Sunday, March 31, 2019

Turning Books into Movies

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

I'm sure that all of us have been to a movie theater or watched a film on TV and seen a credit line at the opening saying "Based on the Novel by ____"  Several well known authors have seen their books turned into blockbusters.  For example, Rogue friend, Lee Child's agent sold his book One Shot,  featuring 6'5" hero, Jack Reacher -- a burly military-detective type -- to a film company who promptly cast 5'7" Tom Cruise in the leading roll.  I remember several of us giving Lee a bit of a hard time at the conference when we heard about what we called a "miss-casting," but Lee, ever the diplomat,  simply grinned and said, "Tom Cruise is a good businessman, actor, and director." 

Many of us authors  say we would give anything (well almost anything) to have one of our stories optioned for a major feature film.  However, the chances appear to be "slim to none" when you look at the numbers. At our annual conference of International Thriller Writers, I heard that of all the novels where the author IS given a bit of change for an option on one of his books -- about 97% of them never see the screen because they don't get the financial backing, the right stars, the producer or director. And IF a producer turns out to be interested in your story, is he attracted to it because it is already a bestseller, or is it the other way around?  In Lee's case, he was an internationally acclaimed bestselling author when that first Jack Reacher film was made.

For John Grisham, it was the other way around. He wrote his first book back in the late 80's and says
he was paid just $5,000 and the book  had very meager sales.  Undeterred, he sat down and wrote his second novel, the Firm, and before it had many print sales at all, his agent was able to sell it to Paramount (in 1991)  for the princely sum of $600,000! After the film debuted, Grisham became a bestselling author who now has some 300 million books in print and have been translated into 40 languages. The irony is that Tom Cruise also starred in that one.  Later another Grisham tale, The Pelican Brief was turned into a popular movie -- I've seen them all and have enjoyed them all (though I have to admit that I often find that I liked the printed versions better than the Hollywood adaptations).

Okay, so you would like to write a novel that could be turned into a movie.  How do you do that? I went to a Writers' Group meeting last week where the speaker gave a workshop on "keys" to writing for film - meaning writing a book (not a screen play) - that a producer could "visualize" as a great film.  Here are his major points:

1.  MOMENTS - While a novel includes descriptions of heroes, heroines, settings and plots -- a movie is a collection of great moments.  He asked us to think of moments in films that made impressions on us. Several mentioned scary scenes in Alfred Hitchcock films - but on a lighter note, several hands went up to suggest the scene in When Harry Met Sally where the elderly woman in the restaurant glances over at Sally ordering her lunch (and faking a romantic encounter).  She says to the waitress, "I'll have what she's having." Yep - even though it came out way back in 1989 we all remember that one! (Turns out that older woman was the mother of the director who recruited her for that one line). So, in your novel, try to create memoriable moments, not just descriptions and dialogue!

2.  CARING AND WANTING -- the author needs to make the reader truly care about the characters, share their excitement, their failures, their redeeming features (at the end) as well as showing them wanting things.  In a thriller the villain wants something entirely different from what the hero wants, of course.  In a "lighter-hearted" story, often it's the hero and heroine who want entirely different things.  We see this clash/challenge in any number of books that have been turned into Hallmark movies. A good example is Dater's Handbook by Cara Lockwood which was made into a feature film starring none other than Meghan Markle -- the current Duchess of Sussex. 

  3.  SENSORY DETAILS -- The speaker emphasized that once you have written the draft of your book, go back and add impressions of sight, sound, touch, smell, and especially feel.  All of these senses can be conveyed in clever ways in a feature film. You just need to figure out how to describe them so a director can do his job.

4.  CAMERA ANGLES -- Imagine the shots a director would take in your story, first using a wide angled lens, referred to as an "establishing shot." You know how you'll first see the outside of the building or a helicopter shot of the small town before a medium shot showing an inside location with several people walking and talking together.  Be mindful of these settings as you write your chapters and also think about how the close-up is where intimacy is portrayed -- whether between lovers or enemies.

5.  UNEXPECTED TWISTS --  Yes, we often expect an unusual twist toward the end of any story which throws off the investigator in a mystery or drives a wedge between a man and woman in a romantic comedy.  We were told to spend a good deal of time crafting a good twist that the reader or viewer never saw coming.  Go for it.

After taking notes and listening to the workshop discussion, I was thinking that while I am already working on thriller #6, it might be fun to  perhaps take a temporary "detour" in the writing schedule and put a pitch together for a Hallmark book-to-movie idea. Hallmark receives hundreds and hundreds of submissions. Then again, they have such a successful franchise, they produce some 200 movies a year. So who knows?  In any event, I'll try to keep those five points in mind, and I'll also keep you posted.

Now thanks for stopping by our Rogue website -- and do leave a comment here (or on our Facebook page) about "moments" in movies that were so compelling that you remembered them for years on end. 

…..Karna Small Bodman 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


With Boeing being in the news lately and the terrible tragedies of the two 737s that crashed, it's a tense time for air travellers. And turbulence is a scary proposition for many flyers, a very unsettling feeling of lack of control. Hopefully this blog will help put your mind at ease.

You have a better chance of being killed by a meteorite, becoming President of the United States, or being killed by a shark than dying in a plane crash. Only one out of every 4.5 million scheduled commercial flights becomes involved in an accident. On average, you would have to fly every day for 55,000 years to be killed in an air crash. While flying is an incredibly safe way to travel, the more common problem of turbulence can reduce your enjoyment and terrify even the most veteran of travellers.

What is Turbulence?

The formal definition of turbulence seems designed to induce fear: “chaotic and capricious eddies of air, disturbed from a calmer state by various forces.”  It’s almost like nature is planning to make your flight experience akin to being trapped inside a cocktail shaker during spring break. Turbulence is the number ONE concern of anxious fliers. Understanding this phenomenon can help you relax the next time your flight becomes bumpy.

The three most common causes of turbulence are: mountains, jet streams, and storms, particularly thunderstorms. Trips that cross the Rockies and poor weather flights are the most likely to encounter turbulence. Other planes, particularly the Boeing 757, can create significant wakes, which cause a rough ride for trailing aircraft. This problem is so significant that air traffic controllers are required to leave extra space between 757s and other aircraft to reduce the disruption caused by their wake. No tailgating allowed here.

Planes are built to protect you, so turbulence rarely causes any risk to the structural integrity of the fuselage. In fact, the number of crashes that have been caused, or contributed to, by turbulence can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The turbulence issue is more one of comfort and convenience for passengers. The greatest danger is faced by crew members while they perform their duties. Only 100 people are injured due to turbulence every year, and about half of those are air crew. Statistically, 50 people out of the two billion or so who fly on an annual basis are injured due to in-flight turbulence. Very good odds for you to be safe.  

How Do Airlines Handle Turbulence?

Both pilots and airlines strive to make your flight comfortable, wanting the coffee to remain in your cup. Airlines even have their own meteorology departments to determine where turbulence is likely to occur so they can reroute their aircraft to avoid those areas. If you feel an in-flight altitude change, it’s likely an adjustment of the flight path to avoid turbulence.

Airlines and pilots also share information about turbulence they encounter. This takes the form of “ride reports” that instantly transmit information to control centers and pilots in the air, particularly those on similar flight paths. Turbulence is classified as light, moderate, severe, and extreme, and adjustments are made accordingly. This practice allows pilots to activate the seatbelts on system if the turbulence cannot be avoided. Most pilots will never encounter extreme turbulence.

Airlines are testing an advanced technology system that projects ultraviolet lasers ahead of the aircraft to detect disturbances in the air. These readings are analysed by advanced algorithms to give an early warning to pilots about any turbulence that may lie ahead.

Besides the very rare extreme turbulence, the biggest challenge for pilots is Clear Air Turbulence or CAT. This kind of turbulence isn’t well understood and often occurs in clear skies. In these cases, the pilot doesn’t have a chance to activate the seatbelt on notification before the turbulence hits the aircraft. To avoid any issues, passengers are advised to keep their seatbelts on at all times during the flight, even when the warning light is off.

Despite the advances in technology and airline data sharing, encounters with turbulence are increasing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Climate change is impacting air conditions, particularly along the North Atlantic routes. We can expect to see significant increases in the amount of turbulence encountered by aircraft over the next few decades due to these changes. This is important information for aircraft designers, as planes that are currently being built are expected to have decades of service life and need to be designed for the greater stresses they will face.

What Can You Do About Turbulence?

If turbulence still unsettles you, there are a few things you can do to enhance your safety and comfort while flying:

·      ● Wear your seatbelt snugly around your hips throughout the entire flight, whether the seatbelt sign is on or not. Clear Air Turbulence occurs virtually without warning and the pilot will have no chance to warn you before the plane reacts. Any slack in your seat belt will increase the forces on your body, and increase the risk of injury. However, even a loosely worn seat belt will usually prevent you from striking your head on the overhead bins.
·      ● Infants should be secured in their own seat via an approved car seat. There have been incidents where infants have become dislodged from their parents’ laps by turbulence—ending up in another passenger’s lap.
·      ●Your seat position impacts how you will experience turbulence. The most stable place on the aircraft—where turbulence is felt the least—is directly over the wings. Turbulence has its biggest impact on those seated in the rear of the aircraft. Many air crew report that while the pilot felt no noticeable disturbance at the front of the plane, passengers in coach were hanging on like they were riding a bucking bronco.  
·      ● Take flights that leave earlier in the morning rather than later in the day.

● One of the best ways to reduce the anxiety caused by turbulence is to distract yourself while it’s occurring. Try writing with a pen in your non-dominant hand during the jostling. The intense concentration required and forced activation of rarely used parts of your brain will minimize your fear.

The Bottom Line

I had fun interjecting turbulence into a few scenes in SKYJACK to jack up the tension—adding a little thrill to my thriller. Although turbulence can be quite unsettling, it doesn’t put your plane in danger, and the risk of injury from it is infinitesimally small. While bumpy skies certainly make your air travel less pleasant, they don’t really make your flight any more dangerous. Safe and enjoyable travels to all!

Do you have a flight story to tell? We'd love to hear it!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

April is the Cruelest Month

S. Lee Manning: It’s not quite April, a week to go, but spring is on the horizon. Not here in Vermont, but in most places in the United States. In Vermont, we do seasons a little differently. We have summer, leaf season, winter, winter, winter, and winter.  Then mud season. Last year, in mud season, we could only use Jim’s 4-runner on our dirt road because of a muddy ditch in the middle of our road that would have buried my Subaru.  

Since it’s close to the end of March, Jim and I left Florida two weeks ago to return to our home in Vermont, anticipating mud season. We got winter.  The picture here is not the Antarctic nor the iceberg on which the Titanic floundered. It’s the walkway to my house.

Just a few minutes ago, I walked into my kitchen as more snow slid off my roof – and completely blocked what was left of the view from my kitchen window. The top of my window, by the way, is about ten feet off the ground.

But people to the south of Vermont, which is most of the country, are thinking about spring this time of year. April is almost here. In New Jersey, where we used to live, by April 15, the flowering trees, white ornamental pears, pink cherries, purple redbuds, take their turns displaying their glory as daffodils and forsythia make their golden appearance.

Even here, in the frozen north, the temperatures will soon start reaching the upper 50s – and people will shed clothes like snakes shedding their skins, reveling in temperatures that six months from now will seem cold.

And yet, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, April is the cruelest month.

Is it? 


There’s the promise of spring in April – of life and renewal. Butterflies. Flowers.
But when that promise contrasts with a harsher reality – it seems especially cruel. In Eliot’s poem – he offers an image of lilacs breeding out of a dead land – which is a metaphor for the contrast between hope and despair.  The reality this spring is of epic flooding, of spring crops that won’t be planted, of the mud to come – on my street – on flooded fields, and of April storms, hail, tornadoes.

This year, April will be the cruelest month for many.

However, being a writer, to be more precise – a thriller writer, I started thinking about the promise of spring in terms of novels. 

The premise of so many novels is the struggle between humans and nature, especially the harshness of winter. What would Jack London’s novels be without the frigid landscape of Alaska? Or Dr. Zhivago – without the Russian winter?

But the contrast between the promise and the reality can be as compelling as the straight out struggle against adverse elements. Because to me, the most interesting struggles are those which occur internally – as the protagonist realizes that reality is not as anticipated. This happens in international thrillers, when the spy realizes she’s been fed a lie, or the secret agent realizes that the agency – or the direct superior- for which he thinks he’s working – has betrayed him. “Between the idea and the reality...falls the shadow.” T.S. Eliot. 

I’m not suggesting using flowers as metaphor in writing international thrillers. Still, the best writers remember that the contrast between expectation and reality is at the heart of much of what makes a novel compelling.

We expect April to be sunshine and flowers – and we get flooding and disasters. April is indeed the cruelest month.

To help those affected by flooding in the Midwest or elsewhere:

Saturday, March 23, 2019

ELISABETH ELO GOES ROGUE and shares secrets

photo credit: Sean Sliney
Elisabeth Elo's latest book, Finding Katarina M., is about Natalie Marsh, a Washington D.C. physician whose mother, a Russian immigrant, is haunted by the fact her parents were sent to the Russian gulag when she was a baby. Then Natalie discovers her grandmother may still be alive. As Elisabeth takes us on an extraordinary journey across Siberia, Natalie must decide how far she will go heal her mother's pain and protect her family and country from a dangerous threat. 

Growing up in Boston, Elisabeth attended Brown University, and earned a PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University. She has published scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as Walt Whitman and Cinderella, and her essays and Pushcart-nominated short stories have appeared in a variety of publications. She worked as a magazine editor, a high-tech product manager, and a halfway house counselor before beginning to write fiction. Her first book, North of Boston, received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and was named a Booklist Crime Fiction Debut of the Year in 2014.

We are delighted to have her blogging with us, and even more delighted that she decided to answer the Rogue list of In the Limelight questions. Here goes:

Elisabeth with Sakha Family doing research in  northeastern Siberia
Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence?
There’s no question that the first sentence is harder, maybe the hardest of all. Everything has to be right: the voice, the tone, the setting. What the sentence is about ought to be what the book is about, too. Oh, and it should fire up the plot. That’s a tall order! I have no idea how to accomplish all that in one sentence, but I try. The first sentence of FINDING KATARINA M. is terribly mundane: “There’s one more person to see you,” my assistant said. Not anything to brag about. But it does nod in the direction of one of the most common and durable plots in storytelling: A stranger comes to town. Only Natalie, the main character, is soon to become that travelling stranger herself.

What's your favorite word?
Serendipity. I was asked that question in a job interview once, and I gave that answer and got the job. So that’s been my favorite word ever since.

Where do you like to write?
I write at home sitting at my desk. I used to go to coffee shops or libraries, but there was a lot of going and setting up and then closing down and coming home, not to mention parking, so in the end I found it simpler to just stay home and get to work. The coffee isn’t as good, but it’s cheaper, and now I have a dog and I don’t want to leave him alone for hours. So here I stay. I usually keep a vase of fresh flowers on my desk, so that makes it special.

What do you do when you need to take a break from writing? 
I go into the kitchen and look through the cabinets for something to eat. There usually isn’t anything because I rarely go grocery shopping. I get frustrated, smear some peanut butter on crackers, turn on the TV, watch three minutes of the prevailing network news insanity, shut the TV off in horror and disgust, and go back to work. Then I remember music and turn on my favorite Apple music jazz station. That usually calms me down. If that tried-and-true sequence fails, I take the dog for a walk around the block.

If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be? I don’t want to live in any era of the past. For me, the past is full of horrifying wars, gross inhumanity, sexism, racism, poverty, and terrible diseases. Given what I just said, you might find it hard to believe that I’m actually a starry-eyed optimist. I agree with Martin Luther King Jr. that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I want to live in a more just future where amazing scientific advances have alleviated most forms of human suffering, and where we’ve all grown much kinder to children and more respectful of the elderly. I figure that’s…hmm, the year 3015? With any luck, the planet will still be around.

What's your favorite drink? 
If I say a skim decaf latte, will you still want to talk to me?

When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? I love this question. It’s so much fun to remember how confidently and enthusiastically my childhood-self dreamed about the future. My very first chosen profession was movie star. Around nine years old, that switched to architect. A perfectly logical transition, as anyone can see.

Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories? 
My mother was fluent in poetry and talked about famous fictional characters as if they lived next door. Because of her, I grew up thinking that words and stories were a portal into the only world that really mattered, the one where meanings and emotions and true understandings lived.

Do you write what you know or what you want to know? When I write about relationships, I’m writing about what I’ve experienced or observed. In every character I create, there’s some sliver of a real person from my life. But I also love taking my characters and myself to unusual places where we are completely out of our depth and have to adapt quickly to survive. I always want to be learning new things when I read and write, not just stumbling about in the kinds of situations I already know too well.

Thank you, Elisabeth. Finding Katarina M. went on sale March 19th. I'm reading my copy now. Let's compare notes. Meanwhile, when you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Here I am at the first ThrillerFest
By Gayle Lynds

Ignorance is bliss, or so we’re told.  Personally, I find ignorance is also destiny.  I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to write international thrillers.  No one told me.  Who would’ve thought!  I loved them.  My girlfriends and guy friends loved them.  It was the 1990s, and everywhere I looked, from beaches to board rooms, from sweaty locker rooms to jam-packed passenger jets, adults and 'tweens of all sexual persuasions, skin colors, ages, religions, accents, and percentages of body fat devoured books by Robert Ludlum, John Le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Follett.

Let me back up here....  A few years before I wrote thrillers, I hadn’t realized I wasn’t supposed to cover what those of us in the trade called hard news.  I was a kid reporter for the Arizona Republic, a fine old rag with a reputedly progressive outlook about gender equality.  As far as I was concerned, that was a license to write, and the globe was my beat.

Then, when riots erupted in downtown Phoenix, I asked, then begged (when I want something, I don’t mind a little public humiliation) to go out to cover the mean streets.  But as my male pals rushed off to fulfill the public’s need to know, the city editor explained the work was too dangerous for a girl, and he assigned me to obituaries.

Some consider writing obits an art form.  That's what I told myself, and I really tried to like it.  I worked to convince myself it was enough to know I was doing a service.  Plus, maybe if I just threw in some multisyllabic words, extended my sentences until each was a paragraph long, and used “darkling” a few times, I’d be the Faulkner of Phoenix. 

Right.  All I could think of was Dante’s Inferno.  I was in hell.

For those in the know, obit desk was the classic punishment in a city room.  I could see no escape.  Then a new reporter arrived, general assignment like me, hungry to learn.  Fueled by desperation, I took him to lunch — hot tacos washed down by a multitude of icy margaritas, emphasis on the margaritas.  We talked about the future and his dreams of becoming a first-rate reporter.  Of course, to achieve that, he really needed to experience all that the city room had to offer.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t take over obits. 

Too bad.  I had that juicy assignment.  Obits.  Yeah.

He couldn’t believe I liked it.  But at that moment, writing obituaries became to me the most fascinating, most rewarding, most career-enhancing job ever.  I was reluctant to switch with him.  Still, by the end of lunch, I let him talk me into it.

Sometimes you get what you want not because it’s right or fair or even smart, but because you just don’t know any better.  The city editor threw up his hands, then threw in the towel.  As it turned out, the forces of society’s progress had become evident even to him.  My goal had been escape, but my reward was far greater.  After a lecture and several growls of disapproval, he sent me out to cover the end of the riots.  I went gladly and returned with news stories.  Both of us had done our job — at last.

Thus, in 1996, when my debut novel, Masquerade, was published, I knew international thrillers — or spy novels, if you prefer — had been the domain of male authors for decades.  Still, women were such big fans that they not only accounted for a significant percentage of sales, they also introduced them to their boyfriends, husbands, and sons.  Since I loved spy thrillers, that’s what I wanted to write.  As I said, ignorance is destiny.  It didn’t occur to me I wasn’t supposed to.

But it occurred to others.  The first publisher to whom my agent had submitted Masquerade was a woman.  She turned it down because “No woman could’ve written this.”  Fortunately, my agent sent it next to another publisher (interestingly, a male) who loved it and bought it with no questions asked.  But when the book was published, a couple of men who reviewed for large publications were graphic — telling me in person that they’d never review my books because I was, in effect, cutting off the private parts of male authors.

Then in the early 2000s I was with a publisher who wanted me to write a romance novel next.  She turned out to be terrific, because when I explained that now that I was co-authoring international thrillers with Ludlum, readers would be unlikely to want to read romances by me.  I'd be hurting her bottom line.  She laughed, and agreed.  Whew.

There was also an issue with dust jackets.  One cover sported a woman in a black body suit, aiming a lethal-looking pistol and wearing stiletto heels so high they probably made their first appearance in a comic book.  Another thriller cover showed a couple trotting and holding hands as if they’d just discovered love — not a dangerous international conspiracy.  And those were the two best covers.

You may have noticed that the dust jackets of spy thrillers written by men have little in common with the ones I just described.

To say I was being marginalized is an understatement.  I have no idea why I didn’t quit.  Stubbornness, perhaps.  Or maybe it was simply that I am besotted by the work, by the joy of words and ideas, by high adventure and low politics, by secrecy and smart skullduggery, by the imperative to try to make some sort of sense of our confounding universe, that as long as I can crawl to a computer or a quill pen, I will write.

And, too, if I’d given up, I would’ve missed a lot of fun.
David Morrell & I, 2005 ITW party

Finally, Keith Kahla, a brilliant executive editor at St. Martin’s, found my work, liked it a lot, and took me on.  He helped to repackage my books in such a way that they spoke to large numbers of readers.

Another change was in the times — because of 9/11, readers’ desire for international political fiction was reignited.

Then, in 2004, David Morrell and I founded International Thriller Writers — ITW — which has become a force in the industry (who could’ve predicted that would happen?).  But then, look at the terrific thriller authors who joined us on the first Board of Directors: Steve Berry, Lee Child, David Dun, Tess Gerritsen, James Rollins, and MJ Rose.

In another indication in the change of culture, the Military Writers Society of America awarded my latest spy thriller, The Assassins, the Founder’s Award for Best Novel.  Do they care that I’m female?  Obviously not.
Board 2007: Kathy Antrim, Lee Child, David Dun, Jim Rollins, moi, Diane Capri, Steve Berry, MJ Rose, David Morrell

When the erudite Peter Cannon of Publisher’s Weekly compiled a list of 15 top spy novels.  Masquerade was on it.  What a wonderful honor.  BookNotes claimed, “Lynds has joined the deified ranks of spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre.”  With Ludlum, I created the Covert-One series.  I was hoping that the change in culture and my bits of success would help women enter the field.

Still, women struggled.  So in 2016 a group of eight of us banded together to celebrate books, reading, the writing life, and all things thriller.  The result is Rogue Women Writers, and if you’re reading this, you know a lot about us — from our thrillers to our travels, research, and lives.  Today I’m immensely proud that Rogue Jamie Freveletti continues the adventures of Covert-One, while Rogue Robin Burcell has created a series with Clive Cussler.  Other Rogues today are Chris Goff, KJ Howe, Lisa Black, Karna Small Bodman, and S. Lee Manning. 
2016: Chris Goff, moi, KJ Howe, Jamie Freveletti, S Lee Manning, & Sonja Stone

Staying the course is hard, especially when it seems as if everything is going wrong.  Our only solace as writers is in the work itself, and perhaps also in a penchant for blissful ignorance that allows us to gamble, to risk, to keep going where others would tote up the odds and stop.  But these are the sweetest victories of all, and with a soupcon of luck, our destiny.

So reading and writing friends, please tell us about some of the great thrillers you love ... whether written by women or men. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

THE PROS AND CONS OF DNA TESTING...are you sure you want to know?

Kata gård
Last year, I started doing genealogical research on my grandmother's side of the family. We were taking a trip to Sweden to see family—cousins I'd met 40 plus years ago. The research was straightforward. Both of my grandma’s parents were from Sweden, both from farming families in the heart of Västergötaland.

It was there, in the 10th Century, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest. When they found the bones, everyone believed they were those of a man—until a DNA test proved that "he" was, in fact, a "she," a high-ranking female Viking warrior based on the items buried alongside her. They named her KataGård. I’m thinking maybe we’re related. If only we could get them to let us compare DNA.

A Brief History of DNA

1n the 1920's scientists discovered that humans had four different blood types, inherited biologically. It allowed physicians to safely perform certain medical procedures, but that's about all it was good for.

In the 1930's scientists discovered Serological Testing, where proteins on the surface of blood cells could be used for identifying people. The power of exclusion was still too high to make this an effective test.

In the 1970s, scientists discovered Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA), a protein present throughout the body, except the red blood cells. They found a high number of HLA and found they could predict biological relationships about 80% of the time, 90% if coupled with the other two tests.

Then, in 2011, Duane Reade began selling over the counter DNA tests called Identigene, for use in paternity testing. Buy a kit for $29.99 and have it administered by the pharmacy chain's walk-in clinics for about $300, including lab fees and other charges.

Flash forward to 2019 and DNA testing runs rampant. It’s projected to be a $20 billion-dollar industry by 2020. (Let's pause and give credit to the Home Pregnancy test that spurred the movement.) Today there are tests to determine your health risks (Gerd, cancer, whether your sense of smell is keener than your brother’s, or your hair bleaches in the sun). There are even tests that will tell you what type of dog your loveable mutt is. 

If you're looking for genealogy clues (my main interest), the test is only as good as the pool of others tested. For example, my results differ between 23&Me and My Heritage. Your genetics are predicted by comparing them with the other DNA samples on record.

What you might discover.

I am 43.6% British and Irish, 20.1% Scandinavian, 19.1% French and German. A closer look at the report shows my ancestors mostly live in Scotland. Makes sense. My maiden name is McKinlay, and I can trace my father's heritage back to the homeland. The Scandinavian doesn't surprise me knowing my grandmother’s heritage, and my middle name is Lantz, which accounts for the German. The other 17.2% breaks down as Broadly Northwestern European (from Ireland, Norway, Finland to France), Broadly European (mostly Eastern) and Native American. 

The AHA moment!

Since I was a little girl my father had told me it was rumored that one of my great, great grandfathers married a Native American woman. When I asked my aunts, they were both apoplectic. But 23&Me, at the most conservative level, says it’s true. It’s right there in bright yellow.  And, even more compelling, is they say I have five matches to others with Native American blood, who appear to be my 4th cousins. The next step is contacting them to find out who their ancestors are, and look for the connection. 

I haven't done it yet. 

Why? There are some pros and cons to DNA testing. People have discovered lots of things they don't want to know. For example, my cousin's wife took the test and learned she has a half-brother she never knew about. When she contacted him, he was traumatized and responded by pulling everything off the internet.

According to a report on DNA testing, done by CNBC on June 16, 2018, there are FIVE major reasons for NOT having your DNA tested. Surprisingly they didn’t list shock as one of their reasons.

1. Hacking. It's happened. I'm not sure who benefits by hacking DNA, and CNBC didn’t know what resulted, just that it might be bad. There has to be a thriller in there somewhere.

2. That someone else profits using your DNA. The premise here is that research conducted using DNA might fuel the development of pharmaceutical drugs that can be sold for exorbitant prices. Hmmm. If it accelerates someone finding a cure for cancer or Parkinson's disease, I think I could live with that. Again, there has to be a thriller in here.

3. Laws covering genetic privacy are not broad enough. This has more merit. For example, right now there are select groups of people who receive insurance from the government and are protected from genetic discrimination. Say I’m one of them because of my Native American heritage. But then my DNA test shows I'm below the percentage eligible for benefits. You see the problem. Another thriller.

4. Some of the major DNA testing companies will share their data with law enforcement. The first high-profile case was the capture of the Golden State Killer, and I, for one, am glad they caught him. But say I'm not a serial killer, but my brother got himself into trouble. Do I want my DNA to be the reason the cops are able to track him down and arrest him? Maybe not.

5. The company's situation or privacy statement can change. What if the company sells, goes bankrupt? Who ends up with your DNA and what can they do with it? Likely you would have to agree to new privacy rules, but they already have your DNA, so….

Just know, if you venture down this road, you need to move forward with your eyes open. And, if you discover that your father is someone other than who you were raised by, be prepared to seek therapy.

Bottom line

One through 4 are definitely thriller material, but DNA testing was worth it for me. I proved an old family rumor true and I discovered one set of great grandparents on my mother's side came from "Bohemia.” Gypsies. I see a trip to Czechoslovakia in my future.

How about you? Have any of you opted-in for DNA testing? Did you find out you’re a NPE ("Not Parent Expected”)? I just know there's a book in here somewhere.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Top Five stupid TV Commercials in 2019

You’re probably wondering what commercials have to do with thriller novels. In our case, it has to do with branding. We, the Rogue Writers, are testing out our emerging brand, hoping you’ll be eager to see what we come out with next. Some of our readers might notice a few tiny differences in our blog header, one being the tagline beneath our name: “Kick-ass thriller writers. With Lives.” We dropped the international, because some of us are writing books that take place squarely in the U.S. We’re trying to let people know that the Rogue Women write kick-ass books, but that’s not all we do (hence, the "With Lives.") Obviously, the goal is that if you see Rogue Women, you’ll identify us with good books. It’ll take some time to see if this branding thing works. 

Geico Spy Commercial
Like books, I’ve always believed that the best commercials are memorable and tell a good story. They draw you in, or make you laugh, or make you cry (in a good way). Think Budweiser Clydesdales and dogs for loyalty and tears of joy. Jack-in-the-Box and Geico have the market on laughter. When the above brands come out with a new commercial, I often rewind the DVR to watch. They succeed, because they tell a story—usually in less than two minutes. (Do you recall the gum commercial where the high school kid left wrappers for his sweetheart? Same concept, but serial installments.) The bad commercials fail to tell a decent story. They lack thematic structure. Or if they have a theme, they fail on plot. 

Keeping that in mind, here’s my list for the first quarter of 2019. These are, without a doubt, commercials that I’d like to never see on my TV screen again:

5.  Burger King (with the plastic head). Okay, I haven’t technically seen one of these in 2019, but they’re so bad it still lingers in my memory banks—especially the one where the king is stalking someone sleeping in their bedroom. I get that Jack-in-the-Box has hit a home run with the plastic-head-thing, but the difference is that Jack is funny. The king is creepy. It makes me not want to eat at BK. Ever. 

4.  Liberty Mutual.  I suppose on the one hand, that because I remember their name, they’ve succeeded. But not in the way they’d hoped. Their jingle (Liberty, Liberty, Liberty…) reminds me that I need to record any show they’re on, so I can fast forward after making a mental note to never buy their product. Face it Liberty, these are not funny. Not even a little bit. 

3. Chevy.  (At least I think it’s Chevy. As far as branding, it’s that unmemorable.) This truck company tries to amaze you (and fails) by showing these “real people, not actors” who are taken into a big warehouse or a desert, or wherever, and get to see a pickup put through the ringer in a way they couldn’t possibly have imagined. Then the twist ending (on some), where they’ve dragged their relative in to witness their amazement. It does nothing to enhance the brand, and only proves that people will do anything to get on TV. (That being said, the Provincial Progressive Insurance spoof of this particular set of commercials is excellent. Branding, however, not so good. My husband had to correct me on insurance co.)

2.  All fabric softener, detergent, or room freshener commercials that brag about fresh scent.  Every one of them shows a person sniffing someone else’s clothes or barging into a neighbor’s house to smell their kitchen or teen’s messy bedroom. One unmemorable brand had an annoying campaign where we actually heard someone sniffing loudly (and which caused me to switch the channel, every single time before I heard the product name). Not only don’t I want people to invade my space like that, I don’t like my clothes to smell like the chemical version of a “spring day” or “clean, fresh scent.” Clothes shouldn’t smell period. (Truth: I buy unscented everything.) My version of a spring day is to walk outside and stand in the sun. If I want to smell a flower, I’ll walk up to one. 
Charmin as far as the eye can see.

And my top choice for worst commercial: 

1.  Charmin toilet paper.  The current ad campaign with the bears is so bad, I had to look up the brand, because I refuse to waste space in my memory banks. Unfortunately, the tagline is firmly burned into my brain: “We all go. Why not enjoy the go?” (Said no one ever.) To the ad agency who came up with this inane branding concept, I get that you need a way to make it memorable—and you have, just not in a good way. For the sensitive readers, just skip down to the end, and let me know your fave or most hated commercial. For those of you who agree that swearing is okay (per Rogue Gayle Lynds' (2/20) post), I have to say: WTF? There are so many ways to interpret this tagline, and all of them bad. Think triple X rating. Honestly, stick with the bears if you must. We all know what they do in the woods. That was clever. But reality is that the majority of us (and the bears) aren’t “enjoy(ing) the go,” and those who do, I don’t want to know about it. Please, please, please retire this stupid campaign!

So, Rogue Readers, who wins your vote for worst commercial ever? And would you buy one of their products? Or steer clear? I’d love to know!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Missouri Model of Juvenile Incarceration

by Lisa Black         

Here in Florida we recently had the first anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, making me think about research I did for my last book, Suffer the Children. What, exactly, should we do with children who have committed, perhaps not mass murder, but violent crimes?

About the worst thing you can do with a problem child is put them in jail. Isolated from their families and meaningful intervention programs, their education stunted, this nearly guarantees that they will remain a problem. When two-thirds of nonviolent first time offenders never reoffend without any sort of sanction or intervention, whereas forty percent of incarcerated juveniles will wind up in adult prison later on, obviously the best thing to do is to keep juveniles out of custody wherever possible.

Bad behavior (especially drug use) is often a mechanism to avoid the real problems of abuse and neglect. The most important thing for children to learn in terms of functioning in society is self-control and empathy, and those things have to be learned within a family. Unfortunately too many families now depend on day cares, schools and prisons to teach their children what they should have. Quality child care is essential but exorbitantly expensive in all fifty states. On top of that, schools have turned to zero-tolerance policies instead of increasing the mental health screening and services so desperately needed. With the increasing pressures of standardized testing, schools in some states (like Florida) have been accused of shedding their low-achieving students into detention facilities and ‘alternative’ high schools in order to get their test averages up.

Schools in other states (such as Ohio) are unable to expel even extremely disruptive students and have to take on extra staff to provide one-on-one monitors. But most of the disabled children in schools are learning disabled (not physical), and more and more of a school’s budget goes to this sector. Schools need help to screen, monitor and intervene if necessary the lives of their students, including simply keeping track of who is coming to school and who isn’t. Truancy sounds like a minor thing, the plot of a Little Rascals skit, but it is very important. It’s the first step for all delinquency.

Also, increasing numbers of children in America, particularly the ‘problem’ ones, are on psychotropic medications. One study showed that fifty percent of children in Florida shelters were on psychotropic meds.

Of course, never putting kids in jail wouldn’t work either. All bad-behaving kids, whether their act is skipping school or killing somebody, need to face appropriate punishment, or there is no reason for them to stop.

So what to do? Read up on child delinquency and you will quickly hear tell of ‘the Missouri model.’ Since the 1980s, the Missouri Division of Youth Services has experimented and tweaked their system, boiling it down to six distinct points (source: Anne E. Casey Foundation):

1. Missouri places youth who require confinement into smaller facilities located near the youths’ homes and families, rather than incarcerating delinquent youth in large, far-away, prisonlike training schools.

2. Missouri places youth into closely supervised small groups and applies a rigorous group treatment process offering extensive and ongoing individual attention, rather than isolating confined youth in individual cells or leaving them to fend for themselves among a crowd of delinquent peers.

3. Missouri places great emphasis on (and achieves admirable success in) keeping youth safe not only from physical aggression but also from ridicule and emotional abuse; and it does so through constant staff supervision and supportive peer relationships rather than through coercive techniques that are commonplace in most youth corrections systems.

4. Missouri helps confined youth develop academic, pre-vocational, and communications skills that improve their ability to succeed following release—along with crucial insights into the roots of their delinquent behavior and new social competence to acknowledge and solve personal problems.

5. Missouri reaches out to family members and involves them both as partners in the treatment process and as allies in planning for success in the aftercare transition, rather than keeping families at a distance and treating them as the source of delinquent youths’ problems.

6. Missouri provides considerable support and supervision for youth transitioning home from a residential facility—conducting intensive aftercare planning prior to release, monitoring and mentoring youth closely in the first 15 crucial weeks following release, and working hard to enroll them in school, place them in jobs, and/or sign them up for extracurricular activities in their home communities.

All this individualized attention sounds expensive—except it isn’t, relatively. With smaller facilities and less children in custody overall, Missouri spends less money on its youth than most states and substantially less than many (including Florida).

Is it perfect? Of course not—nothing ever is, right? Missouri has reoffenders and recidivists…just less than in other states. So as school shootings become commonplace and at least twenty-three states now have no minimum age at which to try juveniles in adult court, it’s nice to know that occasionally progress is made toward a brighter future for all.

Have you had any experience with your local juvenile justice system? What do you think needs to be changed?