Wednesday, December 30, 2020

HOLIDAY COOKING DISASTERS: Who hasn't had one?

by Chris Goff

This year on Thanksgiving, we celebrated the birth of our third grandchild—a very bright spot in an otherwise difficult year. Ten days before the holiday, we’d gotten a late-night phone call from a couple of kids, laughing because her water broke and they had to leave for the hospital, but the bed was wet, and the dog was a bit anxious, and they weren’t sure what to do. Fortunately, we did, and told them to leave for the hospital. Then we collected the bedding, the towels, Pickles, the dog, and the dog food, while they had a baby. Little Grady!

A couple of days later, we took Pickles home and met the tiny bean—Covid-style! Clean coverups, hand sanitizer, masks.... Thanksgiving was quickly approaching, and we’d promised to make dinner. Except, we were living in a house without a kitchen. The refrigerator was hooked up in the garage, and periodically blew the breakers. We had no stove, just a microwave set up on sawhorses in the living room. No sink! And our counter consisted of a piece of construction grade plywood laid over the top of uninstalled kitchen counters.

Not to be deterred, we donned our PPE, and in a covert Covid operation (CCO) transported all ingredients, and sneaked into their kitchen through the breezeway. (This makes for a great scene in my new book: The Spy Who Worked from Home.)

But I jest. We actually just went over to the kids' house, donned clean coverups, prepped the meal, and put it in the oven. Four hours later, we returned, carved the turkey, and ate, with Grady upstairs in his crib.

During dinner, my son-in-law had his phone propped up on the table. Thinking he was watching football, I made a snide comment as mothers-in-law are wont to do, and my daughter laughed. “Mom (drag it out sarcastically), he’s watching the baby cam.” Sure enough. Nick turned the phone around, and there was little Grady sleeping in the crib.

About that time, the baby twitched (barely!), and the phone lit up, and a warning scrolled across the screen. Movement has been detected! Apparently, off mute, Computer Lady blurts out the warnings. The temperature has dropped one-tenth of a degree!

Dang! The baby cam works better than our home security system. (Perfect for The Spy Who Worked from Home.) It's more expensive, but highly effective! Makes me wonders how I ever raised six kids to adulthood without one?!

But I digress. We're talking about holiday disasters, and I have them that go back years. It turned out, so did my fellow Rogues.

Karna Small Bodman had a similar story of remodeling.

Several years ago, I was redoing a DC house–kitchen completely torn up, fridge and microwave in the living room—and my son wanted to host a Super Bowl. What to do? So, I baked a huge batch of chicken in my next-door neighbor’s stove, made a big salad, and then fixed a whole slew of little red potatoes in the microwave because I wanted to serve “Redskins.”

Which she topped with the story of a dream date.

I went to a holiday dinner hosted by a bachelor who admitted he didn’t cook much. On the kitchen counter sat a bowl of what looked like turkey stuffing with bits of something weird in it. I asked what it was. He shrugged and said, “Well, I was looking around for things I could put in the stuffing I bought. Thinking about how my mom always added things to hers. I saw a package of microwave popcorn and mixed the kernels into the stuffing, figuring that when it got hot, they would pop. They didn’t.”

Lisa Black shared a similar theme.

My mother’s birthday was in January, so as a young newlywed I decided to host a dinner for 12 in her honor. I don’t remember the entree, but I made homemade sourdough bread—completing the long process of creating the starter, letting it ferment, moving it to the refrigerator, etc.

The day before the party, our hot water heater died. I had no qualms that my trained mechanic husband could fix it. We had to go buy one (a whole nother story) then, as he finished installing the heater, I baked my bread. To keep it warm, I wrapped the slices in a towel, placed them in a wicker basket, then put the entire thing in the still-mildly-warm oven.

The doorbell rang. People were seated. Then I opened the oven only to discover the wicker basket had not been real wicker. The plastic had melted into globules, and the small wires stuck out like barbed wire tines, only longer, and more dramatic. Luckily, the towel had protected my labor-intensive bread. Plucking out the slices, I plopped them into another container, tossed the evidence, and figured what the diners didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Meanwhile, I had learned a valuable lesson about the low melting point of synthetics!
 

Valerie Constantine’s story can only be labeled Comedic Horror.

These Greek Christmas cookies are called Kourambiedes and everyone in our family looks forward to them at the holidays. Making them is labor intensive with all of the mixing done by hand until the dough is ready to be shaped into these sort-of crescents. Every year I “helped” my mother make these special treats that always came out perfect. One year, however, when we began to shape the cookies, we were puzzled to see tiny red dots throughout the dough. My mother shrugged and continued to bake them anyway. After all, they would be covered with confectioner’s sugar to make them pure white. It wasn’t until later that she noticed the little chips in her red fingernail polish. Her polish had rubbed off into the dough! Moral of the story: Nail polish in small doses is safe to ingest!

Of course, judging by the pictures Lynne Constantine shared, nail polish in the cookies doesn't do much for one's fashion sense.

An abundance of stories. 

There was the time Wes stuffed the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner for 21 people, put the bird in the oven, then checked it two hours later to discover he’d forgotten to turn on the oven.

And the time I was tasked with cooking a roast for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s. My sister-in-law arrived and immediately turned down the oven. When I noticed, I turned it back up. Kay immediately turned it back down. Up, down. Up, down. Needless to say, dinner was delayed while the roast finished cooking and Kay and I sat in timeout.

Then there was the Christmas Eve we drove the 1914 Model T (top up) to dinner. My father-in-law had suffered a series of strokes and couldn’t talk at that point, but when offered a ride in the Model T, his face lit up. After dinner, we stepped outside to find it was snowing. Hard! We foundered on the side of the road about a half mile from the farmhouse. Wes and I waded through the deepening snow—Wes for the tractor, me for the car. It created a few tense moments with my mother-in-law and our kids, but Dad just chucked and laughed. He refused a car ride and insisted on staying in the Model T as it was towed back to the barn. Best Christmas Eve ever!

This year, with the threat of Covid-19, many of us are celebrating alone. Still, the Rogues hope you've had a chance to make some fun memories this holiday season. We wish you the merriest!

Do you have any favorite holiday disaster stories?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

by Lisa Black

Opening to the first page of a book always has that same delicious thrill of anticipation as when the theater lights dim and the curtain begins to rise from the stage. Will I be delighted? Will I be amazed? What is going to happen?

But as wonderful as beginnings are, every book is really about its ending. There, we expect the story to come full circle, we expect that the things that have happened to be used in a relevant manner, we expect to be satisfied.

Writers who plot, like me—as opposed to writers who are [fly by the seat of your] pants-ers—know how the book will begin and how it will end. The difficult part is figuring out how to get from one to the other.

I am prompted to this theme because this cursed, dratted year of 2020 is ending, something that everyone has been wishing for and commenting on for eight or ten months now. Like many others, my year has largely sucked: my husband was out of work for seven months, I lost a brother and a cousin (non-Covid-related reasons), I spent over a year on a book that was rejected, and I watched helplessly as others endured much greater misery and much more overwhelming trials. I could have lost much more, and didn’t. And now 2020 is ending! Yay!

Except we all know better than to think simply turning a calendar page will make everything reset to ‘Normal’—or even ‘Better.’ Illness, injustice, stress and anxiety can’t just be tossed out with the used calendar.

But maybe this is why we like books. In a book, the author controls the ending. They can make sure the clues logically add up to one person’s irrefutable guilt, that the hero learns lessons en route that will serve them well in the final confrontation with the villain, that the reader will not be left wondering how Norman got his hands on the museum’s antique knife later found in his ex-wife’s body or why Josie suddenly understood Ukrainian when in the Kabul safe house. And woe to them if the author fails. Rules can be broken, twists can and should be unexpected, readers can be a little miffed that the protagonist didn’t get the cute guy at the end, but they should always feel that the story is now complete.

Yes, there have been endings that skirted the cliff. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as brilliant as Agatha Christie’s book was, did leave many a reader sputtering “But was that really fair?”

And full disclosure, if I dare: I sputtered myself at the ending of Pet Sematary. Unless I’m badly misremembering, the text touched on ancient Indian burial grounds, dreams, and some sort of giant who roamed the earth after dark. As a horror novel it’s absolutely fabulous, but if I can just say one little thing: if Dean R. Koontz had written it, he would have tied all those things together in a kind of explanation, a la Phantoms or Twilight Eyes. It might have been far-fetched, but it would have been something

Her, by Harriet Lane, I found a fabulously written, utterly engrossing book, in which the ending made me want to throw it across the room. I loved Gone Girl…but it’s ending? Super frustrating. 

Hannibal, by Thomas Harris. Maybe, IMHO, somebody couldn’t figure out how to end the book. Maybe somebody fell too much in love with his own characters. Maybe I’m just too pedestrian and can’t think outside the box. We may never know. 

My friend Britin Haller absolutely loved Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips “…until the end. And I hate to say that because it truly was one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.”

We could even complain about Gone With the Wind. WTF? Two and a half hours and she and Rhett break up?

The Collector by John Fowles. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, but I can’t say I’m happy about it.


But as there have been happier New Year’s Eves, there are so many wonderfully satisfying endings in books. Anything by Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr, in which all fifty-three separate clues are assembled in their proper order. Lord of the Rings leaves us with a nostalgic but fuzzy happiness as all the characters trundle off to their respective lives, exactly where they want to be. Pride and Prejudice, of course, proves that good things will eventually come to those who are true to oneself. A Christmas Carol, in which the character has completed an exhausting journey to become exactly the man he should be. The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Room by Emma Donoghue. 

Best of all, I think, are when endings completely take you by surprise but, after a moment’s thought, you see they make total sense. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. 

And that’s my New Year’s wish for everyone: that in 2021, we get to write our own, highly nourishing ending to each and every day. 

What about you? No spoilers, but what book has the most (or least) satisfying ending?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

BITES AND BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS

by Karna Small Bodman

How will we all celebrate Christmas this year while staying safe and praying for the best? We Rogues have some ideas to share with you: holiday recipes to enjoy along with a few gifts for family and friends.

For a lovely breakfast treat Jenny Milchman offers this recipe for her Raspberry Sour Cream Muffins: 
  • Preheat oven to 375 and line a 12 cup muffin tin
  • In 1st bowl, combine zest of one orange and ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup melted butter, 1 cup sour cream, 2 beaten eggs
  • In 2nd bowl, mix 1 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt
  • In 3rd bowl, dust 1 ½ cups raspberries with 2      teaspoons flour, reserve a few for the tops of the muffins
  • Combine ingredients, fold in berries, fill muffin tin, top with reserved berries, sprinkle with sugar, bake 18-22 minutes….enjoy!
Liv Constantine suggests a book described as a moving account of an author’s relationship with her grandmother, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Beth Kalb. Well known author Jodi Picoult says, “I have not been as profoundly moved by a book in years.” This story recounts both family lore and family secrets spanning four generations. 

The New York Times Book Review writes, “I delighted in Bobby’s joy. I cried twice.” And the host of Good Morning America said, “Told in her hilarious grandmother’s voice, this memoire chronicles a family’s story.”

Liv also contributes a recipe for hors d’oevres, Pomegranate Pistachio Crostini:
  • Preheat oven to 400
  • Arrange 36 slices of French bread baguette on ungreased baking sheet, brush tops with butter, bake 4-6 minutes then cool
Mix and spread over the toasted bread:
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter 
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • ½ cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate candy bar, grated.
Serve, of course, with your favorite cocktail or wine.

Carla Neggers suggests a lovely book, The National Trust Book of Afternoon Tea which is chock full of recipes that go perfectly with a cup of tea – a nice gift for someone who enjoys the quintessential British ritual. You’ll find recipes for sandwiches, tarts, cakes, scones, preserves along with everything you need to know to brew the perfect pot of tea. 

And here is Carla’s suggestion of a simple topping to add to mashed or baked potatoes, melt atop baked salmon or spoon onto grilled burgers.  

Simply mix together: 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Chill for 2 hours to blend the flavors (and you can freeze it for a month)

Lisa Black contributes a quick treat you can make and give as a luscious gift, what she calls her Foolproof Fudge:
  • Melt a 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (semi sweet or milk chocolate) with
  • A 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • Remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Put in a wax-paper lined pan, cool completely before cutting.
I’d like to suggest you top off your holiday meal with a cup of cappuccino. You don’t need to have a fancy coffee/cappuccino machine. Just brew a cup of coffee, then top it with foamed milk from this frother which makes a great Christmas gift as well. You  simply pour a small bit of milk in this frother (that sits on a stand that's plugged in) -- push a button and in about 20 seconds you have froth you spoon on top of your coffee.  To clean it, just rinse it out (don't put it in the dishwasher though). 

One final recommendation of a book for a Christmas gift is Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict. I so enjoyed this story about a (fictitious) Irish maid hired to serve in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She hides the secret of her past while learning about the business tycoon’s investments, and, in the process, inspires Andrew Carnegie to eventually devote his vast fortune to the creation of libraries across the nation. Readers and authors are forever grateful to this man for his contribution to education and enjoyment for all. 

Now, do you have a favorite holiday recipe or gift idea you would like to share? Please leave a comment and tell us. Thanks for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers and a very Merry (and safe) Christmas to you!

Friday, December 11, 2020

HYGGE AND THE ART OF THE READING NOOK

by Carla Neggers

Winters are long, cold and dark in northern New England where I live, but they’re made not just bearable but enjoyable with the Danish art of hygge. It’s a concept—an intentional way of life, really—that’s gained international popularity. Pronounced “hue-guh,” hygge isn’t a word that translates easily into English. “In essence,” says Visit Denmark, “hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.”

A great place to incorporate hygge into our lives is a reading nook. I can and do read anytime, anywhere, but I love my reading nook experience. 

Here are a few hygge ideas for your own reading nook:

Candles

Nothing creates hygge like candles. A lot of candles. These days there are flameless versions that are (almost) as atmospheric but I’ve never tried them. I like to light candles and tuck in by the fire with a book. Pillar candles are my favorite but on particularly short winter days, I’ll often float a votive candle in my small Simon Pearce bowl. It doesn’t have to be dark to light candles. Or cold. A friend lights candles on her South Florida patio. 

Socks

Cold feet do not make for a cozy reading nook experience. Slip those toes into your favorite socks. I love my one pair of ultra-soft cashmere knee-socks. They’re a bit frayed but that adds to their hygge charms. There are all kinds of fun socks on the market perfect for enhancing your reading-nook experience. 

A comfy shawl or throw 

Snuggling under a soft, comfy shawl or throw with a book is definitely one of the good things in life! I curl up with a handmade Irish shawl. It reminds me of picking out with my husband at a favorite shop on the southwest Irish coast, run by a woman who’s become a friend, adding to its hygge qualities. But I love my ragged fleece throws, too. Key is comfort and cocooning. We want to read, not fuss with a shawl or throw, right?

A hot drink 

Hot mulled cider, hot mulled wine, hot chocolate or hot tea enhance an afternoon or evening curled up in our reading nook. It’s a great time to grab that pottery mug you love but don’t use often enough. Making reading time an experience is what it’s about. Check out my hot mulled cider recipe below.

An absorbing book 

Candles lit, fire crackling, hot beverage at our side and socks and throw keeping us warm and cozy, we’re ready to dive into an absorbing book. Savor the characters, the descriptions, the sense of place, the plot twists, the writing. It’s an opportunity to discover or rediscover such authors as P.D. James, Elizabeth George, JRR Tolkien, Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, Ken Follett and many of the writers interviewed and recommended here, or finally dive into that thick biography on your TBR pile. 

Here’s my recipe for hot mulled cider:

2 quarts fresh apple cider

2–3 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

½ teaspoon whole allspice

¼ small orange

Dash of grated nutmeg 

¼ cup brown sugar (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes. Strain spices and serve. You can combine the spices into a cheesecloth to create a bag and simmer with the cider. You can also heat the mulled cider in a slow cooker. 

Hygge works whether you’re in a warm or cold climate or season. Here are some tips for warm-weather hygge: www.hyggelife.com/blogs/news/hygge-in-the-summer

What’s your favorite spot to read? What says hygge to you? Are you trying anything new this winter? Let us know!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

MYSTERY MINUTE GOES ROGUE

by Z.J. Czupor

Just the Facts Ma'am: The Story of Badge 714

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

That famous opening line belongs to Dragnet, one of the most popular and influential police procedural dramas in radio and television history. 

Jack Randolph Webb (1920-1982) wrote, produced, directed, and starred as Sergeant Joe Friday in the hit radio and TV series, which ran, at intervals, from 1949 to 2004. The show was touted for its realism about the dangers and heroism of law enforcement. Sgt. Friday wore badge number 714.

Dragnet's realism came about because Webb spent long hours on the ground conducting research in squad rooms, squad cars, and drinking coffee with detectives. He said he learned his first police rule, which is "the solution of a crime is the work of many hands and many minds."

Webb got the idea for Dragnet from the 1948 film He Walked by Night in which he played a small role as a crime-lab technician. His vision was to perform a service by showing policemen as low-key working-class heroes. The title "dragnet" refers to a coordinated system used to capture criminals and suspects.

The Popularity of Dragnet

Dragnet originated on NBC radio from 1949 to 1957. In 1951, the series moved to TV (NBC), where shows ran simultaneously on radio and television using the same script devices with many of the same actors. An estimated 38 million viewers tuned in each week. 

Jack Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday on TV from 1951-59 and again from 1967-70.

In 1989-90, The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage as Det. Vic Daniels, while the 2003-04 version, L.A Dragnet, featured Ed O’Neill as Lt. Joe Friday. Both series were produced by Webb.

Dragnet appeared around the world with translations in German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. In retrospect, the episodes are still entertaining but feel campy with wooden acting styles. Plus, some of the police procedures appear outdated and trial outcomes would be vastly different from today. However, at the peak of its popularity, fans often visited LAPD headquarters wanting to speak to Sgt. Friday. The official response given at the front desk was, "Sorry, it's Joe's day off."

Dragnet was parodied numerous times in films, TV, and cartoons. Fortunately, Webb wasn’t above the parody himself. In 1968, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in a sketch called the "Copper Clapper Caper." As the poker-faced Joe Friday, he interviews the equally deadpan victim of a robbery at a school-bell factory (the victim played by Carson). The details of the crime started with the alliterative "k" consonant sound, such as "Claude Cooper, the kleptomaniac from Cleveland." 

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Supposedly, Sgt. Joe Friday's hardcore character often spoke the phrase, "Just the facts, ma'am," but he never said that. It was misattributed after comedian Stan Freberg (1926-2015) recorded a parody album, "St. George and the Dragonet," in 1953. But Freberg didn't say that either. Actually, Friday said, "All we want are the facts, ma'am," whenever he interviewed women during a police investigation. Freberg's satire, meanwhile, changed the line to "I just want to get the facts, ma'am."

In 1958, Webb authored The Badge (Prentice-Hall), which included chapters of untold true crime cases from Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s. The book was reissued (Da Capo Press, 2005) with a foreword by James Ellroy, author of LA Confidential* (1990), who wrote, "The Badge takes readers on a spine chilling tour through the dark, shadowy world of Los Angeles crime."

Badge Number 714

When Dragnet went into syndication, it was renamed "Badge 714." There are multiple explanations plus myths for how the number came to be. For one, Webb was a fan of Babe Ruth who hit 714 home runs in his baseball career. For another, the number is said to represent his mother’s birthday (July 14).

However, Army Major Laurie Cooke Harding, daughter to Dragnet advisor and LAPD Sgt. Dan Cooke, wrote how her father and Webb were close, that he originated some script concepts, and acted as technical director for several episodes. Badge 714 belonged to Cooke when he arranged for its use in the series. After Cooke’s death, LAPD retired the badge which his widow then donated to the LAPD Police Academy’s Museum. Cooke retired as a lieutenant after serving thirty-five years on the force. He died in 1999 at the age of 72. 

Webb's Personal Life and Death

Webb's Jewish father abandon the family before Webb was born leaving him to be raised Roman Catholic by his mother who was Irish and Native American. He suffered from acute asthma from the age of six into adulthood but smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. He began his career as a radio disc jockey, then advanced to film actor, writer, director, and producer. As a jazz fan, he collected over 6,000 albums. He married singer and actress Julie London. They had two daughters. After they divorced, Webb married three more times. In 1982, he died of a heart attack at the age of 62.

When Webb died, LAPD provided an honor guard with a 17-gun salute, a rarity for a non-policeman. LAPD named an auditorium in his honor while city offices lowered flags to half-staff. Jack Webb was buried with a replica LAPD badge bearing the rank of sergeant and the number 714. 
________________________________________

*In the movie version of LA Confidential (1997), the Brett Chase character (played by Matt McCoy) is based on Jack Webb. In the movie, Chase is the star of a TV show, "Badge of Honor," like Dragnet.

Thank you, Z.J. Czupor! We love your Mystery Minute columns. Readers, are you fans of police procedurals like Dragnet

Monday, December 7, 2020

ROGUE WOMEN NOVEMBER ROUNDUP!


Here's what we Rogues talked about, researched, and revealed in November...

Always a fan of kickass women, Lisa Black gives us the highlights of the life and legacy of Margaret Chase Smith in Beyond the Glass Ceiling.

The winner of the Rogue Fall Basket Giveaway
was 
Rena Koontz, a self-proclaimed Rogue devotee and author of seven romantic suspense novels!

ZJ Czupor told us about the origin of the term 'red herring' and its use in many Agatha Christie tales in this month's Mystery Minute.  

Who doesn't love adorable pet pics? Liv Constantine gave us the skinny (and the visuals) on Writers and Their Pets

A Rogue Flash let audiobook fans know that The First Shot, Liv Constantine's prequel to The Last Mrs. Parrish, has been released on Audible.

Jenny Milchman provided us with a great guide to Write a Thriller in 8 Easy Steps

The Real Book Spy's November Rogue Recommendation was Janet Evanovich's Fortune and Glory, the 27th book in the Stephanie Plum series. 

And, last but not least, a Rogue Flash spread the news that Karna Small Bodman was interviewed about her White House insider expertise and her latest book, Trust But Verify

Thursday, December 3, 2020

DIANE CAPRI GOES ROGUE: The Queen’s Gambit & The Hunt for Jack Reacher

by Gayle Lynds: What a thrill to introduce Rogue friend Diane Capri, who shot onto the New York Times bestseller list with her exciting novels, including her innovative thrillers starring the immortal Jack Reacher of Lee Child fame. She’s written ten in her Reacher series! A snowbird and recovering lawyer, Diane divides her time between Florida and Michigan. Fortunately for us, she’s hard at work on her next novel.

by Diane Capri

Have you watched The Queen’s Gambit? The Netflix original series is based on the novel by Walter Tevis and it’s stellar. We’re all abuzz about the orphan prodigy and her quest to become the world’s best chess player. Who knew chess could be so exciting?

Beth Harmon triumphs over adversity – and does it with style.

Therein lies the genius of this series for me.

If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit, be warned that mild spoilers are coming up next.

From the first scenes, Beth’s story had me hooked. When she survives the car accident that killed her mother, Beth is sent to an orphanage. She demonstrates her strengths immediately, makes her place, and develops her own lifelong family.

The janitor is mildly shocked when Beth asks him to teach her how to play chess. Chess, he thinks, is not a suitable game for a young girl. Beth insists.

She knows her strengths and she goes after what she wants.

To his credit, the janitor is not jealous or dismissive. Quite the contrary. He respects and nourishes Beth’s desire to master the game, and she makes the most of her opportunity. Beth isn’t afraid to tackle the hard stuff.

As a teen, Beth is finally adopted. It’s a rough transition, but she doesn’t give up.

She redoubles her efforts to conquer the chess world, one match at a time. Beth’s competitive spirit literally saves her family from financial ruin.

In the 1960s, chess was very much a man’s game. Beth handles sex discrimination with panache. She vanquishes opponents match after match. In the process, she slays many of her own demons as well.

In short, the message is: women are skilled and courageous winners.

Some may find the story too unrealistic or too dark, but it’s also immensely entertaining and thoroughly hopeful. By the end, we feel that Beth Harmon will always triumph, in chess and in life.

What does any of this have to do with my Hunt for Jack Reacher thrillers, you may be wondering. My bestselling and award-winning series is a spin-off from my friend Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Each of my books uses one of Lee’s as the source material and jumps off into a totally new story.

The protagonist of Full Metal Jack is FBI Special Agent Kim Otto, assigned to work off the books to find Jack Reacher, who is being considered for a special classified assignment. Reacher is perhaps one of the most dangerous men alive. But is he friend or enemy?

Readers have described Kim as “a tiny stick of dynamite with a deadly aim.” She runs on her standard triple A's: ambition, adrenaline, and anxiety. She’s the bravest woman I know.

Full Metal Jack is the tenth novel in the series. Kim and her new partner are sent to Carter’s Crossing, Mississippi, where they face deadly threats from ruthless villains. Reacher fans will recall Carter’s Crossing as the setting for Lee Child’s source book, The Affair.

What follows is fast paced and explosive action as she seeks to fulfill her mission: find Reacher.

Strong women getting the job done in the face of insurmountable odds is the story. Beth Harmon and Kim Otto both celebrate the kind of inspiring heroine readers can admire. Kim Otto fans will no doubt spy the common ground here. Such as…

Beth’s “can do” spirit, the confidence she displayed (whether she felt confident or not), her competitive nature, and her ambitious goals are constant.

Her focus – steady on, always honoring her own way, ignoring naysayers who might defeat her.

Courage in the face of adversity and triumph over her challenges.

Size matters. Agent Otto is a petite Vietnamese-American woman pitted against an unbeatable giant: Jack Reacher. How can she possibly win?

Like Beth Harmon, Kim Otto proves the doubters wrong. She deploys well-honed skills, guile, wit, and tenacity against overwhelming personal and professional odds. She never, ever, ever gives up – even when she might be tempted to surrender. Or at least retreat for a while.

For me, Kim Otto and Beth Harmon are both Rogue Women for sure.

I grew up reading Rogue Women like Kim Otto and Beth Harmon. I still love reading and writing them today. How about you?

Thank you, Diane Capri! We are partial to Rogues like Kim Otto and Beth Harmon. Readers, who are your favorite female protagonists? 

Monday, November 30, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: An Exclusive Interview with Karna Small Bodman

Join Rogue Karna Small Bodman on Wednesday, December 2 starting at 7:17 pm EDT on the radio program Starstyle®-Be the Star You Are!


Host Cynthia Brian will interview Karna live about her novel TRUST BUT VERIFY, which features a member of The White House staff and an FBI Special Agent who race to unravel an explosive plot. It is one that threatens the lives of international financial leaders and would sink the stock market worldwide.

Karna's insider information can be found in all five of her published international thrillers (which have hit “#1 in Thrillers” on Amazon). These novels were inspired by the six years she served in The White House, including serving as the highest-ranking woman on The White House staff.

Her latest novel TRUST BUT VERIFY, won a silver award winner from the Military Writers Society of America! 

Don't forget to tune in on Wednesday, December 2 at 7:17 pm EDT. Click here to listen LIVE online!

If you miss the live show, you can find it archived with photos and descriptions HERE.

Friday, November 20, 2020

THE REAL BOOK SPY'S NOVEMBER 2020 RECOMMENDATION IS...

by The Real Book Spy

Janet Evanovich truly is an American treasure.

One of the most recognizable and best-selling authors alive today, Evanovich just released Fortune and Glory, the twenty-seventh book in her Stephanie Plum series. Billed as not only “the biggest case in Plum’s career,” but also, “the adventure of a lifetime,” Stephanie’s return couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

In a year where most are struggling, it’s crazy to think that fictional characters can cast such a sunny outlook in an otherwise bleak forecast, but they do. And for Evanovich’s legion of followers, this one will really help brighten their day.

Grandma Mazur just got married, and less than twenty-four hours later she’s already a widow. Having lost her new husband unexpectedly on their wedding night, Mazur ropes in Stephanie when she claims to have been left the keys to a “life-changing” fortune. But there’s a catch . . .

They have to find it.

As Stephanie and Grandma Mazur go on the hunt, it doesn’t take long for them (or readers) to find out that they aren’t the only one after the treasure. So too are at least two major enemies, and Gabriela Rose, a new foe who will test Plum in ways few have dared to try before her. 

A total scene-stealer, Rose brings terrific balance to the cast. In many ways, she’s almost like that person you love to hate because they’re almost so perfect that it’s borderline nauseating. (Be honest, we all know someone like that.) She’s great at everything, plus she’s absolutely gorgeous. She’s also incredibly smart, insanely driven, fierce, and for the first time, Stephanie realizes that she just might have found someone who can match her step for step. 

The mix of longtime adversaries and new ones creates an electric dynamic, and while readers might think they know how this one will play out, Evanovich proves she still has a few tricks of her sleeves.

To find out more, check out Night of a Thousand Authors, an event like no other before it, hosted by me and one of the Rogues. K.J Howe served as my partner in crime for this eight-hour livestream, and together (with some help from the guys at The Crew Reviews) we interviewed more than 50 authors. The night kicked off with Janet Evanovich, who dished on her new book, among other things, setting the tone for a fun, eventful night that I’ll never forget. 

We love The Real Book Spy and Night of a Thousand Authors! Readers, which Janet Evanovich book is your favorite? 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

HOW TO WRITE A THRILLER IN 8 EASY STEPS

by Jenny Milchman

OK, maybe not so easy. But I realized that we find so many amazing thriller and suspense titles on Rogue Women Writers—from a handful of just the most recent posts there are books by Wolf Bahren, Kate Flora, Barbara Ross, Richard Cass, Lisa Jewell, Gerry Boyle, and James Swallow—that it raises a question.

How do all these exciting, thrilling books come to be?

Using the lens of my own eleven-year, rejection filled writing journey (that’s me, surrounded by actual snail mail no’s), I thought I’d share some tips, strategies, and ideas from the long road between sitting down to write a book and seeing it on shelves or web pages. Hopefully emerging writers out there will learn something—or at least find a little fuel for their travels and travails—while thriller fans will gain insight into some of the behind-the-scenes action in the exciting world of their favorite books.

1. Where do writers get ideas? Every author has been asked this. The answers are as varied as the writers themselves. Inspiration can arise from a news story, a personal memory, or a what-would-happen-if scenario. For thrillers in particular, I like the approach of taking a normal, everyday situation, then twisting the knob until something goes horribly wrong. You’re standing in line at the supermarket and the person in front of you suddenly takes the clerk hostage. You’re picking your kid up at school—but all the doors are locked. For my first (never published) suspense novel, I was working as a psychologist-in-training when I got assigned the very scary case of a child who killed. I didn’t need to turn that one up to 11—it was already there!

2. How do writers start writing? One very basic dividing line between writers is whether you’re a Plotter (you plot out your story in advance, usually with an outline) or a Pantser (you write by the seat of your pants, letting the story winds carry you where they may). Of course, this division exists on a continuum; some may do a little bit of each while others may adhere far to either side. Outlines can range too. The great Jeffrey Deaver writes outlines as long as 100 pages or more—a good part of a book! Others like a scaffolding approach, such as the one Robert McKee describes in Story, where five high points form the skeleton of a story-to-be.

3. Ways to get the darn thing done. Some writers like to set word count goals—anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand per day. (Readers, that amounts to anywhere from one page to as many as ten or more). Other writers build their schedule around time—they write for anywhere from one hour to eight (five seems to be a sweet spot among authors; after that the creative bones start to sag). Writers who have a day job or young children must fit the writing in among other demands. But basically, when trying to finish a book, one or both of these approaches will not fail you. A) Sheer inspiration—you’re so excited to see what happens next, you just can’t wait to write. You wind up surprised each day and your readers will too! B) BIC, which stands for Butt in Chair. One page per day gives you a finished book in a year. Get going!

4. Wait, but what do I do when I finish? Well, first take a page from Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s Misery and come up with your own personal writerly celebration. If cigarettes and champagne don’t do ya, go for a night out, a walk, a swim, buy a box of doughnuts—could be anything, but make sure you signify this great accomplishment. Moments both small and large make us into, and make up our lives as, writers. Then…put the book in a drawer for at least two weeks, longer if you can stand it. Spoiler alert: I did not do either of these things, and I regret it.

5.  K, on it, what now? The single biggest mistake I would say I’ve made as a writer is not to realize the value of revision. I always have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. “But isn’t it good enooooough?” I moan. Well, no, it usually isn’t. It can almost always get better—stakes punched up; surprises more original versus the first ones we think of; characters carved deeper; that nice thriller arc forming a spike. Even before my agent or editor, I have learned to seek out trusty readers. If you are looking for some, in addition to the usual ideas, such as joining a writers group or relying on tough-but-honest friends and family, I recommend asking a book club to take your draft on as one of their selections. Book club members are close, insightful readers. You will learn which characters are loved and hated (hopefully the ones you intend to be!), whether your plot points are exciting or ho hum, and other elements of what makes a great read.  

6.  To be or not to be published traditionally. Most books in the thriller genre come from Big 5 publishers and three other established independents. There’s also a new(ish) way to publish in town and it’s called self-publishing. Deciding which path is right is one of the biggest decisions an emerging writer will make. I believe that this choice should be based on personality factors and a writer’s current situation versus one way being better than the other. For instance, how much control do you like to have? Are you on a tight timeline either because of events in your life, age, or something else? Answers to these and other questions will point you on your way.

7.  Traditional. I definitely want to be published traditionally. OK, great, then you need an agent. Which means you need a targeted agent list—peruse the acknowledgments in thrillers like the ones you find right here and on each monthly Rogue Reads lineup, in which writers often thank their agents; follow agents online—and a bang-up query letter. Write a pitch paragraph that reads a lot like the flap copy on a great thriller, and put it front and center in your query. Hook an agent like you’ll one day hook readers. I used this approach for my own querying and wound up with multiple offers of representation.

8.  My book just sold! OK, celebration time again. And then take a deep breath. Because as in the best thrillers, just when you think you’ve come to a plateau, gotten a little breathing room—there’s going to be a twist and yet more challenges ahead. But that’s okay. To paraphrase George Clooney in that greatest of thriller films, The Perfect Storm, you’re a gosh-darned thriller writer (or reader). Is there anything better in the world?

Readers, have you ever considered writing a thriller? Or, if you already have, which of these 8 tips can you vouch for?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: THE FIRST SHOT, prequel to THE LAST MRS. PARISH

THE FIRST SHOT, a prequel to the best seller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, is out today on Audible! 


Liv Constantine has done it again! In this gripping prequel listeners will discover exactly how Amber Patterson transformed from small-town girl to master manipulator - after all, practice makes perfect.

Amber Patterson has many secrets. This much is clear when she sneaks out of her home in the dead of night and hitchhikes across state lines to meet up with a man she hasn’t seen or spoken to since high school graduation. So begins her desperate attempt to leave her old life behind, and she’ll use everything and everyone at her disposal, from social media stalking to the kindness of unsuspecting strangers, to get where she needs to go. It’s not long before she’s ready for the main event: armed with a new identity and a new purpose, she heads to Gunnison, Colorado, preparing herself to meet her future husband among the wealthy vacationers. 

Even the smallest misstep could derail this carefully-laid plan, and in the end, can you even truly outrun your past? The First Shot is an absorbing, binge-able thriller that shows just how far some will go to build the lives they want.


And, it's free to download for Audible members! 

Congratulations, Liv Constantine, on another captivating story. Readers, don't forget to start listening to THE FIRST SHOT today!

Friday, November 13, 2020

WRITERS AND THEIR PETS: warning-- over-adorable photos below

by Liv Constantine

We reached out to six authors and asked them to send us a photo of their pet(s) and to tell us a little about what they love about them. And just for a little framework, we did some research on why having a pet is so very good for us.

The American Heart Association has associated pet ownership with reduced heart disease risk factors and greater longevity, whether it be a dog or cat. The stereotype that dogs are more affectionate than cats seems to be just that: a stereotype. In fact one study found that over a 10-year period cat owners were 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than non-cat owners.

Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland says of pets: “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.” Berger works with people who have cancer and terminal illnesses, teaching them about mindfulness to help decrease stress and manage pain.

“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”

Another study had children with autism spectrum disorder play with guinea pigs in the classroom, reporting that their anxiety levels dropped and suggesting that the unconditional acceptance offered by the animals was a comfort to the children.

And let’s face it, animals are adorable. They shower us with unconditional love, affection and loyalty. There are no other relationships in our lives where we are met with such adoration and acceptance. Not to mention the fun and playfulness they bring to our lives.

These terrific authors tell us what they love about their cherished pets:

Karin Slaughter, Dexter, and Maggie

“Maggie knows that this house is really hers and I’m just here visiting. And Dexter (the black cat) is a stone cold killer.”



Lisa Unger and Jak Jak

“Jak Jak is my eight-year-old Australian Labradoodle. He is a ham who tries to get into every Zoom appearance, a clown who makes me laugh every day, and my faithful writing buddy, always right by my side. Dogs, like kids, keep you grounded and centered. No matter what is going on in your life or your work, whether you’re having the best day or the worst day, you still have to throw the ball!”


Kimberly Belle and Tarzan

“Sometimes I wonder if Tarzan (a Maltipoo) was a cat in his past life. He can be aloof, and he's finicky, and he likes to sit in windowsills and watch the cars go by. And then he does something like this, hangs his head out the car window so his ears can flap in the breeze, and he’s 100% dog—the sweetest little thing with a king-sized personality.”


Kaira Rouda with Tucker (grey) and Frankie (white)

“Tucker and Frankie are my writing buddies, waiting patiently for me to take a break so we can play. The greatest thing about these two is that they’re best friends, have each other’s backs and always remind me that unconditional love is the best feeling.”



Heather Gudenkauf and Lolo

“Look at this sweet face! Lolo came into my family's life just when we need her most. She is my hiking, reading, binge-watching and snuggling in front of the fireplace sidekick.”


Wendy Walker and Coco

“The best thing about Coco is that he’s very affectionate and only barks when someone is coming up to the house. He loves walking anywhere and everyone he meets says he’s the sweetest dog he’s ever met.”


And lastly the Rogue dogs­­…

Valerie’s King Charles Cavalier Zorba

“Is this just the most precious face ever? Zorba is a little fur ball of love, happiness, sweetness and adorability. He’s my best bud, loves our walks together, follows me wherever I go, and is a great cuddler. Those soulful eyes get me every time! Total. Unconditional. Love.”


Lynne Constantine’s Greyson and Parker

“When I walk in the front door, whether I’ve been gone five minutes or five hours, Greyson (charcoal lab) and Parker (English cream golden retriever) are ecstatic to see me. Their adorable faces greet me as their tails go a mile a minute and they make me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. Every morning when I walk up the stairs to go to my office- they are there, waiting.”


“They are also great listeners and cheer me on during my writing. And as you can see, they’re both very involved in the editing process.”


Readers, tell us a little something about your pets and what they add to your life!