Gayle Lynds e-interviewed by Josephine Anna Kaszuba Locke (August, 2006)
Gayle Lynds has penned many successful international thrillers such as The Coil, Masquerade, Mosaic, and Mesmerized. Gayle also created the bestselling Covert-One series with Robert Ludlum. Lynds' novels portray her trademark authenticity and acumen in descriptive locations, characters, events, and dialogue. Her latest espionage drama, The Last Spymaster, features Charles 'Jay' Tice as a traitor - he's imprisoned, escapes, and is hunted by top CIA agent Elaine Cunningham.
Gayle's background includes work on defense projects that ranged from new hardware designs for weapons of mass destruction to test trial results of cutting-edge military software and new methodologies in counter-terrorism. A former investigative reporter and an editor, Lynds had Top Secret Security Clearance at a private think-tank. She is co-founder with David Morrell of the International Thriller Writers organization. Gayle's husband was the late detective novelist and Edgar winner Dennis Lynds, aka Michael Collins.
Q: Jay Tice, protagonist in The Last Spymaster, is an extremely interesting and complex character as a spy's spy, a traitor to his craft and country. Was Tice modeled after anyone specific?
A: I've known several field operatives over the years and researched many more. Still, Jay comes primarily from my imagination. He's a conglomeration, a synthesis, an homage to the best of them. Many were remarkable -- and unheralded.
I knew him emotionally from the beginning -- a man of a thousand faces, a thousand wiles -- but it took me quite a few drafts to refine him. Entrepreneurial, maverick people like Jay have tremendous power and charisma. As spies, they learn to mask not only those qualities but others, such as the configuration of their features, which might make them noticeable at the wrong time.
In The Last Spymaster I wanted to lift the veil from the life of a secret operative while giving readers an intimate experience of what this particular man -- extraordinary in many ways but also deeply flawed -- was like, and what happens to such a person as he seeks redemption and succeeds.
Q: Elaine Cunningham and Raina Manhardt are strong female leads. Do they reflect any women in particular? These characters seem prime material for a series. Is one in the works?
A: I'm glad you enjoyed them. They, too, are fictional.
Highly competent yet gutsy people like Elaine and Raina appeal to me. When I explore their lives, I can count on finding them to be highly textured, richly complex, with an unpredictable quality. To me, they're both fascinating and dangerous.
At this point, I have no plans for either or both to have a series. However, I gave up predicting such things a long time ago. And, too, I miss them already, so who knows?
Q: The high-tech products in this novel - such as the StarDust computers, LandFlyer all-terrain vehicles, TuffBoss notebook computers, and Mirror-Me nanometric fabric - are unique. How close are they to current technology?
A: Science is advancing with astonishing speed. I enjoyed exploring what we know, what we expect, and what's hidden. All of the technology in The Last Spymaster is either in use or will be, perhaps far sooner than we expect -- or are told.
For instance, the StarDust computers are so highly miniaturized that they're not much larger than grains of sand. Fueled by tiny solar batteries, they can be programmed to record two or three simple jobs like monitoring motion and temperature. Then you scatter them like flower seeds across farms and cities or toss them onto trucks or planes that ship material and people. They network and can send detailed data about scientists in clandestine weapons labs or squads of terrorist guerrillas back to control centers where high-octane computers can collate the information for secret use. They will be a powerful source of intelligence.
I'm glad you listed the LandFlyers. They're among my favorites, too. They look like dune buggies topped by 50-caliber guns. LandFlyers can blast across a desert at 65 miles an hour, hump over chongo rocks at 30 without going ass over teakettle, and do hairpin turns so sharp they'd topple any other light-strike vehicle. They can even keep going on three wheels if the fourth gets shot off. Several have been invented that are similar to mine.
Readers tell me the Mirror-Me fabric reminds them of the magical cloak that made wearers invisible in the Harry Potter series. The fabric has already been designed. It makes whatever it covers seem transparent by displaying what's behind, in front. Nanometric video cameras record the images behind and, in real time, send the images to nanometric projectors that display them on the front of the cloth. The Pentagon sees a lot of possibility in this invention, of course, particularly for urban warfare.
Readers interested in this topic can drop by my website at GayleLynds.com, where they can explore a section called The World of Espionage. They can even test their Spy-Q.
Q: You give high visibility to action, events, and characters, as if the reader were watching the story on screen. Is this deliberate and how do you achieve it?
A: One of the reasons I love to read is that I love to feel as if I'm actually living the story. So of course that's the feeling I want to pass on to my readers. Thank you very much for your compliment.
I believe in using the senses in my books, which is one technique to help achieve the sense of immediacy and reality you describe. I try unobtrusively to work in such qualities as color, sound, and especially odor. These are universals that all of us experience.
For instance, most of us have smelled the scent of freshly mown grass on a sunny day. Unforgettable. Described in a book, it puts one instantly into the scene.
Q: Was the direction of your novel's plot and characters developed as you wrote, or mapped out ahead of time? Which follows which - plot or characters - in designing your murals of espionage?
A: I love "murals of espionage." What a wonderful way to describe what I'm trying to accomplish.
Now to your question ... I long to fully plot a novel ahead of time. That seems to me to be utter heaven. Alas, that's not the way it works for me.
I generally begin with an idea -- something that intrigues me. In the case of The Last Spymaster, I wondered about such infamous traitors as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. How could they have done it? And what did it mean? And then -- what if they HADN'T done it?
With that, the character of Jay Tice grew in my mind, and a story began to develop around him. Soon other characters appeared, and I went to work on an outline. My outlines are pathetic -- I always have high hopes that they'll lay out the novel perfectly, but they never do.
Book outlines are simply maps of where one wants to go. They're enormously useful in that they force the author to think ahead. But ultimately an outline -- at least mine -- must grow and change as I write the book and the characters take hold and show me the logic of the story.
Q: With your secret service background, was it necessary for you to update your research, and did you interview anyone in the industry for The Last Spymaster?
A: I constantly research. In fact, my office is a research library, stuffed with books, magazines, films, and newspaper clippings that fill the shelves and every surface. For me, researching is as natural as breathing, and it's an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. I feel fortunate that I can legitimatize my self-indulgence by turning what I learn into books. Sometimes I'll keep a clipping for ten years before I'm able to use it, but if it intrigues me, I know I'll be able to use it someday.
As for the authenticity of what I write, I'm fortunate to have a friend who was a founding member of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. He's not only a source of information during my writing, he very generously vets my books before they're published.
Q: The Last Spymaster makes many comments on post-9/11 world situations. How much do these echo your own political beliefs?
A: My job as a novelist is to tell a darn good story. Since I'm highly political, politics infuse my books, as you so accurately say. But the operative word is "novels" -- I don't write polemics. As Homer said, writers must entertain and educate -- not browbeat.
So I try to show accurately and passionately both sides of any political argument. When I teach writing, I strongly advise this. Besides, if you don't know the best arguments of the opposition, how can you feel any certainty that your own deductions are sensible?
Writing in this fashion also shows respect for the reader by allowing him or her to draw his or her own conclusions.
Q: Details of Bedouin rituals, covert languages, martial arts, domestic- and foreign-phrasing add much flavor to your stories. Where did this come from, research or experience?
A: From research, experience, and my imagination. I figure I've done something right when the reader isn't sure what came from where. That tells me that I'm weaving my stories well.
Q: How do you decide which areas of the globe you will cover in your stories?
A: Generally, the stories dictate where the scenes must be played out. I have some areas I'm particularly fond of -- London and Paris and Washington, D.C.. I go there again and again in my novels. Oddly, since I live just 90 miles from Los Angeles, I've never set a book there. I'm rectifying that in the next one --- it will be partly placed in L.A..
The nature of The Last Spymaster -- the story of a traitor who escapes from a federal maximum-security prison -- meant it would have to happen largely in the United States. Since Rick Ames is serving natural life at Allenwood in Pennsylvania, that's where Jay Tice was sentenced, too. Allenwood is only a few hundred miles from Washington, D.C., which made sense for the purposes of the story -- in it, there's a close connection among Langley (CIA headquarters), the White House, and the world of semiretired weapons dealers, many of whom have settled in Virginia and Maryland's hunt country.
But at the same time, the book contains a marvelous love story from the Cold War, and clandestine political repercussions from that era, too. That meant I needed scenes in Europe. And I do love to write about Europe.
Q: Are there any prospects to adapt The Last Spymaster to film, either TV or movie theater?
A: There's been a fair amount of interest from Hollywood. Heaven knows whether any of it will pan out. I leave that up to my agents. Thank heaven for agents.
Q: I find your writings exceptionally reader friendly and your website and newsletters reflect caring for your audience. How do you feel about your readers?
A: Without readers, I wouldn't exist. Everything I do, who I am, is all about communicating with them. And, too, I'm also a reader. As you can see, readers are vital to me. I've never understood why there are some authors, actors, artists, etc. who don't feel that almost atavistic connection.
At the same time, I'm also amazed anyone bothers to read my books. When someone actually takes the time to write to tell me how much they've enjoyed one of my stories, or that I've touched them deeply, I'm grateful. I remember their notes. I save them. I enjoy rereading them.
I'll always be accessible to readers. I can't imagine life without them.
Q: Do you ever reflect on your writings and think wish I had/might have/should have/ could have done something different?
A: I don't really feel as if I chose writing, more as if it chose me. I'm not sure that I had a choice. It's almost as if writing were a visitation.
But at the same time, as I was growing up and even in early adulthood, books were the one window through which I was able to view the world in such a way that it made sense to me. Life is hard, so it's incumbent upon us to cherish and revel in moments of triumph and joy. Books have given me an abundance of triumph and joy to balance against the difficulties. Fellow readers seem to understand exactly what I mean.
Q: Do you like to read in leisure time?
A: Absolutely. I'm as much an omnivorous reader today as I was as a child, everything from nonfiction to fiction, from mainstream to genre. If it's got words, I reach for it and read.
Q: Is there another work already under way, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
A: Yes, I'm working on the next novel, another espionage tale that I hope thrills and excites. I'd tell you more, but then I might not end up writing what I describe -- I'm still at the outline stage. I still have many miles to go before I type "The End."Find out more about the author, her background, her thrillers, and the world of espionage at GayleLynds.com.
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