S. D. Skye, author of Son of a Itch, is stopping by the Party Pavilion with us today as part of her book tour. The author will be awarding a Kindle Fire HD and a $25 Kindle Gift Card to a randomly drawn winner (via the Rafflecopter at the end of hte post) during the tour. (US ONLY) Welcome!
You're an award-winning author and former Intelligence Operations Specialist/Analyst in the FBI's counterintelligence program. Tell us why you chose to leave the FBI and become a writer.
Well, I didn’t leave the business altogether when I left the FBI. I worked as a government contractor for the next 12 years with various agencies including the Pentagon, Coast Guard Intelligence, etc. Even to this day I still maintain a full-time job as a Senior Proposal Writer/Editor for a technology firm. I don’t consider writing a hobby. To me, it’s a 3rd full time job (next to being a Mom and proposal writing) that doesn’t pay as much as the one I have to drive to every day. At least not yet!
When I was approaching the age of 40, I had one of those “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” moments and writing had always been a passion. At first I stuck to writing topics that had NOTHING to do with my former line of work, strictly romantic comedies under a different name, it was only after I got completely out of the field that I considered spy thrillers/romantic suspense.
After twelve years of service, I'm betting you found some great stories to tell. Explain!
After I got the romantic stories out of my system, the J.J. McCall character kept buzzing around in my brain. Her name actually came to me in a dream and I had no idea what she was going to do. I had no inkling when I worked in the intelligence field that I would someday write novels. To develop each of the plot lines, I use a very tiny seed of reality and then exaggerate the heck out of it. I signed an agreement when I left government work that I wouldn’t divulge actual cases I worked in the past, and the FBI reviews each of my books to ensure I don’t let anything slip. So, yes, there’s a lot of reality mixed in, but the cases aren’t real.
There are so many books written in your genre. What made you to dare to write another book on this topic?
Well, I wanted to tell a side to spy stories that is RARELY seen in movies…and that is the job that FBI agents have to do in the United States, and especially in Washington D.C. every day. You hear bad things about U.S. intelligence, like the big bad NSA, CIA, etc. But you never hear about the thousands of spies sent to the country under various covers specifically to steal secrets and how the FBI contends with these threats. And you really don’t see African Americans much involved in this kind of work in books, movies, etc. So, I thought the J.J. McCall character, loosely based on an agent I worked with, offered a great opportunity to shed new light on a long-told story—the world’s second oldest profession.
You have an iPhone app -- that's interesting! Why did you develop one, and have you seen any advantage yet?
My app is new so I don’t know how well it will work. But I feel like you really have to meet readers where they are…and most of them are on the phone in some way or another. The easier and more convenient that I can make it for them to find me, update me, and stay updated on my new releases, the better for them and me.
This is an article you wrote: Highly Opinionated Blogger on National Security and Intelligence Community Topics ... any comments?
Oh, yes. Occasionally, a current event topic on National Security will get me fired up enough to write a commentary article and I don’t mince words on my opinion. I’m very much a patriot and I have a lot of respect for how difficult it is to keep this huge country with porous borders safe from terrorists, spies, etc. Too many Americans take it for granted. So, yes, aside from discussions on my books, I do provide my own commentary and opinions and I’m not a fence-sitter. They are usually very strong, one way or the other.
Tell us about your main character and why you created her to feature in your stories.
Yes, there was one agent I worked with who I always admired. Even back before I knew I’d be a writer, I thought, “Somebody needs to tell this woman’s story!” She was an African American woman in a very white male dominated field…old white guys who’d been studying Russian issues forever. I always wondered what she had to endure, but to be as high-ranking as she was, I knew she had to be the tops in her field. At the time, I had no clue I’d ever be in a position to write a story loosely based on my professional image on her. So, the J.J. McCall character is VERY LOOSELY based on her career—the personal issues are things I made up. I just thought it was cool that she was an African American female agent who was one of the top professionals in the field of Russian counterintelligence, Russian organized crime, and espionage. You don’t often see stories told from that perspective. Also, I have not seen a story in which the FBI Agent was a human lie detector (the source of her “Itch”)—a kind of superpower grounded in reality. That’s certainly a new twist.
What are some of the pitfalls self-publishing authors should look out for?
I could write an article about this alone. There are so many “indie publishing sins” to commit—and I’ve committed a few myself. The biggest ones, I believe are—don’t rush your product, ensure you publish a quality book so that readers will come back for more; always get an editor—you need to a second pair of “educated eyes” to review your book grammar, proofreading, structure, pace, etc.; and hire a good cover designer—people really do judge books by covers.
Why the time gap between your first novel and Son of a Itch?
Great question. In this book I was determined not to rush it, rather take the time to ensure the story was exactly what I wanted it to be. So, I took my time, got a lot of beta readers to review it and give me tips, and I had more experience from the first book that I could use to make this book better. Writing a spy thriller is VERY different from romantic comedies so this has been a learning process for me. But each book promises to be a little better—and if possible, published a little faster. That’s my hope. In this case, slow and steady is better than fast and not ready.
We hear so much talk about sales ranks and review number, etc. What’s your opinion on online polls?
I’ve finally gotten to the point in my career where I stay away from all that. I don’t follow reviews or my book rankings or any of that. I kind of a moment of spiritual awakening in which I was determined to write the stories I wanted to tell without any expectation of what would come of it. I just wanted to write my heart. I also realized that no amount of good or bad reviews would have any impact on the story I’m going to tell—they won’t change one word I’m going to write…but they might get in my head and stress me out. So, why put myself through that? I just focus on the work and making it as true to me and as high quality as I can within my means. The rest will take care of itself.
You’ve got a cool cover that says “Spy thriller” nicely. How much impact do you think covers and blurbs have in getting people to try a book by an unknown author?
It’s really tough to get readers to buy into new authors. I’ve experienced that personally. I absolutely believe that covers have a significant impact as well as cover blurbs…as well as reviews from reputable reviewers. But above all, I think authors have to be in the game for the long haul and they have to use a consistent combination of personal appearances and book signings, blog tours, social networking, etc. to find the audience. If you stick around long enough, and you have the patience to not expect everyone to fall in love with you TOMORROW (as too many indies too I think), then success will come. It may take one book for one, it may take 10 books for another. Patience, I think, is key.
Do you have any plans for translating into a foreign language?
Spy stories tend to have international appeal for the obvious reasons—the intrigue, the excitement, the mystery of it all. I mean, I’m a huge fan of authors like Ian Flemming and le Carre. If I found enough of an international audience, I would definitely entertain the idea of getting translations or even selling the foreign book rights. But I think that’s a good ways down my career path. My focus right now is strictly on getting the series finished fans of the series can see how it all ends—or begins (depending on how you look at it). But every time I get an overseas sale of this series—I think most come from the UK—I’m so super excited that they enjoy the story. That’s always HUGE for me. A great compliment.
I see you tweeting book quotations and other such teasers often on Twitter. Can you talk about how social media helps you?
I love social media and interacting with readers. Sometimes I feel like readers are afraid to reach out. But I’m seriously not one of those DIVA authors who can’t be bothered to reply or respond to people. There are authors who won’t even interact with other authors---and we do the same kind of work! Not me, though. I enjoy and look forward to interacting with others every chance I get.
What are you planning next, and where can people find out more?
This is a planned 5 book series. My first job is to finish up the last three books. Book 3 is A No Good Itch. Book 4 is That Crazy Itch; and Book 5 is “Life’s an Itch.” I’m working on Book 3 as we speak. If I have my way, the entire series will be done by the end of 2015…but I don’t often get my way. Life usually gets in the way.
Anything else you'd like to share?
For writers, you have to be willing to continuously improve and understand there’s always something new to learn or something you can learn to do better.
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.
S.D. Skye Novels on Amazon – Kindle and Paperback
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