Thursday, July 5, 2012

Who is FBI Agent J.J. McCall?

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. Of all the agents I worked with, and I worked with quite a few, she always stood out in my mind for many reasons.

One reason she clings to my memory is that she was, at least at the time, the only African-American female agent assigned to catch Russian spies. The only one I'd ever seen. She was maybe 5'2 or 5'3--completely unimposing. She was like a doll who you wanted to sit next to a fluffed pillow and comb her hair--but ALWAYS wearing a really sharp pantsuit. And she looked like she was about 12 years old. Okay, not 12, but not much older. Certainly she looked as young as I was at the time and I was in my late 20s. I would see her walking in and out of the Russian operational units and wondered why she was there. She seemed completely out of place.Understand, Russian counterintelligence at the FBI has generally been dominated by white men and a few white women. African-Americans usually served in clerical support positions.That's just a statement of fact. So, to see this petite 12 year old African American female FBI agent wandering around the halls of the Hoover Building was in and of itself an anomaly. Imagine my shock and surprise when I found out that not only was she an agent, she was a SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT assigned to work ESPIONAGE cases.


Had I been dropped into some alternate universe? From that point on, I wondered what must she have endured to get into that position. How many jerks (and the FBI had more than its share) did she have to endure? How many slots had she been passed up on before she got this one? How many snide remarks did people squawk behind her back? How many people told her  (or at least thought) she'd have problems recruiting sources because of the color of her skin? How did she persevere to get into a position coveted by so many white male FBI agents?

Then one day I found out. As an analyst, I had been assigned to work on a joint intelligence community task force which was formed to find the source of some intelligence compromises. And the agent assigned to the case was the 12 year old. Only she wasn't. I remember, we stepped into the State Department lobby for the meeting and she tried to whisper her birth date--which was in the 1950s!

I caught myself saying out loud, "Are you f*cking kidding me!!"

Trust me, if I looked her age and had a birth date in the 1950s I would print it on a T-shirt and proudly prance around with it on every moment I could. As it turned out, not only was she a lot older than I thought but she was also one of the sharpest agents I'd ever met--man or woman, black, white, or otherwise. She walked into the meeting and commanded it. Not in a "step out of my way I'm FBI" kind of way, but in a "this issue is too important to dilly dally with, let's get to business" kind of way. And she had an innate ability to drill through the sea of BS floating about the room to get to the point.

Somewhere, in the far recesses of my mind, I told myself that I would write a story about women like her someday. Even though I'm not sure I could conceive that I would be a published author just a few years after leaving the Bureau or writing a series for publication, she sowed a seed in me.

The character's name--J.J. McCall (Jasmine Jones McCall)--actually came to me in a dream. I woke up and yelled it out one morning a few years ago not long after I finished my first novel. And it stuck with me, even as I kept putting the idea for this novel on the back burner. I didn't immediately plan to give the FBI Agent character this name but when I would think about it, I thought it just sounded perfect for the person I'd planned to write. She's kind of Salt meets Alex Cross.

As I spoke to before, the agent's innate ability to cut through the BS really impressed me, so I wanted to make that part of J.J.'s character. I didn't want to write anything paranormal or sci-fi, so I came up with the idea to give her a physiological response to BS or lies. However, I wanted some kind of reaction that would lend itself well to humor because humor is such a significant part of my brand. Eventually, I decided that the reaction would be an itch--and that just brought to mind so many potentially hilarious scenes. Can you imagine the problem of lies making you itch--in today's world?

The complexity of her "gift" also lends itself to some great story twists. For example, knowing someone has told you a lie gives you only a small window into the truth. A little white lie told to protect someone will give her the same physiological response as someone who is telling a bold-faced lie to be deceitful. J.J. will have to do a lot of analysis and investigation to determine which is which. So while her "gift" of lie detection gives her an insight that no one else will have--it also complicates her job and love life in more ways than not.

Ahhh...her love life. Also very complex. She has two suitors. One is her co-case agent (partner) Antonio Donato. He's a Italian and a gorgeous one at that. They share a mutual attraction but fight their feelings because of the family histories--both have parents who don't believe in mixing races. You would think in this day and age race would no longer be an issue but in some circles, it still very much is. Then there is Grayson "Six" Chance. He was named by my readers. Six is a sexy African-American CIA case officer/counterintelligence officer who broke J.J.'s heart but wants to give their relationship another try. And unfortunately J.J. hasn't quite let go of him to allow herself to fall for anyone else--including Tony.

So this series, while focusing on a different page-turning espionage-related case for each book, will follow the relationships between these characters. Right now, I have no idea who J.J. will end up with --if she ends up with anyone at all. What I do know is that it will be a fun, suspenseful ride until we get to the end..

Are you in? 

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The Seven Year Itch - Kindle ($2.99)
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