Greetings, Horrorviewers! Catwalk here. I recently had a chance to dive into the novel, A Surefire Way: An UltraSecurity Series story. As a fan of all things sci-fi, I have to say I enjoyed the fun tale that I can only describe as The Uncanny X-Men meets The Princess Bride. Author J.T. Bock was kind enough to share some time with us, and to provide some insight into UltraSecurity, her writing style, and what makes her characters tick (and sometimes BOOM).
Cat: Thanks for taking the time to join us. Let me ask a bit about the experience and the story of Surefire and her colleagues at U-Sec.
J.T.: Thanks for having me! I routinely check out Horrorview for recommendations on movies and books, so it's exciting for me to be interviewed by you. Also, I'm honored by your description of my story. Especially since The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies/books, and my hero is wearing a very Wesley-type outfit in the opening scene.
I love when an author adopts a city as their own. J.A. Konrath (Whiskey Sour) and Jim Butcher (Storm Front) can describe every inch of Chicago in their sleep. What was it that drew you to setting your story in Baltimore?
Baltimore is my hometown, hon. I grew up a few minutes outside the city in the suburb of Essex, a place immortalized in the locally known song Walking in an Essex Wonderland. I know Baltimore well—the smells, the streets, the neighborhoods. I know the people—gruff with a blue collar charm. They may take a bit to warm up to you, but once they do, they are loyal. They are fighters, even the women are tough and don't take any crap just like Surefire, my heroine. Considering I'm writing about a world where superpowers and supernatural beings exist, I wanted to immerse it in a real place where my hero can chill out after fighting an evil god by relaxing with a Natty Boh and steamed crabs.
You start with the idea of mutants, or transhumans, in the story. Did you feel there was a need to define mutants in the story, or is that concept pretty mature among sci-fi readers?
I first saw the term "transhuman" in a Discover magazine article. It was used to describe people enhanced through gene therapy or with bionic body parts. In A Surefire Way, I didn't go into huge detail about what it means, just mentioned it in passing, because I felt like it should be revealed as the story progresses. Plus, A Surefire Way isn't only about having these extraordinary abilities. This isn't an origin story. In the beginning, my characters already have these special powers, and now they are on a journey of self-discovery and finding true love, a journey which happens to include stopping an evil god from taking over the world. Twenty years ago, if I tried to talk to non-comic book/sci-fi friends about X-Men and mutants, they would have no idea what I was talking about. Most in my generation grew up watching Justice League cartoons, reruns of Batman with Adam West, and The Incredible Hulk television show, but many people I knew didn't understand the concept of mutants or even realize these characters were based off of comic books. Now superheroes are big business, and even if you're not a geek, you at least know that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider or that Wolverine is a hot—and hot-headed—alpha mutant with retractable claws.
Along the lines of what readers are exposed to or aware of, you make a lot of pop culture references in the story. I felt that was very tongue-in-cheek, almost like breaking the fourth wall at times. What drove that aspect of your writing style?
Again, it was the idea of bringing a touch of reality into the story, since it takes place in modern day. Something to which my readers could relate and help bond them to the characters. I also believe that's how most in our generation and the next generation communciate with one another. We use pop culture references to describe how someone looks or to a talk about a situation or even make a joke. It's one of the ways that my hero and heroine connect. These references make him appear more human to her, because he watches the same movies and reads the same books and plays the same video games as she does even though he's a powerful supernatural being with ties to an Aztec goddess. Joss Whedon was a huge inspiration to me with how he can take extraordinary characters and use pop culture references to ground them in reality. Quentin Tarintino is another of my favorites for his dialogue, where characters will discuss movies and celebrities before or after they do something totally crazy. For me, it's fun watching shows and reading books with these types of references, because it's like an inside joke between you and the writer that not everyone may get.
Give our readers an idea of how you balance romance and action in the story. Each plays a big role in the overall feel of Surefire’s experiences.
When I wrote my rough draft, it was all action. At first, the romance was written in but not built upon. I wasn't feeling it between the characters. Then I realized I had written the outer journey where Surefire gets sucked into this crazy adventure and the romance was part of her inner journey to self discovery. In the next draft, I concentrated on how the outer events made her feel, how Raven's attitude toward her and their growing bond helped her overcome feelings of inadequacy which led to her feelings for him to blossom into love. The romance happens in a short time span, but I believe that when you're thrown in the grinder with someone, these feelings can grow a lot quicker and stronger, especially if the attraction is already there—and the Aztec goddess of love is involved.
You had to explain a lot of characters to make an effective introduction to U-Sec, while still keeping the story on Surefire and Raven. Did you have a specific approach to the point-of-view of the characters as the story unfolded?
Writing A Surefire Way was a journey for me as well. It took several revisions—and many suggestions from editors and critique partners—to help me sort out what was needed and what was not. Sometimes you have to write a scene from another POV that you may cut so you can understand what is happening around the main characters, which they are not aware of and which will affect them. A writing coach told me the scene should be written in the POV of the character with the most to lose at that time. This advice helped me sort out my POVs and rewrite scenes to make the story stronger and keep up the pacing. Then I heard an agent speak about how he hated villains that were just lurking in the shadows and who showed up randomly to cause trouble for the main characters. So I decided to add my villain's POV to show see his journey as well, because he's dealing with inadequacies just like Surefire even if he is taking a different route to overcome them. I added the POV of Surefire's boss, because it gave a sense of urgency to the story as he tries to find his missing agent and figure out the mystery behind her disappearance. Also, he represents Surefire's life up until this adventure began and provides a contrast from her former life to the new life that will begin after her journey ends.
I had some ideas as I was reading the story. If you were going to cast the roles of your characters, do you have particular actors or actresses in mind, or would you prefer to stick with the unknown and let readers use the theater of the mind to fill the roles?
This is one of the fun parts about writing, figuring out and dreaming about casting a movie based on your story. For my heroine, I didn't have someone in mind at first. Her looks were based on a drawing my husband had done years ago in art school. However, considering her small size, spunkiness, blonde hair, cute cheerleader good looks, and a slight bump on her nose, I was definitely channeling Sarah Michelle Gellar and didn't realize it. My hero Raven is a Greek version of Ryan Reynolds. I love his cockiness, sarcasm and humor, yet he's a nice guy, all of which make up Raven's personality—not to mention he's really hot.
Okay, folks. You heard it here first. Go check out the opening shot from J.T. Bock’s UltraSecurity series and let us know what you think. Thank you for taking the time to share with us, J.T.!