Friday, August 7, 2020

ONE WRITER'S COVID-19 SUMMER


Grandson leaping into cool, cool water.

As a writer, I’ve always looked for underlying themes, for insights and significance.  But I have a concussion, and that means life has been simplified for me several times.  

At first I resisted what felt like a retreat from a less fulsome way to live.  Then I got a reprieve in early March:  I was blessed with ideas that captivated me, and not only that, they fitted together into stories I wanted to write. 

Then I fell again and hit my skull.  I reeled.  Ideas vanished.  And at the same time, my daughter and her family escaped from Brooklyn to stay with us here in Maine in hopes New York would be safe in a couple of weeks to return.

Life was simplified again, but in a new way.  I became the in-house teacher for my 9-year-old grandson while his mom and dad teleconferenced their jobs.  

Being in charge of a bright, wiggly child wasn’t exactly writing a book, but it required a talent for fiction (pretending I was smarter than he) and creativity (finding ways to make the schoolwork enticing) and energy (Omg, I got so exhausted and frustrated with the craziness of a non-user-friendly educational system!). 

Still, he and I persevered, and we learned a lot without any concept of themes, insights, or deep significance.  P.S., we had a lot of fun, too.

Soon after school ended, and the boy immersed himself in other activities, I began having clear memories of what it was like to write a novel.  

I read through my research boxes, I made notes on my yellow pads, and I went to sleep lobbying for characters, scenes, whole paragraphs of exciting narration to awaken me.  It’s a delicious feeling to call upon one’s dreams, satisfying an old and welcome thirst for storytelling.

Now it’s five months since all hell broke loose with the pandemic. 

My daughter’s family will leave soon to move back home.  So my son and his family took Covid-19 tests, passed, and drove their packed car nine hours straight from self-isolation in Washington D.C. to vacation with all of us.  Wow.

They needed this trip, and we needed to see them.  We are all together, three families, all sharing our home and yard and forest.  The breezes are sweeter, the sky bluer, the coffee better by far.  We go to goat yoga, to isolated lakes, to secret beaches.  

Books are stacked on bedroom floors.  We argue and debate and have long discussions.  We take turns cooking.  We eat out on the porch.  We make s'mores at the fire pit.  The robin who owns our backyard sings to us all through the dinner hour.  What could be better?

We’re having a summer in Maine.  It’s different, but the same as earlier summers, too. 

Missing other members of our family makes me thrill even more to the busyness, the almost-normalcy of those who are visiting.  I've posted some of my photos on this page.  Right now it seems incomprehensible that we’re in the grips of a pandemic that has changed us and our worlds forever.

It’s summer.  In Maine.  But it’s not.  It’s Covid-19 summer, and a shiver of worry underlies everything.  

Still, I wouldn’t give up this summer for anything.  I watch, listen, and absorb.  I’m filled with joy that they are alive and healthy, and that John and I are here to witness them.

Pandemic be damned — I’ve learned a new depth of gratitude.

What about you, dear Rogue Reader? We'd love to hear what your summer has been like. Please leave a comment and tell!

Monday, August 3, 2020

ROGUE WOMEN JULY ROUNDUP!

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

ZJ Czupor told us about the mother of the American detective story, Anna Katherine Green, first published in 1878.

The Real Book Spy recommended the latest by Brad Thor, and how his art often imitates life imitating art.

Lisa Black researched the truth about those suspicious friend requests, forming a picture of the person behind the picture you see.

These five June releases for your to-be-read shelf were recommended by Liv Constantine, and why they are must-reads.

Karna Bodman wants us to support our local bookstores, especially during the pandemic, by sharing independent bookstore success stories.

And we had a super fun night at our second Rogue Reads, featuring authors Ace Atkins, Karen Robards, Chris Hauty and Jon Land. The authors talked about their books, answered questions, and shared their favorite recipes!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

MYSTERY MINUTE GOES ROGUE

Rogue Readers, you are in for a real treat! Starting this Tuesday, ZJ Czupor Goes Rogue. He will be bringing us one of his famous Mystery Minutes on Tuesday every 5 weeks. Sometimes funny, ALWAYS interesting, these short write ups give us a view into the history of crime novels and the lives of crime writers. So, with no further ado...

ZJ Czupor is an award-winning writer. His current novel, Cut Right Through Me, is seeking representation. He is vice president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and writes a monthly column, “The Mystery Minute.” He also co-chairs Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s annual literary competition. In 1990, he and his wife co-founded The InterPro Group, one of Denver’s leading marketing and public relations firms. They are proud to be owned by two beautiful, and way too smart, rescue collies.

by ZJ Czupor

The Mother of the American Detective Story: Anna Katharine Green

Every serious mystery writer knows full well who holds the title of the “father of the American detective story.” That title belongs to Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), whose 1841 short story, Murders in the Rue Morgue, introduced C. Auguste Dupin, the detective hero.

But little known is the identity of the “mother of the American detective story.” According to Michael Mallory, writing in Mystery Scene magazine, (Spring, 2018), it was Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). Her first novel, The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer’s Story, published thirty-seven years later in 1878, is widely regarded as the first American detective novel.

Over a fifteen-year period, her novel sold more than three-quarters of a million copies. She distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Her influence and reputation were so great that Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the creator of Sherlock Holmes, sought her out during his visit to the U.S. in 1894.

She was college-educated—rare at that time—and started a career as a poet and often corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Then when her poetry failed to catch on, she turned to writing novels. She worked on her first novel for six years. It was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She later married, raised a family, and wrote three dozen more novels over the next forty-five years.

In fact, her novel’s insight into legal matters was used in Yale University law classes as “an example of the perils of trusting circumstantial evidence.” Interestingly, her novel sparked a debate in the Pennsylvania State Senate over whether the book could really have been written by a woman.

The Leavenworth Case was the novel that first established the “whodunit” and the idea that “everyone and nobody” is a suspect.
Green’s innovative plots thrilled readers with dead bodies in libraries, newspaper clippings as clues, the coroner’s inquest, and expert witnesses. She succeeded in a genre dominated by male writers. But she disapproved of many of her feminist contemporaries and she opposed women’s suffrage.

Green died in 1935 at the age of 88 in Buffalo, New York. If you visit, you can take a walking tour which highlights authors with local connections. She’s included with Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Taylor Caldwell, and others.

Years later, Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the best-selling author of all time (outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare), revealed that it was Green who influenced her to begin writing mysteries. 

Thank you, ZJ Czupor! Readers, have you read any stories by Anna Katherine Green?

Friday, July 24, 2020

FIVE JUNE RELEASES TO ADD TO YOUR TBR SHELF

by Liv Constantine

With the weekend looming, and beaches beckoning, it’s the perfect time to pull out a good book. Take a break from the grill, grab a cold drink, and settle down for a good read. Here are five June releases bound to keep you glued to the page: 

THE GIRL FROM WIDOW HILLS by Megan Miranda

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.

THE HALF SISTER by Sandie Jones

Meet the half sister, and unravel the ties that blind us.

The truth.

Sisters Kate and Lauren meet for Sunday lunch every week without fail, especially after the loss of their father.

The lie.

But a knock at the door is about to change everything. A young woman by the name of Jess holds a note with the results of a DNA test, claiming to be their half sister.

The unthinkable.

As the fallout starts, it's clear that they are all hiding secrets, and perhaps this family isn't as perfect as it appears. 

THE LAST FLIGHT by Julie Clark

Two women. Two flights. One last chance to disappear. 

Claire Cook has a perfect life. Married to the scion of a political dynasty, with a Manhattan townhouse and a staff of 10, her surroundings are elegant, her days flawlessly choreographed, and her future auspicious. But behind closed doors, nothing is quite as it seems. That perfect husband has a temper that burns as bright as his promising political career, and he's not above using his staff to track Claire's every move, making sure she's living up to his impossible standards. But what he doesn't know is that Claire has worked for months on a plan to vanish. 

A chance meeting in an airport bar brings her together with a woman whose circumstances seem equally dire. Together they make a last-minute decision to switch tickets - Claire taking Eva's flight to Oakland, and Eva traveling to Puerto Rico as Claire. They believe the swap will give each of them the head start they need to begin again somewhere far away. But when the flight to Puerto Rico goes down, Claire realizes it's no longer a head start but a new life. Cut off, out of options, with the news of her death about to explode in the media, Claire will assume Eva's identity, and along with it, the secrets Eva fought so hard to keep hidden. 

For fans of Lisa Jewell and Liv Constantine, The Last Flight is the story of two women - both alone, both scared - and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.

THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennet

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, Southern Black community and running away at age 16, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same Southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

HOME BEFORE DARK by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father's book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father's death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Alternating between Maggie’s uneasy homecoming and chapters from her father’s book, Home Before Dark is the story of a house with long-buried secrets and a woman’s quest to uncover them—even if the truth is far more terrifying than any haunting.

What have you read (or are reading) that should be on everyone’s TBR list?

Friday, July 17, 2020

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


by The Real Book Spy

When it comes to beating headlines, there is nobody better than Brad Thor, whose books have such a habit of coming true that I’ve taken to referring to them as “prophetic fiction.”

The master of the modern thriller, Thor has now reached unchartered waters with the release of his latest Scot Harvath series, Near Dark, bringing the series total to nineteen books and counting. Not only is Thor not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon, the craziest thing—at least in my opinion—is that he’s actually finding ways to get better each time out.

Think about that. Almost nobody can keep a series going for twenty books. And not only has Thor accomplished just that, but I’d argue that Near Dark is his best thriller to date—a feat that is, frankly, unheard of.

So, what makes Near Dark so special? Well, for starters, the plot—which involves someone putting a 100-million-dollar bounty on Scot Harvath’s head—is supercharged unlike anything else hitting bookstores this summer. I mean, seriously, once you start this one, there is no stopping whatsoever. On top of that, though, even after all these adventures with Harvath, Thor still found a way to show readers a new side of his hero. Here, Harvath is a broken man. His wife, mentor, and one of his closest friends were all murdered. Still reeling from such incredible loss, Scot doesn’t want to be bothered. And he doesn’t know how to go on.

Of course, that changes just as soon as waves of assassins begin trying to kill him, sucking him back into a world he wants nothing to do with.

Not to give anything away, but we’re nineteen books in, and the bad guys still haven’t learned not to mess with Scot Harvath. Maybe they’ll think twice in next year’s book because I can’t imagine anyone would want to cross him after this.

To bring a little extra something special to this month’s Rogue column, I’m including an excerpt from an interview I just did with Brad Thor that will run on The Real Book Spy at a later date. Specifically, I asked him about beating headlines and what his secret it, and then I followed up by asking if he would be writing COVID-19 into his next book, given the impact the virus has had on the entire world. I think you’ll find both of his answers (below) interesting. I sure did!

Near Dark comes out on July 21 and is the must-read adventure of the summer. Trust me, you do not want to miss it. 

Excerpt from my interview with Brad Thor:

One of the first questions I wanted to ask Thor, who is known for predicting events and wiring them in his books long before they happen, is how he does that. I mean, this is a guy who, at one point, was recruited by the government to wargame out-of-the-box attack scenarios. So, what’s his secret?

“Part of it is just that I’m a voracious consumer of news,” Thor told me, before dropping a great quote from one of the most famous authors on the planet. “I’m always looking for patterns. Stephen King once said, ‘a writer is someone who’s trained their mind to misbehave,’ and that’s very true with me.

“So, after 9/11, when I got recruited into the analytical Red Cell program in D.C., that’s part of what they were having me do for them. It was like, okay, think about your books—what’s the next thing, what’s the next attack, what’s the target, all that kind of stuff. It’s just a product of how I do think and connecting dots—and there are other people connecting the dots too, I’m not the only one—but if you’re paying as close of attention as I am . . . that’s the trouble. Politics, domestic and international, global politics are my baseball. I’m not going to sit here and talk to you about the Twins and the Cubs or that sort of thing, but I’ll talk all day long about whether or not it’s a good idea to pull troops out of Germany and put them into Poland. Or about what Putin’s really doing and that sort of thing, all that kind of stuff. That is what fuels the novel. It’s just a passion of mine. So, yeah, do I get some stuff in the books that end up being correct? Yes.

“The funniest thing was when we did the prisoner swap for Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban members, and that was on page one of one of my books. Some of it’s getting lucky, you know, I’m not going to say I have a crystal ball and can see it all. And then, sometimes, it’s knowing what not to put in the book that’s even more important than what you do put in.”

Indeed, First Commandment, which came out in 2007, literally opened with a prisoner exchange where the U.S. swapped five men who were jailed for various acts of terrorism, and actually showed them being ushered onto a plane so they could be traded. Not four men. Not six men. Five men—the exact same number of prisoners who would be swapped for Bergdahl nearly seven years later.

Maybe it does come down to luck sometimes, but Thor has been “lucky” more than just about anyone else.

While on the subject of headlines, the conversation naturally turned to COVID-19, and I asked Thor if he would be writing the virus into his next book.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever do it, to be honest with you,” Thor said. “I think people want an escape, and I’m in the escape business. I’ve had other people ask me if I’ll put COVID in the next book, and I just don’t think so. I did a virus in Code of Conduct and I did a bioweapon in Blow Back. I think if you read one of my books, you want to get away from everything. I don’t want to have to deal with Harvath in a mask or worrying about if the café tables in Paris are six feet apart from each other. I don’t want to live in that world, and I don’t want to write in that world, so therefore I won’t.”

Honesty, can you blame him? I think right about now, we’re all sick and tired of COVID and could use a little bit of an escape. Having already read Near Dark twice, I can promise you—that’s exactly what you’ll get with Thor’s new book. And right now, we need it more than ever.

Thank you to The Real Book Spy and Brad Thor! We will be sure to pick up a copy of Near Dark.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

MY ONLINE (NON) ROMANCE

by Lisa Black

We’ve all gotten them. The friend requests from someone designed to catch our eye. Men will get well-endowed models. Young women will get hunky 20-somethings. Older women like me will get distinguished, successful silver foxes. Most of you are smart, decide you have no idea who this person is, and hit Decline. As part of my ongoing research into scams and scammers, I click Accept. Problem is, they’re never as entertaining as I expect, because they’re almost regimentally similar.

- They don’t seem to understand first names and last names, often listing themselves as “James Mark” or “Smith Joseph” or “Harrison Keith.” On top of that they often put an entirely different name in parentheses, as if that’s going to make them sound more authentic. Sure, someone with an alias sounds like terrific boyfriend material. I asked John Gabriel (Arif Arif) if his name was John or Arif, and he said he uses one ‘because of the Taliband.’ I pointed out that posting the alias on Facebook was hardly secure. We didn’t last long as a couple.

- They’ll have a few photos, half of which will be flowers or puppies. Selfies will usually be cropped just enough so that a Google Image search won’t find the true owner, but many times they’re too lazy to even do that.

- Their status is always widowed, with a child or two of school age. Wait for it, this child will have some sort of medical condition down the road that requires funds, though you would think a military contractor stationed in Afghanistan would make pretty good money.

- They’ll be from some large city in the U.S. though their English skills sound suspiciously like something run through Google Translate.

- Usually very little other information is provided. They don’t bother, and there could be several reasons for that--they’re casting as wide a net as possible, or they think lonely old ladies are so desperate they’ll jump at any Friend Request out there, or they’re simply lazy. But I think it’s mostly a matter of efficiency. They’re not going to last long on Facebook, because quickly, often within days, someone will report the profile as spam and they’ll be kicked off. (This surprises me, because when I report the profile I usually get a message back that it ‘doesn’t violate community standards.’)

- When they do fill in anything in the ‘About’ section, take a look . They’ll have the sense to list American TV shows and maybe celebrities among Likes, but the walls begin to crumble in Music and Sports. After all, young men have very firm opinions on their music and sports. Now there’s no reason why your blue-eyed engineer from Dallas can’t be following a Bangladesh cricket team or listening to Ghanese singer Sark Gh. I appreciate a man who has international tastes. But these entries fascinate me. Are they a private joke among the scammers? Do they think I won’t bother looking past the silver fox’s photo? Or are they a Freudian slip, a breadcrumb of truth they simply can’t help dropping?

- Once you accept their friend request, you’ll get an instant message, usually within hours. It will say ‘hi’ or ‘hello dear.’ Very rarely will they use your name, even though your entire profile is only a click away. They just friended a writer named Lisa in Florida, but they don’t bat an eye when I tell them I’m a waitress named Chloe in Wisconsin.

- After you’ve become fast friends, very fast, they will want to get you off Facebook as quickly as possible, preferably to Hangouts, a chatting app. This is where my research breaks down since I’m not going to use my real phone number. I told charming James Mark that my mother won’t let me install apps on my phone. That produced a flurry of texts.

James Mark: Tell your mom/ That I’m so interested to make good friendships with you in honesty trust and understanding way/ I won’t tell you do any bad
C: Yeah, I don’t think she’s going to buy that. Why can’t you just email me? 
I did get him to move to email, but he continued to harangue poor Chloe to get on Hangouts. The army surgeon threw up excuses about not knowing how to use ‘confusing’ email, and that for some reason his UN barrister would get suspicious if he emailed her. Chloe had had it.
C: I AM NOT GOING TO DOWNLOAD THE APP. If that’s a deal-breaker, so be it. We’ve got coronavirus up the wazoo over here, and I don’t have time to deal with this. I would think a surgeon in Syria would have a lot more to worry about than some phone app.

Jimmy gave up after this, and took himself, his army career, and his 10 year old in the Canadian boarding school back to the drawing board.

And that’s why I’m having trouble finding love on the internet.

How about you? Have you had requests that looked legit but turned out to be scams?  

Sunday, July 5, 2020

SUPPORTING LOCAL BOOKSTORES

by Karna Small Bodman

Even before Covid-19 forced many bookstores to close, several faced the challenge of online shopping and the rising popularity of e-books vs. the print variety. Now that we all have been spending more time at home, working virtually, self-quarantining and all the rest, people are finding more time to read great books they simply could not get through before. (Have you read War and Peace yet?) Now, it turns out that certain independent bookstores are defying the odds and thriving with online sales, curbside pickup, and especially organizing Zoom events with bestselling authors as their speakers. Some of the most successful stores are owned by authors. I’d like to tell you about them.



Novelist Ann Patchett, along with her business partner, Karen Hayes, own Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. In spite of the competition, they built up a thriving business by attracting customers with Children’s Storytime, book clubs, author readings, a bookmobile and a first-editions subscription box, among other inducements. Throughout the pandemic, Ann Patchett kept spreading the word about her store and her books by posting photos on Instagram showing her in a ballgown or cocktail dress because, she says, “the alternative was staying in yoga pants for the rest of my life.” She also uses her account to offer compelling book recommendations.
At the moment the store is busy with online sales and curbside pickups and hope to reopen soon. Meanwhile, you might like to check out Ann’s latest book, The Dutch House, already a bestseller.


Remember the great novelist and screenwriter, Larry McMurtry who usually set his stories in the Old West or contemporary Texas? Sure you do. Who could forget the famous television miniseries that earned 18 Emmy award nominations – winning 7, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove. What you may not know is that he opened a bookstore with two partners in Georgetown, Washington, DC back in 1970, named BOOKED UP, which became one of the largest used bookstores in the United States, carrying 450,000 titles. Eventually, he decided to move the store to Archer, TX. He sold some of his inventory in an historic auction, but today his store still carries 200,000 titles of “Fine, Rare, and Scholarly” books. Besides Lonesome Dove, you probably recall other novels such as Horseman, Pass By, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment which were adapted into films earning some 26 Oscar nominations and 10 wins.

I wanted to include something special for children here as well. An international bestselling author of books for them is Jeff Kinney, who became famous for his Wimpy Kid stories. Next in the series, which will be book #15, is titled The Deep End Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and will be released in October.. For families who have been hunkered down at home with their children,  this is something  to look forward to, although reading the other Wimpy Kid books to them right now could be a most entertaining exercise. Jeff Kinney also owns a bookstore, AN UNLIKELY STORY, in Plainville, Massachusetts.



Finally, up in Brooklyn, author Emma Straub created the BOOKS ARE MAGIC. This store features many virtual events which you can check on their website (note several coming up this month). The owner-author has a new novel out, All Adults Here, which The Wall Street Journal describes as a “Perfect novel for summer reading.” And People Magazine called Emma Straub a “Master analyst of romantic relationships … witty and wise tales.” Other popular titles include Modern Lovers, The Vacationers and Laura’s Life in Pictures. These bestselling books are now sold in 15 countries.

This is just a sampling of the many independent bookstores owned and operated by authors. During these trying times (and in the future), I hope we all can support our local bookstores, no matter the ownership, of course.

Question: What bookstores do you have in your own community that you would like to recommend and support? Leave a comment so we can share your thoughts, and thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

Friday, July 3, 2020

ROGUE WOMEN JUNE ROUNDUP!


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

In early June, NYT best-selling author, Laurie R. King went Rogue, sharing info about her writing style, daily routine and divulging details on her newest release, RIVIERA GOLD.

Nest, best-selling thriller writer Joseph Badal came by and filled in the secrets behind his latest novel, PAYBACK.

Who knew that Heather Young harbors a hidden literary passion for fantasy and sci-fi. It's a passion that informs her newest release, THE DISTANT DEAD, and makes it a book we all need to read.

June 15 marked the first ROGUE READS online presentation featuring special guests: Robin Burcell, John Gilstrap, Joseph Badal and Don Bentley. You definitely want to check out the Rogue Reads video on the Rogue Facebook page.

The Real Book Spy's Rogue Recommendation, Mike Maden, releases his final Jack Ryan Junior novel FIRING POINT, and passes off the franchise to Don Bentley. A terrific choice for a replacement, but Maden will be missed.

Have you ever wondered where the name Ponzi came from, as in Ponzi scheme? Lisa Black reveals that the name comes from Charles Ponzi, an Italian who came to America with dreams, BIG dreams. He saw BIG profits, too, until....

Friday, June 26, 2020

COMING OF AGE IN THE TIME OF COVID

by Chris Goff

I celebrated a birthday a few weeks back, one that marks retirement for many people. But not a writer. Right?

That's something I am. I have four training books on the shelf and eight books published novels  I've had some success, garnered some critical acclaim, won a few awards. I have yet to hit the New York Times list, but there's time.

With Covid and quarantine, we've had nothing but time. My husband is now working from home, so we have a routine. After coffee, we both head to our separate offices, then convene for lunch and dinner, and our daily walk at the end of the day. Outings have consisted of trips to the grocery store to let someone put bags in the trunk―bags that occasionally contain the items we ordered, but more often a list of what couldn't be filled.

Yet, with all that time...

I've got nothing. 

In three months of quarantine, I've written and rewritten a few chapters of a few new books. I've thought the stories through. I know where they start. I know approximately where they end. I've thought up some great plot twists, developed some interesting characters, been intrigued by some complicated, timely and interesting story ideas. And yet nothing's panned out.

I sit down at the computer, fill some pages, then slow to a grinding halt. I soon find myself rewriting a few paragraphs over and over. I spend hours crafting one or two sentences, which I eventually abandon.

I've done great work.

For other people!

For ITW, I put in hours and hours judging manuscripts in the Best Paperback Original category.

For the Colorado Book Awards, I spent hours and hours producing events and building interest in Finalist books (I got paid for this).

For SinC and MWA, I dedicated massive amounts of volunteer hours, produced webinars and videos, hosted Zoom sessions.

For Rogue Women Writers, I helped launch Rogue Reads.

I'm finding it hard to sleep.

I started soul searching.

Growing up an only child, I figured quarantine would be a piece of cake. After all, I know how to entertain myself. I have never lacked for solitary endeavors. I love to read. I love to knit (mostly baby sweaters or crazy scarfs—projects easily completed). I love making things—sewing projects, needlepoint, sculptures, cribbage boards, paintings. I do not lack for arts and crafts projects. And I have home projects out the wazoo—filling in ancestry charts, organizing photos, sifting through the massive collection of stuff you gather in 38 years of marriage.

At a time when there is nothing but time, I'm finding it hard to concentrate.

I'm making lists.

To be honest, I've always made lists. They help me prioritize, and keep me on task. I put writing at the top and then watched it slip slowly down in importance, usurped by things like FAMILY, UNFINISHED BUSINESS (work or volunteer commitments or taxes), UNFINISHED PROJECTS.

The funny thing is, the items seem to circulate. WRITING moves back to the top, followed by PROJECTS, followed by....

I'm finding things aren't getting done.

I'm giving myself permission.

I've decided that it's okay. If I don't write for a few months, I'll write again. If the projects sit uncompleted, they will be there when I want to tackle them again.

18 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a life-changing moment. There were surgeries, missed deadlines, lost contracts, new contracts. I swore at the time my outlook on living would be different going forward, and for a time it was. I relished being alive, cherishing the days. But like most people who experience the "wake up call" heart attack, the diagnosis of a chronic illness, the loss of a loved one, time has a way of putting those moments into perspective. It might take years, but most of us slip back into complacency.

That happened to me. I began to fall back into comfortable patterns, and before I knew it, I was back on the treadmill—over-committed, over-extended and wishing I had room to focus on things that matter the most, like family and friends and breathing.

I'm giving myself time.

Part of this changing world is taking the time to reevaluate and reassess. To ask the BIG questions. What is it I want to do with the time I have left? What is it I'm on this earth do do? Where can I make a difference? What brings me joy?

COVID-19 is here to stay for a while. I've heard projections that say things won't get back to "normal" for between two and eight years. Timelines like that mean there will be a new normal. For instance, can you ever imagine blowing out the candles on a birthday cake again, and then sharing pieces of that cake with your family and friends.

I'm taking baby steps.

WRITING has recently topped the list again. I have three very different ideas. One for a Birdwatcher's Mystery novel; one for a domestic thriller set in western Colorado; and one for an international thriller that takes place in the United States. One is lighthearted and fun; one is marketable; one is difficult, complicated and would be a hard sell. Guess which one I'm leaning toward?

And, to give myself a jump start, I've signed up for an ITW Master Class. My instructor, William Bernhardt, founder of the Red Sneaker Writers Center, just touched base, and I felt a flutter of excitement. I've taught Master Class, but right now I'm in need of a teacher. Like I said, baby steps.

How is this pandemic treating you? Are you struggling, or are you more productive than ever? Are you lonely, or spending too much time Zooming with friends and wishing for some quiet time? 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

THE PONZI SCHEME'S NOT-SO-HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

by Lisa Black

We’ve all heard of Ponzi schemes, the shorthand often (but not always) deserved. The name comes from Charles Ponzi, born in Italy in 1882, intelligent and educated (he apparently attended the university of Rome) and charming—oh, so charming. He came to America with big dreams, worked odd jobs, moved to Canada and worked in a bank. Unfortunately the bank went bankrupt and Charles, without funds, passed bad checks. Like any dutiful son he wrote his mother, but told her he was working at the jail rather than incarcerated there.

Afterwards, he came up with his first scheme, one that may sound a bit confusing to those of us who don’t do a lot of international mailing. ‘International Reply Coupons’ are coupons to cover the cost of return mail to the country of origin. These were designed by the Universal Postal Union, a grouping that has officially existed since 1874, and today is a division of the United Nations. (I’m a lifelong mail junkie, and I’d never heard of it.) Like an economic union, it establishes systems and rules so that mail can flow between countries without having to set up a separate agreement between each one. The IRCs were enclosed so that the recipient could send a reply without having to obtain foreign stamps or worry about sufficient postage. This practice only died out in the 2010s. Point is, Charles figured out he could get people in other countries to buy IRCs there and send them to him, he could exchange them for more valuable stamps, and then sell those. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but profit margins topped 400%. Charles warmed to the race in a white-hot blaze.

He could do more with more, so he recruited investors, promising them 50% profit in forty-five days, or 100% in ninety. (Of course, 12% is considered a healthy rate of return, and that’s over a year!) Did they know they were investing in mail fraud? Were they more co-conspirators than victims? It’s uncertain—the scheme sounds legal, and Ponzi most likely told them it was. The happy investors told others, and more came, and more. But Ponzi paid out those profits with funds coming in from new investors, not with funds generated from the stamps scheme, a pyramid doomed to crumble. But in the meantime, man, life was good for Charles Ponzi.

He bought a mansion in Massachusetts with air conditioning and a heated swimming pool, over-the-top luxuries in 1920. He bought a Locomobile, the finest car of its day. He reportedly made $250,000 a day. That’s over three million in 2020 dollars. A day.

Of course it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. The Boston Post (yay, investigative reporting!) heard tales of wild profits and came to check it out, spooking investors who then tried to pull their money back out. The pyramid collapsed, and on August 12 one hundred years ago, Ponzi was arrested for eighty-six counts of mail fraud. He pled, went to jail for fourteen years, and died penniless in Rio de Janeiro in 1949. The scheme’s collapse deprived his investors of $20 million (nearly $26 million today) and ruined six different banks.

He even stole credit for the scheme, though he probably didn’t mean to. Twenty years before Ponzi’s reign, New York bookkeeper William Miller promised investors 10% per week, and defrauded investors of over a million dollars. And they continue well into the new millennium with people like Bernie Madoff, Tom Petters, and Lou Pearlman, the mogul who created NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. 

But those are the ones we know about. When I was a newlywed, my husband worked as an auto mechanic at a car dealership. One day he came home with news about an ‘investment club’ that some of his coworkers were talking about; they would ‘buy-in’ and then get their profits back as they helped recruit new investors. I still give thanks that, along with inheriting my father’s very no-nonsense attitude about money, I had happened to read a fun little book called The Perfect Crime and How to Commit It by Pamela Jekel. Each chapter is a different type of crime, and one dealt with fraud. I warned my husband off it, but some of his coworkers didn’t listen to him and lost money—not millions, but to the average working stiff, any amount hurts. You might say a book saved my bank account (and maybe my marriage!). 

What about you? Do you know the victim of a scheme?

Friday, June 19, 2020

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

by The Real Book Spy

It’s hard to state just what Mike Maden has meant to the Jack Ryan universe. Years back, I broke the news on The Real Book Spy that both Mark Greaney (Jack Ryan books) and Grant Blackwood (Jack Junior books) would be moving on from the franchise—with Marc Cameron and Mike Maden replacing them, respectively. 

Now, here we are almost five years later, and Maden is gearing up to release his final contribution to Clancy’s iconic franchise, FIRING POINT.

Those paying close attention might have caught the announcement a couple of weeks ago that Without Sanction (2019) author Don Bentley would stepping in for Maden, taking over the Jack Ryan Junior books starting in 2021. While Bentley is a terrific choice, and one heck of a fine writer, there’s no question that Maden’s presence will be missed. It’s also clear that Maden will leave the franchise better off than he found it, which is really saying something.

Maden’s first Clancy thriller, Point of Contact, came out in 2017 and marked a subtle shift in the tone of the books. Whereas Blackwood found success staying true to the style often seen in traditional political/techno thrillers, Maden infused more action into the stories—which was evident from the first chapter on, when he opened his first Jack Ryan Junior book with a Brad Thor-like action sequence that set the tone for the three books to follow.

Now, with this one, Jack Junior sees his dream vacation morph into a nightmare when a suicide bomber blows up a café moments after Jack runs into an old classmate and former lover. With her dying breath, she leaves Jack a vague clue that he can’t help but follow up on in his quest to track down the group behind the attack. As always, though, it soon becomes clean that there’s more to the story than what originally meets the eye, and it’s up to Jack Ryan Junior to put all the pieces together before it’s too late.

Consider this Maden’s mike drop of a moment, as he exits the Clancy universe with another high-flying thriller that’s not to be missed.

RESEARCHING A TOM CLANCY NOVEL

by Mike Maden

One of the questions I’m asked most often on book tours and media interviews is how I go about researching the wide variety of subjects in my novels including economics, politics and of course, military technology.

The hallmark of all great Tom Clancy novels is the depth of knowledge he displayed in his work, particularly in regard to military technology. He was so good at it that he was able to elevate the technology itself to “character” status and his ability to do this is why I argue that he single-handedly invented the modern techno-thriller genre as we now know it. Before Tom Clancy, a woman had a pistol in her hand. After Tom Clancy, she held a Glock 19 with fifteen rounds in the mag, the polymer grip slick with the sweat of her palm.

Readers marveled at the early Tom Clancy novels in particular. It appeared as if he had access to top secret information that no civilian should have. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had current or retired military personnel approach me at book signings and tell me variations of this story: “I was reading a Tom Clancy novel while on duty and was shocked to discover he was discussing a weapons system that I had only just heard about because of my TS clearance.” Tom Clancy was totally analog, and completely brilliant.

So let me sidebar here and say this: as great as a storyteller as Tom Clancy was, I think his real gift was his ability to do research. It’s not hard for me to look like I know what I’m talking about because I have the internet and search engines. But back in the day when Tom Clancy was first writing, he was hanging out at the public library, digging through card catalogs and microfiche. (If you aren’t personally familiar with those ancient artifacts, Google them.)

Because I write in the techno-thriller genre, I spend a great deal of time researching combat systems and particular weapons technologies. But techno-thrillers are ultimately about organized violence either by governments or individuals. If I’ve done my job well, the reader roots for the good guys with guns who take out the bad guys with guns. But for me, these stories are only interesting (and I’m only able to touch upon the “truth” embedded within them) when I ground the characters in their political, historical and cultural contexts. Why are the “bad guys” bad? What motivates them? Why do they think they’re the “heroes” in their own stories? My research helps me to get to these truthful moments in my fictional writing.

So, yes, I invest many long hours on internet searches ferreting out all kinds of information and I work very hard to get it right. But there are some facts you simply can’t get on an internet search and that’s why I also travel to as many of the places I describe in my novels as I can, including a trip to Spain (and in particular, Catalonia) for my current novel, FIRING POINT. It’s important for me to tell the best story and I can and even though I’m writing fiction, I’m also trying to tell the truth about my characters and the worlds they inhabit if for no other reason than my desire for authenticity.

While it’s never possible to become an expert in matters of history and culture in a short period of time, you can get a taste of these things. Speaking of which, I do want to assure my readers that if one of my characters in FIRING POINT indulges in a glass of tangy, bubbly cava or relishes the soft crunch of a deep fried bomba, well, let me tell you, that was the kind of authentic research I was happy to conduct…and verify…and test again, just to be sure, ya know?

Thank you to The Real Book Spy and Mike Maden. We can't wait to read Firing Point!

Friday, June 12, 2020

HEATHER YOUNG GOES ROGUE

by Chris Goff

The Rogues are thrilled to welcome Heather Young. Heather earned her law degree from the University of Virginia, and practiced law in San Francisco before beginning her writing career. She received an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, a Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and has studied at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop and the Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Mill Valley, California. THE DISTANT DEAD is her second novel.

by Heather Young


I have loved mysteries and thrillers ever since I got my hands on Harriet the Spy in second grade. Before I finished high school I’d torn through all the classics: Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Nero Wolfe; John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Robert B. Parker. So when I wrote my first novel, The Lost Girls, it seemed natural to hang the plot around a mysterious death.

But the mystery/thriller genre wasn’t my only literary passion. I also gorged on fantasy and sci-fi--The Lord of the Rings, Dune, anything by Ursula K. LeGuin or Neil Gaiman. I admire authors like Erika Swyler and Kate Atkinson who bring elements of this genre into their literary novels with deft assurance. I’d never thought I had the skill or imagination to do that, but while writing my second novel, The Distant Dead, I decided to try it.

It didn’t work. My early drafts had supernatural elements that I thought were really nifty but that my editor, gently and over several months, persuaded me to take out. Unlike the reincarnation premise of Atkinson’s Life After Life or the magical book in Swyler’s The Book of Speculation, they felt gimmicky. Worse—and this was what finally convinced me they had to go—I realized these elements were a crutch that kept me from doing the hard work of showing, rather than telling, what characters were thinking and feeling. (There were telepathic powers involved—talk about cheating!). So, despite my best efforts, The Distant Dead doesn’t have magic, or supernatural talents, or visits from the titular dead people. Well, okay, maybe it does have that last one, just a little bit.

But I did pay tribute to my love for speculative fiction in other ways.

One of my main characters is an eleven-year-old boy named Sal. Sal isn’t the mind-reader I originally imagined him to be, but he is deeply empathic; a quiet, watchful boy whose ability to read people is so acute that he thinks of it as an actual superpower. He’s also an imaginative child who loves graphic novels about angels and demons and monsters. He fills notebook after notebook with his own illustrated stories about two warring archangels, estranged brothers who lead the armies of Heaven and Hell. As Sal falls deeper under the spell of his favorite teacher, the man whose death drives the book’s mystery plot, these imaginary characters come to represent the moral weight of the secrets he is forced to carry, and their long-running contest becomes a battle over the true meaning of honor.

Sal also buys a copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book at his middle school book fair. For Sal, a fatherless boy whose mother has just died, this book speaks straight to his heart. It’s about a young orphan who finds shelter among the ghosts in an old cemetery, kindly spirits who protect him from the evil forces who killed his family. They also grant him the “powers of the graveyard,” which enable him to see the dead and move unnoticed among the living. Soon Sal imagines that he, too, might be able to talk to the dead if he tries hard enough. Like any kid who reads Harry Potter or The Once and Future King under the covers when they’re supposed to be sleeping, he longs to be the hero of his own story. But in Sal’s case, his vivid imagination, empathy, and desire to be a savior lead him to make a decision that has fatal consequences for the only person left on earth that he truly cares about.

While The Distant Dead wound up being a different book than the one I started, in that weird, alchemic way of most writing it turned out to be exactly the book I wanted it to be. It’s grounded not in fantasy but in the real world, with all its grit and odd moments of joy. It rests on characters whose motives are illuminated not by a superpower but by the complexity of their actions. The solution to its mystery is not magical but tragically human. And, above all else, it’s a bittersweet, heartfelt love letter to all those kids who smuggle flashlights into their bedrooms and imagine that they, too, could pull a sword from a stone or wave a magic wand. Kids like the one I once was.

Thank you for blogging with us today, Heather! We can't wait to read your latest book THE DISTANT DEAD

Monday, June 8, 2020

JOSEPH BADAL GOES ROGUE

by Karna Small Bodman

I'm delighted to welcome bestselling author Joseph Badal as our guest blogger. I first met Joe at Thrillerfest some years ago and learned that he first served as a commissioned officer in the US Army in highly classified positions, then he worked in the banking and financial services industries for nearly four decades. Joe has utilized this impressive background as inspiration for his 16 suspense novels, including several stand-alone thrillers along with his series. Here he tells us about his exciting new novel which will be out on June 20.


by Joseph Badal


Payback is my 16th novel and my 4th standalone. I find writing a standalone story in between books in my three series to be liberating. Taking a break from my series forces me to take a different creative path, with new characters and innovative plot lines.

When I started Payback, I wanted to include several elements that I felt would be entertaining for the reader. First, I wanted to present a protagonist who was as close to real life as possible. Someone that the average reader would be able to relate to. My characters, unlike those in many thrillers, do not leap tall buildings in a single bound nor do they rush headlong into dangerous situations. Bruno Pedace has avoided conflict and confrontation his entire life. I wanted the reader to be sympathetic toward Bruno but, at the same time, wanted him to stand up for himself.

The second element I wanted to inject in the story was a strong female character who had overcome a difficult background and who would befriend Bruno. Janet Jenkins is that character. She is a strong, caring individual who becomes an inspiration for Bruno. Bruno and Janet become good friends and, at the end, the reader is left with the hope that they will become more than that.

The third element I put in Payback is an historical connection to the irresponsible behavior of the investment banking community during the Capital Markets Meltdown that occurred in 2007-2009. I wanted the reader to understand how the economic upheaval that affected almost everyone came about, without getting too deeply into the weeds and turning the book into a financial thriller alone. The antagonist in this novel is an investment banker, Sy Rosen, who is a sinister character who will do anything to preserve his power and to grow his wealth.

Payback is a thriller about everyday people who are confronted with evil and must decide how to react. Do they run? Do they stand up and combat evil? There is a common theme that runs through all my books: the triumph of good over evil. Payback is perhaps the penultimate example of that good versus evil battle.

We’re sure you will enjoy Payback as much as author David Morrell who described it as “Another thrill ride . . . relentless from start to finish. Badal just gets better and better.” Join us for Rogue Reads on June 15, 2020 to hear Joseph Badal read from this book, For more info click here.

Friday, June 5, 2020

LAURIE R. KING GOES ROGUE

by Karna Small Bodman

We are delighted to welcome guest blogger, Laurie R. King – the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

Author Lee Child describes this series as “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.” In the newest installment, Riviera Gold, Mary and Sherlock turn the Riviera upside down to crack their most captivating case yet.

In addition to this series of fourteen mysteries, Laurie has penned a number of other bestselling stories as you can see here.

Now, Laurie tells us about her writing style, daily routine and other personal details.


1. Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence? The last, definitely. The first sentence is usually a thing that has been living in the recesses of my mind for the weeks—months—while I was waiting to start the book. Not that the first sentence doesn’t change, or become the first line in chapter two or three, but there’s usually such a relief at being allowed at last to start the book, I hit the ground with my feet already in motion. The last sentence, on the other hand, is so incredibly important, that final taste the reader will have before the book closes, that sentence that needs to wrap it all up and tie the knot and encourage the reader to sit for a moment in satisfaction AND make them look forward to the next book—I mean, so much rides on that last sentence, the only thing that gets anything written that day is the nagging deadline and the reassurance that it’s not carved in stone.

2. What's your favorite word? One word? I couldn’t begin to choose one. But I love words that are so specific, you can’t use them more than once or twice in a novel. Miasma. Gusto. Languid. Dubious. Fraught. 

3. Where do you like to write? I have a very nice study, the size of a two-car garage because that’s what it was, with a dark purple carpet and shelves on all the walls. A study that is currently filled with workout equipment since the other three people in the house, including one who teaches workout classes, need some place to exercise. So I’m writing in a corner of the bedroom. Although it’s a very nice corner of the bedroom, and there’s nobody lifting weights or running the treadmill in it.

4. What do you do when you need to take a break from writing? Depends on what you mean by a break. I’m always writing something—if not a first draft, then a rewrite; if not a novel, then a short story or essay or (ahem) Q&A. They’re all on keyboards, true, but they all seem to draw from a different part of the brain. Longer-term, I don’t write much when I’m traveling, unless it’s a long trip and I have a deadline. Travel might be exhausting, but it definitely renews the writing sections of the brain.

5. If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be? If I could take along modern medical and dental practices? I think I’d have found a good niche as an abbess in one of the more progressive Medieval convents. Though preferably not during a time of plague…

6. What's your favorite drink? What time of day is it? Well, over a 24-hour period, the drink whose cups outnumber all others is tea: black in the morning, herbal in the evening. 

7. When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? Because I’d never met a writer, it didn’t occur to me that actual people wrote the books I took down from the library shelves. Instead, I assumed I’d be a teacher, an attitude that persisted through grad school when I began to realize that with small kids and a husband looking longingly at retirement, I wasn’t going to spend seven years on a PhD in order to teach at university level. So I sat down to write a story, thinking that perhaps I could tell some stories… and I could.

8. Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories? I think that would be a group, rather than one individual: the Golden Age women of crime, who told the stories they wanted, and it turned out the reading world wanted them too. Ladies like Sayers and Tey and Allingham and Christie, who ended up patting the boy writers on the head and gently setting them aside. 

9. Describe your very first car. A 1954 Chevy. This was 1973 or 4. I’d traded my sister for a guitar, since she was off to Africa and couldn’t drive there, and I was living with someone and couldn’t inflict my guitar-playing and folk-singing on him. We called the car Proud Beauty—black, round, smelled of horsehair and long years of being parked in the sun. I drove her for years until someone else fell in love with her and I upgraded…to a 1939 Chevy. That one had a handle you pushed down to open a vent that blew onto your feet: thirties air conditioning.

10. Do you write what you know or what you want to know? What I know is boring. Where I’ve been is interesting—but even then, a setting isn’t in itself an exciting story. So what I aim for is something that fascinates me, because I know that the fascination will show up in the writing. Of course, that means I have to take care with research, and make sure I don’t describe a place or event in a way that betrays my ignorance. (And one thing that always makes me ridiculously happy is when someone who knows a place or thing writes to say that I got it right. Yay, research!)

11. Is there anything you’d like to tell us – maybe about your upcoming book? Or is there a question we’ve forgotten to ask or that you wished we’d asked? Does there seem to be a theme in these replies? Proud Beauty, Golden Age crime writers, and monastic abbesses? Yes, the next book is in a series, but is focused on an under-appreciated member of the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes world: Mrs. Hudson. Old ladies like her (and, I have to admit, me) can be invisible, unimportant—and slyly subversive.

Thank you, Laurie, for being our guest. We all look forward to reading your new mystery which will be released on June 9.