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Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
Actually, the J.J. McCall series crosses multiple genres. It’s built around the spy and organized crime worlds (Russian and Italian) and there is some fast-paced action which is characteristic of thrillers. But I began my career writing romantic comedy so there are strong elements of both in the book, even though they play second-fiddle to the spy/organized crime stories. There’s a mystery in every book—the whodunnit factor. And there’s also some suspense. What draws me to this world is that I used to work in it. Spending 20+ years in the intelligence field and dabbling in organized crime aspects in the early part of my career, I’ve seen and done a lot…and worked with a lot of awesome people who you probably never get to meet if I don’t tell this story. I’m uniquely positioned to share this part of the spy world, organized crime, and the FBI—so, why not?
What research is required?
Most of these stories are drawn on my career experiences. I use a seed of reality and then let my imagination run completely wild…well, within the realm of D.C.’s spy world anyway. However, there are two areas that required a little bit of research. First, I needed to find a source for J.J. McCall’s “Itch.” For those who don’t know, the “Itch” in the title refers to J.J. McCall’s “superpower.” She’s a human lie detector. When people speak lies to her, she feels a sensation akin to an itch. I felt it was important to give that a backstory so I rooted her issue in the New Orleans’ “black magic culture.” That required me to actually do research and there are actually people, Jadoo workers, who put generational hexes on people. It’s kind of spooky but it’s based on reality. So the “Itch” is actually a generational curse placed on the family during the great grandmother’s altercation with a Jadoo worker. I explain it ONCE in Book 1 and leave it at that.
Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
J.J. McCall is very loosely based on an FBI Agent I worked with during my tenure at the FBI. I really admired her ability to excel to the highest heights in a field that few women, let alone African American women, would dare to enter. And one thing I’ve learned from her, both in life and in the books, is excellence and professionalism trump EVERYTHING in the workplace. Whatever perceptions people have because you’re black, or physically challenged, or whatever—they usually all go out the window when you get the job done and get it done well. That is something I’ve strived to do in my own career and I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences doing things people wouldn’t imagine because of it.
Do you have any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
Well, I’m pretty much a straight shooter when it comes to writing. It’s pretty much laptop/desktop and a BIC (butt-in-chair) for me. However, there are times when I feel a little blocked. And one thing I do to shake the muse is to write in longhand. When I do this, I MUST use a special notebook (bought from Target) and a special fine point pen. If I don’t use those notebooks and those pens, the words don’t come. It’s the strangest. thing. ever. And my only quirk. So everything I go to Target I buy the notebooks and stock them in my office. It’s a little scary…like a writing bunker.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
I’ve written romantic comedy and spy novels. In my romantic comedies I was decidedly a pantser. Absolutely did not stray from that all. My process was very organic in that I just wrote it how it came to me. If I was on Chapter 3 and an idea for the last chapter came to me, I’d write the last chapter and just see how it all worked out. I learned early to let my characters have their way because they tell way better stories than I do. And most of the twists in my stories come from them, not me. I mean, I’ve never written a book in which I wasn’t surprised or even shocked by what the characters did. That’s such an energizing process. It really does make you anxious to get to the page every day to see what’s going to happen next.
But when I started writing this spy thriller series I literally HAD to start outlining. The main reason was that my plots were way more intricate. I was telling the stories from multiple points of view (as opposed to first person) and there were multiple subplots to keep track of. The first time I tried “pantsing” a spy novel, I ended up with more holes in my story than the dark side of the moon. I mean, it was Swiss cheese holy. I had to go back and fill in a lot of gaps and tie up loose ends that I’d lost track of. So now I do what I call “an organic outline.” Basically, I don’t force the outline. I let the story come to me as I normally would. The only difference is I’m just jotting down notes. Sometimes it may day me a couple of weeks to come up with the outline because I don’t want to force myself on the story. I let it come to me and then I write it. And even with this loose outline, if my characters stray, I still let them go their own way. I allow them to surprise me. The “outline” is just a way to help me ensure that I’m addressing all of my subplots. It really helped me write the second book more quickly than the first. We’ll see how it works with Book 3.
Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
Two empty bottles of Deer Park water, one Bible, and a mouse (the electronic kind).
Anything new coming up from you? What?
Oh yes! I’m working on finishing up the J.J. McCall series and hope to wrap up the entire series by early 2015. Book 3 in the J.J. McCall series—A No Good Itch—will definitely be released in 2014. I can’t wait for this book because I get to write about one of my favorite topics—organized crime. I got to do a little work in that arena in the early days of my FBI career and I love movies like The Godfather and shows like The Sopranos. Understand my fascination does not come from admiration rather I’m intrigued with, aside from money, what makes people choose this life…especially knowing there’s usually only a few ways out and none of them lead to old age and an active living community.
So, with Book 3, the story is set in New York City and I get to pit Russian Organized Crime against the Italian Mafia and the FBI and see who comes out on top. In real life, it doesn’t always work in favor of law enforcement. Sometimes the Bureau wins, sometimes they lose. I can’t wait for readers to see how it plays out. There are a lot of twists and turns and the ending will surely win me my share of hate mail—in a “When’s the next book coming out!?!” kind of way.
Do you have a question for our readers?
Yes! You know I’m really curious to know how readers perceive the spy thriller genre. So, I wonder….have you read spy novels? If so, what draws you to them? If not, what deters you from giving them a try?
I know typically these books have been action and jargon heavy testosterone fests, which is really what drove me to write the J.J. McCall series. I wanted to write cool books like that…but that were more accessible and shine the light on a different aspect that we don’t often hear about—real spies operating under diplomatic cover right here in the United State—and show some diversity in law enforcement field.
J.J. and her co-case agent lead the motley crew of spy catchers while she struggles to deal with sobriety, conflicting feelings for Tony and Six, and an egotistical Secret Service agent whose jurisdictional stonewalling complicates her every effort to identify the culprit before he gets away—with murder.
Enjoy an excerpt:
Exactly three moments defined the entire course of J.J.’s being —the day she got “the itch,” the generational curse that sparked random irritating tingles through her body anytime she heard a lie; the day her mother died; and this one, the day in which she grasped the fragility of life and how it could slip away in an instant.
The ambulance siren blared down Pennsylvania Avenue through the remnants of rush hour traffic as she stared down at his tearful eyes, his face shredded with pain, his body curled with anguish. Slowly, his lids opened to expose a bloodshot blank stare. She saw her mother’s eyes in his, and his last breath whispered in the distance, drawing ever near.
“I’m here. You’re going to be okay. We’re almost there,” she said as her voice shook.
George Washington University Hospital was just a few minutes away and had one of the best trauma centers in the D.C. area.
He placed his trembling hand on hers and struggled to speak. “There…something…you should…kn—”
“Shhhh. Save your strength,” J.J. shook her head to dissuade him from speaking. She stroked his fingers and tried to maintain a steady front. “You’re gonna be okay. You can tell me everything when you’re better.”
Her mind whirred as the ambulance zipped into the circular driveway beneath the overhang and masked emergency personnel in blue and green scrubs swarmed the doors. They pulled the gurney out and wheeling him inside, beyond her view. She’d never felt so alone in her life. She had calls to make, people to notify, but her mind was still foggy from the shock.
She searched her purse for the flask, the reminder of just how far she’d come and how much further she had to go.
About the Author:S.D. Skye is a former FBI Russian Counterintelligence Program Intelligence Analyst and supported two major programs during her 12-year tenure at the Bureau. She has personally witnessed the blowback the Intelligence Community suffered due to the most significant compromises in U.S. history, including the arrests of former CIA Case Officer Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. She spent 20+ years supporting military and intelligence missions in the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Skye, an award winning author, is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She’s addicted to writing and chocolate—not necessarily in that order—and currently lives in the Washington D.C. area with her son. Skye is hard at work on several projects, including the next installment of this exciting series.
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