If this were an essay, I would title it: The (Not) Spy Books And Phugoid Cycles Of Being In Love/Out Of Love With Your Work.
When I first started thinking about creating a book with some sort of on-the-run badass female spy intrigue, my only goal was: Have a woman, with another woman, running from bad guys because she knows something that she wasn’t supposed to know, and oh hey – wouldn’t a series be cool?! In my head, this imagined series was kind-of-not-really a lesbian The Bourne Identity, and with that vague idea in mind—The Spy Book Series was born. Of course, it took about 1,000 words for me (being a diehard pantser and flitter from one idea to the next) to completely give up on the whole spy premise, and start leaning toward an intelligence analyst main character. But…The Spy Book was what I’d christened it, and have continued to call it—while assuring people that there are no spies in these books—because once something is in my head it’s really hard to get it out, okay?
I wrote Integrity in a brilliant burst of manic project excitement over just a few weeks (new writing record), blurting thoughts—often grandiose—onto the page, like full-on who cares if it’s plausible, who cares if it’s totally out there, I LIKE THE WAY THIS READS AND I AM HAVING FUN AND I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS! type writing, which is the best and most productive type of writing for me. And then I just…put the book aside in favour of more “acceptable” projects, because once the post-creation-bliss haze lifted, what I’d created suddenly seemed so convoluted and complex, so out there, and maybe most accurately—so so hard for E. J. Who Hates Research And Is Scared Of Asking People To Explain Their Jobs And Stuff to flesh out into a believable plot, that I just couldn’t wrap my head around actually figuring out how all the pieces fit together. So I decide not to wrap my head around it. Avoidance for the win.
But, of course, I kept returning to the manuscript in the background while working on other contracted projects, tweaking bits here, adding bits there. See above re: things getting in my head and staying in my head. Eventually, I moved past the “Ugh, gross” stage to the “I like this” stage, and decided I might actually clean Integrity up, and write a few more in the series I’d planned, and publish the series, because wouldn’t it be cool to know that I could plan something like a series? And if I say series enough, I can convince myself it’s a good idea.
Then I had another attack of the self-doubts, and put Integrity aside yet again, back in the “Nah, this doesn’t work” pile, even as I was writing Books 2 and 3 in the Halcyon Division Series. I guess deep down, I really wanted to make it work and to have a The Spy Book Series.
But…Hates Research E. J. needed help with the making-it-work stuff. So, in January 2020, I tweeted (yes, I know, shocking): Longshot, but for reals serious question which nobody has to answer in public – DMs are open – anyone work for, or know someone who works for, CIA/Homeland Security or comparable USGov branch? I need some broad totally won’t compromise security of USA filler info for a project…
That’s right, I asked on Twitter if anyone working in a super-secret job would share some of those secrets, but not the national-security-compromising secrets, with me. Spoiler alert: some people who did/do work in Intelligence very graciously answered my questions or very graciously told me they couldn’t answer those questions, and then later provided some unique (and not compromising their oaths, I swear) information to make this very fictional book feel more “real.”
One such savior told me that one tiny plot point in the beginning of the book would never happen, therefore blowing my entire plot apart and forcing me to completely rework the basis of the “on the run” part, which I had stubbornly clung to through all drafts. But, it’s kind of better now, I think, and as a pantser – I’m well used to having to fix major plot holes I created through my dislike of researching.
Another savior shared office anecdotes and the like, corrected my civilian words and phrasings, and then late in the game answered my last minute please-help email, and then even offered to read a rough draft for me and add even more notes.
People are great, y’all, and their help made this one feel like a real village effort.
Integrity has been quite some time from writing to publication, possibly more than any of my other novels with the exception of my debut, possibly because it required more work to fit the pieces together, and maybe possibly because of the extra strong dose of no-yes-no-yes-no-yes-no-yes I experienced during its creation.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through massive phugoid cycles of “I love this book!” to “I hate this book!” (sometimes multiple times in the course of one day), and it definitely won’t be the last time. Fun fact! It’s happening right now as I finish up Leverage: Book 2 (thank you, support crew for yet again tolerating my Tortured Artiste woes). But there’s something comforting in the familiarity of this cycle of loving then hating then loving your work, especially because I ALWAYS land on love in the end.
Lexie Martin’s world might be a little twisty and yeah, maybe it’s still a little complex. But as an author, it’s a great world to be immersed in and I hope you enjoy experiencing it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Integrity: Book One in the Halcyon Division Series is available in May from Bella Books.