Wednesday, September 30, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: Read all about new Rogue JENNY MILCHMAN

by Liv Constantine

New Rogue and award winning author Jenny Milchman has been a storyteller all her life. Here is what she says:

“When I was five years old, my kindergarten teacher bound my first story in blue-flocked wallpaper, and I knew that I wanted to write books. Thank you, Ms. Berger. Even earlier than that, at around the age of two, I used to dictate bedtime stories to my mom, which she would write down. So you'll probably understand that writing… is a dream come true for me.”

Jenny's debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, was published by Ballantine/Penguin Random House in 2013, and earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, as well as praise from the New York Times

Her fifth novel, THE SECOND MOTHER, which Jodi Picoult described as “a gothic unraveling of a novel, as moody and atmospheric as the isolated island on which it’s set” was released in July of this year.

Jenny has served as Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, and is a member of the Sisters in Crime speakers bureau. She is a nationally recognized speaker and educator on writing and publishing. Her talks and workshops include "Happily Ever After & What Happened After That," "You, Lee & Me: Building an Author Brand," and "Psychological Approaches to Crafting a Bad Guy: Villains from the Inside Out".

She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated by over 800 bookstores in all 50 states and on five continents. Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day Field Trips--whereby schools in at-risk regions receive funds to send classes to the nearest local bookstore--began in 2015. They are a true labor of Jenny's heart, and with the help of talented book-lovers, authors, booksellers, and other advocates, she hopes ultimately to bring them nationwide.

One of the most energetic women we know and one who loves to connect with readers, Jenny lived for fifteen months on the road with her family on what Shelf Awareness called "the world's longest book tour." She is passionate about her craft, persevering through the long years she worked before selling her first novel. Jenny’s tenacity exemplifies the rogue spirit. Here in her own words:

“It took eleven years of dogged, sometimes exhilarating but oftentimes debilitating, work to sell my debut. If you are a writer out there, despairing of "it" ever happening, please take heart. If you have some talent, a love of the written word, and you don't stop will happen.”

Here’s how you can connect with Jenny:






Welcome, Jenny! We are SO excited to have you on board. Readers, be sure to join us on October 12 for the next Rogue Reads as Jenny will be one of the featured guests! 

Monday, September 28, 2020


Heather Martin’s authorized biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy, is out on 29th September from Pegasus Books in the US and from Constable at Little, Brown in the UK. Heather is a long-time Reacher fan. While waiting to get her hands on the next in the series, she once read a Lee Child book in Spanish and wound up writing to the author about the fate of his character in translation. The Reacher Guy is her first biography. 

Lee Child comments: "I met Heather Martin some years ago, and we started talking about why people love telling and hearing stories. To get more depth and detail we started talking about why I do. Eventually I said, 'If you want to really get to the bottom of it, you're going to have to write my biography.' So she did. It was a fun and illuminating process. I had forgotten a lot, and it was fascinating to be reminded. Now it all makes sense."

by Heather Martin

Child vs Reacher

Guessing how much of Lee Child there is in Jack Reacher is a popular past time among Reacher fans. Typically, people focus on the fighting. For the thrill of it, mainly. But otherwise for two fairly obvious reasons: Lee is famed for his fight scenes, and Reacher for his fighting. Each in his own field reigns supreme. 

Lee willingly aids and abets, declaring on the slightest pretext that ‘most of it is based on me when I was nine’. In the course of biographical research I found some evidence for this claim. First, the now legendary story of how, aged three, he started out by defending his nerdy older brother on the mean streets of Coventry, a responsibility that carried over into the school playground, where he ran a protection service for the weak and defenceless in exchange for biscuits. Then I met his best friend from high school, Andy, who told me that the first thing that came into his head when Reacher got into a fight in Killing Floor was: ‘this is Jim standing up to [school bully] Arthur Bates’. ‘He was a very loyal friend who couldn’t tolerate any kind of abuse. I lived in fear, and he would stand up for me.’

If they were to go mano a mano as adults, then Lee was likely doomed – Reacher was an inch taller and roughly twice as heavy – but if they’d met as nine-year-olds ... ? It isn’t just Reacher who plays dirty, shooting guys in the back and, in the very first novel, infamously reneging on a promise to count to three before going in at two with the headbutt (‘it was beautifully done’) – the young Jim Grant concealed double-edged razor blades in the lapels of his fancy school blazer. It isn’t just Reacher who doctors his own wounds, sticking his broken nose together with duct tape – if a tooth was knocked loose in a brawl, Jim would shove it back in with his thumb. 

Beautiful though he may be – ‘still gleaming and dewy with oil, flexible, supple, perfectly coordinated’, as we’re told in Second Son – reduced to a mere fighting machine Reacher would be boring. Which is why we love him equally for his Holmesian powers of deduction, his sensitivity to punctuation, and his winning ways with time and numbers. Come to think of it, this son of an American Marine, schooled on US bases in two dozen different countries, might as well have been classically educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England, founded back in the days of Shakespeare. I wouldn’t want to place any bets on who would win in a game of Trivial Pursuit.

But in my opinion, the thing that most endears Reacher to us is his old-world courtesy. Here he is seen through the eyes of a bunch of white-haired seniors at the start of 61 Hours: ‘He was quiet and polite. [...] Threatening behaviour from a man that size would have been unseemly. Good manners from a man that size were charming.’

Reacher always tips the waitress (Abby, in Blue Moon, is Lee’s farewell homage to his favourite character type). He always says thanks for the ride when he’s dropped off at the cloverleaf. He lends a discreet hand to the elderly. Washes the dishes with librarian Janet Salter (61 Hours) and, to cover for grieving mother Dorothy Coe (Worth Dying For) when the (very) bad guys come calling, even remembers to take his breakfast bowl, plate, coffee mug and full set of silverware with him as he closes the kitchen door quietly and sets off to his hiding place in the barn. He gets himself into all sorts of trouble helping Holly Johnson with her dry-cleaning at the start of Die Trying

In the early days of his success, Lee asked a woman in the signing line what had made her buy her first Reacher. ‘I saw you open the door for someone,’ she answered, ‘and thought, what a polite gentleman, I’ll buy his book.’ ‘He would never get on the bus ahead of me,’ said Alison, his date for the Barn Dance when they were both eleven years old. Jim wore a shirt and tie, she recalled, and was very polite. ‘He cared about everyone in the office,’ said Rob, his best mate at Granada Television. ‘He was a loving kind of guy.’ But quiet. Not chatty. ‘He kept himself to himself. He didn’t spill himself all over the place,’ said May, landlady of the local pub in Kirkby Lonsdale, where Killing Floor was written. Alison agreed: he wasn’t the easiest guy to talk to ‘about personal things’.

Of the nicknames Jim Grant had at school there were two that stuck with me. ‘Grievous’ (from ‘grievous bodily harm’, the equivalent in English law of ‘wounding with intent’). And Gentleman Jim. They pretty much summed up Reacher as well.

Thank you, Heather! We can't wait to order THE REACHER GUY. Readers, do you know any interesting fun facts about Lee Child?

Friday, September 25, 2020


by Lisa Black

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, I thought I’d take a look at the lesser-known trailblazing women of politics, women who were the first to break through the barriers of their time.

Only two years after the 19th amendment was ratified so that women could vote at all, Soledad Chavez de Chacon became the first Hispanic woman elected to a statewide office. That state was New Mexico, and Soledad—“Lala” to friends and family—did not stop there. It had been only one year since NM women had a right to run for any office, at any level of government (other than within the educational system).

Soledad would not strike anyone, then or now, as especially radical—other than to be well-educated as the graduate of a high school and a business college when most young people didn’t even achieve the former. She was married with two children, bright, and accomplished in many endeavors—excellent at cooking and crochet, could play bridge and the mandolin and taught piano. Like the rest of her family she stayed active in artistic and philanthropic organizations. 

According to lore she had been baking a cake when five men, including her newspaper editor brother-in-law, stepped onto her porch. They had come to ask her to run as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. The proper lady discussed it first with her father and her husband, then accepted. She was not alone; the Democrats also picked a woman for a different office and the Republican slate included two women as well. But the Democrats won. 

Soledad needed a good assistant secretary of state and asked her close friend Imelda Chavez, but Imelda’s husband didn’t want to make the move to Santa Fe. Soledad and other Democrats talked her own husband into taking the position. He didn’t want to, having looked forward to operating his own branch of the furniture business that employed him, but he agreed to take one for the family team. 

Soledad ran the office efficiently and effectively, winning a hearty reelection in 1924. But the real record-breaker came in the summer of 1924 when the governor left for two weeks to attend the national convention—and Soledad Chacon became the first female (acting) governor of a U.S. state. Normally it would have been the lieutenant governor, but he had died that spring. 

Soledad didn’t just warm the man’s seat. Among other duties she requisitioned the war department for funds for the state national guard, issued some public certificates, and traveled to Las Vegas with the poll books to settle a bitterly contested election of the San Miguel county sheriff. She also pardoned someone named Joseph Maloney and extradited a ne’er-do-well named Frank Ellis, otherwise known as Frank Shadows, for grand larceny. I can’t find any more information on either case, but someone calling himself Shadows surely needed scrutiny. 

But Soledad went on. In 1934 she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the state legislature from her county. There would not be another for forty-one years.

Tragically, her ground-breaking progress came to an abrupt end not by politics, but by health. Soledad Chavez de Chacon died of peritonitis in only the second year of her two-year term, one week shy of her 46th birthday. 

Undoubtedly, she would have gone much further—but even in her brief tenure she opened countless doors for those who would come after her.

Who do you think of when asked about a less-well-known trailblazer--of either gender, or occupation?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: Karna Small Bodman Wins Silver Medal

TRUST BUT VERIFY was awarded the honor Saturday, September 19th at the 2020 Annual Awards Banquet of the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA), the culminating event of the 2020 MWSA Virtual Conference. MWSA is a nationwide association of authors, poets and artists whose work honors the military and country through their work.

Karna Small Bodman is the author of five award-winning international thrillers that have hit #1 in Amazon Thrillers. She spent six years serving in The White House, first as Deputy Press Secretary, later as Senior Director and Spokesman for the National Security Council where she was the highest-ranking woman on the White House staff. She also was on the air for 15 years as a TV reporter and anchor in San Francisco and Washington, DC and did political commentary for the ABC Network in New York. 

TRUST BUT VERIFY tells the story of White House Homeland Security Director, Samantha Reid, who teams up with FBI Special Agent Brett Keating as they race to unravel a brazen plot that threatens the lives of international financial leaders and stock markets worldwide. To read MWSA’s full review, click here or go to Amazon to purchase the book.

Readers, have you had a chance to read TRUST BUT VERIFY?

Monday, September 21, 2020


Co-authors and friends going back 20 years, Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith originally conceived of the story MAKE THEM CRY as a screenplay while on ecstasy at Tim O’Brien’s wedding, but thankfully found that it worked better as a novel, and their writing styles and research perfectly complement each other. Smith Henderson is the author of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK and lives in Montana. Jon Marc Smith lives in San Marcos, Texas, and teaches English at Texas State University. MAKE THEM CRY, their first book together, is stylishly written and relentlessly plotted, with heart-pounding car chases and severed limbs. For fans of The Border and Jason Bourne, MAKE THEM CRY is an action-packed thriller of unimaginable stakes.


It took us a long time to figure out that Diane Harbaugh was the protagonist of MAKE THEM CRY. In early iterations of the story, back when it was still a screenplay, she started out as a character who’d been wronged, bent on revenge. These are good qualities for secondary characters to have—they react to things, they make trouble...but they don’t drive the story. But over time, Harbaugh just evolved into the most interesting character to us. She made herself into our hero. She took over. 

But more importantly, she created a richer, more character-driven narrative. The allowances we had in a novel—which is a less strict, less restrictive form than a screenplay—let us see that hers was the most compelling story. Harbaugh had the strongest desire, the biggest problems, the hardest row to hoe. She cared the most, and she faced the biggest dramatic consequences. Once she became our way into the world of the novel, we had no choice but to scrap our old plot and start over, this time focusing (most of) the story in Harbaugh’s POV. 

But it took us a long time to figure this out. Initially Harbaugh was the chief antagonist; and this remained true when we first changed the story into a novel. But eventually we realized that we’d started in the wrong place, too late in the story. We could tell partly because Harbaugh was reacting to things that had happened in the past. (Note: if the most compelling character in your story is only reacting, then you’ve got a structural problem.) For us, the issue was the foundation of the story. The timeline was all wrong, and some of the most interesting stuff in the story had “already” occurred. So we had to go back and start where the interesting stuff was happening. Only then did we realize that Diane was the driver of the plot. 

We always wanted to make Diane as rich and interesting as possible. We didn’t want her to be a sheer villain or a hero. She’s badass and brave, yes, but she’s also complicated and desirous and broken in her broken places, the way all of us are. But once this project ceased being an action movie and turned into a crime novel, Harbaugh became the center of the drama precisely because she was the character who caused the most to happen. 

In writing, sometimes the entire genre and central character of a story can shift. One of our heroes—if not an influence here, exactly—is David Lynch who is constantly in the flow of his projects. He creates by trying to get out of the way of his imagination, showing up on set open to the possibility that something major might change. He has faith that he’ll find an answer to a creative problem at the right moment. His book on meditation and creativity, Catching the Big Fish, is a tremendous work on the practice of letting the work itself tell you what it wants to be. You have to strike the balance between moving forward while listening to what the story is trying to tell you. Our lives are kind of like this too, individual instances of life itself trying to find unique expressions through each of us...mistakes and all. 

Fittingly, Harbaugh isn’t a superhero, though she does possess a superpower: she flips suspects by making them cry, breaking them down emotionally to turn them into cooperators. But she’s gone too far in manipulating a cooperator and she’s done sketchy things with her boss (we’ll let you read the novel to find out what). When readers first meet Diane, her job, and possibly even her freedom, is hanging by a thread. She must take drastic action to fix things—and for a story, that’s a pretty combustible place to start.

Thank you, Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith! We cannot wait to read MAKE THEM CRY. Readers, have you read a book with a character similar to Diane? If so, tell us everything

Sunday, September 20, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: How Lisa Black's 'day job' informs her novels

A nice spread in Florida Weekly magazine details an interview with thriller writer Lisa Black, in which she talks about getting published, how to process a crime scene and why readers are eternally drawn to mystery stories. 

She also introduces us to a forensic mannequin named "Bob" who has the unfortunate job of demonstrating bullet trajectories. 

However, getting her first book on the stands took longer than the article states--it says she wrote six, but she wrote six before switching to forensics from secretarial work. It took another three before one caught the eye of a major publisher. 

To read more, click here: Looking For Clues

Are you a fan of forensic shows? The fictional ones or the true-crime type? 

Friday, September 18, 2020


by The Real Book Spy

Mitch Rapp is back!

Those are by far my four favorite words in publishing, and this month, they’re once again true as Total Power, the latest thriller from Kyle Mills, hits bookstores.

Seven years ago, I was told by my doctor that I was dyslexic. As a child, I always knew reading and writing was much harder for me than other children. The same was true when I began my career as a sports journalist, only to lose confidence and quit my job after a single year. My doctor’s advice? “Just read. Read a lot. That’ll help.”

So, I did what any American with the full power of the world wide web at their fingertips would do. I Googled “dyslexic authors,” and decided to start there. Guess what name came up first?

You might see where this is going . . . but it was Vince Flynn.

What followed was a two-month period where I read everything Flynn ever wrote. I was hooked. Not just a fan, but a superfan. And yet, I had no idea just how much Vince Flynn and Mitch Rapp would change my life.

In 2013, Flynn—my very favorite author—passed away. A year later, it was announced that the series would continue with Kyle Mills on board to write three additional Rapp books. I can remember, quite vividly, the mix of emotions that overcame me when that announcement went out via email. I was thrilled that my favorite character was returning, but terrified that another author would be writing him. What if he was different, unrecognizable?

That fear vanished in a hurry, though, when I read The Survivor, Mills’ first contribution to the series, later that year. I was so incredibly thrilled that the Mitch Rapp on the page was the Rapp I knew and loved. Kyle Mills had done the impossible. He managed to fill the shoes of an iconic author, and in the process, elevate their series to new heights. I was stunned. Elated. And in many ways, I still am. 

Without Vince Flynn and Mitch Rapp, I never would have developed my deep love and appreciation for thrillers. It is therefore accurate to say that without Flynn, there is no Real Book Spy, if there’s no Book Spy, I’m not sitting here today writing this article for the Rogues.  

See? Mitch Rapp really did change my life. 

Oh, now is probably a good time to mention that my youngest son is named Mitchell Ryan. He’s two-years-old and we call him “baby Mitch Rapp.” Not because I’m a crazed fan (though I was determined to put Mitch and Ryan together), but because I’m so appreciative to Vince Flynn and what his characters, his universe, have done for me. What a wild ride! 

All of that brings me to Total Power

I read at least 200 books a year, and there’s nothing I look more forward to than Mitch Rapp’s return. To me, it’s like having my childhood best friend back in town for a weekend. We get to hang out, have fun, make new memories . . . and then we wait a year and do it again. 

Mills, as I said, has done an amazing job stepping in for Flynn and taking over this series. So much so, in fact, that I truly cannot imagine the franchise without him. This time around (Mills’ sixth Rapp novel to date), Rapp is called on when an enemy from within takes down America’s power grid right before Christmas, plunging the United States into a stone age-like state. 

Without electricity, people freeze to death. Others starve. The death rate soars, and within just a few weeks, it’s already the biggest catastrophe the United States has ever faced. Hope melts away, and panic—real panic—sets in as the whole world watches in horror as America crumbles. 

But America has a secret weapon. 

When the country goes dark, Mitch Rapp goes to work. And while he might not be able to restore the power on his own—Rapp sets out to find the individual behind the attack with two goals in mind: make them fix what they’ve done. Then make them pay for it. 

For my money, Total Power is the best thriller of the year, and it’s not close. Like the characters in Mills’ book, 2020 has been hard for so many of us. 

Maybe reading Mills’ book won’t inspire you to launch a website dedicated to all thing thriller, or name your kids have his characters, but I promise you this . . . dive into Total Power, and you’ll be thoroughly, helplessly entertained. 

Need an escape from 2020? Here it is. Happy reading! 

Note: If you’re a fan of Mitch Rapp, Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills, or just like talking about books, please join me as I host Kyle Mills for a virtual event this Saturday at Novel Bookstore in Memphis. Registration is free online, and open to everyone. We hope to see you there! 

Thank you to The Real Book Spy! We cannot wait to read Total Power. Readers, have you read any of the Mitch Rapp books?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

ROGUE FLASH: How Gayle Lynds broke into the spy game

She was told nobody wanted to read spy novels by women. She proved them wrong in a big way.

When you talk about barriers to entry, Gayle Lynds could write a book.

Well, she did. Several in fact.

The New York Times bestselling author remembers her struggles to get her first thriller manuscript published under her own name, even if she had the advantage of already having ghost written several novels under contract. But when she set out to write her own, she crashed into a bulwark of sex discrimination in the exclusive male spy genre—and it wasn’t just men blocking her path.

Yet there isn’t a hint of cynicism or anger in her voice when she talks about her history leading up to becoming one of the most popular spy novelists in the world. It started with Masquerade, proclaimed not only a thriller classic, but Publisher’s Weekly ranked it the eighth best spy novel ever written....

To read more, click here: "Gayle Lynds: My First Thriller," by Rick Pullen, CrimeReads, September 17, 2020

Are spy novels your cup of cyanide, too, Rogue readers? Please confess!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


by Karna Small Bodman 

A fellow member of the Author’s Guild suggested we create a thread of “Author Humor” to break up the monotony of always dealing with serious subjects of late. It is certainly true that authors are serious about doing excellent research, describing accurate locations, creating compelling characters and deciding how it all fits into a particular genre.  In the midst of these challenging times, the question is: can authors also have a sense of humor? The New Yorker magazine is famous for its cartoons and has included many that fit right into this scenario.

Authors are also serious about portraying emotions, and yet deciding how to “show, not tell” what a character is thinking, feeling, and reacting to a particular situation is the key to penning different types of novels from psychological thrillers to romantic comedies. How to incorporate emotions was also suggested in another great cartoon from that magazine.

Yes, taking the time to laugh at ourselves is always a good way to break up the serious writing tasks at hand, and when that Guild member asked authors to submit some bits of humor, here are a few contributions they made to that online thread:

“Why don’t ants get sick? Because they have little anty-bodies.”

“I own the chewed pencil that Shakespeare used to write his famous works. He used to chew on it so much that I can’t tell whether it’s 2B or not 2B.” 

“A prisoner goes to the jail’s library to borrow a book.  The librarian says, ‘We don’t have this book, but we have its author’.”

“Definition of a writer: one who slaves in complete solitude…for the sake of communication.”

“A truck loaded with thousands of copies of Roget’s Thesaurus crashed yesterday losing its entire load. Witnesses said they were stunned, startled, aghast, taken aback, stupefied, confused, shocked, rattled, dazed, surprised, dumbfounded, perplexed, and speechless.”

If you would like to check some of the books that include a great deal of humor, let me tell you about a few of new novels written by New York Times bestselling authors.

The first is by a friend and neighbor, Janet Evanovich who began her writing career penning romance novels for, as she describes in her bio she was initially paid a whopping $2,000. After several years, she got a great idea to create a story about Stephanie Plum, a girl from New Jersey who is unemployed, desperate, and finally takes a job as a bounty hunter in Cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds office. The first in the series, One for the Money, was made into a feature film starring Katherine Heigl. The latest in her world-wide bestselling series is #27, Fortune and Glory which is available for pre-order and described as “The adventure of a lifetime.” 

Another author who uses humor in his terrific New York Times bestselling novels is Fredrik Backman, the author of A Man Called Ove. His new novel, Anxious People was released just last week. It is about: 
A “crime that never took place,” and is described by Publishers Weekly as “A witty, light-hearted romp” The Amazon Reviewer writes, "Backman is a funny, charming storyteller . . . there are twists and surprises, and beneath it all, there is  deep sense of warmth and empathy." (Things we could all use right about now -- right?)

One last talented writer who is truly a master-of-humor is Christopher Buckley. Often dubbed “America’s greatest living political satirist,” his books have been translated into 16 languages, and he has lectured in 70 cities around the world -- which means he has brought his special brand of hilarity to
millions of readers in far-flung countries. Buckley’s latest contribution to today’s somewhat “crazy scene” is Make Russia Great Again.                                                                
Yes, these are indeed challenging times for all of us – authors, readers, families, friends. And yet, in the midst of this “serious atmosphere” perhaps you’ll agree that at times humor can be the best medicine.

Do you have a funny line or humous book you’d like to share with all of us? Please leave it in a comment here. Meanwhile, stay safe and thanks for joining us here on Rogue Women Writers. 

Friday, September 11, 2020


by Gayle Lynds

Ever wonder why so many suspense novels and thrillers top the best-seller lists and have millions of readers? 

When I first started writing, I thought about that a lot. I knew I personally loved characters with whom I wanted to spend a lot of time, and stories that kept getting better and more intriguing as I turned the pages.

After a while, I began to see that most of the books with the greatest number readers and sales had those qualities not just for me, but for a lot of people. How was that achieved, I wondered? 

Here’s what I’ve learned....

RULE #1. It’s no secret — the greatest thrillers are not only pulse-pounding page-turners, they’re vested with the excitement of characters who breathe life on the page. If there are any rules, three-dimensional characters is the first one.

Heroes and heroines come in all sizes and shapes, and they don’t have to be superhuman. They can start as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. As the story unfolds, they find unknown courage and strength and ultimately risk a great deal to act. 

Many of us don’t see those qualities in ourselves, but the truth is that for some people, rising out of bed every day to face what seems to them a cold and unfriendly world is an act of bravery. A character like that could be enthralling as he or she steps forward to face a dangerous situation and resolve it.

RULE #2. At the same time, whether you’re writing about spies and politicians, as I do, or lawyers, scientists, or floral designers, the second rule is for you, the author, to be captivated by your subject. If you’re not, how can you expect your reader to be? There’s nothing duller than a novel about espionage when the author has no real interest in intelligence, or about art thieves when the writer has no emotional connection to art.

But if you’re curious about how a spymaster convinces an “asset” to work for him even though it’s against the asset’s best interests, or how a thief can identify a real Georgia O’Keeffe from a fake one, then you’re embarking on what could be a mesmerizing adventure — and readers will be excited to join you.

RULE #3. Among the traits that top thrillers share is a “high concept.” Unfortunately, that’s a term tarnished by Hollywood’s misunderstanding of it. A high concept is simply a wonderful, catchy idea that appeals to the imagination.

For instance: A young man returns home from college to find his uncle has killed his father and married his mother. I’m sure you recognize the famous story — William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Shakespeare was the king of high concept.

RULE #4. Another commonality you’ll want to consider is high stakes. If you’ve attended novel-writing classes, you’ve no doubt heard endlessly the admonition, “You must have conflict!” Indeed. But not just any conflict. Thrillers are writ large, with big ideas, and ultimately big characters. So the conflict must be both personal for the hero and heroine, and large, too — for a group.

In a thriller about art thieves, the high stakes could be a shipment of paintings that will bring down a city government if the leaders are revealed to have been profiting from it. Or perhaps an illegal arms shipment is about to secretly arrive at a dock in a troubled city and shift the balance in favor of terrorists. That’s a frightening thought, isn’t it? Conflict!

RULE #5. Thrillers also tend to be written in multiple viewpoint. In other words, through the eyes of each major character, almost as if you’re creating a separate novel about each. In your plot, the stories intersect at dramatic moments.

Multiple viewpoint gives a sense of sprawl, of momentousness, and it’s a tool to involve the reader deeply, because readers make an emotional commitment to characters when they’re inside the character’s mind, thinking and feeling along with the character.

Once you become skilled at multiple viewpoint, you’ll discover that when two characters have a confrontation, the reader will be invested in both. And when that happens, the reader is riveted, unconsciously rooting for both — even if one is the villain.

RULE #6. In all books, from so-called literary to the lowest of pulp novels, the character of the villain, the villain’s ultimate goal, and the lengths to which the villain will go to achieve it, drive your plot. 

In other words, your villain puts your hero and a group in growing jeopardy — financial, moral, environmental, or some such — and the hero must respond each step of the way.

A tip.... If you don’t respect your villain, neither will your reader, and your hero will lose an opportunity to grow believably. Too often I read manuscripts in which the author unwittingly uses details that weaken the villain or even poke fun at him or her. Don’t let your villain act like a fool or be stupid. Make your villain smart, a more-than-worthy opponent — and not only will your hero thank you, you’ll be able to create a much stronger plot.

RULE #7. Thrillers are known for their exotic settings. All of us like to travel in our minds to other worlds, other experiences, and have an adventure. Thrillers by their nature guarantee that, and it’s one of the reasons readers love them. Still, you don’t have to place your novel in Timbuktu or Paris or ancient Constantinople, although you certainly may.

You can create an exotic atmosphere in what appears to be an ordinary setting — a zoo, a newspaper, a morgue, a hotel, a ghost town, a palace. Part of your job is to make that environment fresh, to give details that open your readers’ eyes so they feel the spine-tingling excitement of being on a journey of discovery. 

Rule #8. Make your settings work for you. Use them to explore character and enhance suspense. For instance, if a villain is chasing and shooting at a character through a dark forest, the potential victim isn’t going to view the forest as lovely. 

Instead, the victim will see shadows as worrisome, forbidding, and the noise of a squirrel rustling away as a warning that the hunter is closing in.

Rule #9. Perhaps the most critical tool in your thriller arsenal is suspense. I keep two words clipped to my bulletin board — “jeopardy” and “menace.” Simply put, your hero and heroine must be in jeopardy, and your villain must provide menace. But never use heavy-handed techniques such as “Had I but known….” Readers are far too sophisticated these days, thank goodness.

You're learning to build suspense throughout your novel. You'll feed it with your descriptions and choice of settings and the resulting atmosphere that reflects a character’s mood. Suspense increases as multiple viewpoints argue about what’s happening and what they can or can’t do. Suspense peaks periodically as more and more of the high stakes are revealed. Suspense becomes riveting as the villains and heroes become more deeply invested in succeeding. 

By the book’s end, the suspense is intrinsic as both the antagonist and protagonist go head-to-head in the novel’s climax.

RULE #10. The idea that thrillers are empty-headed chase books is antiquated. Yes, there are always weak and even bad books in all fields, and the thriller genre is no exception. But at the same time there are also literary and important novels in all fields, too, including in ours.

Don’t be satisfied by a superficial story or mediocre writing. Learn your craft. A good book takes time to write, particularly in the beginning of your career. Another way to look at it ... if writing well is important to you, invest all the time, attention, respect, and care you would in a great love affair.

AND FINALLY.... As you grow as a writer, the tools I’ve talked about here will become more and more natural to you, and you’ll need to focus less and less on them individually. That’s not to say that writing thrillers — or writing any book — is undemanding.

It’s true we can analyze and dissect endlessly, trying to understand precisely what goes into a thrilling suspense tale, and most of us will keep doing that our entire careers. Why? Because we always want to grow, to be better. That makes writing even more satisfying — and fun.

Are you writing a novel, dear Reader? Or contemplating one? Please tell us how it’s going!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


Brian is a US Navy veteran, nuclear engineer, and former submarine officer. He holds degrees from Vanderbilt and Cornell Universities and is a Park Leadership Fellow. Brian co-authors the Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon best-selling TIER ONE military thriller series with Jeffrey Wilson under the co-author brand Andrews & Wilson. Starting 2021, he and Jeff will be taking over duties writing the W.E.B Griffin Presidential Agent Series. His latest novel, COLLATERAL, is available now wherever books are sold. 


When I was a submarine officer in the US Navy, collaboration and teamwork was a prerequisite for operational success. No one person can command and operate a multi-billion dollar, nuclear powered, underwater, machine of war all by him or herself. In the civilian world, trying to build and run a successful business by yourself is equally daunting. I can’t name a single Fortune 500 company with only one employee. Which is why, as a veteran and former business owner, when I decided to throw my hat into the thriller novelist ring, I automatically gravitated to the idea of co-authoring. For me, it was a natural fit to want to collaborate with a partner—someone whom I could share the workload, brainstorm, and also swap motivational duties. Because let’s be honest, writing novels can be a very lonely business. After writing my first two novels by myself, I realized it was time for a change.

Enter Jeff Wilson, stage left. 

Like me, Jeff is a US Navy veteran. Like me, Jeff was a published author but also somebody who appreciated and understood the power of teamwork and collaboration. We met as ITW debut authors at Thrillerfest seven years ago and became fast friends. After mulling the logistics of co-authoring for bit, we came up with a plan and started collaborating on our first novel. That novel was TIER ONE, a military thriller that tells the story of a decorated Navy SEAL and his story of transformation and retribution after terrorists deal the United States special operations a horrifying blow. TIER ONE was released by Thomas & Mercer in September of 2016 and became an Amazon bestseller. Fast forward to the present and Jeff & I have collaborated on a dozen novels since TIER ONE’s release—a feat we never imagined possible five years ago. As a testament to the effectiveness and efficiency of our model, we are now writing three thriller series (TIER ONESONS OF VALOR, and THE SHEPHERDS). 

Both readers and other authors are often curious about co-authoring and how we make it work. One of the most common questions concerns division of labor and mechanics of our method. I think curiosity is the main driver, but people are also interested to know if we’ve discovered the “secret ingredient” to cooking up a great novel in the co-authoring kitchen. In the immortal words of the Kung Fu Panda: “there is no secret ingredient.” 


That said, we are very open and forthcoming when it comes to talking about our process. We write using the Three-Act Structure. We brainstorm each Act sequentially and we write them in order. We divide up writing duties by chapter and POV. Every Andrews & Wilson novel is written in the third person with multi-POVs, and we are very disciplined in having only one POV per chapter.

The next most popular question we get is who writes which characters? Many readers assume, for example, that one of us writes all the John Dempsey chapters and the other writes all the Elizabeth Grimes chapters in the TIER ONE books, and that we just blend them together. That’s not the case, however. We rotate character POVs so that both authors get a chance to spend time in every character’s head. 

The invariable follow-up question becomes “then how do you get a consistent voice throughout the novel?” The answer to that is a single word: EDITING. In our method, both authors make multiple passes with permission to change any and all prose as deemed necessary. By the conclusion of the developmental editing phase, every sentence in the book has been “rewritten” by both authors—the end result being a singular voice, not Brian Andrews, not Jeff Wilson, but Andrews & Wilson.

If I was forced to name a secret ingredient to our partnership (even though I stand by my previous “there is no secret ingredient” statement) it would be trust. Co-authoring will not and cannot work without trust—which I think is one of the key reasons we were recently asked by industry legend Tom Colgan, to pen the next novel in the late, great W.E.B Griffin’s PRESIDENTIAL AGENT series for Putnam. As one of the pioneers in the military thriller genre, Colgan has been trusted by both the Clancy and Ludlum estates to manage their iconic legacies and hand pick authors to carry the proverbial torch onward. 

In picking Andrews & Wilson for the Presidential Agent series, our collaborative model undoubtedly factored into the decision because William E Butterworth III was no stranger to the co-authoring model. In his case, he collaborated with his son, William E Butterworth IV on the very series we will be taking the mantle on. Which brings me back full circle to the beginning—a new partnership, a new collaboration, and an unknown destination…but a whole lotta trust for the Griffin estate and Penguin Random House to hand us the keys such a vaunted series. 

If you enjoyed this blogpost, you can find more of Brian’s thoughts and writing advice at Career Authors where he is both a principle and regular contributor. You can find links to all his books at or follow him on Twitter: @lexicalforge and his Amazon Author Page to stay informed about all his new releases. 

Thank you, Brian Andrews! Readers, if you had to write books with another person, who would you choose?

Friday, September 4, 2020


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

Summer under the cloud of COVID--Rogue Chris Goff discussed her silver linings. 
What happens when children and grandchildren move in for an unexpected four months this summer? Gayle Lynds reveals fun doing goat yoga, lake swimming, & much more in her surprising Covid Summer.

Karna Small Bodman wondered why we turn to our dogs for moral support during such challenging times. 

Lisa Black warned us of the dark side of online romances. 

Hank Phillipi Ryan's The First to Lie was The Real Book Spy's August recommendation, with tips for working as an undercover journalist!

And a #RogueFlash brought us news of two new releases from Rogue writers: The Silent Conspiracy by L.C. Shaw, and Every Kind of Wicked by Lisa Black. 

ZJ Czupor explains the origin of the phrase the butler did it! and its history with mystery writer icon Mary Roberts Rinehart. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020


ZJ Czupor is an award-winning writer. His current novel, Cut Right Through Me, is seeking representation. He is vice president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and writes a monthly column, “The Mystery Minute.” He also co-chairs Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s annual literary competition. In 1990, he and his wife co-founded The InterPro Group, one of Denver’s leading marketing and public relations firms. They are proud to be owned by two beautiful, and way too smart, rescue collies.

by ZJ Czupor

The Butler Did It

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1859–1930) “The Musgrave Ritual” an 1893 detective story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, a butler plays an important plot point. While not the central villain, the butler in this tale, however, is found dead beside the Musgrave family treasure. So begins the appearance of butler’s in mystery novels.

In 1921, the British novelist Herbert George Jenkins (1876-1923), in his novel The Strange Case of Mr. Challoner, mentions a criminal butler.

Five years later (1926), in Agatha Christie’s (1890–1976) novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, suspicion falls on a man named Parker, who was Ackroyd’s butler. Parker, of course, had a criminal past.

But the phrase, “The butler did it” is most commonly attributed to Pittsburgh native Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958)—known as the “American Agatha Christie.” Interestingly, she preceded Christie by fourteen years and was one of the most successful American mystery writers of the early 20th century.

Mary was a popular writer who authored more than fifty novels, many of which were best sellers. She also was a prolific playwright. At one point, three of her plays ran simultaneously on Broadway. 

The impetus that set Mary to writing was the need for money. The stock market crash of 1901 hurt her and her husband financially. They lost all their savings putting them $12,000 in debt, or about $347,000 in today’s dollars. She had been a nurse, a doctor’s wife, and mother to three sons. She took up writing to earn income. In 1908, at the age of 31, she published her first novel, The Circular Staircase, which sold 1.25 million copies.

Two of her sons, Stanley Jr. and Ted, co-founded Farrar & Rinehart publishing company in New York in 1929.

In 1930, her novel The Door was published in which (spoiler alert) the butler did it. However, the words “the butler did it” do not appear in the book. 

Say what?

It wasn’t until her novel was adapted into a musical comedy called, The Butler Did It, Singing,” that the phrase was attributed to Mary.

The play’s plot features Miss Maple, a wealthy widow, who invites a group of mystery writers to an isolated house where they must impersonate their fictional detectives. She places scary items around including a hairy face at the window and the threat of an escaped lunatic. Trouble breaks out when a dead body appears on the sitting room carpet. The dead body wasn’t planned.

Over time, the trope became so popular it was considered a cliché and often satirized. For example, in 1933, Damon Runyon (1880–1946) published the satirical story, “What, No Butler?”

Mary was also the first writer to use the device where the story’s narrator is the “once naïve but now older and wiser woman.” 

In 1920, she created a super-criminal character called The Bat—in a play that was a smash hit on Broadway. The story combined elements of mystery and comedy and featured a masked criminal whose calling card was a black paper bat that he tacked to doors. Life Magazine claimed more than ten million people saw the play and it grossed more than $9 million. The novel of the same name is cited by Bob Kane (1915–1998) as one of his inspirations for the famous DC Comics superhero we know as “Batman.”

Her novel The Bat was released in 1933 by RCA Victor as one of the earliest talking book recordings.

Mary’s style had a lot in common with the hardboiled school of detective fiction and is part of the American school of scientific detection. Her most memorable tales combined murder, love, ingenuity, and humor in a distinct style. The New York Times said, “She helped the mystery story grow up.”

After Mary published her last novel, A Light in the Window (1954), she was crowned with a Mystery Writers of America Special Award. 

After her husband’s death, Mary almost was the victim of a murder attempt on her life. Her long-time servant and chef Blas Reyes, a Filipino, was distressed he couldn’t go home. He first tried shooting Mary, but the pistol wouldn’t fire. He then tried slashing her with kitchen knives but was stopped in time by her gardener and chauffeur. Authorities considered it an act of insanity. The next day Reyes committed suicide in his jail cell. 

Mary died at 82 in New York City. She and her husband are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of her death—1958—her novels had sold over ten million copies. 

Thank you for this enlightening piece about Mary Roberts Rinehart, ZJ! Readers, do you have a favorite mystery book that includes a suspicious butler?