Sunday, March 29, 2020

FIVE THINGS MUSIC HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE—AND WRITING

by Lisa Black

Whether you begin as a child or an adult, we learn more from playing with a group than just how to tell a treble clef from a bass.

1. We are not all playing the same notes, and we shouldn’t be. That would be a very boring song and a very boring story—and a very boring life if we didn’t have side melodies and off-beats and undercurrents and characters who each have their own goals and their own fears.

2. Tempos change. There is a time to move fast and there is a time to move slow. Some passages have notes in the strict formation of a light Baroque piece with precise and equal spacing, and other times the notes come so short and so fast that they seem to trip over each other. The pace of your life and your writing do the same when you or your character have to decide whether to think something through or act on instinct.

Mozart
3. If you can’t play it as written, just do what you can. Mozart likes his speed. Sometimes he has series of eighth or 16th notes going so fast that I in my very amateur abilities cannot keep up. At those times I might play just the downbeat, the first note of every four. This allows me to contribute something while not detracting from the performance, and keep my place so I don’t get entirely left behind. Don’t worry about writing the Great American Novel. Just tell your story.

4. Everything a writer needs to know about building tension can be heard in Ravel’s La Valse. On the top it’s a beautiful melody of a lovely and graceful dance—but underneath that light tune is something else entirely. Something horrific is lurking, growing louder and more fatal the closer it comes. Think of the doors that won’t stay open in The Haunting of Hill House or the cat brushing Louis’ ankle in Pet Sematary, maybe even the flashing green light in The Great Gatsby. Something bad is going to happen. Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean.


5. Don’t criticize the bassoon player until you have marched a mile playing a double reed instrument. Each instrument is different and every life, every story has its own challenges.

I played a clarinet for about twenty years. A clarinet has keys; each key or combination of keys is a different note—you hit the right keys and you’ve got the right note. But the difficult part of playing a wind instrument is what’s called the embouchure (ahm-boo-shur), the muscles of your mouth, cheeks, lips and tongue, getting that all coordinated and then maintaining that strength for an hour or two or three of playing. 


Then, recently, I took up the violin. I didn’t have to worry about losing breath any more but…a violin has no keys, just four strings with nothing to indicate where your fingers are supposed to go. You simply have to learn where to put them. (And just to make things more complicated you can often play the same note in two different places on two different strings). Those strings were an alien and not-too-friendly landscape. But I persisted, and eventually got more comfortable with uncertainty. I still squeak on occasion and can’t self-tune to save my life, but the college orchestra I play with hasn’t kicked me out yet.

Do you play an instrument? What life lessons had it provided?

Friday, March 27, 2020

DEAN KOONTZ GOES ROGUE!


Dean Koontz
          When I ask friends who their favourite author is, many of them immediately respond Dean Koontz. Dean transcends genres with his innovative storytelling, delving deep into the heart of character, tugging at our emotions, and taking us on the ride of our lives. There are authors who are talented storytellers, others who are geniuses in the craft of writing--and Dean is a master of both.

Born in Everett, Pennsylvania, Koontz now lives in California and his last fourteen hardcovers have hit #1 on the NYT Bestseller list. I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of DEVOTED, his latest blockbuster. Prepare yourself to fall in love with a canine character like no other: Kipp, a Golden Retriever with very special skills. I was thrilled when Dean agreed to do an interview with the Rogue Women Writers to share insights into his writing and this new novel. Enjoy!


Rogues: Your prose is smooth and transparent, allowing readers to lose themselves in the story, yet there are descriptive passages that are so lyrical and poetic that readers want to stop and enjoy the imagery. When you edit your books, what are the key things you look for to make your writing shine?

Dean: Thanks for those kind and generous words, but now everyone’s going to think you’re my sister! Well, for one thing, characters help determine language. The voice of each character inspires the stylistic choices of the language in scenes from his or her point of view, so that a chapter from the p.o.v. of a brilliant autistic boy like Woody will sound different from a scene in the voice of a sociopath like the antagonist, Lee Shacket, or in a scene from the p.o.v. of the dog, Kipp. At the same time, the book has to have a coherent sound overall, and the reader must not feel jarred when transitioning from one point of view to another. The English language is beautiful and uniquely flexible, and I’m always searching for new ways to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. There’s a school of writing that advises avoiding metaphors, similes, alliteration, lines composed in poetic meter, etc. No, no, no! That’s like a master woodworker trying to do his best craftmanship without drills and saws and chisels.

Rogues: One of the most remarkable aspects of DEVOTED was your compelling and believable scenes from the viewpoint of a golden retriever. How did you bring this voice to life?

Dean: Characters are more important to me than story, because vivid characters create the story as it goes, taking me places I could never have imagined in advance. Unusual points of view are an exciting challenge. The first time I wrote a novel with a Down syndrome boy as one of the protagonists, I researched the subject extensively, but then it was time for the imagination, guided by the heart as much as the mind, to get inside such a character and fully realize him. When numerous parents of Down syndrome children began to write to me, saying I had portrayed their son exactly, I was, frankly, thrilled. With the dog Kipp, I could rely on 25 years with three goldens of my own, which had brought me much understanding of dogs. But then I asked myself what was the most important thing about Kipp, the quality he had that no other character had, and I knew it was his pure innocence as well as the humility and devotion to others that innocence fosters. Unlike human beings, dogs do not lie, they are not capable of deceit. Once I wrapped my head around how this would affect the character’s every action, writing those scenes was a delight. I thought they were such fun that every time I finished one, I gave myself a cookie as a reward.

Rogues: You have a substantial number of points of view in DEVOTED. Do you start out with a certain number in mind or do you include those you need as you write the novel?

Dean: I don’t outline. I sort of kanoodle the story page by page. I start with a character or a few, and a premise. As the story unfolds, it demands a new viewpoint from time to time. I recall when I delivered STRANGERS, my first hardcover bestseller, the publisher insisted that there were too many characters, too many points of view, and wanted me to cut it by 40%. After the editor spent six weeks trying to show me where the cuts could be made, he finally called to say, “If any of these characters is cut, the entire story falls apart. In the future, if you’re going to write 250,000-word novels, you should write them so that some of the characters could be unplugged without damaging the story.” I wasn’t sure if he was serious or joking, so I agreed with false solemnity.

Rogues: Your work seems to smash through all genre boundaries, as your books include suspense, romance, supernatural, horror, and many other story elements. Is this an intentional choice or do you just go where the story takes you?

Dean: I read in all genres, including literary fiction, which is just another genre to me. When I sit down to write, I’m eager to employ the unique strengths that each genre offers. When I began doing cross-genre work, about 40 years ago, publishers and agents recoiled. Publishers love labeling writers in order to more easily market them, but labels restrict creativity and in fact limit a writer’s audience. When I delivered LIGHTNING, my publisher insisted it would destroy by budding career as a bestseller and that we should put it on the shelf for 7 years and publish it only after I had become more successful. Months of exhausting struggle ensued before she’d agree to publish it in a timely fashion. My agent at that time informed me that though I might have won that battle, I had lost the war, because this strange mix of genres would indeed be the end of me. I should have changed agents then, but it took me a few more years to admit the necessity.

Rogues: People with disabilities seem to be underrepresented in fiction, which is why I decided to create a series character who has type 1 diabetes. Was making Woody autistic part of a larger theme or message?

Dean: My wife, Gerda, and I have worked with Canine Companions for Independence for well over 30 years. CCI provides free assistance dogs to people with severe disabilities, socializing dogs for autistic children, and other service dogs. As I met scores of people with disabilities and was impressed with their spirit and determination, I began to realize that they never appeared in novels unless the story was all about the disability. I started developing characters with disabilities not for any noble purpose, but because I realized that here was rich material that no one was using!

Rogues: Your personal story of becoming an author demonstrates that hard work and perseverance make all the difference. It’s lovely that your wife believed in you and supported your dreams. What advice would you give new authors who are trying to break into the industry at such a challenging time?

Dean: Without Gerda’s support and faith in my work, I’d never have had this career. As in anything, there are legions of people ready to tell you that you can’t succeed, it can’t be done the way you want to do it, that you’re doomed if you don’t follow the common wisdom of the day. Lots of people, family and friends, thought I was a bum during those five years when Gerda worked and I stayed home to write. Even after I was on the bestseller list, some of them clung to the belief that I was riff-raff. I’ll admit to the riff, but not the raff. If you have one person you care for who also cares enough for you to be honest about your work and support you emotionally—that better be enough for you. Because there will be times when that one is the only one.

Rogues: What have you read this year that you would recommend to Rogue Readers?

Dean: Every ten years I reread A Tale of Two Cities, which I just finished again. It knocks me flat every time, and I always finish it in tears. I have a little book that’s a collection of bad reviews of classics written when those books were first published. It’s amazing to realize that toward the end of his career, an effort was made to dismiss Dickens as a hack, and if not for Chesterton’s passionate defense of the man’s life work, the haters might have succeeded in diminishing his reputation. Every time someone tells me that the values Dickens championed are long out of date and somehow regressive, I know them for the soulless swine they are!


Rogues: Is Elsa taking over for Bella as the communicator for the Mysterium?

Dean: The Mysterium, in DEVOTED, is a secret society of special dogs that live among us. My Elsa was the inspiration for them because I swear she’s psychic. I love the photo of the two of us on the back of the book. A boy and his dog. An old, old boy and his dog, but a boy at heart.

What is your favourite Dean Koontz novel and why? What is it about Dean's writing that appeals to you?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

PROCRASTINATION AND WRITING: Maybe It's Not Us, It's Our Brains

by Jamie Freveletti 

What came first: the procrastination or the emotion?
Our pet tortoise "Will"


Sometimes my writing progress goes as slowly as my tortoise, Will. Or perhaps even slower, because when Will sees me coming with the lettuce he moves fairly fast. Last month I wrote a post about the science behind making a New Year's Resolution stick. Those tips were great, but I still found myself procrastinating over a chapter in my latest work-in-progress. Something was bugging me about the structure and reveals. I kept writing scenes, and each was good enough for a first draft, but the story felt as though it didn't unwind in the right sequence. Before I knew it, I began procrastinating on writing the next scene.

My usual way to work through a scene problem is to either watch a favorite film or read a favorite novel. I have some films that have incredible action sequences that I return to over and over: The Bourne Ultimatum's scene in the Victoria train station is one. As Jason Bourne talks the journalist through the station the script and images just flow. This scene always reminds me about how to intercut images. Another is Loretta Chase's Silk is for Seduction, which provides a master class on creating conflict between characters that's believable and fascinating.

But this latest delay seemed different to me. Almost as if I was afraid to make a mistake in the manuscript. Admittedly, I'm attempting a multimedia project that's outside my usual work, but negative internal talk is not like me. I've long ago learned to turn off the "you're not good enough for this" thought while I'm writing.

Or have I? Was my procrastination a symptom rather than a cause?

For an answer I started looking into the science of procrastination, and, sure enough. there's some solid research in the area. In fact, some of use have brains that are wired to procrastinate. Or at least that's the conclusion in this recent study on the subject. Turns out that our amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex work together and in some people the connection is weaker than others. Apparently emotion is what makes us procrastinate. Namely, negative emotion. The "this is too hard" or "I don't know what's wrong or how to fix it" emotion. So when you're sitting at that computer screen and thinking that you're not good enough, that negative emotion ties to our brain and makes us avoid the situation.

And the fix? The article lists a group of them--all from productivity expert Moyra Scott. Many are tried and true: like breaking down a task into smaller bits (others have called this the "swiss cheese method) and using a timer.

For me, though, just realizing that my procrastination was a way to avoid an emotion was enough to break it. I told myself:  Enough worrying and just keep going. Sure enough, when I had four more chapters done I realized that adding a subplot and moving the scenes around would solve some issues. I dropped in the hints, moved a scene, cut a revealing conversation--(well I never cut, I just moved the block to the end of the document to insert at a later time) and kept going. And it worked-for now. If the procrastination looms again I'll now know where it's coming from and hopefully banish it again.In the meantime, I'll keep writing.

And if you have any tips about how you banish procrastination please put them in the comments below. I'd love to hear about what has worked for you!

All the best,
Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, March 22, 2020

YOU NEVER FAIL UNTIL YOU QUIT

by Karna Small Bodman

I’ve always liked that quote in the title. I’ve seen it play out in my own writing life as well as in many others. Before I wrote my first thriller, Checkmate, I wrote two light-hearted novels and collected close to 50 rejections from various agents and editors. Disheartened but determined not to “quit,” I began to research, outline and finally write Checkmate. I met an editor at a writer’s conference who said she liked my story, and after working with her on edits for close to a year (!), she gave me a contract, thus beginning a new chapter in my life -- writing a series of political thrillers.

If you’ve ever suffered disappointments and thought about quitting, let me tell you about some other folks who had disappointments too, but began their own new chapters and new careers. See if you can figure out who they were:

--She was demoted from her job as a news anchor because they said, “she wasn’t fit for television.”

(Oprah Winfrey)

Walt Disney
--He wasn’t able to speak until he was almost four years old, and his teachers said he would “never amount to much.”

(Albert Einstein)

--He was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas.” 

(Walt Disney)

--When he was 30 years old, he was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he started.

(Steve Jobs)


Dr. Seuss


--A teacher told him he was “too stupid to learn anything” and that he should go into a field where he “might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality.”

(Thomas Edison)

--His first book was rejected by 27 publishers.

(Dr. Seuss)

--His fiancé died, he failed in business, had a nervous breakdown and was defeated in eight elections.

(Abraham Lincoln)

Steve Berry
I also want to include an author, friend and former President of our International Thriller Writers organization, Steve Berry who has done so much to encourage aspiring writers by telling them about his own difficult experiences.Steve tells the story about how he “has been a writer for 20 years, published for 12.” He goes on to confess that when he wrote his first thrillers, he collected some 85 rejections from various agents and editors until, finally, one offered to publish his historical thriller figuring the “time might be right for such a novel.” And, indeed it was. Now Steve’s books have consistently hit The New York Times Bestseller List. His new thriller is The Warsaw Protocol.

There are many more great stories of people who have “picked themselves up” after one or more failures. Their efforts are always inspiring, no matter their field of endeavor. 

Do you have examples of people who “started again” that you could share with us? Leave a comment as we’d all like to know. And remember the original quote, “You Never Fail Until You Quit.”

Friday, March 20, 2020

THE REAL BOOK SPY'S MARCH 2020 ROGUE RECOMMENDATION IS...

by The Real Book Spy

Who is Matt Drake? That, I suppose, depends on who you ask . . . but for my money, he’s the next big star of the thriller genre—and so is the author behind him, former Army Apache helicopter pilot turned novelist, Don Bentley.

In my time covering thrillers, I’ve seen several really talented writers make their highly anticipated debuts. From Matthew Betley and K.J. Howe—one of the fabulous Rogue Women Writers—to Jack Carr and, more recently, Chris Hauty, there has been an infusion of exciting new talent over the last five years, replenishing the thriller genre with a plethora of kickass new heroes.

In my opinion, Bentley is the next big name, and someone to watch very closely moving forward.

Whereas Jack Carr reminded me of Vince Flynn from day one, Don Bentley immediately struck me as the second coming of Brad Taylor, one of the finest action thriller writers on the planet, with a dash of Mark Greaney thrown in there for good measure. He’s got it all—a smooth, easy prose, lights-out storytelling ability, and enough been-there-done that authenticity to have readers running for cover when the action starts. To say I’m high on this book would be a dramatic understatement, and I’ve been waiting a long time to tell readers how good it is.

Truth is, I have a bit of history with Don and his book. I read it before he’d signed with Penguin, long before they’d designed the slick-looking cover that’ll soon be plastered all over bookstores. So, in a lot of ways, I’m one of his first fans (the downside is that I’ve been waiting a lot longer for the second book than everyone else), but I’m also one of his biggest. I cannot wait for readers to meet Matt Drake and fall in love with Bentley’s story like I did, and trust me, if hard-hitting action is what you crave, you’re going to flip for WITHOUT SANCTION. Promise!

Without Sanction Rogue Writers Research Blog


Don Bentley
A friend of mine said that in a good book, the author is actually using the novel’s pages to answer a question for himself. This was definitely true for me as I researched and wrote my debut novel, Without Sanction. While deployed to Afghanistan as an Army Air Cavalry Troop Commander, I was part of an operation that went tragically wrong. For years afterward, I wrestled with many questions about that day, but two in particular haunted me: Could I have done something differently? and Would I ever have the chance to atone for that awful day? In Without Sanction, my protagonist, Defense Intelligence Agency case officer Matt Drake, must answer both of these questions after an operation gone wrong leaves his best friend crippled and his asset dead.

After my time in the Army, I was privileged to serve as an FBI Special Agent. As an agent, one of my jobs was to recruit and run what we called sources and what members of the intelligence community call assets. The relationship between handler and source, or asset, is a fascinating one, rife with opportunities for conflict. I knew that I wanted to incorporate this experience into my novels, so Matt is a case officer charged with running and recruiting assets for the DIA.

For the last eight years, I’ve worked developing and marketing technology to SOCOM, or Special Operations Command. As such, most of my coworkers hail from this very insular community. This has been invaluable to my writing. I have access to subject matter experts on diverse topics ranging from High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) parachute jumps to long distance stress shooting. As I say in my acknowledgements section, anything that rings true in my novel is a testament to them. Anything I got wrong is absolutely my fault!

Beyond just technical knowledge, my colleagues have helped me to understand what it means to be a part of their community. For instance, three of my close friends are veterans of the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment. Rangers are famous for many things, including their strict adherence to the Ranger Creed. Non-Rangers might mistake the six stanzas comprising the Ranger Creed for just another organizational mission statement or HR-generated set of values. Nothing could be further from the truth. To a Ranger, these simple, yet powerful words mean many things. Depending on the circumstances, the Ranger Creed can be a rallying cry, a moral code, or even a prayer. After seeing first-hand how these words still govern my friends’ live years after they’ve left the military, I knew Matt Drake had to be a Ranger.  

Thank you to The Real Book Spy and Don Bentley. Another great pick!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

BOOK MESSAGES - Don't Send Out Yours in a Old Glass Bottle!

by K.J. Howe

Many publishers are delving into marketing data to help sell books, and it seems like the old maxim, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is being proven false. The latest studies show exactly what makes readers rocket through the book buying cycle—discovery, conversion, availability—and it would seem the bookselling process has much in common with a beauty pageant. Long before readers even engage with the blurb on the back of the book, they make decisions about their interest based on the title and the cover. They either engage with the “book message,” or they don’t.

So what exactly does this “book message” refer to and how does it work? The critical feature that drives a genre reader to sample a new author (familiar readers returning to a branded author are a different story) is the topic or “message” of the book. This “message” is immediately conveyed via the title and cover art. Research data compiled by a well-respected book audience research firm called The Codex Group demonstrates that the power of the title significantly outweighs that of the art or images on the cover, although publishers should strive to have them work together to deliver the maximum breakthrough impact.

The president of the Codex Group, Peter Hildick-Smith, believes the explanation for this is straightforward:
“People who buy and read books are word lovers; nothing intrigues them more than a strong message delivered by uniquely crafted title, subtitle, or even a reading line,” he says.
Crafting the title for a novel can be painstaking work, akin to giving birth to a thirty-pound porcupine. Hours upon hours are devoted to brainstorming multiple titles which are then discussed, dissected, tested, and usually discarded. Many novels will have dozens of proposed titles before the publisher and the author settle on “the one.” A number of people are involved in this process, from the author and editor to various department heads and consultants. If the book is weighty enough, focus groups, studies, and surveys can also be used to deliver hard numbers instead of relying on our “gut,” which is truly a subjective process.


The elements of an effective title can be difficult to pin down. Readers seek a variety of signals from an effective title, and those signals need to be delivered in a single word or a short phrase at most. Readers want to know that the book delivers the standard tropes that have made the genre or sub-genre so beloved to them, while at the same time providing a unique, intriguing approach or twist that provides fresh entertainment and new ideas. Readers want what is often referred to in Hollywood as “the same, but different.”

Most importantly, the title must create questions in the readers’ minds. It has to pose a mystery or conundrum that will make the reader want to invest the time to discover more. It needs to invite them into a world they are comfortable in, so they can chase down secrets and be dazzled by the answers. Simple right?

Speaking of Hollywood, one of the most effective titles in recent times might be that of this year’s Academy Award Winner for Best Film: Parasite. Even the simple meaning of the word is loaded with imagery and intrigue:



1. an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense.

2. DEROGATORY a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.

That title delivers on every level, setting a dark mood for the film, letting the audience know that while comedic, it is certainly not a comedy. A single word causes the potential viewer to ask questions immediately. Who is the parasite? Who or what does the parasite prey on? What will be the outcome of the struggle between the parasite and its host? All the elements of great intrigue are delivered in a single word.

This particular title rises to higher levels, as while the movie delivers a comprehensive conclusion, questions remain and are open to debate and interpretation. Who actually was the parasite and who was the host? The family from the basement apartment or the wealthy people living in an architect’s former home? Or both? Or was it the man hiding from the loan-sharks who was the true parasite? That is what makes for a sublime title. Layers and layers of questions and meanings in one word.

The world of fiction is filled with examples of effective, and not so effective, titles. What are some of your favorite and least favorite book and movie titles?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MARCH'S ROGUE RECOMMENDATION CLUE and the chance to win a free book!

CLUE: "This debut author is all good in the air and has a masters degree in creating writing."


A quick recap for those of you scratching your heads. 

In May of 2019, Rogue Women Writers and The Real Book Spy formed a lethal alliance dedicated to bringing you a monthly ROGUE RECOMMENDATION.

What's that mean? 

On the third Friday of every month, the Rogues team up with The Real Book Spy to bring you a  reading recommendation, highlighting a thriller that sizzles with entertainment, breaks boundaries or in some way stands out as "Rogue." Written in the unique voice of The Real Book Spy, recommendations may include, among other things: author interviews, author blogs, reviews and photos.

This is your chance to win more than just bragging rights! 

Do you like to win books? If so, there are three ways to enter into the drawing!

1. Post a comment below and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Real Book Spy's MARCH ROGUE RECOMMENDATION

2. Visit our FB page and share the clue with friends and fellow thriller buffs.

3. Tweet out the clue on Twitter. 

Game on!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

THE TOP FIVE MOST STUPID TV COMMERCIALS


           One of the Rogues all-time favorite, most popular, most controversial blogs went live a year ago Robin Burcell's take on today's TV commercials. It made us nod our heads, or disagree, but always laugh. The blog seems particularly relevant now that so many of us are focusing on news and searching for good entertainment. My choice of dreadful, most annoying commercials? Liberty Mutual's! Read on to enjoy Robin's original post.... – Gayle Lynds


Geico Spy Commercial
You’re probably wondering what commercials have to do with thriller novels. In our case, it has to do with branding. We, the Rogue Writers, are testing out our emerging brand, hoping you’ll be eager to see what we come out with next. Some of our readers might notice a few tiny differences in our blog header, one being the tagline beneath our name: “Kick-ass thriller writers. With Lives.” We dropped the international, because some of us are writing books that take place squarely in the U.S. We’re trying to let people know that the Rogue Women write kick-ass books, but that’s not all we do (hence, the "With Lives.") Obviously, the goal is that if you see Rogue Women, you’ll identify us with good books. It’ll take some time to see if this branding thing works. 

Like books, I’ve always believed that the best commercials are memorable and tell a good story. They draw you in, or make you laugh, or make you cry (in a good way). Think Budweiser Clydesdales and dogs for loyalty and tears of joy. Jack-in-the-Box and Geico have the market on laughter. When the above brands come out with a new commercial, I often rewind the DVR to watch. They succeed, because they tell a story—usually in less than two minutes. (Do you recall the gum commercial where the high school kid left wrappers for his sweetheart? Same concept, but serial installments.) The bad commercials fail to tell a decent story. They lack thematic structure. Or if they have a theme, they fail on plot. 

Keeping that in mind, here’s my list for the first quarter of 2019. These are, without a doubt, commercials that I’d like to never see on my TV screen again:

5.  Burger King (with the plastic head). Okay, I haven’t technically seen one of these in 2019, but they’re so bad it still lingers in my memory banks—especially the one where the king is stalking someone sleeping in their bedroom. I get that Jack-in-the-Box has hit a home run with the plastic-head-thing, but the difference is that Jack is funny. The king is creepy. It makes me not want to eat at BK. Ever. 

4.  Liberty Mutual.  I suppose on the one hand, that because I remember their name, they’ve succeeded. But not in the way they’d hoped. Their jingle (Liberty, Liberty, Liberty…) reminds me that I need to record any show they’re on, so I can fast forward after making a mental note to never buy their product. Face it Liberty, these are not funny. Not even a little bit. 

3. Chevy.  (At least I think it’s Chevy. As far as branding, it’s that unmemorable.) This truck company tries to amaze you (and fails) by showing these “real people, not actors” who are taken into a big warehouse or a desert, or wherever, and get to see a pickup put through the ringer in a way they couldn’t possibly have imagined. Then the twist ending (on some), where they’ve dragged their relative in to witness their amazement. It does nothing to enhance the brand, and only proves that people will do anything to get on TV. (That being said, the Provincial Progressive Insurance spoof of this particular set of commercials is excellent. Branding, however, not so good. My husband had to correct me on insurance co.)

2.  All fabric softener, detergent, or room freshener commercials that brag about fresh scent.  Every one of them shows a person sniffing someone else’s clothes or barging into a neighbor’s house to smell their kitchen or teen’s messy bedroom. One unmemorable brand had an annoying campaign where we actually heard someone sniffing loudly (and which caused me to switch the channel, every single time before I heard the product name). Not only don’t I want people to invade my space like that, I don’t like my clothes to smell like the chemical version of a “spring day” or “clean, fresh scent.” Clothes shouldn’t smell period. (Truth: I buy unscented everything.) My version of a spring day is to walk outside and stand in the sun. If I want to smell a flower, I’ll walk up to one. 

And my top choice for worst commercial: 
Charmin as far as the eye can see.

1.  Charmin toilet paper.  The current ad campaign with the bears is so bad, I had to look up the brand, because I refuse to waste space in my memory banks. Unfortunately, the tagline is firmly burned into my brain: “We all go. Why not enjoy the go?” (Said no one ever.) To the ad agency who came up with this inane branding concept, I get that you need a way to make it memorable—and you have, just not in a good way. For the sensitive readers, just skip down to the end, and let me know your fave or most hated commercial. For those of you who agree that swearing is okay (per Rogue Gayle Lynds' (2/20) post), I have to say: WTF? There are so many ways to interpret this tagline, and all of them bad. Think triple X rating. Honestly, stick with the bears if you must. We all know what they do in the woods. That was clever. But reality is that the majority of us (and the bears) aren’t “enjoy(ing) the go,” and those who do, I don’t want to know about it. Please, please, please retire this stupid campaign!

So, Rogue Readers, who wins your vote for worst commercial ever? And would you buy one of their products? Or steer clear? I’d love to know!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

WRITER NEEDS HELP! What are your favorite sugar cereals?

Vintage Advertisement, as in really OLD
by Gayle Lynds

Want to help a writer? Name your favorite cereal! I know that sounds silly, but cereal is one of the “telling details” we writers use to give our readers a vivid feeling of character.

For instance, if I create a scene in which two grown men are sitting across a café table and one orders Cocoa Puffs and the other orders oatmeal, the reader quickly forms a picture in his or her mind about who those characters are.

On the other hand, what if we reverse eating tastes, and the oatmeal lover is a little boy, and the Cocoa Puffs chomper is his grandpa? That’d be interesting, unusual, and likely you’d be curious about what such different characters were up to.

We writers are always collecting details like cereal choices. Today, I eat organic groats (don’t start, they’re delicious!), but in childhood my favorite was Rice Krispies.  I still remember “my first time.” I was at the breakfast table, and Mom put a bowl in front of me, poured in the cereal, added milk, and sang the advertising ditty (everyone was singing it in those long-ago TV days): “Snap, Crackle, Pop ... Rice Krispies!”

I leaned my head down over the bowl and listened closely. Yes, there it was ... snap, crackle, pop!  Wow! (You can watch one of the old TV ads on YouTube, too – it’s cute.)

1940s ad with the Snap, Crackle, & Pop elves
As I was thinking about all of this, I wondered
what my husband’s childhood cereal fave was. He didn’t disappoint me: Rice Krispies!

Now of course I’m wondering about yours. I’d love to hear. To help you along, here’s CNN’s list of the most sugary cereals. I’m proud that Rice Krispies is less sugar-saturated than Cocoa Puffs!

CNN's ranking of cereals by least sugar:

           1. Cheerios
           2. Rice Krispies
           3. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
           4. tied: Froot Loops, Reese's Puffs, Trix
           5. tied: Apple Jacks, Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp, Fruity Pebbles
           6. Frosted Flakes
           7. Lucky Charms
           8. Cap'n Crunch

Did you know there was a Cookie Crisp cereal? I didn’t, and I’m sorta unhealthily attracted to the sound of it. Crisp. Yum. Also, I’m besotted by the idea of Reese’s Puffs since I’ve always been a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Hmm. I’m not so big on Frosted Flakes though. I think I’d rather just eat spoonsful of sugar and not be distracted by the cardboard “flakes.” I don’t mean to be cruel, but gosh ... Lucky Charms has more sugar apparently, but it also has a more enticing name. Who doesn’t need a bit of luck sometimes?

Dear Reader, what are your thoughts? Did any of your childhood or adulthood cereal choices make the list? Please tell!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

INTERESTING THINGS YOU CAN LEARN FROM BATHROOM READING

by Chris Goff 

I love Reader’s Digest. I got hooked on it at a very young age. The articles are short, often reprinted collections of articles from other places. Packed full of information, entries range from bullet point articles, to Drama’s in Real Life, to joke sections, to health tips. There’s always something to learn, leave you amazed or make you laugh out loud.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past few months:
  • Intelligence is hard to measure
And yet, writer Tina Donvito, a writer for The Healthy tackled the research and came away with a laundry list of things science has linked to higher levels of learning, problem-solving and creativity.
  • You stay up late.
I’ve got this one! Just ask my friends. They’re always commenting on how late my emails come in. Well, a study from the London School of Economics and Political Science found those who go to bed later have higher IQs. Vindicated! Why, you ask? It seems it’s rooted in our evolution. Nighttime was a more dangerous place, and those that ventured into the night needed to be more intelligent. And here I thought it was because I was too busy to waste my time sleeping.

  • You swear.
What the f*&%? A study by Timothy Jay, PhD, a renowned expert in cursing, found people who came up with more swear words had a larger vocabulary in general. The trick is cultivating enough emotional intelligence (EQ) to know when to use them.
  • You criticize yourself.
I’ve got this one, too! Seriously, a landmark 1999 study from Cornell University found that incompetent people couldn’t recognize their own incompetence. It’s known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Smart people are smart enough to know how dumb they are.
My personal favorite bathroom reading material
  • You talk to yourself.
A study from the University of Wisconsin and University of Pennsylvania says self-talkers are exhibiting signs of higher thinking, memory and perception skills. And, here, I thought it came with aging. What’s that old adage, with age comes wisdom? Proof!
And my personal favorite—
  • The sound of chewing annoys you.
I have to admit, this is a new phenomenon for me. Only in the past six months have I discovered the sounds of people eating annoys the hell out of me. Fortunately, a study from Northwestern University found people who tested higher in creative cognition tended to have an inability to filter out irrelevant noise. Bottom line, they’re taking it ALL in.

So, now that you know how smart I am, tell me, how do you stack up when you measure yourself against these intelligence markers? 

Friday, March 6, 2020

ROGUE WOMEN FEBRUARY ROUNDUP!


Here's what the Rogues talked about, researched and revealed in February....

Were you ever read aloud to as a child? With World Read Aloud Day on February 5. Her dad's reading aloud prompted Rogue Chris Goff's love of books.

How does a writer retrieve something lost in the past? Summon a magic wand, visit the lost & found, or maybe hire a clairvoyant? Rogue Gayle Lynds reveals what's missing from her past.

Have you heard about incredible, yet "underappreciated" women who made great contributions? New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict is "In the Rogue Limelight" and writes about under acknowledged women served as inspiration for her new historical novel.

Who was Saint Valentine and where did the tradition of Valentine's Day originate? Rogue K.J. Howe shares the mystery behind Valentine's Day.

Meg Gardiner goes rogue in a fascinating interview by Lisa Black, answering 10 burning questions. Can you guess the answers?

Romantic thrillers or thrilling romances? Rogue Karna Small Bodman asks, do readers like romance in their thrillers or prefer the focus be on the threat, the villain and the action? Which do you choose?

January is that time of year when a lot of us take stock and create a resolution to change, then by February we're struggling. Rogue Jamie Freveletti highlights the science behind changing habits in order to achieve success!

Meg Gardiner, February 2020's Rogue Recommendation, shares where she finds her inspiration for her book. The answer may surprise you!

Why was this WWII spy the least likely person for the job? Rogue Lisa Black delves into the real-life tale of bravery.

Rogue guest blogger, Susan Elia MacNeal, the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope series talks about her newest book, THE KING’S JUSTICE. Mystery or thriller? In a good book, the lines can blur.

Rogue Gayle Lynds asks what's stranger than fiction? How about when fiction seems to predict current events? Read all about it! Coronovirus, SARS predicted by Koontz, Ludlum, & Lynds?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

SIX PRACTICES FOR A LONGER AND HAPPIER LIFE

by Liv Constantine

Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the things we need to do in order to try and keep our bodies healthy. We educate ourselves about nutrition, buy real food, make time for exercise and see our health care providers regularly. 

But what about those non-physical things––the things that have been shown to add years, well-being, and happiness to our life.

Dan Buettner, author of "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest" has this to say: “A long healthy life is no accident. It begins with good genes, but it also depends on good habits.”

Here are 6 simple habits that might not only prolong your life, but also make it the best life it can be. And the great part is that these are all tools we have access to every day.

1. Practice Gratitude

It has been said that it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, but gratitude that brings us happiness. Your quality of life can be tremendously improved by being thankful every day. Start a gratitude journal and take 10 minutes to jot down a few things you are grateful for before bed. According to a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, you may sleep better and longer. People who count their blessings instead of their burdens are shown to have less physical pain, decreased depression and blood pressure, and reduced stress. Focusing on what we are thankful for makes us kinder, more trusting, more social, and more appreciative. This quote from Melody Beattie says it all: “What you focus on expands. Focusing on the good things you’re grateful for creates more good things.”

2. Laugh often

Did you know that laughter boosts your immune system? A study done at Indiana State School of Nursing shows that deep laughter increases natural killer cell levels, a type of white blood cell that attacks cancer cells. And according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter increases blood flow and oxygenation, triggering the release of endorphins that make us relax. Laughter relieves pain and lowers blood pressure by decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A high level of cortisol is a factor in heart disease, cancer and dementia. Here are four comics still going strong in their nineties––Mel Brooks, 93; Dick VanDyke, 93; Norman Lear, 97; Betty White, 97. So watch a comedy or read a funny book. Listen to your favorite comedian and laugh with friends. Remember that life is funny

3. Meditate Daily

A daily meditation practice can change your life. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found meditation was not only about as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression, but also helpful in reducing anxiety, stress, and pain. Those who practice meditation daily, report feeling happier and more content with their lives. They have a sense of well-being and calm that takes them through the day with equanimity and balance. Sit with yourself for 15 minutes each morning for a time of quiet and see the results.

4. Find your inner spirituality

According to research by Dan Buettner (The Blue Zones), “Having a faith-based community can add four to fourteen years…” to your life. Spirituality is an extremely personal experience and your individual path is unique to you, but spirituality is linked to less depression, greater ability to handle stress, better health, and more positive feelings. Mahatma Gandhi said, “…a living faith will live in the midst of the blackest storm.”

5. Connect with Nature

Most of us believe that taking a walk on a nature path is good for us, but now studies are showing that there are real health benefits, both mental and physical, when we connect with nature. Even five or ten minutes can be beneficial. Being exposed to nature is another immune system booster. Plants give off Phytoncides, and when we breathe in these chemicals, our natural killer cells increase. These killer cells kill tumor and virus infected cells in our bodies. Spending time outside looking at trees and plants, water and birds, lowers blood pressure and also that evil stress hormone cortisol. Surgery patients who have a view of trees and greenery recover faster and better, with shorter postoperative stays and fewer painkillers needed. So head outside, plant some flowers, listen to the lovely sounds of birdsong, and feel the wonderful effects of communing with nature.

6. Ikigai

Ikigai is an Okinawan term, which roughly translates as “a reason for being”. Okinawa, Japan, is one of Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zones”, and he defines Ikigai as “the intersection between what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what the world needs.” He found Okinawans to be among the world’s longest-living populations and Ikigai, was a contributing factor. To know your purpose in life lets you begin each day with a reason to live. You need to have a reason to get up every morning, and doing what you love, what you’re passionate about, is that reason.

It appears that our minds and bodies are at their most excellent when our lives are stress free and worry free, when we feel happiness and thankfulness. These six practices are a few of the things we can do to achieve that state of being.

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” George Burns (who lived to be 100)

Have any of these practices made a difference in your life?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

J.D. ALLEN GOES ROGUE!

J.D. Allen
by Lisa Black

          The things we thriller writers get up to in the name of research! J.D. Allen is the author of 13 mystery novels and romance novels, and this week she visits Rogue Women Writers to talk about lessons learned while riding along in a patrol car.

1. For all that's holy, if there are bright blue and red lights flashing and sirens screaming in your rearview, GET OVER.
And use your indicator so that when you finally decide to move, the officer knows in what direction. This would seem to be intuitive, but as we were screeching along a major four-lane, one car cut over two lanes to the right when the left was closer and safer. No blinker. Remember, that officer is going as fast as he can to save your loved one in a car wreck, shooting, or what the hell ever. Four times the Deputy and I had to come to a complete stop. Get out of the way calmly and quickly.

Here's the Florida law straight from the manual. I bet yours is very similar:
Motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to law enforcement vehicles, fire engines, and other emergency vehicles using sirens or flashing lights. Pull over to the closest edge of the roadway immediately and stop until the emergency vehicle has passed. Do not block intersections.
On the flip side, I learned that the unit could outrun the sound of its own siren at about 80 mph. As we approached 110 mph I held onto the 'oh crap' handle like a big baby.

2. The computer in the unit is just as fast and just connected to the internet as your phone, so that the officer has all the info he needs during a traffic stop before getting out of the unit from looking up your tags.

Lying to the officer is stupid. If your headlight is out and you've already had two warnings in as many weeks, don't tell the officer it just went out. He knows who stopped you and when. And BTW if you're 20 and in a fancy Cadillac, your daddy can afford a freaking headlight.

3. When shopping for a new home in a new subdivision, check the surrounding communities as well to see who might be living in the shantytown behind that pretty six-foot wall in the back yard.

We cruised through a partially completed subdivision for a look-see—
pretty ponds, a few mature trees left standing. The open concept living area may be appealing, but the unseen neighbors may not.

A home under construction had the front door ajar. The deputy called for the backup unit but only to practice a blind entry and talk through scenarios with their trainee.

Afterward, we drove one block over to see the neighbors…dilapidated would be a compliment. The particular lot behind the new home had several metal sheds, piles of trash in the yard, and a circle of fifteen toilets next to the single wide. For what? I’m not sure I want to know. These good folks had been visited numerous times in the past for domestic disturbances and drug-related calls, with one shed used for meth production on and off.

4. Lock your shit up.

We chased an opportunistic pair of teens who have a habit of sneaking into a higher-end gated community on foot or piggy-backing a car right through the gate, then walk from house to house. I was astounded at how many people leave their cars unlocked, and with change, phones, computers, and guns inside. That particular night the thugs got away with two handguns, a phone and some cash. We didn't find them.

5. Why does that designer bag cost so much?

The Michael Kors store at the outlet mall was hit by shoplifters twice that day. In the security tapes it appeared to be two different two-person teams. In the second, a female distracted the salesperson while the male grabbed as many bags as possible from the racks/shelves closest to the door, stuffed wallets into a big pocketbook and grabbed other purses on the way out. Maybe 15 seconds in all, and I did the math in my head: more than three grand in merchandise. A security guard might not be too much of an expense for this shop…but what do I know?

6. Cooking meth in a porta-potty is not a good idea. The aftermath leaves a big black stain on the concrete. I'll leave it at that.

If you get a chance to do a ride-along with your local law enforcement, I highly recommend it. Just avoid the porta-potty.

Have you spent time getting hands-on experience with law enforcement? What surprised you the most?