Friday, November 29, 2019

Ellen Crosby Goes Rogue - In the Rogue Limelight

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

We are delighted to welcome Ellen Crosby to the Rogue Limelight.  She is a good friend and author of a terrific series of mysteries set in the Virginia wine country that include intriguing bits of history about the Founding Fathers paired with the search for documents and caches of bootleg Madeira.  

Author Ellen Crosby
Where does she get her ideas and the inspiration for novels about wine and historic figures when she began her career in a totally different place? Here's HER story.

I never intended to write the Virginia wine country mysteries—in fact, initially I only agreed to write one book. The Angels’ Share is the tenth book in the series and I just signed a contract to write two more.

         I know. What happened?

         In the 1990s my family and I lived in London where my husband was a journalist with the Voice of America. His previous assignment had been Moscow in the waning days of the Soviet Union, where I, too, worked as a
journalist for ABC News Radio. Moscow Nights, my first mystery was about to be published in England and was based on our time in Russia. My British literary agent wanted to know what my next book would be.

         Though I wanted to write another standalone set overseas, I happened to tell her about a trip we’d just taken in the States with a friend who wanted to show us the Virginia vineyards. My husband is French and we had lived in France for five years where we visited some of that country’s world-class wineries. Our friend thought we needed to know about the burgeoning wine industry in the Old Dominion.

         “That’s your next book,” my agent said. “You need to set a book at a Virginia vineyard.”

         I said no. “I want to write a book with a foreign setting.”     “Ellen,” she said, “you live in England. Virginia is a foreign setting.”

         Hard to argue with that.

         When I told her I didn’t know anything about the business of grape growing and winemaking, she had an answer for that, too. “You’re a journalist,” she said. “You’ll figure it out.”

         Soon afterward we moved home to Virginia and I lucked out, discovering a vineyard in the charming village of Middleburg about twenty-five miles from where I lived. 

It was owned by a woman who loved Murder, She Wrote and was willing to teach me what I needed to know. I also acquired a wonderful American literary agent who told me, “You do know this needs to be the first book in a series, don’t you?”

         Well, I did now.

         My books take place in a picturesque, idyllic region of Virginia known as horse and hunt country where rolling hills, checkerboard fields, country lanes, and pretty little towns are set against the backdrop of the dowager-humped Blue Ridge Mountains. The streets of Middleburg are named for the signers of the Declaration of Independence because they were friends of the man who founded the town in 1787. A local Civil War hero known as the Gray Ghost used to hide out with his soldiers behind miles of stacked stonewalls that crisscross the land, tuck into hidey-holes under homes, or roost up trees.

        Although my series is based on a vineyard in Atoka, a town I invented next door to Middleburg, I have woven Virginia’s rich and fascinating history into each of the books. 

In The Angels’ Share, Lucie Montgomery, my protagonist, searches for a 200-year old cache of bootleg Madeira her family supposedly owned as she tries to solve the murder of a newspaper magnate who may have discovered the whereabouts of potentially scandalous documents hidden by the Founding Fathers. (The story about the documents, or the mystery of Bruton Vault, is true).

         I’m now writing book #11 with a plot that involves Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (a Middleburg habitué) and Old Master paintings. Whoever would have thought there would be so many interesting ways to commit murder over a bottle of wine?
                                                                    --ELLEN CROSBY

The plot of Ellen's new mystery, The Angels' Share, is described by  Publisher's Weekly as one where "threads come together in an exciting and satisfying conclusion.  Crosby knows how to keep the reader guessing." It was just released a few weeks ago and I can't wait to read it, (while I anxiously wait for the next Middleburg adventure)  You can check out ALL of Ellen's terrific mysteries here  Now thank you so much, Ellen, for being our guest blogger today and telling us about your fascinating writing career.   

 ….Karna Small Bodman       


Wednesday, November 27, 2019


by Gayle Lynds
82nd Airborne, Forward Operating Base, Afghanistan, Thanksgiving 2007

Years ago during the Vietnam War, I wanted to thank my friends fighting overseas by sending care packages of Thanksgiving cookies and pumpkin bread that I baked.  It’d be a taste of home, I thought, and surely they’d be missing home. 

So I baked and wrapped the cookies and bread in festive paper.  Then I found sturdy cardboard boxes and popped lots of popcorn — no salt or butter, because I was using it to cushion the treats as I packed the boxes.  All of that fluffy white popcorn looked pretty festive, too.  And I mailed my care packages with fingers crossed — would the cookies and bread arrive uncrumbled, unmashed, fresh enough to be edible?

In a few weeks, thank you notes arrived in my mailbox, so sweet of my friends, reporting that there’d been a few mishaps, but everything was delicious.  And then there was the note from Ken, a soldier on the frontlines.  I never forgot it, because it told me how important it’d been to him.  He said he’d enjoyed every morsel, eating it all slowly to make it last.  Even that dry popcorn.  “Best popcorn I ever had,” he assured me, “and I mean that.” 

Gratitude is a great teacher.  Here at home, as the holidays arrive, I discovered some wonderful true stories from the last 19 years of soldiers and other personnel in our various wars brought to life in a recent New York Times article — click the newspaper's link to read the whole thing.

Here are four of my favorites, tales evocative of time and place and of the humanity that we share and the sacrifices of those who serve.
86th Combat Support Hospital’s emergency entrance, Baghdad, 2007

2007, Iraq  “I was working in the emergency room famously known as Baghdad E.R. It was a slow day, so by late afternoon most of the hospital staff found themselves free for a game of Wiffle ball. Around 5 p.m., we heard a high-pitched whistle. Two mortars hit before everyone made it under some sort of cover. Round after deafening round, we all crouched down together covering our ears wondering if the barrage would ever end. The E.R. saw five or six patients from the attack, but by some miracle none were serious.”  — Dacia M. Arnold, U.S. Army, 2004–14

2008, Iraq
“I got sent to a remote command post, where the Marines were excited because Thanksgiving dinner was being flown in special. The gunny opened the first box to find several cases of soda. Turning to the second container, he found more soda. The worst part was knowing that somewhere there was a group of Marines sitting down to a meal with double and triple portions of everything.”  —Chad Parment, U.S. Marine Corps, 1994–2014
Danny Markus, Afghan soldiers, & turkey, 2008

2008, Afghanistan
“Some of the Afghan soldiers who lived on our forward operating base got hold of a live turkey — by no means an easy task — and prepared it for our team. It may not have been the tastiest bird I’ve ever eaten, but it was the one I was definitely most thankful for.”  —Danny Markus, U.S. agricultural adviser, 2008–10

2009, Iraq
“My commander instructed me to take out the satellite phone I carried and give each soldier 10 minutes to call home.  The phone was only to be used in case of emergencies if the tactical communications were damaged or disabled. Some laughed. Some cried. All were extremely thankful.” —U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Paul Wyatt Jr., who served in Iraq in 2009 with the 130th Engineer Brigade.

Do you have a story to tell about Thanksgiving during war?  Please add a comment and share it! 

We Rogues wish you and your families and friends far and near a very Happy Thanksgiving, and send our heartiest thanks to those serving our country.  


Sunday, November 24, 2019


by Chris Goff

The Rogues could not be more delighted than to hear 
from November's The Real Book Spy's ROGUE RECOMMENDATION. Marc Cameron, author of Tom Clancy Code of Honor shares what it was like to get "the call." You know, the one that every author waits for, when they're honored for a big award, land a new book contract—or in Marc's case—are recommended by Mark Greaney to take over the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan series.

My wife thought someone had died.

Admittedly, I have kind of a mean-mug, but my wife is accustomed my face, senses my moods, knows when something is terribly wrong. And that day in October of 2016 when I got that call from my agent, Robin Rue, something was…terribly wrong…and terribly right. Either way, it was terribly frightening.

We were on the beach in Florida, taking a break from research I was doing for my first Arliss Cutter novel, when Robin called to tell me Mark Greaney had decided to step away from the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan franchise after seven books to pursue his own projects—and he had recommended me to take over the series.
Marc Cameron


Mark Greaney.

Tom Clancy.

Standing there with my toes in the sand and shells of Manasota Key, I ticked off a long list of reasons why this was such a very bad idea. I was under contract for three more books with Kensington. I had a Jericho Quinn manuscript due in just a couple of months. Writing a Jack Ryan novel would have me trying to step into the shoes of not only Tom Clancy, but Mark Greaney, who had done such a terrific job with the legacy Clancy characters. Readers just wouldn’t’ have it. My agent listened patiently, and then kindly told me to suck it up. This was Clancy. I could not, not do it. Period.

I’d been a Tom Clancy fan since I read THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. I enjoyed the movies, but I reveled in the books, took them on assignment with me, and lived vicariously through Ryan and Clark and Chavez.

I met Mark Greaney for the first time at a Bouchercon convention in Long Beach, and was more than a little envious that he had the Clancy gig. I remember him pointing out to a group of other writers quizzing him at the hotel bar, that, contrary to the Hollywood depiction, Ding Chavez wasn’t a sniper in the books. I knew then that Greaney was the real deal.

In truth, the idea of writing a Tom Clancy at once terrified and appealed to me. Early in the process I told my editor, Tom Colgan, that if I hadn’t been terrified at the prospect, I would have been the wrong person for the job. Clancy readers tend to be incredibly smart—and incredibly interested in the details. I still imagine readers with TI graphing calculators checking my figures when I discuss something like missile speeds or satellite trajectory.

My first Clancy novel, POWER AND EMPIRE, gave my wife and me the perfect excuse to run away to our favorite island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific for a couple of months and put ourselves through a mini Tom Clancy university, reading and re-reading the entire Jack Ryan canon. We went back again to write the bones of both OATH OF OFFICE and CODE OF HONOR. It would feel wrong if I didn’t hear screeching myna birds or the periodic thud of a falling coconut while I write my early drafts.

Coworkers from my previous job as a deputy US marshal often kid with me about my cushy retirement gig when they see photos of me on a motorcycle trip, at a restaurant in some foreign land, or on the beach in the Cook Islands. Okay, I am blessed with an idyllic life, but know this: The luggage on that motorcycle, the pocket of my jacket at that restaurant, or the table next to the beach chair in the South Pacific, all hold a notebook or computer.

Writing an iconic character like Jack Ryan, hoping to do him justice, is a little like finally getting to ride the ginormous rollercoaster you’ve been driving by for years. It seems a great notion from the road, but can become overwhelming when you actually buy the ticket. Tension builds as you move up in line, but you finally settle in, buckle up, and think, you know, this might be fun.

And then the car starts to careen down the tracks.

Like the first two, writing Tom Clancy CODE OF HONOR was great fun—exhilarating, thrilling, adrenaline-inducing. But, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that nausea, whiplash, and a lot of terrified screaming, were a large part of the experience.

Time passes though, and, for the most part, only the thrill remains. By this January when we head back to Rarotonga, I’ll be ready for another ride.

"Blistering reads...Cameron's books are riveting page-turners." — Mark Greaney #1 New York Times bestselling author

If you're not a fan of Marc Cameron's you will be soon. Thank you, Marc for stopping by and sharing your story with all of us!


Friday, November 22, 2019

Jon Land Goes Rogue - In the Rogue Limelight

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

One of my all time favorite TV shows was MURDER SHE WROTE starring the wonderful actress Angela Lansbury as author and investigator Jessica Fletcher. And the reruns are capitivating new (and younger) audiences who love a good mystery. 

For some time we have also been able to enjoy novels about Jessica and her cohorts.  Now there is a new collection of stories written by the New York Times bestselling author, Jon Land. I first met Jon at one of our "Thrillerfest" conferences a decade ago when we discovered we both worked with the same editor.  We Rogues welcome Jon as our guest blogger to tell us about his great new series.

Author Jon Land


            A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic Murder, She Wrote book series based on the fabulously successful television show. And that places the mystery series I inherited from a writer named Don Bane in rarified air, to say the least, and casts any writer lucky enough to be involved with a tremendous responsibility to the series’ fans and followers.

            I inherited the concept for my first effort, A Date with Murder, from an outline and some existing chapters. But I found Jessica Fletcher’s voice in that book early on. She’s listed as my co-author with good reason, because it’s her voice I hear in my mind when I’m writing (Well, Angela Lansbury’s voice, actually!).

It’s natural for a writer to want to put their own stamp on a series, no matter how iconic. So at some point during the writing of my next two efforts, Manuscript for Murder and Murder in Red, I asked myself what could I do that no one had ever done before? My thinking on that started with a conversation about how the television series might stage a return someday. CBS has already flirted with the notion, with Octavia Spencer in the lead role. The network, though, ultimately backed off, figuring there was only one Jessica Fletcher and her initials are “AL.”

But what about a younger Jessica Fletcher, I asked myself? A Jessica still married to very much alive husband Frank, raising her nephew Grady, and serving as a substitute English teacher at a Maine high school while trying to get published twenty-five years in the past. What if a murder happened at that high school and Jessica was drawn in, finding that she not only has a knack for solving crime, but also for writing mysteries?

And so A Time for Murder was born. I had an absolute blast reverse-engineering the back story presented and/or hinted at in the television show. For instance, the name of the high school where Jessica taught is
never mentioned anywhere on the show or in the previous books in the series. But she met her husband Frank while the two of them were volunteering on a play at the Appleton Playhouse, so I placed them in Appleton. And when the town’s beloved high school principal is murdered, who do you think the detective on the case turns out to be?

Amos Tupper, future sheriff of Cabot Cove fabulously played by Tom Bosley in the TV series. That gave me an excuse to explore the very origins of his relationship with Jessica, as well as incorporating one of the TV series’ most popular characters into the story, no easy task given that he was replaced long ago as sheriff by Mort Metzger.  
To say I was off and running with A Time for Murder would be an understatement. Indeed, I was off on a dead sprint following a murder in the present intrinsically connected to that of the high school principal in the past. Add to that the fact that Jessica has been invited to a retirement party for one of her old colleagues at Appleton High and I had the connective tissue that every book demands, in this case through flashback chapters triggered by Jessica’s memories.

I was essentially writing two separate, interconnected stories and having a blast with both of them. And in that respect A Time for Murder became what superhero film fans might call an “origins” story, as it sought to answer many of the questions never addressed by either the previous books or the TV series itself. And I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to bring something new to a series that enjoys 100% name/brand recognition, a series that has been around for more than thirty-five years.

I always tell people that one of the real keys to penning a great story is to enjoy writing it as much as the reader will enjoy reading it. And I have every confidence that fans of both the book and television series will love meeting Frank and young Grady, not to mention (spoiler alert!) younger versions of real estate agent Eve Simpson and Seth Hazlitt, along with the aforementioned Amos Tupper. Want more? How about Jessica seeing her beloved home at 698 Candlewood Lane for the first time and wondering whether she and Frank can afford it? We’ll see her in A Time for Murder displaying her incredible powers of observation for the first time in solving a murder twenty-five years in the past that culminates in a Columbo-like twist.

For me, reading a Murder, She Wrote mystery is like visiting twice a year with old friends you haven’t seen in too long. And in A Time for Murder, get ready to take a trip back in time to meet some new ones.


Make a note that this new novel, A Time for Murder will be released on November 26 (just in time for Christmas gifts to our friends and fans of Murder She Wrote.)  Thanks so much, Jon, for being our guest writer today.  As for our readers here, tell us: what do you remember about this great TV series - and are there other TV series that you WISH would be transformed into novels?

….Karna Small Bodman

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sharjah International Book Fair: The Trip of a Lifetime

Two weeks ago Lynne and I had the honor of attending the Sharjah International Book Festival, held in the United Arab Emirates and the third-largest book festival in the world. Over one million readers, young and old, visited during the course of the eleven-day event. Authors, poets, and publishers from around the world participated. It was an education for us in so many ways.

The sheer numbers were astounding, and the diversity electrifying. It took us two days to explore the entire venue, and the number of books on display was staggering. We sat on a panel of writers, one of whom was Kuwaiti. When the moderator asked what one of the most difficult things about being a writer was, she answered, “Staying alive.” It was a stark reminder to us of the bravery that many of our fellow authors show in the face of persecution by repressive regimes.

We had the opportunity to visit a GEMS school in Abu Dhabi and speak to over 200 students (who, of course, speak fluent English along with Arabic, Hindi and French!). They were bright and curious, polite to a fault, and asked thoughtful and spirited questions. There is no free primary and secondary education in the UAE. All students pay school fees and must buy their own textbooks and uniforms.

Sharjah, one of the seven Emirates of the UAE, was named the Book Capital of the World for 2019, by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), and the International Publishers Association (IPA). The Festival slogan was “Open Books, Open Minds.”

This Emirate has determined it wants to be a knowledge center and to take UAE and Arab literature to audiences around the world. They promote literacy for prisons and rehabilitation centers, have programs for refugees in Syria and other parts of the world, and most importantly have projects that get books to the migrant population of the UAE by translating books into their native languages such as Hindi, Tagalog or Urdu. Migrants make up 90% of the UAE’s population.

There are mobile libraries, libraries in parks and even in Bedouin tents. One government project––“Knowledge Without Borders”–– provided 42,000 local families with free home libraries of 50 fiction and non-fiction books. The government also provides tax-free status and office space to publishing companies.

Naturally, not all of our time was spent on books. We took in the sights, and they were breathtaking. Roaming the souks, we saw enough gold to refill Fort Knox and wondered why something so plentiful could so valuable. One of the 90-degree afternoons was spent reading on the beach and swimming in the Persian Gulf––the perfect de-stressor for a hectic schedule! 

In Abu Dhabi, we saw the incredibly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, built over the course of three years at a cost of $545 million. It is one of the largest mosques in the world, with room for 40,000 worshipers.

Spending time in Dubai, we marveled at the mind-blowing architecture, with the most amazing structure of all being the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. We sat at its feet and watched a light and water show that kept a crowd of thousands (and us!) mesmerized.

We were welcomed at the U.S. Consulate for a wonderful reception where we were able to mingle with other authors and heads of state.

Of course, a visit to the Emirates wouldn’t be complete without an evening in the desert, so we buckled up in jeeps and held on as we rode the steep, curving sand dunes. Watching the sun go down over the golden red sand was a sight we’ll never forget. A dinner by candlelight under the stars capped off the night.

The people were wonderful, welcoming and couldn’t do enough for us. Wherever we went, we were struck by the magnificent mosques and the immaculate cleanliness of the country. If you ever have a desire to visit a mall that has every high-end product in the world, then the Dubai Mall is the place for you. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen, with a giant aquarium smack in the middle of it. The downside was the traffic––just horrendous.

It was the experience of a lifetime, and we are both so grateful to have had this wonderful opportunity.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


by The Real Book Spy

Replacing a legend is never easy. Replacing two, well, that’s pretty much unheard of . . . and yet that exactly what Marc Cameron did a few years back when he stepped in and took over the Jack Ryan universe, following the footsteps of Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney.

Over the last three decades, fans have watched Ryan, one of the few, true household names the thriller genre has to offer, grow up and climb the career ladder. When we first met Jack way back in the 1987 novel Patriot Games, he was teaching history. Later he would work for the CIA as an analyst (note: The Hunt for Red October did come out first, but Patriot Games remains the first book in the series, chronologically speaking), before eventually becoming Deputy Director of the spy agency. Then came a stint as the National Security Advisor, a promotion to Vice President, and, of course, Ryan was named Commander-in-Chief following an attack on the United States Capitol Building during the State of the Union—a position he still holds in this year’s Tom Clancy Code of Honor.

After numerous mega-hit thrillers and multiple film and now television adaptions, the world is still craving more Jack Ryan—and though nobody will likely ever capture the magic Tom Clancy flashed throughout his career, to say that his franchise has been in good hands since his passing would be the understatement of the decade.

The Gray Man author Mark Greaney began working with Clancy several years before the author’s death and carried Clancy’s legacy brilliantly before exiting the Ryanverse in 2016. At the time, fans were crushed that Greaney was moving on, but excitement quickly grew when it was announced that fellow New York Times bestseller Marc Cameron had been chosen to replace him. Now, three years later, Cameron is riding a two-book high, following a couple of critically acclaimed, fan-pleasing additions to Clancy’s franchise. And not for nothing, but his latest, at least in my opinion, is his best work yet.

This time around, President Ryan is desperate to help an old friend from his undergraduate days at Boston College. Father Pat West, after leaving a cushy career in Georgetown’s philosophy department, went to Indonesia, where he’s since been working with poor people and trying to make a real difference in the world. That is until he’s arrested for committing blasphemy against Islam—putting the priest’s life in grave danger.

Ryan, of course, cannot move “officially” on Indonesia. Whereas we’ve seen his power and influence as POTUS help him in the past, it actually restricts him in this one, making it much harder for him to help a friend a need. Of course, things take a turn when Ryan receives word that Father West might have stumbled upon an impending attack on American soil—and from there, it’s off the races as Marc Cameron slams the gas pedal to the floor and never lets off of it for a second.

Whether you’re a longtime Clancy fan or new to the franchise, trust me, Tom Clancy Code of Honor is not to be missed.

Happy reading!

And stay tuned. In the coming weeks, you can expect a post from the Man of the Hour himself! Wait for it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Writer's Block, Blunders, and NaNoWriMo

November means NaNoWriMo!
It’s November, which means a lot of writers are doing NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month (which for me is only half a novel). I participate every year in an unofficial capacity, usually because I’m on a deadline, and I am looking for any way possible to boost my word output. 

As usual this time of year, the days go by faster than I could possibly hope. Before I know it, my deadline that was 3 months away is suddenly upon me. I tell myself that this time, I will do things differently. I will stay off Facebook and Twitter. I won’t check email before I’ve made my word count. I’ll ignore the headlines. I will write.

And it works for a day or two.

But then I’m back to the same old, same old. 

I can stare at that computer day after day and get very little done. Writer’s Block? Or is it something else? I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block. I think that if Nancy Drew were to investigate, she’d also refuse to believe. She’d find a very practical reason for this lack of progress.

Freedom App on computer
So what is the reason for this frittering away of valuable writing time (besides the obvious social media visits)? I’d hazard a guess that there’s something wrong in the story. Whether it’s plot, or character, or both, I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot possibly write further (or farther) until I discover exactly what that something might be. Unfortunately, until then, I’ll often do anything else but write. 

I’d like to say I know what the absolute answer is but I don’t. No doubt, doing a proper synopsis might be key. I tend to write organically (some call this a “pantser,” a writer term for writing by the seat of your pants). I’m not sure organic works. Perhaps if I spent that month plotting a good synopsis, I might be able to avoid the wasted days of trying to figure out what is wrong or where I'm going. 

I know I need to stay off Facebook and Twitter. (Note: I will be scarce until after the New Year due to above-mentioned fast-approaching deadline.) Thankfully, there’s an app for that. The Freedom app installs right on your computer and helps to manage those particular time-sucks. (You can schedule time to block social media. I paid for the forever version. Totally worth it.) But it’s not the only game in town. There’s a new app that writer Holly West turned me on to. Focus Keeper. (Available on both Apple, here, and Google, here.) This nifty little app installs on your phone. It's like a metronome that ticks away in 25 minute blocks with a 5-minute break between the four blocks. It works. As long as you turn it on. 

Focus Keeper App on iPhone
Apps aside, there’s still that matter of figuring out why the story isn’t working. Interestingly, I heard more than one writer mention in the last couple of weeks that when they write themselves into a corner, they usually find that they’ve played their hand too soon.They go back, deconstruct their story to find out where, then fix it. Elizabeth George was one of those writers who mentioned this 
particular writerly phenomenon, that, until this last week, I didn’t even know was a thing. I do now, so will be taking a new look at my story to see if this is where I went astray. 

I’d like to know what other writers do if their story is off track. Do they get stuck or forge on? Go back and write a synopsis? See if they’ve played their hand too soon? Add a thread? Remove a thread?

Chime in, Rogue Writers and Readers who are writers. I’d love to know! (And Happy and Fruitful NaNoWriMo!)