Friday, June 30, 2017

JOHN GILSTRAP GOES ROGUE or ... The Man Who Admits to Driving a Vega

Chris Goff
It is with great pleasure I get to introduce our next guest blogger, John Gilstrap. He's one of my all time favorite writers, and I've read every one of his books. He's a New York Times bestselling author, funny, smart and a rare Type-A among a colleagues more often labeled introvert. At conferences, you might look for him in the bar!

Backstory: John always wanted to be a writer. He took the long route to living the dream. He worked as an editor for a trade publication, served as a volunteer firefighter and (after going back to college for a Master's Degree) ended up an expert on explosives safety and hazardous waste. In fear of being mocked by his fellow engineers, he kept his writing ambitions under wraps for years. Until he sold his first book, Nathan's Run, and landed a movie deal in the process. Since then, four of John's books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen.  In addition, he has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris.

John's now has sixteen thrillers under his belt. His most recent novel, Final Target hit the stands last Tuesday. It is the tenth book in his series featuring hostage rescue specialist Jonathan Grave, and like all of his books it's a definite must read.

Here are John's answers to the Rogue Women's 10 favorite questions:

Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence?
First sentences are probably the easiest because they are the set-up for everything that follows. In my case, though, they are very short-lived. I can’t think of a single case where my original first sentence from my first draft lived on as the first sentence in the final draft. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for the entire first chapter to be relocated to the belly of the story.

Last sentences are my favorites. Not just because they mark the end of a long journey, but because they are the words that set the mood for what the reader takes away. After sharing an arduous trip through hell and back, I like us to part company with the confidence that the world is back on its axis and that the characters who made it through to the end will ultimately be all right.

What's your favorite word?
I know this is where I should float out something lofty, like “love”, or a startling expletive (a la Inside the Actor’s Studio) but I’m not wired that way. I’m too much of a pragmatist. I’d have to say that at any given moment, my favorite word would be the one that I need right now. Whether the conversational goal is witty barroom repartee or tender expressions of love, the one right word exists. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t occur to me until long after the moment has passed.

Where do you like to write?More often that not, I write at my desk in my office in my house, but I spent so many years as a road warrior for business that I can write pretty much anywhere. Some of my most productive writing settings while on the road is sitting at the bar in a hotel. (C: Didn't I tell you?) There’s enough noise circulating to provide a sense of company, but since I’m alone, I’m not engaged in what the others are talking about. In that setting, I can be particularly productive writing by hand. It has to be a fountain pen and good paper, though.

What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?My life is really not very exotic. My wife, Joy, has her own company, which means that she spends most of the day commuting from client to client. That leaves me to do most of the household chores (though I am forbidden to do laundry). So, I do the shopping and the cooking and I enjoy both. I go to the gym every morning, and I go to the gun range fairly often—but not as often as I would like.

If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be?
That’s easy—but there would have to be the caveat that I was only visiting, I couldn’t die, I could come back when I wanted to, and I would not get a toothache or any form of infection while I was there. With those ground rules, I would love to visit the time of the American Civil War. I was a history major in undergraduate school, and that was the period I specialized in. The awesome spectacle of violence and the aftermath would be stunning. But mine would be a passing-through kind of visit. In reality, I think we live in a spectacular time right now.

What's your favorite drink?
My favorite alcoholic drink, hands-down, is a Beefeater Gin martini, straight up with olives. A close second would be Bourbon or Scotch, straight up. My favorite non-alcoholic drink (not counting morning coffee, which is really medicine) is club soda with lime.

When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What a perfect question! When I was ten years old, I wanted to grow up to be a writer. I wanted to tell stories. It took me a long time to get to the dream, but it’s very cool to look back and realize that I am one of very few people I know who is literally living his childhood dream. Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel and give thanks for my good fortune.

Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories?
My third and fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lippincott, was far and away the best teacher I ever had. She was the first person in my life to recognize that I had a way with words and that what previous teachers had seen as classroom disruptions (Johnny needs to learn to keep his mouth shut, Johnny must learn to stay in his seat . . .) were actually a cry to be noticed. She created opportunities for me to write stories and read them to the class. She made it nearly as cool to write stories as it was to throw a fastball. (And let’s be honest. Writing well will never be as cool as throwing a fastball.) I will always remember her for that. In fact, so significant was her impact on all of her third grade class—the administrators had given her all the incorrigibles—that they kept our entire class intact for fourth grade.

Do you write what you know or what you want to know?
I write to tell stories. I like to create characters and situations that are challenging for all of us. For me, there’s no conscious voyage of discovery; it’s just a great pretend. I do exactly as much research as is necessary to get the details right, and then I move on. That said, I’m fortunate to have lived a life that involved a lot of risk and a lot of fear and a lot of love. With all that in my storytelling arsenal, combined with a knowledge of weapons and explosives, I guess I lean more to what I do know.

Describe your very first car.
My very first car, if you could call it that, came into my possession in 1977 as a hand-me-down from my older brother. It was a 1962 Rambler station wagon with rusted out floor boards—honestly, you could see the pavement as you drove. I think he paid a hundred dollars for it, and he drove it for a couple of years. By the time I got it, it guzzled as much oil as gasoline and it reeked of both. I haven’t thought of the POS car in years. I don’t even remember how I got rid of it. By 1979, I had a 1973 Ford Pinto. You know, the model that would blow up if it got rear-ended.

John is also the creator of a podcast with writing tips for writers called A Writer's View of Writing and Publishing. Whether you're a published or aspiring writer, John has tips on all sorts of things from the agent/writer relationship to pitching your book idea to movie deals. Check it out! I signed up.

A big thanks to John Gilstrap for Going Rogue!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Summer Muse

Roses in my garden

This month's topic here at Rogue Women Writers is how vacations or the lazy days of summer feed our muse. Summer plays havoc with a thriller writer, or at least it does for me. Gone are the dark, cold days that lend themselves to equally dark, exciting thrillers. Now the days are long, sunny, and mellow. When I'm not taking long runs on the lakefront I'm riding my vintage Raleigh bicycle to errands and taking a nightly walk through the neighborhood after dinner. 

By the way, the Raleigh is one of my favorite finds. It had been housed in someone's attic, was dripping with cobwebs and the tires had rotted. It had all original parts and a vintage headlamp that worked off of friction. This bike is steel, heavy and built to last. The hub was dated March, 1974. It was love at first sight. I took it home, added new tires, and cleaned it up. It rides like a dream, and while it only has three speeds it beats my faster, lighter racing bike for charm and practicality. I use it daily. (Picture below).

When you live in Chicago you find yourself longing for these days, because there's nothing that matches Chicago in the summer. I've lived in New York City, Miami Beach and Tampa and while all have their charms during the rest of the year, in the summer they have a decidedly different vibe than Chicago. Miami Beach is so hot that it feels like a blowtorch on your back and the gorgeous beach that I long for in December sizzles so much that I can't walk on the sand. New York's vibrant throb slows on the weekends, when everyone flees up north to their homes in the Berkshires, Poconos, or, if loaded with cash, the Hamptons. Or at least it felt that way when I lived there as a student with no funds to go anywhere.
Vintage 1974 Raleigh bicycle. Attic find.
But one thing summer does grant a writer is time. The long days lend themselves to more writing. I usually have some of my most fruitful ideas during my summer runs, when it's early morning and I'm working through a knotty plotting problem or letting my mind wander to a new premise. 

I also find ideas in the music of summer. Every year I head to Lollapalooza, Chicago's massive music festival. It's held in Grant Park, which is only about five miles down the lakefront from my house, and it's four days of some of the most interesting music around. Three hundred thousand people attend. The music ranges from hip hop to country to blues to rock and just being in the presence of other artists feeds my own creative muse. I usually ride down along the lake, chain up the bike, and when the headliner finishes I avoid the inevitable traffic gridlock by riding home. I've seen Jack White (amazing in concert), Alabama Shakes, St Paul and The Broken Bones, The 1975, Paul McCartney (also amazing), the Kongos, Chance the Rapper, the Red Hot Chili Peppers... the list goes on and on. I leave buoyed by the creativity of others. 

I'm in the new premise phase now. With one manuscript completed and working on the final pass pages for another, I know that the time to start writing the next is near. I sit in my yard and sip ice tea while thinking about what I want to start. One thing I'm never short of is ideas. I have a dozen good ones to choose from, but I can't write a dozen at one time. Decisions have to be made. If you're writing, you know what I mean. If only we could write more and faster! 

I already have a pretty good idea of which story I want to pick up next, though. I'll write a short premise log line and head to New York City to meet with my agent to discuss it and to attend the International Thriller Writers' Thrillerfest conference in July. I've gone to this conference every year since it started and I love it. Like Lolla, I usually leave Thrillerfest buzzing with ideas and renewed energy. I'll have a drink with my editors, agent, and, of course, the Rogue Women Writers, and I'll talk nothing but books for four days. Pure bliss.

After Thrillerfest you won't hear from me much. I'll head to Lolla, watch a few plays at the amazing theaters here in Chicago, and head to a late August vacation. In the meantime though, I hope the joys of these warm days and nights make you smile. 

Best, Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Is your character a mirror image? Karna Small Bodman

This week some of us Rogue writers are discussing our "relationship" with the characters in our the heroine a mirror image of ourselves? Or could she be a composite of our wish list perhaps? And what about the hero, if we create one? Is he based on someone we actually know? Or does he turn out to be someone we wish we knew?

As I ponder these questions, my  thoughts turn to other famous writers and what I've learned about the way they created their own characters.  Take Agatha Christie, one of the most famous authors of detective stories in the world. Here was a young woman home-schooled by her father.  I read that for some reason (that I don't quite understand), her mother didn't want Agatha to learn to read until she was 8 years old.  And so, the youngster taught herself to read at the age of 5 and went on to devour all sorts of stories, eventually writing her own at age 18.
Agatha Christie as a child
Later she and her family lived in several countries including Egypt and France.  It was there during WWI that she wrote her first detective novel -- on a bet with her sister who said she couldn't write one (little did she know!).  It's said that Agatha "found" her characters on a tram in Torquay. It was there that she encountered Belgian refugees and came up with the idea of creating a Belgian detective forced out of his country. And so, Hercule Poirot was "born."

As for her "expertise" in the various methods that her villains used to "dispose" of their victims, Agatha Christie certainly followed that old maxim, "Write what you know."  It turns out she learned all about poisons and their varying effects by working in a hospital dispensary.  In fact, her use of that knowledge gained a review of her novels in a rather famous Pharmaceutical Journal of the day.

Ian Fleming
What about male authors creating characters? I've often had the sense that many men, especially those writing thrillers, base their characters on a "wish list -- I wish I were that guy." Let's talk about Ian Fleming.  He served as a Naval Intelligence Officer during WWII and had planned a "special op" known as Operation Goldeneye (sound familiar?) In fact, this experience became the basis of his first novel, Casino Royale in 1951. He also came from a wealthy family and was often described as handsome, erudite, debonair -- all traits found in the most attractive character of James Bond.

So he certainly wrote "what he knew." However, I've often wondered if Officer Fleming ever was threatened by a mad man, chased by a steel-toothed thug or carried out a singular operation where he alone thwarted a sinister plot....all the while attracting gorgeous "Bond girls" in the process. (Well, I'm sure there were plenty of few pretty ladies in his background - but were they like the ones with James?)

Now to answer the initial question about whether my own characters are a mirror image - gracious no! I love to create strong women who are MUCH smarter and a great deal more clever and risk-taking that I could ever be. In fact, in my very first thriller, Checkmate, I created a (continuing)character, Dr. Cameron Talbot, who works for a defense contractor and invents a breakthrough
technology for a defense against cruise missiles. My husband and I came up with what I thought was a rather crazy scheme based on the use of frequencies.  Cameron figures out the frequency the bad guys are using to "guide" a missile to an exact target. She utilizes the same frequency to track, invade and take over the missile. Then through reverse engineering, she is able to turn it around on the heads of the bad guys. So, in the story I explain what she did, but not precisely how she did it since I actually didn't have a clue how it could really work.  And, of course,  I made it a Top Secret project.  Several years later I happened to be at a luncheon in Washington, D.C. where I sat next to a man working in the intelligence field.  He asked about my books and I told him about how my character, Cameron Talbot invented this new technology. When I described this "pipe dream" I had written, he stared at me, leaned over and whispered, "We can do that now." I was stunned. But, of course, I still don't know how my "much smarter than I am" character actually did it. 

As for the hero in that story, I created a man who served on the staff of the National Security Council in The White House. I did base that character on some of my former colleagues there on the NSC (where I served for several years).  So I suppose I would have to say that particular thriller turned out to be a combination of "Write what you know" and "Write what you wish you knew or wished what you could be."

Last week when we had the great writer Lee Child as our guest blogger, he was asked if he writes what he knows -- and he replied, "No, I write what I feel."  So then I wondered if he "feels" the threats that his terrific character Jack Reacher faces.  I figure he must -- because he comes up with such great plots, challenges and solutions in his own thrillers.

What about you? Do you think your favorite characters are based on their author's own lives, the author's wish list, or something entirely different?  Share your thoughts with us in a comment below.  And thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers.

...submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


by K.J. Howe

As writers, we're observers of human nature.  We chronicle the lives of characters who resonate with us, or infuriate us--and the most interesting stories are usually those that involve flawed people.  And the draw of serial killers is fascinating and timeless.

Although people like Dexter are responsible for less than 1% of the murders in the US each year, these characters stand out as the most memorable.  Is that because we can relate to their shadowy side, echoes of our darker nature, the one we hide from the world for fear of judgement or reprisal?

Jack the Ripper, the most notorious serial killer of all, whose identity remains a mystery, has been immortalized in popular culture.  Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), and Dennis Rader (Bind, Torture, Kill) have all held the public's fascination as notorious and deadly serial killers.  These men have become what one might call "celebrity monsters."

In many ways, serial killers in fiction are for adults what monster movies are for kids, a guilty pleasure that might illicit feelings of shame.  Good citizens who have been socialized to respect life and possess a normal range of emotions, including remorse, struggle to comprehend the pathological mind that would make one abduct, torture, rape, kill, engage in necrophilia, and occasionally even cannibalize another human being.  Yet the aberrance is fascinating.  Maybe because on the outside, many of these murderers seem rather benign, and the dichotomy intrigues us.

An investigation into serial murder by the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit in 2005 concluded that they "are not monsters and may not appear strange.  Serial murderers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed, and appear to be normal members of the community."  But we all know they truly aren't normal or benign.

Hannibal Lecter is an excellent example of the powerful draw of serial killers in fiction, perhaps because he is depicted as a real, well-rounded person--he bleeds, feels pain, and is quite human.  In many ways, he's an impressive man--wealthy, an accomplished psychiatrist, highly intelligent, musical, linguistic, not to mention his knowledge and skills with food and wine.

Who doesn't want to have such a multitude of talents?  And he even uses discrimination when he kills, targeting rude people.  We've all been the recipient of brutal treatment, and it would be only natural to fantasize about exacting revenge in a Hannibalesque manner--but of course, we have a conscience and refrain from acting out those dark thoughts.  But the darkness that allows others to act on those thoughts is fascinating.

From Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, serial killers draw audiences in droves.  Perhaps serial killers appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in all of us--survival.  The total disregard for life that serial killers exhibit shock us and make us question our safety and security.  With crimes that are so inhuman and brutal, we're drawn to serial killers as they provoke intense curiosity.

Which serial killers, real or fictional, do you find the most compelling and why?

Sunday, June 18, 2017


S. Lee Manning: What’s the difference between having an imaginary friend and creating a protagonist?

Kolya, sitting in the chair next to my desk, shrugs, hands up and to the side in the universal sign of dunno. “Your age, probably.” He’s watching me try to write a post on my relationship with my protagonist, with an amused and superior expression that he knows drives me crazy.

He’s in early thirties, blond, good looking in a way that reminds me of my husband when he was about the same age. He has other traits that mirror those of my husband. He’s witty, smart, has a law degree, pretends he’s fine when he’s not, likes music, likes to read, but not Jane Austin. He differs from my husband in his background,  3/4 ethnic Russian and 1/4 Jewish, his taste in music, jazz (Jim has more eclectic taste), his ability to play professional level piano, his knowledge of languages, and his addiction to high adrenaline activities. (Jim rides a motorcycle on Vermont back roads and skis, but he does not have shootouts or break into buildings to steal secrets – that I know about, anyway.)

Kolya’s also a creation of my imagination, and I do know he’s not really in the chair next to my desk – and that he’s not really talking to me.

Armed folded, he raises an eyebrow in my direction. “You sure about that? Who were you talking to on the ride to Burlington yesterday?”

“I was working out the plot,” I tell him. “And your dialogue. I wasn’t talking to you.”

He gives me that infuriating smile. “If you say so.”

Children have imaginary friends, and nobody thinks anything of it. When an adult drives alone in a car, talking out loud, she looks a little crazy. It’s especially a little crazy when she’s talking to someone who doesn’t actually exist. Thank God for modern technology. At least these days, I can pretend to be talking on the Bluetooth.

“You’re digressing,” he says. “You’re supposed to be writing about our relationship. How you’re attracted to me. And how it’s a little weird.”

Shut up, Kolya.

“I’m not attracted to you. I created you. It’s different.”

He bats those gorgeous blue eyes at me. Okay, Jim has blue eyes, too. “You mean, you’re not attracted to Jim? Don’t I look like him?”

The truth is that creating a protagonist that you want to use for a series is complex. You have to like him enough, find him interesting enough to want to spend years with him – writing multiple books. You don’t want to be in the situation that Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, found himself in – loathing the character he’d created. Doyle killed Holmes off  because he didn’t want to write him anymore– only to be forced to bring him back to life to satisfy popular demand.

You don’t have to be in love with your protagonist, but it helps a lot to find him interesting. It helps a lot not to loathe him.

I based Kolya in great part on Jim for two reasons. Most of my knowledge of the inner workings of the male mind comes from Jim.  Then, there’s the fact that we’ve been together for thirty-five years – and we still enjoy being with each other. I doubt I’ll be writing about Kolya for the next thirty-five years, but it’s a good precedent anyway.
Jim and his motorcycle.

“Nice evade.” Kolya leans over my shoulder, reading the post. “Now that we’ve dealt with the fact that you find me devilishly attractive, you want to talk about pretending to be me?”

“I don’t pretend to be you. That would be really weird.”

“Then stay the hell out of my head.” He sees my look of shock. “You know what I’m talking about. You’ll have me hanging off a cliff by my fingernails, and then you’re writing about what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. If that’s not pretending to be me, what is it?”

He’s got a point. We use our imagination in multiple ways as children: we have imaginary friends and we play make-believe, pretending to be characters we’ve seen in movies or read about in books. Isn’t that a bit of what we’re doing as authors? When we go into a character’s head, see a scene from a character’s viewpoint, don’t we, to some small extent, become that character?

It’s complex, and a little confusing. Maybe a little weird. But there’s nothing simple about writing novels–or creating a protagonist.

His point made, Kolya gives me a wave and leaves for now. He’ll be back tomorrow, or later tonight, when I’m working on the new novel. In the meantime, I’m back in the reality of Vermont. Jim and I are taking a run to the nearby town for local made maple cinnamon raisin bread. The bakery only delivers twice a week, and it’s in big demand. Someone could show up with guns and clear out the whole supply, so we’re getting there early, and we’re prepared. One never knows.

Happy writing.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Gayle Lynds
Lee Child
Where does one begin with the iconic Lee Child?  Well, he’s tall and debonair, with a terrific Brit accent (born to), and a witty sense of humor.  He writes to-die-for thrillers about Jack Reacher, the testosterone-loaded Good Samaritan who solves problems with his brain until he comes up against bad guys so dense or so evil that he has to take them down with his fists, feet, knees, or head.  You pick the body part — all appear to be excellent, and lethal. 

Male and female readers (including we Rogues) love Lee’s work.  No wonder he’s a #1 internationally best-selling author, has sold more than 100 million books, and won many awards.  Reacher himself has become a Hollywood star and sky-rocketed into a billion-dollar brand.  And it couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys.  You don’t want to miss the first complete collection of the Reacher short stories, which is just out — No Middle Name.

So what do I mean by “The Secret Life of Jack Reacher’s Creator?”

I first met Lee at the 1998 Bouchercon in Philadelphia.  He had a hot new debut, Killing Floor, which went on to win Anthony and Barry awards.  The novel introduced Reacher, so you know it was serious suspense. At the same time, I’d just published my spy debut, Masquerade, which was making a fuss because a woman (that’s me) had
broken into the all-guy, tough-guy field of international espionage.

However, despite our genres, Lee and I were assigned to a Bouchercon panel focused on writing humor.  It was a great fit for the other panelists — their novels were intentionally funny, and they soon had everyone including us shaking with laughter.  Lee and I exchanged glances.  Being misfits is a great way to bond. 

Afterwards, we had a fine chat, and I thought, this is a very smart, very good man.  I’ve greatly enjoyed watching his work grow in acclaim and popularity.

At the same time — and not all successful authors do this — he’s continually given back to readers and supported fellow authors.  Among his many public contributions was helping to found 
International Thriller Writers.  This was no small feat, because there were those who said the organization was doomed to failure.  Still, Lee became one of the first members of the board, and later went on to be president. 

Over the years, he’s attended scores of fan conferences, making himself available to all.  His Jack Reacher parties were legendary for the free drinks, the fun, and the camaraderie.  But what few people know is that when other writers went through hard times, he was there to help, and with no fanfare.  

So this man who created über male Jack Reacher — the deadly hunk with a heart, one of modern literature’s most enigmatic and alluring heroes — is secretly, well, a sweetheart.  Dare I say it?  A pussy cat. 

Of course we had to have him in the Rogue Limelight.  Here’s the Real Lee Child answering ten questions he’s probably never been asked in an interview:

Thanks, Lee!  You’re Rogue!

Rogues:  Which is harder as you approach a Jack Reacher novel: writing the first or last sentence? 
Lee:  I love doing the first sentence, because it's structurally unique - the only sentence in the book that doesn't follow another sentence.  Equally the last sentence can be faded and elegiac.  I find both equally easy.  It's the thousands of sentence in between that are hard.

Rogues:  What's your favorite word?
Lee:  Midsummer.

Rogues:  Where do you like to write?
Lee:  In my office in New York.  My main problem is chairs.  I have such a bony ass I'm always uncomfortable.

Rogues:  What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?
Lee:  I get up from my uncomfortable chair and go do something else — out for music or theater or the Yankees, or reading.

Rogues:  If you could have lived in a different time period, what would it be?
Lee:  I read a lot of history and wouldn't want to go back to any of it.  May I head for the future?

Rogues:  What's your favorite drink?
Lee:  Black coffee, or failing that, Dom Perignon 2002, or Pol Roger Winston Churchill.  Or Paul Newman lemonade.

Rogues:  When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lee:  Loved.

Rogues:  Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write your Jack Reacher novels & stories?
Lee:  My heroes are my fellow writers.  I am always inspired by the talent, energy and intelligence they have.

Rogues:  Describe your very first car.
Lee:  It was a red 1969 VW Beetle, bought seven years old for about $600.  It had 34bhp.  It ran and ran — totally spoiled me.  I had no idea you had to service cars.

Rogues:  Do you write what you know or what you want to know?
Lee:  Neither.  I write what I feel.  I remember the quotidian fears and joys we have, and blow them up into something larger.

Thank you, Lee!  And now ... what else is in the offing for Reacher?  His latest paperback reprint is Night School.  Plus, Reacher appears in a brand-new short story with Kathy Reichs’ Brennan in MatchUp: The Battle of the Sexes Just Got Thrilling, which Lee is also editing.  And finally, Reacher's 22nd thriller — The Midnight Line — arrives November 7th.  Preorder now so you can be among the first to read it.

Lee will be appearing at ThrillerFest from July 11 to 15 in New York City, where he’ll receive the ThrillerMaster Award for excellence in writing and contributions to the field.  Also in attendance will be Rogues Jamie Freveletti, Chris Goff, K.J. Howe, S. Lee Manning, and moi (Gayle Lynds).

Come join us!

What's your favorite Reacher book?  We'd love to know!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


by Gayle Lynds

In my espionage novel The Book of Spies, Eva Blake’s name was originally Ann Blake.  This may seem like a small change for an author to make, but for me, it made all the difference.  In the story, Ann was a pretty woman with red hair and a sunny disposition who was a top curator at the celebrated Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  “Ann Blake” works, right?  She sounds solid, reliable, unpretentious.

But then Ann got into trouble.  The result was her husband was killed — had she really been responsible?  Apparently, yes, and Ann was sent to prison.  She changed, grew quiet, watchful, and strong.  Then in a couple of years she had a lucky break.  The CIA needed her expertise to help find the lost Library of Gold.  When she left prison, she was no longer sunny.  She was complex, and all of a sudden I couldn’t write about her anymore.  She didn’t come alive on the page.  She kept sliding back to my original creation.  The book stopped working.

These are the moments when writers resort to long walks, eat cartons of ice cream, drink a lot of wine, phone friends to catch up after five years of no communication.  These are the times that try a writer’s soul. . . .

“Ann Blake” sucked, and I didn’t know why. 

The truth was, I didn’t know her anymore.

In real life, our names are given to us.  Sometimes we like them, and sometimes we don’t.  If we dislike them enough, we can change them.  If we marry, sometimes we incorporate our spouse’s name into ours, and that can alter or clarify the idea of us as individuals.  Choices and opportunities help us to forge our identities.

And that was true of characters in books. . . . 

Ah-ha!  Ann Blake needed a new name! 

After trying many, I finally settled on keeping her last name, but changing the first to "Eva."  In a way, Eva Blake was brand-new when she left prison and started on her mission for the CIA, and her altered name gave her (or was it me?) the flexibility and energy to discover who she really was.

I resumed working, and at a feverish speed.  Eva drove the story and beckoned me on as she continued to take hold until at the end of the book she surprised me by choosing a life that hadn’t occurred to me.  But then, it was her life.  Brava, Eva!

Many writers relate to characters strongly through their names.  I’ve spent days finding just the right one, have finished entire novels and gone back and changed others until they rang true.  And it’s always worth it.  But then, that's who I am.

How do names affect you?  Please tell!

Sunday, June 11, 2017


by Chris Goff

I am lucky. I've been to a lot of places. My folks were responsible for my visiting forty-nine of the states, Canada, Mexico and thirteen European countries – either by taking me there or helping finance the journeys. Since then my family and friends have helped me add Israel, Jamaica, Morocco, Puerto Rico, UK, Scotland and Ireland; and my career has added Alaska, Ukraine and Poland.

For my latest book, RED SKYlaunching June 13th—I had the pleasure of spending two weeks with my youngest daughter, Addie, scoping out the backstreets of Kiev, Krakow, Gdańsk and Berlin. The last city didn't make the cut for the book, but it did put a dent in My Bucket List.

One of my favorite parts of exploring a new location is sousing out the essence of area. Because of my time in Israel, I was able to instill in my first thriller, DARK WATERS, a true sense of place. The time spent people-watching in Dizengoff Square, walking along the shores of Lake Kinneret and drinking coffee in old town Jaffa supplied anecdotes and ambience that helped make my story come to life.

The same can be said for the time spent walking over 40 miles around the city of Kyiv, strolling Old Town Krakow and buying amber in the market, listening to the chatter of school children touring Auschwitz, eating ice cream on the Royal Way in Gdańsk, or being terrorized by a bicycle-gang in Berlin—the latter weaving in and around the pedestrians on tricked out bicycles, wearing leathers, boom-box blaring and beers in hand. A little research turned up that earlier in the year, a bicycle gang of left-wing activists calling themselves the Social Democratic People's Bicycle Commando had claimed responsibility for torching 48 luxury cars parked on the streets as a political statement against gentrification.

The message for thriller writers and readers: you don't have to make this stuff up. But the fact remains, in spite of having been fortunate enough to see a lot of the world, there are many more places and things left to see. Here's the top-five on my list.

1. Russia.
Ever since I was a little girl and read about the Romanovs and the possible escape of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (a rumor I know has been proven false in recent years), I have wanted to visit St. Petersburg and the Alexander Palace.
2. China.
More specifically, the Great Wall and Emperor Quin's Tomb and the Terra-Cotta Army.

3. Victoria Falls.
The falls forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and has been described by the Kololo trip as "Mosi-oa-Tunya"—The Smoke that Thunders. During the height of the rainy season more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge, a width of nearly two kilometers, into a gorge over one hundred meters below.

4. The Egyptian Pyramids.
Specifically the ones found at Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. The Pyramid of Khufu is the largest, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence.

5. The Galapagos Islands.
The volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean is considered one of the world's foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing and shelters a diversity of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else. A province of Ecuador, it lies about 1,000km off its coast.

Oh, and

Bonus 6. The Great Barrier Reef.

The largest living thing on earth, it's situated off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia and is even visible from outer space. I'll admit to being a little scared of the Great White Sharks, but then I should never have watched the movie Sharknado (joke). It was actually JAWS that made me afraid of the water. Of course, I don't let it stop me. I'm just a bit of a nervous Nellie.

So what's on your Bucket List? I'd love to know. Maybe it's somewhere I've never thought to go.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


by Sonja Stone


Huts over the water
The Four Seasons, Bora Bora

I’ve written before about my favorite vacations—a week at Miraval Resort, a full-service spa tucked in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona. Survival courses conducted by sandal-wearing field guides in the Grand Escalante Staircase. The sun-kissed Mediterranean cruise I took with my mother. These vacations, extraordinary and meaningful, aren’t typical getaways. Not for me, anyway.

I live in the Sonoran Desert, and our summers are brutal. It’s God-awful hot all the time. You wake at four in the morning to go on a run and it’s already ninety degrees. It’s a good time to travel, and for whatever reason, I always seem to head east.

I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Minnesota. I traveled with my boyfriend and his daughter to a family wedding. It was my first time in Minnesota, and the climate surprised me. The air along the Mississippi River, humid and thick with cottonwood dander, reminded me of my college days. Washington College, located in Chestertown, Maryland, is nestled along the Chesapeake Bay, where the air smells briny, fishy, full of life and possibility. 

Over the course of the weekend we hiked several times, through tall fields and hardwood forests, alongside meadows and rivers. The leaves on the maple trees were as big as both my hands. The oaks and aspens felt like old friends. I’d forgotten how green summers can be. Pink peony bushes in full bloom, hostas lining front walks, irises flowering in the local parks.

trees in Minnesota
What's a vacation without a walk in the woods?
I don’t allow myself a lot of down-time, so a favorite part of vacation is reading something just for fun. A hot, humid summer day begs for a book. This past weekend, I reread THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. I was so engrossed in the novel that I kept thinking I was in Mississippi, not Minnesota; Jackson, 1962, on a cotton plantation with mossy oak trees and waves of heat shimmering off the fields. Or standing with Minny in the farmhouse kitchen, frying up pork chops in a sizzling cast-iron pan. 

As a writer, the aspect of the craft I most struggle with is description and setting. I’ve always been told I’m good at dialogue, but when it comes to sketching a sense of place, I fall short—horrifically, dreadfully, consistently. I’m like that in real life, too. I rarely notice my surroundings, the vistas, the sweeping views. I notice the minutiae: the crack in the restaurant table that’s caked with grease and dust, the tiny albino spider crawling inside the jagged white crevices that make up Death Valley, the honeybee whose legs are heavy with yellow pollen. I also notice people: body language, posture, nonverbal communication, aberrations. I think this is why I’m so drawn to espionage as a genre. Words laced with supposition and innuendo; truth portrayed as relative rather than absolute; motives determining the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. People interest me.

Ironically, my dream vacation involves no people. I’m picturing a tiny hut with a glass-bottom floor built over a turquoise sea somewhere in the South Pacific. There’s a constant breeze, an endless supply of mangoes, no bugs, and a few quiet guests. 

Manhattan, July 9, 2016
On the other hand, last July I attended ThrillerFest in Manhattan. I thought I would hate New York—the crowds, the noise, the constant stimulation—but I absolutely loved it. Of course, any vacation that involves learning totally turns me on, and ThrillerFest provides amazing classes. I attended lectures by D.P. Lyle, MD, Meg Gardiner, Gayle Lynds, Steve Berry, David Morrell, and Walter Mosley, just to name a few. I’m saddened that I won’t be joining my blog sisters at this year’s ThrillerFest.

Come to think of it, my boyfriend accompanied me on that trip, too. He has an adventurous spirit, which is a lovely contrast to my excessively cautious one. He’s an extrovert, and so strikes up conversations with strangers all the time. I find this taxing, but he’s also really good about not taking it personally when I need to slip away for a few hours to recharge (in this case, with Kathryn Stockett and her imaginary friends). He’s spontaneous, but knows that I’m not, so he thoughtfully schedules our spontaneity. I receive ample warning that in three hours we will be venturing out into the world; I have time to prepare snacks and bottles of water. Last year, he presented me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received: a shoe box filled with packets of nuts and jerky, tissues, water bottles, and hand sanitizer. He keeps it in his truck, so if our adventuring takes us too far from home, I always have emergency rations. 

I can honestly say that if I make it to the hut in Bora Bora, I hope he’s by my side. With snacks.

So what do you think—what makes the vacation? The location, the traveling companion? Or are those things irrelevant—is it all about a positive attitude?