Hello! Thank you for joining us on Genre Talk on The Novel Approach. Today’s guest is J.T. Rogers who is here telling us about her exciting new novel In from the Cold, which was released by DSP Publications on October 4. Read to the end for a giveaway!
Before we get to the interview let’s see what this book is all about.
Blurb: 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.
Elizabeth: Ooh spies and the space race! Would you tell us a little about your chosen genre for you book?
J.T. : As a historical thriller, In from the Cold plays with the tropes of two genres: historical fiction and espionage. While I strived for historical accuracy wherever I could, the novel is undoubtedly set in the heightened reality of a spy novel—it’s basically our world, yes, but with a few notable exceptions. I felt comfortable taking liberties with things because it wasn’t a straight up historical.
It’s funny, but the truth is I read plenty of history books about espionage but not a whole lot of historical thrillers—I don’t even read much historical fiction. I’ve always found real history more interesting, sometimes even more unlikely, than fiction, so in that respect, writing In from the Cold proved a challenging exercise. Ultimately, though, I wanted the fictional world of the novel to live up to the strangeness of reality.
Elizabeth: Give us some super-secret background about In from the Cold.
J.T. : In from the Cold is about character. While I spent a lot of time and energy getting the espionage plot just right, I didn’t set out to write a history book. Yes, I wanted the historical framework of the book to ring true—one of my many degrees is in history, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way—but the facts were secondary to the novel’s emotional line and took a backseat when necessary. After all, setting alone is not what’s important, but rather how the characters interact with the setting—and vice versa.
The setting not only informed the characters but also demanded the creation of several new ones that weren’t part of my original outline—characters like Teddy Kelley and Vivian Grant, who serve to flesh out my protagonists’ personal lives. Possibly my favorite editorial note was that any of my characters could headline their own novel. Above all, I wanted Flynn and Grant and Wes and the rest of the CASTOFFS to have fully realized, distinct voices. I think I achieved that goal, and I hope my readers agree!
Elizabeth: How do you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book.
J.T. : For me, diversity in fiction is simply another way of saying that fiction should reflect the real world. Part of the inspiration behind In from the Cold came from my frustration of reading these incredible true accounts of gay and bisexual spies in the Cold War and wondering where the hell the books and movies were about them?
In from the Cold explores relationships outside of the norms of traditional heterosexual monogamy in a way that mirrors a messier reality. Likewise, it was important to me to feature people of color and people with disabilities—particularly in a book about the Second World War and its aftermath. Given the setting of a mostly white geopolitical landscape, there were limits, but I hope to expand those limits in future books in the series.
Elizabeth: In from the Cold is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t necessarily focus on or even contain romance. Tell us about the relationship in In from the Cold and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of romance in the M/M genre.
J.T. : In from the Cold was actually conceived as a fairly traditional romance, but things became more complicated in the writing. Like I mentioned before, getting the history right was important to me, and I think the development of the espionage plot pulled the story away from the accepted definition of romance. Moreover, the romance that is there is not easy. These are charged relationships forming under stress, some with the weight of years on them. It makes digging into the romantic angle complicated, but, I think, rewarding. The novel centers around Flynn, Wes, and Grant, yes, but each member of the supporting cast has something unique to offer to the plot, and everyone has his or her moment to shine.
If anything, In from the Cold is about a team, not individuals. I’ve taken to describing the novel as James Bond meets The Dirty Dozen—though Marvel’s The Avengers is a more contemporary example. It’s about a group of spies and highly trained ex-soldiers coming together to save their friend and fight for their country. It’s about family. If you liked Captain America: Civil War, I think you’ll find a lot to like in my book.
Elizabeth: Lightening Round! What goes into naming characters? Do the names have significance?
J.T. : True story: naming characters is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. When coming up with a name, I consider everything from background, nationality, and meaning to more ephemeral things like rhythm and how it looks on the page. For In from the Cold in particular, I relied a lot on Social Security sites to ensure the names were period accurate.
The name Robert “Rob” Flynn was chosen in honor of Errol Flynn; I wanted his name to evoke a swashbuckling, heroic, and unrefined sensibility. Alexander Grant, meanwhile, was picked to reflect Grant’s upper class status. Only Wesley Pike was partially named for someone in my personal life—a childhood friend who died in a car accident some years ago, but who was always extremely supportive of my writing.
Probably my favorite name in the whole book, though, is Edwin St. John. There’s just something about that name that demands his story told.
Elizabeth: What sort of research did you need to do?
J.T. :Let’s just put it this way: if I can sell enough copies of In from the Cold to recoup the cost of research materials, I’ll be a very happy camper.
I did a lot of research for this novel. I read books about the early days of the space race from the American and Russian perspectives, history books about different intelligence agencies and operations, first-hand accounts from members of the 1st Special Service Force, primary sources like contemporary issues of The New York Times, I pulled up airplane and car schematics—and even cracked open Wikipedia every once in awhile. It was a rewarding learning experience!
Elizabeth: J.T. has brought us really great excerpt. Take a peek:
Wes was halfway to the exposed staircase when he paused, and the faint echo of his footsteps died off in the surreal stillness of the night. The hairs on the back of Flynn’s neck stood at attention. Wes lifted the brim of his hat and did another scan of the room. None of them had moved, not even an inch, but they didn’t have to—somehow, Wes knew they were there, looming above.
A pair of bullets sunk into the stacks and rained wood chips through the wide gaps in the flooring—warning shots. Flynn pushed Grant toward Ed and broke cover to draw Wes’s attention away from Ed signaling Attaway, but Wes was too damn clever and saw the distraction for what it was. Outright ignoring Flynn, Wes darted up the stairs and dodged Flynn’s reluctant gunfire with fearless grace.
Ed broke away from the window to cut off Wes before he could hit the second floor. Grant, with a CIA-issued Walther P38 trained on Wes, flanked Ed, but the weapon might as well have been a child’s BB gun for the caution Wes showed it. Charging at Ed’s legs, Wes knocked him off balance and sent both of them to the ground, then used Ed’s bulk as a shield to steal Grant’s chance at a clear shot.
Ed landed a hammer of a punch that snapped Wes’s head back with a sickening crunch, but it wasn’t enough to slow him down. Wes snaked one leg between Ed’s and flipped them over. His hands found Ed’s throat, and Wes pinned him to the ground and squeezed hard. The whites of Ed’s eyes glowed in the dark. Wes was going to kill him with his bare hands.
“Stop!” Flynn yelled, but words were useless. With Grant close behind, they rushed forward, each grabbing one of Wes’s shoulders and hauling him off Ed, who gasped for air as soon as he could.
Wes thrashed in their grasp and forced the three of them right through unpainted drywall. The shock of impact was enough to lose his captors, and Wes wasted no time slipping away, dust and debris clinging to his dark coat. Still on the floor where Wes had left him, Ed fired off a round to give Flynn and Grant an opportunity to get back on their feet.
But Wes was too fast.
There was blood in the water, and it belonged to Alexander Grant, balance still uneasy from being thrown through a wall. Relentless in his pursuit, Wes moved like a shark through the darkness. He shrugged off Ed’s defense with another bullet, shooting Ed’s gun right out of his hand.
Flynn fared no better standing. Even with his heart pumping pure adrenaline, he could barely keep up with the ferocity of Wes’s blows. Flynn’s injuries were multiplying and slowed him down as surely as the march of time. His reflexes were worn down by pain. He noticed only at the last second that he’d run out of floor; Wes landed a kick to his chest that sent Flynn crashing to the first landing below. Cardboard boxes broke his fall, not that it hurt any less. Winded and groaning, Flynn stood just in time to catch a sight that made his blood run cold.
A stiletto glimmered over the line of Grant’s bare throat. Wes stood behind him, shorter than Grant but far more imposing. His breaths were even and calm in the face of Grant’s frantic gulps of air. Wes might as well have been a statue, though the haunted look in his eyes as he met Flynn’s own was worse than any nightmare.
Flynn straightened, body poised at the ready to move, gun ready to fire. He did not fire. He slowly, carefully climbed the stairs, and ignored the angry protest of his body. As badly as he wanted to, he didn’t even let his gaze stray to the flash of metal at Grant’s throat.
“Don’t do this,” Flynn said, steady, keeping his focus purely on the hollow, drawn lines of Wesley Pike’s face. He was older, sharper. There were more shadows around his eyes that had nothing to do with the hour. There was an ache in Flynn’s chest, under the adrenaline, deeper than any bruise. The person in front of him was nothing but shadows, a walking shadow with no purpose but taking life.
“Wes, listen to me. You don’t have to do this.”
Something flickered behind those deadened eyes, a spark of life that extinguished the moment Grant struggled, and then the shadow took over again. The knife edged closer to Grant’s jugular.
“Leave now, and I won’t have to.” Wes’s voice was rough like sandpaper but unmistakably, damningly his.
Elizabeth: Whew, that was exciting! Thank you, J.T., as well as all our readers for joining us today. Our schedule became a little scrambled and I believe our next guest is David C. Dawson and he’s bringing us some mystery/suspense on November 9. Don’t forget to like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page. We give a book away on Tuesdays.
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.