Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Bad Deal All Around

By Lisa Black

Fort Myers Federal Courthouse
            Six weeks ago, a 68 year old mother of one was sentenced to ten years in prison, one year for each of ten counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Her name is Kay Gow, an intelligent woman with a doctorate in business education and the author of textbooks. Her husband Richard had committed suicide after the guilty verdicts were handed down, abandoning her to face the sentencing alone. They had been married for over forty years. 

          And the county surrounding Fort Myers, Florida, is still out its 4.7 million dollars.

After the Gows retired from a land development business in Virginia and moved to Florida, they, as so many do, chafed at the inactivity. Their restlessness took them to Singapore, where they adopted a daughter and became interested in herbal supplements not available in the U.S. This led them to found HerbalSciences Group (though the research division in Singapore eventually failed) and then proposed a new company, VR labs, which they said would provide 208 jobs to Fort Myers area residents. In 2011 the county, still reeling from the housing bust and the worldwide economic crisis, gave them a grant worth five million dollars to build and equip a health drink bottling plant. The county had made such grants to other companies such as Algenol Biofuels and Gartner, Inc., with good returns. But this time no one noticed how the Gows had never run a food or bottling concern before, nor had anyone on board with such experience. (Perhaps the fact that they were incorporated in Delaware, the fake company paperwork capital of the country, should have been a red flag. Nothing against the state, it’s just super-easy to incorporate there.)

The shuttered VR Labs building
            Contractors got to work on the plant. The Gows hired John Williams Jr. to set up the bottling system within the plant; a legit company created the bottling system, which Williams and the Gows simply copied onto their own letterhead with a doubled price--half to pay for the equipment, and half into Gow accounts for personal things like $46K for designer clothes and $11K to spend New Year’s weekend at DisneyWorld. And mortgage payments on their $1.8 million home. And the BMW. And the Mercedes. (Williams’ attorney says that Williams had been a true believer who lost a great deal of his own money. He got 2.5 years.)

VR was supposed to have 40 jobs up and running and $9 million added by VR or other investors by the end of 2013. That didn’t happen. The walls of the plant went up with legitimate, impressive scientists in the loop to create the supplements, but contractors soon noticed that they hadn’t been paid. For anything.

The contractors went to a county commissioner, who alerted the feds.

Fort Myers Beach
Fraud is the gift that keeps on giving: Innocent investors lost money; contractors had to lay employees off to absorb their losses. The county’s Economic Development Office was audited to determine its role in this debacle; then four employees who cooperated with that audit were fired. (They sued the county and won settlements totaling $.75 million.)

This is not an isolated incident. Later this summer I’ll be writing more about such state-county-city deals, but economists have long been pointing out that incentives and tax breaks to create or retain jobs is not usually cost-effective. The most egregious example is Wisconsin giving Foxconn $4.5 billion to create ‘up to’ 13,000 jobs. A year and a half later, there are about 122, and Foxconn has changed the focus of the plant from manufacturing to research. Yes, they had to forfeit some tax breaks and yes, it’s relatively early days yet, but no one disputes that Wisconsin paid way too much for what has to be, in the long run, too little.

When it comes to job creation, Thorough Vetting + Realistic Expectations = Good Deal.

Do you have any examples of bad deals in your area? Lay them on me!

Friday, June 28, 2019


On July 19th, the Rogues will reveal The Real Book Spy's THIRD ROGUE RECOMMENDATION. These are thrillers that sizzles with entertainment, break boundaries or in some way stand out as "Rogue, and we're all very excited about this next pick. Some of us know this person, and some of us will have the opportunity to meet him or her for the first time at ThrillerFest in NYC in July.
If you follow the Rogues, you've seen these teasers in the past and you know the drill. Help us spread the word about the ROGUE RECOMMENDATION by sharing this post, our Facebook teasers and our tweets, or by making a comment, and the Rogues will enter you into the drawing for a free copy of the "soon-to-be announced" book. Or, if you think you may know, tell us your guess of who you think the author is! 
Here is the first clue:
Clue #1 — A movie buff and well-respected film critic, this author loves Fred Astaire.

Watch for new clues every week! You can't go wrong with a recommendation from The Real Book Spy. As #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mark Greaney said, "[He's] one of the coolest things to happen in the Thriller community in the last few years. . . He’s the guy people in the mystery/thriller world talk to behind the scenes.” 
Don't forget, tell us your thoughts, ask a question or hazard a guess in the comments section, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Real Book Spy's June Rogue Recommendation. 

Game on!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Writing: Your Voice is the Key to Success

Guitar player at concert
By  Jamie Freveletti

Write in your own voice, don't imitate. 

I'll bet if you're writing a manuscript you've heard that from an endless number of teachers, workshops and other writers and agents. When I first heard this, it did confuse me a bit, because writing fiction is, by definition, not about the writer. Unless you're writing a memoir, your character has nothing to do with you. It's a made up story that's not real. And if you're writing thrillers even more so, because most of us have days that are not thrilling. They're...usual. We wake up, do chores, go to work, and some of us write fiction for a living.

Last month I was talking to a professional actor and we were discussing casting: how it's done, what choices are made. I asked why so many famous actors seem to be really playing themselves rather than the character they're portraying. Harrison Ford seems to always be the upstanding man, Meg Ryan made a living as the "girl next door" character in many romantic comedies. I suggested that a new actor just starting her career might want to inhabit the space that these actors do. Perhaps they can get hired as the upstanding man or girl next door.

The actor made an interesting comment. She said, "Actually, no. The new actor needs to carve out her own space. Because if the casting director wants Harrison Ford or Meg Ryan, she'll simply call their agents and be done with it. The new actor will be left behind. Only by bringing your own unique angle to the work will the new actor get cast in a role. Then one day the casting director will call her for the unique angle she's built a reputation on."

It makes perfect sense when you think about it, and it applies to musicians and writers as well. A musician brings their own unique sound to their songs. While the basic genre of the song might be "rock" or "blues" etc. the angle, interplay and emotion that the musician brings to the song is what makes it stand out.

It's the same for writers. My Emma Caldridge character is a logical, clear-eyed scientist who uses her intellect to get out of tough situations. She's a bit like a female MacGyver, but she also brings a fearlessness to her scenes and will pick up a weapon if required, and this is where she differs. Weapons aren't her first choice, and so she uses her knowledge of plants and chemical interactions to solve her problems. In short, she's a unique blend.

And what about those of us who write for others? I've written for the Estate of Robert Ludlum and there are musicians out there who play in tribute bands that attempt to recreate the sound of famous musicians. Even in these circumstances, voice is required. While I was given the Covert-One characters to bring to life, I created the new story, circumstances and the characters' reactions to it.

If you're writing a novel your voice will emerge most effectively if you do your best to silence the inner critic and think about how the character will react to certain circumstances. Your force of personality will show in glints as you do and it's those glints that make the story yours. And remember, character is an arrow and it works best when the arrow stays straight. What do I mean? Imagine an arrow shooting directly to a target. That's your character's world view. Stay with that for everything that character does. Emma Caldridge views a scene with dispassion, intellect and knowledge of how things will react in real time. She creates weapons from what appears to be thin air, but they work because she knows the rules of elements and chemicals and their interactions. When her arrow flies I need to always follow it in a straight, logical fashion and be aware of the world around her and what tools she'll need to overcome odds.

Another great example is the character of Scarlet in Gone With The Wind. She's selfish and uncaring, doing anything and everything to fulfill her own needs and keep Tara, the rest of the world be damned. She tries to steal others' husbands and boyfriends, lies to those around her and fights to the end. Her arrow never curves. This is why she's a memorable and iconic character.

If you're writing a manuscript think of the character's arrow and write along the trajectory. It's just one tip to keep a character true to themselves, but I hope it helps!

Happy Writing!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Summer Reads by "Special Authors"

by Karna Small Bodman
Looking for a few great thrillers for beach reads over the summer? There are several well known authors who have consistently hit the Bestseller lists for decades.  Some of them have decided to search for special talented "co-authors" they could collaborate with and get more titles on the shelves.  Let me tell you about a few of the latest "coordinated efforts." First, you should definitely check out the brand new thriller, The Oracle, by fellow Rogue, Robin Burcell, writing with Clive Cussler.

How do they work together? Robin explains that Clive usually decides on the basic plot and setting, but if she wants to visit a certain area,  he rarely objects as long as that location fits with the plot.  As the story comes together, they do bounce ideas around, compromise and even scrap ideas that "don't work." She adds that there's a reason Clive Cussler is called the "Grandmaster of Adventure" since "he certainly can tell a rip-roaring story like no one else."  This novel continues the series about husband-and-wife treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo who search for an ancient scroll, deal with a curse, stolen shipments and hostage situations.  Already on the bestseller list, don't miss this one.

Next is the prolific writer, Stuart Woods.  While working in the advertising industry, he published his first novel back in 1981 which won the coveted Edgar Award. He now has produced 75 terrific stories.  An avid sailor and pilot himself, his protagonist, Stone Barrington, sails boats and flies his own planes to chase down various villains and protect any number of gorgeous ladies in the process. 

At an Edgar Awards dinner not long ago he met author Parnell Hall who had written some 40 novels -- so far.  Woods was looking for a good co-author and had just one question for Parnell at that first meeting, "Can't you write faster?"  

They decided to collaborate. Their  newest novel, just released two weeks ago, is Skin Game - centering on one of Stone Barrington's "side kicks," Teddy Fay, who becomes involved with "evildoers trading in money and power along with a global threat on an unprecedented scale." With many scenes set in the gorgeous city of Paris, I can't wait to read this one. 

Woods and Parnell have worked on several other great books together, including The Money Shot, Smooth Operator, and Barely Legal. 
With author Parnell Hall

A personal note here:  I had the pleasure of sitting with Parnell Hall at the Thrillerfest banquet last summer.  He regaled me with stories about his unique background first working as an actor/screen writer, singer/song writer, even a private investigator before turning to writing full time. It turned out to be a most delightful encounter. He will be attending Thrillerfest again in early July at the Grand Hyatt in New York where several of us Rogues will again be in attendance and will be conducting a panel on "Secrets and Privacy" the afternoon of July 12. It's certain to be a great gathering of some 1,000 authors, agents and editors. If you're in the New York area at that time, you are welcome to stop by to check out the books for sale by the Mysterious Bookstore which will be setting up right there in the hotel. You can meet some of the authors as well.

Rogue Women Writers at Thrillerfest last year

Next we have "the world's bestselling author" James Patterson who is also often in attendance at this conference. A man who has donated over 3 million books to schoolkids and the military, donated over 70 million dollars to support education and endowed over 5,000 college scholarships for teachers -- he also collaborates with a number of great writers to produce even more bestselling novels like newly released The First Lady - co-written with G. Brendan Dubois.  I just purchased it and can't wait to read about the woman in charge of the Presidential Protection Division that is called in to investigate the disappearance of The First Lady which comes in the wake of a scandalous revelation just two months before the election of the President's second term.

We see that Patterson has collaborated with many others, including former President Bill Clinton. With such a demanding schedule, you might think that Patterson wouldn't have time to become involved with the details of every story being created under his name.  Not true. I had a (short) experience when I was invited to submit a story idea to him, then asked to write a few chapters. However, it turned out that Patterson later decided to take the story in an entirely different direction, so I never received the final contract. Oh well.

I've been focusing here on famous and "becoming famous" authors working together with books published under two bylines.  There is another category of "special writers" who have been retained by the estates of former authors so their "characters" can be continued for years.  When the wonderful Vince Flynn passed away a few years ago, his family tapped thriller writer Kyle Mills to carry on the adventures of secret agent Mitch Rapp.  The most recent of these is Red War about a Russian
President determined to cling to power and planning a war with the west.  It's a great tale about the world of black ops.  I got to know Kyle when we both had homes in Jackson Hole, WY. I learned that his father was Deputy Director of the FBI, and Kyle had learned many secrets of the trade at the family dinner table.

Any article about "special co-authors" would be incomplete without telling you about two of our bestselling Rogues. One, our founder Gayle Lynds, who has been dubbed "the reining queen of espionage fiction and a "kick-ass thriller writer" (by the London Times!) collaborated with the famous Robert Ludlum to create the Covert One series and then wrote three of the books, The Hades Factor, The Altman Code and the Paris Option. You can get it here .The second fellow Rogue is Jamie Freveletti who continued the  Covert One series, after Robert Ludlum passed away, writing the riveting story, The Janus Reprisal. Check it out here .

Reviewing this list of "special authors" -- it is easy to see how some of the best and most prolific authors of our time, along with estates working to keep series "alive," have searched and found some of the best emerging authors to share a byline....and now you have found them too.

What are some of your favorite co-authors and your recommendations for great books to read this summer?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


For some people, planning for disaster is a lifestyle. These adrenalized experts are focused on being maximally prepared for any catastrophe—from a power outage to a nuclear war to the zombie apocalypse. While a few might go overboard, there is merit in anticipating and planning for challenges you may face. Perhaps our grandmothers were right when they counselled, “A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In my FREEDOM BROKER series, protagonist Thea Paris adopts this philosophy with her SINK (Survival Insurance Nightmare Kit) bag, which she takes worldwide on missions. Its contents change depending on the assignment. Want to build your own kit? Determine what threats your environment might pose and chose your equipment accordingly. What you pack in your car while driving during winter in Northern regions will be very different from the gear needed for a trip across the Arizona desert. Consider your environment carefully when deciding what tools and gadgets might make your trip safer.

Here are a few basics that might prove helpful:

·      Darkness can be intimidating. Picking up things you have dropped, or just walking safely on a dark, moonless night can be a challenge. Carry a small, inexpensive LED flashlight on your key ring. They weigh virtually nothing and you might be surprised how often you use it. Walking on a path to a cottage, finding the slot to insert your key at night, or even inspecting dark corners in a room in a house you are thinking about buying; the uses are endless. In dire circumstances, it could even be used as a self defense tool.

·      I highly recommend carrying a tactical pen. Much sturdier than regular pens, they can be used to sign autographs, as a self-defence weapon, or as a tool for small jobs, such as opening boxes, etc.  They weigh slightly more and cost more than traditional pens, but mine have lasted a long time.  The 5.11 Tactical and Gerber models have a good track record.

·      If you have nightmares about being trapped in a car that is sinking in water, keep an auto rescue tool within reach inside your car. It incorporates a spring-loaded window punch, a curved seatbelt cutting tool, an LED flashlight and a longer blade for cutting cloth or wire, etc.  Getting yourself or someone else out of a disabled, burning or sinking car with speed can be the difference between life and death. Statgear, a company started by a NYC paramedic offers an excellent product, and they make sensational holiday gifts.

·      First Aid kits are critical. They come in all shapes, sizes, purposes, and price points so choose the one that best suits your needs. A few things to keep in mind—while the latest research demonstrates tourniquets are powerful first aid tools, many kits don’t have them, so you may want to buy a good one and add it to your kit. Also, no tool is effective if you don’t have the skill to use it. Practise using everything ahead of time to build your skill and confidence.

·      They would revoke my Canadian citizenship if I didn’t recommend adding duct tape to your SINK. Known to the British as “gaffer tape,” this might be the single most useful product invented. It can repair machines, tools, and clothes, works as a first aid tool, stops leaks, kickstarts fires when burned as a fire starter, and can immobilize and gag prisoners in tactical situations. It’s also available in a multitude of cool colours to match your ensemble.

If you decide to go into full Thea Paris mode, you can purchase anti-kidnapping kits. This includes several items, such as handcuff keys, shims, razor blades, cutting wire, etc. designed to be secreted in your clothes or on your body. Fans of 5.11 Tactical clothing will discover multiple hidden pouches for keys, handcuff keys, and other items that were designed for use by CIA operatives. Just make sure you have the sales person clearly show you where these are before you take the items home…they are pretty much impossible to find if you don’t know where to look.

These are a few of my favorite safety items. What would be in your SINK bag?

Sunday, June 16, 2019


S. Lee Manning: Happy Father’s Day

This is the second year in a row that Father’s Day has fallen on my posting day. Last year, I paid tribute to my late wonderful father, Louis Katz, and my  wonderful husband and father of my children, Jim Manning. It was a tearful and loving remembrance. If you are in a serious mood, here’s the link. If you’re not in a serious mood, keep scrolling down.
My father, Lou Katz, was a pitcher at Ohio State.
First, a little history: 

Did you know that Father’s Day really got going because of the lobbying of manufacturers who wanted to sell men’s products like ties and pipes? It’s true. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1908 – and codified into law as a holiday in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson. The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Washington State in 1910, but it didn’t catch on, not the way Mother’s Day did. But the celebration started getting going in the 1920s and 30s – because of the great Depression and advertisers and manufacturers joining forces to create a new occasion to spend money. During World War II, Father’s Day became an unofficial holiday – to honor the men serving in the war – and was finally proclaimed as an official holiday in 1972 by Richard Nixon, in the midst of his campaign for  re-election.

So, isn’t history fun? Yup, we owe the current Father’s Day to Tricky Dick and a bunch of advertisers. After all, this is America. We don’t really mind a little commercialism mixed in with our holidays.

Still despite its slightly shady origin, Father’s Day remains a great way to remember the fathers who sacrificed - working at jobs they hated to provide for their families, who threw balls and taught driving and who read stories at night and watched concerts where children screeched barely recognizable tunes on violins and attended plays and baseball games and basketball games and soccer games and then told their children how great they were, who sat through back to school nights, who helped with algebra or grammar, and who were just there for their kids. Here’s to my father and my children’s father. 

But this is the end of my sentimentality. For serious, see the above link.

For the rest of this post, I will be providing a helpful guide to celebrating the day. 


Yes, you have to. Give him a damn gift. Something besides a tie. Or golf balls. I shouldn’t be too harsh about the ties and golf balls – they were my go-to presents for my own Dad and yes my own husband in years past. Every now and then I came up with something different and interesting, but not too often. But it really was just easy to go for the tie or the golf balls. After all, we were busy – the kids were busy. Who had time to be original?

Yeah. Excuses. We all make them.  

Still, the guy has to have something he’s interested in – besides going to work and playing golf. You should know him – at least a little. Try finding something that he’d actually like. 

I have a new method for getting my husband Father’s Day Gifts: I ask him. Yeah, yeah, I just told you that you should know what he’d like. I do. He’d like a trip back to France. Or maybe Italy.
Jim in front of the Moulin Rouge in Paris.
Singapore. (So would I.) But that takes planning and coordination  - and it’s really expensive. So I ain’t doing it for Father’s Day. My choices are then to go shopping and wing it – or ask. So I ask. It’s easier than having to go back and return a bunch of stuff that I thought he’d like and he really didn’t.

Another tip: if you’re over twelve, think hard about the homemade gift. If you’re a talented artist or baker, or you’ve developed your own special recipe for rose jam that you’re about to take commercial, maybe. But otherwise, think about it.

Father’s Day Dinner

Ever try to go out to eat on Mother Day? Don’t. Just don’t. It’s hell. They raise the prices. There’s lines and when you finally get a table, the restaurants try to rush you so they can get another happy family seated and served as quickly as possible. But at least, on Mother’s Day, most restaurants will hand a flower to the mother in the group – as they hustle her and her brood out the door.

Father’s Day doesn’t seem to have the same issues. Maybe it’s because we have this image of Dad grilling his own steaks and hamburgers on Father’s Day. If he likes doing it and enjoys overcooked and charred meat for his special day, why the hell not?

But maybe it’s not what he likes to do. We take mothers out for Mother’s Day because we have the stereotype of mothers doing all the cooking all year. For her special day, she shouldn’t have to be working.

But these days, fathers cook too. And maybe for Father’s Day, he’d prefer to have a meal at a restaurant where he can actually visit with his family instead of slaving over a hot grill or stove the way he often does anyway. Even if he isn’t going to be handed a flower by the servers.

Another hint, if you’re an adult, Dad doesn’t pay. Not this time.

If you’re out of town:

Of course call. Send a card as well. An e-card if nothing else. I mean, how easy do you need it to be? Go on line – there’s even free services – pick it out. Don’t have to go to a store to buy a card, or the post office and buy a stamp – although if you think about all the stuff your Dad did for you over the years, maybe spending the time to buy a card and a stamp pales in comparison.

A final serious note (even though I said I was done with serious )

Do something with and for the fathers in your life. Yeah, it’s a holiday that sprang out of commercialism and Tricky Dick’s desire for re-election. It still gives us the chance to do something we don’t always remember to do. Spent the time to talk to your father and let him know how much you appreciate him. Share a few laughs. Maybe some stories.  We shouldn’t need a special occasion to tell the people we love much they mean to us – we shouldn’t – but we do.  Take the opportunity while you have it. You won’t always.

Friday, June 14, 2019


by The Real Book Spy

I’ve been saying this for a while now—Clive Cussler works with a lot of talented co-authors, including Boyd Morrison, Jack Du Brul, Graham Brown, Justin Scott, and, of course, his own son, Dirk Cussler . . . but none of them are as talented, in my opinion, as Rogue Women Writer’s own Robin Burcell.

I’ve been a fan of Burcell’s since the moment I picked up Cold Case, the fourth book in her Kate Gillespie detective series about a decade ago. (Fun fact: my mother’s maiden name is Gillespie, and I have a first cousin named Katie Gillespie) Since then, I’ve read just about everything Robin has written and was thrilled when she began working with Clive Cussler on his Sam and Remi Fargo books back in 2016.

In just a few years, the Fargo franchise has gone from one of Cussler’s most underrated series to one of his most popular, in no short part because of Robin Burcell, who brings a whole lot to the table and somehow finds a way to deliver every time out. That is certainly the case with The Oracle, her latest thriller in stores June 11, and when I sat down to make my rogue pick for this month, it was the first title that popped into my head.

Here, the Fargos set out to uncover clues to the location of a mysterious scroll that traces back to 533 A.D. when Gelimer, the king of the Vandals, was told by an oracle that the only way his kingdom would survive the invading Byzantine army was to find and return the scroll to its rightful owner. That never happened, though, and in the present day, the scroll is still missing, it’s location unknown—that is, until Sam and Remi’s archeological dig inadvertently unearths more than they bargained for.

Think Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. . . . The Oracle is Robin Burcell at the very top of her game, and the best book in Cussler’s bestselling series to date.
Robin Burcell

EDITOR'S NOTE: We Rogues are so proud of Robin. What a wonderful and well-deserved review by The Real Book Spy. We're delighted (but not surprised) he saw what we knew all along. You go, Rogue Robin!

And now here's the inside scoop from herself, Robin Burcell, about collaborating with the great Clive Cussler. She writes:  What an incredible surprise to find out that The Oracle ended up as The Real Book Spy’s ROGUE RECOMMENDATION! I’m fairly certain that none of us Rogues expected to be included in TRBS’s list of great reads—least of all me.

Still, I’m only half the equation in this venture. If not for Clive Cussler picking me as a cowriter in the Sam and Remi Fargo series, I wouldn’t be here. I’m currently the fourth cowriter in the series, which originated with Grant Blackwood. While I don’t know the stories behind the past authors and how they ended up writing with Clive, I am happy to say that my involvement came about after he contacted Barbara Peterson (who owns the iconic Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona), wanting to know if she could recommend a writer who might fit into the Cussler universe.
Clive & Robin, not working. Go write another book!

Clive was looking for someone who could write strong women and men. When Barbara gave him my name and a couple of my books, I’d like to say he enthusiastically agreed with her. He’d never had a female cowriter, so this would be a new venture for him. But the biggest hurdle he felt was that mysteries/police procedurals (my background) were quite a bit different than action/adventure (his background).

Once Clive read The Bone Chamber and The Kill Order (books 3 and 5 in my Sydney Fitzpatrick FBI Forensic Artist series), he was ready to see if I could make the switch in genres. (It was much harder than I thought!)

In case you’re wondering what it’s like working on a series with the “Grandmaster of Adventure,” I can tell you it’s every bit as thrilling as our books. He really is a master craftsman, and I’ve learned so much writing the last four books with him. 

To me, the best part of writing in an international action/adventure thriller series is being able to research so many wonderful locations. Clive, fortunately, has been to the vast majority we use as settings. While I’ve been to a few countries in Europe, there are so many more I can only dream about. One day, perhaps.

In the meantime, I’ll visit them vicariously in our books. I hope you’ll join me!

EDITOR'S NOTE:  We'd love to know what draws you to Clive and Robin's books, too, Rogue Readers.  Please leave a comment and tell all!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My Weird & Wonderful Dad – an Artist

My dad, wearing conventional clothes
by Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds

My father, Paul Hallenbeck, was weird.  When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why.  Years later, I finally figured it out.  God help him, he was an artist.

At six feet nine inches tall, you couldn’t miss him.  He had bright red hair, glowing blue eyes, and a nose destined to be admired for its grand size.  He was a handsome fellow, and his smile would light up a room.

But if you didn’t watch him, he’d go to elegant events without his socks.  I doubt he realized this would become a cool thing a decade later.  He was just more comfortable, and it gave him an edge to poke his finger at the silly conventions of society. 

In the summer, he’d arrive at the dinner table without his shirt.  Grandma – my mother’s mom – would stare at his bronzed chest and curly red chest hair, turn on her heel, and leave, horrified.  Although I think he enjoyed irritating her, the reason he didn’t put on a shirt was he’d been out in the sun, torso naked, wearing a baseball cap, working in his oversized vegetable garden or among his fruit trees.  He was sweaty.
Some of Dad's wood candlesticks & bowls, 1980s & 1990s

Come on, we’re talking comfort here – his – and he was hungry.  Oh, and Grandma represented “society.”

Then there were the times visitors would arrive at the house, and he’d close the basement door and stay down there happily alone – he was working on one of his wood projects. 

He always made us late to events, whether church, family, or school related, because he was, again, working on a wood project and happily alone.  So Mom got wily: She compensated by lying about the hour at which we needed to leave the house.  The truth was always a half hour later than she’d announce, and he was always a half hour late, which meant we got there on time.
Dad's china cabinet, 1980s

Besides gardening and wood projects, Dad specialized in being resourceful.  One spring afternoon he and Rennie, our neighbor, stood in our backyard staring at the long string of mounds ruining the aesthetics of Dad’s grassy lawn. 

Rennie was chortling.  Dad was gloomy.  They agreed it was the doing of a single energetic gopher. 

“Some things just can’t be fixed,” Rennie taunted.  “You’ve got a gopher.  He’ll never let you catch him.  Might as well make him a pet.”

Dad shot Rennie one of his withering looks that said, you are so wrong.  “We’ll see.  How about loaning me your lawn mower?” 

It was a gas one.  “You’re gonna kill it?” Rennie said, surprised. 

Dad was a known softie.  “We’ll see,” he repeated.

So Rennie fetched the lawn mower.  Dad attached a hose and stuck the free end into the earth where the gopher’s tunneling began.
Dad & the garage he built by hand

As the motor churned, and the gas blew into the tunnel, they watched.

“You’re never gonna catch it, Paul,” Rennie said.  “They’re too damn smart.”

The gopher was in motion, tunneling fast, the ground rising as it skedaddled across the property line and into Rennie’s flower garden.  Dad had studied the pattern of the tunnels and realized the only place left for the gopher to go that’d be uncontaminated was the virgin territory at Rennie’s place.  Rennie wasn’t going to easily convince the gopher to return to ours. 

“Oh, hell,” Rennie said.

“Yep, they’re smart,” Dad agreed.  He removed his hose and walked off, grinning.  “Have fun with your pet gopher.”

I could go on and on about Dad’s eccentricities – there’s a long laundry list in family lore, but instead, take a look at his modestly called “wood projects” displayed here.
One of Dad's mysterious wood plates, 1990s

Dad’s days were spent as a tool-and-die engineer, but at night and on weekends through the long Iowa winters he designed and created beautiful pieces of art in wood.  He often built his own machines and tools to get the looks he wanted.  For instance, he made wood plates that still baffle wood-workers and engineers – how had he managed to achieve that ruffled look?

As Dad grew older and more confident that maybe he was on to something, he showed his work at art fairs in the Midwest.  He won many prizes.  Some of his pieces are still displayed in banks, libraries, and homes.  This was the time in my parents’ lives when my father made sense at last to all of us. 

Mom would introduce him proudly, “I’d like you to meet my husband.  He’s an artist.” 

By then I was publishing, and he and I would often talk about how we solved problems in our work, what we did to encourage our creativity, and how we figured out what we wanted to do next.
Article about Dad in Nebraska newspaper, 1941

Like him, I usually didn’t wear socks and I was often late wherever I was going.  Was it because I was imitating him ... or because I was like him, distracted, my mind churning with exciting ideas?

Yes, my father was weird.  And I turned out weird, too, as well as an occasional embarrassment to my children.  Now I watch them embarrass my grandchildren.  Life is good.  Thanks, Dad -- and Mom, too.

Dear Rogue Reader ... Please leave a comment about your dad or another man who's been important in your life....  Happy Fathers Day!

Sunday, June 9, 2019


On June 14th, the Rogues will reveal The Real Book Spy's SECOND ROGUE RECOMMENDATION, and we are all very excited about this pick. In fact, it's about all we can do to keep the secret. Hence, we're giving you clues!

We've already delivered the first:

Clue #1 — This author went back to high school at the age of 32, but not for what you think."

Ready for the next one? Here it is:

Clue #2 — This author was an extra in the 1978 film COACH, starring Cathy Lee Crosby. 

Help spread the word by sharing this post, our Facebook teasers and our tweets, and the Rogues will enter you into the drawing for a free copy of the "soon-to-be announced" book.

OR, you can try and guess who the author is! Just leave a comment below and we'll put you into the drawing, too.

According to #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mark Greaney, The Real Book Spy is "one of the coolest things to happen in the Thriller community in the last few years. . . He’s the guy people in the mystery/thriller world talk to behind the scenes.” EVERY SECOND FRIDAY OF THE MONTH there will be another Rogue Recommendation and a new drawing for a thriller that sizzles with entertainment, breaks boundaries or in some way stands out as "Rogue."

Don't forget, tell us your thoughts, ask a question or hazard a guess in the comments section, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Real Book Spy's June Rogue Recommendation. 

Game on!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Rogue Women Roundup!

Use the links below to binge read our May blogs

From personal Mothers' Day tributes to 3 days with a KGB colonel and an inside look at disaster zone forensics, you're in for thrills, chills, and adventure.  Read on!

Have you forgotten your New Year's resolutions? Rogue Robin Burcell remembers hers, and 'fesses up ... can you guess how well she did keeping them?

The Real Book Spy makes his first Rogue Recommendation: Ghost Target: A Sniper Novel by Nicholas Irving and A. J. Tata. Wow!  Talk about serious danger and heroic characters.  Can you guess why it's deemed "Rogue?"

What goes on behind the scenes of a mass disaster? Rogue Lisa Black discusses her work with an emergency mortuary response program.  You'll get the details the news leaves out.

We all have Rogue Women in our lives. The Rogues delivered A Mothers' Day Salute to our mothers and other important female Rogues in our lives, with an intro by Rogue Chris Goff.

Have you ever spent time drinking and talking with a KGB colonel?  Rogue Gayle Lynds recounts three days with Russian Julian Semyonov in France....

Methods the best spies in the business use to infiltrate, sabotage, disguise, and protect our country are revealed in two brand-new books brought to our attention by Rogue Karna Small Bodman
If you're contemplating doing something completely outside your comfort zone, you'll want to read Make 'Em Laugh by Rogue S. Lee Manning. Why?  She conquers "general" anxiety to do -- (Ed. Note: I'm scared just typing this) -- STANDUP!

Dealing with those well-meaning people who are trying to kill your dream? Rogue Jamie Freveletti gives first-rate advice on how to ignore them. 

And a big Congratulations to KAY KENDALL, the winner of the Rogue Three Year Anniversary Celebration Giveaway.

Thanks for reading ... and please leave a comment to let us know what you'd like to hear from us in June!  

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Top 5 (+2) Best Commercials

By Robin Burcell

A few months ago, I listed the 5 Worst Commercials in 2019. (You can read that post here.) I've followed that up with the Top 5 Best Commercials list below.   

I took an informal survey on Facebook asking others what commercials they liked. 145 comments later, I learned that there was a vast assortment, old and new, of what many considered their faves. The usuals were there: Geico, Budweiser, Subaru, etc. Some even made my best of list. Overwhelmingly, if the commercial had a dog, cat, or any other animal, or it made us laugh, or pulled at our heartstrings, it was mentioned on the FB post. But since I didn’t limit it to present-day, there were some truly vintage commercials in the mix. (Oscar Meyers “b-o-l-o-g-n-a”, and Coke’s “I want to make the world sing…”) 

If you're wondering why I bother with the top 5 Best and Worst TV commercials, it's because we writers can learn a lot about our craft from this medium. Commercials—the good ones—are a form of flash fiction. They have a beginning, middle and end. And if they’re successful, we don’t mind watching them. We might even tell others about how great it was. The latter, especially, means the ad is considered a success. That makes commercials worth analyzing. (Fun fact: Both Clive Cussler and James Patterson came from advertising backgrounds.) 

I think we can all agree what makes a bad TV ad. But the best? This is (in my opinion) what the truly great commercials have in common:

1.    They tell a complete story. (A good commercial is more than just a good jingle.)
2.    They resonate. (Make us laugh, cry, tug at heart, etc.)
3.    They’re memorable—in a good way. (From jingles to humor, sadly, many ad agencies are just clueless as to what is/isn’t annoying.)

Keeping that in mind, here are my top 7 commercials (because there were ties in the same brand):

(Should you want to see the actual ad, the titles of the commercial are links to the videos of each.) 

7.    VW's "The Force" Super Bowl XLV: Definitely a vintage commercial. To this day, it remains the most watched Super Bowl ad ever. What makes it great is that you don't have to be a fan of Star Wars to appreciate everything about this clever commercial advertising a VW Passat. (But for those of you who might’ve been sleeping during any of the films, Darth Vader is the quintessential villain who has just enough of "The Force" in him to torture his victims with a bit of telekinetic power.) (By the Deutsch Agency.)

6.    Geico Insurance “If you’re a mom…”:  While the gecko is cute (and received a lot of fan votes), from a writer’s perspective, this spoof of an action/adventure movie hooks you in, takes you for a ride, and tells such a good story that you don’t mind tuning in again and again. (By The Martin Agency. I don't know who they are, but I want to work for them.) 

5.    Geico's “When you’re in a horror movie...”:  I absolutely love this ad. Probably the best spoof of the teen horror genre since the Scream franchise. (Also by The Martin Agency.)

4.    Jack in the Box “Crickets Cravings.”:  Whoever's in charge of this ad campaign deserves an award. The majority of these commercials are funny, fresh, and clever. In this one, Jack’s pregnant wife wants brunch. What sends him into a late night frenzy is something a lot of us can identify with. (Struck Agency.)

3.    Flo/Prudential’s “Maid for Us”:  This is such a great homage to the sitcoms of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It’s essentially a commercial disguised as the opening to a silly and no doubt heartwarming TV show. It has everything. A great jingle, a hook, and such a clever premise that every single time it’s on, I watch it. In fact, I want this to be a TV series. (Arnold Worldwide Agency)

And, in case you think the insurance companies have the market cornered on all the good ads, I present to you the top two commercials by Budweiser. Whether or not you think Bud’s the “king of beers,”  their commercials definitely rule the market on tugging at emotions. Both of these are Super Bowl ads.

2.    Budweiser's "Brotherhood":  Starring one of the baby Clydesdales. What's not to love? But get your hanky out for this one. (Anomaly Agency and FCB Chicago)

1.     Budweiser's "Puppy Love":  Puppies, beer, Clydesdales, it doesn't get much better than this award winning ad. If Hallmark made beer, these commercials would fit right in. (Also by Anomaly and FCB Chicago)

What does this all mean if you’re not a penning a novel? The takeaway is that the next time you’re drinking your Budweiser, and trying to light your BBQ, and accidentally burn down your house, rest assured. Somewhere out there, an ad agency will turn your unfortunate set of circumstances into an award winning commercial. 

How about you, Rogue Readers? What are your fave commercials?