From James Bond to Jason Bourne, fictional spies always have a lot of balls. Literally. But in his first novel, The Lady Was A Spy (paperback, digital), writer T.R. Garrison introduces us to Jean Webb, a spy during World War II who finds out the war doesn’t always end when the history books say it does. Though in talking to Garrison, it’s clear it wasn’t just a desire to be different that prompted him to write about a really ballsy spy.
In a very basic sense, what is The Lady Was A Spy about?
It’s about a woman from a military family, born ahead of her time, who develops into a female James Bond-type character.
Where did you get the idea for it?
Well, it started with three women I know very well. First, my beautiful mother, Juanita. Who, by the way, is 98 years old. Mom was a tomboy growing up, going hunting and fishing with her dad, uncle, and cousin Archie. During the war, she worked as a riveter, building B-25s in San Diego, and then was a telephone operator. Her best friend, Rosy, was a pilot putting in flying hours to join the WASP, and mom would go flying with her. Mom learned how to fly an AT-6 trainer. In early 1945, Rosy talked mom into doing a screen test and she was offered a contract. My father, who was in the Pacific, indicated for her to return home to Springfield. My mother was still a very good-looking woman at 44 years old, with a trim figure and good looks. I noticed she still turned men’s heads when I was with her.
My grandmother, Lorene Jones, was another woman born ahead of her time. She was the estimator, buyer, accountant, and secretary of my grandfather’s OK Plumbing Co. She once told me she lost the bid on the first multistory building in north Springfield, M.O., by $300.00.
Then there’s my other grandmother, Tillie Beulah Garrison, who had no enemies. Once you met her, you fell in love with her. She was smart, a joyful person, played the piano by ear, cooked the best cream pies, and told me my first dirty joke at the age of twelve.
I wanted to write something different, so I created Jean Webb with these three wonderful women in mind.
I’m guessing, then, that it isn’t based on a real World War II spy?
Not the character, but the events were. I’m a WWII buff, especially the Pacific war, because my father was a Marine Sergeant and was awarded the Honorary Badge of Efficiency out of a training regiment of over six hundred men. I did have to do a lot research on the European war.
The book is set around the time of World War II. Why did you decide to set the book then, as opposed to around the Vietnam War or a more current conflict?
Several reasons. One was the time period of the character. Jean was born on April 17th, 1917, my mother’s birthday. Two, a movie titled OSS, starring Alan Ladd — one of my favorite actors — has always fascinated me. Three, I grew up in the years after the war.
In terms of the main character’s spycraft, did you do research and try to make it historically accurate, or did you take more inspiration from fiction?
I did a lot of research because I wanted it to be realistic. I know about West Point Academy and OCS, since I turned down West Point twice and OCS once. I researched OSS training and I have seen almost every war movie made.
Speaking of war movies, which ones — as well as books and other works of fiction — were the biggest inspirations for The Lady Was A Spy?
As for books, when I was in high school, I picked up a paperback titled Run Silent, Run Deep, and once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. I thought I’d like to write something like that someday.
So when you saw that they were making an Agent Carter TV show, which is about a female spy in the years following World War II, what curse word did you yell and how loud?
I didn’t worry about it, it’s too phony and not realistic.
Speaking of fictional spies, in hitting up journalists such as myself, your PR person used the line “The name is Webb, Jean Webb,” an obvious reference to James Bond. Is there anything particularly James Bond-y about Jean or The Lady Was A Spy?
Yes, there’s a similarity. The Lady Was A Spy is the beginning of developing a female James Bond type.
Is your plan for The Lady Was A Spy that it will be the first in a series?
Yes. Book two should be published by mid-October. It will be titled Deadly Ghost Arrows. Book three is The Storyteller. Book four: Murders In Wyoming, and so on….
The idea of a woman who’s a spy in World War II and a private detective in the years after the war seems like it could be made into a cool movie. Well, if Marvel doesn’t do it first. Has there been any interest in making The Lady Was A Spy movie?
A Hollywood treatment has been created by iUniverse and sent to Hollywood for the producers to consider. We’ll see.
If The Lady Was A Spy was being made into a movie, who would you want to direct it and who would you want to play the titular lady?
As far as the director goes, I have no preference beyond someone who has the right experience to make the movie a success. I have an actress in mind for Jean, someone currently on a TV series that has shown me all the talent required to play the part. But with the Hollywood treatment still up in the air, she’ll remain nameless for now.
Gotcha. So, finally, if someone really enjoys The Lady Was A Spy, what novel would you suggest they read next and why?