Wednesday, November 28, 2018


by Gayle Lynds
File boxes on Gayle's shelves contain research & a few secrets

Most people can’t bear to keep a secret long enough to die with it untold.  On the other hand, professionals in our intelligence agencies are not “most people.”  They’re committed and do keep the secrets.  Imagine their relief when they can get together and talk about what is known only to them. 

I got to thinking about all of this because I recently had the wonderful experience of being interviewed by journalist extraordinaire Susan Spencer on CBS Sunday Morning for a segment called "What's REALLY behind conspiracy theories?"

This is how the segment started....

Spy novelist Gayle Lynds has made an entire career out of dreaming up conspiracies, hundreds of them. Her office, at home near Portland, Maine, is a breeding ground for conspiracies, filled to bursting with evil secrets and nefarious plots involving military technology, special ops, and war tactics.

"The C.I.A. is overflowing, as you can see," Lynds said of her bookshelves.

Her espionage novels have sold millions of copies, and they all start with one unbreakable rule: the conspiracy has to be believable. That's not hard, given that genuine conspiracies have existed, from Watergate to Iran/Contra.

"They're wonderful to write about," Lynds said.

Susan accused me of being a spy.  Of course I denied it.  Secrets, anyone?

So confession time ... here are three of my favorite secrets from my personal past that only a few others ever knew....

1.  I learned to drive (illegally) when I was 12 years old on an elderly Chevy with running boards, a stick shift, and a manual choke.  My cousin, Linda, was only 14 and taught me.  Taking turns, we used the Chevy to herd my Uncle Red's dairy cows along the country roads of eastern Colorado where they could graze on the free grasses on either side.  It was a warm, idyllic summer in which my cousin and I devoured paperback books lying on the old car's seats.  She and I still devour books but now we drive automatics. 

Writerly lesson: The important things of life don’t change all that much — books, summers, and the right companion.

2.  I was the most notorious employee at the think tank where I worked after college because I often forgot my security badge.  The guards at the security kiosk eventually gave up trying to improve my ADHD and instead made a hand-written badge for me that they kept behind the desk.  I expected it to say "idiot."  But no, it just said "She forgot her badge again."

Writerly lesson: Security has gotten draconian since then, but the guards personally are often sweethearts.

3.  In Santa Barbara where I lived for many years, I usually left my front door open.  One day I was passing it on my way to the kitchen when a teenage skunk strolled in.  How do you say "get out!" to a skunk?  I backed up.  The skunk sauntered past me and into the kitchen and went straight to the cat's water dish.  It drank a good draught then cleaned out the dish of kitty kibbles, swished its tail, and walked back out of the house.  Obviously it had visited before.  I closed the door.  And locked it.

Writerly lesson: Close the barn door so the horse can’t leave, but close the front door so the skunk can’t get inside.

Dear Rogue Readers ... We’d love to hear what you learned from one of your secrets.  Please tell!

Sunday, November 25, 2018


by Chris Goff

Lisa Black's post last Sunday, Do You Cook Like You Write?, and Robin Burcell's post on Wednesday, RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: 5 Basic Rules for Fiction Novelists, got me to thinking—are there actually rules for writing the next bestseller?

Those of us who attend conferences have heard any number of writers offer up their “rules for writing.” There is clearly no shortage of advice. I distinctly remember one workshop where I was sitting in the back beside none-other-than Lee Child. As the speaker presented the first of her Top 10 Rules for Writing, I felt an elbow in my ribs. Then, Lee whispered in my ear, “Chris, do you do that?” When I shook my head "no," he said, “Me neither.” By Rule #3, my ribs were getting sore. At Rule #4, we slipped out the back door and headed to the bar.

Rules are designed to help. However, more often they paralyze the beginning writer, sweeping them up in an eddy of self-doubt. Did I drop a body in the first fifty pages? Is there a scene goal? A character goal? What is my story arc? Is there enough conflict? Need I go on?

Still, that doesn’t mean there aren't some rules worth learning. If I've learned one thing during the last twenty-plus years, it's to breathe in the wisdom, and then exhale, retaining only those things which resonate.

On July 16, 2001, Elmore Leonard (author of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Justified) offered up his 10 RULES OF WRITING in an essay published by The New York Times, prefacing his list with the following disclaimer:

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still you might look them over.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 RULES OF WRITING:

1.   Never open a book with weather. 
      If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

Chris: Think, “It was a dark and stormy night…,” which inspired The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest that challenges men, women and children to write the most atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel ever written.

2.   Avoid prologues.

3.   Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
      The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

Chris: Hissed, spat, snorted and chortled. Once you run across one of these tags in a book, you notice them all. 

4.   Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” 
      … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

Chris: Am I the only one who missed the word “said?” Still, among the myriad of writers’ rules, using adverbs is highly eschewed.

5.   Keep your exclamation points under control.

Chris: Most definitely!!!

6.   Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” 

7.   Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
      Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

Chris: This example from Huckleberry Finn (1884) sort of says it all.

Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’ Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb—en I’d ben atreat’n her so!

8.   Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 

9.   Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. 

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. 
      My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Leonard's rules were eventually adapted into an 89-page book (published by William Morrow in 2007), while the original essay inspired a series of essays: rules from other writers. A little more digging turned up a plethora of sage advice offered up over the years by well-known writers. Here are a few of my favorites:

Neil Gaiman: Remember, when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 

Margaret Atwood: Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B. 

Kurt Vonnegut: Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

John Steinbeck: Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

To revert to the cooking analogies, it's sage advice indeed!

Writers, do you have a favorite “rule for writing?” Readers, what rules do you wish writers would follow?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: 5 Basic Rules for Fiction Novelists

My first cookbook by Betty Crocker
By Robin Burcell

Lisa Black asked an intriguing question on her blog last week: Do you cook like you write? Though she was talking about food, her post immediately caught my interest. I’ve often thought that cooking and writing are skills that can be taught, but (generally) have to be practiced with regularity—and a lot of trial and error—to achieve proficiency. And, as such, I've come up with the 5 Basic Rules for Good Writing. (If you're interested in other writers' rules, check out this link to The Guardian's "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," starting with Elmore Leonard's famous ten.

Mind you, I am very much self-taught. I may never reach the heights of such literary stardom. But I know what I like to read, which brings me to my "5 Basic Rules for Novelists."

1.    You need a good recipe. 
2.    Too many cooks spoil the broth.
3.    Sample it while you're cooking to make sure you have the right ingredients.
4.    You can copy a good recipe, but true success will come from an original dish.
5.    Not everyone will like what you’ve cooked.

I made my first quiche from a basic recipe over thirty years ago—around the same time I taught myself to write. I used to have to pull out that quiche recipe every single time. Eventually, I only needed it for reference to remind myself about how many eggs, or how much cream to use. Over the years, I changed a lot of the ingredients. The original recipe called for 3 eggs. I now use 5 or 6, depending on what else I add to it. In fact, the recipe in my head is so far removed from the original, I could safely put it out there as my own. But I wouldn’t have known how to make it—or change it up—if I hadn’t copied the original way back when. I taught myself to write the same way I taught myself to bake that quiche. Which brings me to my first rule of cooking a book:

       1.    You need a good recipe. 

Think of a successful novel as the signature dish at a great restaurant. Everyone wants the recipe. But what if the chef refuses to hand it over? Or the recipe he hands over is for the basic dish, not the special spices he uses to raise it out of the ordinary? The beauty of a novel, however, is that it contains every single ingredient—but you might not recognize what you need if you don't study how it's put together. Can’t recall where I read it, but you can’t break the rules unless you know what they are. This is true with crafting a novel. When I decided to seriously pursue novel writing, I dissected books like they were college texts. I wrote notes in the margins, highlighting how the author introduced new characters, what sort of description (or lack of) accompanied it, the use of transitions to signify time passing, how a chapter ended, etc., etc.  Then I tried to apply those lessons to my own work. 

2.    Too many cooks spoil the broth. 

One For the Money dissection.
There may be a few authors who can turn out a great book without anyone putting in their two cents, but some of us need guidance (beyond our polite spouses who love everything we do) to let us know when we’ve ventured too far off track. When I first started writing, I joined a critique group. We read ten pages at a time then jotted down the advice each critique partner dished out. Problem was that some had one idea of which direction the story should go, while others wanted it another way. What's a writer to do? Take all that advice with a grain of salt, but don’t put all of it into your story—or you risk turning it into a muddy stew. In other words: be willing to accept critique, but be careful on how you use it. 

3.    Sample it while you're cooking to make sure you have the right ingredients.

Have you ever stood over a pot of soup, tasted it, and can’t figure out what it needs? Sometimes it’s necessary to hand that spoon to someone else and get their opinion. (See rule # 2 about too many cooks when you do.) The right person can tell you something’s wrong, but maybe not be able to pinpoint what it is. Or maybe they can. Is it missing something big and basic? Or does it just need a dash of a certain spice? Writing is no different. You’ve got to sample it as you go along or you might end up somewhere you don’t want to be. The best way I know is to print out and read it from the beginning—several times through the process. This helps with continuity and identifying what is missing or what needs to be cut. This is where you need to be brave. Especially if you start to suspect that your basic recipe sucks. You might need to dump a lot of words, maybe even the entire novel, and start over. Only you will know. And if you do stop to sample that manuscript, it really, really helps to print out the hardcopy and work from that. If time permits, step away from it for a day or so before reading. Deconstruct your recipe, determine what you’ve added too much of, or don’t have enough of, and fix it from there.

4.    You can copy a good recipe, but true success will come from an original dish.

Some people are fortunate enough to be masters right out of the chute—but trust me, they’re rare. That cooking show where they are given specific (and usually odd) ingredients, and actually create an amazing dish, works because those particular chefs have been doing it a while. They know how to cook. I’ll let you in on a secret: Some bestselling authors probably started off copying someone else’s recipe. (Note that I'm not saying they tried to publish that recipe.) James Rollins once told a writing group that he learned how to structure a novel from a Clive Cussler book. He used it as a template, adding action and suspense in the same places that Cussler included those elements. But Rollins wrote his own story, characters and plot to go with it Eventually he didn’t need the template any more. He became proficient at the basics. He can look in his pantry and know which ingredients will work, when to add them, and how long to cook that plot. He became an international bestseller after he started creating his own recipes. Years ago, back when I devoured romance novels like a bag of Lays Potato Chips ("no one can eat just one"), I read a historical romance that was suspiciously like another from a more established author, except the newer “author” changed the character names, added a quirky aunt, and set it on a different continent. She. Got. Caught. (As have others with even bigger authors. Google it.) I promise, anyone who tries this will get caught, too. So, let me reiterate: It’s okay to copy a recipe when you are starting off and trying to learn. But if you want to publish a recipe, it needs to be new. Your own.

5.    Not everyone will like what you’ve cooked.

We all have different tastes when it comes to food and drinks. And books. Don't take offense if someone doesn't like the dish you've presented. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a novel that has received a bazillion rave reviews, only to be disappointed. Sometimes I refuse to read or finish a book that everyone is talking about because I’m not in the mood. Months, even years later, I might pick it up again, and be blown away by just how much I enjoyed it. Or not. Because sometimes, no matter how beloved a book might be to someone else, it is not my cup of tea. Period. You will find this is true with what you write. If you're not happy with the reception, you may need to revisit rule #1. 

One of many books on writing. 
And there you have it. My five "rules" of writing. Of course, it would be silly to talk about good recipes without talking about the myriad of books that contain them. I still think it helps to be reminded of the basics before I start (or sometimes when I’m in the middle of a book), especially when I know something is wrong with my work in progress. The thing to remember with any book on writing is that they offer variations on the basic recipes from that author's viewpoint. Consider them guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Anything that gets me thinking about what I’ve written and where I need to go can be helpful. Master these and you might become a top chef. 

So, Rogue Readers, what are your thoughts? Do you have any "rules" you'd like to add to my recipe? Or any good books on writing that helped you to break the rules?  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Do you cook like you write?

By Lisa Black
This month’s theme is about food--the problem is, I’m a terrible cook. I’m not just being modest. My mother taught my sister and I how to clean house like a demon, do laundry, shop, weed the garden and all other household skills but somehow neglected to teach us how to cook. My sister once baked a steak. I tried to substitute an egg with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and milk. It sort of looked like an egg.

When I first married I made a real effort--I wrote out a weekly menu and went to the store with a corresponding list, a crutch that got me through the first couple of years. But I had married a man who, if it didn’t come from either a restaurant or his sainted grandmother, tended to wrinkle his nose. Said grandmother indulged his every epicurean whim so he considered the kitchen as a place where one should be able to walk in and order whatever happened to be on one’s mind (he still has not grasped the complications presented by thawing). New dishes were neither encouraged nor appreciated, and anything categorized as a ‘casserole’, banned without recourse.

I hadn’t been exactly captivated by the idea of cooking to begin with and this attitude did not help. There are a few things I can make to my husband’s satisfaction…like chicken and dumplings even though my dumplings come out something like soft concrete blocks, but, remarkably, he likes them that way.

I should add that there are few things I can make to my own satisfaction either…perhaps because I tend to mix together everything I’m supposed to eat, things like lean protein with kale and other leafy greens, as a sort of one-dish diet plan. It may not taste great but at least it isn’t fattening.

Yes, my palate is not sophisticated, but to be fair it never had much of a chance to be. I inherited these uninspired tastebuds from my father; he liked meat and potatoes with perhaps a little salt, and that was it.

I did once pull off a whole beef loin in a salt crust after seeing Alton Brown demonstrate it at a food show in Cleveland. Yes, I was at a food show, because my mother, perhaps stifled by the lack of range required by my father, discovered the Food Network in her later years and became a devoted fan. So when I visited her or vice versa, I would get caught up on Brown, Duff Goldman, Giada De Laurentiis, and Michael Symon. [I didn’t mind--I would rather watch three hours of cooking shows than a single sitcom, which to me may as well be nails on a chalkboard. Every sitcom is, at heart, a half hour of people yelling at each other over something monumentally insignificant. There have only been three I can tolerate: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory. But I digress.] I particularly liked Chopped (mostly just to see Ted Allen).  On Chopped, contestants are given a basket of random ingredients--say, eel, lotus root, and marshmallows, and the challenge is to construct a dish out of that.

This show made me think that what must make a good cook is being able to imagine how these ingredients will taste when combined, how they can be put together in an entrée that will be pleasing to both eye and palate.

Yeah. I can’t do that.

Home décor, yes. I can look at a house, no matter what a wreck it may be, and imagine what the space might look like once cleared out with new flooring and fresh paint, whether the structure can work for me or not. I imagine a painter can look at a canvas and visualize the art he’s going to create. Writers can think of a plot or a character or a place and feel how that story is going to proceed, what the landscape looks like, what the mood of that world will be, how the characters will react to each other, speak to each other, look at each other, how the tone of one’s voice changes when another walks into the room. Writers can do that. I can do that.

With a book.

I can’t do it with an entrée.

What about you? When you look at the ingredients in your refrigerator or the paints in your palette or the blank screen on your word processing program, can you taste what the future holds?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

National Novel Writing Month: a few tips

by Jamie Freveletti

It's the season of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. For those unaware of this annual event, it's a collective endeavor in which thousands of people who have been wanting to write a novel sit down and attempt to write one in one month flat. You can check out the details here.

The basics:  you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's a LOT of words. As an author I usually write 1000 words five days a week. More if I'm under deadline and less if I'm in the middle of other events in my life. In order to write 50K in 30 days you're looking at 1,666 words each day. This year the NaNoWriMo organization expects 600,000 people to participate from 646 different regions.

I love the contest, mostly because it gives me motivation to get going on whatever it is I'm writing, but also because I love the idea of thousands of people working to write every day. A shared camaraderie with the rest of those who love to write as much as I do. In honor of the contest, I'd like to share a couple of tips:

1. Create a writing routine and try to stick with it.

If you need to write before work, arrange to rise earlier and start. If after work, make a resolution that you won't go anywhere/turn on the tv/ clean your house (this last is my favorite way to procrastinate) or do anything else until your words are written.

2. Try to do this everyday. 

It's easier to break this down into pieces, before you slide into that "uh oh, I bailed yesterday so today I need to write 3332 words". That slippery slope is all too daunting. Soon you'll fall farther and farther behind.

3. Don't censor yourself.

Just write. Don't let that "this is awful/why am I doing this/what the heck am I trying to say here?" hold you back. At this stage you don't care. You can always revise but you can't revise until you get the bones down. So turn off the inner critic and move forward.

4. Save everything.

If you write a section that you absolutely must delete from your work in progress, save the deletion in a separate "excerpts" file. Most writers have some form of this. Words are precious and you never know when something you deleted may show up, albeit revised, in a later chapter or even a later story.

5. Keep research to a minimum but feel free to use it to come "unstuck."

I research a lot of my novels, but when I'm at the active writing stage I only allow myself a half an hour or so, Otherwise I will end up using research to procrastinate. But, if you get stuck there is nothing better than spending a little time researching. It's weird, but when I do this I find that I get inspired once again and can dive back in.

6. Enjoy it! 

There's something about writing that seems to be good for the soul. And what could be better than that?

Good Luck and may the words flow! 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Possibly the best place to write a book!

….by Karna Small Bodman

What is it about a certain town or area that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Of course there are writers living in all parts of this wonderful country, but there happens to be one small part of my state of Florida that is the home of so many creative souls, I wanted to tell you about it.  The place is Collier County which encompasses Naples, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Captiva and other smaller islands -- all populated with bestselling as well as aspiring writers of all stripes. Well known for having a very friendly atmosphere, great restaurants, first-class philharmonic cultural center, attractive shops, nature trails, sailing, and fishing -- it's probably best known for our gorgeous beaches.

Yes, there are all sorts of beaches along coasts, but Naples offers miles and miles of the most lovely and soft WHITE sand beckoning gentle waves from the Gulf. Imagine relaxing here, taking a stroll and then jotting down your thoughts as the warm breeze ruffles your hair.

Okay, now that I've enticed you with the setting, you might say, "it's too relaxing -- too distracting -- I need to concentrate in order to sit down and craft a good story." Not so fast.  It turns out that a very long list of authors have found Southwest Florida to be THE perfect place to put together a bestselling
Author Robert Ludlum
novel including the famous Robert Ludlum who lived and worked here for many years until he died some years ago...but his character, Jason Bourne "lives on" through the pens of two of my Rogue colleagues, Gayle Lynds and Jamie Freveletti. Can you believe that there are now 225 million Ludlum books in print!

Speaking of Rogues, one who lives here on Cape Coral is Lisa Black, who has turned her professional experience as a crime scene investigator into a number of bestselling thrillers. Her latest endeavor is titled Suffer the Children. This book has been described as " with intriguing details...a story with a sharp psychological edge."  She certainly knows her subject, having testified at over 50 trials along the way.

Other well known authors who live in Naples include the ever-popular Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum stories have kept her readers laughing for decades.  Now Janet, who lives here year-round  just down the block from us has a brand new novel coming out on Tuesday (!) where she weaves in some of her own experiences working as a waitress in a Howard Johnson's during college days. It is Twenty-five Alive....Janet has had such success - that one of her books was also made into a Hollywood feature film.

As for film adaptations, author Robin Cook, also of Naples had one of his first novels made into a movie several years ago -- and has kept writing medical thrillers ever since.  His new one, Pandemic, is available for pre-order as it will be out in December - timed for Christmas sales. 

One more book-turned-into-film is by local author Suzi Weinert.  I was on a panel here in Naples not long ago with Suzi, a delightful woman who explained how she loves to go to garage sales. So she came up with the idea of creating a mystery involving special things you can find at such sales.  The Hallmark channel was so intrigued that their producer bought the rights and now we can all watch "Garage Sales Mysteries" on the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel.

Over on Sanibel Island we have Randy Wayne White, a former fishing guide turned bestselling author. His novels feature Doc Ford, a marine biologist who gets into all sorts of wild situations and challenges.  The newest adventure is described in Caribbean Rim, a story of murder, sunken treasure and pirates -- both ancient and modern.

On a lighter note, we have resident Lynnette Austin whose romance novels have garnered her many awards along with bestselling status.  Her new novel is titled Must Love Babies --who could resist that subject? It turns out that I will be joining Lynnette and some FORTY Naples area authors who will be signing our books this weekend at the Collier County Regional Library Book Fair.  And for a relatively small town like Naples, Florida -- you have to admit we have a ton of talent around here.  So again, I pose the question, what is it about an area  that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Perhaps it really IS the way we live, think and dream as we all watch the sun go down every single evening in this very lovely place.
Naples Pier at sunset
 If you are a writer, do you have a special place that inspires you? Or have you heard of other places where many writers have found their own inspiration? Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page (icon is at the top left). Thanks for visiting us today.

. . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


by K.J. Howe

With all the heartbreaking strife in the world these days, I'd like to light a candle of hope. Perhaps we can build more kindness and acceptance by uniting over a shared passion--BOOKS--as they can truly bring the world together, at least that is what I'm experiencing this week at the Sharjah Book Festival.

Saudi Arabian booth--fond memories for me as I spent a lot of time there
Irish chef Kevin Dundon
From October 31 to November 10, Sharjah--which is about half an hour away from Dubai in the UAE--has over 2.3 million visitors to the Expo center, everyone gathering to celebrate the written word. I've met poets, chefs, evolutionary biologists, professors, tech gurus, real estate experts, translators. and a host of other fascinating people who have come together to discuss literature in all forms and languages.

Just walking down the bustling halls of the Expo center, you feel immersed in a world of acceptance, positivity, and enthusiasm. People are busting around the seven halls to learn about the different venues, drink tea, and chat about their shared passion. I'd love to share a few highlights to demonstrate that we need to keep events like the book fair in the forefront of our minds as a way of understanding different cultures and finding shared joy.  You could find almost anything inside the expo center, including booths selling antiquated books hosted by Austrians, novels in a host of different languages, and even had a Baskin Robbins stand.

Speaking of food, I met Lee Holmes from Australia and Kevin Dundon from Ireland, both famed chefs with impressive backgrounds and kind hearts. Watching Kevin share his Irish cooking secrets with attendees from many nations was inspiring. Who can't agree on the brilliance of lemon zest on seafood served inside puff pastry?
Mystery and Suspense Panel
At my panel on mystery and suspense, I was on stage with Dr. Ahmed, a renowned professor from Saudi Arabia and Lamya, our brilliant Egyptian moderator from Dubai. We discussed the key components of crime fiction in both Arabic and English while a translator spoke into the headsets of any audience members who didn't speak both languages. There was such interest in novels from all cultures, and it brought the crowd together even though we all came from different parts of the world.

Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria, Channels TV
I met the charismatic Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria who was one of the most dynamic interviewers I've ever met. We shared our common interest in African culture and books...and guess who his favourite author is--Lee Child. See, we all love the vigilante retribution that Reacher delivers to the bad guys.

Another highlight was visiting an American school here in Sharjah and speaking to 100 young girls about writing and career choices. Some were from Syria, others from parts of Africa, others from the Middle East and beyond. The hugs I received at the end of the session will stay with me long after I leave the UAE.

After the talk at the school, chatting with the girls
What fun meeting the drivers who took us on a wild adventure in the dunes. I broke bread with an economist from the U.K. and his wife who was from China along with two publishers from Spain, and a special couple from Australia.

The culture of the UAE and the government of Sharjah are both very supportive of literacy and literary traditions.  The ruler of Sharjah has started a program called Knowledge Without Borders with the goal of putting a library in every home in the Emirate. They deliver and install a special bookshelf to each home along with fifty free books for each family.  So far, they have delivered about thirty thousand "libraries" and one million free books.  In addition, they fund a large share of the festival, including programs encouraging young people in developing countries to read and seek higher education.  I had the privilege of meeting three young Nigerian students whose book reports had scored them a trip to the festival. You can see a very bright future in their eyes.

The authors are all staying in the same hotel and the cross-pollination of creativity and positivity is unbelievable. At breakfast, you might be discussing chimpanzees with a top evolutionary biologist. Lunch brings about the power and traditions of poetry from African and Lebanese poets.  Down by the pool, a discussion is ongoing about the power of social media and what it means to grow up in the internet age. And dinner features top chefs sharing cooking secrets.

Yes, there is heartache and pain every day as a result of hate and intolerance, but I remain hopeful that positive people can unite against evil, resist it, and focus on what amazing things we can do if we work together.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Something wicked

S. Lee Manning: Something wicked has crawled out of a box where it has been locked up. Something evil has dressed itself up in Sunday best and is strolling down Main Street, smiling and nodding, as if everything were normal. Something ugly is sunning itself on top of the rocks, when it used to hide under them.

We Rogues write thrillers. Our heroes fight evil head-on. They fight serial killers and mass murderers, villains who kidnap, villains who torture, villains who use drones to attack innocent people, villains who use poison or bombs. Our heroes sometimes fight against long odds. They are women and men, using their intelligence and their skills to win the day. My protagonist Kolya faces down those who intend to do harm to others. He’s a lot tougher than I am (maybe because he’s imaginary), and despite the odds, he wins the day, fighting with guns and fists. 

But this isn’t fiction. It is real. Something truly wicked has crawled out of the box. 

And it feels personal. People who don’t know me want to kill me, my children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. People who know nothing about us – except one thing. 

We are Jewish.

My father’s mother had to hide under a table in Russia when Cossacks fired guns into her home because she was Jewish. She fled for the United States soon after, as did all of my grandparents – fleeing anti-Jewish violence that had been sanctioned by the Russian government. In America, they found a home, and they knew they were safe. 

Some of the family stayed behind – thinking they could make it through the bad times, and they didn’t want to lose their homes. Those cousins and great aunts and uncles wrote letters to my grandparents and my aunts and uncles until sometime between 1941 and 1943 when men in black uniforms with swastikas rolled into the region and rounded them up. My relatives were stripped naked, marched to the edge of a pit called Babi Yar, and machine-gunned. 

I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. I knew that people wanted to kill Jews for no other reason than that they had been born Jewish. I knew they would have killed me and my parents. But that was in Europe. It was far away and long ago. 

There have always been Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists in the United States. For the most part, over the last 30 years, they stayed hidden in cellars, writing little manifestos to a handful of people. I knew they were there, but I never considered them a real threat. Yes, there was prejudice and bigotry, but it was not openly proclaimed or celebrated. This ideology was done - except for a few nutcases.

I live in America – and I love this country.  My wonderful husband is not Jewish. Raising our children, we celebrated Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover. It might seem confusing, but it worked. 

But something ugly is sunning itself on the rocks.

Last Saturday, a Nazi shot and murdered eleven people for the crime of being Jewish – elderly people, a doctor who treated AIDS patients when no once else would, two disabled brothers who always greeted people with a smile.      

After he was wounded and captured, this gunman said, “I just want to kill Jews.”

The ideology behind Nazism and white supremacy, that one group is superior and others subhumans to be dominated or eradicated, an ideology of hate is no longer the province of a few nutcases holed up in cellars. And let me be clear - while the man who murdered innocent people in a synagogue may have indeed been unbalanced, the people who perpetrated the Holocaust were coldly and ruthlessly sane believers - and they coldly and methodically plotted the extermination of every Jewish man, woman, and child in Europe - failing only because they lost the war. People again believe in that ideology, and they are no longer hiding.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent over the previous year, and that previous year had been a record high. In 2017, men carried swastikas and chanted “Jews Shall Not Replace Us.” Jews are less than two percent of the population of America, but they are the targets of half of all hate crimes in New York.

The generation that experienced the Holocaust is disappearing: the Americans who liberated the camps and the survivors, who have told their stories. My uncle Leon, who died five years ago, lost his mother and his sister to the gas chambers of Auschwitz – and spent his teenage years taking bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium. The family knows his story – as does the family of every Holocaust survivor – although the children will have to carry the stories forward. But now there are people who deny the Holocaust even occurred.

For Halloween, a man dressed up as an SS officer and dressed his child as Hitler – and then insisted he is merely a history buff – while his wife posted on Facebook: “There is no objective proof of the six million Jews he supposedly murdered.”

In Vermont, where I live, Jewish middle school children have found swastikas carved on desks. Swastikas have been painted on the side of barns up here. On the University of Vermont campus, white nationalist posters are appearing. On Wednesday, a California synagogue was defaced with the words, “Fuck Jews.” On Thursday, someone broke into a reform temple in Brooklyn and painted “Kill the Jews” inside, causing the temple to cancel an election event – out of fear for their safety.

We thriller writers know – because we write about ugly things and evil people – that evil has to be fought. Our heroes know it, and they fight, even at great personal cost, even at the risk of their own lives, against bad odds. They are sometimes injured, physically and emotionally, but they know when something wicked is strolling down Main Street, and they go for it.

Something evil is strutting its stuff, and we have to fight.

But the fight looks a little different than the fights in our books – because there is no ultimate show-down with the bad guy. There is no one person to kill – and order will be restored. There is an idea – that we thought had been shoved into a box and under the rocks - that has wormed its way out. It is the idea behind Nazism and white supremacy: the idea that one group is superior and that others are inferiors to be exterminated or enslaved. Jews are not the only targets of this ideology, other groups, other peoples are victims and targets - the LGBTQ community, people of color. I am writing about Jews, however, because I am Jewish, and eleven Jews just died for being Jewish at the hands of a man spouting Nazi hate. We have to fight this evil– and we have to fight with the most powerful of weapons.

Love – and kindness.  

I am heartened by the outpouring of love. My tiny synagogue in Stowe, Vermont was packed last weekend at an interfaith service. Christians, Jews, atheists, all coming together to express solidarity against hate.  A Muslim organization has raised almost $200,000 for the victims and their families.

It’s not a fight that will end soon – or maybe ever. We will never totally destroy hate or the ideology that nurtures it. But like the heroes in our books, when we see evil, we have to fight it – even if it’s a quiet, long, and sometimes frustrating fight. Together, with love and with kindness, we can push this evil back to where it belongs.