Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Snakes and Snails and Poppy Dog Tales

The Puppies Are Here!

If you recall in my last episode of puppy fever back in April (Ten Reasons I Shouldn't Get A New Puppy), I was trying to talk myself off the gotta-have-a puppy-now ledge. Our wonderful 12 y.o. boxer (rescue dog) had so many health issues, and our 9 y.o. standard poodle, Charlie, was far too rambunctious for her. I figured if we got another standard poodle puppy, the two poodles could play and the boxer could have some peace. I found what I thought to be the perfect standard poodle pup not too long after that blog posted, and learned that the breeder tests all her puppies for temperament to assure that the right puppy is going to the right home.  Our puppy landed about in the middle on all counts. This means she’ll make a good family pet. 

Some might be interested to know that standard poodles make very fine hunting dogs. They’re also the second smartest dog of all breeds right behind the border collie, though it’s possible they haven’t been given all the credit they deserve because many poodles insist on foo-foo haircuts. This ensures that they’re placed in the “non-sporting group” in all the big dog shows. No doubt they figured out that hunting dogs have to get up at zero-dark-thirty when it’s cold and dark out, so their humans can shoot ducks out of the sky, then insist that the dog swim through the icy water to retrieve them. 

The Wing Test
Sadly, not every dog is smart enough to avoid this sort of future. The helpful breeder gives puppies “the wing test.” A pup that aggressively goes after the bird wing will make a good hunting dog. Some pups will make a half-hearted attempt. Our puppy, being extremely smart, stood there and completely ignored the wing. Clearly, she had her heart set on a nice cushy bed and being able to sleep-in most mornings. 

But back to my brilliant plan: a summer puppy. My goal was to spend my afternoons writing on the patio while the puppy played on the lawn, thereby missing the usual trials and tribulations of potty training. 

Such Innocence!
In theory, this sounds like a great idea. Reality, however, is something completely different. Puppies, like toddlers, explore with their mouths. Unlike (most) toddlers, puppies are far more destructive. And they don’t wear diapers. (A very bad combination when you’re on a book deadline. How is it no one reminded me that puppies are little pooing-peeing machines? Good thing they’re so cute!) Lucky for me, I have a husband who helps corral the little varmint when needed. And stays up in the middle of the night helping me to give the pup a bath when the unforeseeable accident happens (because who knew if a puppy doesn’t poo before bed, she might not be able to hold it till morning?).

We think she's a poodle...
The other tough thing about getting a pup is coming up with a proper name. “A girl has no name” was how I introduced her on a Facebook post after we brought her home. In fact, she had no name for about a week as we tested and rejected various possibilities, including Arya (Game of Thrones, for the five people who haven’t seen it). Without going into all the suggested names, we (meaning me) finally decided on Poppy. It fits. She’s as beautiful as one, but she also pops all over the place. Sure, there are times we think we accidentally brought home a little black lamb. Or a bear cub. Or a vampire bat (she has really sharp teeth and she avoids the sun—maybe because it’s been near 100 every day she’s lived with us). But when I look at those eyes and that sweet little face, she is definitely a Poppy. 

New Friends
Being a puppy, Poppy instantly fell in love with Charlie. Charlie, however, was not so enamored of her, nor her razor fangs. (Apparently, Charlie has no memory whatsoever of how much she tortured our poor boxer girl—nor how tolerant said boxer was of her  sharp teeth.) Poppy would bound over to Charlie, nip-nipping (you could actually hear her jaws snapping), while poor Charlie would try climbing into our laps to get away. 

There is a happy ending—at least for Charlie. About a week or two into her tormented new life, she made the discovery that she is much, much bigger than Poppy. And Poppy made the discovery that when Charlie says no, she means it. The first take down startled all of us. Poppy ended up on the ground, staring in shock into that giant poodle mouth. Then Charlie nudged her with her nose, the game was on once more, and all was forgiven. 

 Uh, oh. Gotta go. Poppy’s off again!

(How about you, Rogue Readers? Any new puppies or kittens in your future?)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The worst campaigns in U.S. history

by Lisa Black

            A lifetime ago, and only because I liked big buildings with lots of marble, I majored in political science. It is one of many indications of my non-suitability for this field that I have never worked on a campaign. Not even to help a bestie win fifth grade class president.
I regret that now…I should have done it at least once, to experience the insane pace, the over-the-top displays of public enthusiasm, the unchecked brawls of rhetoric. I wonder if it would have sharpened my nearly nonexistent spirit of competition, or turned me into a permanent recluse. After all, political campaigns have never been accused of bringing out the best in people, not now, not ever—as illustration, check out these slogans from U.S. history:

1848 political cartoon,
which I am unable to interpret
“that pot-bellied, mutton-headed, cucumber-soled…”

            And thus did the editor of the The New York Post, Horace Greeley, refer to candidate Lewis Cass, running against Zachary Taylor for president. Cass was okay with slavery, which caused a split in the Democratic party, but Greeley particularly distrusted Cass’s habit of buying up land whenever and wherever he could.
            No one has ever been able to figure out what he meant by ‘cucumber-soled,’ though.

            “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa?” - Chant used by James Blaine supporters to taunt Grover Cleveland, referring to his illegitimate son

The mother was a widow, Cleveland was single and fully supported the child, but in those days none of that mattered. This story would likely have cost Cleveland the election—had not Blaine’s own skeletons of corruption been such that he once signed a note to a pal with “Burn this letter!”

            “Your vote versus the spectacle of idleness and ruin.” – anti-Smith campaign slogan

And Al even had a song
written for him!
            Herbert Hoover, a man so stiff and mechanical that he makes Richard Nixon look like Papa Smurf, nevertheless won this election against opponent Al Smith. Smith, a gregarious, four-time New York governor had two major failings: a) though a moderate drinker, he opposed Prohibition, and b) he was Catholic. Non-Catholics were told their Bibles would be confiscated. They were also told that a picture of Smith near the newly completed Holland tunnel showed a passageway leading directly to the Vatican, underneath the Atlantic Ocean.
If this astonishing feat of advanced though fictional engineering didn’t strike fear into voters, Smith could also be accused of—gasp—dancing, and that his beloved wife was—double gasp—of Irish descent.
            Hoover won 40 out of the 48 states then in the union.

            “[John Adams is a] hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” – James Callendar, writing at the behest of Thomas Jefferson

            And Jefferson and Adams were friends. Well…friends, sometimes frenemies, sometimes agreeing to disagree over doctrines like the extent of a central government and whether the French Revolution had gone a wee bit too far what with the guillotining left and right, but when they both wanted to win the election, things got nasty in a hurry.
            The journalist Callendar, by the way, wound up getting drunk, falling in a river and drowning…though some say he was pushed.

These campaigns have receded far enough into the past that we may just chuckle at the foibles of long-dead politicians, but like a 1964 magazine declaring that Barry Goldwater had been declared ‘emotionally unstable’ by over a thousand psychiatrists, or the 2018 story of a Delaware representative throwing nudist parties at his fitness center (actually the club existed, but he wasn’t a member), or the less personal attack by an unhappy Ohio voter who dumped manure at a party's headquarters in 2017 (and 2012), I’m sure these muddy slings and arrows were not remotely amusing at the time.

But take heart—at least no one’s been called a cucumber-soled hermaphroditic in a while.

Have you ever worked on a political campaign? Federal? Urban? School board? Farm bureau? What surprised you the most about it?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bidding a Fond Farewell to S. Lee Manning

S. Lee Manning is leaving Rogue Women Writers. You can follow her on her Facebook Page or on her website where she will continue to discuss writing thrillers and comedy – and where she will announce appearances and books.

Look for her at Bouchercon this year. Also look for her at open mics – never know where she'll turn up – possibly in New York or L.A. as well as Vermont. And if you're in Vermont for any reason, shoot her a message. She's always happy to meet up at Ben & Jerry's.

We Rogues are excited about S. Lee’s gigs as a stand-up comedienne and for all of her publishing plans. We can’t wait to see her back here as an honored Guest Blogger.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Six Tips for Writers!

Quick and easy writing Tips
By Jamie Freveletti

Like the rest of the Rogues, I attended Thrillerfest a couple of weeks ago and had a wonderful time! New York cooperated with decent weather and the short-lived Manhattan blackout stopped just two blocks before the hotel. We continued enjoying our evening as the Broadway theater-goers near Times Square tumbled into the streets to watch the performers sing outside while they waited for the lights to come back on. While I was there I gave a class on writing Action and Conflict and fielded a few questions from the other writers. Here are some of the tips I mentioned:

1. Do your best to write something every few days. If you can, write five days a week and treat it as you would any other job. On average I write five days a week. While I've spent many weeks writing every day, I find that burnout can creep up on me and the words become less useful. Sometimes I write more, sometimes less, but five days is an average.

2. Give yourself a word count goal. I shoot for one thousand words during each sitting. This can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to three hours. If I only have an hour to spend writing, then I write for speed. I shoot to write one thousand words in that hour. I don't always make it, but setting a goal helps. (And try not to keep hitting that word count feature on your writing software. I have the option to add the count to the bottom toolbar, but I've resisted. I check every three pages or so).

3. Read books on writing. Hit your local library and pick up a few books on writing.There are the usual famous ones: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See (one of my favorites). If you can afford to buy the books, do so. I refer back to these every so often when I'm in need of encouragement. But there are some new ones that I may check out. I just found this one, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody, (in the photo to the right), and the title made me laugh. I'm going to check it out. My view on reading these types of books is that each one has the potential to broaden your perspective, and if I walk away with even one tip it was worth the read.

4. Silence the inner critic that says you don't have the talent. Despite what you've heard since childhood, most of what we call "talent" is learned and not natural. Musicians practice a lot, as do dancers, singers and yes, even writers. If you argue to yourself that you don't have some sort of vague "innate" talent, then you'll never try anything. I just recently took up a singing class. I sang and played instruments from childhood through to college, but in recent years only sang in the shower or in the car after dropping off the kids at school. I've always enjoyed it, and this year resolved to get back to practicing. I'm in a group class and it's been a lot of fun. We're a mixed bag, from professional singers who are working to refine their skills all the way to newcomers who have never sung before. We all have to silence our inner critics during this class, and I consider it to be excellent practice for doing the same while writing.

5. Still need encouragement? Pick up some books that give you science-based tips. These two listed to the right are interesting. The Little Book Of Talent by Daniel Coyle distills lots of science- based practice into easily digested tips. It's a companion to his earlier work The Talent Code. The other book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport is really about how to put down distractions like social media and regain a deep focus when working. This book is also science based, and is a longer, more involved take on getting back into the flow and avoiding distractions.  

6. Enjoy the process. Even when the work isn't going well, enjoy the process. Writing a novel is a lot like life, it's the journey, not always the destination. Enjoy the journey and smile when it's done!

I hope these tips help and Happy Writing!


Sunday, July 21, 2019

For Writers - Lessons Learned

Posted by Karna Small Bodman

We Rogues have been telling you about Thrillerfest, the great conference of the International Thriller Writers Organization recently concluded at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Building on K.J. Howe's summary of the highlights, I thought I would share a few tips I gathered in some of the panels and talks given by bestselling authors.  First we had headliner, John Sandford, the pen name (his grandmother's maiden name) of Pulitzer Price Winning Journalist, John Camp.
Author John Sandford 
 John emphasized the importance of creating memorable characters who grow and change.  "Character is key!" When you admire, identify with, or fall in love with a certain character, you will undoubtedly keep buying books in a series. John has now written 29 thrillers featuring Lucas Davenport as he tracks down various villains in the "Prey" series.  The author uses a clever way to remind his readers that these books feature Lucas by having the word Prey in each title, such as Silent Prey, Winter Prey, Night Prey. Two of the books in this series, Mind Prey and Certain Prey were made into TV movies, the latter starring Mark Harmon (of NCIS fame) which had the highest ratings for the year. His new thriller is  Neon Prey where his continuing character, Lucas, is described in the New York Times Book Review as "an inspired creation."  

Besides creating a memorable character, former ITW President and bestselling author, Steve Berry told us about the importance of the setting. He wants to transport his readers to new, often exotic locations, and he travels to many of these locales to do extensive research for his thrillers which

have been translated into 40 languages with 25 million copies sold in 51 countries. Steve loves history. His stories not only feature a great continuing character, Cotton Malone, but make us "feel" we are right there in cities where we can absorb the sights, smells, sense of tension, and mood of the people -- things you simply never "get" on Google Earth.  A perfect example is Steve's new thriller, Malta Exchange, with settings on that island where a Cardinal has fled in search of a Vatican document that dates back to the 4th century and Constantine the Great....a perfect combination of continuing character, fabulous setting and ancient history.

In another panel I heard bestselling author Ted Bell talk about settings as well.  On his many travels he told us he often asks taxi drivers, "What is the strangest thing that ever happened to you?" And he gets a ton of incredible responses.  As for his thrillers featuring, Alex Hawke, the author takes him on whirlwind tours from Siberia to Switzerland, LA to London, Bermuda to France, but also hot spots like Moscow where Vladimir Putin enters the scene in the latest thriller, Overkill.  The story begins in the Swiss Alps high above St. Moritz where hero Alex is on a ski-vacation when his young son is snatched by unknown villains.  As for Putin, Ted said that since his novels haven't been banned in Russia, perhaps Putin is reading them and figuring they are okay.  Ted's fans call his Alex Hawke stories better than okay as they have regularly landed on the New York Times bestselling list.

Besides gleaning advice from the best authors in the business, I attended a most interesting talk about the how and why books are sold. I learned that over one million books are published each year, one-third are sold in stores, but the rest are purchased online (mainly from Amazon, of course).  The speaker said the 3 keys to book sales are Discovery, Conversion and Availability.  Discovery is the marketing that publishers and authors do for a new release: ads, social media, reviews, interviews, book tours. BUT those efforts alone won't increase book sales unless there is conversion....meaning, the reader sees or hears about a new title but then must convert that impression into action. So it needs a message to lure new readers. For example, covers that "intrigue" a buyer. Effective examples are titles that make a buyer wonder about the action inside. Instead of a title such as The Pretty Girl, the more successful title would be Girl in Cabin 13 -- which makes the potential buyer wonder what happens in that cabin. Also, a one line description of the story at the bottom of the cover, such as the one appearing on the Ted Bell book above: "An Ian-Fleming-esque romp of a spy thriller" can help lure a book buyer.  Finally, you have Availability - meaning it must be readily available in bookstores or online. A reader shouldn't have to wait more than a day or two to begin reading your book.

Bottom line for authors: While conjuring up your next (thrilling) plot, endeavor to create a character so intriguing, complete with features, flaws and perhaps a dose of flamboyance, that readers will devour your story and anxiously wait for the next one; place your character and your villains in unique, even exotic settings, add a dose of history and research so your reader "learns" while enjoying the ride; and above all, read books by the masters and hopefully attend next year's Thrillerfest.  Now, who are some of YOUR favorite characters in series you have read, along with the most engaging settings you have enjoyed? Share your thoughts in a comment below. And thanks for joining us here on Rogue Women Writers.

….Karna Small Bodman

Friday, July 19, 2019


by The Real Book Spy

Until now, when it comes to the long gun, Bob Lee Swagger’s unique set of skills have gone unmatched on the battlefield. That changes, though, when a man his equal in every way sets his sights on Swagger—who is determined to help a woman in desperate pursuit of exacting justice for her fallen son.

Janet McDowell’s son, Lance Corporal Thomas McDowell, was shot and killed while in Baghdad more than a decade ago. Since then, Janet has spent all her time—and her life savings—searching for the man who pulled the trigger. She even visited the Middle East, spoke to soldiers who served with her son, and hunted for every possible clue—all of which led her to a legendary gunman known only as “Juba the Sniper.” Now, she wants Swagger to travel to a small town in southern Syria to repay the favor by putting a bullet in him from a mile away.

Swagger wants to do the right thing, but after trying to pass the info off to the Israelis, the Nailer quickly realizes that—in order to take on a sniper of Juba’s caliber, his services might just be required . . . and though he’s now in his seventies, Bob Lee suits up once again to see the job through.

Stephen Hunter is at his very best here, and when it came to making my rogue pick this month, Game of Snipers was a no-brainer.

The lucky recipients of a signed copy of Game of Snipers are:
Nancy Northcott, Geoffrey Small and B. Adam Richardson.

From Stephen Hunter:

I indulge. Character flaw or genetic destiny, I'm always on the lookout for ways to give cool stuff to me. I love to award myself little surprises, treats, gizmos, what not. Thus I have about 6,000 used tweed jackets off Ebay for that important Dartmouth Instructor 1957 look. Thus I have far more ties than opportunities left to wear them and whoever picks the shoes for the funeral will have a nightmare. Thus, after years of trying to become the Dostoyevsky of sniper lit, I wrote a Jack the Ripper novel. (Imagine how confused they were at Simon and Schuster!)

And thus the question I ask before beginning a new book is inevitably: What would be the most fun for me? What indulgence is running hottest so that I can draw on for the next few years. A rifle? A milieu? An episode in history? A character type, a plot trick? Whatever, I'm looking for something that will provoke me in such a way that it will generate the most brain electricity and on that charge I may ride happily to the book's two most important words, "The" and "End.'

But things do change, like it or not, and via some publishing industry machinations last year, (too tedious to explain, if I could even remember them) I found myself in new circumstances. I offered the new folks a couple of zingers I thought--Earl Swagger, disguised as an Army officer, working in Normandy for OSS to counter the extreme German sniper threat in the bocage; and another shot at Jack, who continues to fascinate me. The silence was deafening.

I realized I had to change my approach. First they wanted Bob. All Bob, 24-7. Radio Station B-O-B, from sunny Baltimore. Or Bob at 35. Bob gets amnesia, Bob has an evil twin, Bob vs. the teenage zombies. So I had to give them Bob or move the martini hour to 11 a.m. and drift away on a sea of vodka. And as delightful as that might be, I would eventually regret it. But I didn't want to go too far into the please-corporate approach. Instead--I guess because I'm so darned heroic-- I came up with a new question: What do the wonderful people who love Bob Lee Swagger want most?

It had really never occurred to me to consider them. They had educated my children, bought me an Infiniti Q-60 and all those sport coats, a nineteenth century townhouse and trips anywhere I wanted anytime I wanted. And what did they get out of the deal? Well, they seem happy enough, but maybe we shouldn't take them for granted.

So this oneGAME OF SNIPERSis for them, and it begins with an answer to that question: What do they want most? This is what I came up with: They want to see Bob take a big shot for all the marbles while facing incoming fire, lives on the line, seconds ticking down. Maybe throw in a helicopter for good measure.

What followed then was first cousin to reverse engineering. I didn't plot backward, but I asked questions backward to get to a starting point. Who is the bad guy shooting? Has to be high value and there are only a few such high-value jobs available. Who wants him dead? Who is the enemy shooter? What formed him, how good is he, how skilled and courageous and willful? Monster, hero or both?

I also understood that one of the icons of the modern sniper is the algorithm-assisted one-mile shot, across Moon River. I determined to give an accurate account of such a process, as one didn't exist in the literature yet. It's not simply a matter of cranking an elevation knob up to 11 and holding real still.

Then, how does he get to the shooting site? What near misses does he have, what people does he meet along the way? How do Bob and the team decipher the clues? How close can they come and how does he always manage to get away? What subsidiary characters does he meet along the way. What politics gum up the FBI team's investigations, as per my conviction after working in them for 38 years that every office is a snake pit of envy, bitterness, anger, resentment, bad haircuts and stupid Christmas sweaters.

That's really what the process is: finding little answers to little questions, always on faith and hope, always in trust that somewhere along the line, it'll work out. What it isn't is forging the conscience of your race on the smithy of the Mountain Gods.

Stephen Hunter
And the key question: where does the initial intel break that tips off the plot come from? Here I remembered a young graduate of my son's school, who'd joined the marines and died at Fallujah. His mother, a remarkable woman, alchemized her grief into energy and became a veteran's counselor at a local university. I thought that was extraordinary and I wanted to acknowledge. I made her a character obsessed with the man who killed her son, who contacts Bob with surprisingly sophisticated intelligence; and out of that comes the plot. I thought also that my Mrs. McDonnell wasn't the kind of character you meet in thrillers much--late middle-aged, ill-treated by life but at the same time still fighting, even harder. It was a pleasure to bring her in.

There were the usual publishing scuffles and tussles, but in the end, it became what it became, for better or worse and here it is, take it, leave it or just have another drink.

Now only one question remains: What do you people want next?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Our infamous gobo!

Just back from the International Thriller Writers annual family gathering at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Over one thousand of the world’s premier authors, publishing professionals, and avid fans gather to discuss, explore, and celebrate the thriller genre over the course of an action-packed week. As Executive Director of ThrillerFest, I’m so proud that our Rogue Women played a pivotal role in this year’s success. Discussing all of the amazing events of the week would take a novel length entry, but here is a snapshot of a few highlights:

When Gayle Lynds, one of the co-founders of ITW had to cancel due to an injury, fellow Rogue Woman and my personal heroine, Chris Goff, stepped into the breech and taught Gayle’s Master Class course, sharing her insights on the art of writing a great thriller with an eager and talented group of students. Chris’ selfless willingness to dive in at the last minute exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism that makes Thrillerfest what it is.

Continuing the theme of giving, Harlan Coben received the Silver Bullet Award for his long and extensive history of charitable giving, including his amazing program of Tuckerizations, selling character names in his books and donating the funds to charity. His interview with Heather Graham was warm and informative, providing many laughs and insights. Lisa Unger, a NYT bestselling author of psychological thrillers was interviewed by her long-time friend and fellow superstar Karin Slaughter, and the two professionals provided a thoughtful discussion on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by female authors in our field.

Belgian bestseller Sarah Meuleman
The Rogue Women panel, chaired by James Rollins was jam-packed, and we all had a rollicking good time. James ferreted out secrets about of each of us, both personal and on the craft of writing. I used the divine elixir of chocolate to help teach my class on pacing, giving out white, dark, and milk chocolate Toblerone bars to the attendees as symbolic stand ins for slow pacing, fast pacing and “just right” momentum in your work.  Teaching a packed room of aspiring authors who share an enthusiasm for the craft of writing was one of my most enjoyable memories.  

Stephen Hunter with Chris Goff and K.J.
Spotlight guest Stephen Hunter, the master of the sniper thriller, was interviewed by his close friend and colleague James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor. Stephen’s self-deprecating humour and brilliant analysis were a highlight of the conference. As a bonus, we learned from James Grady that the reason the Six Days of the Condor was shortened to Three Days of the Condor for the film is that the producers didn’t want to show Robert Redford with six days growth of facial hair. Too much! ThrillerMaster John Sandford, author of the genre shaping “Prey” series, was interviewed by his brilliant editor of 30 years, Neil Nyren and the traditional ThrillerFest banquet song by Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks was a rendition of a Bob Dylan favourite. The entire ballroom was lit up--and good thing, as there was a massive blackout in NYC that somehow didn't hit us.

One of my personal highlights was acting as panel master for the “Gunslingers” panel, bringing together an elite group of writers to discuss the effective use of firearms in novels. The group included Stephen Hunter, James Grady, Mark Greaney, Brad Taylor and Simon Gervais, offering decades of author experience with decades of operator experience to provide attendees with complete coverage of the literary and technical aspects of gunfights, along with many laughs.  

The debut author breakfast celebrated the next generation of thriller stars. We feted a record 34 debuts, helping to launch their careers with a long standing ovation. Somewhere amongst that group are our future ThrillerMasters, bestsellers and award winners.  

Actress Judith Light at the banquet

The awards dinner on Saturday night revealed the long-awaited winners of the coveted Thriller Awards.     

The winners were:


Jennifer Hillier — JAR OF HEARTS (Minotaur Books)


C. J. Tudor — THE CHALK MAN (Crown)


Jane Harper — THE LOST MAN (Pan Macmillan Australia)   


Helen Smith — “Nana” in KILLER WOMEN: CRIME CLUB ANTHOLOGY #2 (Killer Women Ltd.)

Teri Bailey Black — GIRL AT THE GRAVE (Tor Teen)


Alan Orloff — PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT (Kindle Press)  

I keenly remember Jennifer Hillier at her debut author breakfast and have enjoyed watching her career skyrocket. Congrats, Jennifer!

A special thank you to all of the attendees and sponsors that make ThrillerFest possible. The international aspect of the organization was emphasized with attendees from around the globe and two new sponsors, The Midas Group from the U.K., and The Sharjah Book Authority from the UAE.

While I'm still recovering from the event, I’m already getting excited about next year’s conference and hope to see you all at ThrillerFest XV, July 7-11, 2020 when Dianna Gabaldon will be our ThrillerMaster. Yes, bring your bagpipes to meet the author who created the heart-stopping hero Jamie Fraser. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


 By S. Lee ManningEver watch a stand-up comedian? Did you think that he/she/they was doing it on the fly, making it up spontaneously?

Me, during a recent performance. 
I am here to disabuse you of that notion. Every stand-up act is carefully crafted, rewritten, honed and practiced to give the audience that final illusion of a person winging it on stage.

 And, for any writer who’s ever thought of writing comedy, it may be useful to know not only how writing stand-up is different from writing novels, but to give some insight into how the process works.

I feel fully qualified to do this. After all, I took one six-week course, and have performed stand-up a total of four times. (Saturday night will be my fifth.) 

So here is the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my – um, three months – as a comic.

The obvious first – length.

The biggest difference between writing novels and writing stand-up, of course, is the length of the piece and the length of time to create it.

I tend to go way too long when I write a novel, and then I have to cut back. Which I do, even if I weep during the process. My average length is between 120,000 and 130,000 words, that I tend wind up cutting back to somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 words.

The first novel I ever wrote was 250,000 words. Ah, but I was young and foolish – and had read Tolstoy and Dickens. When I was finally offered a contract for that novel, I had it down to 83,000 words.

I’m still writing novels – thrillers – with what I hope is witty dialogue. I’m about a quarter of the way through a new thriller. But stand-up provides a nice break. It gets me away from my desk, and I can find out immediately if I’ve written something that sucks. 

My average comedy set is about 3 pages. Never checked the word count. You don’t go by word count for stand-up. You go by time. When you do a set on stage, you’re told how much time you’re allowed. The average open mic is from three minutes to five minutes, (and if you think that’s short, try standing in front of 100 people for five minutes.) But it is bad form to go over your time. If you’re given three minutes, that’s it, end of set. Not three and a half minutes. Not three minutes ten seconds. Three minutes. 

So I write a few pages, and then stand in front of a mirror and pretend to be talking to an audience – with a stop watch going. I have a three minute set, a five minute set, and an eight minute set, which I can drag out longer with dramatic pauses and overblown gestures.

The rule is to try out new material at open mics. If you are fortunate enough to be offered a set at a performance where people actually pay money to see you, it had better be material you’ve honed, polished, and practiced.

The writing process.

I can only speak to my personal three-month experience.

I’m not so much into shock jokes – or sex jokes - or just one liners. I tend to like stories. I like to take something that was painful or scary or transformative – and find the humor in it.

My first draft of my stand-up was long and involved, and I explained way too much. Nathan, who led the class, informed me that it was a good story, but it was more like something for the Moth Hour than a stand-up. (If you aren’t familiar with the Moth Hour, you’re probably not a dedicated NPR listener. Goggle it.)  To explain, it was a personal story with humor mixed in – but the emphasis was more on the personal than on the humor.

In stand-up, you don’t want to go more than a few lines without a joke.

So, instead of having a lot of background leading up to the joke, trim it down to the essential. It’s an art that is more like poetry than novel writing. Every word, every phrase has to be weighed and calculated.

And what makes something funny? I’m not getting into that here. 

So here’s how I boiled a painful story down to a set. I have a three minute routine where I joke about having had a bilateral mastectomy ten years ago.  What I did in the first draft: explain how I had a biopsy, how I then had a lumpectomy and then had to decide about radiation – and then after the recommendation of a bi-lateral mastectomy, also decided not to have reconstruction.

I filled in all the details, and it took ten minutes. It might have engaged listeners because it was personal and painful– but it wasn’t funny.

So I cut out much of it and tried to zoom to the essential – with a joke every few lines. Here’s how my final version went.

The routine

So the doctor told me I had stage zero breast cancer. I went yay, I have no breast cancer. No, he said, you have breast cancer, it’s stage zero.

So apparently zero doesn’t mean zero. Don’t doctors have to pass math to get into medical school?

So we went over various treatment options, and what the chances of recurrence were, 15 percent for this, ten percent for that, and I asked – “What if we just cut the fuckers off?”

(Sorry if anyone’s offended by the language. Comics tend to be more foul mouthed than the average person.)

He said, “Zero to one percent.” 

I like the number zero. A lot of people don’t. It’s one of those glass half full/half empty kind of things. Some people look at zero and think, I got nothing. I have zero money. Zero prospects. But then, there’s the optimistic way to look at zero.

I have zero bears breaking into my house this week.

Zero aliens popping out of my head.

Zero cases of Ebola in my state.

So, assuming the odds really were zero to one percent for recurrence, bingo.

Then the doctor wanted to talk reconstruction. I asked what it would feel like. He said, “Soft and pliable, a lot like what you’ve got now.”

I said, “Na ah. I don’t care what it’ll feel like from yourside. What’ll it feel like from my side?”

Then he gave me what he thought was his winning argument: “A woman doesn’t feel like a woman without her breasts.”

(Dramatic pause. I often get gasps here.)

Really? So what does she feel like? A hippo? A horse? An itty bitty kitty cat. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t feel like a man, unless she already did, which would make her a him, unless she is non-binary, which would make her a they, all of which is great and I support it and goes to show that you don’t need a stinking pair of breasts to feel like a woman.

(I’ve gotten cheers on this line as well as laughs.)

And closing

The final test for a stand-up routine is how it sounds. Because writing it down doesn’t always tell you the rhythm – the intonation to use – gestures – etc.  But that’s what open mics are for – assuming you can’t coerce a close friend or a significant other to sit through your routine. I’ve been lucky: my husband has been a willing listener/collaborator – although he does have his limits. Ten times is more than enough for him.

Now, not everyone will find your stuff funny. Some people will just sit there and stare at you. Everyone who has ever done stand-up has the experience of an audience that just won’t laugh. Sometimes people are looking for a particular kind of humor. Sometimes they’re offended by your language. Sometimes people who’ve had a similar experience don’t appreciate jokes about something so painful to them personally– although after one of the times I did my breast cancer set – I exchanged hugs with another survivor – who was also a comic and who loved my routine.

This is again where writing comedy is like writing a novel. Not everyone responds to the same thing. Some people may love what you do. Some people may hate it. But if you get a good response from enough people, you know you’re on the right path. And you keep going - which is the key to success in any endeavor.

If you’re ever in Burlington, Vermont, catch the show at the Vermont Comedy Club. Wednesday night is open mic. I might be there.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Head Bonk = No ThrillerFest. Damn.

First ThrillerFest, 2006, Scottsdale, AZ
by Gayle Lynds

While many of my author friends are in New York this week enjoying the fun, the books, and the writerly wisdom of ThrillerFest, I’m at home in Maine nursing a bonked head.  In fact, I probably have a mild concussion.  More about that soon.

What do I look like? The deep purple on the right side of my face is resolving into bilious yellow as gravity drags the bruising south toward my jaw and, soon, into my neck.  Oh, yes, I’m not a thing of beauty. No, that's not me today on the right.  Sigh.

First Thriller awards, 2006

(Left: Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Phoenix mayor, Gregg Hurwitz, & James Rollins.)

So what happened?  I’m not exactly sure.  It all went down so fast – especially me.  It was about 10:00 pm  and we were leaving the grand July 4th fireworks display overlooking Casco Bay, heading toward the narrow-gauge railroad that would take us back to the parking lot.

The great Lisa Gardner interviewing me, TFest 2010
Me interviewing the fab CJ Box at TFest
We were far from alone ... there were tens of thousands of us plowing through the starlit night.  Suddenly there was a herd surge, and I tripped.

My hip (the replacement hip, naturally) went down, my thumb gallantly tried to save me and in the process did a sharp twist into the gravel, and my head landed with a thunk on a railroad tie. 

Those rail ties are hard.

I yelled.  Truthfully, I might’ve screamed.  My head hurt like hell.  Only later did I notice the pain in my hip and thumb.

Long story short, at the Emergency Room I learned nothing was broken – hooray!  But as it turned out, I had a wee bit of memory loss and was unsteady.  Also, I was really pissed off, but trying not to show it. 

I know better than to trip and fall.  Shame on me.  Is that thinking logical?  No.  And irrationality can be a symptom.

It appears I had a slight concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.  The Mayo Clinic and other sources explain they’re caused by “a mild blow to the head, either with or without loss of consciousness, that leads to temporary cognitive symptoms like headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, irritability, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue.”
Annual dinner at TFest

(Right: Small annual ThrillerFest dinner, L-R around the table: RL Stine, Steve Berry, MJ Rose, Liz Berry, Lee Child, Jon Land, Kathie Antrim, David Morrell, me, & my husband & collaborator John C Sheldon)

And mild brain injuries are common – more than 3 million people a year have them.  I’m far from alone, which is comforting.

Have you had one, too?  I hope not!

More info that’s hopeful: They’re “usually self-diagnosable and treatable by a medical professional.”  There's no specific cure for concussion, and you should “consult a doctor for medical advice.” 

Treatment includes giving the brain time to recover by resting and cutting back on fun stuff like exercising, sports, video games, TV, computer screen time, or too much socializing. 

Stay off your cell phone!
Hank Phillippi Ryan, Andrew Grant, & me

Swell.  One of the reasons I love ThrillerFest is, it’s like an aerobic workout of the body, the soul, and the brain, all wrapped up in a cloud of happiness and smiling faces.  Which effervescent activity is why I’m not there this week, and longing for it. 

I’m grateful to my author friends who stepped in to replace me, particularly Rogue Chris Goff who took over teaching my all-day Master Class, which is always a lot of work but such a joy.  And to TFest Exec Director and Rogue KJ Howe who rejiggered our panels, the workshop, and my CraftFest class.

And then there are the meetings I won’t have with my fab literary agent Lisa Erbach Vance, editor Keith Kahla, media folks, and fellow authors like Jeff Ayers, Karna Small Bodman, Kyle Steele, and many many others.  I apologize to those I’m forgetting.  (Symptom, symptom.)
Barry Eisler, David Montgomery, me

The prognosis:  I find that I’m better every day – stronger, better balanced, less nausea, less headache, and better able to control my occasional irritability. 

Once a year I wallow in the blessings of ThrillerFest, a true busman’s holiday.  The photos on this page are just a few of my cherished memories.

Although I won’t attend this time, I’m already planning for next year.  I hope to see you there!

My great friends at the first Rogue TFest panel, 2016. From left, Chris Goff, Francine Mathews, Jamie Freveletti, Karna Small Bodman, KJ Howe, me, S Lee Manning, and Sonja Stone

Have you had a brain injury or know someone who has?   Please leave a comment, and if I don’t respond right away, you’ll know I’m resting.  Good Gayle, good Gayle

Sunday, July 7, 2019


by Chris Goff

As you read this, I'm likely 33,000 feet above Ohio en route to New York City for ThrillerFest. I can't wait! This year's ThrillerMaster is John Sandford, best known as the author of the PREY novels. Silver Bullet Recipients are: Harlan Coben, James Rollins, Stephen Hunter and Lisa Unger. The premier conference for thriller enthusiasts has outdone itself! And the Rogues are lucky enough to have James Rollins as their panel master this year.

But I have to get there first.

You would think as much as I fly that I wouldn't be fazed by air travel. After all, I've read KJ Howe's blog on Turbulence. I know I have a better chance of being killed by a meteorite, becoming President of the US or being killed by a shark than dying in a plane crash. Reassuring—except for the fact that this past week's headlines have featured a shark attack in the Bahamas, a plane crash in Dallas, and a near-Earth asteroid that will pass as close as 19,000 miles from us. Hey, that's within the distance that some of our spacecraft orbit Earth.

So, my how-to on how to travel wisely.

First, I refuse to fly on the 737 Max. Rumor has it, they will put them back into service in early July. They maybe have tweaked the software, but I'd rather take the train (1 day, 21 hours). Or drive (27 hours, not counting stops). I'd go by ship, except it isn't an option from Denver. Of course, more people die in car accidents than airplane crashes, trains can derail, and no mode of transportation is fool proof. All things considered, the 4 hour flight from Denver to NYC is worth the risk. Coupled with my fool proof technique of gripping the arms of my seat until my knuckles turn white, all the while praying until we reach altitude, I've got this!

Next, I'm going to heed the advice of experts.

Doing research for my last book, RED SKY, I discovered the newsletter, Black Bag Confidential. In it, Jason Hanson (an ex-CIA agent, who writes about and teaches people "self-defense tricks only a spy knows") offers tips on things from bugging out to defending your home from intruders to safe travel advice. He's got some great ideas, though at times he seems to border on paranoid. I suppose it comes with the territory. 

Here are a few of his guidelines for staying safe while you're on the go:

1. Treat your travel plans like they're top secret.

Dang! All the publicizing I've done of my plans to be at ThrillerFest means that everyone who has seen my FaceBook page or read my Tweets knows I'll be out-of-town. I'm already screwed!

2. Grab an extra key and a higher floor at the hotel. According to Hanson, this is especially important if you're traveling solo. First, two keys will make the hotel desk clerk and anyone watching you think you're traveling with someone. And second, most crimes happen on the lower floors of a hotel. Hanson suggests snagging a room on the third floor or higher. 

My personal recommendation: Don't go above floor seven. I've been told by firefighter friends that the extension ladders on firetrucks can't go any higher than that. Better safe, than sorry. The caveat: The concierge floor is on sixteen. Fair trade off?

3. Don't use the hotel safe.

It only stands to reason! People lock the safes and can't remember their codes, therefore most hotel personnel will have the bypass code to open them. 

This is one rule I never adhere to. I'd rather risk locking my valuables up in the room, than lug them around all day. Plus I can't count the number of times I've left my book bag on the floor in a conference room. I'll take my risks with the hotel.

4. Get a door stopper alarm.

That way, you can lock your door from the inside and, if someone tries to break in, an alarm goes off. 

Of course, that's not taking into account your conference roommate who was holding down the bar with the agent and friends until 2 a.m.

I wish I'd known about this a few years ago when I was staying at the ThrillerFest hotel during a romance conference in the late 1990s. I went with a friend, who had been nominated for a Rita (it's like an Edgar® or a Thriller Award for romance writers). We'd gone upstairs to bed around midnight, and at 1:30 a.m. the phone rang. My friend answered and a woman said, "Hi, I saw you in the elevator and you looked nice. I need someone to talk to."

My friend said, "It's 1:30 a.m." and hung up.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again and I answered.

"Don't hang up," the woman said. "I just need someone to talk to." I told her not to call back and hung up.

Five minutes later, the phone rang. My friend answered.

"You f*&@ing bitch," screamed the woman. "I know what room you're in." We did the only reasonable thing. We called security. 

They said, "Yeah, this has been going on for about the last six months. We think it's an international flight attendant who stays here overnight from time to time."

"You're not sure?"

"Well, it's an inter-hotel call. We can't trace those. So, we don't know what room she's in, but it happens when a specific crew stays in town. Trust me, she's harmless."

We were not reassured. We demanded another room and they obliged, but only after I told them either to give us another room or send someone up to sit outside our door for the rest of the night. We were moved to the concierge floor, but—as luck would have it—the room they put us in had a broken door lock. Being a thriller writer, my mind started working. Maybe the woman wasn't a flight attendant. Maybe she was a disgruntled employee, who had more than just the hotel safe bypass code.

My friend and I jammed a chair back under the door handle. I know, it doesn't really work, but we figured we'd hear the chair splinter before anyone came through the door.

The rules change depending on where you travel.

In December, my husband and I are going on a cruise to Antarctica (oops, mum's the word!) and Jason has a-whole-nother set of safety suggestions for that trip. The high seas are dangerous. In 2017, U.S. authorities reported a total of 106 crimes committed on board ships that reported to US authorities, including: 76 sexual assaults, 13 serious assaults, 8 thefts of more than $10,000 and 2 kidnappings. Hanson points out that crimes are reported to the country the ship is flagged to, and sometimes justice is hard to come by. 

His tips include: using the buddy system (there's safety in numbers), taking your own alarm (doorstopper mentioned above), being extra careful on the balconies (although more spouses shove each other overboard than strangers), taking care of your steward (make him a friend and he'll protect you), and having a weapon.


That's right. Forewarned is forearmed. You may not be able to bring your gun on board, but you can always walk off with a steak knife. 

So, I hope I see some of you in New York. I'll be staying at the...oh, yeah, top secret. But you'll be able to find me in the bar at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street, and know this—all my valuables will be locked up in my hotel room safe and I'll be the one carrying silverware!

In all seriousness, what sort of things do you do to keep yourself safe when traveling? Do you have any special tips?