Write what you know. This phrase certainly applies to bestselling contemporary author Julie James. After graduating from the University of Illinois College of Law, Julie James clerked for the United States Court of Appeals in Jacksonville, Florida. She then practiced law with one of the nation's largest law firms for several years until she began writing screenplays. After two of her scripts were optioned by Hollywood producers, she decided to leave the practice of law to write full-time. Attorneys and/or law practice feature prominently in her debut novel, Just the Sexiest Man Alive (October 2008) and her sophomore novel, Practice Makes Perfect (March 2009), both of which garnered rave reviews and were bestsellers. Her newest, Something About You, features another lawyer and released yesterday, March 2! You can check out my review here. Please welcome Julie to The Romance Dish!
How Hitchcock Helped Me Write A Romance
by Julie James
Yep, that’s right, Alfred Hitchcock—the master of suspense—helped me write a contemporary romance novel. Well, not me personally, of course (boy would that have been a neat trick), but through his films.
One of my favorite themes that Hitchcock used in several of his movies is that of an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time who becomes swept up in some kind of murder/suspense intrigue. It’s a theme that works well because everyone can identify with it. We watch the movie thinking, “Hey—that could be me. What if I walked into that bar at just the wrong moment and accidentally saw X that got me in a whole load of trouble?”
This is, essentially, the set-up of my newest book, Something About You. Only instead of a bar, I use a hotel room. And instead of an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s a woman. My heroine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde, to be exact.
Cameron is treating herself to some much-needed pampering at the luxurious Peninsula hotel when, in the middle of the night, she’s awoken by strange noises coming from the room next to hers. At first it sounds as though the couple next door is having some kind of crazy sex marathon, but then the noises change. . . and what Cameron ends up overhearing is a murder that involves a U.S. Senator and a call girl. Watching through her peephole, she sees a man leave the hotel room next to hers and thus becomes the sole witness to the high-profile crime. And just like in Hitchcock’s films, that’s where the trouble begins.
Trouble, that is, in the form of FBI Special Agent Jack Pallas.
Jack is assigned to the murder investigation and—wouldn’t you know it—he and Cameron don’t get along. They worked together three years ago on a case that ended badly with Jack mouthing off to the press about Cameron and consequently getting transferred to Nebraska. And if it’s not bad enough that Cameron has to work with Jack as he tries to solve the crime, things get even worse when it turns out that the murderer may be after her next. . .
I had a lot of fun writing Something About You. Despite the fact that there’s a suspense element, that’s just a subplot—a device that brings these two strong-willed characters who allegedly “can’t stand each other” together. Which is, of course, where the humor comes in. This book was a challenge for me to write at times because I had to figure out when it was okay to be light and funny, and when my characters needed to be serious. In the end, I think I figured it out. I hope. ;-) Here’s a brief excerpt from the book, so you can judge for yourself.
“And then I heard the door open, so I ran and looked out the peephole,” Cameron said.
“Just being nosy?”
The sarcasm seemed to reinvigorate her. “And thank goodness for that,” she said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have whatever information I know that I don’t yet realize I know.” She smiled ever so sweetly. “Besides, if I hadn’t been so nosy, Agent Pallas, you and I never would’ve had this lovely chance to reconnect.”
Wilkins coughed while taking a sip of his coffee. It sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.
Jack found her sarcasm laughable. Back when he was in Special Forces, before he’d joined the FBI, he’d interrogated foreign operatives, suspected terrorists, and members of various guerilla militias. He could certainly handle one cheeky assistant U.S. attorney. “I’m glad to see the coffee’s put a little ﬁre back in you,” he said dryly. “Now why don’t you tell me what you saw when you were doing your civic duty and spying though the peephole?”
Wilkins held up his hand. “Um, I’m thinking maybe I should pick back up with this.”
Cameron and Jack answered simultaneously. “We’re ﬁne.”
“I saw a man leave the room, which I’m sure you know,” she told Jack.
“I already described him to Slonsky.”
“Do it again.”
Jack saw her eyes ﬂash. She didn’t like being told what to do. Too bad.
“Five foot eleven, maybe six feet tall,” she said. “Medium build. He wore jeans, a black blazer, and a gray hooded T-shirt pulled over his head. He had his back to me the entire time, so I never saw his face.”
“Didn’t you think the hooded T-shirt was a little odd?” Jack asked.
“I heard butt cheeks being slapped and walls that were banged so hard my teeth nearly rattled. Frankly, I’ve found this whole evening to be a little odd, Agent Pallas.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see Wilkins glance up at the ceiling while ﬁghting off another smile.
“Are you certain about the man’s height?” Jack continued.
Cameron paused, thinking. “Yes.”
“How about his weight?”
She sighed. “I’m really bad at guessing that kind of thing.”
“Make an effort. Pretend this is something important.”
Cameron glanced over at Wilkins. “How much do you weigh?”
“Wait—how come Jack doesn’t have to answer that?”
“The man I saw seems closer to your build.”
“Oh, so he’s a smaller guy, then?” Jack suggested helpfully.
Wilkins turned around. “A smaller guy? I’m an inch above the national average. Besides, I’m spry.”
“Let’s try to narrow this down,” Jack regrouped. “I weigh one-eighty-ﬁve, Agent Wilkins is about one-sixty. Given that, where would you say this guy falls?”
She looked between the two men, considering this. “About one-seventy.”
Jack and Wilkins exchanged looks.
“What?” Cameron asked. “What does that tell you?”
* * *
With that. . . I think I’ll turn it over to you guys. Let’s talk about other books or movies you like that balance both suspense and humor. Or. . . tell me about your favorite Hitchcock film. Or. . . maybe you have a question about Something About You. Hey, I’m not fussy. One randomly-selected person who leaves a comment below will win a signed copy of Something About You. And I’ll drop by throughout the day in case anyone has any questions.
And thanks so much, ladies, for having me here today at The Romance Dish!