Monday, October 31, 2016


by Chris Goff

Carved by Chris Goff
I've never been really big on Halloween. Suffice it to say, I grew up on a mountain in Colorado with only two other houses around--and they were filled with old people. Any trick-or-treating I did required my mom or dad to bundle me into the car and drive me around. On top of it all, I can't remember a Halloween where my costume wasn't ruined by the need to wear long-johns and a coat. Imagine a genie or princess wearing heavy tights and a parka. Though, I have to admit, I once won a box camera in the Mountain Pharmacy costume contest dressed as an Indian maiden. I wore my Campfire Grills uniform with a black wig braided with two braids and my moccasins.

But prize-winning contests and all, most of my Halloweens were spent at home watching horror movies with one or two friends. My all time favorite was The Haunting of Hill House based on the 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson. The novel was a Finalist for the National Book Award, and if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, you should consider it! Stephen King provides a lengthy review of The Haunting of Hill House in his book Danse Macabre, a non-fiction review of the horror genre, and cites the book as one of the finest horror novels written in the 20th century.

The book was adapted for the movies twice—once in 1963 and once in 1999—both times under The Haunting. The 1963 version is a relatively faithful adaptation (the other isn't) that has reached cult status. Martin Scorsese placed it on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time and, to this day, it scares the crap out of me. I'm...well, suffice it to say I'm getting older, but if I wake up with any appendage hanging off the side of the bed, I freak! It's sort of like how The Exorcist ruined Ouija Boards for most of my generation.

That's not to say I never dressed up, or helped my children dress up for Halloween. I like to think I'm pretty creative! It's a trait I've instilled in many of my children. Here are a few of the examples of Goff Family members decked out for Halloween.

Addie (on the right) was the puppy Queen, pictured here with one of her subjects, her good friend, Megan,

while here she was a little Devil.

Here Danielle convinced her to dress up as a Troll and come up for college Halloween party at CSU. The wispy smoke effect is actually odd lights on the negative, courtesy of the ghost that haunted Danielle's house. (No kidding!! We had to call in Ghost Busters, who monitored the situation, and then declared the house haunted and left!)

In this picture, I'm not sure if Mardee's supposed to be Carrot Top or just a rocker,

but I know she's St. Pauli's Girl here, as I made the costume.

And finally, on the rare occasion that Wes and I dressed up for Halloween and attended a costume party, we went as—you guessed it—Martha Stewart and her prison guard. Note: I looked for a picture of me in my favorite costume of all time, and I couldn't find it. In college, I once went to a party dressed as Pinocchio. I wore the Lederhosen I bought traveling in Germany and rigged a nose I could actually make grow. I told all kinds of lies that night—in-training to be a writer.

What was your favorite horror novel, or movie, or Halloween costume? Please share!

Sunday, October 30, 2016


by Sonja Stone

True Confessions from the Trenches.

Halloween cookies by Sonja Stone
I do everything obsessively, including decorating cookies.
As a child, Halloween was my favorite holiday (second only to Christmas). I enjoyed dressing in disguise, stealing through the neighborhood incognito (spy fanatic, remember?). But my love of costumes paled compared to my love of free, unlimited candy. That’s right: I was a sugar addict. Every year I’d collect my share in a pillowcase, take it all home, dump it on the living room floor for inspection. Discard any open packages, trade with my sister: my smarties for her peanut butter cups. Then I’d sneak behind the couch and stuff myself until my parents realized I’d gone missing. 

I'm a cookie artist AND a makeup artist!
As an adult, I loathe Halloween. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve never liked the idea of hooligans running round the city all night. I turn out my lights and set a huge bowl of candy on the front porch with a sign that reads, “Please take one piece only!” Then I watch through the peephole as the very first trick-or-treaters dump the entire bowl into their knapsacks. I’m the crotchety old man of the neighborhood.

Thanksgiving, however, is another story entirely. It’s the one day a year I host an event (introvert). The same three families have been gathering at my house to celebrate Thanksgiving for over a decade. I’m a traditionalist: turkey, gravy, garlic-roasted mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole (more cheese and Ritz crackers than actual vegetables), sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar, cranberry sauce. Then the deserts: apple pie, pumpkin pie made with fresh roasted pumpkins, pumpkin creme brûlée, pumpkin ice cream (made from scratch), and a pear and cranberry crisp.

Interestingly, every year I have a major writing deadline that falls within days of Thanksgiving. It never fails. And in case I haven’t mentioned it: I’m not much of a multi-tasker.

So back to the headline: The Glamorous Life of an Author. 

I just handed in the first draft of my manuscript (the sequel to DESERT DARK). For the three weeks or so leading up to the submission, I went completely MIA. This was my schedule: wake up, drink coffee, start writing, drink more coffee, write, forage for food (not homemade), write, drink iced tea, write, write, write. Notice what’s missing: doing the laundry, exercising, returning phone calls, doing dishes, posting on social media, being a productive member of society in any way/shape/form. I’m not gonna lie to you: it got pretty ugly.

So the past few days (since the glorious moment I hit ‘send’), I’ve spent catching up on life. A dentist appointment, grocery shopping, paying bills, unpacking boxes—from my move in JUNE. My iPhone reports that I have 19 new voicemails, 12 unread text messages, and 1,543 unopened emails. 

Here’s what I don’t understand: every single one of my blog sisters seems to manage writing, family life, socializing, and leisure time while STILL making deadlines and authoring amazing thrillers. 

As we enter into the holiday season (though at 91 degrees here in Phoenix, it doesn’t feel like fall), I would like to state publicly my End-of-Year-Resolution (that’s not a thing; I just made it up): For the remaining two months of 2016, I will strive for more balance in my life. Because I’ve discovered that all work and no play might make Jack a dull boy, but it makes Sonja a raving lunatic.

What about you? Does anyone else struggle with the work-life balance (please say yes)? Leave your confessions in the comment section below!

Friday, October 28, 2016


Jessica Emily Marx for The New York Times
By Francine Mathews

I've never been a girl who loves Halloween. But I'm totally infatuated with autumn: crisp walks, brilliant blue skies here in Colorado, the smell of decaying leaves and cooling dirt as the dogs stir up the undergrowth with their paws. I love the way Nature gets down to the bare bones of things. Tree branches, liminal against the distant mountains. The last roses dwindling to hips and swelling against the coming cold. 

And one of the best things about the shift in season is the change in cravings and the way I think about food. The way I browse through grocery stores and plan menus. I eat simply in summer--everything fresh, light, often cold or raw. White or rose, instead of red wine. But when the temperatures drop, I suddenly want comfort. For me, that takes the form of roasted cauliflower with parmesan and thyme; chicken curry; butternut squash soup with bacon and kale; beef ragout and pappardelle. 

Or the salted caramel brownies pictured above.

This is not my recipe. It's Julia Moskin's from the New York Times Cooking section, which is one go-to source of inspiration in any season of the year. These brownies take time. They involve careful attention, because homemade caramel is a challenge if you've never done it before, but the result is so hands-down enslaving you'll never bother with another brownie recipe again. I made them to bring to my book group this evening, but I ate one for breakfast.

They'd be a great substitute for dinner, too, with a glass of bourbon or tawny port by the fire.

All of which is not to say that I turn out the lights and draw the shades when the Trick-or-Treaters stop by. I skip the fake witches and trailing spider webs and plastic gravestones on the front lawn (staples of our Denver neighborhood), but I set out some fall color in the form of pumpkins and flowers, another grown-up treat. 

I have a thing about carving pumpkins, too. If you're going to go to all the trouble of scooping out those slimy seeds, why not have some fun with it? Over the years I've saved pictures of my favorites. There was the mummy. The cat arching against the moon. The witch flying into the stormy sky. And of course, the Scary Airedale. I downloaded a template for that one from the internet. I'm sure your pet is out there somewhere, too, waiting to be immortalized in a hollow burning gourd.
What's your grown-up treat for autumn? Have a wonderful fall, everyone!



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ghosts and Monsters Oh My!

by Jamie Freveletti
Kraken, by Pierre Denys de Montfort

Halloween is upon us, and our topic today is Ghosts and Monsters. I'll admit, I love a good ghost story and I also love a good mystery. Not surprising, huh? But when you have a mystery solved as recently as 2013, well that's the best of all possible worlds! 

What surprises me about ghosts and monsters is how similar the stories are throughout history and between far flung cultures. Either humans are hard wired the world over to imagine the same things, or these things actually exist, but we haven't proven them. 

One of my favorites is MOTHMAN. This guy scares the hell out of everyone who claims to have seen it. And why wouldn't it? First seen in 1966 in West Virginia and then later by a couple near a TNT plant, it is said to look like a man with black wings, red eyes and brown skin. The sightings tapered off in 1967, but returned again in 2011 when a man claimed to see one near the Fukushima nuclear plant that melted down after the tsunami. Since the Mothman is said to be a harbinger of death, such a sighting seems to be laced with fear about the very real chance that the plant would explode. 
As for ghost photos, the best are taken before photo shop became an easy way to create eerie images. One of the most interesting is The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. As the story goes, the ghost is of Lady Charles Townshend, imprisoned in Raynham Hall by her husband for a suspected infidelity. The famous photo was taken by journalists in 1936 who were photographing the house for a magazine story. Present day photo experts say that this is simply a double exposure, but the two that shot the image insisted that they saw the ghost. Several people over the course of years also claimed to have seen her. One, a novelist named Captain Frederick Marryat stayed at the house around 1835 and claimed that he saw her glide by holding a lantern. He jumped from behind a door and shot at her, and insisted that the bullet passed right through. (You have to love a novelist with an itchy trigger finger, don't you?) 
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Mariners had the best tales of strange beasts and scary monsters. From mermaids, to the Sirens to the Kraken, a giant squid that grabs at ships, those mariners had an interesting life. Most of the mermaid stories are explained by experts as a sort of mirage imagined by sailors after they had spent long months at sea and when drinking mistook a manatee for a beautiful woman. Now, I ask you, would you mistake these two, no matter how drunk you were? 

I thought not. Whatever those mariners saw, it wasn't a manatee, in my opinion. And finally, the mariners were right in those Kraken claims. In 2013, a group of scientists, including Edith Widder, took an actual photo of a giant squid.

Giant squid about the size of a two story house
So before you rule out mermaids, let's remember that hundreds of years ago those sailors were right. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?


Monday, October 24, 2016

HALLOWEEN - WHY? Karna Small Bodman

Why do our children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door on October 31 calling out "Trick or Treat?" Besides knowing it's a great time to have fun and gather up enough candy for a month of sugar-overload, there is quite a history of mystery and intrigue (which is what our Rogue Women Writers group of authors delight in creating in our novels).  So all this week we are writing about various aspects of this holiday, how it has inspired books, movies, and especially TV shows ("Check your local listings" for all sorts of horror movies showing this week). But how did we get to this point:

Many believe that Halloween originated in the ancient Celtic Festival, Samhain, the biggest holiday of the year.  It was celebrated at the end of harvest season back in the Gaelic culture. This was a time to bring in the farm animals and supplies to shelter everything for the coming winter.  This was also the time when they believed that the souls of those who died that year traveled to the otherworld, but 
their ghosts were still able to mingle with the living just before finally departing.  It is said that the ancient Gaels were afraid that some of the diseased might come back to life and create all sorts of havoc like damaging their crops. And so they wore costumes and masks to ward them off. For centuries, children did the same at that time of the year.

In trying to prove a direct connection between their Samhain and our Halloween (which was tough - I mean 2,000 years is a heck of a long time to connect the dots as we say) many scholars believed that  since All Saints' Day (or all Hallows' Mass, celebrated on November 1) were so close together - they were combined into the celebration we now call Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve).  In any event, these "festival" traditions continued through the Middle Ages all over Europe where poor people went door to door on Nov. 1 to receive food in exchange for saying prayers for the dead.  (It was called "souling") In fact, Shakespeare mentions the custom in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593)  when Speed accuses his master of "pulling (meaning whining) like a beggar at Hallowmas."

It turns out that Irish and Scottish immigrants carried some of these traditions to America in the late 19th century when children played tricks on October 31st.  But actual Trick-or-Treating didn't really get started in the United States until around World War II (though it kind of stalled in 1942 when we had sugar rationing). The whole Halloween idea finally received national attention when the children's magazine  Jack and Jill,  wrote about it and we had network radio programs like the Jack Benny Show and Ozzie and Harriet who encouraged children to collect coins for UNICEF instead of candy for themselves.

At that point, Walt Disney got into the act, and what child could resist getting dressed up and "becoming" their very favorite cartoon character -- or Superman, a fairy princess, or even one of those images of the dead -- harking back many centuries.
 So here we are, celebrating a tradition begun, as many believe, some 2,000 years that has evolved from a festival where the ancients wanted to ward off souls who might TAKE the harvest of crops to an evening where contemporaries want to answer the doorbell and GIVE out a harvest of goodies to adorable costumed children.

Now, as you enjoy buying or baking the treats, reading the scary novels and choosing the horror movies to watch all week long, you might also reflect on the 2,000 year old answer to:

 Halloween - WHY?

...Karna Small Bodman

Saturday, October 22, 2016


The topic of the holidays fires up my engines, as I'm all about finding a reason to celebrate.  In my world, raising a glass of champagne and being thankful should be an everyday experience.

My father worked in telecommunications, so I lived in many different countries growing up.  This upbringing allowed me to experience many cultures and unique holidays around the world--so I truly can celebrate something special most days.

I'd love to share a snapshot of some of these holidays with you....


In Puerto Rico, there was no letdown after Christmas because Three King's Day followed close behind.  Thousands of children in Latin America and Spain anxiously await "El Dia de los Reyes" every year on January 6th.  For many Christians, the holiday marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings who are also known as three Wise Men or Magi.  These Kings found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem.

Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar--representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively--travelled by horse, camel, and elephant in order to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Three Kings Day or "Feast of the Epiphany" is often celebrated with parades, performances, and even celebrations at Disneyland now.  When I was in Puerto Rico as a kid  this special day and its religious significance meant spending it with my Puerto Rican friends, and receiving not one, but three gifts.  Ole!


Salzburg, Austria is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I spent a magical year there at a boarding school--and this is where I learned about Krampus.  In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, Krampus is a horned figure that is half-goat, half-demon who punishes children who have misbehaved, in direct contrast with Saint Nicholas who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.

The terrifying and demonic Krampus arrives in Austrian, Bavarian, and some Italian towns on December 5, the day before St. Nicholas day, for Krampusnacht or Krampus night.  Men and boys dressed as the horrible creature host a parade through town accompanied by smoke and fireworks, chasing children and adults alike with their birch switches and bags of coal.  In smaller towns, men dressed as Krampus go door to door demanding shots of schnapps to protect the owners from evil spirits in the winter months.  The video above shows a typical Krampusnacht celebration in Austria.  In German with english subtitles, it is best viewed in full screen mode.  Worth watching.  Enjoy!


Mashujaa (Swahili for Heroes) Day is a national day in Kenya, observed on October 20 as a public holiday to collectively honor all those who contributed towards the struggle for Kenya's independence.  Previously known as Kenyatta Day, which was celebrated to commemorate the detention of the Kapenguria Six freedom fighters, it was renamed in 2010.

It is usually celebrated with an event at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.  A military parade takes place with troops wearing colorful uniforms from the red, black, and green on the Kenyan flag.  The honor guard is presented, the president of Kenya shares a speech that is similar to the U.S. State of the Union Address, and then motorcades and a skydiving display close the celebrations.

There are too many special days to share them all, but I hope this piques your curiosity to study other cultures, their holidays, and how there is truly something to celebrate every day!  If you'd like to see more travel photos and memories, please drop by my website.

Friday, October 21, 2016


S. Lee Manning: It’s Halloween in two weeks, and in honor of the holiday, I’ve decided to talk about my lifelong
connection with vampires – and how it has affected my writing.

It all started when I was thirteen years old – which probably has some psychological significance. At thirteen, I officially became a teenager. I celebrated my bat mitzvah, becoming a full congregate in my conservative Jewish congregation. I was a voracious reader, as I had been since early childhood. Sometime in the fall of my thirteenth year, I took Bram Stoker’s Dracula out of the library. I read straight through until about nine o’clock at night, to the point in the book where a sweet young woman, Lucy, dies from Dracula’s draining her blood and then rises as a vampire.  

I was up all night, terrified. I remember lying rigid in my bed, too scared to close my eyes. Every breath of wind, every brush of a branch across the window became in my imagination a vampire trying to get inside my house and inside my room.

Now, I wasn’t a total idiot, even though I was thirteen. Intellectually, I knew that vampires didn’t exist, that they were creatures of myth and fiction. But my imagination has always been my strength – and my weakness. Lying in the dark at night, what I knew intellectually had no effect whatsoever on my terror.

In the morning, exhausted and still traumatized, I made a plea to buy a crucifix to ward off vampires.  Jewish parents can be pretty indulgent, but this was pushing it. My father instead bought me a mezuzah, a pendant containing parchment and the Shema  - recited by Jews for over two thousand years. I was a little concerned that vampires might not recognize Judaism or sacred Jewish prayers, but I wore it and eventually calmed down. (I still wear it, but now in memory of my father and not as a charm against vampires.)

Years passed before I could bring myself to return to Bram Stoker’s novel – when I found the book to be a decent read and tried to analyze what had so frightened my younger self.  What was it about vampires, more than any other monster or ghost story, that had so affected me? I embarked on research into the origins of Dracula – because that’s what I do.

The myths

Vampire folklore has a long history, originating in the human fear of the dead. Many ancient cultures had myths of blood sucking creatures, most of which were demons or spirits rather than reanimated corpses. The vampire myths of the returned and malevolent dead became more prevalent in Eastern Europe sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century.

There are a lot of theories as to why the folklore took hold. In the seventeenth century Balkan area, the origin of disease was not understood. It was thought that people and animals fell ill not from a natural process but from supernatural acts.

When an epidemic took hold in an area, terrified villagers would dig up the body of a recently deceased person and find what they thought was evidence of vampirism. The process of decay of a corpse was misunderstood – and the natural bloating and changes that occur after death were mistaken as evidence that the recently dead were feeding on blood.

How one became a vampire differed from region to region. In some tales, the vampire is an immoral person or a witch. Babies born with teeth would become vampires. Those who had committed suicide or been excommunicated could become vampires. In some folktales, a cat or dog jumping over a corpse could create a vampire.

Writers eventually picked up on those myths. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, a short story, The Vampyre, described an aristocratic vampire preying on young women. In 1872, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote Carmilla, a lesbian vampire story. Interestingly, Le Fanu gave Bram Stoker his first newspaper job.

Enter Dracula

Bram Stoker’s novel, published in 1892, drew upon those prior works and an amalgam of Eastern European myths. Stoker’s novel also incorporated Victorian views of sexuality in the depiction of the evil emanating from the vampire. A bite from Dracula turns an innocent into a vampire. Women  
drained by a vampire lose their purity and become “lustful.” There is the hint of forbidden homosexuality when the male Dracula preys on men.

Then there are the historical underpinnings of Dracula. Oddly, though, while people believe Stoker based his character on the historical figure of Vlad III of Wallachia, that is not entirely clear according to Stoker’s notes, discovered in a museum in 1972.

Vlad III of Wallachia, called “Dracula,” was an anti-Turkish hero in his homeland. His father, Vlad II, had been a member of the knightly order of the dragon -"dracul." Vald II was called “Dracul” ; thus his son, Vlad III ,became Dracula, or son of the dragon. His penchant for execution by impalement, led to his also becoming known as Vlad the Impaler.

The vampire in Stoker's book shares the name Dracula with Vlad III. He also shares a history of fighting the Turks. Stoker’s notes, however, show little other evidence that he modeled Dracula on Vlad III.  He chose the name Dracula after finding a textual reference that Dracula meant "devil" in Wallachia – and was used for people who were especially courageous, cruel, or cunning. In fact, Stoker’s notes indicate that he first intended his vampire to come from Austria. Nevertheless, the vampire Dracula and the historical figure of Vlad III have been merged in popular imagination so much that movies and books often intermingle the two.

My writing

Despite my younger self’s fascination with vampires, I have never written in the genre.  I rarely read supernatural novels at this point in my life. I will confess to having watched Buffy and True Blood, but I don’t like horror films nor have I watched the multitude of Dracula movies out there.

However, my early fascination with Dracula may have influenced choices I made while writing my espionage thriller, Trojan Horse.  Romania’s recent history - the overthrow of the dictator Ceausescu, the current economic strains on the country, and the presence of an American base - made it an attractive setting for an espionage thriller. Then there’s my villain. The figure of Vlad III, as a historical figure reviled in the west but loved in Romania, intrigued me. I wanted to create a villain who did horrific things but thought he was a hero. My villain became the descendant of Vlad III. No vampires, although I did indulge in one or two Dracula jokes.

There was also something deeply satisfying in incorporating into a thriller some elements of a story that had so affected me as child.

So why did Dracula have such a powerful effect on me as a thirteen year old? I’m still not completely sure. It’s difficult to put myself back into my mindset at that age. However, from what I remember, what scared me most was the idea that anyone could become a vampire: my mother, my father, me. One moment, a person would be alive, normal. The next moment, a vampire. Just as death can strike anyone at any time without notice. And maybe that’s it. At an age between childhood and adulthood when I was just becoming aware of mortality, I read a book that somehow crystalized my fear of the randomness of death.  

How about you? What terrified you as a child?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Gayle Lynds:  All right, folks.  Confess.  You’re now over 30 years old, or maybe 50, or even 60.  Do you have childhood Halloween memories you can’t forget — or wish you could?  From costumes to candy, from pranks to ghost tales, it’s a holiday that feeds a budding writer’s heart while giving a lot of other folks a sugar high.

Let’s take a deep breath ... and remember....

 When I was growing up, we kids helped our mothers make all sorts of candies and cakes to give out on the Big Night.  I remember Mother pouring a hot Karo syrup mixture over popcorn spread across a cookie sheet.  Steam rose.  Her face turned bright red from the heat as she slapped the sticky mixture into fist-size balls.  As soon as the popcorn balls cooled, my job was to wrap each one in waxed paper and tie a ribbon around the ends.  Her trust made me proud.

On the day of Halloween, we weren’t allowed to wear costumes to school where the serious business of education took place.  But the moment the last bell rang, we ran home and dressed up as witches and goblins, Supermen and princesses, ate early dinners, and sat on our front porches to wait until the sun went down.  No, we didn’t do homework first — no one had homework until junior high school.  As the time passed toward sundown, and the shadows lengthened, we children squirmed with excitement.  Halloween!

Although I knew they were coming, I didn’t recognize the older kids who arrived to take us out trick-or-treating — until, with great drama, they removed their masks.  Who knew your big friends could be so scary?  As we walked down the street, they told us spooky stories and warned us about headless spirits lurking behind trees. 

At every neighbor’s door, we had to give our names, because no one had much money so there were just enough treats for those of us who lived nearby.  And what treats they were!  The aroma of freshly baked goods rising from our paper sacks made our mouths water.

Of course, my parents were embarrassing.  One year they went trick-or-treating, too, carrying an empty bushel basket.  The neighbors laughed so hard we could hear them a block away.  Another time, a group of teenage boys wearing sheets leaped up from behind a wall and shrieked and waved their arms.  We ran screaming.  Then there were the years of water balloons, marshmallow fights, and the horrible grating moans of “the dead” who’d taken up residence in a hollow.  That really made us run, yelling so hard I thought my chest would explode.

What fun we had, and what a terrific foundation it gave me to write thrillers.  The dark of night, strange sights, threatening sounds, and masks — who is that character, really?  What are they hiding?  What do they want?

Compared to today, those were tame, sweet times, but like much of life, even that is relative. 

We had no computers, only black-and-white TVs, and the worst thing boys did was go to school without a belt through the loops of their blue jeans, and the worst girls did was wear blue jeans, with or without a belt.  But despite the lack of violence and threats so many of our schools face today, or perhaps because we lacked the horrible violence, somehow my generation went on to found Microsoft and Apple, use cable TV to beat network TV into submission, build tanks and the NFL into powerhouses, and discover intolerances of gluten were making a lot of people feel lousy. 

The truth is, spy thrillers are simply reflections of life, with all its politics, hubris, questioning of the unknown, and search for adventure.  We thrive when we ask questions.  We expand our horizons when we seek answers.  And international espionage thrillers do both.  They’re also a lot of fun to write and read.

I send all best wishes for a very Happy Halloween to you and yours.  May you and your goblins have a spirited evening.  We'll be sitting home quietly, working, hoping for a grand bunch of youngsters with memorable costume and happy hearts.

With this post I begin the Rogue Women’s next series, this one  about Halloween and other holidays and how they affect our writing.  You won’t want to miss these wonderful tales.  To get your personal subscription, just click here.

Monday, October 17, 2016


by Chris Goff

I'm not sure I have any animals other than the human-kind in my thrillers. There may be a stray cat in DARK WATERS. It takes place in Israel, often in Tel Aviv, and there are hundreds of thousands of stray cats living there. The cats are everywhere. There are special programs to capture, spay and release the felines. Gayle read an article on the cats of Tel Aviv and sent me the article. If I don’t have a cat in that book, I should.

RED SKY, the second book in my thriller series coming out in June, begins in Ukraine and ends in Poland. I know I have a barking dog in that book. Looking for info on the Rogue Women Writers' upcoming novels, subscribe to the blog by clicking here.

This subject hits home in a personal way. In addition to my thrillers, I write an environmentally-based Birdwatcher’s Mystery series. As such, there are birds in those books – wild birds – and the subject matter ranges from the theft of endangered species from our national parks, the effect of the coffee industry on the migratory songbird and prescribed burns and the effect on habitat. By and large the books are set outdoors, have a milieu characters from amateur birdwatchers to park service employees to ornithologists to business people, and are more traditional than cozy. That said, I have ended up on more animal/pet-oriented panels than I care to mention.

Please know, in my mysteries there are no birds typing clues on the keyboard, no birds pecking Morse code on the windows.

One time,I was assigned to moderate a panel of pet detective-mystery writers. We had Patricia McGuiver who writes the Delilah Doolittle Pet Detective series; Laurien Berenson who writes the Melanie Travis mystery series; Jessica Speart who write a hard-bitten US Fish and Wildlife agent; Lauren Haney who writes an Archaeological mystery series and myself. I asked each of them to send me something on their pet detectives and got back answers only from Pat and Laurien. Jessica told me she didn’t have any pets in her latest book, only a crocodile. And Lauren Haney told me, “I think there may be a camel on page 50.”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the pigeonholing (forgive the pun) that is done in regards to my work. When DARK WATERS debuted, despite having turned in a bio, book info and a request for a panel to promote an international thriller, I was assigned a panel entitled “Small Towns, Big Crimes.” When I requested a different panel so I could promote my newest title to an audience who might be more interested in thrillers, I was told “once a traditional mystery author, always a traditional mystery author.” The individual who told me this explained that "the business" didn’t work that way; that it didn’t matter if I wanted to switch genres, I would never be able to break free of the label. To this person’s credit, we did discuss the potential for making it happen and I was assigned to another panel with an audience more suited for my newly adopted genre.

All this is to say, perhaps it’s a psychological thing on my part that I haven't populated my thrillers with any animals for fear of being labeled as writing “animal books.”

Winston ready for Halloween
However, I will admit, I am an animal person. I have always loved dogs—big dogs, little dogs, AKC registered dogs, and mutts. I once owned horses. I’ve even owned cats. My current faithful companion is my daughter’s trusty miniature poodle – a little “party-colored” fellow (mostly black with some strategically placed white) who can be quite a character and who curls up near my chair while I type.

And—don’t tell anyone—I actually am a birder. I have been known to sign up for conventions (not unlike mystery conventions) where all everyone does for three days is go birding. We get up at 4:00 a.m. so we’re in the field at dawn. Sometimes we’re out until dusk. We have banquets and give awards to important birders, throw silent and live auctions to raise money for organizations like the Nature Conservancy or Young Birders or the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, and spend thousands of dollars on good binoculars and spotting scopes so we can actually see the birds when we’re out in the field.

Top: Wood Storks; Bottom: Anhinga and Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron
Taken on Jekyll Island researching Book #5 in the Birdwatcher's Mystery series

I must also admit, I am an amateur birdwatcher at best. I have identified over 261 bird species in the field, but there are 993 bird species in North America (which may change in 2017 if the American Birding Association members vote to add Hawaiian birds), and approximately 10,.500 bird species world wide. I’ve even participated in a birding competition ( à la the Big Year only on a much smaller scale). Picture playing golf in a scramble and your ball is never the one that is used for play. I’m fairly good at spotting the birds, but not so great at being able to identify them on the fly. I often depend on my expert birder friends to tell me what I’m actually seeingbut it’s fun!

There are more of us in the mystery community than you might think. I know of at least five others who secretly—or not so secretly—go birding while at mystery conventions around the world. I’ve gone with them. 

Ask and I will name names!

Sunday, October 16, 2016


By Sonja Stone

Cats are useless. There, I said it. Let the hate mail begin.

Sleek and beautiful: Raja and Raven, my Dobermans


I know I’m about to make a lot of enemies, but here’s my feeling about pets: If an animal is going to live in my home, eat my food, drink my water, and breathe my oxygen, it needs to be willing AND ABLE to kill for me. 

I know, I know. Everyone thinks either: 

a) their kitty-cat would defend them to the death if he could, or 
b) their kitty-cat could defend them, if he were so inclined. 

For an animal to share my living quarters, it must meet BOTH of these requirements. Consistently.

Before you unsubscribe to our blog, let me say that I’m mostly kidding about the useless-cat thing. My dad has a cat, my sister has cats, my friends have cats. One of my friends willed her cat to me (I beg you, pray for her continued good health). My personal experience with cats is this: when you want to snuggle, they’re nowhere to be seen. When you want to be left alone, you get shedding hairs in your nose and cat ass in your face. And don’t get me started on the anus-trailing icicles from the Christmas tree.

But, oh, my Dobermans. Love at first sight.

Raja and Raven, brother and sister


Though often portrayed in novels and movies as violent aggressors, Dobermans make excellent family dogs. We chose Dobermans to join our pack for several reasons. First, I wanted a protective breed. I adore German Shepherds, but it’s 120 degrees during a Phoenix summer, and I was concerned about long-haired dogs (though I know Shepherds live here and certainly thrive). Second, Dobermans are known to be loyal, intelligent, alert, and gentle (despite their reputation). 

Dobermans have a long history of military service. As soldiers in WWI & WWII, they’ve served as sentries, scouts, messengers, and protectors. On Guam, a life-sized memorial honors the service and sacrifice of Doberman soldiers.



As puppies, Dobermans require socialization. We took ours to our neighborhood Home Depot (in case you’re wondering why we didn’t go to the park, very young pups shouldn’t be around the feces of other dogs until fully vaccinated). Dobermans are affectionate and energetic; this is not a breed to lock outside in the yard all day. (I’m not sure that’s okay with any breed, but hey. You do you.) They require training and loving discipline, frequent exercise, and lots of attention. I work from home, so Raja and Raven have plenty of company. 

Our dogs respond to commands issued in several foreign languages. They are courteous to guests, and have only exhibited threatening behavior on one occasion. We’d ordered a pizza for dinner, and rather than come to the front door (which, I might add, was well-lit), our delivery guy chose to open the side gate leading to the darkened back yard and enter the walled space behind the house. (Everyone in Phoenix has block walls around their property. You think fences make good neighbors? Try an eight-foot wall.) Raven, the more protective of the two, guarded the kitchen, barking fiercely at the back door. This poor guy stood outside frozen with fear until we figured out why she was so upset. 

Me and my babies


Before you judge me for those spiky collars, let me explain. My puppies are eager hunters, and we have more rabbits in our neighborhood than the Teletubbies. My dogs are well-trained; it’s not that they’ll break free and chase down the bunnies. But they will pull the leash so hard that while wearing flat nylon collars, they bruise their little tracheas. The silver collar actually disperses the force exerted against it, so the throat avoids injury.

To me, owning a Doberman is like carrying a knife. I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. And come on, if they’re good enough for the United States Marine Corps…

P.S. Is anyone surprised that I chose a breed known as "devil dogs"?

Photo credits for the military pictures:

Okay, I’m braced for your pro-cat arguments. Leave your hate mail pet story in the comment section below!