By Matthew Breen
Jules Cassidy, who first made a splash as the gay FBI agent in The Defiant Hero by best-selling (hetero) romance novelist Suzanne Brockmann, returns in Hot Target (Ballantine, $19.95), the newest book in the Troubleshooter series. Here is the rest of our interview with Suzanne and Jules'yes, he's fictional'a short portion of which appeared in the January issue of Out:
What made you decide to put a gay FBI agent into a mainstream heterosexual romance novel?
Jules: The woman writes mainstream heterosexual romance novels'where else was she going to put me?
Suzanne: I live in America, which'last time I checked'was a country filled with a diverse population.
Jules: But she's writing this before Election Day, so who knows? Maybe the outcome wasn't in our favor and the pogroms have already started.
Suzanne: My America is filled with people who are black, Latino, Asian-, Indian-, Irish-American, gay, bi, Jewish, Muslim, and Wiccan'as well as white, Christian, and straight. As an avid reader, I've picked up too many stories set in WASPville, USA. Where are my friends and neighbors? Where's the richness, texture, and vibrancy that comes from the mixture of different ideas, lifestyles, and cultures? I decided that my books were going to be peopled by a more realistically diverse cast of characters.
Jules: That's the Big Girl answer. The truth is she got tired of all the noise I was making, locked in her office closet.
There's a subplot in which the gay FBI agent works with a straight Navy SEAL. Describe that relationship briefly. Did you ever think about hooking up the FBI agent with the Navy SEAL'something that might open the gay market for you even more?
Jules: Oh, sweetie, this particular Navy SEAL'his name is Sam Starrett'was already taken.
Suzanne: Which is not to say Jules won't someday find a Navy SEAL of his own.
Jules: Really? Can I get that in writing?
Suzanne: No. (To Out) Never promise fictional characters anything. They get so unruly. But I can promise my readers that Jules' story doesn't end with Hot Target. See, my characters have story arcs that continue over many, many books. Which means character growth has to be slow and steady. When I first introduced Sam-the-SEAL (in book #2 of the series, The Defiant Hero), it was rather clear from his reaction to Jules that he was homophobic. One of my early draft readers is ultra PC, and Sam offended her. As soon as I learned that, I knew I was on the right track. Because where's the conflict in a scenario where an open and affirming SEAL becomes friends with the gay FBI agent? No conflict, no story, right? But a homophobic SEAL who is forced to work with a gay FBI agent, and slowly comes to see the gay man as an individual'as a fellow human being'? A SEAL who comes to realize that his fears were based on ignorance, that he actually has a great deal in common with the FBI agent, so much so that he actually comes to think of him as a friend? Now, there's a story.
Jules: As far as opening up the gay market'
Suzanne: My son, Jason, thinks I might have a future as a gay icon, but I really don't have the right hair for it. (Jason demands that I describe him as 'my gay, currently single, and totally adorable son.' Apparently nonfictional characters can also be unruly.)
What makes a gay FBI agent different from a straight one?
Jules: You're kidding, right? Hello. I sleep with men.
Suzanne:Jules puts the fabulous in FBI.
Does your character have to hide his orientation?
Suzanne: Not in my universe he doesn't. In my world, intelligence is willingly shared among different counterterrorist groups, the good guys actually catch said terrorists, and, yes, FBI agents can be openly gay.
Jules: There's a photo from Queer as Folk, signed by the cast'got it on eBay'right on my desk, along with my PFLAG pencils'
Suzanne: Which isn't to say that everyone you work with accepts you.
Jules: Yeah, that means Peggy Ryan just kind of pretends I'm not in the room.
Suzanne: At least Max likes you.
Jules: Likes? I'm not so sure. Accepts and respects? Definitely. (To Out) We had a hotel room shortage in Hot Target'I had to bunk in with my boss. I was like, 'Sweetie, this may not be the best move for your career. People might talk.' Max's response was, 'So what? Shut up, get up here, and don't call me sweetie.'
How might the gay FBI agent's orientation have been used as a secret weapon?
Suzanne: He's pretty much immune to the Bond girls in the catsuits.
Jules: Yeah, zero distraction from the scantily clad women. Of course, that's countered by the huge distraction when the team of totally buff Navy SEALs fastropes down from the helicopter'
Would a gay FBI agent necessarily look up to closeted (and cross-dressing) former chief J. Edgar Hoover?
Jules: I became an FBI agent in spite of J. Edgar'not because of him. He was a horrible person.
Suzanne: But at the same time you have to have sympathy for someone who had such self-hatred, someone who was forced to hide his true self from the'
Jules: Oh, you're just too nice. J. Edgar Hoover is on my short list of people who deserve to burn in hell for all eternity'including Hitler and the genius who wrote 'MacArthur Park.' 'Someone left the cake out in the rain'?' Kill me now.
Any advice for would-be gay FBI agents?
Jules: Accessorize. It's all in the tie. And sunglasses matter. Select yours carefully.
Suzanne: Always pay for full collision coverage when you rent a car.
Jules: Absolutely. Try to save a few bucks on insurance and you'll be in a car chase within an hour. Guaranteed.
Suzanne: How about the leather versus nylon shoulder-holster question'?
Jules: I'm a nylon man myself, but it comes down to personal preference. Same thing with velcro or snap. And for God's sake, save the Armani suits for after hours.
Suzanne: Always carry and use a condom.
Jules: And never, ever, ever date an actor.
For more information on Brockmann's books, visit www.suzannebrockmann.com.