Please help us welcome author J.T. Rogers to TNA today to help us celebrate our 5th Blogiversary. She’s talking plotting and outlining, and is also giving one lucky reader the chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widget below for entry details.
First off, I just want to wish a hearty congratulations to Lisa and the team at The Novel Approach. As a new author without a lot of connections, I’ve felt particularly welcomed by TNA’s community, and I can only hope to spend my next release day—fingers crossed—with all of you!
There are two types of writers: those who plan ahead and those who find the story as they’re telling it. As a big believer in outlines, I fall more into the first category. Outlining is critical to my process, though the finished product is always a fairly flexible document, one that will have managed to explore territory I hadn’t intended to map. I paint the outline with broad strokes, creating something akin to a storyboard, and leave the fine details for when I’m actually writing. When developing ideas for historical thrillers—my current personal niche—the outline is particularly important given how easy it is to become wrapped up in the research. Real life can be so delightfully absurd that it’s hard to tear myself away from reading books to actually get to writing them. Nevertheless, incorporating real history can not only inform obvious things like the setting, it can also inform character in surprising ways.
When I was writing my debut novel, In from the Cold, I had pretty clear ideas about my lead characters: Robert Flynn was a soldier-turned-baker who’d lived a very solitary life after the war, and Alexander Grant was an eccentric iconoclast of a spy. It seemed simple enough, until I started filling in the details of their backstories.
For plot reasons, I needed Grant to be rich, and the simplest way to make that happen was to make him come from old money. But it didn’t make sense to me that a 37-year-old bachelor would still be in good graces with his traditional, military family—especially in 1957. Grant was the black sheep of the family, sure, but he was still invited to Christmas dinner every year. Gone was the highflying, playboy bachelor I’d originally envisioned; in his place was a dedicated family man with a secretly open marriage, an arrangement my research demonstrated, time and time again, was surprisingly common for intelligence operatives.
The backstory complicated Grant’s character and made him, in my opinion, more interesting. There’s a tendency to view the 1950s through the very sterile, Leave it to Beaveresque lense, or the Peyton Place reverse, which revels in the inherent tawdriness of such a buttoned up and relegated society masking the messy personal dramas of fallible, sexual people. Media has tended to support this limited view of the time period by focusing on the same kinds of stories, about the same kinds of people, over and over, though we’ve been fortunate to witness some excellent departures into more nuanced territory in recent years. These latter stories, more complicated and sensitive, have stood out to me, but so too has the lack of these same nuanced explorations in genres apart from period dramas. Part of my purpose with In from the Cold was to explore the familiar, specific tropes of espionage stories with a different cast than would be expected. Robert Flynn is a gay man, and Alexander Grant is bisexual, and neither would typically be the lead character in a James Bond story.
Looking at the eponymous master spy himself provides an excellent example of how much history affects character. Bond’s initial presentation in Fleming’s Casino Royale is one of a man moulded by a freshly finished war, who continues to serve during a time where the line between enemies and allies is becoming increasingly tenuous and blurred. The immediate history Fleming had lived through, and the geopolitical landscape of the time, informed not only Bond’s decisions but his very nature. The suave, charming spy portrayed by Sean Connery in the film series was a product the 1960s, and a far cry from the shrewd, cold, suspicious Bond who had been introduced in print a decade earlier.
I never set out to write historical thrillers, but in retrospect I should have seen it coming. I love history, and I love action movies of all shapes and sizes: superhero flicks, war films, spy thrillers, the occasional adventurous archaeologist. I suppose it was only inevitable that I would find a way to combine those interests someday. It’s my intention to continue doing so with characters who have been missing from the genre, before, and to use real history to enrich and bolster their somewhat more fantastical narratives.
About In From the Cold
Robert Flynn abandoned a sterling military career when his best friend and fellow soldier, Wesley Pike, died under his command. More than a decade later, Flynn’s quiet life is disturbed by the troubles of a fledgling CIA and Alexander Grant, a flashy agent with a lot to prove. As the space race between the United States and the Soviets heats up and the body count rises, the two men fight to find common ground. Grant knows Flynn believes in the cause, but all Flynn sees is the opportunity to fail someone like he failed Wes. An attack by a Soviet agent spurs Flynn to action and a reluctant association with the agency, and tilts Flynn’s world on its axis with a shocking discovery: Wesley Pike may be alive and operating as a Soviet assassin.
With Grant to bankroll the operation, his superiors looking the other way, and Flynn’s hard-earned peace officially forfeit, Flynn reunites his old team with the singular goal of finding Wes. But they get more than they bargained for—Wes is amnesiac and dangerous, brainwashed into becoming the perfect weapon. Flynn struggles to reach his friend, lead his team, and navigate his charged relationship with Grant—something neither of them expected and aren’t sure how to parse—while coming to grips with his long-buried feelings for Wes.
About the Author
J.T. Rogers grew up wanting to be either a superhero or a spy—but rather than pick one over the other, she chose to become a writer instead so she could be both in her spare time. Her fiction reflects her childhood obsessions, blending together the distrustful, cloak-and-dagger world of spies with the high-octane action and camaraderie of her favorite superheroes.
The product of a bilingual education and an alumna of a handful of universities, J.T.’s passions include history, comic books, and Shakespeare. She has lived all over North America and loves to weave threads of authentic local color into her stories. Just ask her about Lucy the Elephant.
Currently, she’s living the dream of being overworked and underpaid. She writes to stay sane—or that’s the story she likes to tell, at least. Her debut novel, In from the Cold, was released October 2016 by DSP Publications.