Tuesday, February 27, 2018


by K.J. Howe

Stories about double agents pepper the annals of the history of spies, stories showcasing misplaced trust and betrayal.  Still, how could a soft-spoken physician become a triple agent, deceiving those who live and breathe the trade?  

That is exactly what happened on December 30, 2009 when a doctor named Humam Khalili al-Balawi arrived at a CIA base near Khost, Afghanistan.  Although little was known about the doctor, he breezed through security checks with his promise of intelligence on al-Qaeda.

The result? The deadliest strike against the CIA in 25 years.  Balawi detonated his explosive vest, killing seven CIA officers, two other personnel, and himself.  The shock wave rippled straight up to Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time.  How could the elite experts on tradecraft have become victims of this triple agent?

The story starts in January 2009, when a Jordanian Mukhabarat intelligence officer named Ali bin Zeid brought in a mild-mannered doctor named Balawi who treated the poor in Palestinian refugee camps.  Balawi had adopted several online personas in highly inflammatory anti-Western blogs.  After three days of interrogation, Balawi "cracked," and Zeid believed he could use him to further his cause.  Sending Balawi into Pakistan was a gamble, but the joint approach of the Mukhabarat and CIA was to imbed as many long shots as possible in an attempt to penetrate al-Qaeda's inner circle.  A grave miscalculation.

After the young doctor was released by the Mukhabarat, bin Zeid attempted to woo him by sharing tales of the Mukhabarat's exploits and offering large sums of money in exchange for tips about al-Qaeda's leadership.  Although Balawi didn't speak Pashto, he had lived in South Waziristan for several months where he met Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander.  Balawi offered to travel to the tribal areas of Pakistan.  Several months passed with no word, but then a video arrived with Balawi sitting with senior al-Qaeda officials in a tent.  Working his way into the inner circle, Balawi was treating Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command.

In retrospect, there were many red flags in Balawi's background.  While the doctor claimed to abhor violence and disavowed his extreme online rhetoric as a hobby, he had tried to join the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi insurgency in Iraq.  Also, while living in Turkey, Balawi and his future wife, Defne, had translated books about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  And, they named their first daughter after an infamous female Palestinian hijacker, and their second daughter after a woman who had made a film about the hijacker.

When Balwali shared that he could lead the CIA to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Americans were excited and wanted to meet him in person.  There were a few skeptics, including Darren LaBonte, bin Zeid's CIA counterpart and friend in Amman.  He felt that this manna from heaven was too good to be true.  Sadly, he was correct.

Balawi and his wife who was supportive of his anti-American sentiments.
It's difficult to believe that there was no formal counterintelligence vetting of Balawi.  Three suggested reasons for this oversight include the CIA being too busy with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that Balawi had been recruited by an allied intelligence service, and the sad truth that top policymakers were too eager to deal a serious blow to al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.

The bomber infiltrated a highly secure base by duping both the CIA and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department who believed he was a trusted informant.

Balawi walked around the side of the car that brought him into camp, began chanting in Arabic, 'God is great,' and hit the detonation switch on his 30-pound suicide vest, killing ten people and proving there is no greater threat than the triple agent.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Josephine Baker – Le Jazz Hot and Le Hot Spy

 S. Lee Manning: I have an affinity for jazz, France, and spies, so for my post this month, I chose to celebrate someone who combined all three.

Many people know that Josephine Baker was an American jazz star, celebrated in France, who in her later years worked for civil rights.

Did you also know she was a spy? While most spies strive to be invisible, Josephine’s very fame allowed her to become a valuable asset against the Nazis.

Her story starts with a rise from poverty to stardom.

Josephine Baker was born in a poor black neighborhood in St. Louis and was hired out to a white woman as a maid when she was eight years old. At sixteen, she joined a dance troop and eventually wound her way to New York and the Cotton Club.

She took the last name of a man she’d married briefly in 1921. In 1925, she left for Paris, which offered her freedoms not available to a black woman in the United States and became an international sensation, promoting “le jazz hot.”

Appearing almost naked except for a string of rubber bananas around her waist, she sparked an
international craze for banana-clad Josephine Baker dolls. By 1936, she was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world. She lived the glamorous life of a star, covered with jewels, strolling in Paris with her pet cheetah. In 1936, she traveled back to New York for a show, but horrified by the prejudice against her as a black woman performer, she returned to Paris. In 1937, she became a French citizen.

The start of World War II changed everything.

In 1939, she toured the front lines, doing shows for the French soldiers. But her more secret work came with her recruitment by the Deuxieme Bureau, the French intelligence service.  As a star, she attended embassy parties thrown by the Italian and Japanese embassies, and diplomats would attend her glamorous affairs – which put her in a perfect position to overhear information.

She would scribble information on her arms, even her hands, and report back to Jacque Abtey, her handler. She brushed off the risk to herself, saying no one would suspect her.

Following the fall of France, things became more dangerous.

Abtey, who was also her lover, holed up in her estate. After the Germans in August 1940 banned black and Jewish entertainers from appearing on stage, Abney and Josephine devised a plan for her to take information from France to British intelligence. With Abtey posing as her ballet instructor, Josephine traveled to Lisbon for a scheduled performance, delivering notes written in invisible ink on her music. The two succeeded in their mission and received new orders. From Lisbon, they traveled to Casablanca to set up a liaison station.

In Casablanca, she continued to mingle with diplomats and continued to gather information. Abtey remained in Casablanca, while she traveled back and forth to Lisbon. According to legend, she not only concealed messages on her music, but also would pin messages inside her bra. After a stillbirth, she was hospitalized in Casablanca for eighteen months. After the Americans captured the city, she was tapped by General De Gaulle to entertain troops in North Africa, and her image was used for propaganda for the Free French.

At the end of the war, her efforts earned her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Resistance.

After the war, her life was tumultuous, and she lost most of her fortune. But she continued to fight for civil rights. While not a featured speaker during King’s 1963 March on Washington, she offered her thoughts during the introduction to the main speakers, saying in that address: I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents... But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee….

In 1975, she died of a stroke at the age of 68, a few days after her last appearance on the stage. Twenty thousand people lined the streets of Paris to say farewell – and she received a 21-gun salute,
making her the first American woman to be buried in France with full military honors.

Bravo, Josephine, a true rogue woman.

Friday, February 23, 2018


...Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

We are delighted to welcome New York Times bestselling author and friend Lisa Black as our "In the Rogue Limelight" guest blogger.... a writer whose books have been translated into six languages -- one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.  

Author Lisa Black
Lisa is one writer who truly follows the dictum, "Write what you know."  And what she knows and how she "feels" about it is, to say the least, rather unusual.  The first line of her bio reads, "I spent the happiest five years of my life in a morgue." Come again?  You see, Lisa got her Bachelor's degree in Biology and worked as a forensic scientist in the Cleveland Coroner's office  analyzing gunshot residue, DNA, blood,  and many forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. And she has brilliantly turned that experience into spellbinding thrillers and mysteries that now place her in "A solid position in suspense, a solid backbone of detection" according to Kirkus Reviews. Lisa's new novel was just released. We asked her to tell us about it. 

I have always believed in the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules. This is largely inevitable and in some ways, not unfair—after all, if someone had the wherewithal to get all the gold, perhaps he or she should be making the rules. Perhaps our history is nothing if not the constant battle to balance this practicality with the better parts of our humanity—an unachievable goal that nevertheless must be pursued.

            My new book Perish utilizes a skirmish in this battle: the feeding frenzy that was the subprime mortgage market.  

            Here’s what happened: Used to be, banks gave loans to people and kept those loans for ten or twenty or thirty years until they were paid. The banks, then, had incentive to loan only to people they felt sure could repay the loan with interest. Then came securitization, the packaging of mortgages into groups which were sold to investors, which increased a bank’s available funds beyond their customers’ deposits. These securities were from all over the country (spreading the risk, since home prices could not be expected to fall everywhere, all at once—until, of course, they did).  Mortgage originators—banks, nonbanks, financial firms—no longer had to care whether or not the home buyer could repay the mortgage/refinancing/home equity line, since they promptly sold the loan into the murky world of these securities.
Eventually, this house of cards began to crumble.
I found this completely fascinating and over-the-top dramatic. But I couldn’t fashion a way to transport events of 2008 Wall Street to 2018 Cleveland, so in Perish, here’s what happens: The scene
of the crime is lavish but gruesome. In a luxurious mansion on the outskirts of Cleveland, a woman’s body lies gutted in a pool of blood on the marble floor—Joanna Moorehouse, founder of Sterling Financial. Its offices seethe with potential suspects, every employee hellbent on making a killing. When another officer uncovers disturbing evidence in a series of unrelated murders, the investigation takes a surprising detour.
            Forensic expert Maggie Gardiner must demystify the cutthroat world of high-stakes finance but also discovers troubling new details about her colleague Jack Renner, a homicide detective with a brutal approach to law and order. And all the while, a unique and unpredictable killer circles ever closer, the motives impossible to discern.
Maggie knows that he who has the gold makes the rules. But she’s always known that truth, after all, is its own kind of gold.....Lisa Black

This spell-binding story is the third in the Gardiner/Renner series -- you may want to start with these:

Besides writing terrific novels, Lisa has testified in court some 65 times and is often on book tours around the country.  Please visit her website: 

Now, thanks Lisa for being our guest here on Rogue Women Writers!......Karna Small Bodman

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


DCI Casey & President Reagan in the White House
By Gayle Lynds....  Do you want to know who you are?  Thomas Jefferson had some good advice:  “Act!  Action will delineate and define you.”

That was certainly true of CIA legend William J. (“Bill”) Casey (1913–1987), who on paper could sound boring — tax attorney, businessman, government official, and author.  Still, Ronald Reagan appointed him Director of Central Intelligence in 1981, and for the next few years Casey oversaw all of the U.S. intelligence community. 

Secrets go along with the responsibilities of leadership.  Governments and armies can’t operate in an intelligence vacuum.  As Sun Tzu wrote, “Choosing not to use spies should be considered a primitive act.”  And it wasn’t long before Casey, whose background also included the OSS during World War II, became known as the wild-man impresario of espionage.
Director of Special Intelligence Casey, OSS, London

There’s always tension in the CIA between those who believe risks must be taken, and those who are opposed.

Casey was concerned that his people understood he approved of intelligent risk-taking.  He needed to find a way to get them off their butts.  At the time, one of the CIA’s Middle East stations had been trying to figure out how to put an eavesdropping device in the office of one of the country’s senior officials.  The official was very important, and his conversations would provide vital hard intelligence.

But instead of acting, the officers in the station argued....

“It’s too risky.”

“Bull.  It’s not.” 

“We can do it!"

You may have heard of the board game Bureaucracy.  The way Bureaucracy works is, if you move, you lose.
Vice President George H.W. Bush and Director Casey consult

Casey was fed up.  He reportedly said — and I’ll clean up his language — “I’ll do it myself, dammit.”

It was completely against tradecraft practice to gamble using a covert officer to plant a bug, and using the director of Central Intelligence was a very serious violation.

Still, Casey had his people arrange a visit to the Middle East and to the country in question.  Then he got on a plane.  While in country he paid a courtesy visit to the government official.  There are two different versions of what Casey did next.

According to one account, he took a gift book to the official, and the listening device was built into the binding.  (I like the idea the fellow was a reader.) 
The other version is that Casey sat down on the sofa and, when the official’s back was turned, he jammed down into the cushion a thin, miniaturized, long-stemmed microphone and transmitting device shaped like a large needle.  And it worked very well for a substantial amount of time.

I like to think of it this way: Casey single-handedly gave new meaning to the old cliché “pain in the butt.”

All humans are complex, and Casey was no different.  He oversaw the rebuilding of the CIA and strengthened other agencies.  He increased funding and global anti-Soviet activities.  As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  And that was something Casey did, over and over even as furor, controversy, and charges repeatedly swirled around him, including serious accusations of the role he played in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Do you have a favorite spy story?  Please tell!

Sunday, February 18, 2018


by Chris Goff

This is the question being posed to Manuel Ramos, Carter Wilson and me, at the Colorado Book Festival in Denver, March 3rd.

For those who don't know anything about my colleagues.

Both are bestselling authors, Manuel is a retired lawyer and bestselling author of Chicano noir crime fiction, and Carter writes dark domestic thrillers that explore the depths of psychological tension and paranoia. And me? I write espionage-style international thrillers featuring Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Raisa Jordan.

I figured I'd do a little research to make sure they were still popular. According to a 2015 Nielson study, mysteries (which include all the sub-genres of crime fiction) have actually eclipsed romance as the favorite of readers. 47% of readers read mysteries. 27% of readers read romance. Yay!

But wait! Then why is it that, according to Bookstr.com, Romance makes the most money? $1.44 billion to mystery's $728.2 million! Hmmmm...  Okay, that's a-whole-nother discussion.

Back to the question. 

I hypothesize that mysteries/thrillers are popular because they bring a semblance of order to chaos, provide some type of resolution. In international thrillers, the protagonist saves the day—mostly. In murder mysteries, the killer is brought to some form of justice—generally. During chaotic, fraught times, what is better than having a wrong righted or justice served?

Jason Pinter, an international bestselling author and publisher, and a former editor and agent, interviewed a number of reviewers for a Huffington Post article, posing the questions: Do you feel like crime novels are adequately addressing issues in our culture? And do they even need to?

The consensus was that mysteries and thrillers don't have to, but most do. The panel went on to say, and I paraphrase, crime novels offer insight into how people perceive and react to society's problems.

Good answer!

Are there pitfalls to tackling issues?

Of course! An author can hammer a point too hard and/or get too preachy on a subject. Doing that will no doubt annoy and alienate some readers. And let's face it, some wounds are just too raw. But shining a spotlight on issues of the day can garner great interest, and using real-life incidents to launch a story can bring realism.

I'm going to be very interested to hear what my fellow panelists have to say. In Manuel's last book, his protagonist deals with the gentrification of his Hispanic neighborhood, something that's happening in Denver. Carter's new book takes from a real-life incident where a social media cult leader triggers two young girls to kill.

And me? 

What can I say? International geopolitics provides unlimited fodder.

If you live in or near Denver, please consider coming to join the discussion. The Colorado Book Festival is free to the public. The panel is scheduled at 2:00 PM in the Rick Ashton Legacy Room (Summit Room) at the main Denver Public Library.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


By Francine Mathews

The news that a jet had crashed today outside of Moscow, killing all seventy-one people aboard, reached me as I deplaned from a red-eye in Denver this morning. Red-eyes combine two things I truly dislike: disrupted sleep and air travel. I'm the sort of fragile buttercup who requires ten hours a night in a great bed, complete with ear plugs and a noise-suppressing fan. And the air travel? This child of an Air Force pilot is terrified of crashing. There was a period in my life when I had full-blown panic attacks at takeoff, fingers gripped on my arm rests and lungs hyperventilating. I love the view from a plane. It's the spectre of plunging five miles to earth I can't stand.

I used to tell people that my panic attacks were probably the result of working briefly on the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded a few days before Christmas, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing everyone on board as well as eleven people asleep in their homes below. This is not strictly true. Pan Am 103 reinforced my pervasive dread, gave it a reasonable outline; See? Look what can happen! None of us can control anything!

But the real source of my fear-of-flying was the consciousness of Sin.

I was raised Catholic. By a very Catholic mother. Who believed quite pre-Vatican II Catholic things. And whether I shared those beliefs or not, I suffered for them. I lived in the long penumbra cast by their certainties. This one, for instance: Thou Shalt Not Have Sex Before Marriage.

As I frequently had sex before marriage, with men other than the one I eventually married thirty years ago, I sometimes took planes to exotic locales and enjoyed torrid weekend liaisons. But, oh, God--the guilt. It haunted me most at take-off. Because I am hiding my life from my mother, this plane will crash and she will discover my sins when I am too dead for forgiveness. 

The Poster Girl for this sort of Vengeance Theory of Transgression
is, and will always be, the irrepressible Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, Jack Kennedy's favorite sibling and 1939 British Debutante of the Year. Kick wasn't a traditional beauty, but as one of her English contemporaries once explained, "She had more S.A. than any woman I have ever known." That's a discreet British abbreviation for Sex Appeal, and with her roguish sense of humor, high spirits, and dusting of freckles, Kick took London by storm when she was nineteen. She had been schooled by Sacred Heart nuns for years, and was so devout a Catholic that when air raid sirens blared in wartime London, where she was living with her ambassador father, Joe Kennedy, she would hurry to the air raid shelter crossing herself "and commending my soul to the Lord." But Kick was also a rebel--and she fell in love with Billy Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire, who was emphatically not Catholic. Billy's father was as violently opposed to his son's match as Kick's mother, Rose. When Kick and Billy finally married in the middle of World War II, Rose Kennedy did not attend the wedding. She regarded Kick as having chosen to live in Mortal Sin by marrying an Episcopalian, and is reputed to have muttered darkly: "God may forgive her, but I never will."
Joe, Kick, and Jack Kennedy, Sept. 3, 1939, entering Parliament to hear the Declaration of War

When Kick's oldest brother, Joe, was blown up in an experimental plane full of explosives in 1944, the new Marchioness of Hartington returned to New York for his memorial service. There, Rose informed Kick that Joe's death was her fault--God had punished the entire family for her sinful marriage to Billy. When news of Billy's death from a sniper's bullet arrived by telegram a few weeks later, Rose expressed her profound relief that at least, now, Kick would not go to Hell. Kick's parents did not acknowledge her grief or speak of Billy again, one reason she decided to return to England instead of remaining with her family.

After the war, Kick fell in love with the Eighth Earl Fitzwilliam, a married Englishman whose wife was an alcoholic. The pair intended to marry once Lord Fitzwilliam obtained his divorce, and in the hope of securing the blessing of Kick's father, Joe Kennedy, they flew across France in a small plane in order to meet him. Kick, of course, was essentially Living in Sin at this point. She had contraceptives in her suitcase. And due to the Vengeance Theory of Transgression, she was a prime target for smiting with thunderbolts.

The small plane encountered a storm, and after what must have been twenty nerve-wracking minutes of extreme turbulence, broke apart in a dive and crashed, killing Kick, her lover, and the two-man crew. Naturally, her father found her birth control among the things recovered from the wreckage, when she was long past forgiveness. I imagine her crossing herself as the plane plummeted, commending her soul to the Lord, aware that her mother would believe she had earned the only fate she deserved. I worry that she might even have believed that as well. She was twenty-eight years old. 

I am no longer afraid of flying. A few summers ago, I even strapped myself into a Cessna and flew over Denali, landing on a glacier. I toy with the idea of learning to fly myself. But I have given my terror and panic attacks to a number of characters in my novels. I find that allowing fictional people to grapple with difficult emotions is sometimes an effective way of exploring fear myself. And I like to think that my diminished panic is the result of spiritual growth. No, I can't control anything. None of us can. And with that acceptance comes freedom from fear--as well as guilt. In the end, I'd rather crash and burn with Kick's sinners than stay safely on the ground with Rose's forbidding saints.

Now, when I board a plane, I utter this simple prayer:
If I cannot be safe--Let me be brave.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Roadtripping, Research, and Serendipity

Beaver Creek Colorado

I just completed a two thousand mile road trip through the country from Chicago to California. This probably counts as the farthest I've driven ever. It also counts as one of the least pre- planned trips I've ever taken and it worked beautifully in ways I hadn't anticipated. More on that later.

For this trip I needed to do a little research for a work in progress and most of it involved historical facts of the American West. Oregon Trail, Gold Rush, Native American artifacts--things like that. Some quick research revealed that most of the places I wanted to see were either gone, as in destroyed, or not accessible in one drive west. I'd have to break it into a couple of trips. My final destination was California and so I gave up planning and figured I'd just head west and see what happened along the way.

I packed up the car and barreled out of Chicago. The first bit of serendipity involved a beautiful, blue semi tractor trailer that pulled up next to us on the road to Omaha. I glanced up at the lettering on the door, only to realize that it was owned by the son of my Dad's cousin (so my second cousin), and a part of the extended family that have been truckers for generations. I kept peering into the cab to see if he was driving or another driver, but I couldn't see through the window's glare and I hesitated to text any driver. I ended up texting everyone else in the family to tell them. Still don't know if it was him, but if so, we spent hours passing each other several times, when we would stop for a break and he wouldn't and vice versa. I felt like family was guarding me on my way west.

The second bit of serendipity was Beaver Creek. We hit the ski spot on the second day and decided to stay a couple of nights. We'd ski on the first and snowshoe hike on the second. The skiing was fine, warm weather meant spring-like skiing, but there was just enough snow for all the runs to be open. The second day was snowshoe hiking. Our guide studied wildlife, and she showed us the bear claws on the Aspens. Seems the bears climb the trees for the best morsels, and their brown claw marks are visible on the trunks. They were scratched all the way up. Let's just say that if a brown bear is chasing you, climbing a tree is NOT an option. The guide gave me a lot of facts about the men and women that ventured west, which will be helpful to add to my story.

The third bit of serendipity was our stop at the Fremont Indian State Park in Utah. This is a park along Interstate 70. Unlike the larger Zion National Park, this one is less well known. I had been googling interesting hiking, and found it.

The Fremont tribe is believed to have inhabited this area until around the 1300's. Most of their story is pieced together from a treasure trove of artifacts discovered in the 1980's when the excavators for Interstate 70 began digging. There are rock etchings at locations listed on a short hike through the park and pottery and other artifacts are displayed in a small museum on site.

The serendipity here was when the ranger told me that he had atlatls and spears that we could try our hand at throwing. I had written a scene with a warrior using an atlatl, which is a short stick that attaches to the end of the spear and acts as a propulsion device, much like a fishing rod does, and I was thrilled to be able to actually throw one. He gave my husband and me an atlatl and three spears each and we trooped out to the target area.

You notch the end of the spear onto the back of the atlatl and hold the spear with your two fingers, almost like a pencil. The sketch to the right shows the method. Then you fling the spear, trying to keep your movement even. The first two throws missed the target (a hay bale) completely and the third hit but bounced off harmlessly. We collected our spears and tried again. Eventually we were able to get the accuracy and speed right. You can watch the video of me throwing one that stuck below. This was a lot of fun, and the park hosts a festival the second weekend of May with a spear throwing contest, bartering market and all kinds of fun things for adults and kids. If you're near the area or traveling through, check it out!

We hit Las Vegas and stayed the night. Though nothing was able to be learned about the Wild West, we had a great visit, kept our wallets intact, and landed in California on time. 

Who says research isn't fun? 

All The Best, 

 Jamie Freveletti

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Unleashing Your Passion

.....Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

As we approach the delightful Valentine's Day, I've been thinking about how fortunate I am to have the love of my life as my "Valentine." I've also thought about activities that I love -- and how some have  become a passion. Last week I was invited to come and talk about one of them -- my love of writing thrillers -- to a gathering of four book clubs who met together to hear about my stories.  After reviewing how I've been turning White House experience into political thrillers, during the Q&A one very nice women said, "Yes, but you've had a pretty exotic career" (Her terminology, not mine -- actually working there meant extremely long hours and tons of stress, but still....).She went on with this question, "What about the rest of us who haven't had such exciting experiences? How would we put novels together?"

I replied, "You know there are some three million books published every year, including novels, cook books, travel books, all kinds of books, and not all of those authors had exotic or exciting careers. What they did have is inspiration, and the determination to unleash their passion ...a passion to write." Now, as I reflect on that meeting, I could have given many examples of authors I know personally who have done just that.  For example, one of the friends of all of us here on Rogue Women Writers is the international bestselling author (and former guest blogger on this website) Lee Child:

Author Lee Child
 Lee didn't work in The White House or the House of Parliament. He wasn't spending time in dangerous situations or getting shot at.  He did spend some time as a British TV Producer, so yes, he worked with actors and others with pretty creative ideas. But he wasn't an ex-Army investigator and certainly not a "drifter" who meanders all over the country helping people in trouble.  But that's exactly what his hero, Jack Reacher, does in dozens of terrific thrillers and in a major Hollywood film staring Tom Cruise. 

Author John Lescroart
Another recent guest blogger here was author John Lescroart who started out wanting to be a rock star (he still plays a mean guitar).  When that didn't quite work out, he had many jobs including computer programmer, house painter, bartender, eventually even one where he had to write briefs on coal transportation for the Interstate Commerce Commission. And like Lee, he certainly wasn't an investigator. And yet, he conjured up a terrific protagonist for many of his 27 bestselling novels, Dismas Hardy, who gets into all sorts of interesting and dangerous situations roaming the streets of San Francisco.   

In addition to dreaming up great characters and intriguing plots, authors also have to spend time doing a ton of research...research on history, details, descriptions, and especially locations.  Even though we are writing fiction, if they are setting scenes in well known cities, they better be right.  I remember a novel set in Washington, DC where an author (who obviously had either never been there or didn't bother to take notes) had a car "careening down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of The White House." Of course, you can't do that -- there are security barricades all over the place. In another thriller, the hero "raced out of the Roosevelt Room and up a few steps to the Oval Office." Uh - no. there are no "steps up to the Oval Office." He must not have bothered to even watch a  video on WhiteHouse.gov.

When it comes to researching locations, one of my favorite authors, Nelson De Mille, does an outstanding job.  His new novel, The  Cuban Affair, is the product of a trip to Cuba where he obviously took copious notes so he could share his observations not only of the scenery but the incredible power Cuban state actors wield over the people of that country.  But again, to my knowledge, DeMille never worked as a boat captain in Key West - and yet his protagonist is one of those, and the author certainly describes that  character and his quirky sense of humor in an amazing way.

My point is: these and thousands of other authors may not have had "exciting" or "exotic" careers -- they all have a passion for writing and were determined to take the time to develop the tools and talents needed to make it in the publishing world.

And so, what is YOUR passion? Perhaps it isn't focused on writing stories or a memoire, maybe you've had a secret desire to learn to paint with oils or water colors or charcoal.

Perhaps you love to go to museums and galleries and dream about what it would be like to create lovely scenes or portraits. Remember -- there are tons of classes available at local schools and colleges where even beginners can start to learn a technique.

Then again, you may have harbored a love of music and would give anything to be able to play the piano -- not to perform on stage, but just to enjoy playing the music of Mozart, Gershwin or maybe


an original song that's been echoing in your mind for quite some time.  A wise music teacher once told me, "You are never too old to learn and enjoy the piano. If you have the time and the inclination, by all means, go for it." 

Several of my Rogue colleagues have been writing about new beginnings recently. One of them, S. Lee Manning, wrote about how she wanted to rekindle her passion for ice skating.  I confess that I'd like to go back to my music -- singing in quartets.  At least I've now taken my old arrangements out of the cabinet. 

My point is -- if you have a love of writing, of art, of music, or teaching little ones, training dogs, or volunteering --  think about it, ponder the possibilities and the rewards of determination and accomplishment...not especially for "public recognition" but for the knowledge that you really did unleash your passion.

The time  certainly is right - for as I said at the outset - we are approaching Valentine's Day when we all will be thinking about passion and love.

Now, do leave a comment and tell us about the loves of YOUR life and how you might unleash your very own passions! Happy Valentines Day.

....Karna Small Bodman