Monday, October 19, 2020


The writer Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen uses the pen name Wolf Bahren when publishing fiction. Kristi has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Cornell and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia. She considers the lessons she learned from growing up in Poughkeepsie, NY, working odd jobs, traveling, listening to others, and living her life as important as her formal education.

In “Source of Deceit,” her latest espionage thriller, foreign correspondent Anna Jones must discover the truth behind the apparent suicide of a World Bank Director and the shooting of his young associate in Washington, DC. “Source of Deceit” is currently being pre-released on Bahren’s blog in short installments aimed at busy people eager for a quick escape. A print version is coming this fall. For details, see

The Joy of Rabbit Holes

by Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen (aka Wolf Bahren)

Conducting research is a process I have always loved. Following a trail of curiosity down a rabbit hole to discover something new thrills me. This affection came in handy when I was a journalist, because getting the facts straight is critical in reporting the news. But strong research is also important for fiction. Sign posts connecting readers to real life render a story more believable and convey themes more effectively. 

My professional experience as a researcher goes back to my first job, when I became an official “research assistant” at a think tank in New York City, at the time called the Institute for East-West Security Studies. I started in 1989 as the Berlin Wall was crumbling, and we worked on issues like democratization in Eastern Europe, banking reform in Poland, and political turmoil in the “powder keg” of the Balkans. 

Of course, in those days, much of my “research” involved making photo copies, placing calls, and filing expense reports. (I can still see piles of crumpled receipts in multiple denominations and hear the automated voice at the United Nations—“Si vous voulez une standardiste francophone…”). But on good days, I did real research, digging into the microfiche at the New York Public Library, discussing reforms with visiting “fellows,” and scouring books and journals. Later, in grad school, I became obsessed with Lexis-Nexis, an eye-popping smorgasbord of news and academic work (searchable with key words!). During an internship at Newsweek, I learned more tactics as a “fact checker” for Dita Camacho, an awe-inspiring foreign correspondent turned editor who drilled tough standards into her researchers.

The web really liberated freelance writers, just as I was becoming one. While I still tend to hoard newspaper clips, I greatly appreciate the huge body of information online. In terms of specific websites, Google Maps is my favorite, hands down. I could pore over it for hours—following rivers, verifying locations and zooming in on “street view.” Easy access to foreign newspapers, wire services, magazines and videos is of enormous benefit in gathering information and deciphering patterns. For my latest novel, Source of Deceit, I was especially glad to have access to the Bangkok Post and the Irrawaddy. I also located many articles and reports, such as on gunmakers in America, rebel groups in Myanmar, and projects of the World Bank. It’s not only experts who are useful—random people sometimes reveal tips in blogs or comment sections. 

Online used-book dealers provide a convenient and cost-effective way to gather specific historical research. While researching Source of Deceit, for example, rather than be tied to the library, I bought Behind Japanese Lines: With the OSS in Burma by Richard Dunlop (2014) and Thailand’s Secret War: OSS, SOE and the Free Thai Underground During World War II by E. Bruch Reynolds (2005).

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) provides another well of information. Just as interesting as following the news on these apps is analyzing the role social media plays in society. The ongoing controversy over TikTok is one example. Also, back in 2017, when supposedly American followers appeared on my Twitter account using Cyrillic letters and making grammar mistakes, I realized that some of the followers were bots, which got me thinking about propaganda in a new way.

Source of Deceit pre-released on Bahren's blog
Internet research has its downsides, of course, and not only due to the bots. A proliferation of private databases silos information and limits access. Paid reviewers and algorithms slant ratings, while trolls and political crusaders muddy the waters, at best. We in the DC area know only too well how conspiracy theories can evolve into violent events. More than ever, researchers must consider the source and remain vigilant in identifying manipulation.

Personal experience also serves as a form of research and a way to develop good judgment. By covering international finance and foreign affairs in New York, DC and Europe, including for AP-Dow Jones, I not only learned about particular topics, but also what it’s like to be a foreign correspondent. I saw how spies and journalists interact (or didn’t), what techniques journalists use to investigate and interview, how they evaluate sources, and how people may attempt to exploit one another. I also witnessed news bureau politics, and friction between journalists and government officials.

Travel counts too. Fascinating international locations are a distinguishing feature of espionage fiction. Real-life immersion allows a writer to drink in details, especially sensory experiences, which can be incorporated later. I finally made it to Bangkok and Chiang Mai in 2018, and this trip was critical in helping me describe Thailand accurately (and taking photos for my blog). 

No matter the reason for your research, exploring both real and virtual rabbit holes is definitely worth the trip. 

Thank you, Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen! Readers, have you had a chance to read some of Source of Deceit

Saturday, October 17, 2020


The Rogues are giving away a fall bounty of riches to celebrate our two new members! 

Stop in at our website before November 1st and sign up for our monthly newsletter to win!

Note: If you are already receiving our newsletter, you are automatically entered.

Winner will be announced November 5th!

Books and other writerly loot includes: 

Rogue Women Writers coffee mug

Campbell's Soup can with a secret compartment from the Spy Museum

Red cosmetics bag

Keep Calm and Carry On coffee mug with coffee samplers

Deck of cards in autumn red

Truth detector card

Top Secret sling bag

US Capitol pencil

52 Fun Things to Do on Date Night

CIA sticker fun

The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal

Plus These Autographed Thrillers....

Let Justice Descend by Lisa Black (not pictured)

Trust But Verify by Karna Small Bodman (audiobook)

The Kill Order by Robin Burcell

Red Sky by Chris Goff

The Freedom Broker by KJ Howe

Mosaic by Gayle Lynds

The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman

Rival’s Break by Carla Neggers

The Last Time I Saw You by Liv Constantine

All in a leather-handled basket perfect for picking apples or reading material!

Winners will be announced November 5th so make sure to sign up to enter today!

Friday, October 16, 2020


by The Real Book Spy

If you’ve already read Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train . . . get ready for The Invisible Girl, the latest heart-pounding thriller from Lisa Jewell.

Like many other readers who suffered from serious book hangovers following the massive hits produced by Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, I too struggled to find another thriller of physiological suspense that gripped me the way their books did. It didn’t matter how many times publishers slipped the word “girl” into their titles in an effort to capitalize off the mainstream success of those books (not to mention the featured films, both of which had successful box office runs), nothing could compare to Flynn’s unreliable narrator or Hawkins’ twisting tale that spun its way to a shock ending.

Then I found Lisa Jewell’s work.

My reading journey into her books started a few years ago, when her U.S. publisher sent me Watching You (2018), which I blew through in just a few short hours. Then came last year’s The Family Upstairs. In between those books, I went back and read as much of Jewell’s backlist as possible and became a huge fan of her work. It’s so simple to fall in love with her easy, smooth prose. And with the way she plots—well, you can’t ever just sit the book down and walk away. She simply doesn’t allow it, with each chapter pulling you deeper and deeper into her story. So, waiting on The Invisible Girl, I kind of felt like I knew what to expect, and was ready to sink my teeth into it the moment it arrived on my doorstep.

Here’s the thing with Lisa Jewell . . . never assume anything.

The Invisible Girl follows Owen Pick—a man whose life is suddenly falling apart—and his neighbors, the Fours family. Cate Fours, the matriarch of the family, is suspicious of Owen, who was recently accused of sexual misconduct and subsequently fired from his teaching position. As the story develops, that suspicion morphs to paranoia, especially after she is convinced Owen followed her daughter home from school one day. Then a young girl name Saffyre Maddox goes missing, and Cate becomes positively obsessed with Owen—who, it turns out, was the last person to see the girl alive and well.

Think you know where this one’s headed? Think again. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is quite what is seems here . . . which is what makes this book so incredibly fun to read! Picture Harlan Coben meets Gillian Flynn, and you’ve got The Invisible Girl, the latest can’t-miss thriller from one of the genre’s most talented writers.

by Lisa Jewell

When you read a book, it’s easy to assume that everything within that book is just as the author had planned it to be. It’s easy to imagine a large whiteboard with the story mapped out in flow charts and bubbles. And every time the author introduces a new character, you assume that the author always knew that that character was going to be there, and that this was the precise moment the author had planned for them to arrive. Obviously as a writer, I know that none of this is true, but still I get swept up into swallowing this magical illusion when I read other people’s books.

My latest book is called Invisible Girl. The title refers to one of the three main characters in the book, a seventeen-year-old named Saffron Maddox. The story revolves around her and her relationship with her therapist, Roan Fours. She hides in the shadows and watches her former therapist because she feels that her relationship with him has come to a close too soon, that she is not healed and she is not cured. She is a very intense, very real, very front of stage character. So clearly, I must have known that I’d be writing a book about her, right?


I was writing a book about another character, Roan Fours’ neighbour in fact; a loner called Owen Pick, thirty-three years old and a virgin. My working title for the book was Creep, because that was what I wanted to write about, that was what I wanted to explore. Owen Pick needed a counterpoint, he needed to be seen by someone who saw him as a threat in some way. So I gave him a family of neighbours freshly moved in, excited to be living somewhere smart and surprised to find their plush new neighbourhood playing host to a series of grim sex attacks carried out by a man in black. They see the odd man across the street and they make terrible assumptions about him. That was it. That was the book. That was what it was going to be.

In the early pages of the book, I randomly gave Roan Fours the job title of ‘child psychologist’, because it fitted in with the kind of family I wanted to portray them as; Roan’s wife, Cate is a former physiotherapist turned stay-at-home mum, they have two teenage children who go to state school, they are middle class but not rich, clever but not successful. So, like plucking a fruit from a tree, I looked into the boughs of my imagination for a job, any job, that might fit the brief and there it was. Child Psychologist. That’ll do, I thought. That’ll do.

Then I decided to engineer some marital discord into the Fours’ family dynamic – much more fun to write about an unhappy family than a happy family. And while writing a paragraph about Cate trying to uncover her husband’s suspected infidelity by going through his private affairs, I found myself writing the words “Saffyre, that was the name of the patient whose private records Cate had read through. Saffyre Maddox. She was fifteen years old at the time and had been self-harming since the age of ten.”

Saffyre Maddox. The name another random bit of fruit from the boughs of my mind. I didn’t know where it had come from but I knew I liked it. I wanted very much, I suddenly realised, to know more about this Saffyre Maddox. I wanted to know who she was and why she’d been self-harming and what had happened between her and Roan Fours behind the closed doors of his therapy room. So I started the next chapter and I called it Saffyre and I wrote the words “I was twelve and half years old the first time I met Roan Fours. I’d been cutting myself for more than two years by this stage.”

And there she was, immediate and three dimensional and pretty much demanding that I make my book be about her. I’d spent months imagining Owen Pick before I started to write him, but Saffyre just jumped in from nowhere at the very last minute and completely changed everything. A new character, a new direction, a plan for this novel thwarted, but made better.

Pretty ironic for a girl who wanted to be invisible. ;)

Thank you to The Real Book Spy and Lisa Jewell! We can't wait to read The Invisible Girl.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: It's a rarity - Gayle Lynds's THE ASSASSINS eBook on sale

by Gayle Lynds

I’m thrilled to let you know a first-time event for me – a big eBook sale for my international spy thriller The Assassins.  Just $1.99, but it lasts only a few days.  

“Rich settings, beautifully crafted characters, and a compulsively readable storyline.... Outstanding.” –Douglas Preston

What’s the story about?  Former military spy Judd Ryder and CIA trainee Eva Blake team up to track six of the world's most lethal assassins.

"I loved it!" –Catherine Coulter

As a writer who’s created many characters, I’m particularly proud of Judd and Eva, and who they turned out to be.  I also loved the fascinating places they landed, from inner sanctums of government and intelligence in Washington, D.C., to the exotic bazaars of Marakech. 

“Nobody writes espionage quite like Gayle, who rocked my world with The Assassins.” –The Real Book Spy

For all the details ...  


Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, eBooks, & Google Play 

Sunday, October 11, 2020


by Gayle Lynds 

This is criminally fun, and awesome…. Four of Maine’s finest suspense authors (each has won the state’s top prize for crime fiction) have new books out. Read all about them here, and check out their riveting mysteries!

by Richard Cass

Now that summer has passed us by and those of us up here in the great tourist destination of Maine can breathe again, I’m pleased to accept the invitation of Rogue Women Writers to introduce you to some of the better crime writers in the state. (Modesty prohibits us from calling ourselves the best—the competition is too good.) What we do have in common, though, is that our books have at one time or another, won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, given annually by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.

In alphabetical order (still keeping those egos damped ...) let me introduce you to:

Gerry Boyle 

Winner: Straw Man, 2017, and Random Act, 2020

Gerry is the author of 15 crime novels set mostly in hardscrabble rural Maine and its languishing mill towns. Like all of his fiction, Boyle’s 12th Jack McMorrow mystery, Random Act, draws on his experience as a newspaper reporter and columnist exploring the places and lives of parts of Maine that are far off the tourist track. 

Gerry’s love of dialogue was born in decades of listening to people who were the fodder for his newspaper columns: cops, criminals, and people whose lives otherwise went unnoted. Before the internet and social media, he prided himself on recording for some sort of record the words of people who had never been in print. 

After graduating from Colby College, the Rhode Island native tried New York, Texas, and other states but soon was drawn back to the places that would populate his crime fiction. His primary protagonist, former New York Times reporter Jack McMorrow, feels the same pull, and spends his time affirming that the Maine countryside is full of secrets, and it can be dangerous to rely on first impressions.  

Richard Cass 

Winner: In Solo Time, 2018

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow jazz mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston and decides to buy it. Elder believes that being around drinkers and alcohol all day and night might give him a better chance of controlling his desire for single-malt Scotch in deadly quantities. It’s not an approved twelve-step program, but it gives him some (tenuous) hope, where nothing else has worked. At the same time, he wants to turn the Esposito, the dive bar, into a jazz night spot—he is a rabid fan of the music.

Elder is a Brahmin, from the historically wealthy and powerful part of the city’s populace; his Homicide detective sidekick Dan Burton hails from the rougher blue-collar side of the city, Charlestown. Boston, like most major cities, deals in all kinds of political, racial, social, and cultural conflicts, which allow great latitude in having characters engage with these issues from their unique perspectives. The books have a neo-noir flavor, less dark than realistic.

In Solo Time won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction in 2018. The second book, Solo Act, was a finalist in 2017. No, the dates are not transposed—Solo Act was published first and In Solo Time, its prequel, second. The other books in the series, in actual order, are Burton’s SoloLast Call at the Esposito, and the just published Sweetie Bogans’s Sorrow.

Kate Flora 

Winner: And Grant You Peace, 2015, and Redemption, 2013

Kate’s family goes back to well before Maine became a state, with ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, including one who captured a British ship in the river off Wiscasset. Kate is proud to call herself a Maniac. Thirty-five years ago she left practicing law to raise her boys and follow her life-long dream of becoming a writer. What fascinates her most is how what she’s called to write keeps changing, and how those changes change her and her writing going forward.

She’s published more than 20 short stories and been an editor and publisher of seven anthologies of crime stories by New England writers. She wrote a stand-alone suspense novel, Steal Away, as Katharine Clark, published two true crimes, a co-written memoir, and a nonfiction book about police shootings. She’s written nine books in her Thea Kozak mystery series and six in her Joe Burgess police procedural series.

This year she published her first (and likely last) romantic suspense novel, Wedding Bell Ruse, plus a fictional short story about Huey Long in The Faking of the President, and an essay about living through a pandemic in a collection called Stop The World. Many of her books can be found at Kelly’s Books to Go.

Barbara Ross

Winner: Stowed Away, 2019

Barb is the author of eight Maine Clambake Mysteries about amateur sleuth Julia Snowden, whose family runs a clambake on a private island off the coast of Maine. Her Maine Clambake novellas as well as novellas by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis are included in three holiday anthologies from Kensington Publishing. 

Barb's books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel. The first book in the series, Clammed Up, was a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction in 2014. Stowed Away, the sixth book in the series, won the award in 2019. She’s enormously proud that Stowed Away was the first cozy mystery to win for crime fiction, and the only mass market paperback original ever to win in any category.  

Barbara also writes the Jane Darrowfield Mysteries about a woman who uses her spare time in retirement to hire herself out as a professional busybody and becomes the go-to girl for situations that need fixing. The first in the series was published just this summer: Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody. Barb’s books are available at Kelly’s Books to Go

Have you ever visited Maine, dear Rogue Readers? Oh, the lobsters, the rocky coastline, the multitude of islands with their stories…. Please tell!

Friday, October 9, 2020


by Chris Goff

We are delighted to have former Rogue S. Lee Manning blogging with us today. Her debut novel, Trojan Horse, is scheduled for release on October 16, and is getting rave reviews. We recommend you go out and pre-order your copy today!

S. Lee Manning spent two years as managing editor of Law Enforcement Communications before realizing that lawyers make a lot more money. A subsequent career as an attorney spanned from a first-tier New York law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, to working for the State of New Jersey, to solo practice. In 2001, Manning agreed to chair New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP), writing articles on the risk of wrongful execution and arguing against the death penalty on radio and television in the years leading up to its abolition in the state in 2007.

by S. Lee Manning 

The Long and Winding Road

It’s been a fifteen-year journey from first draft to publication. I’ve gone through multiple drafts, two agents, one who died, one who was ineffective, a previous contract for publication, and now it’s finally here. Launch day. On October 16, my espionage thriller Trojan Horse will officially debut.

Cue the balloons.

A lot has happened in my life in those fifteen years. In that time, I’ve been a teacher, a lawyer, and a caregiver for my father with Alzheimer’s. I saw both my children graduate from college, attended my daughter’s wedding, survived breast cancer, and buried both my parents. I’ve volunteered in four Presidential campaigns, moved to Vermont, and reached the semi-finals in Vermont’s funniest Comic contest. I’ve written blogs and three other novels, two of which are in the Kolya Petrov series, slated to be published, after significant rewriting and editing. And I’ve become more in-tune with and interested in my Jewish identity.

There have been a few changes in the world and the country as well over those years.

Given all the chances to the world and in my personal life, you might wonder what sort of changes I would have made from first draft fifteen years ago to the about to be published novel.

Quite a few, as a matter of fact.

Some of the changes, of course, involved tightening and streamlining. Like many first novels, the first draft of Trojan Horse was way too long. I took out storylines, I cut uninteresting scenes and sometimes interesting scenes that didn’t add much. There are the technology changes. In my first draft, the villain had a Blackberry. There was no texting. People had landlines for the most part. All of that has changed. 

But the more significant changes revolve around characters and character development. My protagonist, American intelligence operative Kolya Petrov, was born in Russia and emigrated to the United States at the age of fourteen. When I first wrote Trojan Horse, Kolya was an ethnic Russian, with some Jewish blood, but he didn’t consider himself Jewish.

But his identity has changed, and that change mirrors my own.

In 2006, when I first wrote Trojan Horse, I was proud of my Jewish identity, but it wasn’t that important in my life. I bought raisin challah for the High Holy Days and a box of matzoh for Passover, and otherwise didn’t make that big a deal of it. Then in 2017, men marched carrying swastikas and chanting “Jews shall not replace us.” Suddenly, anti-Semitism was growing and expanding. And, I decided that if people again wanted to kill Jews, maybe it was time to reaffirm my Jewish identity. I not only sent donations to the ADL, but I joined the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe, here in Vermont where I live – and where I’ve since become active. Last summer, I ran a comedy fundraiser for the synagogue, and this year marks the second time that I’m reading the Torah for Rosh Hashanah. And, no, I don’t keep kosher, and yeah, I’m still agnostic. Nevertheless.

So last summer, before submitting Trojan Horse to Encircle Publications, I did a last rewrite, and Kolya became Jewish. Secular Jewish, because given his personality and his upbringing, neither of which I wanted to change - he would not be observant, but still - Jewish. A Jewish blond, jazz-playing, poetry reading, snarky martial arts and shooting expert – who immigrated from Russia, whose name comes from his one non-Jewish grandfather.

(And if you’re interested in how one can be Jewish but secular, even agnostic – or what exactly does it mean to be Jewish – that’s beyond the scope of this blog. There are volumes out there on the topic. Suffice it to say – secular Jews are a thing.)  

It made sense to me. Not just because I’ve had my own Jewish reawakening, but because I wanted the book to reflect what is really going on in the world today, and what is really going on among the neo-Fascist types is a revival of old fashioned, conspiracy laden anti-Semitism. I felt it needed to be part of the book. It also made sense to subtly raise the question of why Kolya was the agent selected to be sacrificed. 

I also liked the idea of breaking stereotypes. First, I wanted to break the stereotype of what Jews look like. Kolya is blond. Yes, blond Jews exist, as do Black Jews, and brown Jews. Next, his profession. Are there Jewish secret agents in American espionage novels or films? If there are, I’m not aware of them. Yes, of course, there’s Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon, and there’s a host of movies and books about Mossad agents. Popular culture sees Israeli Jews as tough, smart, capable of carrying out international intrigue. A book or movie portraying Jewish American secret agents? Nothing comes to mind. There is a stereotype of Jews portrayed in American popular culture. Jewish characters tend to be intellectual, neurotic, complex, interesting – think of the average protagonist in a Woody Allen movie – but not action oriented. Jews are lawyers, doctors, writers, rabbis, or movie agents. There are some novels where Jews are detectives, but they just don’t seem to have jobs in American intelligence organizations, at least not in popular culture.

Personally, I’m hoping that Kolya will start a new trend.

Thank you, S. Lee Manning, for blogging with us today and sharing your journey to publication. Readers, don't forget to pre-order Trojan Horse today.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


 by Chris Goff

It's 2020, and who among us hasn't seen changes. 

The Rogues are changing. 

We say goodbye to two of our earliest members: Jamie Freveletti and Robin Burcell. They both plan to focus on their writing in the coming year, and―while we'll miss them both―we wish them well.

And we are welcoming two new members: Jenny Milchman and Carla Neggers. Jenny is the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark and Silver Falchion awards, earned starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist, and was nominated for PEN/Faulkner, Macavity and Anthony awards. Carla is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 75 novels. She is a former VP of International Thriller Writers, a past-president of Novelists, Inc., and has received multiple awards for her writing. 

The Rogues couldn't be happier!

The Leaves are changing

It's fall in my backyard. This picture was taken a year or so ago, looking North from Mt. Evans. Somewhere, in one of those valleys, is our Evergreen house. 

This year, the valley is filled with smoke. This past week or so, Colorado's Front Range has clocked the worst air quality in the world, at least twice. The smoke has come in on the Jet Stream, dragged in from the Cameron Peak fire burning far to the north, currently 128,149 acres and 42% contained; the Mullen Fire burning farther to the north in Wyoming and Colorado, currently 151,711 acres and 14% contained; and the Washington, Oregon and California fires which have burned more than 5.8 million acres, taken lives, burned out communities and are still raging out of control. 

In light of that, what's a little wheezing?

COVID has changed the world

It's crazy! No more handshakes. No more kisses. No more hugs. No more blowing out candles on a birthday cake! 

Working from home. Constant hand sanitizing. Home haircuts. Mask-rash. 

And the longer we remain "safer at home," the more it becomes part of the changing fabric of our lives. I'm not sure we won't be living with a number of these changes for some years to come.

My youngest daughter, a school teacher, listened to me complain, then asked me, "Mom, if you could take a shot that gave you a 70% chance of protection against getting the virus, would you take it?" I said, "Of course." She said, "That's the protection you get if we ALL wear our masks."

The latest stats show 35.9 million cases of Covid-19 worldwide, with 1.004,051 deaths.

So, who cares what the fashion police think?

Positive changes

It's sometimes hard to see the good in the bad. 2020 has been a tumultuous year. But some positives have risen from the ashes. 

1. Embracing change. While it's clear we still have work to do in our quest for racial equality and our fight against social injustice, our time at home has given many of us an opportunity to read, explore and reflect on our past and future roles in this changing narrative. The important thing is, people are hearing, and there is a dialogue going on.

2. Scientific Advancement. Our scientific and medical communities rock! When faced with faced with a health crisis, they jumped right on the vaccine, and it's looming on the horizon. Amazing! Of course, I'm reminded of the great Swine Flu Shot debacle of 1975. That said, I'll role up my sleeve when the time comes.

3. People coming together. Not only is this happening on a local level, with people lending a hand, our own government managed to pass the CARES act to help the American people. We've seen firsthand how people with major differences can come together when faced with a common enemy. Now, if it were only sustainable. 

4. Personal growth. Spending more time with family and friends. Exploring the Great Outdoors―taking walks, picnicking, meeting friends in the park. Celebrating the positive environmental changes due to the lockdown of COVID-19. Heck, carbon emissions are down. Delhi, India had blue skies. You could see fish in the Venice canals. 

5. I've come to appreciate my husband's most annoying tendency. 

Does that require explanation? 

My husband is a hoarder.

Not a "call for intervention" type, but a hoarder none the less. His is a mild case, and he knows it. My kids know it. If he uses one jar of pickle relish, he buys three to replace it. If he uses one can of tuna fish, he buys four. You get the picture. During a recent move, the kids found expired soup cans marked 1971 in the back of the pantry. It's a family joke.

We had our Astrological charts done once and the woman told him that it was understandable. "After all," she said, "He had starved five times in his past lives."

Knowing didn't change the habit, which has come in very handy since we've been ordered to stay at home. Guess who had a stockpile of toilet paper, apple juice and diet Coke!

How about you, Reader? What is the most positive thing that has come out of 2020 for you?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020


by ZJ Czupor


This famous line, "Through a Glass, Darkly," has a storied past in ancient and modern literature, film, poetry, and music. But it wasn't until author, editor, publisher and agent Helen McCloy borrowed the title for her 1950 novel that it became recognized as a mystery masterpiece. 

Helen Worrell Clarkson McCloy (1904-1994) was a prolific writer of mystery novels and a major influence on the genre. She also served as the first woman president of Mystery Writers of America in 1950. 

McCloy was a pioneer of psychological suspense. Her writing has been characterized as graceful, subtle, and well written with morbid psychology, obscure historical facts, powerful plots and with literary allusions which unsettle the reader from “unease to downright panic,” said Noah Stewart, blogger and critic of the Golden Age of Detection novels. 

She created America's first fictional psychiatrist detective, Dr. Basil Willing, who debuted in her first novel Dance of Death (William Morrow & Co., 1938). He appeared in thirteen of McCloy's novels and several short stories acting as a paid consultant to New York City's District Attorney. Willing is famous for saying, "every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints, and he can't wear gloves to hide them."

Dr. Willing also appears in a McCloy short story published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (September 1948). That story was "Through a Glass, Darkly," and was subsequently serialized in The New York Daily News from Nov. 6, 1949 to Jan. 15, 1950. McCloy then expanded the story into a novel by the same title (Random House, 1950). 

Some critics consider the novel a masterpiece and have suggested that Through a Glass, Darkly is among the top twenty best detective stories ever written. Author, critic, and editor Anthony Boucher recommended the novel as “an excellent treatment of the Doppelgänger theme.”

The story concerns an elite girl’s school near New York and features a supernatural twist. Art teacher Faustina Crayle thinks people are encountering her doppelgänger, or double, in two places at the same time. 

McCloy often used doppelgängers, superstition, and bizarre or surreal events as plot twists but in the end relied on psychology, or medical science, to explain why people would act in such a manner, letting the reader solve the puzzle along with the sleuth.

In 1959, her story was adapted into a teleplay and aired on BBC's Saturday Playhouse from 1958 to 1961.

Through a Glass, Darkly is considered to be written in the tradition of Dorothy L. Sayers’ short story “The Image in the Mirror.” (“Hangman’s Holiday” 1933), which features her famous character, Lord Peter Wimsey, and introduces the notion of a man seeing his identical evil twin committing crimes. Sayers (1893-1957) was a renowned English crime writer and poet.

The Title with an Ancient Past has been Copied Many Times

“Through a Glass, Darkly,” comes from the Bible (King James Version), 1 Corinthians 13:12 – in which Paul, the Apostle, says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” What the verse means is that when we see things head on, face-to-face, everything is clear, and when we see other things in part, they are imperfect, like a mystery. 

Other scholars claim that Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 BC) said these words long before they appeared in the New Testament. In Plato’s dialogue Phaedo, he recounts the last days of Socrates who talks about the dark realities that lie behind all that we see. He said we see true realities, “through a glass, darkly.” 

Ingmar Bergman used the title for his 1961 noir film, a completely different story, about schizophrenia and hearing the voice of God. The film won an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Five other novels (all different) by different authors also carry this title. In 1986, Karleen Koen wrote an historical fiction romance, which sold for $350,000 (Random House), then a record for a debut novelist. Her novel became a New York Times' best seller and has been translated into more than ten languages. 

Four non-fiction books use the title; and four poems, one of which was written by General George S. Patton, Jr. (1922). In addition, numerous musical albums, songs, and television episodes carry the same title. 

Even Agatha Christie and Isaac Asimov got into the act. In 1934, which preceded McCloy’s famous novel, Christie wrote a short story under the same title which appeared in Collier’s Weekly, and in 1939 published it in her collection of short stories, The Regatta Mystery. It is the only story in the collection that does not feature one of Christie’s famous detectives. Asimov wrote a collection of four short stories but twisted the collection’s title, slightly, as “Through a Glass, Clearly.” (1967).

While McCloy was known primarily as a mystery writer, she also wrote under the pseudonym Helen Clarkson, in which she published The Last Day (1959), a science fiction novel about a woman who witnesses nuclear fallout on an isolated island. 

As a young girl, McCloy was a fan of Sherlock Holmes and sold her first article at fourteen. In addition to the thirteen Dr. Basil Willing novels, (1938-1980); she wrote sixteen stand-alone mysteries (1943-1979); and four uncollected short stories (1934-1935).

McCloy was born in New York City to a literary family. Her mother, Helen Worrell McCloy, was also a writer, while her father William McCloy was the managing editor of the New York Evening Sun. She was educated at Brooklyn’s Quaker Friends School; studied at the Sorbonne, in Paris; worked as a journalist for Randolph Hearst’s Universal News Service; as an art critic for International Studio and other magazines, and as the London art critic for The New York Times. She also was a free-lance contributor to the London Morning Post.

In 1946, she married novelist, Davis Dresser (1904-1977). They had one daughter. Dresser wrote as Brett Halliday and gained fame with his hard-boiled Mike Shayne private eye novels. He wrote more than sixty mystery novels and was a founding member of Mystery Writers of America in 1945. There were twelve Mike Shayne films and five of them starred Eugene Hugh Beaumont, who is most famously known as the TV father, Ward Cleaver, in “Leave it to Beaver.” (CBS: 1957-58; ABC: 1958-63). She and Dresser founded the Torquil Publishing Company and the literary agency Halliday and McCloy (1953-64). They divorced in 1961. 

In 1954, she received the Edgar Allan Poe Award from MWA for criticism. In 1971, she founded the MWA's New England Chapter, and in 1990, was named MWA Grand Master. Her contributions to the genre are recognized today by the annual Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship for Mystery Writing.

Thank you, ZJ, for teaching us all about Helen McCloy! Readers, have you read any of her work?

Friday, October 2, 2020


by Jenny Milchman

It’s a cruel world out there and unfair things happen in it. It used to be that you couldn’t read the news without being made aware of that reality—now we can hardly step outside our homes without being faced with the masked evidence of a potentially lethal combatant.

I believe this is one reason why thrillers and suspense fiction have such great appeal. In a thriller, the enemy can be opposed and often conquered. Thrillers are justice plays at heart—and we can all use a dose of justice in our lives, especially now.

When a woman is the one to mete out justice, I get particularly enthralled. Maybe it’s because the deck has historically been stacked against women taking on their opponents, or maybe it’s because those are the stories we get told less often because the voices have been silenced.

I get as psyched as the next thriller fan when Reacher stalks into town and lays waste to all the bad guys. But when he has a female partner beside him, as he did in his 2019 release, Blue Moon, my interest perks up just a bit extra. 

Here are a few heroines who encountered monsters in different forms, and left justice in their wake.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Clarice Starling has physical strength (the film version opens with her completing a trail run), guts and bravery (picture her in the monster’s den at the end). But it’s her mind that is able to churn Lecter’s knowledge of sociopaths in such a way that she beats Buffalo Bill and saves the senator’s daughter. A thinking heroine (or hero—see above: Reacher) is always more fun than one who wields brawn alone.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Trisha MacFarland is only nine years old, but when she lags behind on a family hike and gets lost in the Maine wilderness, she will have to become a heroine at her tender age, facing down brutal terrain, hunger, fatigue, terror…and ultimately a real life monster. Every parent would want their daughter to have a heart and mind as tough as Tricia’s.

But what about heroines created by female authors? I’m so glad you asked! I have a couple of favorites to share with you.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I know women whose worst fear is being abducted and held captive. The idea of such helplessness is terrifying. That’s why Ma is such a kick butt heroine. Having raised her son his whole life in captivity, Ma figures out what to do—no spoilers—to finally get him the life he deserves.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

The scenario in this novel may be a little less familiar—getting trapped in a zoo isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you’re asked your worst fear—but Joan has to become a heroine to her young son, Lincoln, as well. The way she gets them out of the zoo—her response to the monster that keeps them from leaving—demonstrates the best qualities in a heroine, especially one who’s a mother. Resourcefulness, quick instincts, and a refusal to deny just how bad things may get. 

Let’s not forget the movies! Hollywood has been terribly impacted by the pandemic, but there are some great new ones coming out—and they feature heroines who left me hoping I would be that smart and powerful.

“Alone” directed by John Hyams and starring Jules Wilcox. Another abduction/captivity scenario but with whoa, what a twist. Let’s just say the whole held captive part doesn’t last long. This heroine thinks of something to do that is almost beyond comprehension—well, I never would’ve thought of it anyway, which admittedly may not be the same thing—and it sets her on a brutal, bloody path the heartiest warrior might flinch at. I always believed women would be the more successful in battle.

“Centigrade” directed by Brendan Walsh and starring Genesis Rodriguez. The scenario seems farfetched until you learn that it’s based on a true story. The role of being a mother comes into play in this survivor thriller again—right down to her giving birth in a car. And that’s not the hardest thing this heroine does to save the life of her child. 

As long as there is life, there will be monsters, only some of them human. When women face them down, they do so with a unique blend of strengths. I hope one or more these will have you cheering.

Readers, what kind of monster do you find the scariest? 

Thursday, October 1, 2020


Here's what we Rogues talked about, researched, and revealed in September...

 Z.J. Czupor brings it with his latest Mystery Minute, The Butler Did It! Do you know who the icon phrase is most attributed to? We were surprised.

A US Navy veteran, nuclear engineer and former submarine officer, Brian Andrews is the perfect co-author for Tier One, a military thriller with co-author Jeffrey Wilson. Andrews talks collaboration, and knows a thing or two about teamwork.

Gayle Lynds reveals her sure-fire 10 rules for writing a best-selling thriller. You can do it, you can do it!

Can you use humor during these difficult days? Of course you can!  Karna Small Bodman gives great cartoons and great novels as examples.  
When Rogue Gayle Lynds's first novel, Masquerade, was published, she crashed into a bulwark of sex discrimination in the exclusive male spy genre—and it wasn’t just men blocking her path. How did the book become a "thriller classic" & NYTimes bestseller?

Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp is back, and The Real Book Spy will be the first to recommend Kyle Mills' latest thriller, Total Power. He reveres Flynn (and tells us why), then admits Mills has pulled off the impossible.

Our Rogue Lisa Black uses insider information from her day job as a CSI to inform her novels. In "Looking for Clues," a write up in Florida Weekly, she even introduces us to her sidekick, a forensic mannequin named Bob.

Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith went Rogue to tell us how a character in their screenplay pushed forward and demanded to become the protagonist of their novel, Make Them Cry

Our Rogue Karna Small Bodman wins a medal from the Military Writers Society of America - check out the book, the review and the award here

In honor of the anniversary of women’s suffrage, Rogue Lisa Black told us about an early rogue of American political history, how Soledad Chavez de Chacon became the first acting governor of a U.S. State. 

Icons among thriller readers, guest blogger Heather Martin shares comparisons between Lee Child and Jack Reacher as she discusses her new biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: Read all about new Rogue JENNY MILCHMAN

by Liv Constantine

New Rogue and award winning author Jenny Milchman has been a storyteller all her life. Here is what she says:

“When I was five years old, my kindergarten teacher bound my first story in blue-flocked wallpaper, and I knew that I wanted to write books. Thank you, Ms. Berger. Even earlier than that, at around the age of two, I used to dictate bedtime stories to my mom, which she would write down. So you'll probably understand that writing… is a dream come true for me.”

Jenny's debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, was published by Ballantine/Penguin Random House in 2013, and earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, as well as praise from the New York Times

Her fifth novel, THE SECOND MOTHER, which Jodi Picoult described as “a gothic unraveling of a novel, as moody and atmospheric as the isolated island on which it’s set” was released in July of this year.

Jenny has served as Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and is a member of the Sisters in Crime speakers bureau. She is a nationally recognized speaker and educator on writing and publishing. Her talks and workshops include "Happily Ever After & What Happened After That," "You, Lee & Me: Building an Author Brand," and "Psychological Approaches to Crafting a Bad Guy: Villains from the Inside Out".

She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated by over 800 bookstores in all 50 states and on five continents. Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day Field Trips--whereby schools in at-risk regions receive funds to send classes to the nearest local bookstore--began in 2015. They are a true labor of Jenny's heart, and with the help of talented book-lovers, authors, booksellers, and other advocates, she hopes ultimately to bring them nationwide.

One of the most energetic women we know and one who loves to connect with readers, Jenny lived for fifteen months on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called "the world's longest book tour." She is passionate about her craft, persevering through the long years she worked before selling her first novel. Jenny’s tenacity exemplifies the rogue spirit. Here in her own words:

“It took eleven years of dogged, sometimes exhilarating but oftentimes debilitating, work to sell my debut. If you are a writer out there, despairing of "it" ever happening, please take heart. If you have some talent, a love of the written word, and you don't stop will happen.”

Here’s how you can connect with Jenny:






Welcome, Jenny! We are SO excited to have you on board. Readers, be sure to join us on October 12 for the next Rogue Reads as Jenny will be one of the featured guests! 

Monday, September 28, 2020


Heather Martin’s authorized biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy, is out on 29th September from Pegasus Books in the US and from Constable at Little, Brown in the UK. Heather is a long-time Reacher fan. While waiting to get her hands on the next in the series, she once read a Lee Child book in Spanish and wound up writing to the author about the fate of his character in translation. The Reacher Guy is her first biography. 

Lee Child comments: "I met Heather Martin some years ago, and we started talking about why people love telling and hearing stories. To get more depth and detail we started talking about why I do. Eventually I said, 'If you want to really get to the bottom of it, you're going to have to write my biography.' So she did. It was a fun and illuminating process. I had forgotten a lot, and it was fascinating to be reminded. Now it all makes sense."

by Heather Martin

Child vs Reacher

Guessing how much of Lee Child there is in Jack Reacher is a popular past time among Reacher fans. Typically, people focus on the fighting. For the thrill of it, mainly. But otherwise for two fairly obvious reasons: Lee is famed for his fight scenes, and Reacher for his fighting. Each in his own field reigns supreme. 

Lee willingly aids and abets, declaring on the slightest pretext that ‘most of it is based on me when I was nine’. In the course of biographical research I found some evidence for this claim. First, the now legendary story of how, aged three, he started out by defending his nerdy older brother on the mean streets of Coventry, a responsibility that carried over into the school playground, where he ran a protection service for the weak and defenceless in exchange for biscuits. Then I met his best friend from high school, Andy, who told me that the first thing that came into his head when Reacher got into a fight in Killing Floor was: ‘this is Jim standing up to [school bully] Arthur Bates’. ‘He was a very loyal friend who couldn’t tolerate any kind of abuse. I lived in fear, and he would stand up for me.’

If they were to go mano a mano as adults, then Lee was likely doomed – Reacher was an inch taller and roughly twice as heavy – but if they’d met as nine-year-olds ... ? It isn’t just Reacher who plays dirty, shooting guys in the back and, in the very first novel, infamously reneging on a promise to count to three before going in at two with the headbutt (‘it was beautifully done’) – the young Jim Grant concealed double-edged razor blades in the lapels of his fancy school blazer. It isn’t just Reacher who doctors his own wounds, sticking his broken nose together with duct tape – if a tooth was knocked loose in a brawl, Jim would shove it back in with his thumb. 

Beautiful though he may be – ‘still gleaming and dewy with oil, flexible, supple, perfectly coordinated’, as we’re told in Second Son – reduced to a mere fighting machine Reacher would be boring. Which is why we love him equally for his Holmesian powers of deduction, his sensitivity to punctuation, and his winning ways with time and numbers. Come to think of it, this son of an American Marine, schooled on US bases in two dozen different countries, might as well have been classically educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England, founded back in the days of Shakespeare. I wouldn’t want to place any bets on who would win in a game of Trivial Pursuit.

But in my opinion, the thing that most endears Reacher to us is his old-world courtesy. Here he is seen through the eyes of a bunch of white-haired seniors at the start of 61 Hours: ‘He was quiet and polite. [...] Threatening behaviour from a man that size would have been unseemly. Good manners from a man that size were charming.’

Reacher always tips the waitress (Abby, in Blue Moon, is Lee’s farewell homage to his favourite character type). He always says thanks for the ride when he’s dropped off at the cloverleaf. He lends a discreet hand to the elderly. Washes the dishes with librarian Janet Salter (61 Hours) and, to cover for grieving mother Dorothy Coe (Worth Dying For) when the (very) bad guys come calling, even remembers to take his breakfast bowl, plate, coffee mug and full set of silverware with him as he closes the kitchen door quietly and sets off to his hiding place in the barn. He gets himself into all sorts of trouble helping Holly Johnson with her dry-cleaning at the start of Die Trying

In the early days of his success, Lee asked a woman in the signing line what had made her buy her first Reacher. ‘I saw you open the door for someone,’ she answered, ‘and thought, what a polite gentleman, I’ll buy his book.’ ‘He would never get on the bus ahead of me,’ said Alison, his date for the Barn Dance when they were both eleven years old. Jim wore a shirt and tie, she recalled, and was very polite. ‘He cared about everyone in the office,’ said Rob, his best mate at Granada Television. ‘He was a loving kind of guy.’ But quiet. Not chatty. ‘He kept himself to himself. He didn’t spill himself all over the place,’ said May, landlady of the local pub in Kirkby Lonsdale, where Killing Floor was written. Alison agreed: he wasn’t the easiest guy to talk to ‘about personal things’.

Of the nicknames Jim Grant had at school there were two that stuck with me. ‘Grievous’ (from ‘grievous bodily harm’, the equivalent in English law of ‘wounding with intent’). And Gentleman Jim. They pretty much summed up Reacher as well.

Thank you, Heather! We can't wait to order THE REACHER GUY. Readers, do you know any interesting fun facts about Lee Child?

Friday, September 25, 2020


by Lisa Black

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, I thought I’d take a look at the lesser-known trailblazing women of politics, women who were the first to break through the barriers of their time.

Only two years after the 19th amendment was ratified so that women could vote at all, Soledad Chavez de Chacon became the first Hispanic woman elected to a statewide office. That state was New Mexico, and Soledad—“Lala” to friends and family—did not stop there. It had been only one year since NM women had a right to run for any office, at any level of government (other than within the educational system).

Soledad would not strike anyone, then or now, as especially radical—other than to be well-educated as the graduate of a high school and a business college when most young people didn’t even achieve the former. She was married with two children, bright, and accomplished in many endeavors—excellent at cooking and crochet, could play bridge and the mandolin and taught piano. Like the rest of her family she stayed active in artistic and philanthropic organizations. 

According to lore she had been baking a cake when five men, including her newspaper editor brother-in-law, stepped onto her porch. They had come to ask her to run as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. The proper lady discussed it first with her father and her husband, then accepted. She was not alone; the Democrats also picked a woman for a different office and the Republican slate included two women as well. But the Democrats won. 

Soledad needed a good assistant secretary of state and asked her close friend Imelda Chavez, but Imelda’s husband didn’t want to make the move to Santa Fe. Soledad and other Democrats talked her own husband into taking the position. He didn’t want to, having looked forward to operating his own branch of the furniture business that employed him, but he agreed to take one for the family team. 

Soledad ran the office efficiently and effectively, winning a hearty reelection in 1924. But the real record-breaker came in the summer of 1924 when the governor left for two weeks to attend the national convention—and Soledad Chacon became the first female (acting) governor of a U.S. state. Normally it would have been the lieutenant governor, but he had died that spring. 

Soledad didn’t just warm the man’s seat. Among other duties she requisitioned the war department for funds for the state national guard, issued some public certificates, and traveled to Las Vegas with the poll books to settle a bitterly contested election of the San Miguel county sheriff. She also pardoned someone named Joseph Maloney and extradited a ne’er-do-well named Frank Ellis, otherwise known as Frank Shadows, for grand larceny. I can’t find any more information on either case, but someone calling himself Shadows surely needed scrutiny. 

But Soledad went on. In 1934 she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the state legislature from her county. There would not be another for forty-one years.

Tragically, her ground-breaking progress came to an abrupt end not by politics, but by health. Soledad Chavez de Chacon died of peritonitis in only the second year of her two-year term, one week shy of her 46th birthday. 

Undoubtedly, she would have gone much further—but even in her brief tenure she opened countless doors for those who would come after her.

Who do you think of when asked about a less-well-known trailblazer--of either gender, or occupation?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: Karna Small Bodman Wins Silver Medal

TRUST BUT VERIFY was awarded the honor Saturday, September 19th at the 2020 Annual Awards Banquet of the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA), the culminating event of the 2020 MWSA Virtual Conference. MWSA is a nationwide association of authors, poets and artists whose work honors the military and country through their work.

Karna Small Bodman is the author of five award-winning international thrillers that have hit #1 in Amazon Thrillers. She spent six years serving in The White House, first as Deputy Press Secretary, later as Senior Director and Spokesman for the National Security Council where she was the highest-ranking woman on the White House staff. She also was on the air for 15 years as a TV reporter and anchor in San Francisco and Washington, DC and did political commentary for the ABC Network in New York. 

TRUST BUT VERIFY tells the story of White House Homeland Security Director, Samantha Reid, who teams up with FBI Special Agent Brett Keating as they race to unravel a brazen plot that threatens the lives of international financial leaders and stock markets worldwide. To read MWSA’s full review, click here or go to Amazon to purchase the book.

Readers, have you had a chance to read TRUST BUT VERIFY?

Monday, September 21, 2020


Co-authors and friends going back 20 years, Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith originally conceived of the story MAKE THEM CRY as a screenplay while on ecstasy at Tim O’Brien’s wedding, but thankfully found that it worked better as a novel, and their writing styles and research perfectly complement each other. Smith Henderson is the author of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK and lives in Montana. Jon Marc Smith lives in San Marcos, Texas, and teaches English at Texas State University. MAKE THEM CRY, their first book together, is stylishly written and relentlessly plotted, with heart-pounding car chases and severed limbs. For fans of The Border and Jason Bourne, MAKE THEM CRY is an action-packed thriller of unimaginable stakes.


It took us a long time to figure out that Diane Harbaugh was the protagonist of MAKE THEM CRY. In early iterations of the story, back when it was still a screenplay, she started out as a character who’d been wronged, bent on revenge. These are good qualities for secondary characters to have—they react to things, they make trouble...but they don’t drive the story. But over time, Harbaugh just evolved into the most interesting character to us. She made herself into our hero. She took over. 

But more importantly, she created a richer, more character-driven narrative. The allowances we had in a novel—which is a less strict, less restrictive form than a screenplay—let us see that hers was the most compelling story. Harbaugh had the strongest desire, the biggest problems, the hardest row to hoe. She cared the most, and she faced the biggest dramatic consequences. Once she became our way into the world of the novel, we had no choice but to scrap our old plot and start over, this time focusing (most of) the story in Harbaugh’s POV. 

But it took us a long time to figure this out. Initially Harbaugh was the chief antagonist; and this remained true when we first changed the story into a novel. But eventually we realized that we’d started in the wrong place, too late in the story. We could tell partly because Harbaugh was reacting to things that had happened in the past. (Note: if the most compelling character in your story is only reacting, then you’ve got a structural problem.) For us, the issue was the foundation of the story. The timeline was all wrong, and some of the most interesting stuff in the story had “already” occurred. So we had to go back and start where the interesting stuff was happening. Only then did we realize that Diane was the driver of the plot. 

We always wanted to make Diane as rich and interesting as possible. We didn’t want her to be a sheer villain or a hero. She’s badass and brave, yes, but she’s also complicated and desirous and broken in her broken places, the way all of us are. But once this project ceased being an action movie and turned into a crime novel, Harbaugh became the center of the drama precisely because she was the character who caused the most to happen. 

In writing, sometimes the entire genre and central character of a story can shift. One of our heroes—if not an influence here, exactly—is David Lynch who is constantly in the flow of his projects. He creates by trying to get out of the way of his imagination, showing up on set open to the possibility that something major might change. He has faith that he’ll find an answer to a creative problem at the right moment. His book on meditation and creativity, Catching the Big Fish, is a tremendous work on the practice of letting the work itself tell you what it wants to be. You have to strike the balance between moving forward while listening to what the story is trying to tell you. Our lives are kind of like this too, individual instances of life itself trying to find unique expressions through each of us...mistakes and all. 

Fittingly, Harbaugh isn’t a superhero, though she does possess a superpower: she flips suspects by making them cry, breaking them down emotionally to turn them into cooperators. But she’s gone too far in manipulating a cooperator and she’s done sketchy things with her boss (we’ll let you read the novel to find out what). When readers first meet Diane, her job, and possibly even her freedom, is hanging by a thread. She must take drastic action to fix things—and for a story, that’s a pretty combustible place to start.

Thank you, Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith! We cannot wait to read MAKE THEM CRY. Readers, have you read a book with a character similar to Diane? If so, tell us everything