Monday, July 16, 2012

TBR welcomes Zee Monodee

TBR: Welcome to TBR, Zee Monodee. Will you share a little bit about yourself?
Zee: Hi! Pleasure to be here today. :)
A little about me – I think neurotic undomestic goddess would cover it. I’m a spiel of contradictions, like, I hate to cook but I’m addicted to cooking shows and cookbooks. I’m lazy, yet I cannot remain idle for more than a couple of minutes. My husband drives me bonkers half the time yet I cannot conceive of life without him. So, lol, I would qualify, I think, as an over-the-top character, which suits me fine as long as I never get labeled Too-stupid-to-live.

TBR: Tell us about Before The Morning (Corpus Brides: Book Two) and where it's available.
Zee: Before The Morning is Book 2 in my Corpus Brides series. The Corpus is a fictional clandestine agency that I came up with for the purposes of this romantic suspense/espionage series. Set as #2 in this 3-book lineup, it also happens to be prequel to Book 1, going deeper into the workings of this agency made up of spies and assassins who work as a stealthy left hand to bring about world peace and conflict resolution.
Each book in this series, on the backdrop of a mutinous plot inside the Corpus, focuses on one female agent, her journey inside the agency, the part she plays in this uprising, and ultimately, the love story that touches her life when she meets the man who will, more often than not, represent an impossible wish – face it, spies and assassins aren’t exactly cut-out to settle down and have a blissful domestic future.
The agent whose story is told in Before The Morning is Rayne Cheltham. Rayne works inside the Corpus as Kali, the most lethal of all their assassins, a master manipulator and a woman sent on the direst of missions to get the job – usually a kill – done. Rayne, however, hides a secret side of her. She’s always loved her childhood best friend and neighbor, Ash Gilfoy, and only became an assassin when he vowed he would never marry. Seventeen years later, their paths cross again... except that Rayne aka Kali is undercover, and Ash believes her to be someone else. Faced with the man she never stopped loving, Rayne knows she can never go back to being a remorseless killer, so she bows out of the agency and even marries Ash. But she leaves a lot untold, like the fact that she worked as an assassin, that she is the one Ash helped that fateful day when they met again. Forced to make her marriage work amid all the secrets she is hiding, Rayne faces a new danger when a faction inside the Corpus target her and do everything in their power to make her come back and work for their nefarious purposes.
Can Rayne save her marriage – and her life – before it’s too late? Find out when you grab your copy of Before The Morning here 

TBR: Please tantalize us with a story blurb or excerpt.
Zee: Here’s an excerpt, showing you Rayne as Kali, her agency deadly persona, on that mission when she meets Ash again.

From the front-facing window on the second floor of the Shepherd's Close freehold, Corpus secret agent Rayne Cheltham watched the ambulance pull away from the curb.
Shivers crept up her arms, and she hugged herself tight to ward them off.
Get a grip!
She was a professional on an assignment, an elite, trained operative from a clandestine agency that handled operations for governments and international forces as a stealthy left hand. Her agency entrusted her with the most important missions—nothing should faze her.
Before today, she would've said that nothing could affect her when she had her eyes on a goal.
But she wasn't sure anymore. She'd never had her past collide with her present like a few moments ago, in the form of her childhood best friend.
Ashford Gilfoy, better known as Ash. The boy who had been there to catch her when, at six, she had slipped while climbing the chestnut tree that sat right on the border between their two houses in Hastings, two days after her family moved there from Salisbury. The boy who had taught her how to ride a bicycle without the training wheels on the long and winding, gravel-covered lane leading to her parents' mansion. The teenager who had smashed the nose of the first lad who had broken her heart, at thirteen, during recess in the schoolyard. The young man she had left seventeen years ago on a platform at London Waterloo, on the day she bid her old life goodbye.
For the first time since that day, she was back on British soil, and kismet decided Ash should cross her path.
Why then, of all times? She was a hair's breadth away from closing the contract on this mission. Seven months of intensive infiltration work and she was ready to achieve her aim—neutralize Nikolai Grigorievskiy's criminal operations before she took out the man. The Corpus always sent her for the kill, but the trick was that she had to make her target's death appear self-inflicted, at the bare minimum, or an accident, in the direst of cases. Measles, as such operations were known in their clandestine world—a planned assassination that didn't leave any indication of the cause of death. She would then have to sanitize everything—leave no evidence, no witness, nothing that could lead back to her. Unlike her other agency counterparts, she wasn't an out-and-out black ops assassin, but a different level of highly implicated agent provocateur.
In other words, a consummate actress who got to her ends by manipulating people and circumstances. All those years of drama school, at her mother’s insistence when, obviously, she'd be too tall to become a ballerina, came in handy. In fact, her portrayal of Lady Macbeth in the drama school's end of year play had caught the eye of the people who had recruited her into the Corpus. Seventeen years into the agency, fifteen of them as Kali, her operative name, a sociopath with no apparent conscience who followed her orders with diligence. Never had any one of her targets come close to figuring she was an undercover agent. Her track record was flawless—each assignment undertaken with one hundred percent success rate and a marginal body count.
Until today, when she'd almost gotten burned.
Ash had recognized her down there. For a second, she'd thought her cover was blown. Then, she'd taken a deep breath and forced herself to remain in character. Never panic, always stay in control, breathe and gather your wits—the first lesson drilled inside the mind of any secret agent. Pulling on a blank face was one of her fortes, and Ash had bought the act. He thought she was Irina, clueless twenty-year-old from the dirt-poor suburbs of Moscow who didn't speak any other language but Russian.
She'd had a few close encounters in the past, but never like that. Rayne and Kali had two separate, compartmentalized lives that ran parallel. The two should never have touched, because that would end up making a mess of her. She could keep each persona separate, as long as she could push Rayne to some dark corner of her mind. Her job taxed her, and she walked the tight line of paranoia every single second while undercover.
But if Rayne came to the front during a mission . . . .
Damn it, she wasn't a rookie agent on her first mission. Cherries, as the CIA called them. Hell, even during her first undercover operation, she'd had no qualms and no trouble achieving her aim.
Why today, when everything was smooth sailing toward a much-desired goal?
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the windowpane. The glass was warm against her clammy skin.
She was sweating?
That will not do. I have to take control again.
She had to forget about Ash, about Rayne, and focus on being Irina, the one who would bring down a notorious criminal. Her agency and the whole world counted on her to take out the piece of scum. She was their last hope, sent in as the trump card after good cops got killed when trying to bring Nikolai to justice.
Someone knocked on the door, and she pulled away from the window. Damn it, she still had a job to do.
Willing confidence to steel her spine on a deep breath, she turned around. She blinked a few times, called forth tears. She was supposed to be a young wife who'd just been hit by her husband, a man she'd left downstairs at the party with a leggy blonde draped all over his side.
The moisture trickled onto her cheek, and she swiped her eyes to smear the kohl and mascara.
There—she should present the desired picture of despair.
"Da?" she answered as she stepped toward the door.
The panel opened quietly. "Zdrastuyte, Gaspazha Grigorievskaya."
Hello, Mrs. Grigorievskaya. Such formality. Only one man addressed her with such deference and respect—Boris Petrov, Nikolai's right-hand man.
"Zdrastuyte, Boris Ivanovich." She replied him with the same formal greeting, using his patronymic name to further show her respect, as was customary in the Russian culture.
Boris was the least disposable target in the whole operation—the keystone. She had to bring him down, or at least create a rift between the two men. Everything would crumble afterward. Nikolai wouldn't have his main pillar of support, and would thus crash down through the pyramidal structure of his operations.
"Are you okay?" he asked as he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
She shrugged, forced a small, tremulous smile. Russian wives, she'd learned, tolerated a lot of their husbands' outbursts. "It's nothing."
"You shouldn't listen to what Mikhail said. He is just jealous that Kolya's attention is not wholly directed onto him any longer."
"It does not bother me," she said in a small voice.
Make a move, she silently urged him. For her plan to work, Boris had to capitalize on the simmering embers of passion that flared between him and his boss' wife, and that he denied all the time. She'd already lost too much time, and had to start the measles process.
I have to take matters in my hands. There's no other way.
She trained her eyes on him. Boris was a big, burly man in his mid-forties. Anyone could imagine him knocking out a person with just a flick of his thick wrist. Toying with him was like playing with fire—she could get burnt. But she had no other choice. The time had come. Five months to gain Nikolai's trust and compliance; two months to insidiously plant the seeds of discord within the criminal's entourage. She didn't have much leeway to work at influencing outcomes anymore. No—she had to provoke.
Rayne inhaled, felt the oxygen fill her lungs and clear her brain. She forced herself into her character. What would Irina do?
She gasped, and brought her hands to cover her mouth. With rapid steps, she rushed to Boris' side. She reached out with one hand and trailed the tips of her fingers along one of his eyes, swollen nearly shut from a blow.
"You shouldn't have," she said in a soft whisper, letting tears streak down her cheeks. "Not for me."
Boris' swift intake of air was the only sound that hissed between them. He closed his eyes under her touch.
Do it, she urged.
"I am so"—she paused and sobbed—"so sorry." Her voice was small and breathless, heavy with sadness.
Boris settled a heavy, meaty palm on her hand, to keep her fingers unfurled on his cheek. "Forgive me, Irina. I couldn't let him say those ugly lies about you."
He is caving.
"Boris, please." She pleaded with him.
"I will do anything for you."
"I am a married woman."
"Why don't you leave him?"
She gasped. "I cannot. I pledged myself to him."
"But look how he treats you!"
"Borya," she said, using the nickname for Boris, "back in Russia, for every one like me, there are ten other girls, more beautiful, waiting to take my place."
"There isn't any woman more beautiful than you in all of Russia."
She smiled, making sure she displayed sadness and resolution on her features.
"You are such a sweet man." When he wasn't forcing underage girls into the cargo holds of boats docking out of most major European ports, plying them with drugs before supplying them like meat to brothels and sex perverts.
"Leave him," Boris said, the words a subtle urge.
"I can't. Where would I go?" She gently tugged her hand from under his and took a step closer to him. "I can't go back to that life, Borya."
"Irina, please—"
The sound of the door opening startled them. Nikolai stood on the threshold, his tall, dark form an intimidating silhouette in the dim doorway.
Kali threw one look at Boris, shook her head softly, and took a few steps away. The back of her knees hit the edge of the window seat. She stumbled backward into a sitting position on the upholstered ledge.
Nikolai's narrowed gaze went from Boris to her, and back to his right-hand man.
"Leave us," he said softly, the words obviously an order.
Boris nodded and exited the room.
Good—she’d sown the seeds of doubt. Her "husband" would wonder what went on between her and Boris, and Boris would try to get closer to her. She would play on this nearness between them, subtly make people wonder if something was happening behind Nikolai's back.
At that point, she would move her final chess piece—Nikolai would die at the same time as Boris. For the world, things would look like an altercation gone wrong between a spurned husband and a forbidden lover, with her caught in the crossfire. That's how she'd ensure her exit from the operation.
Yes, all the pieces of the game were falling into place. She just had to play along.
Nikolai closed the door behind Boris, the click of the latch falling into place sounding louder than it should have.
He turned toward her, pressed his shoulder against the doorframe, and pushed his hands into the pockets of his Gieves and Hawkes champagne-coloured, tailor-made linen trousers.
Her "husband" focused his steely grey eyes on her.
The stare burned into her skull. Still, she refused to look up. Not yet. 

TBR: What inspired you to write about the theme?
Zee: To tell you the truth, I never set out to write heroine-centric espionage fare. I started Book 1 in the Corpus Brides series, Walking The Edge, with an amnesiac heroine who, during bouts of lucidity between two doses of forced drugging, starts to question the life she is told is hers. Something feels off to her, and brazen and reckless, she sets out to find what exactly is not fitting the picture. This quest takes her from London to Marseille, where she meets a man she saw in a dream that she is sure is a buried memory coming to the fore. Though he doesn’t recognize her, together, they set out to find out who she really is... and in the process, I discovered that they unearthed the existence of the Corpus agency.
I’ve always loved espionage fare like La Femme Nikita, the Bourne trilogy, Burn Notice, and Salt. Unconsciously, I sketched my heroine along those lines, too. Then, as I delved deeper into the agency and the people inside it, I came across the character of Rayne aka Kali, and then of Anastasiya, the Corpus’ medical doctor who hides even more secrets than the two other women combined (she gets her story in Book 3, Let Mercy Come, currently in writing stage).
I guess I love a heroine who isn’t afraid, who meets every challenge head on, who can be even more dangerous than all those dangerous heroes we see out there in romantic suspense and espionage stories. I also love a good intrigue, and these were the perfect storylines to whet my appetite; these women I discovered inside the Corpus too fascinating to let go.

TBR: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Zee: Definitely a plotter! I’m less anal than I used to be in the past, when every book and chapter and scene was outlined to within an inch of its life. Now I just go with the general idea, the gist, of what I want to convey, and write accordingly. But I cannot write by the seat of my pants – I need to know where I’m going, and how to get there. I tend to doubt myself terribly when I’m writing, and that uncertainty goes up double or triple-fold when I try to let the story guide me, instead of placing parameters around it and then letting the characters take over.

TBR: How do you develop your characters?
Zee: To the point of sounding terribly annoying and make the writers reading this wish to send a shoe flying my way, my characters usually come to me fully formed. They have a name, a face (as I work a lot with pictures of famous people for my characters), a goal, motivation, and conflict, a backstory, a ‘role’ in the story, from the minute they drop into my consciousness. It’s almost like meeting a person who really exists, if that makes any sense.
From this first ‘sketch’ of how they appear to me, I then delve beyond the apparent and find out who they are deep inside, and how they fit inside the story.
For example, Rayne appeared to me as this killer with secrets, yet I also knew right off the bat that she comes from a big, noisy family of mixed origins, which gives her the flexibility to take on different mantles during her missions. I worked with the image of Russian singer Yulia Volkova to portray her – so I knew my Rayne could pass for Russian. Add this to the fact that the Corpus works primarily in Europe, especially in the crime-infested world of Eastern Europe post-Communism, it made sense to me that Rayne would have Russian origins so she can blend in that criminal world effortlessly. How, then, to have an explosive mix to get her that noisy, riotous family? Idea – what if the other half of her is Irish? So Rayne thus ended up with a Russian father and an Irish mother.
Little by little, detail by detail, I build the characters with what I uncover about them.

TBR: Any tips or tricks for world building you’d care to share?
Zee: Lots of research! Know your world in deep because that’s when you’ll be able to bend it to suit your story/plot’s purposes.
The Corpus Brides series is a contemporary tale that takes place in post-2010 Europe, mainly. I haven’t been to half the places I feature in these books – like Prague, Arles, Marseille (and in Book 3, Portofino, Lake Como, and Amsterdam). However, I knew I had key scenes take place in those places. My clandestine agency is one that thrives in most European capitals yet is so concealed and well-merged into the landscape, not even the authorities know it exists and is present in all those locations. For this, I needed to ‘bend’ the locations to fold in the agency’s presence. The perfect example for this is the north-western parts of Prague that has lots of trees and can conceal a sprawling palace that exists as the training grounds for the Corpus agents. The Roman necropolis in Arles, France, became a meeting spot for clandestine agents in Before The Morning. The Vieux Port area in Marseille hid a library inside a heritage-site Roman building that Corpus agents use as a secret location for information gathering and switching identities.
I thus used existing cities and painted in my fictional world using the established layout – something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I not known about the area and how to exploit it to my advantage.

TBR: While creating your books, what was one of the most surprising things you learned?
Zee: That I’m quite ‘dark’ in persona! I always describe myself as a merry, talkative, fluffy girl just one breath short of appearing like a total airhead – I love pink, all things girly and sparkly, am totally gaga over shoes, and will shriek when I spot a cockroach or a spider within five yards of me. J
Yet, when I write, I find that, no matter how light I try to make a story, the characters will always have a dark edge to them, an inner suffering that shapes them into who they’ve become. I couldn’t write fluff and light and funny to save my life – there’s always a tragedy somewhere in a character’s life, in the backstory, in the plot, that will delve into the darker sides of the human mind and heart.
Amelia from Walking The Edge, and Rayne from Before The Morning (and ultimately, Anastasiya from Let Mercy Come) are all women who have known suffering in their lives, women with an abysmal dark side to them that they don’t hesitate to use when the need arise. They fight without pulling any punch; they kill without remorse when they have to; they brush people and feelings aside when the job demands it, viewing losses as unfortunate collateral damage. There’s nothing bright or girly or fluffy about them – and I was stunned to find that not only could I write such women, I could also empathize with them, understand where they come from, feel their pain before I transmitted it all to the page.
I guess there’s a part of darkness to all of us – maybe even, the lighter and fluffier you appear, the darker is the other half of your psyche...

TBR: Tease us with one little thing about your fictional world that makes it different from others.
Zee: Most fictional espionage agencies exist ‘in the open’ – covert, as in, seen to the naked eye even though you don’t know exactly what goes in inside. That’d be agencies like the CIA and MI6. The clandestine agencies in fiction, and even the spies, are more often than not men.
The best agents – and the biggest brains – inside the Corpus are women. And they’re ‘real’ women too, that is, they chose their job and are great at it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t yearn for love and family, for that man who will love them with everything he has and who will put his life on the line for them. These women are killers and super-agents, but every regular woman will find an echo of them inside her, because they are, I believe, realistic characters and not simply war machines with no scruples and no aspirations.
Then, too, the world of Corpus is blended right along into the world as we know it – such an agency could already exist, in reality, for all I know! I think there’s a good dose of originality in that world when you combine all those factors.

TBR: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
Zee: That they read ‘real’, as in ‘realistic’ to how spies and assassins would live and be, and also as in how everyone can find themselves in the writing. My fans for this series stretch from romance-loving housewives who love a good thrill of romantic fiction, to seventy-year-old men who enjoy the danger and thriller aspects of the books.

TBR: Where can readers find you on the web?
Zee:  I am just an email away J
Then I am on the platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads as Zee Monodee, and regularly, I’m posting and commenting on my blog,

TBR: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Zee: Yes – that when you enjoy a book, please let the author know. You don’t know how much it brightens our world when we receive a word from a reader who has enjoyed reading our work. And please be vocal about what you enjoy – if our publishers see the demand for a storyline or for an author, that’s when we the authors will be in the better position to write such stories and provide them for your own reading enjoyment!

Special Treat!

Book 1 of the Corpus Brides series, Walking The Edge, is FREE at Noble Romance Publishing’s website. Grab your copy!

WALKING THE EDGE (Corpus Brides: Book 1)

Currently FREE - A romantic suspense novel, wherein an amnesiac woman is on the quest for her forgotten memory... Escape from London all the way to Marseille, France, and discover the secrets, deceit, danger, & the powerful love, she uncovers during her search!

Thanks for visiting TBR, Zee! And thanks for sharing the free download with readers!


  1. Welcome to TBR, Zee! And congrats on your exciting releases!

    1. Thanks for having me over today, Cate! It's an absolute thrill :)

  2. I absolutely loved Walking The Edge, and I look forward to reading Before The Morning again. All the best, Zee! And thanks Cate, for hosting her! :)

    1. Jessica, you sure know how to brighten my day! Thanks so much - and I'm so, so glad you enjoyed the books of the Corpus Brides series. XOXO

  3. Another great story by a wonderful author.
    Yep. Downloaded that free book too. =)
    Thanks, Zee! I adore your work.


Talk to TBR guests!