I met Gayle Lynds at a mystery conference many years ago, when she was the tall, glamorous, successful writer and I was the newbie, perched on the cusp of publishing my first book. She was generous and friendly, as well as talented. I was thrilled when I learned that Gayle had moved to Maine, and excited to have a chance to share her fascinating story, and her new book, with Maine readers. Gayle will be talking about her new book, The Assassins, at Longfellow Books in Portland on July 23rd, and you should be there to hear this warm, funny, talented lady talk about the writing life. Kate Flora
- You’re a superstar in espionage fiction, which has traditionally been considered the province of male writers. Still, Lee Child calls you “today’s best espionage writer.” Tell us about the background that led you to want to write this kind of book?
I suppose you could say I didn’t know any better. Ultimately I blame Kurt Vonnegut. He was a writer in residence at the University of Iowa while I was studying there. I asked him where he’d come up with the terrific idea for his novel Cat’s Cradle, and he said it all started during a summer job he had at a think tank, where “ideas bounced off the walls.” Since my dream was to write novels, I jumped at the chance a few years later to be an editor at a private think tank that did a lot of government work. There I was vetted for Top Secret security clearance and stepped into an exciting world of research, creativity, hard work — and secrets. Years later, when I was finally able to write my own books, I found myself influenced by those years. I wanted to write about geopolitics, history, and culture. What better place than in espionage?
- In a new review, the Associated Press called you a “master of the modern Cold War spy thriller.” Your new book is called “The Assassins.” Tell us about how they relate.
Although I wrote about spies for years, it was only recently I realized people considered assassins to be pretty much the same. Not true. They’re as individual as spies are, or we are. For many, it’s simply business, while others are driven by ideology. The truly insane don’t last decades, as the men in my book have. The six in The Assassins join forces only once, and that’s for a series of wet jobs for Saddam Hussein. Then Saddam stiffs them — doesn’t make his last payment. So as America and the coalition are invading Iraq in 2003, the assassins slip into Baghdad to get what’s theirs. Fast forward to 2015, and someone has discovered their shared past and forces them into a game of last-man-standing. I really enjoyed pitting the best-of-the-best — legendary experts in all ways to manipulate and kill — against each other.
- Eva Blake and Judd Ryder starred in your previous novel, The Book of Spies, which Library Journal named one of the Best Thrillers of the Year. Why did you decide to bring them back in The Assassins?
I’d really enjoyed creating Judd and Eva, and I missed them. As I was wandering around my house envisioning the next book, I realized their stories weren’t finished. That was a mighty fine moment for me. So I happily brought them back in The Assassins to put them through their literary paces and discover who they were now and what they did next.
- Your new book is kind of an old assassins’ reunion. I know that I struggle to keep a few bad guys straight, so what techniques did you use to create six very different international hit men?
It’s tough to write multi-character scenes, and I don’t love them anymore than anyone else. My first rule is to try to make certain the reader isn’t confused. For instance, in the opening scene, which takes place in the Iraq National Museum, I decided the only name we needed was for the lead assassin. That left me with five who could be known by their backgrounds — the Basque, the Russian, the ex jihadist, the retired Mossad operative, and the former Cosa Nostra killer. Then, as the assassins appeared one by one later in the novel, the reader already had a sense of them.
- Many people believe the Cold War is over. I’m betting you’d say it’s just changed. How do you do research to keep up with the contemporary world of espionage?
Since my background is journalism, I’ve always stayed abreast of the news. The fun part is to read between the lines. Currently, I take three newspapers every morning and two news magazines a week. Throughout the day I receive situation reports from a noted global intelligence company. Other people follow the horses or play fantasy baseball. Me, I’m just an old-fashioned news addict.
- There was a hiatus between your previous book and this one, during which you moved from Santa Barbara, California, to Maine. Can you tell us a bit about that transition? I believe there is quite an amazing romance involved?
As my husband says, I was a Santa Barbarian, and he was a Mainiac … which of course meant we were destined to be together. And as it turns out, he was wonderfully right. I am one lucky ex-Californian.
It all started a few years ago when my publisher asked me to increase my presence on Facebook. I had some 1,500 friends, which seemed plenty to me, but I was a good sport and discovered Facebook provided a list of people with whom I had at least one mutual friend. So I started down the list, clicking the little square beside each name, asking permission to “friend” them.
In a few minutes, I received an email from some guy in Maine who asked whether he knew me, whether we’d ever met. Feeling guilty for bothering him, I apologized, explained about my publisher, and told him he sure didn’t have to be my friend, but if he wanted to be, I promised I wouldn’t post often. Well, one thing led to another. I was widowed; he was divorced. I wrote books; he read a lot of them. We soon moved off Facebook and conducted an old-fashioned correspondence that turned into an across-the-continent courtship. That was 2009. We married in 2011, and I packed up my thousand books and moved to Maine, where today we live happily on the outskirts of Portland. His name, by the way, is John C. Sheldon, retired prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge. We’ve collaborated on three short stories so far.
- What is the question that you always want to be asked, and never are, and how would you answer it?
What a terrific question. No one’s every asked me whether I can keep a secret.
The answer is: It’s a secret!
- Finally: where can we hear you speak about your book?
I’m excited to be signing at Longfellow Books at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, July 23, at 1 Monument Way in downtown Portland. Please come! http://www.longfellowbooks.com/event/gayle-lynds-assassins-longfellow-books