Behind-the-Scenes peek into IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Note: the giveaway is now closed. Winners will be announced in the morning.

As we rapidly approach the May 6 release date of IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING (whoo-hoo!), I thought it would be fun to give you guys a behind-the-scenes peek into the book.IHOW final cover

First, something you might not know about me… (and, note: if you’re new to my FBI/U.S. Attorney books, I write them as standalones, so you can absolutely start with It Happened One Wedding): the law enforcement profession is something that’s interested me ever since I was a kid. Three family members of mine have been/are Chicago police officers, including my grandfather, who was a captain at the time he retired. Later, I married Mr. James, whose father is also a former Chicago police officer. So hearing cop stories is definitely part of the James family makeup.

And here’s something else you probably didn’t know: after graduating college, I went to law school with the goal of becoming an FBI agent. My first semester there, I met with an FBI recruiter who informed me that, sadly, I would never pass the vision test required of special agents. (This was back in the day when having Lasix surgery didn’t count—a rule which, I believe, they’ve since changed.) I remember leaving that interview with the FBI recruiter and thinking, “So. . . now what? You mean I have to be a real lawyer?”

In hindsight, becoming a “real” lawyer was a very good thing. First, because I’m basically a wuss—which is kind of an impediment to being a special agent—and second, because I ended up really enjoying my time as a trial lawyer. Now I’m a full-time author, and writing the FBI/U.S. Attorney series has allowed me to tap into those law enforcement roots—a wish fulfillment, of sorts, because I get to live vicariously through the lives of my characters.

And, on that note…

As many of you know, the hero of IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING, Vaughn Roberts, is a Chicago FBI agent, and when writing his work-related scenes, I sought the advice of an active Chicago FBI agent—who we will refer to as “Mr. Special Agent.”  And, folks, let me tell you two things: (1) Mr. Special Agent totally rocks, because I asked him, like, a bazillion pesky questions about being an FBI agent and he graciously answered every single one of them, and (2) there is a lot I didn’t know about FBI life.

So with me today is Mr. Special Agent himself, who’s here to talk about some of those things, and also to share his thoughts about being a “technical consultant” for the book. Oh—and we also have the answers to some questions you guys asked Mr. Special Agent on my Facebook page, and I’m giving away five signed copies of It Happened One Wedding.  So let’s get started!

First, let’s begin with a short list I made just for this occasion:

Top Ten Things I Didn’t Know About FBI Agents (aka Things They Don’t Show you on TV and in the Movies)

10. As sexy as it may be on TV, real FBI agents don’t carry their guns in a shoulder rig/holster. I know, I know, all you Jack Pallas and Nick McCall fans are crushed. Apparently, that’s not a “practical” way to carry a gun—strong side hip is the natural draw position. Like FBI agents need to worry about being practical.  Pfft.

9. Bullet proof vests are really uncomfortable.

8. FBI agents like to use the word “pistol” when referring to their guns. And they are really into their guns.

7. If you meet an FBI agent, proceed with caution—because odds are he’s armed to the teeth. In addition to their Glocks, most agents carry a knife on them. Some also carry a smaller backup gun in an ankle holster.

6. They have a serious jones for Dodge Chargers with the Pursuit Package. Like, if you’re an FBI agent, this is the car you want to have:

Dodge Charger

5. Every year, the FBI gets 115,000 applications and takes only approximately 1000 students from that. The majority of trainees who flunk out do so during the firearms/defensive tactics phase, because they can’t fire a gun without flinching.

4. They have an undercover school. With actual desks and everything.

3. Weird and funny stuff sometimes goes wrong when they’re working undercover. Mr. Special Agent told me he once drove a fancy Escalade while working undercover as a gun buyer and some random dude broke into his car and stole the radio. (Oops.)

2. It’s considered “poor form” for an FBI agent to have his gun exposed in public, which can lead to wardrobe challenges in warmer temperatures. According to Mr. Special Agent, they rock the untucked Polo in the summer.

1. Undercover operations are way, way more complicated than I’d ever imagined. (And we’ll be talking more about that in a moment.)

And now… onto the questions with Mr. Special Agent!

Q. Thanks for taking the time to do this! First things first: What did you think about being a “technical consultant” for the book? Was it about what you’d expected when you first said yes to helping me out, or was I more pesky than you’d ever imagined? 🙂 

This was the second time I have been asked to be a technical consultant.  The first was on a screenplay that became a stage production.  It is an interesting process to try and make reality into entertainment.  Just as I am sure you struggle to take the mundane realities of a relationship and make them interesting to your readers, a great deal of the grinding reality has to be removed from law enforcement to make it entertaining.  The Bureau asked an agent friend of mine to consult on a major Hollywood production and Christian Bale told him roughly; “I want to know the right way to do everything.  We may not do it that way in the film because the camera or the scene may dictate something else, but I always want you to tell me real way.”  (That is not a direct quote as it is second hand, but I put quotes around for lack of a better idea).  I look at working with you the same way.  I will always tell you to the best of my ability what the reality would likely be of a situation you have created, but I know the reality may not be what the story needs.

Q. When we first met (actually, the second time we’d met), I was in the brainstorming phase of It Happened One Wedding—which means I probably talked about all these wonderfully awesome, exciting ideas that . . . never made it into the book. You’ve now read the finished version. Were you surprised to see what did and did not make it into the story?

If I followed the creative process correctly it seemed halfway to the deadline you threw out everything and started from scratch.  That decision took a lot of guts, but having pre-read the book the result was worth it. I was surprised by your ability to let go of a scene after you had invested time and energy when the scene just did not work out.  I am not sure I would have the strength to drop a less than perfect scene after I had invested myself into the work.

Q. You’ve now read two of my books, Love Irresistibly and It Happened One Wedding. Is it safe to assume those are the only romance novels you’ve read?

Certainly not!  When the Bureau was looking for someone to speak at the author’s conference I leapt at the chance because I am a voracious reader.  In the past I have leaned toward historical romances over contemporary settings because I felt it gave the plot more depth.  Romances do have a tendency to become formulaic.

I’ve read four of your books, actually, and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Your great strength is your dialogue and the character interaction.  It is very easy to envision your work on the big screen.  And thank you for not going down the damsel in distress road where the female lead is always kidnapped and saved by the FBI Agent.  Your characters have wonderful dynamic personalities and I appreciate that each has doubt and angst regardless of how tough or glamorous they seem to outsiders.  I think there is a lot of reality there.

Q.  Well, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed them! Now here’s the all-important question: how did I do with the FBI stuff? Now, I know you guys don’t actually have a pool in the gym at the Chicago FBI office. But in the Julie James world, you do. And also a boxing ring and an outdoor beach volleyball court ala Top Gun. (Kidding! Sort of.)

No boxing ring.  I haven’t boxed since the academy.  No volleyball court.  We had a basketball court on top of the parking garage for a while, but there are too many cars and they are parking all the way to the top now.  You did well in incorporating the way we do business into several of your scenes while not revealing too much.  It is a delicate line to balance to talk about operational realities without publishing something criminals could use to become better criminals.

Q. In the book, there’s a subplot involving one of Vaughn’s undercover cases—he’s posing as an illegal gun buyer as part of an investigation into some corrupt Chicago cops who are running a smuggling ring. We talked a lot about those scenes—particularly, the mechanics behind Vaughn’s meetings with the bad guys. And I have to say, I was amazed by how much advance planning and backup goes into these kinds of undercover meetings. Can you talk about that a little?

Undercover operations are very difficult to control because people do such unexpected and often inexplicable things. Bad guys often decide to rip each other off or change plans as they see fit. These people are often already predisposed to violent solutions to their problems.

Often operations have to happen in public areas. Our highest duty is to protect the public. When we create an environment where a criminal is going to interact with the public in a potentially stressful event, like the deals laid out in the book, we take very seriously the need to protect our people and the public.

In order to provide protection to everyone in these situations we strive to exert as much control as possible. We try to control the physical location, the number of people and weapons the criminal can present and the avenues available. To do this we use a lot of technology for communications and surveillance. Often good information can prevent problems. If we know in advance the target is bringing extra people and guns to a meeting we can cancel and change tactics before anyone gets hurt. For the scenes in the book, we were dealing with criminals who were constantly armed and wary so it would have been reasonable to have an abundance of resources available to deal with situations.

Q. You told me that, “The FBI loves overwhelming people with manpower and firepower.” I thought that line was so great, I used it in the book. What did you mean by that?

Let me use an example, though it is not my story but another agent’s. An agent I knew had an arrest warrant and a good location for a subject. As they pulled up to the house the guy they were looking for was just walking out. The subject realized what was happening and tried to get back inside and the agent jumped out of his car with his sub machinegun and accosted the subject who had a revolver in his belt. My friend told me he could see in the guy’s eyes that he wanted to try for his revolver and he was thinking about the odds. The agent just said “You’re going to lose”. The subject eyed the big shoulder weapon and surrendered.

If that encounter had been pistol to pistol the guy would have tried it and he, and probably the agent as well, would have gotten shot. The agent bringing a bigger gun to the fight than the bad guy saved the bad guy’s life and possible the agent’s life as well.

We find people don’t fight when they decide the odds are overwhelmingly against them. When people don’t fight, no one gets hurts. It is only when you give someone the impression they might win or might escape they will fight.

[Julie makes note to self: I’m so going to use that “You’re going to lose” line in a book.]

Q. Less than 10% of special agents go to undercover school, and you’re one of that small percentage. You mentioned something else that I used in the book, that you tell your friends and family not to approach you if they see you out and about in a coffee shop and such, in case you are undercover in that moment. But you mentioned that you’ve still been busted, nevertheless… Want to share that story?

One of my funniest moments from undercover work happened walking into a restaurant hand in hand with a female agent.  Another agent’s wife was walking out, recognized the agent with me and clearly thinking she had stumbled onto an indiscretion stopped to say hello with a gleam in her eye.  She called the agent with me by her true name and we gave her a flat stare watching the situation dawn on her.  If there is anyone in the world who should know better it is an agent’s wife.  The stricken look on her face was unforgettable and she fled without another word.  The operation went on without a hitch.

Q. One last thing: a few months ago you asked if I wanted to participate in a SWAT training event, as a hostage. I couldn’t go, unfortunately, but when I mentioned that I couldn’t believe you use actual civilians for those kinds of things, you said it was good training because “innocent people do bizarre things while we are trying to save them.” Anything specific you can tell us about?

I am still not sure I believe you were busy. I think you might have been scared.

Julie: Oh, I definitely was intimidated. Still, if I hadn’t been on mom duty at the time (darn kids) I probably would’ve sucked it up and gone anyway just for the writing material I would’ve gotten. 

It is not only bad guys that do crazy things under stress, but innocent people as well. When a hostage has been under incredible stress for hours not knowing if they will be hurt and suddenly they see a chance, often in a surge of violence, no one can say how they will react. I have seen people stand upright paralyzed with fear as gunfire has been exchanged all around them. Often hostages will rush for us trying to reach freedom but our priority has to be neutralizing the threat posed by the bad guys. Sometimes we have difficulty telling hostages from hostage takers as the bad guys drop their guns and get on the floor in response to our commands while the hostages dig through pockets looking for cell phones to make a Youtube video of their rescue.

Seriously, I could probably chat with you all day about this stuff. But, since you undoubtedly have tons of super-important special agent stuff to get back to, let me get to those reader questions. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for all the questions people posted on my Facebook page, but here’s a sample:

1. What scares you in your line of work?

The greatest fear is that someone on my team would get hurt because I have done something wrong or careless.  When you work closely with people you may not get along, you may not even like them, but they are your people.  You have to count on them and they have to count on you.

2. What’s the most ridiculous/funny stereotype people have of FBI agents?

“We are the FBI and we are taking over!”  It doesn’t really happen that way even if sometimes it should.

3. Do any of the FBI shows on TV accurately depict reality?

I doubt they would be very successful shows if they depicted reality particularly well.  To provide entertainment any show/movie/book has to skip over the thousands of mundane things taking up the majority of time in any job and show only the action.  One episode of any popular FBI based show would probably result in months of report writing, investigation and possible congressional hearings!

4. What is your most interesting experience as a “technical consultant” for a fiction writer?

Reading the result!  Especially on this project where the plot changed and I had no idea what to expect.

5. What was your most memorable under cover assignment and why?

I was chosen for my first undercover assignment because I was available and from out of town.  Therefore I was a fresh face.  It was supposed to just be a couple of interactions but went on for months.  I ended up constantly dropping my regular work to fly back there for more meetings and my actual supervisor was not happy.  I learned a lot about the difficulty of keeping a second life together.  Different city, home, car, clothes, phones, friends, name, address, profession.  Think about how difficult it is to remember where you put your keys last night.  Now tomorrow do it in a different home with different keys. I had to sit down and be friends with people and share stories that I would be able to remember from each interaction, but that could not be used to identify me.

This can all sound glamorous and exciting.  The fifth time you are cancelling plans with your family and friends because the target of the investigation wants to take you to this party Saturday and introduce you to this guy the glamorous shine begins to wear thin.

6. Did you read Julie’s books to see how she used the information you gave her?

There is no way I could resist reading Julie’s books!

7. What’s it like to balance work and your personal life since secrecy is important?

This is a complicated answer because it is not an issue until it suddenly becomes an issue.  Imagine living with someone who goes to work in the morning and generally comes home around the same time in the evening.  Sometimes he complains about judge’s rulings or US Attorneys that won’t do what he thinks they should or bad coffee.  You make plans for weekends and have a normal life.  But when he works late he can’t tell you why, where or when he will be home.  You don’t know who is going to call you if something goes wrong or how long it is going to take to call you.  Every day you come home you check the bag he keeps packed in the closet.  Every now and then the bag is gone and instead there is a note on the refrigerator that says “Had to go out of town.  I’ll call”.  Now you are taking the kids to the soccer game and every parent says “where is he” but the fact is you don’t know and you don’t know if you are ever going to know where he went.  He may come back and tell you all about it or that trip may never be spoken of again.

8. Do you have a favorite “dumb criminal” story? One that is so ridiculous and outrageous that if it were in a work of fiction no one would ever find it believable?

A man came to our office for a pre-employment polygraph (lie detector) exam having applied for a job as an Intelligence Analyst.  He failed the test and the examiner asked some follow up questions.   He admitted he had downloaded some child pornography to his computer for a research paper.  By the time we had the whole story out of him he had a huge collection of material and had made a video of his 32 year-old self with his high school girlfriend.

We told him we had agents on the way to his apartment to seize his computer and he asked us to give him a day because it was his birthday and he was worried his friends would be at the house to give him a surprise party.

He asked the judge to throw out his statements because when he made them he still thought he was being interviewed for a job with the FBI rather than investigated by the FBI.

If this were used as a plot by an author everyone would say it was too farfetched.  This man was a community college professor working on a doctorate.

9. Have you become cynical?

No.  Why, what are you hiding?  I have been asked several times why cops are all mean.  There are many regular looking people who do truly horrible things.  If you interact with them long enough you start to look askance at everyone.  Whatever evil you may be able to image there is some real evil that will simply leave you stunned.  Some people will never find justice; some bad people will get away and do it all over again.  I don’t think you can do this job for very long without some cynicism to help protect you.

10. How much is undercover work like acting?

I have never been an actor so I cannot be sure.  Actors get scripts and rehearsals though, and I would love to have a paper telling me what the other guy is going to say.

11. Are you really required to wear a suit with dress shoes? Is it more difficult to chase a criminal dressed that way?

We try to dress appropriate to the work we are doing, but we are ultimately a professional organization and we try to represent ourselves that way by dressing professionally when we can.  We do not show up to planned tactical operations in a suit and tie, but it has happened that I have found myself strapping armor over professional clothing.  I take pains to always wear soft soled shoes with ties so I can run if necessary.

12. What’s the craziest/ funniest thing you’ve encountered while on the job?

There are too many to choose.  I often think of writing a book just about the stupid unpredictable stuff that happens.

Recently I was on the street with a team when one agent called out for help after someone tried to force their way into his car.  We all went rushing to his location and as I came around the corner my headlights illuminated someone fleeing.  I bailed out and chased the guy only to conclude he was clearly training for the Olympic track and field team.  He leaped over a six-foot high gate like he was in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  I kicked off the gate for altitude, threw one leg over the top and the entire thing fell off its hinges onto the concrete with me riding it all the way down.  Turned out he did not meet the description at all and had just taken off running because of the sirens.

[Cue Julie, laughing as she reads this]

13. Is it hard to separate yourself once you start to go undercover and then come back to your our own life?

It can be because things you do start to become habits.  If your undercover persona requires you to lie and be violent, you are in danger of those habits bleeding over into your regular life.  Worse, it is impossible to escape the stress of living this double life and the very serious danger of making a mistake.  Stress can be very debilitating and ruin your life and your case.

14. On TV, it looks like a glamorous job. Is it? What do you like most and least about being an agent?

The job has glamorous moments.  Everyone wants to talk to you about your job and wants to hear stories.  I have been filmed by multitude news cameras and asked for interviews many times.  Even better Julie James wants my opinion on things.  Heady stuff indeed.

There are two things about this job I love.  First, it defies routine.  We simply do too many different things and have to react to such a diverse set of circumstances that things stay fresh.  Second, no matter how awful, demoralizing and utterly useless a day you just had, you were fighting the good fight.  You don’t always win the good fight, but it is good to have the opportunity to fight it.

I don’t like that we often don’t get to find out the rest of the story.  Things often lack closure.  We will work on a portion of a case, send off the results and you never really know what happened.  It is frustrating but we are typically way too busy to spend the time to find out the ending for personal edification.  I also hate that the media and defense attorneys can go on camera and say whatever they please with no regard to the truth, and the facts can’t come out until trial.  Then when the facts are presented at trial they are so watered down by pre-trial motions only fractions of the facts ever get to come out.

* * *

So there you have it, folks. The straight skinny from a Chicago FBI agent. Mr. Special Agent, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insight with me this past year, and also for coming here to chat with us today.

And now for the giveaway part! Today I’m giving away five copies of It Happened One Wedding—actual finished copies, not ARCs. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below. Winners can choose either a signed paperback or a Kindle/Nook ebook. The giveaway is international, and will remain open until 9pm CST on Thursday, May 1. Those of you reading this on my Goodreads page should click here to leave a comment.

Good luck! And remember to mark your calendars for May 6–IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING hits bookstores one week from today!

Four Men and a Romance Novel

Please note: the giveaway is now closed.  

One question I’m asked frequently is what my friends and family think about the fact that I stopped practicing law to write.  My response is always the same: that my friends and family rock.  Truly, they’re all incredibly supportive of my writing.  And not just my girlfriends—the men, too.

Recently, one of my male friends tweeted that he was reading About That Night and cracked me up with this reaction: Used my new pickup line on my barista: “I plan on being inside you a lot.” Her panties fell RIGHT OFF! Thanks, @juljames!

And then I started wondering . . . what do these guys really think about reading romance?

So I decided to ask.

Yep, I’ve got the straight skinny from the men-folk themselves, four friends of mine who were kind enough to join me here today and give us their perspectives on reading romance.  For purposes of this blog, we’ll call them “Brian,” “David,” “Joe,” and “Matt,” because, well, those are their names.

Julie: All right, let’s start with an easy question.  Tell us a little about yourselves and what you typically like to read.  Bachelor #1, we’ll start with—Oops! Wrong blog.

Brian:  I’m an attorney.  Like Julie, I practiced at a large law firm in Chicago, where I specialized in employment law and litigation, and I now work as an in-house attorney at one of the largest biofuel companies in the world.  When I’m not reading case law and/or reviewing documents for my job, I’ve generally enjoyed reading fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy.

David: I’m a lawyer and an agent provocateur, stirring up situations whenever I can (but not in the Ludicrous, “waking up with a story to tell” kind of way).  Most people I know say they don’t know whether I’m telling a story or telling the truth, and thankfully that’s not because I’m a lawyer.  I blame my uncle Greg for that.

But moving on . . . . Prior to reading your novels, you could find anything next to my bed or toilet except romance novels (seriously).   Looking around my library, I would have to say that I read anything and everything – except romance.  My interest tends towards aliens and astral projection and the closest I’ve come to romance is, well, some erotic fiction I’ve “accumulated” over the years starting back in college with perhaps the best title for an erotic book – Groove Tongue Nympho.   And if you think the title is naughty, the cover is something to behold.  But I’ll leave it at that.

Joe:  I’m a labor and employment attorney for a very large corporate law firm in the Southwest.  Newly married – which is helpful, because most people who see your books when we are laying out at the pool reading just assume they belong to my wife.

I am an avid newspaper reader (hard copy, too, not one of those Google Alerts readers who only read about topics they like).  When I do read for pleasure, I lean towards John Grisham, Dan Brown and Stephen King.

Matt: I’m an Opera and Musical Theatre writer and professor,  (And, yes, I’m straight.  Really.) and a married father to an 8 month old daughter.

It may sound dull, but I’m usually reading scripts or non-fiction books about the stage – or research material for shows.  When I do read fiction for pleasure, it’s light contemporary stuff like Douglas Coupland or Steve Martin.

Julie: I’m still trying to purge my mind of the cover imagery I’ve conjured up for Groove Tongue Nympho . . . . Okay, I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that none of you had read a romance novel before being blackmailed inspired to pick up one of mine.  What expectations, if any, did you have going in?

Matt: I’ve always wondered if romance novels were more like chick lit/rom coms, or more like erotica.  And I expected more Fabio than I got – but I didn’t miss him.

Brian:  A part of me was very excited to read your first book—I mean, the fact that my good friend was writing a book and was being published was thrilling—but another part of me had some concerns.  On the one hand, I’d read the amazing screenplay on which your first book was based, and I was hopeful that you could convert such a solid story into an enjoyable novel.  But I was also really nervous that I wouldn’t like it—even if only because I’m not a fan of romance novels—and then I’d have to lie to you about how much I liked it.

David: Well, to be honest, I did not expect as much drama and conflict as I’ve found in your novels.   A quarter of the way through A Lot Like Love, I was like, hmmm, this is not what I thought romance novels would be.  There was more than just sexual tension going on, and I found myself liking the book in a way that I did not expect.   And don’t get me wrong, I liked the sexual tension, and indeed was quite pleasantly surprised by the introduction of such things as the “underwater blowjob” – something my girlfriend said is impossible, to which I replied: “You’ll never know unless you try.”  We are still dating.

Joe:  To be honest, I expected a lot more formulaic, linear effort, particularly for the first novel.  You know, like a legal brief.  I’m very impressed that you are able to break out of that mindset in your writing – candidly, I’m sure I couldn’t do it.  I not only write like a lawyer, I think like one, plan like one and even argue sports with strangers in bars like one.  Yes, I knew you had a wicked, sarcastic sense of humor (fyi, I have known Julie for over 10 years) – I did not know that it would translate into your writing as well as it does.

Julie:  Since we’re friends, I won’t put you on the spot and ask whether you liked my books.  But I think people would love to get some sense of your reaction to them.  Perhaps a few general thoughts?   (And don’t worry about hurting my feelings—I’m going to edit out anything bad you say and replace it with “If J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and that dude who wrote Ender’s Game teamed up and wrote The Coolest Book Ever, they still wouldn’t be as kick-ass as Julie James.”)

Matt: Orson Scott Card.  He has a name, Miss James.

I did enjoy the books!  I entered with an open mind and the mantra that the books are not intended for me – not unlike when one has agreed to see a romantic comedy with one’s wife.  When those movies (or these books) turn out to be well-crafted and/or appealing, it’s an extra refreshing experience.

Joe:  I found myself chuckling through the first two books, because I was picturing you as the heroine in both of them.  There is a more than a little of Julie in both Taylor Donovan and Payton Kendall.

I was also surprised by just how invested I became in the stories.  How much I wanted the two main characters to get together and fall in love.  For your last two novels, my wife has read them first, and I found myself looking at her and chuckling when, for example, she continues to read a chapter while we are walking down the aisle leaving a plane because she can’t put the book down.  Then, when we are lying by the pool and I don’t notice I’m getting sun burned because I’m so into the book, she gets to return the laugh.

David: If I was writing a brief to the Seventh Circuit after Judge Ito found the books to be too romantic to be published, I would say the following:

•   Julie’s books are not just about courtship.  And while they do revolve around that most divine and hopefully sweaty dance, they do so as a part of a greater suspenseful story, both between the female and male leads, and between those leads and the outer antagonists.

•   A well-written book is a well-written book.  Period.  Regardless of genre.

•   Sex is also great kissing.  Anticipation is not necessarily everything, but the build-up to the climax is crucial.

Brian:  I have really enjoyed reading your books. They read a lot like the best romantic comedy movies I’ve seen, but with much better sex.  Hands down, the thing I enjoy most about the novels is the amazing chemistry between your protagonists (who—let’s be honest here—spend most of the book in antagonist-mode), and the way it is often built, at least in part, through uber-witty verbal sparring between the two leads.  I really enjoy the wit and intelligence the characters display.   Reading the dialogue in the books reminds me of what it’s like to read one of the “Tyrion” chapters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels.  (Hint for you Julie:  That’s about the highest compliment I can pay you for your dialogue.)

Julie:  Aw, thanks Brian.  Given how much I know you enjoy the George R.R. Martin books, that is quite a compliment!  Even if I have no clue what it means . . .

Okay, next question: female readers often talk about how they need to be able to relate to the heroine.  I have my own test when writing my heroines—whether she’s the type of person I would sit down and have a drink with.  Let’s flip the script.  Is that something that effects your enjoyment of a book—your ability to relate to the hero?

Matt: Absolutely.  These guys are clearly meant to be appealing and charming to the reader and to the heroine.  If I thought the hero was a douche, I’d have to put the book down.  Who wants to spend a whole novel watching a woman fall in love with a guy you’d want to punch?

David: Good question.  For me, the most important thing is making the hero likable, regardless of whether I can actually “relate” to their lives.  For example, your male heroes usually have firm – really firm – chests that make me put your books down and do push-ups, but I still like them despite their god-like appearances because they are interesting and likable and their faults are not deal breakers.  If a hero had a deal-breaking fault, like if he was married to someone with cancer, cheated on her, had a kid out of wedlock, and then lied to cover it up, that would be a deal breaker.

One other thing.   I need a hero – especially a movie star or billionaire hero – to have faults that I can relate to.  I suppose for the same reason that some people like to see their emperors with no clothes.  Coming from my background, class has always been an issue, and so, even where I’m at today, I still like to see such heroes taken down a notch or two.

Brian: I’ve always joked that your heroes are heavily inspired by me, but the truth is that I have nothing in common with them other than my great personality and killer looks.  Those minor similarities aside, I’ve never really felt like I could relate too well with the heroes in the novels.   They’re amazing and a little too cool for me to be able to relate to.

Joe:  Candidly, I think your heroines are a bit more relatable than your heroes.  Heck, I’ll admit it:  I’m more like Cameron Lynde than Jack Pallas and always will be.  But, I think men are okay with that – we are used to seeing Tom Cruise in Top Gun or Russell Crowe in Gladiator as our role models and falling woefully short of them.  Even the male role models in “chick” movies – Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic – bear little resemblance to everyday men.  Your heroes (at least in the end of the novels) are more akin to what men aspire to be – and I’m okay with that.

Julie: Pop quiz. If you could be any Julie James hero, you would be:

A. That movie star dude who drives an Aston Martin.

B. That FBI dude who knows how kill a man with staples.

C. That other FBI dude who gets all the cool undercover assignments.

D. That billionaire ex-con dude who dated a Victoria’s Secret supermodel.

E. The lawyer.

Brian: I’d definitely want to be able to kill with staples.  Or at least seriously maim.

David: C.  The other FBI dude who gets dope undercover assignments because, well, I personally know someone who used to get dope undercover assignments (wink).  Did I just wink?  You didn’t see that.

Joe: First, why do you have to make “the lawyer” option so bland?  E is the James hero I’m actually closest to, and I’m not sure I appreciate your insinuation that I most resemble the least of the James heroes . . .

I would want to be a billionaire movie star who plays undercover FBI agents on TV and knows how to incapacitate a group of men with nothing but a stick of gum.  Hey – it’s my fantasy world, who says I can’t answer A – D?

Matt: Of the five, I felt most akin to the undercover FBI dude, although I’d love to kill a man with staples.  Dating a Victoria’s Secret model certainly has appeal, but after that hot tub stunt she pulled, she lost her luster.

Julie:  Now let’s turn to the women.  Female readers want to read about heroes who they, themselves, might fall for.  Flipping the script again, how important was it for the heroines in the books to be someone who could pass the all-important take-her-home-to-meet-Mom test?

Joe: Wait a second, I’m married, I might have to plead the Fifth on this one.  None of your heroines can hold a candle to my beautiful, smart, funny, sexy lawyer wife.

David: Hmm, another good question.  I would have to say that one of the first things my Mom notices about a woman, or anyone she meets, is if they’re down to earth.  So long as their feet don’t lift off the ground, save for an astral projection situation, then they’re good to go for my Mom, and they’re good to go for me.  So, to answer your question, it is important that they pass the take-her-home-to-meet-Mom test.

Matt: Not important, as I was using the heroes as my proxy, not the heroine.  If the heroine had an infectious energy, I’d still find them appealing, even if they weren’t women I’d want to be in a long-term relationship with in real life.

Brian: I’ve consistently felt like I was supposed to be cheering for your heroines, and I’ve enjoyed doing exactly that: cheering for the girl to land the guy, and seeing her do it on her terms.  Even though I’m not always able to relate to the heroines, they usually have my three favorite qualities in a woman: super-likeable, extremely intelligent, and hilarious.  I’d also add that while I also find the supreme inner strength and independence of the heroines to be really attractive, I don’t think a woman necessarily has to have such drive for me to take her home to meet Mom.

Julie: All right, fess up about the sex scenes.  Weird to read those (since I wrote them), or just another part of the book?

David: Mostly just another part of the book, but I must confess that certain scenes and remarks reminded me of the times when I was young and watching “mature” movie scenes with my parents (and please note that I said “mature,” and not “adult”).  Shoot, what am I saying, even now when I watch such scenes, especially with my Mom (which, by the way, does not happen often), I get a little, well, you know, weirded out.  But it’s plenty easier to digest it with you than with my parents.

Matt: Definitely weird.  Fun weird, but weird.  When reading the sex scenes, I couldn’t shake the idea that I was gaining an insight into what you personally find appealing. (Which could be fallacious reasoning – you might be writing towards audience expectations or just postulating what your characters might be “into.”)  So, that’s weird.  And if the scenes were getting me “turned on”… well, that just seems downright naughty.  Probably we shouldn’t be friends any more.  (kidding)

Joe:  A bit weird, particularly when you are on a plane or have your wife next to you while you are reading.  Respectable men are taught to look at “adult” materials in private settings (you know, like a work computer).  But your sex scenes just sort of sneak up on the reader out of nowhere, whether you are sitting in a train station or in your bedroom.  A little redness tends to sneak up into my cheeks and ears.  I know that my wife has hit one of those parts when she lets out a small giggle or an “Oh, my!”

Brian:  At least initially, it was more than a little weird reading sex scenes written by my good female friend.  But the scenes are smokin’ hot.  So I got over it pretty quickly.

Julie: I always tell my friends that my books are rated R for “adult situations.” Were the books more or less explicit than you’d anticipated?

Matt: Going in I thought the plots for romance novels might be very thin excuses for explicit sex, like pool guys showing up in adult movies. Once I cracked these books, I found there was more story than I had anticipated (especially in the FBI books), and that they read more like romantic comedies or romantic action comedies than like Cinemax After Dark.  That also meant when I got to the sex scenes I found them surprisingly explicit, but not in a bad way…

Joe:  Well, let’s be honest, you are warming up as each book progresses.  The first two books were about what I expected.  As they’ve gone on, and you’ve become a bit more, ahem, descriptive, providing more vivid details and literal quotations, I was a bit surprised at first.

Brian:  The first two books were about what I’d anticipated.  The last three have been much more explicit.  It’s been fun seeing you grow as an author, especially as you’ve grown more and more comfortable writing the adult situations.

David: They were just right, albeit the “spit or swallow” exchange caught me off guard, but I know that this topic tends to be discussed amongst close girlfriends (or so I fantasize) so it fits a genre primarily read by women.  And I liked the build up in explicitness, which complimented the evolution of the character’s relationships.

Julie: That brings up a good point.  Allow me to share some statistics. According to the Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2011, here’s how romantic fiction stacked up in terms of sales revenue:

Romance fiction: $1.358 billion
Religion/inspirational: $759 million
Mystery: $682 million
Science fiction/fantasy: $559 million
Classic literary fiction: $455 million

Given how well romantic fiction sells—a genre that is targeted primarily at women—and given that you now have all officially read a romance novel, do you think you’ve learned anything or gained any new insights into what women want out of relationships?

Joe:  Yes, and shame on you for feeding those instincts and desires.  Isn’t this world hard enough for a man without our better halves thinking there are men like Jason Andrews just falling out of trees?  Yes, your heroes tell us to be more witty, romantic, honest, and attentive and those are lessons to take to heart.  To be fair, they also tell us to be handsomer, funnier, better dressed, in much better shape, and wealthier than we are too!  I cringe thinking about my wife, some day when I’m sitting on the couch watching a football game, saying, “I bet Jack Pallas wouldn’t be sitting his lazy butt on the couch!”

Brian:  Not really. I think these romance novels are all fantasies in their own right.  The heroines are wonderful, but they all aim to fall in love with these amazing men, who are far too perfect, and far more impressive than any of the guys I’ve ever known (with the possible exception of Matt).  What woman wouldn’t fall for them?   And, with the men that irresistible, that perfect, I think the main lesson for me is that if I were that irresistible, then women might want me pretty badly too.

David: This is a difficult one because I think I speak for all men when I say that I believe I was born with the knowledge of what all women want out of relationships (except for perhaps Yanomami women).  With that said, I think reading good romance novels will help to keep me grounded in my relationship with my girlfriend, and will help to remind me that the dance should never end, but the dance does take on different hues and tones as life progresses.  With that said, it would be cool to see a romance novel or novels between the same characters at different stages in their lives.

Matt: If the relationships in your books are an indicator of how women fantasize about relationships, then yes: Confident men, a little cheeky/witty.  Handsome and put together, of course, and with an element of mismatch between his personality and that of the heroine that keeps things interesting.

Julie:  With my Q&A guests, typically other romance authors, I like to wrap things up with a few fun questions.  Figured I do the same here:

What are you watching on TV these days? (Or what are you reading?)

Joe: Sports, Celebrity Apprentice and I love the new Once Upon a Time show.

Brian: Watching: Game of Thrones.  Reading:  Nurture Shock (a great, research-based book that dispels a lot of the “conventional wisdom” on parenting), and I’m now re-reading the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin.

David: I am reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and I am watching the new Sherlock Holmes on the BBC and wrapping up the last season of Battlestar Gallatica.

Matt: Not a lot at the moment.  I watched “The Voice” but didn’t like the outcome.  I watched “Face Off” which is an SFX makeup reality show.  I DVR Jeopardy and Archer and Doctor Who.  Jeez, what a nerd!

What’s on your iPod?

Matt: Mostly podcasts: Comedy show and NPR food.  Music-wise: the new Jack Black, a whole lotta Led Zeppelin, some Mozart for work.

David: What’s currently on my playlist is Girl Talk, Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean (do yourself a favor and check out his Coldplay inspired “Strawberry Swing”), Sigur Ros, M83, various trance, Chris Botti’s When I Fall in Love, and I’m going through an 80s music period (The Cure, Depeche Mode, Human League, Flock of Seagulls, et al.).

Brian: Lots of Springsteen.  And Wiggleworms.

Joe: Every genre, but I use it most when working out, so up-tempo dance music (like Armin van Buren, Avicii) tends to rule.

What is your biggest weakness? (Shoes, purses, chocolate, power tools, etc.)

Joe: My wife’s smile.  Seriously.  I don’t really have a weakness for material things – there’s nothing I couldn’t do without.  I guess my somewhat fun car (a Saturn Red Sky convertible) would be the closest thing.  I call it my pre-mid-life crisis car.

Brian: Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza. 

David: The Call of Duty video game.

Matt: I’m afraid I have more ties than Jay Gatsby had shirts.  Oh, and comic books – which I suppose are romance novels for boys.

Favorite role model- real or fictitious – for a romantic lead?   

David: Without hesitation, mine would be Archibald Alexander Leach, otherwise known as Cary Grant.

Joe: My male crush, I mean role model, would be George Clooney.

Brian: 1980’s Robert Downey Jr.   He was everything Hugh Grant has ever aspired to be.

Matt:  Can they be deceased?  Because I’d definitely choose Cary Grant or Gene Kelly, depending on whether or not dancing is required.

Complete this sentence: One fun thing about me that people might not know is…

David: I won two breakdancing competitions in my early teens and I’m now looking to dominate the world of fox-trotting.

Brian: I like to karaoke while sober.

Joe: I can dance—I mean, really dance (I was a serious hip-hop dancer when I was a little guy). It sounds like David, Brian and I need to form a group and take our show on the road . . . I’m sure there are literally tens of people in the world that might watch us (assuming there was no cover charge).

Matt: I have a Comedy Podcast (shameless self-promotion time) called White Dad Problems where my old college roommates and I yuk it up about the challenge of being grown-ups.  You don’t have to be a Dad, you certainly don’t have to be White – but if you need a laugh check it out on iTunes or at (Note that the language is Explicit, but if you’re already reading romance novels…)

Julie:  Thanks so much to all of you for dropping by and giving us the male perspective on reading romance.  This has been a lot of fun! And also quite interesting . . .

And here’s something else for all of you readers: to keep the fun going, five randomly-selected people who leave a comment below will receive a copy of any of my books (your choice).  Winners can choose between a signed paperback or a Kindle, Nook or Kobo ebook.  The giveaway is international and will remain open until 8pm CST on Wednesday, June 27th.

Happy reading!


Video Interview

Hey everyone! I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile–a video interview I did with Morgan at RT BookReviews Magazine. In it, I talk about a few–ahem–problems I had trying to write About That Night with a newborn baby, writing dialogue, the research I do for the FBI/US Attorney books, balancing family and work, and how my AUSA friends probably wonder if I even went to law school.

Thanks to RT BookReviews for the interview!

Q&A and Giveaway–Breaking Point

**Note: the giveaway is closed. Winners announced in comment #74 below.

I’m thrilled to welcome author Pamela Clare to the blog today!

I first became curious about Pamela Clare’s books after reading the great reviews of her 2010 release, Naked Edge. When I saw the book named as one of the 64 finalists in the DABWAHA competition, I realized I’d never picked it up–and quickly rectified that situation.  I finished Naked Edge a couple of weeks ago and loved it!  My six month-old daughter had a double ear infection that week and both of us were getting noooo sleep, yet I still stayed up until 1:30 to finish it.

Pamela’s newest I-Team release, Breaking Point, hit bookstores yesterday, and she’s here to tell us more about the book.

Before I turn things over to Pamela, I must confess that I’ve been ridiculously excited about this book ever since reading the below excerpt.  Many of you know that I’m a huge fan of 24, and the Breaking Point excerpt strikes me as very Jack Bauer-esque + romance.  In my book, that = sold.  I picked up my copy of Breaking Point yesterday and cannot wait to dig in.

So without further ado, here’s my Q&A with Pamela:

1. When did you first realize you wanted to write, and how did you get started?

I was 10 years old when I first realized I wanted to write books. I remember it very distinctly. I went to a nearby branch of the public library (which just happens to sit within view of my office at the newspaper) and read Misty of Chincoteague. Something really magical happened while I was reading that I hadn’t experienced before. The world disappeared, and I felt like I had experienced the adventure right along with the protagonists. I decided right then that I wanted to write books, and I started reading everything I could. I also wrote some exceptionally terrible poetry at that time.

2. What is it about writing romance that appeals to you?
I think romance novels deal with the most important subjects in our lives — human relationships, family, sex. Writing romance also enables me to put together a world that is focused on a woman’s experiences, desires and dreams. As a journalist, I’ve focused on addressing primarily women’s issues. Writing romance allows me to do the same thing, but through a fiction format. Plus, I love happy endings.
3. What do you do on those writing days when you’re stressed, worn out, or distracted?
I wish I had a healthy answer for this one! Instead, I am an example of what not to do. I used to hike or go for long walks while listening to music. But with two more-than-full-time jobs and a recent spinal surgery to correct spinal compression from a broken neck I sustained as a kid, I often feel too stressed to take time to relax. Is that stupid or what? It’s really become a vicious cycle. I live right next to the Rocky Mountains, so the opportunity for fresh air is everywhere. But lately I just feel I don’t have time. Unfortunately, I think it’s impacting my writing.

4. What can you tell us about your current release?

Breaking Point is the fifth book in my I-Team series. I’m very excited about it. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which thrilled me. The I-Team books focus on a group of hardcore investigative journalists—mostly women—who end up in dangerous situations because of their work. All of the stories have their genesis in something I’ve worked on as an investigative reporter, and though they stand alone, there’s payoff for people who read them in order. The relationships between the heroes and heroines are a big ongoing part of the series.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the Breaking Point:

While investigating border violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Denver journalist Natalie Benoit is caught in a bloody ambush and taken captive. Alone in the hands of ruthless killers, she will need every ounce of courage she possesses to survive.

Betrayed by another operative, Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride, a former Navy SEAL, has endured a week of torture and interrogation at the hands of a bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartel. Ready to give his life if he must, he remains unbroken—until he hears the cries of an American woman.

Although Natalie is only a voice in the darkness of their shared prison, her plight brings renewed strength to Zach’s battered body. With her help, he overpowers their captors, and they flee through the desert toward the border, the attraction between them flaring hotter than the Sonoran sun.

But past loss and tragedy leave both of them reluctant to follow their hearts, even when the passion between them reaches its breaking point. Faced with feelings neither expected, they fight to stay ahead of the danger that hunts them as forces more powerful than they can imagine conspire to destroy them both…

5. Can you share with us brief excerpt from your next release?

Zach hung limply from the manacles, unable even to hold up his head.  His shoulders ached from supporting his dead weight, manacles biting into his bloody wrists.  But none of that could compare to the residual pain of that last electro-shock.  His muscles seized in sharp spasms, his heart slamming erratically in his chest, his body shaking, his mouth filled with the coppery taste of his own blood.

Don’t give in to the pain.  Adjust for it.

He willed himself to relax, slowed his breathing.

Cold water splashed over his chest, making him jerk.  It wasn’t to revive him, he knew, but to make his skin more conductive to electricity.  He waited for the next blast of agony, but instead felt a glass bottle against his lips.  A hand fisted in his hair, tilting his head back, and he swallowed, warm cola sliding down his raw, parched throat.

Electrolytes.  Caffeine.  Calories.

All would help him stay alive.

Then his tormenter spoke to him, as always in Spanish.  “You are dying, cuñado.  And for what?  You are alone now, forgotten, left without even a dog to bark at you.  Tell us who has the cocaine and where we can find them.  Then your torment will end.  There will be no more pain, only sleep.”

Zach fought off a wave of despair.  “¡Vete a la verga!”  Fuck off!

The bastard chuckled, but Zach knew he wasn’t really amused.  They’d tried to break him and had failed.  There’d be a price to pay when Cárdenas got the news.

Creaking hinges.  Footsteps.

And Zach knew she was there.  He could feel her presence, hear her rapid breathing.  Hell, he could even smell her, something sweet in a world of filth.


“Tráela aquí.”  Bring her over here.

What the hell?

Zach’s head came up.  Somehow, he drew himself to his feet, his hands clenched around the chains for support, his heart thudding hard in his chest.  Why had they brought her in here?  Were they going to torture her to get to him?

Over my dead body.

6.  Fun questions:  What are you watching on TV these days? (Or what are you reading?)

Recently, I read Love at First Flight by Marie Force, a contemporary romance that I really enjoyed, and Something About You by, well, you. I loved Cameron and Jack. Loved them! I love your voice, and I found your sense of humor very enjoyable. I don’t often laugh out loud while reading anything, but SAY cracked me up. I’m about to start Charlaine Harris’ new release, Dead Reckoning, because I’m going to be interviewing her for the newspaper soon.

Funny story made short: I write for Penguin. So does Charlaine Harris. The PR folks sent a press release about her new book to the journalist version of me. I called them, and we had a good laugh about it (my publicist sits across the hall from her publicist). I decided it would be a lot of fun to interview her. My editor sent me an email telling me that everyone was giggling about this.

7.  What are you listening to on your Ipod?

I make mixes for each novel I write. Music is so important for my writing, perhaps the most important thing after sleep and research. (And coffee. Can’t forget coffee.)

Right now, I’m working on my next historical, the third book in the MacKinnon’s Rangers series, so during my writing time I’ve been listening to a lot of Old Blind Dogs, my favorite trad Scottish folk group, as well as historical soundtracks, especially The Last of the Mohicans and The War That Made America.

When I’m not writing, I’ve got a post-grunge rock mix that includes Shinedown, Staind, 3 Doors Down, Daughtry, Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, 3 Days Grace, Evanescence, Puddle of Mudd and others. These are all leftovers from my play list for Breaking Point that I haven’t gotten sick of yet.

I’m always, always searching for new music.

8.  What is your biggest weakness (shoes, purses, chocolate, etc.)?

Oh, definitely chocolate.

I lived in Denmark for three years and love really creamy European-style milk chocolate, such as Marabou Mælkchokolade, or marzipan and chocolate, such as Anton Berg, a Danish favorite of mine. Fortunately, neither of these is widely available in the U.S. My sister lives in Stockholm, but she never sends me any of this stuff. This is an issue between us, as you might imagine. Bad sister!

9.  Complete this sentence: One fun thing about me that people might not know is……

I’m a complete Trekkie and a Ringer. I love both Star Trek (all of them) and Lord of the Rings (books and movies). And, yes, I know a word or two Klingon and more than a few phrases in Elvish, too. Is that fun, or is this just scary?

* * *

Well, there you have it, folks.  Pamela has generously offered to give away a copy of Breaking Point to one lucky person who leaves a comment below.  And for those of you who’d like to find out more about Pamela Clare’s books, you can check out her website.  Good luck!

Video Interview–A Lot Like Love

Thought I’d share this short video Berkley put together of me talking about A Lot Like Love. Personal note: we filmed this in July last year at the RWA conference, and I was seven months pregnant at the time. I swear, I look pregnant even from the shoulders up. Darn babies. : )