Please welcome Zee Monodee as she shares her experiences and insights from her writing as well as giving us a view of her new book, Before the Morning, book two of her Corpus Bride series.
Stories about love, life, relationships... in a melting-pot of culture
Zee is an author who grew up on a fence - on one side there was modernity and the global world, on the other there was culture and traditions. Putting up with the culture for half of her life, one day she decided she'd stand tall on her wall and dip toes every now and then into both sides of her non-conventional upbringing. From this resolution spanned a world of adaptation and learning to live on said wall. The realization also came that many other young women of the world were on their own fence.
This particular position became her favorite when she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of writing - her heroines all sit 'on a fence', whether cultural or societal, in today's world or in times past, and face dilemmas about life and love.
Hailing from the multicultural island of Mauritius, Zee is a degree holder in Communications Science. She is married,mum to a tween son, & stepmum to a teenage lad.
Facebook & Goodreads: Zee Monodee
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I always knew I loved to tell stories. Ever since I was little, I remember coming up with elaborate scenarios for Barbie play dates with my cousins, and then when I watched all the 80s soap operas with my mum (Dynasty, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Coronation Street, Eastenders, Neighbours), I often found myself thinking up alternate plot lines and endings.
The writing itself came together when I started penning a diary, around ages 11-12. I enjoyed the act of writing this story, even if it was simply my own, lol, and then later coming back to read the entries. My life felt like a book to me thanks to the diary. Then there’s the fact that my father made sure to get me
hooked on books and writing (he bought me the complete Austen works and a handful of Barbara Cartland books when I was a tween), which combined to my love of words, made me gravitate towards languages at school. In a way, I’ve always been inventing stories and writing, though it’s only in the last decade that I started to pursue publication.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was about a young divorcee of Indian origin coming back to Mauritius (my native land) from England, and facing a different society here that shunned her because she’d gotten a divorce. In the midst of all this drama (thanks to her overbearing mother), she comes across her first love, a white man, whom she’d given up on because they came from different ethnic and cultural origins. Can they have a second chance though, especially now that she is divorced?
I wrote that story a lot based on my own experiences in Mauritian society after my first marriage ended in divorce. It was like those same people I knew who were sweet and nice had turned into vicious gossips who spoke behind my back to sling mud every time they could. Finding love again, and having to fight for
that marriage to happen, was not a walk in the park. My husband is of the same ethnic origin as me, so I wondered how hard it would’ve been for a mixed race couple.
At the same time, I kept reading about British society, Australian society, American society, Indian society – why wasn’t there anything about Mauritian society that wasn’t dry as dust and heavily literary (and making you want to kill yourself if you ever manage to finish the book)? That’s how I set out to write popular commercial romantic fiction with a HEA.
And then push came to shove around that same time when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I needed an anchor to keep me grounded, to help me wade through the rising tide, and writing was that for me during the endless months of chemo and radiation therapy. I haven’t looked back ever since, been writing story after story.
What books have influenced your life most?
Jane Austen’s works. Like I mentioned above, my father got me hooked on her from a very young age. I loved her funny satirical bent and the way she portrayed her society. Yet, there was still always something light and airy to her plots, and the happily-ever-after to every romance. I wanted to write like her. And of course, I wanted the romance too. *grin*
Then one day I read the epic tale “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth. In it, he showcases Indian society and values and morals right at the time of the partition of India. I wanted to show my world, that of Mauritian society, like Vikram Seth had done for India in that book.
What book are you reading now?
Sweat Shop Paris, by Martena Duss. It’s a non-fiction book, about the sweat shop café culture of Paris. I trained as a seamstress in school, and I love to read books about the craft. And you never know – any non-fiction book can spark a story idea, or help in developing your characters and their lives.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It’s a close tie between Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Susan Mallery, and MeganHart. The first two are British, the last 2 are American.
Sophie Kinsella writes chick-lit, most of the time the laugh-out-loud, people-will-think-me-crazy-if-I-laugh-now kind of light stories. Her books are always a feel-good and refreshing kind of
Jill Mansell writes sweeping plots. Not the epic, span-generations kind, though. Hers start with a quirky cast of characters, and there’s a story. However, over the 400-something pages of her books, nothing will stay put and everyone will end up all over the place. Her books are always a fun, crazy, up-and-down trip
that definitely keeps you entertained and wondering what on earth is going to happen next.
Susan Mallery – well, I’m hooked on her Fool’s Gold romances, though I also love her women’s fiction and other series. No one quite does small-town romance with characters that leap off the page like she does. I always sigh in bliss when I finish one of her books.
Megan Hart writes the most amazing and deep erotica. Her erotica isn’t simply about sex scenes and a semblance of a plot. There’s always a story, very profound and intriguing. She has so many layers in her plots, and these carry to her sci-fi, non-erotic work too. She takes my breath away with the complexity of her writing.
What are your current projects?
I’m outlining another 1NightStand short story for Decadent Publishing. On thedrafting board is also a single-title romance on the backdrop of a crazy filthy-rich family in London and a down-on-her-luck heroine who has breast cancer. It’s the story of Magnus Trammell, by the way, one of the characters
who pops into my first 1NS, Once Upon A Stormy Night. A few people have voiced aloud that they’d love to see more of Magnus, so I’m hoping to do that with his story.
Then, too, I am outlining and doing research for Book 3, and the last, of the Corpus Brides series, titled Let Mercy Come.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Lol. I’ve learned a lot of things! This book has been research after research. I’ve picked up some basic Russian words and phrases, since the heroine, Rayne, comes from a Russian family, and at the start of the book she is an undercover agent in the household of a Russian criminal.
Then the spy lifestyle. I’ve brushed up on so many techniques they use, from self-defense to combat to manipulation, not to mention all the firearms and other weapons they manipulate. I know I could only have skimmed the tip of the iceberg where spy techniques are concerned, but it felt like I took a crash
course in espionage tradecraft and lifestyle.
And in researching locations all across Europe for setting this story, I’ve brushed up a lot on history and information about places like Prague in the Czech Republic, and Arles in France.
Oh, and I also learned how to make tea and fry ups like the Irish, since Rayne’s mother is Irish.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Know what you are writing, and just write! There’s no such thing as writer’s block or a dried-out well of inspiration, or anything else of the kind that we hide behind. If you know what you are doing, where you are going, and how to get there – even if just an inkling – then sit down and write. You can always edit
crap and rewrite and smooth and tweak. None of that with a blank screen – all you’ll end up doing is staring at a white page.
What is Corpus?
Corpus is a (fictional) clandestine agency. Its area of expertise is infiltration and taking out international criminals. No one knows the agency exists – it’s a stealthy left hand, totally secret. Corpus doesn’t concern itself with intelligence gathering, like seen/known but covert agencies like the CIA or MI6.
Its agents work to bring about conflict resolution, usually by hands-on means. The agency recruits its agents when they are still very young, usually gifted people who show an affinity for the clandestine
But the same efficiency that makes them so lethal can also be used for nefarious purposes, as a few Corpus agents realize and set out to bring mutiny in the ranks of the agency – the backdrop of the Corpus Brides series.
How did you come up with the title?
I found myself going for 3-word titles for each book of this series, and since this one is the prequel to Book 1, I wanted the title to hint at that. I’ve been haunted by the song title Morning After Dark by Timbaland – I wanted something like that, and while playing with the words I could associate with this song title, I came up with the line “Before the morning is the time of greater darkness.” This became my tag line for this story, and the symbolism of having to wade through the darkest part of night before you can see dawn, before the morning comes, totally clicks with Rayne’s plight. She is hiding secrets, and nothing will work in her life the longer she keeps those secrets. Before The Morning thus became the
tone of the story, the hint to the prequel, and that specific moment in Rayne, this Corpus Bride’s,
This is the second book in the series, the first being Walking the Edge. How does
this book fit into the series?
Like I mentioned just above, Before The Morning is the prequel to Walking The Edge. Walking The Edge takes place in December; the events of Before The Morning take place between July and October of that year. It shows the backdrop of the Corpus storyline that takes place in Book 1, a relating of the backstory, in a way, of that plot where the agency is concerned.
Both can be read as stand-alone books, or not in order.
At the same time though,Before The Morning is the springboard for Book 3 of the series, Let Mercy Come, which on the story timeline takes place during March and April of the next year. The main character of Book 3, that one’s Corpus Bride, is introduced in Before The Morning – Anastasiya, the medical doctor at the heart of the Corpus agency, and whom everyone believes is the leader of the
Each book, when read in sequence of 1-2-3, goes progressively deeper into the working, the history, and the fate of the Corpus agency.
Were there challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I am a suburban housewife, so the spy lifestyle and the espionage world are really total galaxies away from my reality. The sheer amount of research to portray that lifestyle has been staggering, and I hope I did a good job conveying it. But yes, it was also a psychological challenge because to be your character, you have to put yourself in her shoes, live her life, think like her, act like her, if that makes sense. Faced with what Rayne has faced, I’ve had to figure out how she will think and act, make the same difficult decisions she has to make. For example, during the scene when she dispatches one of her targets – despite knowing the criminal deserves to die and not at all mercifully, how can you at the same time reconcile yourself with the fact that you are going to kill him, snuff a life out? I don’t know how people faced with this kind of decision do it...
And I wanted this to be as realistic as possible, so the fact that the book takes place at a slew of international locations meant a huge amount of research to project those cities as concisely as possible. While editing Walking The Edge, my editor and I found out that the French town of Marseille
started to exist as a character almost in its own right in the story, and we wanted this dimension to all the locales present in Before The Morning. I’ve pored over tons of guidebooks and watched hours of clips
and documentaries on towns such as Prague and Arles. Google Maps and Google Earth have been a huge help here though.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Of course! I’m mostly working on a story titled Against The Odds – it’s the story of Magnus Trammell, whom I mentioned in my 1NS release, Once Upon A Stormy Night. Magnus is one of my favorite characters ever – he’s a fun-loving bloke who however hides a deep and caring persona beyond the
façade of the carefree playboy.
This story is also very close to my heart because the heroine, Megha, faces a diagnosis of malignant breast cancer in there. The rug is literally pulled under her feet, but in the hardest of moments, when you least expect it, against the odds, you can manage to go on, and make something of your life, of your
I wish for this book to be a beacon of hope for all breast cancer sufferers who might read it, and also enlighten people about that dreaded C word and what someone diagnosed with it goes through. Even when life is tough and bleak, there’s always scope for laughter, for humor, for comedy, and for
Thank you, Zee! It was a delight reading your responses. Here is an excerpt for Before the Morning:
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
Before today, she would've said that nothing could affect her when she had her eyes on a
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 agoon a platform at London Waterloo, on the day she bid her old life
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 recruitedher 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
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."
The sound of the door opening startled them. Nikolai stood on the threshold, his tall, dark form an intimidating silhouettein 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 edge.
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
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
Her "husband" focused his steely grey eyes on her.
The stare burned into her skull. Still, she refused to look up. Not yet.
V.S. Morgan has lived all over the US but calls Minnesota her home now. Her family includes her hubby, son, and a menagerie of pets.