Saturday, January 23, 2021

ROGUE FLASH: A Chance to Zoom with Liv Constantine

Pre-order The Wife Stalker and email your receipt to livconstantine2@gmail.com for a chance to win a giveaway of books AND join a Zoom party with best-selling writing team Liv Constantine


“Compelling and surprising, THE WIFE STALKER is a fast-paced page-turner, full of unexpected twists and an ending I did not see coming. Impossible to put down!”
     - Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author of ALL THE MISSING GIRLS and THE PERFECT STRANGER

After watching the trailer, we can't wait to binge-read The Wife Stalker!

Friday, January 22, 2021

THE REAL BOOK SPY'S JANUARY 2021 RECOMMENDATION IS...

by The Real Book Spy

Plenty of authors write really good action sequences.

But few have ever really lived that life. 

Brad Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Pike Logan series, is one of the few writers who’s actually experienced the kind of hard-hitting action he writes about. A 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces, including eight years with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, Taylor knows a thing or two about combat, and that been-there-done-that authenticity bleeds through on every single page.

In his latest blockbuster thriller, American Traitor, Pike Logan—who is the leader of the Taskforce, an elite, off-the-books counterterrorism unit—and his significant other, Jennifer Cahill (also a member of the Taskforce), head to Australia for what is supposed to be a relaxing getaway. Instead, things go sideways almost immediately when they discover that their host, former colleague Clifford “Dunkin” Delmonty, is on the run from a team of Chinese hitmen. 

Dunkin, it turns out, stumbled upon something he shouldn’t have, and as Pike and Jennifer piece the clues together, a larger conspiracy emerges . . . one so big that it could very well lead to a war between China and Taiwan unless the Taskforce can expose the truth and stop the bad guys before it’s too late. 

In typical Brad Taylor fashion, American Traitor feels ripped straight from the headlines. Without giving anything away, few writers have their finger on the pulse of the geopolitical world the way Taylor does, making his stories feel at times a bit too close for comfort. While much of the genre is still focused on Russia, North Korea, and/or Middle Eastern terrorism, Taylor’s take on what China may or may not be up too is rather refreshing, albeit a bit terrifying. 

As for Pike Logan, well, he reached must-read status years ago. If you’re a fan of Vince Fynn, Brad Thor, Tom Clancy, or Mark Greaney—you will love Taylor’s work. Personally, I’ve always appreciated his diverse cast of characters, which has always featured a mix of strong, kickass women. It’s not uncommon these days to see authors try to include more women into their stories, but Taylor was doing it long before anyone else, and frankly, he just plain does it better. Pike is the star, sure, but Jennifer is every bit as important to this series, and you can expect her to steal plenty of scenes in this one.

Thank you to The Real Book Spy! We love action-packed plots and kickass female characters so American Traitor is sure to be a Rogue favorite!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

NICK PETRIE GOES ROGUE

Nick Petrie received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington and won a Hopwood Award for short fiction while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. His story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in The Seattle Review, a national literary journal. 

His first novel, THE DRIFTER, won the ITW Thriller and Barry Awards, and was nominated for Edgar®, Anthony, and Hammett Awards. He won the 2016 Literary Award from the Wisconsin Library Association and was named one of Apple’s 10 Writers to Read in 2017. Light It Up was named the Best Thriller of 2018 by Apple Books and has been nominated for a Barry Award.

by Nick Petrie

The last time I spoke with K.J. Howe, just before the Night of a Thousand Authors, she surprised me with a question: As a writer, what are you proudest of?  

I’ve done a lot of interviews in the last six years, and nobody has ever asked that question before. I wasn’t terribly proud of my answer, that’s for sure. I said something about how I was proud that I could write a book a year – although even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t coming out right.  

I have wanted to be a writer since high school. I spent more than twenty-five years learning how to tell stories, accumulating three unpublished novels and countless short stories along the way. All this while running a small business, having a family, trying to have a life. 

Then Putnam agreed to publish The Drifter, and asked for another book in a year’s time. My upcoming novel, The Breaker, will be my sixth published novel. And two years ago, I shuttered my business, so I can write full time. Which is another challenge entirely.

Writing is hard work. It’s fun, for sure, but it’s also difficult, especially when your writing life, which, for me, was a precious unpaid preoccupation for twenty-five years, becomes the thing that pays your mortgage. You spend eight hours a day, for months at a time, alone in a small dark room staring at a screen and trying to be creative, goddamnit.

I was a carpenter and home renovation contractor for fifteen years, so I don’t want to equate the challenges of skilled physical labor, with all the attendant risk to life and limb, to sitting at my desk and typing. Compared to working three stories up on a steep-pitched Victorian, teetering on narrow planks as we tear off four ancient layers of shingles with pitchforks and lay down a new roof during the hot, humid heights of August? Sitting at my desk and typing is a breeze.  

But writing isn’t typing. Writing, for me, is about digging deep into myself to find the hearts of my characters and to put their emotions – which are my emotions, because all my characters come from someplace inside of me – on the page for all to see. Which means that writing entails a different kind of risk than demolishing a building or raising a roof, but it is risk nonetheless. The risk of exposing my own flawed heart to the world.

Another challenge to the work involves the fact that it’s really hard to know how well you’re doing, from paragraph to paragraph, scene to scene, chapter to chapter. Do the words do what I want them to do? Does the reader feel the emotion I’m trying to convey? Does the action telegraph in a way that makes it vivid? Is the whole thing just a cliché already done better by someone else?  

It takes me the better part of a year to write a novel, and most of that time is also spent trying to stay afloat in the quicksand of my own self-doubt.

For many years, maybe because I wrote mostly in isolation, I thought that I was the only person who felt this way. Since my first novel was published, I’ve spoken to many, many accomplished writers who have spent decades navigating their own confidence quicksand. It’s become clear to me that, in order to succeed in creative life, even in the smallest way, you need enormous reserves of energy and resilience and optimism in the face of great opposition. It’s no wonder that the writers I know tend to be pretty amazing people.  

So, back to Kim Howe’s original question. What I’m proudest of, to be utterly honest, is that I manage to keep writing, despite everything. Despite my own self-doubts, despite a quarter-century of failures and near-misses, despite the uncertainties of how my agent and editor and readers will receive what I’ve written. Even now that I’m an award-winning, bestselling author – I still feel those doubts, and I still write every day anyway.

Here’s why.

In the late 90’s, I went to a talk by Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel laureate. Someone in the audience asked him: What’s the hardest thing about writing poetry? He gave her a gentle smile and said, “Getting started, keeping going, and getting started again.”

Implicit in Heaney’s tiny impromptu poem, of course, is the recurrence of failure, and the power of perseverance.

I can’t tell you how much that sly comment has meant to this writer over the decades. 

Thank you, Nick! We can't wait to read THE BREAKER

Friday, January 15, 2021

THE SPY WHO WORKED FROM HOME: OR NOT!

by Chris Goff

So, I joked about writing The Spy Who Worked from Home, but to be honest I saw a lot of potential there. Except, it turns out, it's hard to spy from home. Spying is all about intelligence gathering, and in today's world with all the secure buildings and heavily defended cyber connections, its hard to gather much useful intel on a laptop in your pjs. 

What happened when Covid 19 struck?

Some agencies, such as the NSA, stuck with their "strictly forbidden to work from home" policies, and tried creating classified office space. They designated work hours, set up shifts for various teams and contractors, and disinfected the office space during shift change. 

Other spies tried working from home. Not a problem when working unclassified elements. A big problem for classified work. And, as the intelligence communities are known for over-classifying information, it soon became clear some things needed to be declassified. It may turn out that there will be less material deemed classified that spies want to get their hands on, and more clues out there to what material is classified.

Keeping tabs on the workforce! 

Spies also faced problems similar to the problems the regular workforce experienced. With everyone working at home these days, a lot of employers want ways to keep better tabs on their employees. Work surveillance isn't new, but digital advances during the pandemic have taken it to new heights. It's almost like the boss is standing over you. Cyber apps let your boss know exactly what you're up to, what apps you are using most, what digital devices, and even what keystrokes you're making. One cyber surveillance company reported seeing a 16% increase in orders, and a 40% increase from current customers asking for more licenses. 

Just what everyone wants, their spy boss looking over their shoulder, recommending ways to be more productive working from home. What ever happened to the silent agreement that I'm doing my work and you're getting results?

So, are there spies doing real spy work from home?

Yes! Take the two Chinese engineers indicted for "researching vulnerabilities in networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and testing technology." They targeted firms in multiple countries: Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK. They targeted AI companies, defense contractors and a solar energy company. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars in trade secrets. Working for themselves they attempted blackmail, and other times stole information of obvious interest to the Chinese government. In July, FBI Director Christopher Wray accused China of a "whole-of-state effort to become the world's only superpower by any means necessary," and said. "The FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case ever 10 hours." In fact, nearly half of the 5,000 active counterintelligence case currently under way across the country are related to China. 

And the UK claimed that hackers targeting organizations trying to stop a coronavirus vaccine in the UK, US and Canada "almost certainly" operated as "part of Russian intelligence services."

How are they doing this?

The theory is the Russians hackers used malware (specifically WellMess and WellMail) to download files from machines. The malware was planted through "spear-phishing" campaigns, targeting individuals who unknowingly—or rather unwittingly—gave up passwords and access codes.

The UK's National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) calls out a hacking group called APT29, also known as The Dukes or Cozy Bear. NCSC says it's more than 95% certain the group is part of the Russian intelligence services. Cozy Bear was first identified as being a significant "threat actor" in 2014 by Crowdstrike, an American cyber-security firm.

With a name like Cozy Bear, do you have any doubt these guys are working from home, on laptops in their pjs? Me, either! 

So where does that leave me?

Clearly The Spy Who Worked From Home is not a book I'm destined to write. There is a lot I know. There is a lot I can research. (My friend Lee Goldberg convinced me of that in his latest write up in CrimeReads.) And I may be technically saavy, but not at the hacking level. Which leaves me to take Lee's advice and finish researching my latest work-in-progress. Working title: Operation Gentoo.

What are your theories of what will happen with the traditional spy genre? What changes to you see coming?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

ROGUE FLASH - Chris Goff is featured in Shoutout Colorado!

Shoutout Colorado is an online publication designed to spark meaningful conversations. They like hearing from small business owners, mom-and-pops, and independent artists. It’s all about bringing attention to the entrepreneurs and creatives who live in the community. 

Shoutout Colorado reached out to Chris and asked her to tell them how her background shaped who she is today. Her answers give you an insight into who she is and what makes her tick. Check it out here. Be sure to leave a comment, and become part of the conversation!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

MYSTERY MINUTE GOES ROGUE

by Z.J. Czupor

He Did it For the Money

In 1920, he was born to poor, illiterate Italian immigrants in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. At the age of 12, he dropped out of school to get a job after his father deserted the family. He worked as a railroad switchboard attendant to help put food on his family's table. Later, he graduated from City College of New York and joined the US Army Air Force in WWII. Because of his poor eyesight, he was stationed in Germany and India as a public relations officer. After the war, he returned to New York and attended the New School for Social Research and Columbia University.

His first published work was a short story, “The Last Christmas,” which appeared in American Vanguard (1950) and at the age of 28, he wrote his first novel, The Dark Arena (1955), which received fine reviews but only earned him $3,500. Ten years later, his second novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, got similar reviews, but only earned him $3,000. The New York Times called the latter novel a "small classic."

Still in need of money, he found work writing and editing for a line of pulp magazines like Male, True Action and Swank,where he wrote adventure stories based on real events, such as WWII battles.

In the late 1960s, Mario Puzo (1920-1999) was married with five kids and living in Long Island. He was virtually broke. His eldest child, Tony, said, "His father liked to do things first-class even though we only had fifth-class money. He ran up a lot of debt.”

Puzo's editor told him his last novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, might have done better if it had more Mafia in it but he ignored the advice for he did not want to write about organized crime. He wrote two more undistinguished novels before he decided to put his highbrow literary goals aside and set out to write a novel with commercial appeal. 

"I was 45 years old and tired of being an artist…It was really time to grow up and sell out as Lenny Bruce* once advised," Puzo wrote in his memoir. 

So Puzo wrote a ten-page outline for a novel based entirely on research. He called it The Godfather; a fictional account of the Corleone crime family whose son Michael takes the reins after his father is murdered. But his publisher passed. 

Later, a friend arranged a meeting at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, where Mario regaled the editors for an hour with Mafia tales. They gave him the green light and a $5,000 advance. 

The advance was a strong motivation—an offer he couldn't refuse—so he set out to turn his outline into a novel. In 1965, he retreated to his basement nook, a broom-closet-like space that had enough room for a desk, typewriter, and little more. While he wrote away, his five children would often go downstairs and play loud games. Tony said his father would say, “Keep it down. I’m writing a best-seller.” 

While he worked on The Godfather, Puzo was also writing three stories a month for Magazine Management, along with book reviews for The New York Times, Book World, Time magazine, and a children's book The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw (Platt & Munk, 1966). Puzo said, "I must have knocked out millions of words. I tell ya, it's absolutely the best training a writer could get, to work on those magazines. You did everything."

He finally finished the novel three years later, in 1968, because he needed the final installment of his $5,000 advance to pay for his family’s planned vacation to Europe. Even after he turned the novel into his publisher, he was not happy with the finished manuscript and thought he would do one more rewrite when he returned to America. 

But he was in deep debt. Writing in his memoir, The Godfather Papers and Other Obsessions, he admitted owing $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks and assorted bookmakers and shylocks. The Europe vacation would cost him more money than he had. His wife did not know that when they came home Puzo planned to sell the house. 

Upon his return, he had lunch at the Algonquin Hotel with his editor Bill Targ and was stunned to learn that the publisher sold the paperback rights for $410,000 to Fawcett Publishing before it was released in hardback. Back then, the record for paperback rights was $10,000. Today, that $410,000 would equal more than $3 million. Puzo said he didn’t dare rewrite his manuscript, figuring his publisher wouldn’t like it and would take the money back.

Published in 1969, The Godfather became a phenomenal success and remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for sixty-seven weeks, sold more than 20 million copies, and is still in print. Puzo then collaborated with director Francis Ford Coppola on the three screenplays that make up The Godfather film trilogy. The first two movies won nine Academy Awards, including best picture and best adapted screenplay for Puzo. The films catapulted The Godfather into a worldwide phenomenon. 

The novel and films had a huge cultural impact in that this was the first time Italian Americans were depicted as three-dimensional characters and not just cardboard foreigners who spoke in heavy accents. Even mob figures of the era liked the film and said it was “on the money.”

Mario Puzo was never affiliated with the Mafia. Incidentally, the word “Mafia,” never appears in the film script. He said, “I never met a real, honest-to-god gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that’s all.”

Following on that success, Puzo wrote screenplays for the first two Superman films (1978, 1980) and an uncredited version of The Cotton Club (1984).

On his nationally syndicated television show on CNN, Larry King Live, King asked Puzo, "Why do we like the family Mafia theme so much?" Puzo answered, “Well, because it’s wishful thinking. I think everybody would like to have somebody that they could go to for justice, without going through the law courts and the lawyers.”

He added, “The Godfather was really, to me, a family novel, more than a crime novel.” 

Despite the novel's success, Puzo still considered The Fortunate Pilgrim his best work. In his memoir, he wrote, "The book (The Godfather) got much better reviews than I expected. I wished like hell I'd written it better."

Mario Puzo wrote eleven novels: The Dark Arena (1955), The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965), The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw (1966), Six Graves to Munich (as Mario Cleri, 1967), The Godfather, (1969), Fools Die (1978), The Sicilian (1984), The Fourth K (1990) and The Last Don (1996). His last two novels, Omerta (2000) and The Family (2001) were published posthumously. He also wrote three non-fiction books and ten short stories.

He continued to live in the same house in Bay Shore, Long Island, the one he almost had to sell. But he did remodel it and doubled it in size.

Puzo was born poor and never felt like he had enough money. When he died of heart failure in 1999, at the age of 78, his net worth was around $20 million.

###

*Leonard Alfred Schneider (1925-1966), better known as Lenny Bruce, was a stand-up counterculture comedian, satirist, and social critic.

Some of Mario Puzo’s most famous lines are:

· “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

· “Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.”

· “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”

· “The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, lies in its loyalty to each other.”

· “What is past is past, never go back. Not for excuses. Not for justification, not for happiness. You are what you are, the world is what it is.”

· “Behind every successful fortune; there is crime.” (based on Honoré de Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime.")

· "Never let a domestic quarrel ruin a day's writing. If you can't start the next day fresh, get rid of your wife."

· "Moodiness is really concentration. Accept it because concentration is the key to writing."

· “Actions defined a man; words were a fart in the wind.”

· “Italians have a little joke, that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfathers.”

Thank you, Z.J. Czupor for bringing the genius behind The Godfather back to life! Readers, do you have a favorite tale written by or about Mario Puzo?

Friday, January 8, 2021

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FOR THRILLER READERS & WRITERS

by Jenny Milchman

It’s that time of year again. Happy 2021, Rogue Readers! I hope that whether these 12 goals resonate with you and become part of some fun to-do’s, or just provide interesting things to consider, they offer a lens into this thrilling reading, writing life that brings us all together here at Rogue Women Writers.

1. January It’s a fresh year, a blank slate, a blank page. I like to use this time to be intentional, envision how I’d like the next twelve months to go. I may not get exactly where I predict—heck, I may not even get close, especially if a curve ball is thrown in like, cough, a global pandemic—but it helps to set my year on course. Readers, what would you like your book year to look like? Do you want to read more, or differently? Writers, what kind of project do you picture taking on with a shiny new year ahead? Reach for the stars. Where do you want to go this year? 

2. February It’s the dead of winter and we need ways to warm up. Readers, what book would heat up your month? Maybe one set in a warm clime—think Randy Wayne White’s series in Florida. Or something with loads of action like Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X books—all that attacking works up a sweat. Thriller writers, turn up the heat on your work-in-progress. Get your protagonist in hot water, more trouble than came before. Insert a smokin’ plot twist.  

3. March Spring is in the air! A change of seasons is a great time to think about changing things up in your reading and writing life. If you’ve been reading one sub-genre, try a different one. Check out a spy or assassin thriller if you typically read domestic suspense. Or a book by a female author if you typically read men, and vice versa. Writers, this is the time to send your work-in-progress in a new direction, or unearth a particularly important clue in the thawing ground of your mystery.

4. April The cruelest month, according to T.S. Eliot. A time of taxes and flowers, rain and sun. April for me is about contradictions. One day it feels like summer, the next winter doesn’t seem to have ended. Take a page from the book of opposites and apply it to your reading life. What two authors have nothing in common? Have fun identifying a pair, then read one book by each. Writers, try working on two scenes or chapters at once—and make them as different as you can. Or just follow Eliot’s example and find a book that exemplifies cruelty—Thomas Harris, anyone?—then create the cruelest character you can dream up. 

5. May This is an easy month in some ways. Warm, anyone tied to the school year knows a break is nearly nigh, and even non-school birds are likely to enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend. Readers, settle in with an old favorite—one of those books we turn to again and again that reminds us of good [reading] times. Writers, time to give our characters a breather. Thrillers benefit when the relentless pace is interrupted every now and then; this lets readers appreciate it when the action kicks in. So give your story the equivalent of a nice, warm May afternoon. Then interrupt it! After all—summer is coming, and it won’t be all sunshine in the thriller world.

6. June Weddings, graduations, big events. Let’s translate that into reading and writing. Concretely, by checking out one of the great thrillers about marriage (try Robyn Harding’s The Swap) or kids at school (Lisa Lutz’s The Swallows is a swoon for me). Or figuratively—find a book to read that will be an accomplishment and milestone for you—perhaps a classic you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t. (Dostoyevsky is one of the first great thriller authors). Writers, could a scene in your work-in-progress use a milestone to further the plot? 

7. July Summertime and the living is easy. Except in the thriller world nothing’s ever easy. Vacation lit is a burgeoning sub-genre (you heard it here first. Well, maybe not first). Readers, check out Zoje Stage’s latest, Getaway. There are great vacay films in the thriller genre—a whole subset of survival ones like Outback and Backcountry. Writers, have you considered setting a book in a new and exotic location?

8. August It’s hot out and we can stand a little chill. Let’s do the opposite of what we did in the dead of winter and consider the cold lit sub-genre. Readers, check out Julia Spencer Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter, or S. K. Tremayne’s The Ice Twins or a King classic like The Shining or Misery. And writers, a great way to work the writing muscle is by incorporating weather into your work. I think of it in terms of the senses—a great writer lets us feel, smell, see, even taste the weather. Write a scene and make your reader shiver—physically and figuratively. 


9. September Even more than January, September feels like a new start to me. Readers and writers, take time to look back on where you have been these last eight months, and what you would like to do before another new year comes around again. Steam ahead toward a reading goal like number of books read? Dig into that tome that’s been sitting on your night table or e-reader? Writers, is it possible to complete a writing project if you give a big push now?

10. October This is my favorite month so I’m going to suggest we give that a reading and writing slant. Nothing but fun this month! Carve out your very best reading time. Want to spend a whole day with nothing but a good book and scrummy food? October’s your month. Let the fam know—or tell yourself—that you’re off chore-duty today because you Have to Read. You deserve it. Writers, give yourself a break on whatever part of the process is hardest for you. Are you looking for agents and hitting a wall? Hit the pause button instead. Stuck in the murky middle of your novel? Skip ahead to a scene you can’t wait to write. 

11. November Time to hunker down, for winter is coming. Haul out the afghan and put together a reading list, all the books you haven’t gotten to yet this year. Go to the library or bookstore—if we’re post-pandemic—or online and get yourself some reading treats before the cold weather and/or end of another year slams us. Writers, crawl deep into that work-in-progress, stay there till you’re so bleary-eyed you have to come out. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished!

12. December No matter what you celebrate, make this month a holiday. Host a book club party either in-person or virtually. Read a holiday-themed book. Authors, a slowdown is coming in the biz and even your editor will probably miss a few days looking out for that book that’s past its deadline. Emerging writers, give yourself a break on querying and use this time to gather trusty readers to critique your soon-to-be-finished book. After all, another new year is almost here to fill with reading and writing goals! 

Readers and writers, inspire us by sharing your ambitious goals for 2021!

Monday, January 4, 2021

ROGUE WOMEN DECEMBER ROUNDUP!

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

Diane Capri went Rogue to tell us about her latest book in the Jack Reacher companion series, Full Metal Jack.

"Just the facts, Ma'am." Z. J. Czupor spent this month's Mystery Minute on why the beloved show Dragnet opened with police badge #714

hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is the Danish art of living life with intent. Carla Neggers gives us her suggestions for incorporating hygge into our lives by creating a perfect reading nook.

Karna Small Bodman shares some Rogue suggestions for gift giving and holiday treats in Bites and Books for Christmas

Ever feel like throwing a book across the room when you hit the end? Lisa Black delves into why readers like satisfying endings, and then lists a few books that left her sputtering. 

And Chris Goff finishes the year with these hilarious tales of holiday disasters. I mean, who hasn't experienced an epic fail?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

HOLIDAY COOKING DISASTERS: Who hasn't had one?

by Chris Goff

This year on Thanksgiving, we celebrated the birth of our third grandchild—a very bright spot in an otherwise difficult year. Ten days before the holiday, we’d gotten a late-night phone call from a couple of kids, laughing because her water broke and they had to leave for the hospital, but the bed was wet, and the dog was a bit anxious, and they weren’t sure what to do. Fortunately, we did, and told them to leave for the hospital. Then we collected the bedding, the towels, Pickles, the dog, and the dog food, while they had a baby. Little Grady!

A couple of days later, we took Pickles home and met the tiny bean—Covid-style! Clean coverups, hand sanitizer, masks.... Thanksgiving was quickly approaching, and we’d promised to make dinner. Except, we were living in a house without a kitchen. The refrigerator was hooked up in the garage, and periodically blew the breakers. We had no stove, just a microwave set up on sawhorses in the living room. No sink! And our counter consisted of a piece of construction grade plywood laid over the top of uninstalled kitchen counters.

Not to be deterred, we donned our PPE, and in a covert Covid operation (CCO) transported all ingredients, and sneaked into their kitchen through the breezeway. (This makes for a great scene in my new book: The Spy Who Worked from Home.)

But I jest. We actually just went over to the kids' house, donned clean coverups, prepped the meal, and put it in the oven. Four hours later, we returned, carved the turkey, and ate, with Grady upstairs in his crib.

During dinner, my son-in-law had his phone propped up on the table. Thinking he was watching football, I made a snide comment as mothers-in-law are wont to do, and my daughter laughed. “Mom (drag it out sarcastically), he’s watching the baby cam.” Sure enough. Nick turned the phone around, and there was little Grady sleeping in the crib.

About that time, the baby twitched (barely!), and the phone lit up, and a warning scrolled across the screen. Movement has been detected! Apparently, off mute, Computer Lady blurts out the warnings. The temperature has dropped one-tenth of a degree!

Dang! The baby cam works better than our home security system. (Perfect for The Spy Who Worked from Home.) It's more expensive, but highly effective! Makes me wonders how I ever raised six kids to adulthood without one?!

But I digress. We're talking about holiday disasters, and I have them that go back years. It turned out, so did my fellow Rogues.

Karna Small Bodman had a similar story of remodeling.

Several years ago, I was redoing a DC house–kitchen completely torn up, fridge and microwave in the living room—and my son wanted to host a Super Bowl. What to do? So, I baked a huge batch of chicken in my next-door neighbor’s stove, made a big salad, and then fixed a whole slew of little red potatoes in the microwave because I wanted to serve “Redskins.”

Which she topped with the story of a dream date.

I went to a holiday dinner hosted by a bachelor who admitted he didn’t cook much. On the kitchen counter sat a bowl of what looked like turkey stuffing with bits of something weird in it. I asked what it was. He shrugged and said, “Well, I was looking around for things I could put in the stuffing I bought. Thinking about how my mom always added things to hers. I saw a package of microwave popcorn and mixed the kernels into the stuffing, figuring that when it got hot, they would pop. They didn’t.”

Lisa Black shared a similar theme.

My mother’s birthday was in January, so as a young newlywed I decided to host a dinner for 12 in her honor. I don’t remember the entree, but I made homemade sourdough bread—completing the long process of creating the starter, letting it ferment, moving it to the refrigerator, etc.

The day before the party, our hot water heater died. I had no qualms that my trained mechanic husband could fix it. We had to go buy one (a whole nother story) then, as he finished installing the heater, I baked my bread. To keep it warm, I wrapped the slices in a towel, placed them in a wicker basket, then put the entire thing in the still-mildly-warm oven.

The doorbell rang. People were seated. Then I opened the oven only to discover the wicker basket had not been real wicker. The plastic had melted into globules, and the small wires stuck out like barbed wire tines, only longer, and more dramatic. Luckily, the towel had protected my labor-intensive bread. Plucking out the slices, I plopped them into another container, tossed the evidence, and figured what the diners didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Meanwhile, I had learned a valuable lesson about the low melting point of synthetics!
 

Valerie Constantine’s story can only be labeled Comedic Horror.

These Greek Christmas cookies are called Kourambiedes and everyone in our family looks forward to them at the holidays. Making them is labor intensive with all of the mixing done by hand until the dough is ready to be shaped into these sort-of crescents. Every year I “helped” my mother make these special treats that always came out perfect. One year, however, when we began to shape the cookies, we were puzzled to see tiny red dots throughout the dough. My mother shrugged and continued to bake them anyway. After all, they would be covered with confectioner’s sugar to make them pure white. It wasn’t until later that she noticed the little chips in her red fingernail polish. Her polish had rubbed off into the dough! Moral of the story: Nail polish in small doses is safe to ingest!

Of course, judging by the pictures Lynne Constantine shared, nail polish in the cookies doesn't do much for one's fashion sense.

An abundance of stories. 

There was the time Wes stuffed the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner for 21 people, put the bird in the oven, then checked it two hours later to discover he’d forgotten to turn on the oven.

And the time I was tasked with cooking a roast for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s. My sister-in-law arrived and immediately turned down the oven. When I noticed, I turned it back up. Kay immediately turned it back down. Up, down. Up, down. Needless to say, dinner was delayed while the roast finished cooking and Kay and I sat in timeout.

Then there was the Christmas Eve we drove the 1914 Model T (top up) to dinner. My father-in-law had suffered a series of strokes and couldn’t talk at that point, but when offered a ride in the Model T, his face lit up. After dinner, we stepped outside to find it was snowing. Hard! We foundered on the side of the road about a half mile from the farmhouse. Wes and I waded through the deepening snow—Wes for the tractor, me for the car. It created a few tense moments with my mother-in-law and our kids, but Dad just chucked and laughed. He refused a car ride and insisted on staying in the Model T as it was towed back to the barn. Best Christmas Eve ever!

This year, with the threat of Covid-19, many of us are celebrating alone. Still, the Rogues hope you've had a chance to make some fun memories this holiday season. We wish you the merriest!

Do you have any favorite holiday disaster stories?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

by Lisa Black

Opening to the first page of a book always has that same delicious thrill of anticipation as when the theater lights dim and the curtain begins to rise from the stage. Will I be delighted? Will I be amazed? What is going to happen?

But as wonderful as beginnings are, every book is really about its ending. There, we expect the story to come full circle, we expect that the things that have happened to be used in a relevant manner, we expect to be satisfied.

Writers who plot, like me—as opposed to writers who are [fly by the seat of your] pants-ers—know how the book will begin and how it will end. The difficult part is figuring out how to get from one to the other.

I am prompted to this theme because this cursed, dratted year of 2020 is ending, something that everyone has been wishing for and commenting on for eight or ten months now. Like many others, my year has largely sucked: my husband was out of work for seven months, I lost a brother and a cousin (non-Covid-related reasons), I spent over a year on a book that was rejected, and I watched helplessly as others endured much greater misery and much more overwhelming trials. I could have lost much more, and didn’t. And now 2020 is ending! Yay!

Except we all know better than to think simply turning a calendar page will make everything reset to ‘Normal’—or even ‘Better.’ Illness, injustice, stress and anxiety can’t just be tossed out with the used calendar.

But maybe this is why we like books. In a book, the author controls the ending. They can make sure the clues logically add up to one person’s irrefutable guilt, that the hero learns lessons en route that will serve them well in the final confrontation with the villain, that the reader will not be left wondering how Norman got his hands on the museum’s antique knife later found in his ex-wife’s body or why Josie suddenly understood Ukrainian when in the Kabul safe house. And woe to them if the author fails. Rules can be broken, twists can and should be unexpected, readers can be a little miffed that the protagonist didn’t get the cute guy at the end, but they should always feel that the story is now complete.

Yes, there have been endings that skirted the cliff. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as brilliant as Agatha Christie’s book was, did leave many a reader sputtering “But was that really fair?”

And full disclosure, if I dare: I sputtered myself at the ending of Pet Sematary. Unless I’m badly misremembering, the text touched on ancient Indian burial grounds, dreams, and some sort of giant who roamed the earth after dark. As a horror novel it’s absolutely fabulous, but if I can just say one little thing: if Dean R. Koontz had written it, he would have tied all those things together in a kind of explanation, a la Phantoms or Twilight Eyes. It might have been far-fetched, but it would have been something

Her, by Harriet Lane, I found a fabulously written, utterly engrossing book, in which the ending made me want to throw it across the room. I loved Gone Girl…but it’s ending? Super frustrating. 

Hannibal, by Thomas Harris. Maybe, IMHO, somebody couldn’t figure out how to end the book. Maybe somebody fell too much in love with his own characters. Maybe I’m just too pedestrian and can’t think outside the box. We may never know. 

My friend Britin Haller absolutely loved Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips “…until the end. And I hate to say that because it truly was one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.”

We could even complain about Gone With the Wind. WTF? Two and a half hours and she and Rhett break up?

The Collector by John Fowles. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, but I can’t say I’m happy about it.


But as there have been happier New Year’s Eves, there are so many wonderfully satisfying endings in books. Anything by Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr, in which all fifty-three separate clues are assembled in their proper order. Lord of the Rings leaves us with a nostalgic but fuzzy happiness as all the characters trundle off to their respective lives, exactly where they want to be. Pride and Prejudice, of course, proves that good things will eventually come to those who are true to oneself. A Christmas Carol, in which the character has completed an exhausting journey to become exactly the man he should be. The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Room by Emma Donoghue. 

Best of all, I think, are when endings completely take you by surprise but, after a moment’s thought, you see they make total sense. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. 

And that’s my New Year’s wish for everyone: that in 2021, we get to write our own, highly nourishing ending to each and every day. 

What about you? No spoilers, but what book has the most (or least) satisfying ending?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

BITES AND BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS

by Karna Small Bodman

How will we all celebrate Christmas this year while staying safe and praying for the best? We Rogues have some ideas to share with you: holiday recipes to enjoy along with a few gifts for family and friends.

For a lovely breakfast treat Jenny Milchman offers this recipe for her Raspberry Sour Cream Muffins: 
  • Preheat oven to 375 and line a 12 cup muffin tin
  • In 1st bowl, combine zest of one orange and ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup melted butter, 1 cup sour cream, 2 beaten eggs
  • In 2nd bowl, mix 1 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt
  • In 3rd bowl, dust 1 ½ cups raspberries with 2      teaspoons flour, reserve a few for the tops of the muffins
  • Combine ingredients, fold in berries, fill muffin tin, top with reserved berries, sprinkle with sugar, bake 18-22 minutes….enjoy!
Liv Constantine suggests a book described as a moving account of an author’s relationship with her grandmother, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Beth Kalb. Well known author Jodi Picoult says, “I have not been as profoundly moved by a book in years.” This story recounts both family lore and family secrets spanning four generations. 

The New York Times Book Review writes, “I delighted in Bobby’s joy. I cried twice.” And the host of Good Morning America said, “Told in her hilarious grandmother’s voice, this memoire chronicles a family’s story.”

Liv also contributes a recipe for hors d’oevres, Pomegranate Pistachio Crostini:
  • Preheat oven to 400
  • Arrange 36 slices of French bread baguette on ungreased baking sheet, brush tops with butter, bake 4-6 minutes then cool
Mix and spread over the toasted bread:
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter 
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • ½ cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate candy bar, grated.
Serve, of course, with your favorite cocktail or wine.

Carla Neggers suggests a lovely book, The National Trust Book of Afternoon Tea which is chock full of recipes that go perfectly with a cup of tea – a nice gift for someone who enjoys the quintessential British ritual. You’ll find recipes for sandwiches, tarts, cakes, scones, preserves along with everything you need to know to brew the perfect pot of tea. 

And here is Carla’s suggestion of a simple topping to add to mashed or baked potatoes, melt atop baked salmon or spoon onto grilled burgers.  

Simply mix together: 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Chill for 2 hours to blend the flavors (and you can freeze it for a month)

Lisa Black contributes a quick treat you can make and give as a luscious gift, what she calls her Foolproof Fudge:
  • Melt a 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (semi sweet or milk chocolate) with
  • A 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • Remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Put in a wax-paper lined pan, cool completely before cutting.
I’d like to suggest you top off your holiday meal with a cup of cappuccino. You don’t need to have a fancy coffee/cappuccino machine. Just brew a cup of coffee, then top it with foamed milk from this frother which makes a great Christmas gift as well. You  simply pour a small bit of milk in this frother (that sits on a stand that's plugged in) -- push a button and in about 20 seconds you have froth you spoon on top of your coffee.  To clean it, just rinse it out (don't put it in the dishwasher though). 

One final recommendation of a book for a Christmas gift is Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict. I so enjoyed this story about a (fictitious) Irish maid hired to serve in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She hides the secret of her past while learning about the business tycoon’s investments, and, in the process, inspires Andrew Carnegie to eventually devote his vast fortune to the creation of libraries across the nation. Readers and authors are forever grateful to this man for his contribution to education and enjoyment for all. 

Now, do you have a favorite holiday recipe or gift idea you would like to share? Please leave a comment and tell us. Thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers and a very Merry (and safe) Christmas to you!

Friday, December 11, 2020

HYGGE AND THE ART OF THE READING NOOK

by Carla Neggers

Winters are long, cold and dark in northern New England where I live, but they’re made not just bearable but enjoyable with the Danish art of hygge. It’s a concept—an intentional way of life, really—that’s gained international popularity. Pronounced “hue-guh,” hygge isn’t a word that translates easily into English. “In essence,” says Visit Denmark, “hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.”

A great place to incorporate hygge into our lives is a reading nook. I can and do read anytime, anywhere, but I love my reading nook experience. 

Here are a few hygge ideas for your own reading nook:

Candles

Nothing creates hygge like candles. A lot of candles. These days there are flameless versions that are (almost) as atmospheric but I’ve never tried them. I like to light candles and tuck in by the fire with a book. Pillar candles are my favorite but on particularly short winter days, I’ll often float a votive candle in my small Simon Pearce bowl. It doesn’t have to be dark to light candles. Or cold. A friend lights candles on her South Florida patio. 

Socks

Cold feet do not make for a cozy reading nook experience. Slip those toes into your favorite socks. I love my one pair of ultra-soft cashmere knee-socks. They’re a bit frayed but that adds to their hygge charms. There are all kinds of fun socks on the market perfect for enhancing your reading-nook experience. 

A comfy shawl or throw 

Snuggling under a soft, comfy shawl or throw with a book is definitely one of the good things in life! I curl up with a handmade Irish shawl. It reminds me of picking out with my husband at a favorite shop on the southwest Irish coast, run by a woman who’s become a friend, adding to its hygge qualities. But I love my ragged fleece throws, too. Key is comfort and cocooning. We want to read, not fuss with a shawl or throw, right?

A hot drink 

Hot mulled cider, hot mulled wine, hot chocolate or hot tea enhance an afternoon or evening curled up in our reading nook. It’s a great time to grab that pottery mug you love but don’t use often enough. Making reading time an experience is what it’s about. Check out my hot mulled cider recipe below.

An absorbing book 

Candles lit, fire crackling, hot beverage at our side and socks and throw keeping us warm and cozy, we’re ready to dive into an absorbing book. Savor the characters, the descriptions, the sense of place, the plot twists, the writing. It’s an opportunity to discover or rediscover such authors as P.D. James, Elizabeth George, JRR Tolkien, Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, Ken Follett and many of the writers interviewed and recommended here, or finally dive into that thick biography on your TBR pile. 

Here’s my recipe for hot mulled cider:

2 quarts fresh apple cider

2–3 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

½ teaspoon whole allspice

¼ small orange

Dash of grated nutmeg 

¼ cup brown sugar (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes. Strain spices and serve. You can combine the spices into a cheesecloth to create a bag and simmer with the cider. You can also heat the mulled cider in a slow cooker. 

Hygge works whether you’re in a warm or cold climate or season. Here are some tips for warm-weather hygge: www.hyggelife.com/blogs/news/hygge-in-the-summer

What’s your favorite spot to read? What says hygge to you? Are you trying anything new this winter? Let us know!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

MYSTERY MINUTE GOES ROGUE

by Z.J. Czupor

Just the Facts Ma'am: The Story of Badge 714

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

That famous opening line belongs to Dragnet, one of the most popular and influential police procedural dramas in radio and television history. 

Jack Randolph Webb (1920-1982) wrote, produced, directed, and starred as Sergeant Joe Friday in the hit radio and TV series, which ran, at intervals, from 1949 to 2004. The show was touted for its realism about the dangers and heroism of law enforcement. Sgt. Friday wore badge number 714.

Dragnet's realism came about because Webb spent long hours on the ground conducting research in squad rooms, squad cars, and drinking coffee with detectives. He said he learned his first police rule, which is "the solution of a crime is the work of many hands and many minds."

Webb got the idea for Dragnet from the 1948 film He Walked by Night in which he played a small role as a crime-lab technician. His vision was to perform a service by showing policemen as low-key working-class heroes. The title "dragnet" refers to a coordinated system used to capture criminals and suspects.

The Popularity of Dragnet

Dragnet originated on NBC radio from 1949 to 1957. In 1951, the series moved to TV (NBC), where shows ran simultaneously on radio and television using the same script devices with many of the same actors. An estimated 38 million viewers tuned in each week. 

Jack Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday on TV from 1951-59 and again from 1967-70.

In 1989-90, The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage as Det. Vic Daniels, while the 2003-04 version, L.A Dragnet, featured Ed O’Neill as Lt. Joe Friday. Both series were produced by Webb.

Dragnet appeared around the world with translations in German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. In retrospect, the episodes are still entertaining but feel campy with wooden acting styles. Plus, some of the police procedures appear outdated and trial outcomes would be vastly different from today. However, at the peak of its popularity, fans often visited LAPD headquarters wanting to speak to Sgt. Friday. The official response given at the front desk was, "Sorry, it's Joe's day off."

Dragnet was parodied numerous times in films, TV, and cartoons. Fortunately, Webb wasn’t above the parody himself. In 1968, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in a sketch called the "Copper Clapper Caper." As the poker-faced Joe Friday, he interviews the equally deadpan victim of a robbery at a school-bell factory (the victim played by Carson). The details of the crime started with the alliterative "k" consonant sound, such as "Claude Cooper, the kleptomaniac from Cleveland." 

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Supposedly, Sgt. Joe Friday's hardcore character often spoke the phrase, "Just the facts, ma'am," but he never said that. It was misattributed after comedian Stan Freberg (1926-2015) recorded a parody album, "St. George and the Dragonet," in 1953. But Freberg didn't say that either. Actually, Friday said, "All we want are the facts, ma'am," whenever he interviewed women during a police investigation. Freberg's satire, meanwhile, changed the line to "I just want to get the facts, ma'am."

In 1958, Webb authored The Badge (Prentice-Hall), which included chapters of untold true crime cases from Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s. The book was reissued (Da Capo Press, 2005) with a foreword by James Ellroy, author of LA Confidential* (1990), who wrote, "The Badge takes readers on a spine chilling tour through the dark, shadowy world of Los Angeles crime."

Badge Number 714

When Dragnet went into syndication, it was renamed "Badge 714." There are multiple explanations plus myths for how the number came to be. For one, Webb was a fan of Babe Ruth who hit 714 home runs in his baseball career. For another, the number is said to represent his mother’s birthday (July 14).

However, Army Major Laurie Cooke Harding, daughter to Dragnet advisor and LAPD Sgt. Dan Cooke, wrote how her father and Webb were close, that he originated some script concepts, and acted as technical director for several episodes. Badge 714 belonged to Cooke when he arranged for its use in the series. After Cooke’s death, LAPD retired the badge which his widow then donated to the LAPD Police Academy’s Museum. Cooke retired as a lieutenant after serving thirty-five years on the force. He died in 1999 at the age of 72. 

Webb's Personal Life and Death

Webb's Jewish father abandon the family before Webb was born leaving him to be raised Roman Catholic by his mother who was Irish and Native American. He suffered from acute asthma from the age of six into adulthood but smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. He began his career as a radio disc jockey, then advanced to film actor, writer, director, and producer. As a jazz fan, he collected over 6,000 albums. He married singer and actress Julie London. They had two daughters. After they divorced, Webb married three more times. In 1982, he died of a heart attack at the age of 62.

When Webb died, LAPD provided an honor guard with a 17-gun salute, a rarity for a non-policeman. LAPD named an auditorium in his honor while city offices lowered flags to half-staff. Jack Webb was buried with a replica LAPD badge bearing the rank of sergeant and the number 714. 
________________________________________

*In the movie version of LA Confidential (1997), the Brett Chase character (played by Matt McCoy) is based on Jack Webb. In the movie, Chase is the star of a TV show, "Badge of Honor," like Dragnet.

Thank you, Z.J. Czupor! We love your Mystery Minute columns. Readers, are you fans of police procedurals like Dragnet

Monday, December 7, 2020

ROGUE WOMEN NOVEMBER ROUNDUP!


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

Always a fan of kickass women, Lisa Black gives us the highlights of the life and legacy of Margaret Chase Smith in Beyond the Glass Ceiling.

The winner of the Rogue Fall Basket Giveaway
was 
Rena Koontz, a self-proclaimed Rogue devotee and author of seven romantic suspense novels!

ZJ Czupor told us about the origin of the term 'red herring' and its use in many Agatha Christie tales in this month's Mystery Minute.  

Who doesn't love adorable pet pics? Liv Constantine gave us the skinny (and the visuals) on Writers and Their Pets

A Rogue Flash let audiobook fans know that The First Shot, Liv Constantine's prequel to The Last Mrs. Parrish, has been released on Audible.

Jenny Milchman provided us with a great guide to Write a Thriller in 8 Easy Steps

The Real Book Spy's November Rogue Recommendation was Janet Evanovich's Fortune and Glory, the 27th book in the Stephanie Plum series. 

And, last but not least, a Rogue Flash spread the news that Karna Small Bodman was interviewed about her White House insider expertise and her latest book, Trust But Verify