MJP: Word Wench Joanna Bourne's long-awaited new book, Rogue Spy, will be released tomorrow! Her last book, Black Hawk, won RWA's RITA for best historical romance of the year, and Rogue Spy was named to Library Journal's list of the 10 Best Romances of the year even before it was released.
So--Joanna, could you tell us about the story and the characters? I loved not only the protagonists, but all the delightful, kindly criminal elders, such as the Fluffy Aunts. <G>
JB: I'm writing a love story, of course, so the emotional mainspring of Rogue Spy is the relationship between Pax and Cami. They reach out to each other. They heal each other's wounds. They fall in love.
The usual, y'know.
But the book is also about family. The family we're born with. The one we choose.
That 'family' theme lets me bring in some of the wise elder characters I so enjoy writing. The Fluffy Aunts, who are only as dithery and harmless as they choose to appear. Galba, trying to manage his British Service agents. This is like herding cats, except it's cats who kill people. Bernardo Baldoni, spy lord, power broker, con man, and political plotter. His Medici ancestors would have been proud.
JB: This spy school is one of those 'I made it up out of whole cloth' things. Pure fabrication. So far as I know, the French -- or the English for that matter -- didn't actually raise kids to be foreign agents.
The story idea is that, in the early days of the French Revolution, a radical clique within the French Secret Service created a training school for spies. Men combed the streets and the orphanages of France looking for the smartest kids. There being lots of orphans hanging about at the time what with war and revolution and crop failure and all kindsa stuff like that there, they had a wide choice. These children were brought back to Paris to be trained to pass as English and become sleeper agents in England.
Not a nice place, that school, with those fanatical ideologues running it. The kids formed a mutual protection pact, took an oath, and became 'family'. (See that theme there.) They called themselves 'Cachés' -- the hidden ones. Eventually everybody started using the term.
MJP: Your books often leap around the timeline, and Rogue Spy seems to be inserted into other ongoing stories. Though there is significant backstory, the basic structure reminded me of the classic Western, High Noon¸ with a ticking clock leading to a lethal showdown. Do you have any comments on that?
JB: Ooooh, cool. You're right. And how perceptive. Take away the distracting side-action and what we got is a mano-a-mano showdown between the hero Pax and the villain on that long street. From the establishing shot where Pax returns to London, the story leads to that inescapable moment when they face each other.
I was thinking specifically of High Noon when I plotted that ending. I played with the various ways it could come out. (Maybe there's a little echo of Gary Cooper in Paxton.)
Do I get to say I rewrote that last scene three or four ways? That I was still unsure of how it should end when I sent it off to the editor?
MJP: You do get to say that you rewrote it different ways. <G> Certainly the ending could have twisted in other directions. Also, I think the High Noon theme could also apply to Cami and the villain. Your heroines are never wimps! As always, the big question is what, or who, is next?!
JB: I'm working on Séverine's story right now. She's Justine's younger sister, (Justine being the immensely complicated love interest Adrian's been saddled with.) Séverine has been hanging around the edges of other books for a while and will doubtless be glad to stomp out on stage.
I can't say a great deal about the Séverine story because I'm still in the middle of figuring it out myself.
MJP: I look forward to whatever twists and turns you throw at the poor girl. <G> Here's a brief excerpt from Rogue Spy:
She whispered, "Let me go. I said I'd tell you what you want to know."
If he didn't let go of her now, he might not be able to.
He opened his hands and stepped away and away, keeping an eye on her, till he felt the storeroom door behind him. He reached behind him to open it and let more light in.
Vérité. Cami Leyland. A woman with one too many secrets. He was going to pry them out of her, and he didn't have much time.
She didn't try to hide herself. She kept her arms at her side. Her fists clenched. Her chin lifted defiantly. Her skin was pale as milk in this weak light, a sketch in pastel, laid down in thin shades of color. She looked scared and sneaky, and determined. She was a warrior maiden, utterly indomitable in a shift that didn't cover half of her.
She was beautiful. Add that to the list of complications.
She was also cold. He'd dragged her out of her warm nest and left her freezing in the damp air.
He gathered up her cloak from the floor and tossed it to her across the space between them.
"Thank you." Gravely, she organized it in her hands, turned it right-side-out. "Why are we still alone? I keep expecting your friends to drop in--the ones who followed me. I don't hear them."
"So you came to take me alone. That was either a mistake or very subtle. I don't think you make many mistakes." She circled the cloak around her and was enveloped in darkness. Only her face showed and her feet, white and vulnerable against the wood floor. "This is better. Ask your questions."
MJP: Joanna will be giving away a signed copy of Rogue Spy, complete with one of her delightful little origami bookmarks. The winner will be chosen from among those who leave comments between now and midnight Tuesday.
A question for you: do you enjoy colorful older characters in your stories? Who are some of your favorites? The Wenches have certainly written our share!