Spies in The Game of Thrones

I’m a late comer to this show. My husband’s away in Egypt and my brain quits on me in the evenings, so I took advantage of the recent watchathon to see what all the fuss was about. One of the episodes in season one was called “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.” I think these are the ones that make the best spies.
Take Varys, for example. Caught as a young boy, his manhood was cut from him and offered up in some black magic ritual, leaving him a eunuch. He is a broken one, but in season three, he talks about influence growing through patience, growing like weeds, until it has many branches and tendrils. He is a master spies with many satellite spies he calls his little birds. He is sneaky, creepy, and the longer I watch, the more I admire him. He is a broken thing who has made a place for himself and not become a monster.
Then there’s Tyrion Lannister. Born to the richest, most powerful family in all the realms, he had the misfortune to be born a dwarf. He is rejected by his father, scorned by his brothers and sisters, and mocked by the knights. Denied the physical violence his family uses to assert their authority (except for his sister Cersei), Tyrion turns to more subtle means of gaining influence—spying. He, too, has a strong network of informants. He also loves women and wine, and his high-born status makes the women of the brothels love him. I rejoiced when Shae fell in love with him—not in a silly, head-over-heels sort of way, but in a real world acceptance of all the ugly beauty of him and their world. He deserved that.
Bran Stark is the most interesting spy to me. You might not think of him as a spy. He is a lucid dreamer. This ability is called ‘warg’ in the story, being able to enter animals and see through their eyes. Very handy for someone the Lannister family casually tried to kill because he learned one of their closely guarded secrets. I thought he might be too young to understand what he saw, but they didn’t worry about that. They shoved him from a high tower, but he survived. He became a cripple. He cannot walk, and perhaps because of this, his dreaming grows stronger. He walks and climbs in his dreams where he sees the future. That’s my favorite kind of spying since I write paranormals. I love psychics, scryers and fortune tellers of all kinds. Visionaries.
I prefer these broken characters. They’re much more interesting than the blustering, arrogant and adolescent haughtiness or the slippery, sickening, insinuating manipulations of many of the other ones.
But shhh, I’m still in the middle of season three. Don’t tell me what happens next.


Spying — A Family Affair

My family humors me.   One time when Hubby and I were visiting one of our grown daughters in Washington D.C. we found ourselves free–no plans for half a day.  Hubby and Daughter were in luck, because it was my turn to choose how to fill that extra time.  Now, I LOVE visiting D.C. and all of its national treasures, and there are hundreds of fascinating places to go…but of course my first choice was the International Spy Museum.   After a few snickers (Mom, the kid) and financial protests (but, but…it’s one of the few museums in D.C. that charges admission), off we went.   I was writing a book at the time that deals with Cold War spying in 1950’s Turkey.  (That book is tentatively called Dancing with the General and should come out early next year.)  My character in question is not a professional spy, but she’s recruited by the baddies to do a small job of spying on her neighbors.  She is given some old equipment from the WWII era, and I wanted to see (and play with) examples in the museum of what my character might’ve used.   That museum is a gold mine of information.  And such fun, too!  Visitors get to pretend they’re real spies, experiencing the tools of their trade through some interactive exhibits.   Here are just a few fun examples of what you can find there:  

  • Cameras hidden inside watches, cigarette cases, and buttons.  
  • Transmitters hidden inside shoe heels.  
  • Pistols disguised as lipstick.  
  • Messages hidden inside hollow coins.  
  • Secret codes and devices like Enigma.  

That visit brought out the inner James Bond in all of us.  And now we agree:  learning about spies is a fun family affair, even if you have to drag half the family there!  

Announcement: Membership Changes

We here at Mysteristas are bidding a fond farewell to Donna White Glaser; we have enjoyed Donna’s wonderful contributions and will miss her tremendously. Best of luck in all things, Donna!

We are delighted to announce new member Sue Star, who will be blogging on second and fourth Wednesdays.  PleaMurderDojoFinalWebse join us in welcoming her!  Sue Star writes mysteries about families in chaos. Murder in the Dojo introduces her amateur sleuth, a single mom who teaches martial arts despite the opinions of her teenage daughter, sophisticated sister-in-law, and crotchety dad. Their misadventures continue in Murder with Altitude, soon to be released from D.M. Kreg Publishing. Like her character, Sue has also trained and taught the martial arts, but unlike her character, Sue believes her life is more stable. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and just hanging out with her family. Sue has collected several stand-alone short mystery stories in Trophy Hunting and Organized Death. She also writes suspense with a touch of romance as Rebecca Williamson and is the author of The Drowning of Chittenden.

Find out more about her writing at




(You might also be interested in reading her previous Mysteristas guest post.)



Spying as the Epitome of Cool

We’ve talked sleuthing. We’ve talked people watching. We’ve talked curiosity. We’ve talked actually spying on our neighbors (good job, Diane!).

But so far in our month of spying, we haven’t discussed the epitome of cool as far as spies go: Bond. James Bond.

And I’m not making light or going for low-hanging fruit here: Bond has a nice literary pedigree to go with his movie fame.

Point 1: He’s basically the first thriller star. With Bond, Ian Fleming was able to take the simple matter of catching the bad guy and turn it into more than sleuthing, but real, seat-of-your-pants spying. Sure, there were spies before, but there wasn’t Bond.

Point 2: Not only did he appear in twelve books and two short story collections by Fleming, he’s been carried on by several different writers since Fleming’s death.

Point 3: Those twenty-three movies featuring Bond? They not only make a lot of money for whomever happens to be playing Bond at any one time, but they also do a great job of keeping the books alive. And as writers, that’s a pretty good thing to hear, right? If even one of the moviegoers who saw Dr. No picked up a copy a bookstore or library, just imagine what else they might get while they’re there.

As for favorite Bond movies? My husband—who has seen every Bond movie in existence—would probably give me a hard time for going for a non-Sean Connery one, but I have to go with Casino Royale. I love the suspense and the stakes and the tragic love story, not to mention the fact that Bond does some real spying. It’s not all about the cars and the gadgets and the wizardry. It’s about what he can find out and from whom without getting killed.

What’s your favorite Bond movie/book?


Interview: Carolyn J. Rose

Please welcome Carolyn J. Rose, author of No Substitute for Maturity and other novels.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Waking up to feel a breeze from an open window, smell coffee brewing, hear birds singing, and discover that my unconscious was at work while I slept and has at least two ideas for characters or plots. Finding that the supermarket has a sale on cheesy snacks is a bonus.

Do you havNSFMat200x300e a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My characters and I love cashews, dark chocolate, cheesy snacks, and a little rum now and then.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel) for his use of the language, Rex Stout (the Nero Wolfe series) for his characters, and my husband for never getting in my space or in my face.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. It distracts me from writing and from listening for the washer to finish, the dryer to tell me it’s done, the dogs wanting to go out or come in, the neighbors coming and going, etc. All of that is so distracting that I don’t need more distractions.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book, No Substitute for Maturity, is a cozy. So it would have a thin shell of dark chocolate (representing the theme of reaching maturity and the baggage that holds us back from that goal) and a fluffy whipped center filled with fruit and nuts (representing the quirky characters that populate Reckless River).

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
As a substitute teacher, I encounter kids on the road to adulthood. As someone who reads the paper and keeps up with the news, I’m well aware of all of those who never grow up and man up (or woman up) and who try to pass the buck and the blame. As my protagonist (Barbara Reed) embarked on a live-in relationship with her boyfriend and his teenage daughter, I saw the opportunity to create situations where the way characters reacted (childishly or in more adult manners) would create conflict and humor.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Responsibility, revenge, the ability to laugh at yourself, and the power of love.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Barbara Reed’s parents checked out emotionally after the death of her brother and she was shepherded through adolescence and her teen years by her domineering sister Jeannine. Jeannine went on to become a radical feminist known as Indigo Zephyr, shortened to Iz, and still feels she should run Barb’s life. She also feels that after two less-than-successful marriages, Barb should take a pass on getting involved with men. Fortunately, Barb meets two other strong women and, in the course of No Substitute for Murder, gets her life back on the rails. Her wealthy neighbor, Muriel Ballantine, a former Las Vegas showgirl, may or may not have been married to the mob. And Wilhelmina Frost, known as The Big Chill, has a caustic sense of humor and a clear view of reality—or what passes for reality at Captain Meriwether High School where Barb works as a substitute teacher. As the story arc develops, Barb becomes less tentative and more in charge.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Julia Roberts’ character from America’s Sweethearts, Bridget Jones, and Mary Tyler Moore.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie (to ask about that time she went missing), Edgar A. Poe (for the creepy factor), John Connolly (more shiver factor) and Tana French.

What’s next for you?
I’m revisiting Hemlock Lake, a fictional community in the Catskill Mountains. Like Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood, The Devil’s Tombstone will begin in April with winter giving way to spring and more change coming to the community and another long shadow of crimes in the past reaching into the present.


Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels, including No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret and A Place of Forgetting. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking.

Website: www.deadlyduomysteries.com

Spying – or People Watching?

I love to watch people. I am not alone in this. Sometimes, I think the entire practice of people-watching is custom-made for fiction writers, but I know a lot of non-writers who like to do it too.

Back in 1995, my first job out of college was a loan clerk for the Small Business Administration. What few people knew was that back then (and maybe even now) victims of natural disasters had to be turned down for an SBA loan before they could apply for money from FEMA. So in September of 1995, I was dispatched to Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Marilyn.

Now this was back before gambling was “no big deal” in New York. It was a “big deal” in Puerto Rico. Every hotel had a casino, even the Holiday Inn I stayed at. And once the work day ended (around 7pm), there wasn’t much to do in San Juan except go clubbing (not for me) or gamble (also not for me).

So I developed a habit. I’d eat and perch just outside the casino area and observe. There was the group of little old ladies who camped out by the slot machines, the guy in the loud Hawaiian shirt who never left the craps table, the newlywed couple who lost at just about everything, but had fun anyway. One night, I managed to grab a spot at the El San Juan hotel – very swanky (it had a dress code just to walk in the lobby). There I watched men and women dressed in everything from designer beachwear, to suits and dresses, to tuxes and gowns sashay through the doors, ready to win – or lose. Somehow, by the looks of the clothes, I didn’t think it mattered to them.

Too bad I was years away from writing fiction. Oh, the fodder for characters! People left in various stages or jubilation or dejection. There were arguments between friends, spouses, patrons and hotel security. Who were these people? Why were they there? Why were they gambling away thousands of dollars every night?

And what happened when they went home?

As I grew into writing, the casual “people watching” bug became even more valuable. At the pool, what about that young girl who wears a demure one-piece when her parents are around, but a scanty bikini when she’s alone? Since cell phones have obliterated personal privacy, you can hear tantalizing snippets of conversation anywhere – the bus, the subway, the line at the grocery store. What’s up with that harassed-looking woman at the mall, poring over ties like her life depended on it?

Fodder, all of it. I even got to use an overheard snippet in a current WIP. “You’d better fix this. You hear me?”

Think of the possibilities.

My daughter likes to roam the mall. I’m not so big on roaming, but I love to sit in the food court or Starbucks and watch the world go by. So many stories, so many possibilities. She thinks it’s boring. I think it’s fascinating.

Shakespeare was right – all the world’s a stage. The characters, the settings, the plots are right there, just ripe for the picking.

Spying? No, I’m people watching.

So what about you, readers? Do you people watch? And do you make up stories about the people you watch?


Spying on the Neighbors

I live in a courtyard building. About a year ago, a quarrel broke out between my next door neighbor and the person catty corner from him. Somehow, the quarrel escalated from an angry exchange of words in the 3 a.m. hour to a restraining order, a lawsuit, and a camera being trained on his—and subsequently, my—front door.

Not being 100% on board with the whole filming my comings and goings part of the scenario, I took an interest in what was going down. The offended person, let’s call her Missy, started decorating her windows with message signs to tenants who passed her apartment. “This camera is legal, just ask the LAPD,” said one. Another spoke to Karma, and additional signs addressed peace, respect, and a community of “getting along.” Missy might have pasted a sign about getting along, but the problem was that passing her windows every day led to tension within the building.

I complained to my landlord and—not willing to trust a scotch taped sign–checked about the legalities of the camera with the LAPD. It seemed there was nothing I could do. My neighbor, let’s call him Guy, moved out after over a decade of living in my building. The harassment wasn’t worth it, he said.

One afternoon, while doing my usual writing/tweeting/FB’ing/checking email/pretending-to-get-through-a-draft thing, I heard a loud knock on a door. Being a nosy curious person by nature, I stopped playing FreeCell and listened. It appeared that someone in my building was being evicted.

Now, I’m too sly to press my nose up against the window in such situations, but I did catch a name: Missy. And later that day, after realizing I have ample amateur sleuthing skills in my arsenal, I checked the directory and the mailboxes, came up with a last name, hopped on the internet, and discovered who I was dealing with. Let’s just say, there was a history of similar behavior out there.

And in the next 30 seconds, I saw a potential cozy mystery unfold before my eyes. Clearly Missy would be the victim. And suspects? Easy:

1. Guy, who had a restraining order—that was now part of his permanent record–filed against him.

2. Resident Artist, who had had numerous smoking complaints lodged against her.

3. Landlord, who had been ignored after multiple warnings about silly things like overdue rent.

4. Previous apartment manager, who had evicted her too.

5. Former boss in the TV industry, who had Missy’s character written off on the first week of her show, for unexplained reasons.

(It really is fascinating how much dirt you can dig up on someone when you come to terms with your inner amateur sleuth.)

I don’t know what became of the real Missy. After the eviction papers were served, she kept a low profile. My started getting egged once a week, coincidentally on the same days I heard the shower running in her apartment. On the weekend she moved out, her mother gave me the finger.

And funny thing, my car hasn’t been egged since.

PS: On a personal note, to celebrate Doris Day’s 90th Birthday, I’m kicking off a Mad for Mod fundraiser for Doris Day’s Animal Foundation. I didn’t want to hijack the spying theme from the Mysteristas, but if you’re interested, click here.