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Author Interview: Valerie Plame

Valerie DeBenedette / February 14, 2015

What do you do after you are at the center of a Washington political scandal and Naomi Watts plays you in a movie based on your memoir? If you are Valerie Plame, you write mystery novels, among other things.

Plame is a former covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Her memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, is about the events of 2003 when her status as a covert CIA officer was revealed in the press. Plame is also known by her married name as Valerie Wilson.

Plame is now the author, with Sarah Lovett, of two thriller mystery novels featuring a CIA officer named Vanessa Pierson. The second, Burned, is just out in hardcover. The first, Blowback, is out in paperback.

Had you intended to write mysteries when you left the CIA?

No. Not at all. I had written Fair Game as a catharsis and, of course, there is a different approach to writing fiction.

When Fair Game came out, my editor David Rosenthal said, “How do you feel about writing some spy thrillers?” That sounded interesting. What was driving it and why I thought to do it was because how female CIA ops officers are presented is so vastly different from reality. I wanted to show how intelligence is really collected. Vanessa Pierson has smarts.

He put me together with Sarah Lovett, who has experience with pacing and how to cut and edit. It has been a really fun experience.

For Fair Game, I just sat down and didn’t get up until I wrote 1,000 words or 1,200 words a day. I was fortunate. I knew there was great deal of interest in what happened and why it mattered.

Why did you write Fair Game?

I wrote it for personal satisfaction, to process “what the hell just happened.”

I am glad it is in the rear view mirror, personally and professionally. We moved to New Mexico and worked hard to reset personal lives and professional lives. Part of this is writing spy thrillers.

You have used several different names; Valerie Plame is the one being used on the mysteries. Why?

When it became so public, I was known as Valerie Plame. That had become the public name to what happened. It seemed natural to put that on the books.

At my kid’s school, I’m just Samantha and Trevor’s mom.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

I do the characters, based on composites of people I knew on the way, and places I lived or worked. For Burned, we took a hike around Santa Fe and plotted it out. We work well together.

Lovett lives in Santa Fe, but we do a lot of work online or sometimes with phone calls.

What are you working on right now?

A third mystery, I’m marinating on it now. When I agreed to two books, I said how hard could this be?

But I am taking care of other things. I am an advocate for Global Zero. I’m Director of Community Outreach for Santa Fe Institute. Everything is interesting, and is too much, and I am driving 15-year-old twins around.

Plame lives in Santa Fe, with her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. She is active in Global Zero, a movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Plame also is the Director of Community Relations for the Santa Fe Institute, a private research and education center. You can find out more about her and her work at valerieplamewilson.com.

You can find Valerie Plame Wilson at the following sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books:

  • "Valerie Plame and Micheal McGarrity" on Saturday at 1 PM
  • "Spy vs. Spy" on Saturday at 4 PM
  • "Old World Intrigue" on Sunday at 10 AM

Valerie DeBenedette is a freelance writer living in New York State. She specializes in writing about health and medicine, but writes about everything else as well.

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