Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author J.A. Adams, PhD, the author Bomb Cyclone, an absorbing historical tale that tells the story of a young couple struggling to stay alive in the shadow of war and resistance. (Read the review here.) Adams is currently retired in Northern Colorado after teaching English for sixteen years at Louisiana State University.
Author J.A. Adams, PhD, is currently retired in Northern Colorado after teaching English for sixteen years at Louisiana State University. She is the author of Pillars of Salt. Inspiration for her latest novel, Bomb Cyclone, came from Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and addresses the effect of the resulting unrest on a Ukrainian American émigré and the beautiful spy sent by the SVR to acquire the bomb coordinates in his possession.
Facebook: J.A. Adams
Bomb Cyclone is a political thriller with ties to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Is that what inspired the premise of the book, or did that element come in later?
My interest piqued before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. My husband and I had read and discussed Timothy D. Snyder’s book, The Road to Unfreedom. Snyder explains Putin’s belief in Ivan Ilyin’s philosophy that Kyiv, Ukraine, where the ancient Rus tribe ruled, is the Mother of Russia. Ilyin believed a fascist coup was an act of salvation, that Russia, as the only source of “divine totality,” is innocent of any wrongdoing. Therefore, Putin must stop Zelensky, the new president, who plans to democratize Ukraine, and Ukraine must be returned to the true Russian “divine totality” of its birth.
With that understanding, and Russian aggression in Ukraine escalating, their takeover of Crimea, and their placement of unmarked troops in eastern Ukraine, I was motivated to see where it was leading. Alas, I found out.
What kind of research do you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the work on Bomb Cyclone?
I relied heavily on Snyder’s research for motivation for the unrest. As the tensions were escalating, shortly after I finished my first book, Pillars of Salt,probably May of 2021, I turned to online sources and news sites for the current events during the build-up of tensions between the nations, adding actual events to my fictional story as they unfolded. I often returned to a fictional event in my novel to incorporate an actual event as it was happening in Ukraine. Sometimes, I had to change the date of my fictional account to match the actual event, such as the timing of Vlad’s prisoner exchange. By the time I finished the book, Russia had attacked Ukraine, so I added that brutal insurgency, with no known end, to the Afterword.
How did publishing Pillars of Salt change your process of writing for Bomb Cyclone?
The process was similar. One main difference was that for Pillars of Salt, I researched the past event in 1980 through pages of journal articles and historical references to the actual event, then wrote my fictional account of the event. I used some poetic license to modify some of the actual historical events. For Bomb Cyclone, besides researching past events and the buildup of tensions after the fall of the Soviet Union, along with Putin’s philosophy during that time,I also had to research events and their implications as they were taking place during the struggle and until the present.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
In Bomb Cyclone, the plot is extremely important. Without the actual events, the story would not have been possible. And yet, the fictional characters had a large burden to show how events influenced their lives and actions. I hope their reactions to events showed the futility and anguish of the situations they were living through and engaged the reader in the human costs of the war and its buildup. Without the characters, it would have been a dry reporting of facts indeed.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
I very much enjoy the researching and writing process. I struggle sometimes to find “the” word I’m looking for. Rereading over and over again is a challenge, and I always think I should have read it a few more times. I’m also struggling currently to decide what to write about next.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
I guess Mykola was most challenging, though Oksana was a close second. I tried to create the vicissitudes of Mykola’s trying not to fall in love with his flirtatious student, to failing at that attempt, to learning she’s a spy for Russia, and then to processing how to ever believe her again, followed by feeling abject loneliness after her defection and relocation by her CIA handlers. Add to that the stress of seeing his best friend Vlad fighting for Ukraine and not being able to help him or convince him to come to the US.
Oksana had her own problems: the loss of belief in what and whom she is fighting for and what that entails, the long process of defection, and the loss of all ties to her family. She has fallen in love with Mykola and could never have betrayed him, yet she suffers anguish when she must move out of state with a new identity, possibly never to see him again.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
It’s hard to pick “a scene.” I guess I would say the most poignant scene is the morning after Oksana decides to defect and has to explain what she has done to Mykola. He must decide whether to ever believe her again, plus come to terms with the enormity of what she will have to encounter if she defects, or, conversely, if she decides to give herself up and return home, probably to be killed. It’s more painful since they are in love with each other by this point.
What’s next for you?
I wish I knew. I want to begin writing again, but it’s difficult to figure out what to write about! I tend to enjoy writing about actual events, but which event would make an interesting book?
I’m toying with the idea of researching Russian oligarchs who have built palatial mansions in the Rockies. I’m just in the very early pondering stage right now and could end up going in an entirely different direction.
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