Friday, November 20, 2020


by The Real Book Spy

Janet Evanovich truly is an American treasure.

One of the most recognizable and best-selling authors alive today, Evanovich just released Fortune and Glory, the twenty-seventh book in her Stephanie Plum series. Billed as not only “the biggest case in Plum’s career,” but also, “the adventure of a lifetime,” Stephanie’s return couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

In a year where most are struggling, it’s crazy to think that fictional characters can cast such a sunny outlook in an otherwise bleak forecast, but they do. And for Evanovich’s legion of followers, this one will really help brighten their day.

Grandma Mazur just got married, and less than twenty-four hours later she’s already a widow. Having lost her new husband unexpectedly on their wedding night, Mazur ropes in Stephanie when she claims to have been left the keys to a “life-changing” fortune. But there’s a catch . . .

They have to find it.

As Stephanie and Grandma Mazur go on the hunt, it doesn’t take long for them (or readers) to find out that they aren’t the only one after the treasure. So too are at least two major enemies, and Gabriela Rose, a new foe who will test Plum in ways few have dared to try before her. 

A total scene-stealer, Rose brings terrific balance to the cast. In many ways, she’s almost like that person you love to hate because they’re almost so perfect that it’s borderline nauseating. (Be honest, we all know someone like that.) She’s great at everything, plus she’s absolutely gorgeous. She’s also incredibly smart, insanely driven, fierce, and for the first time, Stephanie realizes that she just might have found someone who can match her step for step. 

The mix of longtime adversaries and new ones creates an electric dynamic, and while readers might think they know how this one will play out, Evanovich proves she still has a few tricks of her sleeves.

To find out more, check out Night of a Thousand Authors, an event like no other before it, hosted by me and one of the Rogues. K.J Howe served as my partner in crime for this eight-hour livestream, and together (with some help from the guys at The Crew Reviews) we interviewed more than 50 authors. The night kicked off with Janet Evanovich, who dished on her new book, among other things, setting the tone for a fun, eventful night that I’ll never forget. 

We love The Real Book Spy and Night of a Thousand Authors! Readers, which Janet Evanovich book is your favorite? 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


by Jenny Milchman

OK, maybe not so easy. But I realized that we find so many amazing thriller and suspense titles on Rogue Women Writers—from a handful of just the most recent posts there are books by Wolf Bahren, Kate Flora, Barbara Ross, Richard Cass, Lisa Jewell, Gerry Boyle, and James Swallow—that it raises a question.

How do all these exciting, thrilling books come to be?

Using the lens of my own eleven-year, rejection filled writing journey (that’s me, surrounded by actual snail mail no’s), I thought I’d share some tips, strategies, and ideas from the long road between sitting down to write a book and seeing it on shelves or web pages. Hopefully emerging writers out there will learn something—or at least find a little fuel for their travels and travails—while thriller fans will gain insight into some of the behind-the-scenes action in the exciting world of their favorite books.

1. Where do writers get ideas? Every author has been asked this. The answers are as varied as the writers themselves. Inspiration can arise from a news story, a personal memory, or a what-would-happen-if scenario. For thrillers in particular, I like the approach of taking a normal, everyday situation, then twisting the knob until something goes horribly wrong. You’re standing in line at the supermarket and the person in front of you suddenly takes the clerk hostage. You’re picking your kid up at school—but all the doors are locked. For my first (never published) suspense novel, I was working as a psychologist-in-training when I got assigned the very scary case of a child who killed. I didn’t need to turn that one up to 11—it was already there!

2. How do writers start writing? One very basic dividing line between writers is whether you’re a Plotter (you plot out your story in advance, usually with an outline) or a Pantser (you write by the seat of your pants, letting the story winds carry you where they may). Of course, this division exists on a continuum; some may do a little bit of each while others may adhere far to either side. Outlines can range too. The great Jeffrey Deaver writes outlines as long as 100 pages or more—a good part of a book! Others like a scaffolding approach, such as the one Robert McKee describes in Story, where five high points form the skeleton of a story-to-be.

3. Ways to get the darn thing done. Some writers like to set word count goals—anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand per day. (Readers, that amounts to anywhere from one page to as many as ten or more). Other writers build their schedule around time—they write for anywhere from one hour to eight (five seems to be a sweet spot among authors; after that the creative bones start to sag). Writers who have a day job or young children must fit the writing in among other demands. But basically, when trying to finish a book, one or both of these approaches will not fail you. A) Sheer inspiration—you’re so excited to see what happens next, you just can’t wait to write. You wind up surprised each day and your readers will too! B) BIC, which stands for Butt in Chair. One page per day gives you a finished book in a year. Get going!

4. Wait, but what do I do when I finish? Well, first take a page from Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s Misery and come up with your own personal writerly celebration. If cigarettes and champagne don’t do ya, go for a night out, a walk, a swim, buy a box of doughnuts—could be anything, but make sure you signify this great accomplishment. Moments both small and large make us into, and make up our lives as, writers. Then…put the book in a drawer for at least two weeks, longer if you can stand it. Spoiler alert: I did not do either of these things, and I regret it.

5.  K, on it, what now? The single biggest mistake I would say I’ve made as a writer is not to realize the value of revision. I always have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. “But isn’t it good enooooough?” I moan. Well, no, it usually isn’t. It can almost always get better—stakes punched up; surprises more original versus the first ones we think of; characters carved deeper; that nice thriller arc forming a spike. Even before my agent or editor, I have learned to seek out trusty readers. If you are looking for some, in addition to the usual ideas, such as joining a writers group or relying on tough-but-honest friends and family, I recommend asking a book club to take your draft on as one of their selections. Book club members are close, insightful readers. You will learn which characters are loved and hated (hopefully the ones you intend to be!), whether your plot points are exciting or ho hum, and other elements of what makes a great read.  

6.  To be or not to be published traditionally. Most books in the thriller genre come from Big 5 publishers and three other established independents. There’s also a new(ish) way to publish in town and it’s called self-publishing. Deciding which path is right is one of the biggest decisions an emerging writer will make. I believe that this choice should be based on personality factors and a writer’s current situation versus one way being better than the other. For instance, how much control do you like to have? Are you on a tight timeline either because of events in your life, age, or something else? Answers to these and other questions will point you on your way.

7.  Traditional. I definitely want to be published traditionally. OK, great, then you need an agent. Which means you need a targeted agent list—peruse the acknowledgments in thrillers like the ones you find right here and on each monthly Rogue Reads lineup, in which writers often thank their agents; follow agents online—and a bang-up query letter. Write a pitch paragraph that reads a lot like the flap copy on a great thriller, and put it front and center in your query. Hook an agent like you’ll one day hook readers. I used this approach for my own querying and wound up with multiple offers of representation.

8.  My book just sold! OK, celebration time again. And then take a deep breath. Because as in the best thrillers, just when you think you’ve come to a plateau, gotten a little breathing room—there’s going to be a twist and yet more challenges ahead. But that’s okay. To paraphrase George Clooney in that greatest of thriller films, The Perfect Storm, you’re a gosh-darned thriller writer (or reader). Is there anything better in the world?

Readers, have you ever considered writing a thriller? Or, if you already have, which of these 8 tips can you vouch for?

Saturday, November 14, 2020


THE FIRST SHOT, a prequel to the best seller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, is out today on Audible! 

Liv Constantine has done it again! In this gripping prequel listeners will discover exactly how Amber Patterson transformed from small-town girl to master manipulator - after all, practice makes perfect.

Amber Patterson has many secrets. This much is clear when she sneaks out of her home in the dead of night and hitchhikes across state lines to meet up with a man she hasn’t seen or spoken to since high school graduation. So begins her desperate attempt to leave her old life behind, and she’ll use everything and everyone at her disposal, from social media stalking to the kindness of unsuspecting strangers, to get where she needs to go. It’s not long before she’s ready for the main event: armed with a new identity and a new purpose, she heads to Gunnison, Colorado, preparing herself to meet her future husband among the wealthy vacationers. 

Even the smallest misstep could derail this carefully-laid plan, and in the end, can you even truly outrun your past? The First Shot is an absorbing, binge-able thriller that shows just how far some will go to build the lives they want.

And, it's free to download for Audible members! 

Congratulations, Liv Constantine, on another captivating story. Readers, don't forget to start listening to THE FIRST SHOT today!

Friday, November 13, 2020

WRITERS AND THEIR PETS: warning-- over-adorable photos below

by Liv Constantine

We reached out to six authors and asked them to send us a photo of their pet(s) and to tell us a little about what they love about them. And just for a little framework, we did some research on why having a pet is so very good for us.

The American Heart Association has associated pet ownership with reduced heart disease risk factors and greater longevity, whether it be a dog or cat. The stereotype that dogs are more affectionate than cats seems to be just that: a stereotype. In fact one study found that over a 10-year period cat owners were 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than non-cat owners.

Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland says of pets: “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.” Berger works with people who have cancer and terminal illnesses, teaching them about mindfulness to help decrease stress and manage pain.

“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”

Another study had children with autism spectrum disorder play with guinea pigs in the classroom, reporting that their anxiety levels dropped and suggesting that the unconditional acceptance offered by the animals was a comfort to the children.

And let’s face it, animals are adorable. They shower us with unconditional love, affection and loyalty. There are no other relationships in our lives where we are met with such adoration and acceptance. Not to mention the fun and playfulness they bring to our lives.

These terrific authors tell us what they love about their cherished pets:

Karin Slaughter, Dexter, and Maggie

“Maggie knows that this house is really hers and I’m just here visiting. And Dexter (the black cat) is a stone cold killer.”

Lisa Unger and Jak Jak

“Jak Jak is my eight-year-old Australian Labradoodle. He is a ham who tries to get into every Zoom appearance, a clown who makes me laugh every day, and my faithful writing buddy, always right by my side. Dogs, like kids, keep you grounded and centered. No matter what is going on in your life or your work, whether you’re having the best day or the worst day, you still have to throw the ball!”

Kimberly Belle and Tarzan

“Sometimes I wonder if Tarzan (a Maltipoo) was a cat in his past life. He can be aloof, and he's finicky, and he likes to sit in windowsills and watch the cars go by. And then he does something like this, hangs his head out the car window so his ears can flap in the breeze, and he’s 100% dog—the sweetest little thing with a king-sized personality.”

Kaira Rouda with Tucker (grey) and Frankie (white)

“Tucker and Frankie are my writing buddies, waiting patiently for me to take a break so we can play. The greatest thing about these two is that they’re best friends, have each other’s backs and always remind me that unconditional love is the best feeling.”

Heather Gudenkauf and Lolo

“Look at this sweet face! Lolo came into my family's life just when we need her most. She is my hiking, reading, binge-watching and snuggling in front of the fireplace sidekick.”

Wendy Walker and Coco

“The best thing about Coco is that he’s very affectionate and only barks when someone is coming up to the house. He loves walking anywhere and everyone he meets says he’s the sweetest dog he’s ever met.”

And lastly the Rogue dogs­­…

Valerie’s King Charles Cavalier Zorba

“Is this just the most precious face ever? Zorba is a little fur ball of love, happiness, sweetness and adorability. He’s my best bud, loves our walks together, follows me wherever I go, and is a great cuddler. Those soulful eyes get me every time! Total. Unconditional. Love.”

Lynne Constantine’s Greyson and Parker

“When I walk in the front door, whether I’ve been gone five minutes or five hours, Greyson (charcoal lab) and Parker (English cream golden retriever) are ecstatic to see me. Their adorable faces greet me as their tails go a mile a minute and they make me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. Every morning when I walk up the stairs to go to my office- they are there, waiting.”

“They are also great listeners and cheer me on during my writing. And as you can see, they’re both very involved in the editing process.”

Readers, tell us a little something about your pets and what they add to your life!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


by ZJ Czupor


“Four little Indian boys going out to sea; 
a red herring swallowed one and then there were three.”

The above is the seventh stanza from a longer American nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Indians,” (1869). The entire rhyme is written as the epigraph to Agatha Christie’s novel, And Then There Were None (1921), which foreshadows her story where strangers arrive on an isolated island off the Devon coast of England and die—one by one—as justice for their past crimes. 

If you follow the original poem, Christie gives away all the clues you need to predict the crimes. The “red herring” in the seventh stanza suggests trickery in the murder mystery.

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (1890-1976) is famous for writing eighty-three books, fourteen short story collections, poetry and plays. She said And Then There was None was the most difficult book to write for it concerns characters who die either from choking, poisoning, bludgeoning, chopping, more poisoning, shooting, a bee sting, drowning, hit in the head by a bear statue, another shooting, and finally a hanging. 

According to the story line, the guests never knew their murderer and that has become the basis of many Hollywood films, although it is now somewhat of a cliché for modern audiences. But Christie was the first to do it. The New York Times called it "the most baffling mystery Agatha Christie has ever written."

Red Herrings are a popular literary device in mysteries often used to throw off readers with a misleading clue and false conclusions. It also prolongs the mystery and suspense of the story’s heart. 

Amy’s diary in the novel, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishing Group, 2012), is a recent example of a successful red herring in which every single step of the story leads us down a wrong path, but also helps the reader to understand Amy's character. 

Mystery writer Tana French is also a modern master of the red herring. She says as she writes she thinks about what clues would cause the most interesting series of reactions in her detective, rather than how various clues would fit into the solution of the crime. 

Lila Shapiro, writing about French’s red herrings says, "They are not just shiny lures but windows into her protagonists’ deepest fears and flaws." (Vulture, 10/3/2018).

French explained, "If you’re going to have a red herring in there, it had better be good enough that the audience can either be fooled by it or can see why your narrator will be fooled by it. You have to respect the audience’s intelligence."

Other novelists who have successfully used red herrings include Charles Dickens (Great Expectations); Sir Arthur Conon Doyle (The Final Problem and Hound of the Baskervilles); Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code); Tana French (The Witch Elm); Attica Locke (The Cutting Season); C.J. Tudor (The Chalk Man); and Adrian McKinty (The Chain), among many others.

How the term, “red herring” first appeared is open to debate. The first-known usage was in a 13th century poem in a line which reads, “He etep no ffyssh but heryng red.” Here the poet was referring to a heavily smoked kipper fish. Another idea is that the term referred to hunters who used a pickled herring (a very pungent fish with reddish meat) to distract their hounds during fox hunts. The herring was used to train the dogs to ignore the powerful scent and to follow the original scent of the fox. 

Christie’s novel first appeared in the UK in 1939 (Collins Crime Club) under a different title, which I won’t repeat here. For in today’s sensitive climate the title would be considered a racially loaded ethnic slur. But I will say her title was based on a minstrel song. 

Even in 1939, the original title was considered too offensive for American publication. The U.S. edition appeared in 1940 with the title changed to And Then There Were None. And in further capitulation to modern culture, a website page, devoted to And Then There Were None, has changed the nursery rhyme from “Indian” to “soldier boy.” 

Christie's novel is considered one of the world’s best-selling mysteries, with more than 100 million copies sold in more than fifty languages. It's also one of the “best-selling crime novels of all time," and following a global vote to mark Christie's 125th anniversary, was named the "World's Favorite Christie." (September 2015).

The novel spawned ten film adaptations, three stage versions, and several variations on the theme for television. The story also has inspired several video games, a graphic novel, and a board game—and even an episode on the animated TV series, Family Guy, titled, “And Then There Were Fewer” (2010).

Christie included red herrings in most of her mysteries. She said she wrote her books up to the last chapter, then decided who the most unlikely suspect was, after which she would go back and make the necessary changes to "frame" that person. (Desert Island Discs, 2007).

Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (The Bodley Head, 1920) was created after her sister Madge bet her she couldn't write a good detective story. The story introduces detective Hercule Poirot, who would appear in thirty-three of her novels and more than fifty short stories. Her manuscript was rejected six times before UK's The Bodley Head (also known as John Lane) published it. Incidentally, Poirot is the first fictional detective to have his obituary printed on the front page of The New York Times (Aug. 6, 1975). The obit ran after Christie killed the character in her 1975 novel, Curtain (Collins Crime Club).

What's curious is that Christie wrote Curtain thirty years earlier and locked it in a bank vault. She later approved its publication. The novel thus became her last to be published in her lifetime.

In addition to her mysteries, Christie enjoyed writing stage plays. She holds the record for the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which was performed in London's West End theater district (1952-2020). It only closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. She had low expectations believing it would not run more than eight months. The famous play began as a radio sketch called "Three Blind Mice" for Queen Mary's 80th birthday celebration. 

Other plays she penned were also successful making her the first female playwright to have three plays running simultaneously in West End. The other two were: Witness for the Prosecution and Spider's Web.

She also wrote six successful romance novels under the pen name, Mary Westmacott. 

Christie was a prolific writer and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. In 1955, she was named the first Grand Master from Mystery Writers of America. Guinness World Records claims Christie is the best-selling fiction writer of all time, having sold more than two billion copies, bettered only by Shakespeare and the Bible.

Thank you, ZJ Czupor! Readers, do you have a favorite tale written by Agatha Christie?

Friday, November 6, 2020


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

"It's a cruel world out there and unfair things happen in it." In "When Women Meet Monsters", Jenny Milchman serves up her favorite kind of justice.

Helen Worrell Clarkson McCloy would have made a great Rogue. Z. J. Czupor tells us why in this month's "Mystery Minute."

2020 has been a crazy year with lots of changes. Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes is Chris Goff's take on the Rogue changes, the landscapes, Covid and her recommendations on coping.

Former Rogue S. Lee Manning's debut novel, Trojan Horse, hits the stands in October. Read about her fifteen-year journey from idea to print, and about what comes next.

4 Winners of the top Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction have new books out – Gerry Boyle, Richard Cass, Kate Flora, and Barbara Ross. Read all about them and check out their riveting mysteries! 

Once again Rogue Gayle Lynds hits the top of the charts at Amazon when, in a rare event THE ASSASSINS eBook goes on sale for only $1.99.  Former military spy Judd Ryder and CIA trainee Eva Blake team up to track six of the world's most lethal assassins.

And the October 2020 Rogue Recommendation is...Lisa Jewell's, The Invisible Girl. The Real Book Spy insists, "if you've already read Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, get ready!

The Rogues announced a massive Giveaway Drawing to welcome our new members!! Since you're already receiving our newsletter, you're automatically entered. Winner will be announced November 5th.

Writer Wolf Bahren (aka Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen) joined the Rogues to tell us about her new thriller, Source of Deceit. "The Joy of Rabbit Holes" takes a deep dive into research.

The Rogues welcome one of the newest Rogue Women Writers, Carla Neggers, whose work Publishers Weekly calls "highly entertaining," and Kirkus heralds as "smart and satisfying.

"Five Classic Scary Movies for Halloween" reminds us of why we're afraid of the shower. Rogue Carla Neggers offers up her list, and the Rogues are sure you'll add a few of your own.

Here are tips for staging a "safe" Halloween - keep this for reference next year! - from Rogue Karna Small Bodman Handling Halloween.

New York Times and Amazon bestselling author, BAFTA nominee, former journalist and the writer of over fifty books, author James Swallow shares one of his secrets―finding the perfect title!

Thursday, November 5, 2020


Rena Koontz! 

A self-proclaimed Rogue devotee, Rena claims she "can't wait to read all of these," referencing the list of booty in the Rogue Fall Giveaway.  

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

Plus other writerly loot:

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 

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

A former news reporter, Rena covered cops and courts, and "loves the suspense of a book and the gripping details of real-life crimes. I loved writing about it―then and now." 

The author of seven (soon to be eight) romantic suspense novels, it's where her inspirations come from. Her new release Locked and Loaded For Justice comes out Dec. 1. "My books are based on real crimes that I covered as a reporter. I'm your mystery/psychological suspense gal."

Congratulations, Rena! We hope you enjoy the books, and all the other booty that comes with them!! And good look with your new release!

The Rogues

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

BEYOND THE GLASS CEILING: the life and legacy of Margaret Chase Smith

by Lisa Black

In observance of election week, I again revisit a trailblazing woman of U.S. politics: Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the Senate and the House, who crafted the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, and was one of the first who dared to protest Joe McCarthy and his Red Scare tactics. 

But before that, the young woman from Maine taught grade school, worked as a telephone operator, and managed a newspaper’s circulation and the business operations of a textile mill. Then she married her husband, Clyde Smith, and joined the Republican state committee. Clyde became a U.S. Congressman; twenty years older than her and maybe a bit of a player, he died after only ten years of marriage. Margaret campaigned to take his seat and won…and kept winning until she switched to the Senate in 1948. 

Up until that same year, women served in the military only during wars (except for nurses). Opponents said that women should stay only the reserve forces ‘until their functioning during peacetime could be observed and assessed.’ The term “Reserve”” was added after ‘services’ in the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.. But supporters rallied and global circumstances added pressure. The Soviet Union had taken over Czechoslovakia and isolated East Berlin…clearly the U.S. needed to maintain its military might but no politician had the stomach for a draft. The country couldn’t afford to pass up a source of volunteer womanpower, and the original act passed.

Two years later, still a junior senator, she sat on two committees with Joe McCarthy and didn’t care for it. First she pressed him for proof of his accusations, then, when she could stand it no longer, she first got six other senators behind her, then made a speech on the Senate floor. The Communist threat was real, she said—-but: “Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right to independent thought. The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood.” McCarthy got her replaced on his committee (with Richard Nixon) but not in the senate. He referred to her as ‘Snow White with her six Dwarves.’ Khrushchev called her a ‘devil in disguise,’ and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. 

Margaret took on causes large and small. Every single day she wore a rose in her lapel, continually campaigning to have the rose declared the national flower, and continually battling fellow Republican Everett Dirksen, who pushed the marigold ticket. Dirksen, for his part, was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968; when he died in 1969, Margaret left a single marigold on his casket. (The rose eventually got the official nod in 1987, long after her retirement.)

And she was our first female presidential contender, with her name officially submitted for nomination at the 1964 Republican convention. Certain of the media never failed to point out her age at the time (66), of course without actually mentioning the unmentionable (menopause). Women were delighted to see someone break the ceiling, but Margaret—along with Henry Cabot Lodge and Nelson Rockefeller—lost. To Barry Goldwater, who then lost to Lyndon Johnson. 

She finally lost her seat in 1973 and retired. The first George Bush awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, in 1989. Amazing to the end, she lived to the age of 98, passing away in 1995. And if you have a green thumb you can grow a Margaret Chase Smith Rose, a combination of the hybrid tea and grandiflora with four-inch brilliant red blooms.

Who’s your favorite breaker of glass ceilings?

Friday, October 30, 2020


James Swallow is a New York Times, Sunday Times and Amazon bestselling author, a BAFTA nominee, a former journalist and the award-winning writer of over fifty books, along with numerous scripts for videogames, radio and television. His latest novel ROGUE is the sixth book in a series of fast-paced action thrillers featuring protagonist Marc Dane, out now from Bonnier Zaffre in the UK and Europe; readers in North America can catch up with Swallow’s fiction in EXILE (out now in paperback) and GHOST (coming in November in hardcover) from Forge Books.

For exclusive content, information on new releases and a free deleted scene from his debut novel NOMAD, sign up to his Readers’ Club mailing list:

You can also follow James on Twitter at @jmswallow or visit him on his website at, which features more free fiction, including the original Marc Dane novella ROUGH AIR.

NOMADS, GHOSTS & ROGUES – The Serious Business of Thriller Titles

by James Swallow

We’ve been told that judging a book by its cover is not proper, but let’s be honest, we all do it. A bit of dynamic cover artwork is just the thing to hook the attention of a passing reader in a bookstore – but that’s not enough if you don’t have a thrilling title to seal the deal. 

I have to admit, I can’t start writing unless I have a title in mind. Even if that changes during the writing, I’ve got to have something – I can’t just call it “Book X” and get to typing. A good title sets the tone for everything that comes after it.

For me, the perfect title is a combination of a number of factors. It can’t be too long. It has to have a sense of impact. It has to connect strongly to something in the story. And lastly – this is the hard part – I want it to have a deeper meaning that only becomes clear to the reader after they’ve finished the work. 

When I wrote the first book in my Marc Dane series, my goal was to create a fast-paced, tech-savvy espionage thriller for the digital age, set in a post-Snowden, post-WikiLeaks world where private military contractors, agile terror cells and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies. 

Marc Dane is the protagonist, an MI6 field operative accused of betraying his country who uncovers a horrific conspiracy. Relying only on his skills and his wits to stay one step ahead of those hunting him, Marc crosses paths with ex-Special Forces sniper Lucy Keyes and her boss, the enigmatic African billionaire Ekko Solomon, the man behind the shadowy Rubicon Group; together they must race the clock to stop a devastating terrorist attack.

I settled on Nomad as the title for a number of reasons – partly because it was the code-name for the MI6 covert ops team my hero belonged to, but also because this was a story about a man on his own fighting to clear his name, someone forced into a nomadic experience for much of the novel. Little did I know, I was making a rod for my own back... My publishers wanted 5-letter titles for every book in the series – they wanted to create a sense of identity for Marc Dane’s adventures that readers could recognize instantly. Nomad was followed by ExileGhost, then Shadow (and yes, I got complaints from some readers because I added an extra letter!) and most recently Rogue.

One of the marketing team told me that the series titles all reflect a ‘state of being’, which I thought was a pretty cool take; personally, I think they could also be the names of high-end men’s fragrances too, but what do I know? I’d love to tell you what the 6th book in the series will be called, but we’re still arguing that one out!

So what is the secret of the eye-catching title? 

I think it is the ones that set up a question so that the reader is compelled to find the answer. Why is the Red October being hunted? Where has the Girl Gone? What happened to Bourne’s Identity? Speaking personally, those are the ones that draw me in like a magnet, which is what every author wants from a reader.

Your mileage may vary of course, and maybe you’re wondering if I’m overthinking this – but remember that the title of your book is literally the first thing a potential reader will read. What you communicate to them in those words can mean the difference between them taking your story home or leaving it on the shelf.

Thank you, James Swallow! Readers, which James Swallow book is your favorite? Us Rogues have a soft-spot for Rogue

Monday, October 26, 2020


by Karna Small Bodman

Now that Halloween will be “celebrated” this coming weekend in the midst of Covid precautions – how do we keep our children, and everyone else, safe?

In searching for ideas, I first checked if the CDC might have put out any guidelines. And, sure enough our Center for Disease Control did exactly that. Okay, those are nice, general suggestions. But how about some details about what we might call more creative answers?

I luckily came across a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal titled 2020 is Already Scary – Halloween Likely Won’t Be, which outlines ways a few people are being just that – creative. First is a description of how a fellow figured out how he could safely hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters along with beverages to their accompanying parents.

He rigged up a zip line at his home in Garden City, Michigan. The 30-foot steel cable runs from his porch to a post by the sidewalk. There are two pulleys – a wooden basket attached behind a $15 “delivery ghost” holds beverages. The candy is loaded into the creature’s hands. He shoves it out, the kids and parents retrieve their goodies, then he pulls it back with a fishing reel. A video showing the whole set-up has received over 25 million views. Check out this video on YouTube.

If you’d rather not go to the trouble of ziplining your front yard, many parents are using their back yard to organize candy hunts for their children. Or . . .a family in Cincinnati figured out how to deliver candy through a chute by the front door while remaining at least six feet behind it. They wrapped orange duct tape and a string of lights around the tube, which they first painted black, and installed it on a railing by the front steps. The father plans to wear a mask, stand back and instruct the Trick-or-Treaters to hold their bags below the tube so the candy can drop in.

However, if you truly want to keep your little ones safe and still give them an adventure on Saturday night, you can always arrange a cozy family get-together where you could read timely stories to them. One new picture book that’s getting rave reviews is It’s Halloween, Little Monster. This is a bestseller by Helen Ketteman who has written 27 books for children that have received awards such as “Pick of the List Books” by the American Booksellers Association.

An idea for you readers who don’t have youngsters in your household but still would like to “get into the spirit” of Halloween, you might check out a book of scary short stories: Autumn Nights: 13 Spooky Fall Reads.

This is a clever anthology by eight female and two male authors who also have their own separate lists of clever novels. . . from hayrides to corn mazes, witches to demons, scary bonfires with doses of humor to twists on classic tales.  This collection brings them all together. 

Finally, there is a Facebook readers group that is offering a Halloween Give-Away on October 28. Anyone can sign up here.

Question: How are YOU going to celebrate Halloween his year? We would enjoy reading your comments. And thanks for joining us here on Rogue Women Writers.

Friday, October 23, 2020


by Carla Neggers

Happy (almost) Halloween! It’ll be different this year for many of us, but I’m seeing lots of people talking about lining up scary movies to watch. There’s even going to be a full moon this Halloween, a relatively rare event.


In honor of Halloween 2020, I’ve come up with five classic scary movies for our viewing, um, pleasure. I’ve personally watched all of them start-to-finish, if not always with both eyes open. In chronological order, we have:

1. Psycho.

The New York Times called this 1960 classic "icily terrifying." Yep, I agree. Based on a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, the movie was directed by legendary Alfred Hitchcock.

A debate question during our movie-night break: which iconic Hitchcock movie is scarier, Pscyho or The Birds

2. The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty wrote both the 1971 novel and the screenplay for the 1973 movie. I don’t think I need a spoiler alert to say we’re talking the devil here. 

Blatty, who died in 2017 at the age of 89, had been making his living writing comedy before he holed up in a cabin in Lake Tahoe and tackled The Exorcist. As he explained on its fortieth anniversary, “the season for ‘funny’ had abruptly turned dry and no studio would hire me for anything non-comedic.” 

He describes his breaking point “when at the Van Nuys, California, unemployment office I spotted my movie agent in a line three down from mine.” 

Nothing like good ol’ demonic possession to revive one’s fortunes, and in a big way. 

3. Jaws. 

Like Psycho, there’s no supernatural element in this 1975 classic, well known as Steven Spielberg’s breakout movie about a killer shark. 

The story is based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name. I read the book after seeing the movie. The Washingon Post describes the book as “a tightly written, tautly paced study of terror that makes us tingle.” 

As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it, “It isn’t a tale for the faint of heart.” That could be said about all five tales on this list.

The making of Jaws sounds like a bit of a nailbiting adventure itself. Richard Drewfuss famously said, “We started the movie without a script, without a cast and without a shark.”

It all worked out.

4. The Omen

I admit this 1976 supernatural horror movie about the antichrist got to me. I recommend it all the time to friends who love scary movies but it’s one I would never rewatch. I haven’t watched any of its three sequels, either. The first one did its job too well for me! 

David Seltzer wrote the screenplay as well as a movie tie-in book. The movie is directed by Richard Donner, who also has produced and directed many other popular films, including Superman with Christopher Reeves and the Lethal Weapon series. Plus. now 90, he’s an accomplished comic-book writer. 

5. Alien

It’s hard to believe the long-running Alien movie and extensive media franchise launched back in 1979. Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay with Ron Shusett contributing to the story. They pitched it as “Jaws in space.” 

O’Bannon describes his nugget of inspiration, a process many of us writers would recognize: "I knew I wanted to do a scary movie on a spaceship with a small number of astronauts." 

Mission accomplished.

I have to say. I love Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. 

These five classics would make for a heart-pounding scary movie weekend, but there are countless alternatives I haven’t seen, classic and recent. Rosemary's Baby and anything involving chainsaws come to mind. 

Why no Dracula movie on my list? Well, I read the book as a teenager, babysitting two delightful little boys on a dark and stormy night (literally) at their house in the woods. Thought twice about seeing a movie after that! 

Written by Irish author Bram Stoker and published in 1897, Dracula has spawned countless vampire books, movies and spinoffs. I wonder if anyone has a count. Not all of them are scary.

Now it’s your turn. 

What would be on your scary movie list? Or will we be more likely to find you tucked in on Halloween with popcorn and your favorite comedies?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: We welcome new bestselling Rogue, CARLA NEGGERS

We are delighted to add New York Times bestselling author, Carla Neggers, to our Rogue membership. The author of more than 75 novels, including the popular Sharpe & Donovan and Swift River Valley series, her suspense stories have been translated into dozens of languages and sold in over 35 countries. Publishers Weekly calls her books “highly entertaining,” and Kirkus Reviews dubs her novels “smart and satisfying.”

Carla landed her first book sale soon after she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Boston University. What many of her readers don’t know, though, is that in addition to being a terrific writer, she is also an accomplished musician. She studied with the Boston Symphony, playing the French Horn and freelanced as an arts-and-entertainment reporter.

One more unique thing about Carla – she is quite a runner. She recently completed the “Dingle Half-Marathon” in Ireland, where she has often traveled, gathering research for several of her novels.

Carla’s most recent endeavor, Rival’s Break, features FBI Agent, Emma Sharpe and Marine Patrol Officer, Kevin Donovan in another thriller of international intrigue. She will certainly be a wonderful addition to the Rogue ranks.

Welcome, Carla! We are thrilled to have you join us.

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