Today, I have author S.D. Skye on the blog with a guest post on how the ‘Itch’ was created. She is on tour with her novel, Son Of An Itch, book 2 in the in the J.J. McCall: The FBI Espionage Series.
Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of the post. The author will be awarding a Kindle Fire HD and a $25 Kindle Gift Card to
a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. (US ONLY)
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
S.D. Skye Novels on Kindle – Worldwide Links
J.J. McCall – The Human Lie Detector
When I first conceived the idea for this FBI Espionage (counterespionage) series, I wanted to write a heroine modeled after an African American agent with whom I worked at the FBI. 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. But she operated in a smooth, classy way.
So, when creating the J.J. McCall character, I wanted to somehow infuse her with that same ability to cut through the BS. I wanted it 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.
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 discerning the truth from a lie. When an FBI Agent pitches a foreign intelligence officer 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 internal counterintelligence service? When a new diplomat enters the United States and claims he’s legitimate, is he clean or is he an intelligence officer? From operational covers to legends to covert or clandestine operations, the spy world is built around lies. Counterintelligence is partially the search for the truth. Imagine a character who could detect a lie in this world?
So, I created a character that could mitigate the “lying” problem by detecting them. Then I 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 are challenged, 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. 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 most important question—WHY. She almost always has to dig 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. So, I turned that around and made J.J. itch whenever she heard a lie. And I thought the associated humor might break the edge a bit in some very tense scenes. In addition, most people with extrasensory gifts welcome them. But I thought J.J. would reject this uncomfortable “gift” of an itch which makes the gift more complex (think Elsa in Frozen).
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 my law enforcement mind thought “scam gone wrong.” But 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. When this scam goes wrong in the Jones family, the perpetrator leaves a generational curse behind before making an ungraceful exit.
Mix all these ingredients together and that’s how I came up with J.J.’s “Itch.”
The author will be awarding a Kindle Fire HD and a $25 Kindle Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. (US ONLY)
Follow the tour at Goddess Fish Promotions.
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