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?