Happy Valentine's Day. Hope its filled with love.
The “Itch” in The Seven Year Itch
When I first conceived the idea for this FBI Espionage (really, counterespionage) series, I wanted to write a heroine modeled after an African American agent with whom I worked at the FBI. She was the only black woman serving as a supervisor in Russian Counterintelligence/Espionage program and I wondered what drew her to a field largely dominated by white males. She was an anomaly but darn good at her job. One of the things I remembered about the agent is that I admired her because she had an almost innate ability to walk into a room, command it, and then cut through the BS. We worked on a task force together, and she waded through all the white noise to get to the nitty gritty and take care of business almost immediately. She wasn’t at all arrogant or bossy, just very no-nonsense, just-the-facts, Jack.
So, when creating the J.J. McCall character, I wanted to somehow infuse J.J. with that same ability to cut through the BS. I wanted her “gift” to be something of a superpower, but not really a superpower because I don’t write paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. I don’t have the imagination to world-build to that degree.
I also wanted her “gift” to be grounded in some reality.
Espionage, spying, and intelligence collection is all smoke and mirrors. When I thought about the major challenges counterintelligence agents face, one significant problem is attempting to discern the truth from lies. When an FBI Agent pitches an officer in a foreign intelligence service and he refuses to speak with the FBI, does he really mean it? Or is he putting up a front because he’s afraid of getting caught by his counterintelligence service? When a new Russian diplomat enters the United States and claims he’s legitimate, is he “clean” or is he a spy on a mission to steal U.S. secrets? From operational covers (or legends) to targeting and recruitment, to intelligence collection, the human intelligence spy world is built around lies. Counterintelligence is essentially the ability to use a variety of investigative techniques to detect the truth and then use that truth to neutralize your “enemies.” And you’d be surprised at the degree to which even our so-called “friends” and “allies” target U.S. government information.
So, just imagine a character who could detect a lie in this world?
Pretty cool, right?
So, I created a character that could mitigate the “lying” problem by detecting them. Then I immediately wondered if I had made her job too easy. As writers, we can’t make anything easy on our characters or it’s not fun for the reader. Readers like to see characters that face challenges, that suffer before they succeed.
After some thought, I realized such a gift was limited in its use. First, she couldn’t be everywhere at once or listen to every conversation. Her gift would only be useful if she was speaking to a bad guy at the time they were lying about something related to a case or operation. Secondly, if you think about why people lie, we tell lies for a multitude of reasons. In addition to attempting to deceive others, we tell lies to protect other people’s feelings. We may lie to protect someone else from harm. All sorts of reasons. So, even though J.J. can tell whether someone is lying, she cannot answer the very important question of why without digging a little deeper. So this gives her an “edge” in this spooky world but limits her ability to leverage it.
As for the “itch,” years ago I took a class taught by an FBI agent, and he taught us methods to detect whether someone might be engaging in deceptive behaviors during interviews. Sometimes when people tell lies it makes them itch and they scratch. And I remember one instance in which we were watch the video of a subject being interviewed and the subject would scratch his nose only moments after telling a lie, but he was oblivious to this twitch. So, I turned that around and made J.J. itch whenever she heard a lie. As a romantic comedy author in my other life, I thought it would lend itself to some potentially very funny scenes. In addition, most people with extrasensory gifts welcome them. But I thought J.J. would reject this uncomfortable “gift” of an itch, which would add to the tension when she dreaded the onset.
All that was left was to explain how she got the “gift.” At first I was just going to play God and not explain it, rather tell the reader, “This is the way it is, deal with it.” Well, as a reader, I probably wouldn’t buy into that. So, I decided to explain it through a little voodoo. I conducted some research and found out that people from cultures around the world actually believe in the curse of the “The Evil Eye,” that some “magic workers” could cast a bad luck curse on you through a contemptuous gaze. So, I gave J.J. roots in the Louisiana where in certain sects they believe in jadoo (magic workers) who actually do such things.
I wanted the curse to be generational, so I started with J.J.’s great-great grandmother. After spinning the idea around my head, I thought it would be an ironic twist for a jadoo worker to curse someone with the ability to tell the truth because they got caught in a lie—so being law enforcement minded, I thought “scam gone wrong.” The only thing was, I didn’t know about scams back in the early 1900s. So I conducted more research and found out about the “Spanish Prisoner” scam that crooks ran on African Americans in the 1900s. Creole people were mixed race. They had such light skin that they could pass for Spanish. As the scam went, the wife of the “Spanish prisoner” would claim her husband got arrested on Jim Crow charges and beg for bail money. If the victim helped her, they be rewarded with Spanish gold and become rich. Of course in reality, the crooks took the money and ran. But the harshness of the Jim Crow legislation apparently made a lot of African Americans susceptible to the scam. There I had my scam.
So in the midst of all this fiction, there is quite a bit of truth. Mix all the above ingredients together and that’s how I came up with the “Itch” in The Seven Year Itch.
Her Family Was Vexed With a Generational Curse. Now for Lie Detecting FBI Spy Catcher J.J. McCall, the Truth is in The Seven Year Itch.
FBI Special Agent J.J. McCall is a born lie detector who recruits foreign spies to catch American traitors. She and co-case agent Tony Donato have lost two of their most critical Russian sources in the past two years, and they may lose another in just a few short days if they don’t catch him, The ICE PHANTOM, a rumored insider spy more insidious and elusive than Ames and Hanssen combined. They suspect he might be burrowed deep inside FBI counterintelligence—and his body count is going up.
Drawn into an unsanctioned mole hunt, they have a week to catch him, save a key source’s life—and their own. While J.J.’s lie detecting ability helps them narrow down the list of suspects, the lie she tells to herself may help the ICE PHANTOM defect to Moscow and get away with the murder of the man she loves.
Skye's debut FBI Series, filled with mystery, espionage, romance, and suspense, will keep you burning through the pages until J.J. catches the very last spy.
Monday Morning in Moscow…
Mikhail Polyakov was murdered in a Solntsevskaya-owned cottage located in Lobnya, a small village just outside Moscow. It was a Russian organized crime death chamber. A hulking Mafioso known only as Maskov hovered over his mangled corpse. The ax in his massive hand dripped with the blood of a traitor. He would not live to betray his country another day. In the safe house basement, he lay on the concrete floor. A pool of crimson surrounded him, and his flesh had been gashed and hacked beyond visual recognition; death’s stench thickened the air. In order to serve its only noble purpose, his right hand, which bore a crescent-shaped birthmark, was left untouched.
A sliver of light shone through an undersized window revealing the wicked grin that parted the executioner’s cigarette blackened lips. Colonel Anatoliy Golikov. A Russian intelligence officer, he was a member of a cadre of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service—SVR officers—from the First Department. His professional mission had been recruiting people who sold U.S. secrets, but his personal mission was to kill anyone who betrayed the Motherland.
His skinny eyes, slight frame, and borderline gaunt face colored him weak, but his iron-fisted will and suffocating persona made him a man few crossed. Even fewer had lived to brag about it if they had. The son of a former hardline KGB General who executed Russians spying for the West, he’d filled his father’s sadistic shoes well. Left nothing in his wake except a trail of dead American sins against Russia.
S.D. Skye is a former FBI Russian Counterintelligence Program Intelligence Analyst and supported several key cases 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 two of the Bureau's own--FBI Agents Earl Pitts and Robert Hanssen. She has spent 20 years supporting counterintelligence, intelligence, and military missions in the U.S. Intelligence Community.
An award-winning author of romantic comedies in her other life, Skye is a member of the Maryland Writer's Association, Romance Writers of America, 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 the next installment of the series.
S.D. will be awarding a Kindle Fire to a randomly drawn commenter at the end of the tour. (US/CANADA ONLY)
The tour dates can be found here: