Saturday 9 March 2024

The Story Behind the Story with Joanna Vander Vlugt


Let’s welcome Joanna, a popular west coast author, to the Scribbler.

She is joining us this week to tell us the SBTS of her upcoming thriller, Spy Girls.

Her previous novels have received high praise a multitude of 5 Star Ratings.

Read on my friends.




Joanna Vander Vlugt is an author and illustrator. As a teenager, she drew charcoal portraits and wrote mysteries. Now, she uses Copic markers to illustrate motorcycles and scooters. Under the pseudonym J.C. Szasz, Joanna’s short mysteries Egyptian Queen, and The Parrot and Wild Mushroom Stuffing were both published in Crime Writers of Canada mystery anthologies. Her essay, No Beatles Reunion was published in the Dropped Threads 3: Beyond the Small Circle anthology.

The Unravelling, her debut novel, and Dealer’s Child were Canadian Book Club Awards finalists. Joanna draws upon her 13 years’ experience working in the prosecutor’s office and 10 years working in the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner for inspiration for her novels. Joanna is proud of her podcast SAM Magazine and the many authors she has interviewed. Joanna’s novels, art and podcast can be found at As well, her quarterly publication SAM Magazine, can be found at


Title:  Spy Girls


Synopsis: In the quaint city of Victoria, a CIA action officer is released from prison, and a Chief Justice is murdered. The Law Society is scrutinizing Jade Thyme’s conduct in the most recent trial she prosecuted. Jade’s life can’t get much worse until she is coerced into finding an elusive double agent. Tangled in lies and political agendas, high speed chases and sticky bombs, Jade must outplay a dangerous Hungarian assassin before her own life is terminated.


The Story Behind the Story: The inspiration behind this story came about when I heard that during the pandemic an individual had spat on a nurse. People may not know this, but spitting on someone is considered assault under the Criminal Code. I was so disgusted with humanity when I heard about this incident. My heroine, Jade, has a line of dialogue when she’s waiting for the verdict to come in on a similar assault case she’s just prosecuted, “…I’m looking for the humanity in humans.” That is a line I had said during those times. I couldn’t believe that an individual would spit on a nurse, who could very well be the person saving that individual’s life. Also during the writing of Spy Girls, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell were exposed.

I’ve always been interested in classic espionage novels. I’ve wondered how spies carry on any semblance of a relationship, when so much of their lives must be kept secret. When I spun those ideas together, Spy Girls came together. When I had Spy Girls read by novelist, Joe Goldberg, who writes The Spy Devils thriller series, and who was a CIA covert action officer, it was encouraging to hear him say that what happens in my novel is not uncommon. I am so grateful for his feedback. I had another story line in this novel, which I ended up dropping, because it didn’t fit. Kudos to my editor for pointing that out.

There is so much chatter online. Sometimes it feels that the person with the loudest voice is the one heard. I believe writers use fiction as a tool to point out the rights and wrongs in society. Our novels become our voice.


Website: Go HERE.


A couple of questions before you go, Joanna:

Scribbler: What is the perfect setting for you when you write your stories?

Joanna: I love this question. It’s been two years since I retired from my government job at the Ministry of the Attorney General. I worked for the government for 34 years. It took me a little time to adapt to my new freedom, and sometimes I felt like I was floundering. I dreamed of the day when I could write full-time. That day had come and I didn’t know what to do.  I realized that I needed to treat writing like a job. I show up at 9:00 am in the office in our house. I have two mini-schnauzers and they are so used to my schedule, as soon as they see me with my mocha in my hand, and I say, “let’s go,” they are in the office in their beds before me. On the weekends when I may not follow that routine, they look at me a little confused.


Coffee or whiskey? Music or silence? Messy or neat notes?

When I write, I listen to soft jazz, or spa music. I’m working on the first draft of a time travel, and the spa music just sets the mood. Now, when it comes to action scenes, or fight scenes, I listen to the rock band Alice In Chains. With respect to notes, oh gosh, they are a mix of everything. If I’m rewriting, I’ll have notes up the side of the page with arrows and PTO circled, and sentences numbered.


Scribbler:  What’s your favorite and least favorite part of publishing?

Joanna: My favorite part of publishing is seeing the book cover. I learned a lesson when I hired Umbrella Squared. I told Kristy, the designer, everything I didn’t want on my cover. I didn’t want an image of the back of a woman running. I had seen many books with that as a cover. Kristy provided me with cover samples of women riding motorcycles, because that’s what my heroine does, but it didn’t click. Kristy then provided me with images of women holding a motorcycle helmet, or by bridges (bridges are a backdrop for my story), images I would never have thought of, and I loved them. I love how she designed my book. She knew what I didn’t want, and provided me with other options.

My least favorite part of the publishing industry is the industry not “thinking outside the box.” I create motorcycle illustrations. In Spy Girls, when you flip open that book, you will see one of my motorcycle illustrations. I’m taking a chance having that illustration in there, because I get the feeling that’s not something you do in a thriller novel. I’m of the view, why not? My motorcycle illustrations have sold in Canada, the US, Australia, and I see the construction of a book and the packaging (book design) as an expression of creativity and art.

Excerpt from Spy Girls, Part III, Chapter 18 – Red Box

Joanna: What I found cool about this excerpt, is that I reached out to the rock band Trooper, and asked if I could quote the song title and lyric from their song 3 Dressed Up as a 9. When I received an email back saying I could, I was ecstatic.

Adam stood and something hard nailed him on the side of the head. He stumbled, cupping his throbbing ear with his hand.

Another slam to his lower back.

He stumbled again, holding onto the table. A woman raised a butcher block above her head, steps from him.

“Babe, babe, it’s okay,” Jan said, grabbing her arm. “Put the butcher block down.”

Adam straightened. Blood whooshed through his ear, and a headache steamrolled his skull.

The woman shoved the cutting board onto the counter. She straightened her short nightdress. “You’re lucky I’m not armed.”

Jan held his hand out, keeping her back. “I know him.”

“You know this asshole? Why is he trying to kill you?”

“Because,” Adam retrieved his cell from the floor, his head pounding harder, “Jade Thyme has been kidnapped.” He held his cell out, showing her the photo.

The woman’s eyes narrowed. Her one fake eyelash, that had survived the night, gave her a battered, sinister appearance. She propped her hand on her hip. “Doesn’t give you the right to attack my boyfriend.”

“Elyssia,” Jan said, rubbing his neck. “Best you get dressed, and I’ll explain later.”

“Really, Jan, really? You shush me off so you can talk to this loser who broke into your home and assaulted you?”

Jan braced his hand on the counter. “I know this loser, and I let him in. Adam Younghusband, meet Elyssia Hawthorne. Elyssia, Adam.”

Elyssia Hawthorne. Will’s daughter.

She eyed him. Her expression changed from furious Chihuahua to sly, one-lash opportunist. Did she know about his relationship with Will? Was Elyssia going to be a problem?

Adam turned to Jan. “We need to talk. Now.” He pulled a cracked cell phone from his pocket. “Jade’s cell. I found it outside Fan Tan Alley.”

“Call the cops,” Elyssia said.

Adam glared. Before he even knew who she was, he wanted Elyssia gone. Now, he really wanted her to leave.

“Elyssia.” Jan put his arm around her shoulders as he escorted her down the hall. “This is important.”

“Are you saying I’m not? Jade is more important than me? First that crazy bitch from six months ago, now Jade. Where do I play in the scheme of your life, Jan?”

“Jade’s been kidnapped, Elyssia,” Adam said. “So, yes, she’s more important than you.”

She spun around facing him, her eyes narrowing. “Maybe if she stopped pissing people off.”

Adam stepped forward. “Do you know who kidnapped her?”

She looked from him to Jan.

“Elyssia, baby, come on,” Jan said. “What do you know?”

“There was a security guard around Fan Tan, except he wasn’t a security guard. He was once charged for impersonating a cop.”

“And you didn’t warn her?” Adam exclaimed.

“I’m not her bodyguard. You’re the one screwing her,” she fired back. “The only reason I know is because I once defended him.”

“Did you see her get kidnapped?” Adam shouted.

“No!” She marched into the other room, slamming the door behind her.

Adam looked at Jan. “She’s a real piece of work. She knew. Your crazy girlfriend knew. That’s it.” Adam stomped toward the door. “I’m dragging her skinny ass down to Vic PD.”

“Give me a minute.” Jan pushed him back, grabbed a newspaper and threw it at him. “Occupy yourself.” He disappeared into the room.

Adam heard their raised voices. He placed the paper on the  kitchen island. God he needed a Tylenol. Then, he saw the headline.

Lawyer Shot Dead.

He pulled out a stool and, rubbing his forehead, read. The article highlighted Bernie’s legal career, and his practice with the late Justice Chimera, who had been murdered the previous week. The police didn’t reveal much about the investigation, but they weren’t ruling out that the murders were related.

A thump against the door and more shouts from Elyssia.

He glanced in their general direction. They’re both nuts.

Underneath that article was another headline.

Hungarian Mobster Arrested.

Adam recognized the mob boss, who was in town for business when he was arrested in an after-hours nightclub. This was the mobster’s second assault in two weeks, and he was now being held in custody until his bail hearing. Adam stepped away from the table when he saw the red box on a cabinet.

Was it . . . her? He flipped the lid and pulled out cotton. Teeth. Upper and lower jaw, gold-plated. Crap. Katriona had been here. Maybe he should show the teeth to Elyssia? Get his point across as to who they were messing with.

The door opened. Elyssia’s voice was now at gunshot decibels. “We are through!” Dressed in a sparkling purple mini-dress, white fur shawl and purple ostrich feather stilettos, she pulled wheeled luggage behind her.

Jan followed. “Elyssia, listen. It’s a bad time right—”

“When isn’t it a bad time, Jan? Every other woman comes before me. It’s not like I’m a three dressed up as a nine. I’m a nine. More than a nine, a Goddamn ten. And you treat me like crap.”

Adam looked up. He had heard that lyric, three dressed up as a nine. Where? When?

“These are dangerous—”

“We’re through.”

She marched onto the porch. The fur shawl slipped, landing on the pavement, exposing a Prince tattoo on her left shoulder.

She stopped, her legs straddling two steps.

“Your shawl,” Jan said, holding it out to her.

She grabbed it and clicked out of sight.

Jan closed the door and returned to the main living area. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Give me a minute.”


“Excuse me?”

“The rock band Trooper wrote and sang that song, 3 Dressed Up as a 9. My dad listened to them all the time.”

“Glad you’re tripping down memory lane at my expense, but we’ve got bigger issues.” Jan disappeared into another room.

Thank you for being our guest this week, Joanna. We wish you continued success with your writing.

And another grateful thank you to our visitors and readers. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Comments: Because of an anomaly with Google, most time you have to comment as Anonymous. If so, please add your name with your comment in the comment box so we will know who you are.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.