Tuesday, January 29, 2019


 by K.J. Howe

Do you ever feel embarrassed when you can’t find your keys or glasses, especially when you know you just had them a moment ago?  Well it seems like the largest, most well-funded and powerful militaries in the world have a similar problem—only with nuclear weapons.

While researching my most recent novel SKYJACK, I became familiar with a unique term in American military parlance: Broken Arrow.  The official meaning of this term is “an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that results in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft, or loss of the weapon.”

That’s right, the governments of the United States, Soviet Union, Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China have lost nuclear weapons and materials.  While it is impossible to confirm the number of nukes that have gone missing, the United States has officially reported over thirty Broken Arrow incidents. And the end result: the permanent loss of at least eight nuclear weapons, with the combined explosive potential of conservatively 2000 times that of the weapon detonated at Hiroshima.  Securing accurate numbers of loss rates from other nuclear armed nations is more challenging, but there’s no reason to believe that the Russians or the Chinese are particularly better at handling their nukes than the United States.

“Lost” is a relative term.  Some nuclear weapons and the craft carrying them have flat out disappeared without a trace.  This was the situation in 1956 when a B-47 carrying significant nuclear weapons material failed to arrive for an in-air refueling, just vanishing into the ether. No debris. No distress call. No sign of the aircraft or its crew was ever found. The disappearance remains an absolute mystery.

In other cases, the location of the lost nuclear weapon is known, but it is particularly difficult for the authorities to recover the weapon. In 1958, another B-47 was damaged during exercises near Savannah, Georgia and was forced to eject a Type 15 nuclear weapon to reduce weight and eliminate the risk of the weapon detonating during an emergency landing.  

The weapon entered the water in Wassaw Sound at the mouth of the Wilmington River about 13 miles from Savannah.  Based on a hydrologic survey, the weapon still rests at the bottom of Wassaw Sound under about 15 feet of silt, but its precise location remains unknown despite the extensive searches that have been conducted.  Unfortunately, the search had to be cut short when a month after the incident, a B-47 accidentally dropped a nuclear weapon near Florence, South Carolina and the authorities had to deal with its aftermath.  The missing weapon is likely about 2 megatons in potential, or about 100 times more powerful than the weapon used at Hiroshima.

These incidents aren’t limited to US territory, as nuclear weapons have been lost or unrecoverable in and around Greenland, Spain, Japan, and Portugal. The Japan incident was particularly embarrassing, as the location of the weapon violated a Japanese ban on transporting nuclear weapons within their territory. Whoops!

Not to be outdone by their Western rivals, the Soviet Union and then Russia have had their own incidents which have left nuclear weapons scattered.  In the mid 1980’s, the Soviet Union designed a new super-sub capable of going deeper and faster than any other attack sub in the world.  The Komsomolets was fully commissioned in 1988, but rather than changing the balance of power, instead it sank in Norwegian waters in 1989, leaving its nuclear reactor and nuclear-tipped torpedoes under 5000 feet of cold water, remaining unrecoverable.  In the years since, the Russian Federation has launched seven missions to check on the site and seal the reactor and torpedo tubes.  Based on observations made during those missions, the Russian government has concluded that the wreck site had been visited by “unauthorized foreign agents.”

The Russian military’s technical problems with nuclear materials continue.  Vladimir Putin recently boasted about new missiles called Burevestniks that were powered by nuclear engines. He claimed they could strike anywhere in the world.  During four different tests, these new missiles failed, with no range greater than 30 miles achieved. And, once again, the Russians left their nuclear waste in Norwegian waters, and they are currently endeavoring to contain the disaster created by this crashed nuclear propulsion system.

Perhaps the most staggering loss of nuclear weapons occurred with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The Soviet Union had some 40,000 nuclear weapons spread across its territory in addition to massive stockpiles of nuclear materials. The nuclear components and materials were unprotected in underfunded and disorganized facilities, and foreign powers and organized crime tried to take advantage of the “loose nukes” scattered across the country. 

Harvard experts determined there were at least six unsolved thefts of weapons-grade nuclear materials during this period, and over one thousand thefts of lower grade, but still deadly materials.  About a third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal was located in the Ukraine, but these warehouses were well handled. In 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum, agreeing to destroy those nuclear weapons and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The ironic component of this agreement was Russia’s commitment to respect Ukraine’s borders as part of the deal.   

So, the next time you misplace your glasses or the TV remote, be kind to yourself.  Your little slip might cause you to miss your favorite program, but it’s highly unlikely to cost thousands of lives!

Sunday, January 27, 2019


S. Lee Manning: Today, January 27, 2019, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we remember that six million men, women, and children were murdered for the crime of being Jewish. Or some of us do. It’s become a little complicated.

I know I’ve written about the Holocaust before. I’ll probably write about it again. I know some people roll their eyes when Jewish people mention the Holocaust. But it’s important. It’s important because of the uniquely horrific nature of the Holocaust. It’s important because the survivors, in their 80s and 90s, are disappearing, people like my uncle Leon, whose sister and mother were gassed and who spent his teen years dragging bodies from gas chambers – and who died five years ago. It’s important because people are forgetting. 
Photograph from the Warsaw Ghetto.

A survey conducted over two weeks last February found that 22 percent of Millennials in the United States weren’t sure what the Holocaust was.  Forty-one percent thought that two million or fewer Jews were murdered. Two-thirds did not know what Auschwitz was.

Similar disturbing news from outside the US: a poll taken in September shows that nearly half of all Canadians cannot name a single concentration camp. Many do not know where the Holocaust happened or how many died. A third of all Europeans know little or nothing about the Holocaust.

How can so many not know anything about the Holocaust? How can so many not know the name of Auschwitz, where the Nazis perfected factory-style murder, hustling the sick, the old, women, children, from trains where they traveled for days without food or water – to pretend showers, where they were gassed to death, their bodies afterwards burned in vast ovens, ten thousand human beings a day? One million murdered at Auschwitz. Numerous other camps – where people were gassed, shot, hung, and burned. Then the squads of roving killers on the front lines in Russia. The goal – to exterminate every last person with at least one Jewish grandparent who lived in Europe. They succeeded in killing one third of all Jewish people in the world.

And the murder wouldn’t have stopped in Europe if the Nazis had won. A newly revealed book, from Hitler’s library – put on display in Canada for the first time last week, indicates the intent to commit genocide here as well. Compiled with the assistance of North American Nazi sympathizers, the book offered detailed statistics about the number and locations of Jewish people and Jewish organizations in the United States and Canada. The intent seemed clear: should Germany win the war in Europe and then take over Canada and the US, the Jews here would be exterminated.

And yet people are forgetting.

In the period after World War II, anti-Semitism declined, perhaps out of shame that the world had stood by while Jewish people were massacred. But with the forgetting of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is on the rise.
More than a quarter of respondents in Europe to the poll last September thought that Jews had too much influence in finance, and one in five thought Jews had too much power in media. Anti-Semitic acts jumped more than 69 percent in France in the first six months of  2018.

Anti-Semitic acts in the US in 2017 soared 57 percent, and in October 2018, eleven Jews were murdered in a synagogue. In Pittsburgh, even before the shooting, fifty anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the city. There are people who make anti-Jewish jokes, and parents who dress up their children as Nazis for Halloween. Recently, students in Minnesota issued Nazi themed invitations to a dance.  Someone painted swastikas on the side of a barn in Vermont. At Duke University in November, a swastika was painted across a mural honoring the Pittsburgh shooting victims. Swastikas were painted on a Jewish Community Center in Virginia and a synagogue in Indiana. In December, more than a dozen swastikas were painted on building near a trail near the University of Central Florida.

So, today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important that we remember the six million, and not just because it is a terrible historical fact. Remember because prejudice is rising against Jewish people. Remember what happened when people scapegoated a minority and unleashed hatred. Remember, because genocide can – and does – happen again whenever we forget what horrors humans are capable of inflicting when a group of people is demonized.


And, because six million is so large a number that it is almost abstract, remember that the number six million is made up of individuals with lives and loves, hopes and dreams.  They were individuals, not numbers, people like:

Rudolph Acohen from Amsterdam: He liked to listen to music, play tennis and bike, and was murdered at the age of twenty.

Bertha Adler: arrested in her hiding place in Czechoslovakia along with her family, and sent to Auschwitz where she was gassed two days later. She was fifteen years old.

Ziegmond Adler: taken from her home in Belgium and gassed at Auschwitz. She was seven years old.

Leon Anderman: a doctor, who died at Auschwitz.

Heinrich Bauer: sixty-four, who could have escaped Germany but refused to leave without his daughter and granddaughter, Freya. Freya was smuggled out with the aid of a children’s aid society and survived the war. Heinrich, his wife, and his daughter were murdered at Auschwitz.

Golda Bancic: traveled to France from Romania and supported the fight of the Spanish Republicans against fascism. After the German invasion, she joined the Resistance. She was captured and beheaded on her 32ndbirthday.

Mina Beker: Lithuania, born in 1902. She was a widow, mother of three, and a teacher. She was gassed at Stuffhof on the Baltic coast sometime in late 1944 or early 1945.

I selected just a few stories – taken from the files of the Unites States Holocaust museum. Multiply those stories – by the millions – six million – and you have the real horror of the genocide.

So this International Holocaust Remembrance Day – remember. Remember what Auschwitz was. Remember that six million died. Remember that behind that vast number of murdered people are millions of individuals with their own stories – heartbreaking stories. Go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, https://www.ushmm.org, or Vad Yashem, the World Holocaust Museum in Israel, https://www.yadvashem.org. Yad Vashem is sponsoring the IRemember Wall – which matches people with the image of a Holocaust victim – and it can be posted on your Facebook page. Post the story of someone you knew who survived– or the story of someone is memorialized on one of the above sites.

They were people. Individuals. Mothers and fathers. Husbands and wives. Widows, widowers, and those who never married. Doctors, teachers, shop keepers, housewives, soldiers, journalists, scientists, musicians, students. Children. They were young, and they were old, and they were somewhere in the middle. They were religious and not religious. They had their good points, and they had their faults - like all of us. And they were murdered.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Tidy piles begging to be sorted. Figure about 1,000 pages.
By Gayle Lynds

How do you feel about research?  I love it.  I really do.  Except when I’ve collected an overabundance of clippings and printouts of articles and stories.  Why do I do that?  In the first place, I’m curious.  And in the second, I’m convinced (at the time) all will be absolutely, positively necessary to create the kind of exciting international thriller I like to read — and write.

When CBS Sunday Morning arrived at our house last summer to film an interview with me, one of the cameramen walked into my office and called in everyone else:

Just 4 of my boxes. Susan Spencer on left, me on right.
“Look at the boxes!”  He’d already aimed his camera and was filming my wall of research.

On his heels, the second cameraman arrived.  “What boxes?”  Then he started filming, too.

Susan Spencer, the renowned CBS correspondent, joined us and closed in on my wall.  She read the titles on some of the boxes:  “CIA!  Military technology!  The White House!  Gayle’s Medical Records — we’ll skip those....  Soviet & Russian Intelligence!”

“I’m not good at filing,” I explained, feeling a need to justify myself.  “But I don’t mind tossing notes and clippings and printouts into boxes.”  Of course that part about not minding was a lie.  I’ll get to that in a moment.

They’d never seen anything like my system of boxes.  I was pretty chuffed, except of course it’s sorta like someone’s finding out you’re wearing gorgeous gloves because you’ve got warts on your fingers.  The truth is, I despise, loathe, and despair when it comes to filing into file folders.  I learned a long time ago that all my research will grow into a huge mound that will eventually resemble Mount Everest if my only choice is file folders.

I’m sure there’s some deep pathological fear or distrust that explains it, but in 30 years of off-and-on counseling (hey, I’m a writer, of course I need counseling), I still have no idea why I don’t trust file folders.

For the past 18 months, I’ve been collecting research clippings and printouts, and once again I’ve lost the battle to convince myself to file them into folders.  Instead, I paw through the research, looking for the ones I want to use.  It’s a frustratingly inefficient system.

But it’s a familiar one.  It’s only a matter of time until my inefficiency grows geometrically greater than my hatred of filing.  Then... 

I’ve got a book I’m desperate to write!
I've tossed 200-300 pages & am organizing - there's hope!

I haul the mountains of research, boxes, pens, staplers, scissors, and a large coffee cup to our dining room table.  Whew.  That was hard. But think of all the news, the analyses, the insights and opinions and historical perspectives piled in front of me!  Exciting!

I stare.  I take the rest of the day off. 

The next morning, I make myself coffee and sit at the table, fighting a sense of being over stimulated.  I have to read enough of each clipping to figure out into which box or pile it should go.  I pick up the first one and start.... 

● Hiding money in Corsica.  Hiding money is always interesting.  Keep.
● Putin’s oligarches and silovicki are restless because the economy is going south — maybe there’ll be a coup, because without their support Putin can’t survive politically.  Gotta love that one.  Keep.
● Albania is opening up the files of the Sigurimi, the feared Communist-era state security police.  Looks as if some politicians and business leaders who collaborated will get rapped on the knuckles.  Oh, how times have changed.  But maybe there’s a secret in there that I can use for character background....  Sigh, keep.
With luck, our dining room table in a few days

That’s it.  My curiosity is aroused, which takes me to the next problem — I’m INTERESTED!  And that means I have to decide whether to keep reading or make myself stop and figure out where to put the clip.  It’s a rough process.  But I’m getting the hang of it.  (See photo above of fewer piles on the table.)

As you can see, I love research.  It’s the disposition of it that’s a problem.  Oh, I also buy and read books for background and depth.  You should see my bookshelves, but that’s another story. 

So dear Rogue Reader ... how do you handle the “little” details of your life that you must do but find your reluctance is holding you up?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

HOW MORE SCREWED UP CAN IT GET?! Or how history impacts my writing.

by Chris Goff

Built in 1982, The Friendship Statue is billed as one of the main tourist attractions in Kiev, Ukraine. It stands beneath the People's Friendship Arch as a testament to the friendship that exists between Russia and Ukraine.

What? Wait a minute...

In 2014, didn't Russia invade Crimea, triggering a war that's killed more than 10,000 people?

And just recently, didn't Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia's Security Council, state that: "The Kiev authorities are doing everything to split Ukraine, implementing the West’s scenario to break Ukraine away from Russia, while ignoring the interests of its own people?" Didn't he just warn Ukraine that: "The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood?"

That's friendship for you.

My first thriller, DARK WATERS, is set in Israel, another place of unrest and high tension. And, by the end of the story, it was clear that there would be a trip to Kiev in my protagonist's future. It wasn't exactly how I'd planned it to go, but the ending felt right, the book was in production and I was happily researching RED SKY. Then Russian masked troops invaded and occupied key Crimean locations.

Wait. What?

Shifting sands is what writing geopolitical novels is all about. Where would a good spy novel be without conflicts between countries, without power grabs, shifts of alliance, the intrigue of secret negotiations? It's the eminent threat that keeps the readers heart pumping, the wheels of the mind clicking. So when a crisis changes the face of a book, what's a good spy thriller writer do? She packs her bags and heads to Kiev.

Isn't there a war going on there?

"It's too dangerous," was the hue and cry of most of my friends, my family, my colleagues. My daughter the history teacher was game to go with me, and my husband was all for it. Hmmm...

And, as it turned out, the most dangerous thing may have been our tour of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. Founded in 1051, the Lavra is the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the caves are the mummified remains of monks, many sainted. Legend has it during WWII, the Germans exhumed the bodies of the monks and planned to throw their remains into the Dnieper River. But when their trucks wouldn't start, the mission was abandoned. The composition and climate in the caves preserved the monks, whose remains can still be viewed in glass coffins. Go there at noon and be prepared to be pushed out of the way or trampled by the swarm of Kievans racing from coffin to coffin, paying homage on their lunch hour, in hopes they'll reap the blessings of the prosperity saints. Or the newly remodeled bathroom with the brand new porcelain squatty potty.

Or maybe it was the escalator that descended from the Arsenalna Station over 346 feet into the earth. It's the deepest station in the world, and the ride over five minutes—long enough that many regular commuters sit on the stairs and read.

Or the rolling blackouts caused by an overloaded infrastructure.

Or the four sets of guards and drug dogs that boarded the train as we crossed from Ukraine into Poland.

Or the overzealous tour operators hawking trips to the front lines. For $50 your could get a flak jacket and helmet, and be taken into the war zone in a Humvee driven by an armed driver.

Did any of this make it into the book?

Very few of the details. But what did make it in was the mood of the cities we visited. Kievans were somber, stoic and conflicted. Money was scarce and work was hard to come by. In contrast, the citizens of L'viv, a city in western Ukraine, were happy, joyous and defiant. The setting and landscape, images of a scarf wrapped around the neck of a statue, porticos painted in national colors. The over bigotry and bias toward Jews and people of color. Those set a tone, created a mood, fleshed out the landscapes of RED SKY.

Historical events change our world. They can not be dismissed, ignored or overlooked. They must be assimilated in to the fabric of our work. And, when handled well, they often infuse a sense of reality into a book where characters can sometimes seem bigger than life.

I say, "Bring it on!" 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Another New Year, Another Failed Resolution?

By Robin Burcell

It’s that whole New Year’s thing. In with the new, out with the old. We strive to do better this year than last. I love reading about everyone's resolutions or projects, and was inspired by Rogue Jamie Freveletti's post to share my own. For me, every single year, I promise to write more, eat less. Or write better, eat better. Definitely not write more, eat more. 

Years ago, author Laura Lippman turned the whole New Year’s Resolution routine on its ear by coming up with the "One Word Resolution." It’s brilliant. Sort of like creating that high-concept idea for a novel, but in this case, a high-concept theme for the year. (BTW, her word this year is “innovate.” Here's a link to the NYT article about it.) I really like this idea. Novels with themes are thought to be much stronger, so why not a year in my life with a theme? 

How To Organize Everything
What sort of word could I come up with that would encompass everything I want to do? Think, think, think...

First off, I need to get my office in order. We moved last March into a new home, but the office (which is nice) is right off the family room, so won’t work. I have to get all my stuff moved to the living room, where all my other office stuff currently resides—and still needs to be unpacked. (Ugh.) But I can’t do anything until I purchase new bookcases. I need something that will look nice enough for a room that you'll see the moment you walk in the front door. (I could really use the help of one of those home-makeover decorators... Just in case the Property Brothers are reading my blog.)

Next on my list, stay organized for the year. If I get my office set up properly (quit laughing!), I’m hoping it’ll prevent the stacks of random things that get shoved on my desk because they don’t really have a home. I can’t tell you how many new desks I’ve bought over the years, thinking that’ll magically take care of the problem. Since I’ve already experimented with them, let me save you the trouble of thinking that’s the cure-all. A roll top desk only works if you have less stuff than will fit on the surface around your computer. An L-shaped “return” desk only gives you more space to put stuff—or as I call it, "horizontal filing." A regular desk with file drawers is like the L-shape, but fills up much faster. (Pro-tip for horizontal filers: you can pull out the drawers and file right on top of them.) It's not just desks I've bought to transform my space. There's also books. No, not the one's we love to read. I'm talking books on organizing. Take it from me. If you're reading a book on how to declutter, you probably won't get far. Save your money.

Adding to the pressure, tax time is right around the corner. In that respect, I’m slightly more organized. I keep every scrap in a file folder marked with the year. Every January, I enter it all into my spread sheets, scan each document and receipt, store it by year in a plastic file box, and put it in a cupboard. Should the IRS come calling, I'm ready.

Old Christmas Clutter
I’d love to thin out the stuff I’ve collected over the years. Everything I don’t need or am hanging onto for the kids, or… Well, you get the drift. This year, when it came time to take-out/put-away Christmas decorations, I channeled Marie Kondo. Anything that didn’t "spark joy" went into a donation bin. I actually got rid of three large containers of Christmas stuff that will, I hope, find a new home, and help profit the local animal shelter.

And what’s with the bathroom scale this time of year? It’s like somewhere between Halloween and the end of December, I get the whole write-more-eat-less mantra mixed up with eat-more-write-less. (See my earlier blog post about December deadlines here.) One year I lived off of Costco snack-pack Cheez-its while racing to finish my book. Pretty sure I ate the entire carton of 48 packs in a couple of weeks. And there was that year that no kids came for Halloween and we had all that candy…

In case you’re wondering, I’ve started my annual January-eat-healthier-until-October quest. Wish me luck. I’d dearly love to make it until February, maybe even March, before I fall off. My goal is to lose enough weight so that I only weigh as much as I did back when I first thought I weighed too much. (For the record, that’s thirty pounds and thirty years ago.) I see some new running shoes in my future. 

Marie Kondo and Coffee
In other words, the new year means a new plan to get fit. For those of you who know the pain of buying a $1000 clothes rack (also known as a treadmill), or donating your hard-earned money to the local health club each month without ever visiting, heed my warning: there’s some truth to the whole get-fit-or-die thing. Who knew? This year, I’m going to start running again. To be fair, I was running about 2 miles daily a couple of years ago, but had some severe health issues that landed me in the hospital, and set me back to
square one. (And to be really fair, had I not been running, I would’ve been in way worse shape during recovery.) I’m back up to two miles—walking—not quite the same, but better than nothing. So, get-fit/stay-fit is high on my list.

Lest we forget the writing... This year, I need to set lofty goals and keep them. I want to know how to better schedule my work day. How do writers juggle multiple projects? (All suggestions welcome. I really, really want to know.) I need to remind myself that this is a business, not a hobby. That when I play on Facebook and Twitter, I am expending way too much creative energy. Why am I checking social media first thing in the morning? I need to remember to pay myself before I pay others. (Entertaining people with posts, emails, tweets is not getting the writing done. Doesn’t do us any good to promote ourselves on social media if we've got nothing to promote.) I do have one tool in my box, recommended by author JT Ellison. The Freedom app. (Typically I don't advertise apps, but this one is worth it.) I can set chunks of time to block out social media. I can easily bypass it, but amazingly, just the fact it’s blocked helps keep me on task. 

Clearly, between the writing, and all the rest (unpacking, organization, decluttering, health, fitness), I’ve got my work cut out for me. But knowing what I need to do helps narrow down my One Word Resolution for 2019… I’m going with “energize.” Like the bunny that runs on batteries, and keeps on going, I need to stay a bundle of energy, using bursts of it through the day to stay on point no matter what I set out to do. Should my motivation fail, I can pull out one of the above books on organizing, and take a second look. If I could only remember which box they're packed in...

How about you, Rogue Readers? Any suggestions on how to block out writing time? Juggle multiple projects? And, are you ready to take the one word resolution challenge? What’s yours?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

So Emotional

            A new year, a renewed determination to improve my writing. I’ve always thought of myself as more of a craftsman than an artist, but even a well-written story isn’t enough—what really holds on to a reader is the characters that populate it. I get that. I’m just not sure how to pull it off.

All writers know that the key to creating a great character is baring that character’s soul. A protagonist has to first possess and then be able to express deep emotional issues, problems, torturous desires, frustrations and despairs. They must have profound secrets they are desperate to keep or desperate to share. They must have emotional crutches and psychological hang-ups. They have to open a mental vein and leave a meandering trail of agony through every page of your book. This is how the reader comes to identify with them so deeply that they can’t put the book down without finding out what happens to that character, their pain so viscerally real to the reader because it’s so viscerally real to the writer.

My problem is I can’t do that.

I hate baring my soul, to be honest, whether in person or by proxy. I don’t think I ever have and I don’t have any plans to. Whatever intense desires and frustrations I may possess, I want to keep locked right here in my own little head. I don’t find writing cathartic—I’m not sure I should—and I have a problem expressing emotion. Possibly because over thirty years of marriage to a short-tempered man convinced me it was easier not to have feelings than to have them routinely battered, but possibly because I just don’t have any. Is that okay, do you think?

I come from a stoic family. My father was a very understated person and we took our cues from him. My mother was easy-going and not given to drama. I despise crying in public. I despise crying at all, frankly, it gives me a sinus headache. I purposely do not see movies where somebody dies (unless it’s by gunshot or a good-sized butcher knife). I don’t spend time with any storyline that involves pets, either in a good way or not-so-good way. I have no interest in exploring my dark side or my light side or any other side at all except the one that goes to work and gets paid, eats chocolate and goes on vacation.

 Apparently, I have been completely crippled by a happy childhood. I truly don’t have those depths of trauma and agony to draw on, with which to create my characters. Not that I would change my upbringing if I could, of course—but it’s a real handicap as a writer.

So instead of me developing great depths of emotion and learning to share them, can’t we please go back to the golden age of detective fiction where completely disinterested professional investigators looked into crimes because they found them interesting, or fun, or something to do and not because they were working out some deep-seated childhood trauma? Ellery Queen’s estranged mother or ex-lover never got themselves murdered. A psychotic serial killer didn’t torture Lord Peter Whimsey for days on end. Archie Goodwin took care not to get too attached to any alluring client of Mr. Wolfe’s. Miss Marple never felt so much as the need to raise her voice. Why must all our characters today be so mortally wounded? What was wrong with readers enjoying the puzzle more than the personalities?

What do you think? Must protagonists have a multitude of intense layers (what I call STP—the Standard Tragic Past), or can they simply be clever detectives?

I’m, um, asking for a friend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Organizing The New Year

Bear with me, everyone, because I'm not going to talk books for the new year in this post, (for that please check out Rogue Karna Small Bodman's excellent post here), I'm going to talk resolutions! The new year is upon us and I'm doing what I imagine everyone else is--making resolutions. I'm plunging into a home organizing project, because I'm eyeing a kitchen renovation in a few months. I also wanted to redo the lower level bedroom into a home office, while still maintaining a bed for guests, and I decided to start there. 

My first foray into the project involved cleaning out the room. Like a good writer--and reader-I immediately headed to the local library for a few books on organizing. 

Bad idea. Until I actually read the books I thought I knew a bit about organization. My house, while not completely clutter-free, is not horrific either. We make our beds every morning and put the dishes in the dishwasher and the dining table and garage are clean and can be used to host a dinner and park a car. The Christmas decorations go up in mid-December and come down after "little" Christmas and as I type this are stored and organized in the crawlspace. So you can see why I thought I was ahead of the game. 

But these books discussed so much more. Was my closet organized by color? (No). Were my shoes neatly organized? (No). Did I have old, expired makeup lying around that I still used? (Yes). Ditto on the spice rack? (Lots of expired stuff there). And on and on. I dove in, and I'm here to report that once you start organizing (or tidying, as Marie Kondo calls it), it gets easier and you become more and more ruthless. Things I at first thought to keep on the first day, I later went back to and donated three days later when I was in full swing. The room is fairly empty, organized, and ready to be beautiful. 

And while I was reading these books I realized that I'd better not buy paint or new flooring for the lower level until I looked into that as well. 

Good idea, because while the house has hardwood floors the lower level is below grade. We had carpeting but wanted hardwood. Nope. Apparently it will buckle with the humidity fluctuations. The contractor suggested Vinyl Plank. I'd never heard of it, but posted on facebook to my friends to find out if any had it and how it held up. The response was quick and unanimous--everyone loved it, but warned me to get a product marked for Eco installation. I called the company that manufacturers the plank, because their assurances on the website didn't seem to match the product I was purchasing, and a wonderful woman, who introduced herself as a chemist, answered. She assured me that the line I picked was free of certain troublesome chemicals. She also said "This is the number one question we get every day." She said it in a cheerful voice, which was nice of her given the monotony of the request. (I have to admit, I was glad the rest of the floor buying consumers were concerned too). The floor is in and so far so good. 

Then I got into searching for paint and learned something else: that paint colors have a "Light Reflective Value" that is expressed in a number. I went to the Benjamin Moore site and, sure enough, they helpfully provided an LRV number for each color. Who knew? The lower the number the more light the room should get or it will appear dark. Since my room was below grade with those narrow garden apartment-type windows, I was informed that a color with an LRV of 60 or above was best. Now, did I fully buy into this LRV thing? No. But I was willing to test. So I purchased four colors, with LRV's ranging from 52 through 68 and slapped them on the walls in large test strips. Sure enough, 68 was the best. The color is on the wall (Benjamin Moore's Moonshine- a lovely light gray) and looks amazing.          
The Murphy Bed 
 And finally I decided to toss the traditional bed and get a Murphy Bed. One of those things that look like cabinets, but pull down into a bed when opened. This way the office was an office when I used it, and a bedroom when a guest did. Again, I searched far and wide. These things are expensive! But here is a picture of mine-you'd never guess a bed is incorporated in that, would you?

The work continues, and I'm still making daily trips to Salvation Army and still filling big black garbage bags. But I also imagine myself and the house becoming lighter and happier as I do. I'm happy knowing that the kids' toys that my children have outgrown will delight some new child, that the book I left in the Free Library down the street will be read again by someone new, and that the comforter will keep someone else warm on a cold night. And I'm moving onward to the kitchen project, two bathrooms and another bedroom. Wish me luck! (And any tips would be greatly appreciated!)
Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

What to anticipate, predict and hope for in 2019

….by Karna Small Bodman

My Rogue Women Writer colleagues have written several fascinating posts recently about international kidnappings and revolutions that occurred some years ago -- heady stuff, and I always learn so much reading their extensive research and seeing how much of it is or could be translated into terrific thrillers.  Now that we are beginning a New Year, I thought I would switch gears  and look ahead to see what's in store for all of us - new books, new movies, new ideas. What are we anxiously waiting for and what might we hope to see or achieve?  To get some answers, I polled family members (of varying ages) around the dinner table last night and received a long list -- with heavy emphasis on books-to-movies, "next in the series" projects and especially remakes of much loved classics.  We also made a few predictions.

First is a new project involving a great Rogue friend, Lee Child -- international bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series of books.  If you haven't yet become addicted to these stories, you might start at the beginning -- with this recently released set of the first three.

Two of Lee's thrillers have been made into block-buster films starring Tom Cruise.   Now, there's word that Jack Reacher may be headed to the television screen in a deal with Amazon--complete with a new star. According to Child, "It would be toplined by a new actor more befitting the imposing, burly character" he created. Still in "nascent stages" we all are anticipating a great launch.

Second in line will be the new Avengers film the younger set is waiting for.  Everyone is speculating on what happens next. I found one theory which is circulating online.  Here's a quote from heroichollywood.com: "In this new theory, a Reddit user proposed that Vision survived his encounter with the Mad Titan. Vision apparently greyed out before Thanos had the chance to tear the Mind Stone out, thus enabling him to transfer his conciseness into the Mind Stone. This, in turn, allowed him to affect what happened to the people when Thanos dusted half the universe and may have transferred them elsewhere."

I confess to not having a clue what any of that means since I didn't see the first one (and only include it here for those die-hard fans).

Another highly anticipated release is one I DO understand and will want to see, along with a lot of other folks with fond memories of the original, which came out way back in 1941! It is the upcoming
fantasy adventure film directed by Tim Burton with a screenplay written by Ehren Kruger...inspired by Walt Disney's animated film of the same name -- DUMBO -- to be released March 29, 2019 --starring Colin Farrell as a one-armed war vet and former circus star who is hired to care for the newborn elephant, Michael Keaton plays a ruthless entrepreneur who acquires a circus to exploit an  elephant,  and Danny DeVito is cast in the role of ringmaster.

Getting back to books, remember the wonderful series by P.G. Wodehouse featuring Jeeves and Wooster?  Now bestselling author Ben Schott brings this "odd couple" back to life  in Jeeves and the King of Clubs where literature's favorite gentleman and his gentleman's personal gentleman become spies in service to the crown.  Many will also recall that  the original Wodehouse stories were made into a fabulous series of programs shown on PBS. As described by the publisher -- In this escapade, Jeeves's association of butlers and valets is revealed to be an arm of the British Intelligence service and Jeeves musts ferret out a Fascist spy. Sounds like a terrific new read.

 One more highly anticipated book is by our own Rogue, Robin Burcell, writing with Clive Cussler.  The new one is titled The Oracle and is next in the series featuring husband and wife team, Sam and Remi Fargo, as they return for another great adventure. This time it's the hunt for ancient treasure that may or may not be cursed. It is available for pre-order here -- I predict you will  truly enjoy this new thriller in the New Year!

Now for family predictions in 2019:  The Cubs will not win the World Series; flair pants and patent leather jackets will be all the rage; electric trucks will be everywhere; drones will deliver a burrito to your doorstep (well, they're already testing that in Australia -- and the neighbors are grumbling about the constant buzzing sounds); we will stay home and watch games, movies and other events in virtual realty created by 360 degree cameras, observed while wearing goggles -- VR headsets;  cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins and many others will go back up in value and be accepted by more businesses besides Overstock.com (they are already being offered as dowries in some African countries); and one big wish (from the older set) is that some clever audio engineer will finally invent a sound-suppressing gizmo we can put in the center of a noisy  restaurant table that will create a "private zone" to block out the decibel level that seems to be the hallmark of popular eateries.                                                      

Finally, since most everyone is cancelling their land lines and relying solely on iPhones -- they do complain about the hassle of having to hold it to an ear by crimping a shoulder and ending up with a stiff neck in the process.  So here is a 2019 gadget that allows you to remain connected to the past -- while at the same time -- utilizing the future. And the cost is less than ten bucks!

So for all of our Rogue members and followers, what are YOUR ideas, hopes or predictions for 2019.  Please share them with us in a comment here, or on our Facebook page -- just click on the icon at the top left of this page.  Thanks so much for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers and a very Happy 2019 to all!

                   . . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Vanishing Prime Minister

Last week in Budapest, under cover of darkness, the team moved quietly into position in Martyrs' Square.  They had one purpose: grab the life-size bronze statue of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, and make him disappear.  

 The Hungarian Parliament building
(Image Credit: Ercsaba74/Wikimedia Commons)

Erected in the 1990s, the Nagy statue was sandwiched between the Hungarian Parliament building and a massive memorial commemorating the 1945 Soviet "liberation" of Hungary from the Nazis.  Famously, the statue stood with its back to the Soviets, bronze eyes fixed on Parliament, the home and symbol of Hungary's independent government.     

The Imre Nagy statue -- until last week, a popular stop on the Budapest tourist trail
(Image credit: Adam78/Wikimedia Commons)
When I traveled to Budapest in January 2018, I'd visited the statue of Imre Nagy myself.  The lone bronze figure on a little bronze bridge  graces thousands of postcards, and still more Instagram posts.  

But the statue wasn't just a popular stop on the Budapest tourist trail; it was one of the city's most iconic reminders of Hungary's long struggle for freedom.  The statue's design ingeniously drew tourists into the action.  Struggling across the extremely slippery bronze bridge toward Parliament, the visitor briefly joins Nagy on his difficult journey.  I slipped on the ruts designed to resemble Soviet tank treads, and left with a souvenir bruise.

But by the time dawn broke on December 28, 2018, the statue of Imre Nagy had vanished.   

Who was Imre Nagy?  And why would the Hungarian government order his statue to be spirited away in the dead of night? 

Soviet tanks roll into Budapest, 1956 (Image credit: CIA / Wikimedia Commons)

From Soviet Spy to Reforming Rebel

Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy was a lifelong communist, and even a one-time informant for Soviet intelligence.  But he was also a reformer.  During Hungary’s blood-soaked 1956 anti-Soviet revolution, Nagy briefly emerged as the leader of the new, independent Hungary.  He attempted to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact, so it could emerge from the Soviet sphere and become a neutral nation.  

Be Careful What You Wish (or Propagandize) For

By 1956, the United States had spent years urging the Hungarians to resist Soviet oppression and stand up for their freedom.  The CIA covertly funded rousing Radio Free Europe broadcasts.  Hot air balloons  scattered hundreds of thousands of  US government-sponsored leaflets scattered over the Hungarian countryside.  Buoyed by all this propaganda, many Hungarian rebels believed the west would support them.   

But American help never came.  Understandably, the U.S. dared not send an army, and spark a third World War.  But the American failure to even  seriously attempt to advocate for partial Hungarian independence, or engage the Soviets diplomatically on Hungary's behalf, was a crushing disappointment for millions of Hungarians. 

Without American help, the rebellion didn't even last a month.  Soviet tanks rolled down the cobbled streets of Budapest.  Prime Minster Nagy was hauled out of the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest, where he had taken asylum, convicted of treason, and sentenced to death. Nagy was hanged, and his body buried under a false name.

The Strange Afterlife of Imre Nagy

But Nagy’s story did not end there.  In a recent New York Times article, Benjamin Novak writes,
“On June 16, 1989, more than 100,000 Hungarians attended a public reburial of Mr. Nagy, a historic event that signified the end of Soviet oppression in Hungary. A young Mr. [Viktor] Orban delivered a speech that propelled him onto the national political stage.” (Source)
Today, that same Viktor Orban is Hungary’s prime minister.  But the Orban of 2019 is a far cry from the young liberal reformer who once eulogized Imre Nagy.  

Mafia State?

These days,  Orban likes to boast that his Hungary is an "illiberal democracy."  His government has outlawed homelessness, ferociously cracked down on migrants, squeezed Hungary's free press, and grown conspicuously cozy with Putin.  State-led corruption and intimidation are so pervasive that Hungarian sociologist and former politician Balint Magyar has dubbed Orban's Hungary a "mafia state." 

Hungary's democracy is tottering.  Russian influence in Budapest is surging to levels not seen for decades.  And the statue of Imre Nagy had become an unwelcome reminder of a struggle for freedom that still holds a special place in the hearts of many Hungarians.

Swapping a Reformer for a Nazi Sympathizer
Orban, who had once celebrated Nagy as a hero, now appears to be resurrecting the memory of Miklos Horthy, the much-reviled leader who allied Hungary with the Nazis during World War II.  The New York Times reports,

“The statue of Mr. Nagy [...]is expected to be moved and replaced with a memorial to the victims of the Red Terror, a purge of anti-communist forces in 1919 […] originally erected under the regency of Admiral Miklos Horthy.” 
History Rhyming

Watching Hungarian political Twitter fizz with justified outrage over the removal of the Nagy statue, I had an uncanny sense of deja-vu.  

For a new story project, I'd spent the previous week gorging on 1950s diplomatic cables, newspaper reports, and everything I could find about Radio Free Europe.  The stories were heartbreaking.   Worst of all was the American inaction.  We had spoken up for human rights and civil liberties -- and then gone silent when it mattered most.  

Fritz Hier, a Radio Free Europe employee who traveled into Hungary at the height of the 1956 revolution,would remember "embarassment [sic] piled on embarassment at the lack of a single American" distributing much-needed food or blood at the Austro-Hungarian border.  In his journal, Hier wrote, "Where is our aid?...I must turn away from people...when asked this question."

A statue is only a lump of bronze.  But the vanishing of Imre Nagy is a powerful symbol of Hungary's deteriorating democracy and realignment with Russia.  Orban's government recently drove an American-accredited university, one of Hungary's finest, out of the country, sparking international outrage.  The university was founded by George Soros, Orban's bugbear and a focus of resurgent Hungarian antisemitism.  

Current U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and Trump political appointee David B. Cornstein offered a less-than-inspiring response, according to the Washington Post: 
"Cornstein declined to directly criticize Orban — whom he described as his “friend” — and instead blamed Soros for not cultivating better relations with the prime minister. 
He compared the university’s situation to his experience owning jewelry shops within a department store.
“I was a guest in another guy’s store,” he said. “The university is in another country. It would pay to work with the government.” (source)
Turkey has demonstrated how deeply -- and quickly -- even a NATO ally like Hungary can slide toward autocracy.  More than half a century later, the American silence in Hungary is eerily familiar.