Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Avoid these pitfalls for maximum success.

by Sonja Stone

There aren't a lot of rules when writing for the young adult (YA) market, but there are a few pitfalls you'll want to avoid.

My youngest heads off for college in a few weeks, so it's time to drag out my binder-full of lectures (Why You Shouldn't Go to Frat Parties; Don't Have Casual Sex But If You Do Use Protection; Don't Drink, Smoke, or Use Drugs; Always Carry a Sweater Because You Never Know When a Cold Snap Will Roll In; Don't Drink Caffeine After 3pm; Hang Up Your Wet Towel; Skype Your Mother Once a Week So I Know You're Still Alive; etc, etc, etc). Two minutes into the first lecture I'm met with a heavy sigh, eye rolling, and the facial expression meant to convey that I'm old and don't know/understand anything about the teenage experience... Which brings me to my first point of What Not To Do in a YA Novel.


If your goal is to share a moral lesson with young adults, don't bother writing a novel. Teens (and many adults) won't suffer a ten-minute verbal lecture, much less 300 pages of preaching. This isn't to say that your protagonist cannot have a strong moral compass, perhaps even one that deviates from the new norms of society, but if your voice (as the morality-police-turned-author) seeps through the pages, do not expect a warm reception. (That said, it's perfectly acceptable to stick to your own code of ethics. As I've mentioned, I'm not comfortable writing sex scenes for young adults, so I don't. But plenty of YA writers do it very well.)


Let me rephrase: don't try to sound like what you think a teenager sounds like. For me, this would include addressing one's mother as 'brah,' and grunting in response to a variety of questions ranging from 'did you register for your classes yet?' to 'what would you like for dinner?' Trendy phrases quickly date your manuscript ('groovy' turned to 'cool' turned to 'wicked' turned to whatever-the-hell-kids-say-now).

Remember that teens--as a general rule--are fairly self-involved (this is why I write YA--it's totally natural for me to be in that same mindset :)). A teenage girl will usually not think to herself, "Boy, my mom seems really tense. She's been snapping at me a lot lately. I wonder what I can do to help her through this difficult time?" Her thought process is more like this: "My mom's being a total bitch. What is her problem?"


Along this same line, I would avoid naming specific social media outlets, as these change and fluctuate. Anyone remember MySpace? Vine (the 6-second video platform) was huge last year, and as far as I know, no longer exists. If technology is critical to your story, consider inventing your own social media platform. You're a creative writer, after all.


Teenagers are intelligent. As a rule, while they may not communicate (at all) with their parents, they really are quite adept at navigating social nuances among their peers. There's no need to over-explain your scene. Be subtle, and when in doubt, less is more (never use two words when one will do). Don't be afraid to use intelligent vocabulary--there's no need to dumb down the language. Furthermore, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your teenager probably knows way more about sex and drugs than you do. (Thanks, google.)


This seems especially true in YA literature--it seems anything goes. The Twilight and Harry Potter series successfully ignored the typical YA word count of 80-90K. No topics are off limits--drug use and abuse, suicide, sex, sexuality, racism, gender identity, dealing with death and grief. A great book doesn't tell me how I should live my life. I believe the gift of a well-written YA novel sends the message: You are not alone. 

Keep these tips in mind as you're writing for teens, and please: add to this list in the comment section below!

Post Script:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Hurricane Harvey. If you'd like to donate, consider searching Charity Navigator. This website offers unbiased, friction-free ratings of charitable organizations, and grades charities based on their financial health and the transparency and accountability of their financial records. The site is not affiliated with any particular faith, denomination, organization, or political party.

photo credits: whatever, Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash
boy on dock: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Sunday, August 27, 2017


By Francine Mathews

As the country has gone through a deep chasm of soul-searching this August, I've cast my thoughts back to a childhood I never knew, only heard about in stories: my father's early years in rural Western Pennsylvania. 

Why? Because he watched a cross burn in front of a good friend's house one winter night, and decided to do something about it. He was probably ten years old.

We tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan as a Southern oddity these days--an outgrowth of Reconstruction and the Civil War that spawned it. We know that its targets have been African-Americans and Jews from its inception. But in 1920s America, when the Klan was nascent and powerful, it sprang up all over northern states as well. In places like Colorado and Ohio and Pennsylvania, white Protestants resentful of immigrants and ethnic minorities--Irish, Italians, Poles and Germans who practiced the Catholic faith--used horses and white hoods to intimidate their neighbors. In my dad's small town of Tremont, where his family had lived for three generations, this meant him.

Joe Barron was born in 1915. On his father's side, the Barrons had emigrated from County Waterford, Ireland, as so many others did--to flee the potato famine of 1848. On his mother's side, the Lorenzes had left Alsace-Lorraine to avoid the frequent wars between France and Germany that made the two provinces perennial bargaining chips. Joe was a classic Northern European, blond-haired and blue-eyed, born during the First World War. His father ran the Tremont General Store. His grandfather Lorenz was a mining engineer who died in an underground explosion before he was born.

His childhood nights were lit by burning crosses, left on the lawns of Catholic neighbors by mounted horsemen disguised in white hoods. He found them terrifying, and because he was afraid he hated the crosses and the robed figures who torched them.

In the winter of 1925, the Grand Wizard of the local Klan suddenly died. All of Tremont knew who he was--and that his faithful followers intended to stage a public funeral procession through the main street of town. The Klansmen would go mounted on horses, robed in white, following the Grand Wizard's hearse.

My father made some plans, too. Heavy snows had recently fallen, and he knew of a hillside not far from the funeral procession's end point that would make a perfect tactical redoubt. He gathered his friends together well before the ominous parade started and built fortifications. Stockpiled arms. When the Grand Wizard's hearse hove into sight, they were ready.

The funeral procession was ambushed by a fusillade of snowballs. 

Horses reared and broke from their ranks. Hoods were pelted. Men ducked and swore, and confusion reigned.  The ground was trampled and the hearse veered into a ditch.

My dad and his friends fired the last of their ammunition and took off pell-mell down the back of the hillside before any of the mounted Klansmen could pursue them. 

Sometimes, as the Duke of Wellington noted, retreat is a means to fight another day.

What matters about this story, however, is the aftermath--the reason my father bothered to tell it at all.

When he returned home triumphantly to explain what he'd done, his mother was breathtakingly angry.

It's possible she was afraid he'd been seen and identified by one of the Klansmen, along with his friends, and that next time the cross--or worse--would burn on the Barron house's front lawn. Or maybe she was terrifed one of the boys, or one of their fathers, would be strung up from a tree one dark winter's night, in retribution. 

She ordered my father to change into his best suit, buy a bouquet of flowers with his pocket money, and walk alone to the Grand Wizard's doorstep.

There, he was required to apologize in person to the man's widow, for having added to her grief.

My father never forgot his mother's lesson. She was determined that he learn forgiveness--and learn to ask for it in turn from those who made a hobby of terrorizing their neighbors. She was determined that he turn the other cheek, as his Catholic faith urged. Only then would he defeat the men who rode with torches, in darkness and in hoods.

Joe went on to fight against the Nazis, of course, as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II. There was no question in anyone's mind, in 1941, what purity of race--and the violence that drove it--meant. But as my father's generation has aged and passed from this earth, so has that absolute sense of moral certainty in the face of evil. 

Except, perhaps, in the minds and hearts of those who have heard such stories--recognize their truths--and pass them on.

Tell us, fellow readers--what childhood lessons have marked you indelibly?

Happy end of summer--


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sex Scenes in Thrillers: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


So, how many of you know what I'm talking about? Most, I imagine, but the thriller crowd skews over thirty so most readers haven't used the latest apps. I'm talking about Tinder, where you upload a picture of yourself and some allegedly true facts in a bio ("I like long walks by the beach and cocoa in front of a blazing fire in winter, have read War and Peace and hold an advanced degree in economics from Harvard and a diploma in international studies from Oxford.") And then others view that profile and swipe right if they want to meet you or left if they're passing on the opportunity. If you swipe right you get to meet this random stranger in person who could be the next Hannibal Lecter.

Yes, in our world people are doing this and all I think as a thriller writer is: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? Just about all of us on this blog and every thriller writer everywhere could write over 90,000 words working with this scenario alone.

And this is exactly what I think when I'm deciding on adding a sex scene in a thriller. Because a whole heck of a lot can go wrong when an author not trained in the art of writing romance tries to write it. And just how much can go wrong can be read in my earlier post here. And no, I didn't make up the bad sex description cited in that post. It's real. Let's face it folks, those romance authors? They're professionals. I'm just a thriller writer moonlighting as a romance author when writing my scenes.

But I'm not against all sex in thrillers, just BAD sex.

My vote is to have sex in thrillers, but first base it on a description of characters whose connection grows over time-either for good or evil, and second, learn how to write it. Without the growth you have no real character arc, and every good novel should have one somewhere. And if that arc is based on a horrible character reeling in a helpless other (Basic Instinct, Body Heat) that's fine too.This is especially true in espionage novels where the target is drawn in by the spy. The sex is just the hook they use on the poor victim.

And without the training you won't be able to create the scene in a way that's believable to the reader. Those who want to attempt these scenes should read books written by romance authors and learn how it's done. With any luck your scene won't win this year's bad sex in novels award.


Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Love Scenes in Thrillers?

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

This month my Rogue colleagues have been contributing various ideas about creating love scenes in thrillers: are they wanted...needed... to truly enhance the story and develop the relationship of the key characters?  (Believe me -- I've heard many arguments from readers, editors and agents about these very issues).

Then there's the question: If these scenes become an integral part of the narrative, should these books be defined as  "Romantic Thrillers" or "Romantic Suspense" or some other designation? And IF they do contain explicit love scenes, which authors create the best ones?

Author Nora Roberts
I did a bit of research and discovered that of the "50 most popular novels" described as "Romantic Thrillers" - EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE TOP 50 WAS WRITTEN BY A WOMAN.  For example, the author often called  the "Queen of Romance," with 400 million copies of her books in print,  is Nora Roberts, also writing in the romantic thriller genre as J. D. Robb.  

In fact, even though it's been out for many years, her thriller, Naked in Death, is still rated #1 on the Good Reads website. From the description, it's obvious that there is quite a romantic connection between the lead characters:  Eve, a NY police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer becomes involved with an Irish billionaire -- who turns out to be
a suspect in her murder investigation. "But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about -- except the addictive hunger of needing his touch." Yep - a thriller with romance all right.

Among other "top rated" Romantic Thrillers (at Good Reads) are novels by Karen Rose, Cynthia Eden, Kristen Ashley - again, all talented female authors - and the list goes on.

Now, what about bestselling male authors who write thrillers? Checking the current lists, John Grisham's new book, Camino Island, has been up there ever since it was published this past June.

The story: "A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University's Firestone library." It features Bruce Cable, a bookstore owner and  Mercer Mann, an attractive young novelist.  I just read this book and can tell you that yes, it's a terrific story, but no, there are no great love scenes. Even though Bruce and Mercer do spend several nights together, the author definitely leaves out the details and more or less "closes the door," as we say.

Author Lee Child
Then there are many other male writers who sell millions of thrillers - such as one of our favorites, Lee Child, who has been a guest blogger for us here on our Rogue website: . Lee also has introduced our Rogue Women Writers panel at major writers' conferences.  I've read many of Lee's books, and no, I don't recall any truly, descriptive love scenes in those either. It doesn't seem to matter to book buyers though. I see that his new thriller, The Midnight Line, doesn't even come out until November, and it is already high on Amazon's bestseller list.

In fact, this list of men-who-don't-write-love-scenes goes on: Nelson DeMille, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn (with Kyle Mills now writing Vince's characters), Stuart Woods -- all writing great thrillers, sans the bedroom angle.

My conclusion: Women write GREAT love scenes. Men don't. I wonder if they just don't know HOW to write them, simply choose not to, or feel that such scenes would  "slow down the action" too much - and they're all about action -- right?  What do you think? Would you rather read a thriller WITH love scenes...or WITHOUT?   While we know that women can describe wonderful tension and tenderness between a man and a women, another question -- can you recommend any bestselling male authors who can pull it off? Please leave a comment. We'd "love" to hear from you!

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


by K.J. Howe

The theme for the Rogue Women Writers this month Well, an interesting topic to be sure.  If you're writing an international thriller featuring espionage, you might want to consider giving your protagonist a romp in between missions.  After doing a little research on the hidden benefits of sex, I finally understand why James Bond was so active in this milieu...all in sacrifice of His Majesty's Service.


*Sex reduces stress.  If you had to face Odd Job, Goldfinger, and other nefarious villains, wouldn't you struggle with the demands of your job?  Studies show that people who had sex at least once over a period of two weeks were better able to manage stressful situations.  Endorphins and Oxytocin are released during sex, and these feel-good hormones activate the pleasure centres in the brain, helping stave off anxiety and depression.  It's a must to stay in good mental shape.

*Sounder Sleep.  Spies combat jet-lag, long nights of surveillance, and intense missions.  To survive and prosper, these elite professionals need to grab some shut-eye whenever and wherever they can.  And sex is the perfect primer for quality rest.  During orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released--and prolactin levels are naturally higher when we sleep,   And if you need to pull a all-nighter to pick up a dead drop message, just have some chandelier acrobatics, as it can make you feel energized, ready to take on anything and anyone.

*Minimizes pain.  Any self-respecting action hero gets in a few tussles now and then, and sex is the perfect antidote for pain.  The surge of hormones can ease any annoying battered body parts.  Endorphins closely resemble morphine, and they can be the ideal answer to bruised and cracked ribs.

*Enhances the immune system.  The life of a spy is go, go, go...after all, espionage happens 24/7.  No time for illness or annoying colds.  People who have sex have higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA), and these antibodies help combat diseases and keep the body safe from colds and flu. You'll notice that Q doesn't make any special tools using Kleenex.

*Fitness.  It's critical for spies to stay in shape given the gruelling nature of their jobs.  Sex counts as cardio!  A romp can burn anywhere from 85 to 250 calories, depending on the length and intensity of the session.  Skip the treadmill and get a fabulous back, butt, and thigh workout instead.

Whether you're a fan of Daniel, Sean, Roger, Pierce or any of the other talented actors who have played the uber-spy, I hope you'll agree that half the fun of watching the movies is to see the connection Bond has with the opposite sex.  I'm hoping now that there is a female Doctor Who, there might be a female Bond in the near future.  If so, who do you think would do the part justice, both in and out of the bedroom?

Sunday, August 13, 2017


S. Lee Manning: Okay, I admit it. The title is to get your attention – and to do an acknowledgement of the topic of the month even though I’m writing off-topic.

Just in case you ever wondered how we Rogue Women Writers select the topic for the month: we brainstorm ideas and then narrow them down to about eight months worth of topics. Once approved by all of us, dates are attached and an e-mail circulated. The topics are suggestions only. Each of us is free to write something completely different in our individual posts – and we often do. But there’s always the topic of the month to fall back on if we don’t have anything we’d find more interesting.  This round was supposed to be about sex. What’s more interesting than sex?

And yet – I decided to write about something else. I decided to write about my brain.

I can even connect it to the topic de la month – because after all, the brain is a sex organ – maybe the most important one. What’s more sexy than intelligence? After all, Mr. Darcy (played by Colin Firth) after diving into the pond looked really fine in his wet clothes, but it was his mind and his spirit,
(okay and maybe his body in those wet clothes), that had me drooling back in the day. But I digress. I tend to do that, which is part of what I’m posting about.

Back to my brain.

About a month ago, I had a chat with my son. He’s an extremely bright young man, who majored in psychology and soon will be starting graduate school. Anyway, he informed me that he had ADHD – and that he thought that I did too.

What I knew about ADHD, or thought I knew, had to do with children, particularly young boys, who had trouble sitting still in school. My son never had that problem. I never had that problem.

So really?

Yeah, he said. Really. He pointed out how frequently I will switch from topic to topic, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.

But…but…I sometimes, focus so intently on my writing – or on something I’m interested in – that bombs could go off.

It’s called hyperfocus, he told me. It’s also a symptom of ADHD.

My son’s a smart guy – and very observant. So I took him seriously and went to the internet.

Here’s what I found:

Along with the hyperactivity that I associate with ADHD, there’s something called inattentive ADHD, which is more common in girls than in boys. Girls with inattentive ADHD in the past have been under diagnosed, and girls with ADHD tend to suffer from low self-esteem and depression.

Low self-esteem and depression as a teenager? Check.

Other symptoms, according to Web MD, include daydreaming, procrastination, disorganization, and careless mistakes. There’s also a failure to follow through on plans. There can be a tendency to not listen to other people – because you’re formulating a response, and a tendency to interrupt other people’s conversation.

Intelligence to some extent can mask it, but smart children with ADHD tend to be classified as underachievers – because while they will hyperfocus on subjects that interest them, they will zone out when they get bored.


Symptom check.

I interrupt people all the time. Family hates it. I know the family hates it. Still do it. I sometimes don’t listen to conversation because I’m so busy thinking about what I’m going to say. EVERYONE hates that.

Check on the other symptoms too. Daydream constantly. I’ve gotten better at procrastination, but still do it. Underachiever – that was my nickname. In high school, I had top grades in English and history, Cs and Ds in science and math – maybe in part because I was always at the back of the classes reading novels.

Failure to follow through? Don’t get me started. (Of course, I probably wouldn’t finish once I started, but just saying.) I started so many classes that sounded interesting in college and then just dropped them. After college, the trend continued. Projects. Novels. Hobbies.  Started …focused intently for a bit…and dropped.

Things were significantly better in law school. I was really motivated. I was tired of being the smart person who didn’t live up to potential. The motivation paid off. I could read and focus on long texts by making notes in the margins to keep myself from zoning out – and I graduated with honors.

ADHD technique to help focus, my son said.

Sometimes having a smart son can get annoying.

I must say it explains a lot about my son, who’s figured out ways to cope and graduated college at the top of his class. It seems to explain something about me too.

I took the question to my primary care provider. There’s no blood test or physical exam that can detect ADHD.  The only test is your history. I filled out forms on my life and on my current self, took them back, and she said, yup, looks like you have ADHD. She also noted that my lifelong addition to coffee may have been my trying to self-medicate  – that coffee does some of the same things that medication does for ADHD, just not as well.

Damn again.

So what does it matter? 

I’m an adult. I’m no longer practicing law. What does it really matter if I didn’t live up to my potential in school – or in the legal profession?

It does matter, and in important ways.

There’s the issue of self-esteem. I always thought I was lazy. I blamed myself for being disorganized and underachieving. Blamed myself for not accomplishing more than I have – for the novels I’ve started and never finished, for the other projects I’ve abandoned. There’s something rather pleasant about learning after all this time that maybe it wasn’t just laziness.  Maybe my brain just works differently – and maybe there are ways to work with my brain.

Then there’s going forward with my life.

I am a writer now, and I plan to continue to write for the next thirty years, give or take a few.  When I get into hyperfocus mode, writing is great – and I can pour out the pages. But hyperfocus doesn’t happen all the time.

Sometimes it’s hard to make myself focus. Sometimes, I get distracted – Colin Firth’s wet clothes – or maybe a SQUIRREL. Sometimes, instead of writing, I get into arguments on Facebook or look up
vacation homes in Paris. Then the old I-can’t-get-anything-done-I’m-a-lazy-underachiever kicks in. Except that now I know. I have an ADHD brain, and it’s a question of managing it – and I can stop beating myself up.

That alone is worth a lot.

So managing…

There’s behavioral techniques. I had already developed some of them without knowing it. Creating routines.  Getting up early, drinking my coffee, sitting down at the computer is my writing routine that I’ve discussed in another post. It does help. As does turning off Facebook. But most importantly, knowing that I’m neither lazy nor hopeless because I have an ADHD day when I’m focused on Paris or political fights or squirrels.

Then there’s medication. This morning I took a pill. It’s a stimulant that’s suppose to help the ADHD brain focus.  I’m not sure if it’s doing anything – but I do seem more focused, more alert. Maybe it’s the five cups of coffee – or maybe it’s the pill. I kind of like this. I need to give it some time to see how I feel – and, more importantly, how I work. Do note that I just knocked out this post in under three hours – not a bad sign.

I just hope I’m not up all night – possible side effect from taking a stimulant – but if I am, hey, more time to write. It would be the perfect time to write a sex scene. After all, what’s more sexy than a working brain?  (Yeah, yeah, Colin Firth, wet shirt, yada yada.)

So a big thank you to my son for clueing me in.  It will not change anything about the past, but for all the above reasons – it’s good to know.

Friday, August 11, 2017

TESS GERRITSEN GOES ROGUE and shares her formula for writing inspiration

...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

We are delighted to welcome International Bestselling Author, Tess Gerritsen to our Rogue website.
Tess Gerritsen
Tess graduated from Stanford and received her MD from UC San Francisco.  Taking a break from her practice as a physician she wrote the screenplay "Adrift" which aired as a CBS movie. In addition to numerous thrillers, her series of novels about detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the TV series "Rizzoli & Isles." But where does Tess get HER inspiration? Here is her own story:

Want to Come Up With Something New?  Combine!

 By Tess Gerritsen 

“Where do you get your ideas?” Every novelist has heard this question, and most of us can pinpoint the moment we read a news article or overheard a juicy bit of gossip and instantly saw it as an idea for a story.  But too often that story idea feels anemic and not quite enough to sustain an entire novel.  It might work as a starting point to launch the plot, but it’s lacking that special something that gives it truly new twist.

That’s the time to use my tried-and-true formula for creativity: 1 + 1 = 5. 

Translated: When you find a way to combine two unrelated ideas in a way that hasn’t been done before, you’ll end up with something greater than the sum, something unique and fresh.

Years ago, I read about the declassification of a government document concerning the “Dugway Sheep Incident.”  Decades earlier there’d been an accident involving military nerve gas in Utah.  Errant winds had blown the gas into a place called Skull Valley (I’m not making this up) and overnight, thousands of sheep and countless birds were killed.  For decades, the sheep deaths remained an unsolved mystery – until the incident was finally declassified. 

I read that article and instantly thought of the story possibilities.  What if people had been killed in that accident?  What if a whole town was killed?  How could that disaster be hidden from the public, and how far would the responsible parties go to escape prosecution?  I played with various plot scenarios, but I couldn’t come up with a story that felt fresh, so I set the article aside in my “ideas” folder, where it sat for a few years.
And then I had a little GPS misadventure.  I was trying to navigate to a bed and breakfast in upstate New York and I faithfully followed my GPS straight into a cornfield.  Luckily there was a rudimentary path plowed through the cornfield, and I could see tire tracks already there, so I continued through that field and rejoined the pavement a few hundred yards later.  When I arrived at the B&B, the owner asked: “Did you come through the cornfield?”  Some GPS glitch had sent many a driver through that same field, which explained the earlier tire tracks.
Mine was a minor calamity, but other drivers have blindly followed their GPS’s into lakes, onto railroad tracks, even to the edge of cliffs.  I began to imagine all the possible disasters (that’s what writers do, after all) and suddenly the magic story combination struck me. A GPS mishap.  A group of stranded travelers stranded in a snowstorm.  A town where everyone has mysteriously died.  That’s how the plot of Ice Cold came together.  I melded two ideas -- the Dugway Sheep Incident and GPS mishaps -- into a story that felt fresh and unique. 
My newest novel, I KNOW A SECRET, came together in a similar way.  While traveling in Italy, I found myself weary of viewing portraits of the same religious figures in art museum after art museum.  After seeing twenty versions of “Madonna and Child,” how many more can you take?  Then in Florence, I bought a book called How To Read A Painting and suddenly I saw symbols that I’d never noticed before.  Now I knew that a woman holding an ointment pot must be Mary Magdalene, the wild-looking man dressed in shabby animals hides is John the Baptist, and the man shot with arrows is St. Sebastian.  I became obsessed with decoding the meaning of every painting.  Then (because I’m a crime writer) I thought: what if a killer staged murders in the same way medieval artists depicted religious scenes?
            It was a start, but it wasn’t a plot yet.  It needed that special “something” to make it unique – something that I took from my own life.  A few years ago, my son Josh and I joined forces to make a horror feature film called “Island Zero,” about islanders off the coast of Maine who are suddenly cut off from the outside world after the ferry suddenly stops coming.  Their phones are dead, and every boat sent to the mainland fails to return.  I wrote the script, Josh directed, and we shot the film during a very cold March in Maine.  Immersing myself in the world of horror films was a quirky, exhausting experience, and we faced all the challenges of indie filmmaking, from hiring crew and actors, dealing with bad weather, and of course the inevitable snafus.  Now that “Island Zero” is on the film festival circuit,  I’ve discovered that horror fans are pretty cool people, and I thought it would be fun to set a novel in their oddball world.
I combined those two themes, horror filmmaking and religious symbolism, to come up with the plot for I KNOW A SECRET.  The story kicks off with a murder scene that baffles Det. Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles.  The victim is a female horror film producer whose eyes have been removed post-mortem, and Jane and Maura wonder if the killer is copying scenes from the victim’s films.  Other murders follow, each crime scene bizarrely staged, and the ultimate clue might be the one hiding in plain sight – on a movie screen.
If you ever find yourself not quite satisified with a story idea, consider falling back on the 1+1=5 formula.  Collect and keep all your possible story ideas in a dedicated folder.  Some of those ideas you may never use.  But someday, when you’re stuck for a plot twist or you have only half a premise, you may find the one idea you need in that folder, the missing piece that you can plug into that equation to make your plot shine. 
Tess's new thriller "I Know a Secret" will be released August 15.  then she will be embarking on an extensive nation-wide book tour.  For dates and details, visit: Thanks, Tess, for sharing your 1+1=5 "formula" with all of us here.  As for our Rogue visitors -- leave a comment below -- we'll share it with Tess. 
...Karna Small Bodman 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


by Gayle Lynds:  Is sex really necessary in fiction?  I have industry secrets to reveal about this hotly debated subject, at least about how it relates to my career and the careers of other authors.  Then you should judge for yourselves....

I wrote my first novel, Masquerade, without a literary agent or a publishing contract.  Which means I had no one to answer to and was able to create the kind of novel I very much enjoyed reading.  In this case, that included a couple of sex scenes because I felt the characters and story called for it.  No one questioned what I’d done, and the book was published with the scenes untouched.  Readers enjoyed Masquerade, and it went on to win good reviews and hit the New York Times bestseller list.  I thought the response was an indication I kinda knew what I was doing.

A Top Ten Spy Novel, Publishers Weekly
I wrote the next book, Mosaic, another spy novel, in the same way, with the characters dictating a sex scene.  But my editor’s boss said no, no.  Not enough sexual tension.  Steam, you must have steamy tension!

I thought I’d accomplished that.  Still, how bad for the book could it be to heighten the sexual tension? 

So I took a deep breath and inserted a few lingering looks and body assessments and pauses fraught with, well, steam.  The manuscript was approved and published.  More nice reviews, and a prize. 

Okay, I was getting the hang of this. 

My third novel was with the same publisher, so I knew what sort of sex was expected of me.  Done.  Book published.  Lovely responses, etc.

But then I jumped to a different publisher, joining a terrific editor.

“No sex scenes,” he told me. 

Shocked, I explained I’d gotten good at them.

Margaret Mitchell received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book.
“Nope, no sex scenes at all.  Thrillers don’t need them.  You don’t need them.  You’ll be taken more seriously as a novelist without sex scenes.”

But I just wanted to write great books that people would find riveting, seriously.  My editor assured me they'd be riveting.  And so I turned down the sexual heat.  Still, I managed to sneak in sex scenes in my subsequent novels.  Come on, sex is part of many people’s lives.  What’s a sex scene here and there gonna do to my reputation? 

Ohmygod, she knows about sex.  Horrors!  Geesh.

By the way, just for clarification, I consider my sex scenes tasteful but, well, also sexy. 

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to moderate a panel at ThrillerFest with some heavy-hitting authors who had earned good reviews, prizes, and large followings.  I was amazed to discover half of them didn’t write sex in their books.  They believed the scenes weren’t necessary.  Sex could take place off the page.
Roger Ebert: one of the "10 Best Movies of 1981"

But what about relationship development, I asked.  One can reveal character through sex scenes, I argued. 

A few on the panel agreed with me.  Others remained unconvinced.

So let’s approach this from a different direction: quality.  I’d been assuming all of us were talking about quality sex scenes.  You no doubt know there are books with awfully written sex in them.  This happens often enough that the Brits at the Literary Review have created an award for it.

Here’s how the review explains it:  “Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.”  To read a sample of what the judges consider Really Bad Sex, click here.

"For People Who Devour Books"
Meanwhile, other Brits countered.  In “Good Sex in Fiction” in The Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Gibbs writes, “It’s easy to sneer at the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award – sneering at the sneerers, as it were – but it’s no lie that writing well about sex is difficult, and perhaps more difficult in prose than in poetry....  Nevertheless, good sex writing does exist – and here, sticking to the parameters of the award, I essentially mean the sex scene in the literary novel or short story, ignoring outright pornography or its kissing cousin, erotica. Which is not to say the scene should not be arousing, but its primary object should be to serve the story. The writing should teach us about the characters. Ideally, it should teach us about sex, too.” More here.
Since I’ve been quoting the Brits, I leave the coup de grĂ¢ce to them.  A recent story in The Independent announced the Good Sex in Fiction award “hoping to end the ridicule of erotic literature:  The Erotic Review has had enough of the infamous Bad Sex in Fiction award, which it fears may dissuade authors from writing about sex, starting up the Good Sex in Fiction award in protest.”  More here

Yep, the Good Sex in Fiction award.  Given by The Erotic Review.   

So here I am, out on a literary limb, advocating for well-done sex scenes that reveal character and enhance the story.  I’m working on a new book.  Will it include a little sex?  As Dr. Seuss would write:  Tell me, what would you do?

Monday, August 7, 2017


by Chris Goff

I didn’t get to attend many panels at ThrillerFest 2017. The fact is, I ended up sick—really sick. I felt it sneak up on me on Friday afternoon, halfway through conference. So I ditched out. I went back to my hotel room around 4:30 pm, lay down for a nap and woke up the next morning with a raging fever. So I did what any responsible writer would do—I got out of bed and went to a meeting with my agent and editor. I also monitored the session I’d committed to monitoring before dutifully showing up at my panel (NOTE: I am the one in exile on the end).

The bad news

After my panel, I bailed. In the end, while I slept, I missed giving out the Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and seeing “Come From Away” on Broadway with my daughter and her boyfriend who live in Manhattan. I also cancelled my backend trip to Maine to visit family and friends, instead dragging myself home to be diagnosed with pneumonia to spend another two plus weeks sleeping and/or watching bad TV, alternating between coughing uncontrollably and dosing my cough into submission with Tussionex.

The good news

I survived. Plus, I came home from ThrillerFest with new insights on writing—despite attending only a few panels. At two of the sessions an audience member asked the same question.

How do you deal with Writer's Block?

The compiled answer: There is no such thing.

On both the "MEET THE MASTERS: Past & Present" featuring Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Heather Graham, Nelson DeMille, David Morrell, R.L. Stine, and Jeff Ayers, and "HIGH TECH, HUNCHES OR SHOE LEATHER? Tools in the Investigator’s Kit" with Sandra Brannan, C.J. Box, Sandra Brown, Peter James and Val McDermid, the majority of authors—if not all the authors—indicated they write every day, whether or not they feel like it. It’s their job, so they treat writing like a 9 to 5. Sure, some write early in the day, some write later at night. Some write in longhand on pads of paper, some type into computers, and some dictate for transcription. But the one thing they all share in common is that they produce words and pages on a daily basis. Most even have a number of hours they work, or a quota of pages or words they hold themselves accountable to produce.

More bad news: I realized that I don’t do that.

Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to succeed as a writer I had to be more disciplined about my work. To that end, I extricated myself from a lot of my extracurricular activities. I stepped off the board of my local Mystery Writers of America Chapter, a board I’d served on in some capacity for over 20 years. I took my dear friend Jedeane’s advice to start saying no to requests that put strain on my time, and I actually wrote two books that first year and another book the second year. But lately I find I am easily distracted. While I visit my desk every day, sometimes instead of writing, I will read and send emails, work on blog posts or focus on research. And sometimes I find reasons to all together do other things. In the last couple of months, while I figure out the next book in my head, I’ve not been super productive.

But there is that old adage, that to be a writer the most important thing you can do is put butt in chair. I think it’s true. The past two years, I’ve been better about writing every day. I had to. It was my job. Some days it was easier to put words on the page than others; some days it was easier to know what to write. Some days the prose was inspired, some days it was pure dreck, but eventually the characters came alive, the work took shape, and the resulting book was—IS—good.

Another thing I learned from the panelists is that all writers at some point question their ability.
It’s that point in the book where a writer wonders if their book will ever come together, or decides the book is total dreck. It happens to me about midway through, and it was nice to learn I wasn’t alone in that.

Good news: I realized that I am on the right path.

Most of the panelists had taken circuitous routes to success. Many had worked other careers. Most had tried their hand at writing different types of fiction, or non-fiction, before finding their niche.

I came up as a writer in scattershot mode. When I first started, I wrote non-fiction—newspaper columns, magazine articles and essays. I even edited rock and ice-climbing guides and did some graphic production work. When I first tried my hand at fiction, I attempted to write YA. Then I tried writing romance, a serial killer novel, and crime-based women’s fiction. But it was when I turned to mystery that I found success. After publishing six books in a cozy series, I wrote my first thriller—DARK WATERS—and knew I had found my strength and passion.

What I need is discipline.

Since the launch of RED SKY in June, I have been busy—promoting, moving houses and, lately, getting well. But I haven’t been writing. Is it any wonder I’m behind on Book #3?

Writing is fun. I can’t think of a better way to make a living. But if I want a career, maybe—just maybe—it’s time to take a lesson from the masters, stop making excuses and starting thinking of this as a job.  

Oh, and while I'm at it, let me apologize for being late with the blog. You see, I had Writer's Block....