Clichés and How To Use Them

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about why cliches are not always a bad thing, a lazy way of writing.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

I was watching the News Hour some time ago when they had a special correspondent on from NPR. I am always interested in putting a face on the people I hear so often on the radio and was especially interested in what she had to say, so paid close attention. However, I quickly started to pay attention to something else. Clichés. Her piece was filled with them.

I probably wouldn’t have been so struck be that if I hadn’t attended all those writing classes. Don’t use clichés, we were told. Go through your manuscript and take them all out. They are the lazy person’s way to express themselves and an editor will immediately reject you if you use them. Besides, they mark you as uneducated, uninformed, not willing to go the extra mile to properly express yourself.

For a long time, I have had a horror of those innocent little expressions.

However, the more I thought about them the more I wondered. Are they really so awful? Didn’t they come into being because they were a good shortcut to express a very real sentiment? I’ve known as many people with college degrees whose speech is littered with clichés as those who still are struggling to get their GED. Maybe more. I’ve found they can come in handy when writing dialog. They can help you define the personality of a character. That character doesn’t have to come across as lazy, ignorant, or anything other than that’s the way they talk.

It’s the way we all talk. If we didn’t use them so often, they wouldn’t be clichés. Of course, if you are going to use them, it’s a good idea to use them appropriately. My grandmother used to pepper her speech with them. One of her favorites was “until the last dog was hung.” I don’t think she realized that little cliché sprung from testing the gallows in jolly old England back in the days when they hung people for just about anything, and they had a surplus of stray dogs. They really did hang dogs until they had the timing and the tension on the rope just right. Ugg. Needless to say, I haven’t told my dogs that story.

I knew someone who kept referring to a relative as “my shirttail relative.” That usually means someone who hangs onto your shirttail while you drag them along behind. It’s a faintly disparaging term. Only, in this case, the relative was pretty rich and handed out possessions and money to the rest of the family.

So, maybe it’s not the cliché that’s at fault, but the way we use them. Maybe all those writing teachers really meant we’re only lazy writers if we don’t use them properly, knowing what they mean. Maybe what they were against was using them as short cuts, just throwing them in without thought, because we’ve always said that phrase, or heard it used, without wondering where it came from or what it really means.  I can live with that. So, from here on, I am going to feel free to use whatever cliché appeals to me but will research it first to find out what I just said. And that’s no cliché.


Mystery Writing Is Murder—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

Gnarly’s Facebook Page:
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

American Journalist and Biographer Gene Fowler once said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Yeah, right. Try writing murder mysteries. Not only will drops of blood be forming on your forehead, but it will be dripping out of your eyeballs as well.

I’m sure any author of any genre will claim that theirs is the most difficult to write.

Take romance, for example. Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. They fight. They realize their hatred for each other is really sexual tension. They give into “the urge.” They fight again. They discover they can’t live without each other. They get married. The End.

For a twist, let’s do romantic-suspense. Girl meets Boy. Boy meets Girl. One of them is a secret agent or hit man working for the government or undercover cop—whatever—one of them is in a dangerous line of work that puts the other in the line of fire. They are running for their lives and both look really hot while bullets are whizzing over their heads. They find a moment of peace to do the deed. Bad guys get the jump on the couple. One of them is taken hostage. The other saves him/her. The bad guys are killed and the couple lives happily ever after. The End.

Admittedly, it is tough for writers of these genres because putting the twist to the general plotline to keep things fresh for their readers is a real challenge. How many ways can you kiss? How many ways can you describe a kiss?

As a murder mystery writer, I claim that murder mystery writing is the tougher game, especially for writers, like me, who prefer to keep their books character driven and to have their protagonist solve the case with his brilliant intellect.

Some readers, and writers, have found that the reality of technology and the justice system has thrown a monkey wrench into the general murder mystery premise:

Someone gets killed. Detective surveys the scene. Questions all of the witnesses. Tracks down suspects. Cunning Killer lies. Detective is stumped. Cunning Killer slips up. Brilliant Hero detects the Killer’s mistake. Traps Killer. Killer confesses and goes off to prison.

Justice prevails.

Any fourth grader knows that such is not the case in real life.

Between technology: “Oh, you say you were never in that room? Well, we found your DNA from where you sneezed on the victim’s baloney sandwich right before you slit his throat with the butter knife.”

And justice system: “Is that all you got? A car filled with nuns saw your suspect running out of the house with a bloody knife in his hand at the time of the murder? His defense attorney is going to claim that they are conspiring to railroad him into jail because he’s Jewish. Come back with something more and I’ll get you a search warrant for the bloody knife.”

Some mystery writers see this as a killjoy. What fun is there in having a dull computer database spit out the name of the killer, especially when it’s someone who wasn’t even on the protagonist’s radar? Then, many readers, myself included, get frustrated when the mystery turns from a whodunit, but how-are-we-gonna-catch-‘em?

This is where the rubber hits the road. In reality, these hurdles add to the fun for the author. It doesn’t take away from the protagonist. Real detectives, true-life protagonists, deal with these real issues every day.

Sure, the computer database, devoid of personality, may spit out the pieces of the puzzle, just like the collection of witnesses may lay out their pieces of the puzzle. A clever defense lawyer may throw up legal hurdles to protect the killer—but hasn’t that always been the case?

Today’s real detectives come up against different types of hurdles than the investigators of fifty years ago, which were different from the hurdles fifty years before that.

While the murder investigation game may be different than it was in the days of Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason, it hasn’t become any less thrilling.

One thing that has not changed: Murder has been around since the days of Cain and Abel. As long as there are motives for murder, it will never go away. Also, protagonists will always have to be on their toes to anticipate and find their way over hurdles thrown up by their antagonists.

The game of writing murder mysteries is always changing—and never dull.


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Why Mozambique? Why Not?—and a Giveaway!

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he embarked on a different way to write about the world. For more information, go to:

Setting a thriller in Mozambique is a bit risky. I mean, who’s even heard of the country? Why not pick a location that readers recognize? I thought of that, but decided against it. For one, Mozambique is a fascinating country. Second, verisimilitude. The story I tell in the novel is based on real developments, why not set in a place where it’s actually happening? Third, the people are very nice. To help readers become familiar with the country, here’re the FAQs.

Where is it? Mozambique is in southeastern Africa, right across from Madagascar. It has a population of almost 29 million people and a per capita income of $1,265 per year. The country is about twice the size of California and has some 1,535 miles of coastline, much of it sandy beaches. It has a tropical climate with wet seasons from October to March and a dry season for the rest of the year.

What’s with the funny shape? You can thank Europe for that. During the late 19th century scramble for Africa, European countries were jockeying for colonial possessions. Portugal had been present in Mozambique since 1500. But the 1884-85 Berlin conference decreed that any claim to land had to be backed up by actual presence there. In the words of historian Malyn Newitt, it was a bit like musical chairs, when the music stopped, that’s where the lines were drawn.

Did anything happen before that? Sure. The area was populated about sixteen to eighteen hundred years ago as part of the migration of Bantu-speaking people from central Africa to the southern tip. About a thousand years ago, the entire eastern coast of the African continent was part of a wide-ranging trading network that linked it to the Arab peninsula, India, China and Africa. Arab and Persian traders were frequent visitors. Mozambique’s location on the ocean helped make it an important gateway to the interior of southern Africa. Kingdoms, like the Great Zimbabwe kingdom, exported gold, ivory and slaves in exchange for textiles, porcelain and other goods.

How long has the country been independent? Since 1975. But it took over a decade of struggle to get there. During the conflict, the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO, Mozambican Liberation Front) with about 7,000 fighters faced some 60,000 Portuguese soldiers. The struggle ended when a left-wing military coup in Lisbon overthrew the dictatorship. The 250,000 Portuguese settlers there were none too happy. Their lifestyle was coming to an end. Mia Couto, the Mozambican novelist, described their reaction like this: “These traitors [the soldiers in Lisbon, MN] are selling us off to the blacks.” A year later, the country became independent.

It’s been smooth sailing ever since, right? Uh, no. White-ruled South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were alarmed to have a majority ruled country on their borders, especially one that gave sanctuary to resistance groups from both countries. Right after independence, the Rhodesian secret service began funding and arming the opposition group Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO, Mozambican National Resistance). The ensuing civil war lasted until 1992. The toll was horrific and it set back the economy dramatically. Only in 1994 were the first democratic elections held and have been repeated at regular intervals ever since.

Why are the people so poor? Hmm. Difficult question. I know everybody is tired of hearing about colonialism. But bear with me. Portuguese rule was ruthless and created an exploitative and coercive economy. To make the colony pay for itself, local farmers were forced to produce crops for export to Portugal, these included cotton, cashew nuts, tea and rice. In addition, the colonial government allowed South Africa to recruit workers for its diamond and gold mines, earning a good commission for each person. So the country was structured as an extractive economy. There was little investment in manufacturing. Today, the top exports are aluminum, electricity, liquified gas and tobacco. Not a whole lot different. I know it’s been a long time, but remember institutional structures persist long past the time when they were useful. Economist Douglas North got a Nobel prize in economics for that insight.

Add to that poor economic policies during the 1980s, often inspired by Soviet models that had zero insight into tropical agriculture and you get the idea. It also hasn’t helped that some public officials have been corrupt. But let me say this, corruption exists in all countries, the rich countries simply have better ways of dressing it up. In other words, if Mozambique’s economy hadn’t been structured the way it was, the corruption would’ve been called “constituent service.” Current growth projections range from 5% to 7% annually, but much of that still comes from exporting natural gas, discovered in 2012. Also, see the previous question.

What about the culture? Mozambique has a thriving music scene. Marrabenta is by far the most popular dance music. Check out Mabulu performing live in Lisbon. Other styles include Timbila and, the latest, Pandza. Artists in the genre include Lizha James ,who won the MTV Africa award in the Lusophone category, and Rosalia Mboa.

There are a few writers of note in Mozambique. Most have not been translated. Paulina Chiziane was the first Mozambican woman to publish a novel. Mia Couto, mentioned above, is a novelist and non-fiction writer and probably best known outside the country. I should add that Henning Mankell, world famous author of the Wallander series, used to live in Mozambique starting in 1986 on a part-time basis. He was the artistic director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.

Photo credits:
Map-Public Domain Wikipedia
Island of Mozambique – Steve Evans – Creative Commons
Portuguese Troops – Joaquim Coelho – Free Use
Land Mine Victim – Ton Rulkens – Creative Commons
Maputo – Andrew Moir – Creative Commons


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winning name will be drawn
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Shooting Off My Mouth

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share her thoughts about high school then and now and the giant problem we all face.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.   //

I’m not a particularly political person but it’s important to address the elephant in the room. The most recent school shooting in Florida had the positive effect of getting teens off video games and their cell phones and apathy turned to protest. They marched. They carried protest signs. I haven’t heard of any sit-ins yet but this isn’t Berkeley and it isn’t the ‘60’s.

I remember the ‘60’s. I came from a conservative military family and went to a conservative high school. The girls wore knee-length dresses, the guys wore dress shirts and good pants. We were respectful to teachers, did our homework, cheered the football team. No pregnancies and only one drug incident that I remember.

We attended school without armed guards or gun-toting teachers. We didn’t go to classes with the fear of being gunned down. The things we worried about seem banal now: will I get good grades, do I have the latest fashion (the trend was knee socks at the time), will somebody ask me to the prom? We never asked “Will I make it out alive today?”

High school and all those raging hormones that go with post-puberty seem to target young men more than females. Deep seated resentment and insecurity, rejection by peers and bullying all build up to violence. But, wasn’t it the same when I went to school? What was the solution back then?

In the military I was told to shoot a gun. I refused. I will shoot pool, hoops and from the hip, but guns paralyze me. When I worked as secretary to a narcotics team at the Sheriff’s office, I was constantly around firearms. It was part of their uniform but we never had a shooting while I was there.

I have a solution to the gun problem. If someone wants to kill people at schools, churches, concerts and movie theatres, ban all guns and make them use knives. The body count will be fewer. A bullet from a distance isn’t as personal as being close to the target. Knives are so much more intimate. A killer gets to experience the blade struggle through skin and bone and look into the eyes of the victim. If it’s really necessary to prove superiority or make people pay for perceived mistreatment, don’t do it like a coward with just a trigger finger involved.

Maybe these mass murderers feel their actions will put them in the history books. Sorry, kid. History only remembers the biggies like Oswald, Ruby, Sirhan Sirhan, John Wilkes-Booth, Mark David Chapman and OJ. All you get is 15 minutes of fame while loved ones get a lifetime of pain.

Quest for Le Mot Juste

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at

For those of us who love language, fireworks go off in our brains when we encounter the right word.  Mark Twain, who so often chose the right word, put it this way: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”

The French have a phrase for that perfect choice of word – le mot juste.  Gustave Flaubert, who coined the expression, agonized over each and every word he wrote.  He strove for precision and clarity in his writing in the same way a lapidary cuts a precious stone to reflect maximum brilliance.  Although his countryman Peter Roget had developed a handy thesaurus of synonyms and antonyms, Flaubert refused to use it.  For him, there was no such thing as a synonym.  Only one unique word could express the thought he wished to convey.  Likewise, the arrangement of words in the sentence was of critical importance.  He spent hours “grinding away at it, digging into it, turning it over and over, rummaging about in it.”  Sometimes he spent an entire day laboring over a single sentence.

I have been rummaging about in a novel for the last two plus years and am sometimes locked in combat with a sentence that resists my best efforts to make it say what I want it to say.  When I get hung up and can’t stop obsessing, I fear I’ve fallen too much into Flaubert’s habits of mind.  Instead, I should heed the advice of Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life.  Lamott maintains that perfectionism kills creativity.  It leads to procrastination.  It causes cramps.  It can even drive a writer crazy.  As I pore over my latest draft, second-guessing every word, I wonder if my quest for le mot juste is messing with my head and keeping me from a fast downhill schuss to THE END.

Lamott is all for getting on with the story.  “Perfectionism,” she says, “is the main obstacle between the writer and a shitty first draft.”

Au contraire, Flaubert would argue.  He regarded a single shitty sentence as a sacrilege, let alone an entire draft.  Bad syntax affected him physically.  “Poorly written sentences tighten the chest and impede the beating of the heart,” he declared.

Get a grip, says Lamott.  You are clearly over the edge, monsieur.  “Perfection is the voice of the oppressor.”

James Thurber butts in with an aphorism of his own.  “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

Precisely, agrees Jane Smiley.  “Every first draft is perfect because all it has to do is exist.”

But isn’t that a bit glib?  No writer wants to produce dreck just for the sake of a having a stack of paper she can hold in her hands.

Hold the phone, says C. J. Cherryh, kibitzing in Writerisms and Other Sins, A Writer’s Shortcut to Stronger Writing.  “It’s okay if it’s garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.”

It all sounds so simple.  Dash off a crappy first draft and voilà.  But Flaubert couldn’t do it and, to my abiding regret, neither can I.  I make up my story as I go and at the start, I don’t know how it will end.  Moreover, I’m a slow writer.  Slow and self-critical by nature.  If something reads badly or doesn’t make sense, I can’t just leave it and race on to the finish, telling myself I can come back to fix the problem later.  That lingering plot mistake or clumsy device or faulty characterization will carry over into the next chapter and the chapter after that.  The result may be inextricable knots, a maze of inconsistencies and utter confusion.

Lamott assures me that “messes are the artist’s true friend.”  I don’t buy it.  Messes bring me no happiness and a 300-page mess brings pure misery.  If the work required to repair a manuscript seems too onerous and time consuming, I’d rather shred it and start over.  To save myself this frustration, I revise and refine and polish as I go, even if it means that I don’t finish the first draft until it has evolved and turned into the final draft.  I obsess over some thorny sentences now and then, but I don’t agonize over every word in pursuit of perfection as Flaubert did.  There’s bound to be something wrong with any piece of prose that reaches 300 pages, regardless of the ratio of lightning bugs to lightning strikes.

When my novel finally appears in print, I won’t despair as Flaubert did when he opened his “perfect” Madame Bovary.  “The misprints, three or four repetitions…one page with an abundance of the word ‘which’ – as for the rest, it was black, nothing more.”

Oh, well.  It was, after all, a story about the folly of aspirations that can never be realized.

Mythical Beasts and Real Ones

An award-winning author of American history books and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written three living history mysteries: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. Her most recent novel, Rattlesnake Hill, is the first book in a new series of Berkshire hilltown mysteries. Leslie’s short stories have appeared in such anthologies as Day of the Dark, Stories of Eclipse, and Level Best Books’ New England Crime Stories series, where she was formerly a co-editor. Leslie divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond. Visit her website at

Encircle // Barnes & Noble // Amazon

I’m delighted to be back on “Buried Under Books,” talking about my new book, Rattlesnake Hill, and a mythical beast that figures in it. No, it’s not a humungous snake, the Loch Ness Monster, or a unicorn, though if you guessed a unicorn, you’d be close.

On a visit to Rome several years ago, I glimpsed a church with a cross and the head of a white deer crowning its roof. That’s odd, I said to myself. Later, I noticed a country inn in Connecticut called The White Hart. How quaint, I thought. But wasn’t until I came upon an issue of The Journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, devoted to articles about hunting pro and con, that I made the connection between church and inn.

The article that particularly intrigued me concerned a large, light-colored deer known as the white stag or white hart. Legends and myths about this beast span the centuries from ancient times to the present-day, and the world from Europe and the British Isles to Asia and the Americas. In Celtic and other pagan mythologies, the white stag was a wild spirit of nature, leading those who pursued but never captured it to new places, knowledge, and understanding. In Christianity, the white stag sometimes represented Jesus. Which brings me back to the church in Rome and St. Eustace, for whom it was named.

Eustace, a Roman hunter, was about to shoot a large white deer when it suddenly jumped onto a rock and spoke to him, revealing itself as Jesus. Eustace was immediately converted to Christianity, gave up hunting and spent his life communing with wild beasts in the forest. When the Romans threw him to the lions, the lions refused to eat him.

Other stories involved quests, spiritual or otherwise. In Arthurian legend, pursuit of the white stag was a noble venture, while in both Hungarian and Japanese mythology, its pursuit resulted in the discovery of new countries. In these tales, the white stag was portrayed as an elusive creature. Although hunters tried repeatedly to kill it, it always escaped. And those who encountered it were changed in some way.

Hmm, this sounded like something I could use in my novel. After all, several of my characters are deer hunters, and my main character, a non-hunter, is involved her own quest. Still, as a fiction writer, I couldn’t resist taking certain liberties with the legend. In the book, one of my nastier characters hunts the white stag, not for noble reasons like the knights of old, but for pure self-aggrandizement, like today’s trophy hunters. Other hunter characters bond—at least temporarily—over white stag lore. One man reveals that his grandfather carried with him a piece of bark scratched by the white stag as a lucky charm. The other man claims that the white stag actually spoke to great-great uncle and accurately predicted the uncle’s future. They share these stories at a local bar, appropriately named The White Stag. But it’s my female protagonist who actually sees the white stag—not once, but twice in the same day, and each time, it’s an awe-inspiring experience that brings inner change.

As a lover of legends and myths, I almost hate to admit that white stags exist in the real world. They’re red-tailed deer that have been affected by leucism, a condition that causes their hair and skin to lose their natural color. Unlike albinos, however, their eyes keep their natural color instead of turning red. The largest known herd of white deer in the world was found on an old army depot in Seneca County, New York. Another herd grazed the grounds of a science laboratory in Illinois. Other sightings have occurred in the Scottish Highlands and in Gloucestershire, England. Additional glimpses of these marvelous creatures are shrouded in secrecy to keep trophy hunters away.

Unlike my protagonist in Rattlesnake Hill, I doubt I’ll ever see a white deer on my property in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, though I’ve observed an abundance of other wildlife: white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and bears. And I experienced my own “white stag moment” when a one-year-old cow moose made the rounds of my land for an entire weekend. Totally fearless, she allowed me to get close to her on several occasions, before finally hoofing it into the woods.

If you have a favorite mythical beast, or would like to share an encounter with wildlife that was meaningful to you, please do. Thanks for having me on your blog, Lelia!

The Bookworm: How Life Imitates Art

Mitch Silver is the author of the critically acclaimed In Secret Service (Simon & Schuster) and The Bookworm (Pegasus Books). He an advertising agency creative director who lives in Rye, New York. Mitch was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. He attended Yale and Harvard Law School (“I lasted three days. I know everything through Wednesday, but after that…”). Mitch has been an advertising writer for several of the big New York agencies (“I named Purina O.N.E. dog food. Really.”), and spent a year living in Paris with his wife, Ellen Highsmith Silver, while he was European Creative Director on the Colgate-Palmolive account.


I originally had the idea for my new novel, The Bookworm, in 2009. My first book, In Secret Service, was the tale of a mystery left over from World War II that serves as a tripwire for a present-day thriller. And I wanted to write one with different characters and incidents but built on the same trellis, so to speak.

My protagonist in Service was Amy Greenberg, an art history prof at Yale. So, I chose another wonky woman, a Russian geo-historian whom I named Larissa Mendelova Klimt, as my new heroine. (Can you tell I was a History major in college?)

I knew Lara was going to have a big fat secret from the war dropped into her lap, just the way Amy had. And it was going to be about the skullduggery that enabled the Allies to turn Hitler’s guns away from an invasion of Britain, and send them instead against the Soviet Union—a decision that led to 25 million deaths in what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War.

Lastly, I knew I would have my fictional U.S. President flying to Moscow to close an under-the-table deal revolving around Alaskan oil just when this mystery from the war was coming to light. So…what sort of President should I create?

It was 2009, and Barack Obama was the President. I was determined my fictional leader should be the opposite of Obama. A Republican, for starters…and a woman.

Then I asked myself, is there anyone on the national scene who fills the bill? At the time, Sarah Palin was the high-profile Governor of Alaska. Which was perfect, because of that oil deal I wanted the Prez to be negotiating. And both Palin and Alaska’s Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski were ex-beauty queens! What better living, breathing idea-starters could I find for my fictional chief of state?

I was encouraged in my writing by my new literary agent, Wendy Weil, and I dug into a long period researching Russia, Alaska, presidents and the like. And then tragedy: Wendy died of a heart attack in the summer of 2012, and her literary agency soon dissolved. I would have to send out query letters to find a new agent, and I just didn’t feel up to it. So I put the project aside.

Let’s jump ahead to 2015, when I picked up the manuscript again. Obama’s second term is winding up, and his most likely successor appears to be Hillary Clinton. If Clinton becomes President, my female Oval Office character will be, well, boring. At least to me.

So, my character lost her estrogen and picked up a bunch of testosterone instead. If Democrat Hillary Clinton was going to be the real-life Commander-in-Chief, my yet-to-come-out thriller still required the opposite—a Republican—running things in Washington. And a master dealmaker. Hmmm, is there anyone like that who comes to mind?

All of which led me, three years ago, to write this scene as the President is flying to Moscow on Air Force One:

The two people on the far side of the bulkhead door and up a level from the press corps were in bed, true, but a nap was the last thing on their minds. It had been eight months since the inauguration and this was the administration’s first full-scale trip abroad. Not many couples get to punch their membership in the mile-high club in America’s most heavily armed aircraft . . . okay, renew their membership . . . and they’d vowed to make the most of it.

“Mogul” was a fairly big man, beefy in his nakedness but not bad for an older guy. She told him that his hair going from blond to gray reminded her of Kenneth Branagh in Wallander, which he’d decided to take as a compliment. Now he hoisted himself up on one elbow and looked over at her in her little lace “sleep teddy,” the matching bottoms buried somewhere under the covers.

And that’s how life comes to imitate art in 2018.