job, and I love learning about history, technology, and exotic locations, all of which feature in the books I write. It’s astounding how little I have to invent for my stories, to the point that I have put Afterwords into my own books to explain what is real and what is fictional. I want to create an adventure not only for my readers, but for me as well.
Boyd Morrison is an engineer, actor, Jeopardy! champion, and #1 NY Times bestselling author. He has flown on the Vomit Comet at NASA, earned sixteen patents at RCA, and tested Xbox games at Microsoft. His debut novel THE ARK was an international bestseller and has been translated into more than 20 languages. He has co-written five novels with Clive Cussler in the Oregon Files series, the latest of which is FINAL OPTION.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Stellar Writers Conference

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Several of us Rogues just attended one of the best writers' conferences in the country. Sponsored by Mystery Writers of America, some 1,000 authors (published and aspiring) along with agents, editors, reviewers, librarians, booksellers and fans of the mystery crime genre have been meeting in Dallas, Texas for the past four days.  Named in honor of famed writer and editor, Anthony Boucher, it is called "Bouchercon" and features interviews, speeches, panels and parties. Since this year it was held in Dallas, the cowboy" theme appeared everywhere.

The Rogues in attendance, Robin Burcell, Jamie Freveletti Chris Goff, K.J. Howe (and me) were so pleased to be invited to have our own panel with terrific bestselling author Meg Gardiner as our moderator. It was billed as a discussion of how the thriller genre in general had been dominated  by male authors (the operative words are HAD BEEN) -- but now how many women are having success as authors of thrillers.  

Our Rogue Panel at Boucheron 

Of course Meg Gardiner is a prime example, garnering rave reviews such as this description from Stephen King: "Meg Gardiner is the next suspense superstar."  She is currently the author of 14 thrillers. And here's an interesting tidbit, Meg is also a three-time Jeopardy champion! Her new thriller, The Dark Corners of the Night will be released in February. 

Among the headliners at the conference we had Peter Lovesey, dubbed MWA Grand Master and "Titan of the English detective novel" who is the author of more than thirty highly praised mystery novels. His various series have been made into well received TV shows.
Peter Lovesey
A most familiar author, James Patterson, was feted as a "Distinguished Contributor."  His new book might make a great Christmas gift for your mystery loving friends.  It is The 19th Christmas
which has already hit the bestseller lists, as have many of this author's endeavors.  He also often works with co-authors. This new story was written with Maxine Paetro and features the actions and crime solving techniques of the Women's Murder Club during the holiday season in San Francisco. 

As for Maxine, she has been writing her own novels since the 70's.  It turns out she got to know James Patterson when both worked in the advertising industry, and she has been working with him on these mysteries and thrillers for the past fifteen years.

An author who is a good friend of the Rogues and has been one of our guest bloggers was named "American Guest of Honor" at the conference...she is bestselling author Hank Philippa Ryan. I got to know her several years ago at another conference when we discovered that we both worked as TV News Reporters for the same network but in different cities.  Her new novel, The Murder List is described as "An exhilarating thrill ride. Just when you think you have it figured out, Ryan deftly pulls the wool over your eyes and delivers a denouement as shocking as it is satisfying." 

Hank Philippi Ryan 

 One more honoree to tell you about was Felix Francis, named the "International Guest of Honor,"  who has carried on the legacy and terrific story lines of his father, Dick Francis.  Felix is now a New York Times bestselling author in his own right.  I recall reading many of his father's wonderful tales focusing on horse racing.  Now Felix has a new thriller that will be released on November 19.  The title is Guilty Not Guilty, and the setting is once again in England at the Warwick races.   

As you can see, this Bouchercon conference has drawn so many talented writers, it's been an exciting one to attend.  And for all of you authors or fans of  mysteries or thrillers, you might consider coming to the next one which will be October 15-18, 2020 in Sacramento, California. 

Now, in addition to the talented and prolific authors listed above, who are some of your favorite mystery and thriller authors? And IF you attended Bouchercon, what were some of your impressions and "take-aways?" Do leave a comment and let us know -- we Rogues always like to share ideas for the next great read. And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

….Karna Small Bodman