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WORD: Interview with 'The Fidelity Files' author Jessica Brody

Jessica BrodyLos Angeles native Jessica Brody is a former strategic analyst at MGM Studio whose debut novel "The Fidelity Files" -- about a woman living a double life as an inspector of men’s wandering eyes -- launches shortly with St. Martin’s Press. Jessica (pictured left) answered some questions with WORD'N'BASS.com Editor BPM Smith, touching on her experiences in the corporate world, the cheaters she's encountered, and how a willingness to adapt could be the difference between a major publishing deal and lagging in the slush pile.

WORD'N'BASS.com: June 10 (her novel's launch date) is just around the corner. Are things hectic nowadays or are you trying to enjoy the moment?

Brody: I'm trying to enjoy the moment as much as I can, but yes, things are very hectic. I am also getting ready to turn in the manuscript for the book's sequel to my publisher. So that's really weighing on my mind as well. I'm feeling a lot of pressure not to disappoint anyone. And at the same time, I'm also trying to do as much as I can to promote the first book, so there's a lot going on right now and it turns everything into a giant blur. It's been very surreal from the moment I sold the book to St. Martin's. But now that everything's coming down to the fast few weeks, it's starting to feel very real. And very scary! I just want it to do well.

WORD'N'BASS.com: I understand you quit your job at MGM, then started writing "Fidelity Files" --  why the sudden jump over the abyss?

Brody: I thought that I wanted the big corporate career with all the glitz, glamour and financial security, but it soon became apparent that getting creative with PowerPoint slides just wasn't enough for me. I actually started writing The Fidelity Files while I was still at MGM. I would work on it at night (when I wasn't overly exhausted from a day in the cubicle) and I would get so lost in the writing. I would look at the clock after what felt like five minutes and it would be HOURS later and I realized that anything that has the ability to take me away like that is what I should be doing.

I always knew that I would eventually quit the MGM gig to write but there was always the problem of money and how I would pay rent and car payments. And then Sony bought out MGM and sent us all packing with a big severance check and I knew it was a sign. I vowed to make that check last as long as I could. I took on several random craigslist jobs from transcription work to catering events. I had several opportunities to return to the corporate world and received some very generous offers from other studios to go back to analysis work, but I turned them all down. I just couldn't do it. The book sold to St. Martin's about a year and a half after I left MGM and now I write full time and I never look back.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Most people say that's the exact opposite route an aspiring author should take, since the odds of hitting a home run with your first novel are slim.

Brody: Yes, they are. That's why the moment I sold the first one, I started working on another one. And another one after that. I'm trying to be as prolific as possible so I don't have to put all my eggs in one book, so to speak. I recently sold a young adult novel to FSG in a two book deal so I have those two books to look forward to. The sequel to The Fidelity Files (which has yet to be titled) will be out next summer and I'm already working on some new ideas that I hope to sell later this year. So I try to stay busy. You definitely can't bank your career on one novel. But I'm hoping you can bank it on four or five.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Did you feel like you were taking a gamble, or did you have a sense that nurturing this idea into a novel and then getting it published was inevitable?

Brody: Inevitable is a very strong word. It's natural to have fears and doubts about your decision. But I knew this is what I was meant to do. There was no way it couldn't be. I was far too in love with novel writing to see myself doing anything else. It spoke to me like nothing had. So I was determined to make it work no matter how long it took. The funny thing is, when I went home to visit my parents after I had quit my job and found all of the mini novels that I had written and self "published" when I was a kid, I suddenly wondered why it took me so long to figure out that this was clearly my career. My seven-year old self certainly knew, why didn't I? I've always felt very strongly about the concept of The Fidelity Files and knew that it had a place in the book market. It was just a matter of how to present it. Which is why the manuscript got rewritten several times before I even signed with an agent.

After two years of rejections, I just refused to give up. Then one agent gave me some really great feedback (with her rejection) and I asked if I could resubmit 100 pages of a revised version to her when they were done. She said yes, and signed me on those 100 pages. I'm a big advocate for taking criticism from people who know the industry and know what sells. It definitely got me to where I am now. If I had been stubborn and insisted that my original manuscript was the one, I'd probably still be out there pitching it. And now when I go back and read it, it's very clear to me why it didn't get picked up. Writing is a lonely business, but it can't be done alone.

WORD'N'BASS.com: The premise kind of leaped out at me when I first saw "Fidelity Files." Where did the idea come from?

Brody: This is the NUMBER ONE question I get after I tell people about the book. There were several experiences in my past that led me to this. I used to witness a lot of inappropriate behavior at work happy hours and other functions when alcohol began to cloud people's judgments. And I always thought that someone should tell these the conveniently absent wives and girlfriends and significant others about it. Of course, I wasn't going to be the one to do it. I didn't have the courage.

The idea of a "fidelity inspector" actually hit me one day when I was sitting at my cubicle at work. I had been trying to get another manuscript of mine published and it kept getting turned down because there "wasn't enough story." So I knew that the next book I wrote had to be all about story. And I wanted to write about a woman who had a very unusual job. One that she couldn't tell her friends and family about. I always LOVED the show "Alias" and Sydney Bristow was my favorite character on TV. So the whole secret double life angle really interested me. This paired with all the indiscretions I had witnessed over the years, led me to The Fidelity Files. The concept of cheating has always intrigued me. And the idea that you can never really know what someone does behind your back. So I came up with a character who will tell you exactly what happens when you're not around.

WORD'N'BASS.com: The idea of a fidelity inspector seems like it will hit both women and men readers on a gut level. Men in maybe a more anxious way than women.

Brody: Yes, this is definitely true. Over the past year and a half as I've waited for this book to come out, I've told a LOT of people about the premise and I usually get very similar reactions. The women nod their head and smile mischievously and say things like "Oh, that's great!" Or some will say, "I would totally hire someone like that!" And the men just look absolutely terrified. Some will even ask, "Is this fiction?" as if they're just making sure they're not in any imminent danger.

One of the things I've always wanted to do with this book is to get people thinking. Push the envelope. Strike up discussion and maybe even some controversy. The biggest question I wanted women to ask themselves is "would you ever do this?" Under what circumstances would you hire a fidelity inspector? And is it ever the right thing to do? I'm hoping this book will cause a little bit of stir. After the movie "Fatal Attraction" came out, men were afraid to have affairs. It would be interesting if men were afraid to talk to beautiful girls in bars after this book comes out.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Your protagonist Jennifer Hunter poses as a flight stewardesses, a poker player, another time as a woman who likes football. So she goes after the men by morphing into exactly what they most desire. Isn't that similar to real dating?

Brody: I never thought of it that way, but I suppose it is similar to real dating. I don't know any woman who has gone as far as to borrow a flight attendant's uniform for a date, but you never know! But I do know a lot of women who will research a guy's favorite sports team or learn how to play poker just to impress the man they're dating and have something to talk about with them. But eventually the truth always comes out, doesn't it? "I hate football." "I think poker is stupid." Or in my main character's case, "I was hired by your wife."

WORD'N'BASS.com: I also picture a smoking hot woman here. Basically, she's the ideal woman for these guys she hunts, is she not?

Brody: In my mind, Jennifer Hunter was always very attractive. I have this friend who is just so beautiful that every time we go out, she gets hit on. One time, we were having lunch at a very nice restaurant and some guy just bought our lunch. Without even saying hello or introducing himself! He just paid for it and left before the waiter even came over to tell us. That had never happened to me. But she admitted, very modestly, that "it happens sometimes." I was in awe. I thought that stuff only happened in movies! So I always pictured Jennifer to be like that. A woman who men are just instantly attracted to.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Do you think many men could resist this kind of temptation in real life?

Brody: Sadly, I think there are a lot of men that wouldn't be able to resist it. But I also believe that there are a lot who could. Some men are the cheating type and some just aren't. It's really not rocket science. But I specifically designed the fidelity inspections in the book to weed out one category from the other. I didn't want it to be an entrapment sort of thing. That's why she always follows and never leads. I wanted it to truly be a test of what a married man will do when in the company of someone who fits his "ideal woman." Will he flirt with her, kiss her, invite her back to his room? Or will he just smile and continue on with his night? I didn't think that her trying to outwardly seduce him would be realistic. If he initiates the flirtation, then you pretty much know what he would do with any other beautiful girl he meets.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Jennifer becomes changed by her job. She sees too many cheaters, too many unhappy people, becomes a little jaded. How did writing this novel change you in any way -- creatively or personally?

Brody: I have to say, it changed me in a very similar way. When I wrote the very first version of the book, I was pretty cynical about love. It's probably one of the things that compelled me to write it in the first place. The indiscretions I was witnessing in my daily life were so common that they almost started to feel "normal." Infidelity, in my mind, was practically an inevitability. As a result, the tone of the very first draft of the manuscript was significantly more cynical than the book is now. And Jennifer Hunter absorbed every single one of my skeptical views into her psyche. In the first draft, she was bitter, angry, and she hated her job. She only did it for the money. I don't think I even realized how cynical I had become until the rejection letters from agents started flooding in. And Jennifer's cynicism was the number one reason for rejecting the manuscript.

So I started a rewrite. And in that process, I started exploring my own cynicism. Because I realized that not only was it an extremely unhealthy outlook on love and life, it also appeared to be stunting my chances at a future publishing deal! So I stopped attending the functions where I was witnessing things that made me feel uncomfortable and I started focusing on surrounding myself with people who had the kind of relationship that I wanted to have someday. My outlook changed dramatically. And so did my novel. It was at this point that I was inspired to give Jennifer Hunter a deeper purpose in her career path. A meaningful reason for becoming a fidelity inspector. Something she is trying to resolve within herself so that she can find the light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course, I can't divulge what that secret purpose is. You'll have to read the book to find out, but I will say that it completely changed the entire tone of the novel. It went from a dark, cynical story about a woman who felt trapped in her own environment, to a fun, light-hearted tale about a woman who just wants to make a difference in the world.

And not surprisingly, this was my very same transformation.

One hundred pages into the rewrite, I signed with The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and two weeks after the new manuscript was complete, we had an offer. I guess optimism really does go a long way.

WORD'N'BASS.com: I hear St. Martin's already bought the sequel. What direction are you taking Jennifer? Not asking you to give it away, just a hint?

Brody: I'm very excited about the sequel. I'm just finishing it up now and I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I get to explore Jennifer Hunter's life from a whole new angle. Because in the next book, she's somewhere she'd never thought she'd be in the first book -- in a committed relationship! And there are all sorts of fun things to delve into there.

The second book still centers around Jennifer Hunter's life both at home and at work, but she no longer does fidelity inspections. Now she has a whole team of people who do them for her! She runs an agency called "The Hawthorne Agency" (a nod to The Scarlet Letter) and she has four beautiful women and one beautiful man that work for her. I think the most entertaining part for me about writing the sequel is getting to create all sorts of new and scandalous assignments for Jennifer's staff of employees. And now that there's a male fidelity inspector onboard as well, women are being tested too!

But once again, Jen will come face to face with a lot of challenging obstacles in her new life. Because you can't break up relationships by day and try to keep one together by night without running into a little drama. And Jen will ultimately have to decide if her blinding dedication to her life's work is worth possibly destroying her chances of living happily ever after.

WORD'N'BASS.com: Thanks for your time, Jessica. And good luck with your debut.

Brody: Thank you! These were really great questions. I'm so excited to be included on wordnbass.com. You've done such an amazing job with the site. Good luck to you too!

For more information about Jessica Brody and The Fidelity Files, check out her website.


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