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.
An Interview with S.D. Skye
Tell us a little about yourself.
Where should I begin? I’m a very complex and interesting person [laugh here]. I’m a single mom of one wonderful little boy…well, he’s wonderful when he’s not asserting his independence and getting on my nerves…but I digress. I live outside of the DC area where I’ve worked for the past 25 years (I’m 29 by the way. Child labor laws didn’t apply to me).
I’ve worked in the U.S. Intelligence Community for the past 22 years, my first stop being the FBI. After two years of maintaining the FBI Stolen Art File, I switched to counterintelligence—or spy catching. I like to think I was the FBI’s good luck charm because a year after I started there we caught some of the biggest American traitors in U.S. history. Starting with former CIA case officer Aldrich Ames and ending with a former special agent in the Russian program (in which I worked), Robert Hanssen. It was an incredible time work inside and learn the world of counterintelligence and counterespionage.
I suppose I thought my career wasn’t exciting enough so I left the FBI and worked as a Senior Intelligence Officer on the Joint Staff during the start of the Iraq War. I reported on the insurgency and worked very closely with General Casey’s and General Petraeus’s intelligence advisor. Supporting the U.S. Military was some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, but working in the Pentagon environment will burn you out quickly. Five years later, I started working as in intelligence analyst consultant and/or intelligence editor for military counterintelligence then U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence then the Director of National Intelligence. Whew!
Now, I work for a government contracting firm where I finally get to make good use of the MBA I thought I’d wasted good money on.
What inspired you to write this book?
The character is loosely based on an FBI agent with whom I worked during my 12-year tenure at the FBI. She stood out because she was the only African –American at the time, male or female, serving as a supervisor in the Russian Counterintelligence/Espionage program. I always wondered what drew her to it and how she managed to become so incredibly successful in the field. She always lingered in the back of my mind, but at the time I had no clue I would ever write a novel, let alone model a character after her, but something in me took note. Perhaps my psyche knew I was a writer before I did.
J.J. McCall’s name came to me in a dream. I woke up and had the name to put to the character. And then the story came to me a year or so later. Two years later I actually sat down to write the book. So, J.J. was a long time coming.
When did you decide to take that step that made you a published author?
I tried to go the traditional route and get a literary agent when I finished my first novel, but I got rejected so many times I thought my name was “Sorry, not for me.” So, I eventually came to a crossroads and had to decide why I wanted to be a writer. Was it to be on Oprah and become a bestseller? Or was it because I had a story I wanted to share? I decided that the answer was the latter and set out to self-publish and build my audience one person at a time. Maybe sell my second or third book. Four months after self publishing I was “discovered” by an editor at a prominent house. Two months later, I signed a two-book deal with a big six publisher.
That same publisher made an offer on The Seven Year Itch but I turned it down, despite my torn feelings, because I wanted more flexibility in how I released the series. I hope to have all five out by the end of 2014, which is pretty ambitious but doable as long as I can publish on my own schedule.
If you had to sum it up the book in 30 or less words, what would you say?
FBI Agent J.J. McCall is drawn into a secret mole hunt when an internal investigation threatens to make her the prime suspect in the disappearance of her own source.
Do you have a favorite character in (name of book)? Who and why?
Yes. Grayson “Six” Chance, J.J. McCall’s former beau and a CIA case officer who works counterintelligence for The Agency. He’s gorgeous, arrogant, a know-it-all, full of himself, and he is going to be the source of some major dissention between J.J. and Tony as they attempt to find a comfort zone in their relationship. I love troublemakers and he makes a darn good one. He will be the character everyone hates to love and loves to hate.
What is your favorite scene in The Seven Year Itch?
I think all of us would relish in the opportunity to dish some just desserts out to someone who has wronged us in one way or another. Well, J.J. gets the opportunity when the person at the root of her career troubles must reach out to her for help. What I love about the scene is that J.J. isn’t perfect and her response is very honest. But by the end of the scene we find out a lot about her personal character.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I always draw on my life and career experiences when developing new characters for my novels. The main character from my upcoming FBI Thriller series, FBI Agent J.J. McCall, is no different. She's actually very loosely based on an FBI Agent I worked with during my 12 year tenure at the Bureau.
Every book, which will feature a different case, is loosely based on the type of work I supported while I worked for the FBI but not any specific cases. However, I do infuse information that you could find in the media or on Google to bring more authenticity to the series. I’m bound by a non-disclosure agreement so I cannot discuss any specific cases, sources, etc. But I have a great imagination and I’m crafty.
While writing The Seven Year Itch, did you connect with one character more than the others? Who and how?
J.J.’s and my life have several similarities. J.J. followed in her mother’s footsteps when she joined the FBI; her mother was an agent during the J. Edgar Hoover era. I actually followed in my mother’s footsteps when I joined the FBI as she worked there during the Hoover era. Also, my father and brother are both former DC police officers. J.J.’s brother Malcolm is a DC police officer. Believe it or not, I truly had not actually planned these similarities and didn’t really notice them until I started writing blogs about the book and was like “Hmmm, if I didn’t know better I’d think I wrote this book.” In truth, these elements were added in order to help me move the plot forward and it just kind of happened. It just goes to show how our life can inspire storylines even subconsciously.
Do you have to be alone or have quiet to write?
Both and either. I’m the flakiest, most fickle writer I’ve ever known. One day I need complete quiet. Other days I need white noise in the background. Recently, I’ve been in this phase where I’m most productive when a Harry Potter movie is playing in the background. One day The Sorcerer’s Stone was playing, and I wrote 5,000 words. I’m riding that wave until it’s time to move on to the next thing. I have no idea what that will be. My 12 year old son is enjoying it though.
What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
The counterintelligence field is filled with paranoid people, including myself. So, in the past, I very rarely discussed my career. Most people in my circle who have read this book and now know what I did are shocked and awed. People who have known me for more than half my life never knew what I did. Finally freeing myself to talk about this side of my life has been very liberating. I feel like I have enough distance from that world to not put myself in any compromising positions. I’ve also got enough writing experience under my belt to do the story some justice.
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
I would say this book is my favorite because I’m proud of myself for diving out of my comfort zone, head first, with no helmet. I’ve learned so much about myself, the craft, and even my own writing process. I’ve discovered some great tools and I really feel like I reached a new level. Even if only five people read the book, I know how much I put into it to make it the best I could make it and I couldn’t ask more of myself.
Is this book part of a series?
The FBI Espionage Series is a planned five-book series, including The Seven Year Itch, Son of a Itch, A No Good Itch, Life’s an Itch, and An Itch in Time. Each book will feature a different case so that it stands alone to some degree, but certain plot elements related to J.J.’s history and the romantic entanglements resulting from her love triangle won’t be resolved until the last book.
What do you have in store next for your readers?
I’m in the process of working on Son of a Itch in which Russian Intelligence plants a bug in the White House Situation Room and J.J. has to find the culprit. The love triangle gets more complicated as Six plays a much more prominent role and the clashes between he and Tony will be legendary. Also, J.J.’s nemesis is plotting to kill her.
What has been your greatest pleasure or personal success as an author?
Interacting with readers is my most favorite thing in the world. Whether they tweet me on Twitter, or message me on Facebook, or send emails to me, I absolutely 100% always respond, even when they’ve been angry at my character, and I love getting feedback. Of course, it’s great when they gush over your work, but the fact that they cared enough about your work to reach out to you at all is an honor.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I loved everything Judy Blume. The Fudge books, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and I’ll never forget the “naughty” book. I remember reading Forever in a closet with a flashlight because it had S-E-X in it. I started reading at a very young age. As my mom recounted it before she passed away, I was three and as she was reading to me, I’d snatch the book out of her hand as if to say, “I’ve got this!” And then I would read to her instead. I truly love reading.
How do you unwind after a long writing session?
Social networking on Facebook and Twitter. Which if you think about it, is actually more writing. But I have to say that I love being witty. I’m a closet comedian who loves getting a laugh. So I’ll throw out a few zingers each day to quench my self-indulgent need for attention.
What is your greatest weakness as a writer? Your greatest strength?
Description. I’m horrible with description and it just came to me why. I usually skip over long descriptions in books and get to the meat of the story. While I envy those with the ability to create that artistic flowery prose, I can’t stand to read it. So, because I don’t read it, I probably haven’t learned to write it.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
I read a book by Ann Lamott called Bird by Bird, and in it is one of the single best pieces of advice a writer could ever receive. It’s okay to write crappy first drafts. Well, she didn’t use the word “crappy” but you get the gist. I’m such a perfectionist. When I wrote my first novel I was too naïve to realize how much crap I was writing. I was blissfully oblivious. But after the first few rounds of criticism and rejections from literary agents, I was acutely aware of how much work I had not done and how good I wasn’t. So, I was very timid when I started the second book. I kept stopping myself and trying to get every word right on the first try. Big mistake. I couldn’t get past the third chapter. Then I read Bird by Bird up to the chapter on crappy first drafts and in two or three months finished the book. Allowing yourself to be imperfect means allowing yourself to have a real career. And EVERYTHING can be fixed. EVERYTHING.
What are you reading now? Why did you choose that book?
I’m reading Steve Job’s by Walter Isaacson. I love reading books about people with the drive to succeed despite life’s challenges. They give me energy.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing The Seven Year Itch?
How much I still have to learn. What I know about writing couldn’t fill the eye of a needle and I know a lot more than some people which is kind of scary.
Laptop, desktop or notebook and pen/pencil for writing?
All of the above depending on my mood. I am fickle and flighty when it comes to writing. But when I write using a pen and notebook, it has to be a special pen and a special notebook or the words don’t come. I have two desktops and two laptops but I mostly use the desktop with the 23-inch screen because I’m blind.
Do you believe in writer’s block? Has it ever happened to you?
Oh my goodness yes. I think I’m going through a phase right now. I define writer’s block as a point in time when writing is hard, when the words don’t flow, when I have to force every word on the page. And my cure for writer’s block is simply to write, to force every single word onto the page. At least I have something to fix later and if I keep writing, eventually the words will flow.
Is there a book you’ve ever read more than five times? Which book and what drew you back to it?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Need I say more? I love the humor, the tension in the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth…and the happily ever after ending. It’s the original chick lit and it never gets old.
Have you ever literally deleted or thrown away a book you’ve written?
Never. Everything can be fixed, even if you have to write it 27,000 times.
Favorite place? The beach. Love the sound of the ocean.
Best Christmas present? Diamonds
Favorite smell? Italian food
Favorite movie? The Godfather I and II.
Favorite dish? Anything Italian
Favorite color? Black and blue
Favorite quote? Experience is the only teacher that gives the test first and the lesson later.
Your best trait? Loyalty
Your worst trait? Impatience
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Meet the Author
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.
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.