The Thing About Love by Julie James is a believable mystery whose strengths is the character interaction. Presenting both the male and the female differing points with the characters Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd will remind readers of the classic book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray. Beyond that, this novel combines a mysterious plot, some romance, and a realistic look at the undercover world of FBI Agents where they try to nail a Florida politician for taking bribes.
Elise Cooper: Why the FBI world?
Julie James: One of the reasons I went to law school is to possibly become an FBI agent. I met with an FBI recruiter who told me I would not pass the vision test. This was before they allowed Lasik eye surgery. Even though I became a trial lawyer I was still fascinated with the FBI and writing these stories was something I wanted to do for awhile.
EC: How did you do the research?
JJ: I met for lunch with an undercover FBI agent here in Chicago and we discussed the Academy. He made this off hand comment about the guys from HRT, the Hostage Rescue Team. They had a hard two-week selective process; yet, the general training they breezed through. I would describe the HRT as the civilian equivalent to the Special Forces. He also told me how in his class there were only two females, which I put in the story. I also researched the army and FBI on their websites as well as public forums. I even had a question answered on Twitter by a writer who had been in the army.
EC: Do you see any of yourself in Jessica, the female lead?
JJ: Yes, especially when she was struggling to complete the physical aspects of the training. I am shorter myself and I could certainly relate to being the most petite one in the class. To be honest, I am not even sure I would have made it through all of that. I could also relate to the fact she was the youngest in the class. When I started out as a trial lawyer I worked at a large law firm where I was fortunate to get hands on courtroom experience. Often I would find myself as the youngest person in the courtroom, and sometimes the only woman. Yet, both Jessica and myself rose up to the challenge.
EC: How did you go from a trial lawyer to a writer?
JJ: I decided to write a screenplay in my spare time for a romantic/comedy movie. I found an agent who optioned it out to a big Hollywood producer. Then I wrote a second script, a suspense thriller, which was optioned as well. For the next year and a half I struggled with what I wanted to do, law or writing. I decided to quit my job and write full time. After two more screenplays that were not optioned, I thought maybe I had made a big mistake. Since by that time the option on my first one had run out my agent suggested I write the story as a book. I finished it and the rest is history.
EC: Would you ever make these characters into a book series?
JJ: I have no immediate plans for that. In order to make them interesting I would either have to break them up or create significant conflict. I like their ‘happily ever after.’ They could possibly pop up as side characters in my FBI agent or US Attorney stories. This is certainly possible.
EC: A powerful quote about the FBI undercover agent, Jessica, Harlow’s feelings while training in Quantico, “As a female in a profession where over eighty percent of her colleagues were men, and an even greater percentage of her supervisors… getting others to see her not as a ‘female special agent’ but as a special agent who happened to be a woman.” Please Explain.
JJ: She wants just to be viewed as a Special Agent like anyone else, capable of doing the job. She is not pretending to be one of the guys and yes, is a proud of being a woman. I think she wants to make sure she is not excluded from a case because of her sex. Yet, in some cases being a woman could be an advantage where using her femininity could help her. The book is about her proving herself, and I made sure not to put any scenes where she is viewed as a damsel in distress.
EC: What did you base Mayor Blair, the antagonist, on?
JJ: He was based on the mayor of Charlotte North Carolina who did something very similar. He was arrested and convicted. Undercover agents posed as out of town investees that were looking at different properties. I read some of the covert transcripts.
EC: You write great dialogue between the characters?
JJ: I made the male lead, John, young and attractive. He tries to interact with Jessica and she overreacts. She had her attitude to create a distance, because she was aware of how something would be viewed. Regarding the banter, I do love the sarcasm. I go back to the black and white romantic comedies like the Philadelphia Story, where a man and a woman can have something happen where the guy and the gal see it in completely different ways. Pretty early on I decided to have a he said/she said chapter.
EC: There are a lot of similarities with what an undercover agent goes through and those serving in the military?
JJ: Yes the analogy is very similar. Those trying out for the HRT are recruited from the military. I knew that John, who was an Army Ranger, would whiz through the physical stuff and the firearm challenges. Also, I wanted to show how undercover work is hard on relationships. Jessica and John had a failed relationship because the other person could not handle the mental toll or the lifestyle. Both were gone a significant amount of time, while their main focus was on the case. Since they could not talk about it the other person feels blocked out to a whole part of their life.
EC: Since both had cheating spouses did you do it to have them bond?
JJ: I had a vision early on for the scene in the airplane where they discuss their failed relationships. I knew this would be a turning point, a ‘been there moment.’