An Interview with Gayle Lynds
Author of ‘The Assassins’ (St Martin’s Press, 30 June 2015)
New York Times bestseller Gayle Lynds is the award-winning author of ten international espionage novels. Library Journal calls her “the reigning queen of espionage fiction;” the London Observer says she’s a “kick-ass thriller writer;” and Lee Child calls her “today’s best espionage writer.”
by Gayle Lynds
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Her books are like watching a blockbuster movie; you’re riveted to your seat.
Her latest book, The Assassins, (St Martin’s Press, 30 June 2015) is the continuing story of retired military spy Judd Ryder and CIA recruit Eva Blake – his former girlfriend from Lynds’ previous best-seller, The Book of Spies. As the last two people to have contact with a legendary assassin, The Carnivore, they’re caught up in a face-off among six of the Cold War’s top assassins. They use every resource to outmaneuver the forces allied against them and to stay alive.
From Washington D.C. to Marrakech and Baghdad, the assassins wage a final battle against each other to not only fight for their reputations, but also Saddam Hussein’s long-missing billion-dollar fortune.
|“I loved creating and working with Judd and Eva and missed them deeply when The Book of Spies was finished.”|
AUTHORLINK: Ms. Lynds, thank you for your time today. We are very excited to discuss The Assassins with you! What made you return to Judd Ryder and Eva Blake, the characters from your previous novel The Book of Spies (St. Martin’s Press, 2010)?
LYNDS: I loved creating and working with Judd and Eva and missed them deeply when The Book of Spies was finished. As I was wandering around the house, trying to put them out of my mind, my curiosity erupted – what would they do next? There was obvious chemistry between them, and they recognized they made a terrific undercover team. The problem was, Judd had sworn off more intelligence work, and at the same time Eva had applied to the CIA. He knew he couldn’t be around her without being dragged back in. She knew she wouldn’t be happy without meaningful work. How in heaven’s name were they going to fix this? The result was The Assassins, both a spy adventure and a search for destiny.
AUTHORLINK: It’s great how there’s a bit of romance thrown in. BookPage once stated, “Gayle Lynds has joined the deified ranks of spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum and John le Carre.” How does that feel?
LYNDS: I have tremendous respect for both authors. They’re icons, and rightly so. I remember years ago Bob Ludlum wrote in one of his books that the CIA was operating inside the United States. That was illegal – the FBI was charged with in-country work, while the CIA was limited to only international espionage and counterespionage. Bob’s publisher tried to kill the CIA subplot. Bob stuck to his guns, and was soon vindicated. The CIA had been working domestically. The revelation created a political storm that ended in new legislation. While Bob wrote rousing adventures that questioned the status quo, le Carre created intellectual suspense on an unparalleled scale as he peeled back the civilized veneer that masks all spy shops. To be compared to these two great writers is a high accolade indeed.
AUTHORLINK: That’s wonderful. Despite attempts by media to cue spy-thrillers towards men, women are heavy readers of this genre too. Why do you think marketing companies create covers that supposedly attract men when demographic studies (some conducted by your very own publicity people) show the split between your male and female readers is 50:50?
LYNDS: Alas, I fear marketers are being realistic – for now. After every book, I receive emails from men who are voracious readers of spy and adventure thrillers, telling me I’m the only female author on their bookshelf, asking when will my next book be published, and to hurry it up. I consider this an enormous compliment, and I’m grateful. But at the same time it tells me that there are probably a lot of men who won’t try books by me and maybe other female thriller writers – yet. Women readers, on the other hand, readily buy spy thrillers written by men and with dust jackets that are action-oriented. Are women less concerned about the gender of the author, or have they simply gotten used to the way things are? I wish I had a crystal ball to understand it all!
|“I’ve been devouring everything Russian I can get my hands on as I work on my next spy novel, still untitled.”|
AUTHORLINK: Yes, it’s a compelling question. Hopefully, not the later! It puts a whole other spin on ‘don’t judge a book by its’ cover,’ doesn’t it? You once said, “I want to connect with people who read because, generally speaking, they’re much more interested in the world, and they’re much more interested in learning.” What book’s are you reading at present? Which books are on your ‘to read’ list and why?
LYNDS: I’ve just finished a slew of nonfiction books about Russia: Four favorites in no particular order: The Putin Mystique by Anna Arutunyan, Moscow Stories by Loren R. Graham, Red Notice by Bill Browder, and Russians by Gregory Feifer. I mentioned curiosity earlier…. I’ve been devouring everything Russian I can get my hands on as I work on my next spy novel, still untitled. To give myself a fiction break, I’m enjoying And Grant You Peace by Kate Flora, a wonderful police procedural set in Maine, where I now live, and which just won Maine’s Best Crime Novel award. Next up in fiction is Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Can’t wait.
|“when it comes to actually putting my butt where my imagination lies … the CIA is better off without me. I’m too old, too cranky, and too tall . . . “|
AUTHORLINK: You’re certainly keeping busy! You are a former investigative reporter and an editor with a Top Secret security clearance at a government think tank. Given your background and the incredible knowledge you have amassed from researching your books, have you ever thought of joining the CIA? Have you ever collaborated with the CIA?
LYNDS: Oh, to be one of my heroes or heroines. It’s true I’m sort of a Walter Mitty type, but when it comes to actually putting my butt where my imagination lies … the CIA is better off without me. I’m too old, too cranky, and too tall – a fact of verticality that nobody told Julia Child when she was in the OSS during World War II – at over six feet, she was taller than me. But yes, I was invited to speak at an intelligence symposium and then invited to the banquet, where I sat between two legendary spooks. One of them looked up at me and said, “You’re too tall to be a spy.” And then we both laughed. I’ve been fortunate to have friends in the community, and I once took a group of authors for a tour of Langley. I’m delighted that many in the profession read and claim to enjoy my novels.
|“I remember how clumsy I felt, and uncertain, but I forged ahead. Watched over by a fine editor, I figured I was getting an MFA. Believe me, I made a lot of mistakes that I’m grateful I did then, not now.”|
AUTHORLINK: That’s fantastic. You also wrote literary short stories that later led to your writing five male pulp novels, the Nick Carter books, a series which has been around for decades. How do you think your writing has evolved since then, now with seven spy-thrillers under your belt, and with three Covert-One novels written with Robert Ludlum?
LYNDS: Years ago, my first mentor was Robert Kirsch, the revered literary critic of the L.A. Times for whom the Kirsch Awards are named. One of his most important pieces of advice was to make a lot of mistakes early in my career because once I started publishing my own books and got noticed, the mistakes would be a lot more embarrassing. So I looked upon going from literary stories to the pulp fiction novels as an incredible opportunity to learn. In the books, I experimented with viewpoint, voice, description, mood, plot, and even story. The series was forgiving of all of it, except that I had to write a certain number of chapters totaling a certain number of words. I remember how clumsy I felt, and uncertain, but I forged ahead. Watched over by a fine editor, I figured I was getting an MFA. Believe me, I made a lot of mistakes that I’m grateful I did then, not now.
AUTHORLINK: Thank you for sharing that. Your collaboration with Robert Ludlum must have been incredibly exciting and a positive thing for you and likewise, for him, to work with you! You had written only two books at the time he approached you. Did this association help your sales; your writing?
LYNDS: At the time I was being called the Female Robert Ludlum, which attracted his attention, and he apparently read my books and liked them so much that I was invited to take one of his original ideas – this one for a TV story – and turn it into the Covert-One series. I’d never created and written a series before, so it was wonderfully fertile territory for me. I enjoyed it. Yes, I think the books did help my sales. I received many emails from Ludlum fans who said that as a result they’d tried my novels, liked them a lot, and had become my fans, too. Thank you, Bob Ludlum!
AUTHORLINK: Can you provide any essential tips on what to do, and what not to do in writing? Quite often writing courses suggest avoiding adjectives, flashbacks, too many viewpoints, and the omniscient narrator, to name a few canons. Do you think these ‘barriers’ are less valued in this age of genre-and-style defining literature?
LYNDS: When Picasso began drawing and painting, he focused on realism and learned the rules. Only later, after he had control of his craft, did he branch out into Surrealism, Cubism, and so forth. Similarly, I believe it’s critical for writers to learn the “rules.” Learn craft, and learn it well. Then – please! – break the rules. That’s one of the ways literature grows, and one of the ways we can make a contribution. But to skip the ground work tends to contribute little but chaos. It may be showy, but it’ll still be chaos.
AUTHORLINK: Great advice, especially about the contributing ‘’little but chaos’’ bit. Is there any other genre you might like to try to write?
LYNDS: I consider myself a cross-genre writer – espionage, adventure, suspense, history (often Cold War history), and occasionally science fiction. And of course my novels often have love stories, so you can figure in romance, too. I’m kept pretty busy balancing all of that, and pretty happy, too. Whew.
|“My best hours are now in the morning. Years ago, it was late at night. I’ve been amused watching my rhythms change with time. So I’m usually at work around 7:00 a.m.”|
AUTHORLINK: Which makes them so fascinating. How is your writing day structured? Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? Who usually reads and proofreads your first draft?
LYNDS: My best hours are now in the morning. Years ago, it was late at night. I’ve been amused watching my rhythms change with time. So I’m usually at work around 7:00 a.m. I tend to do a wrap-of emails, then get right to the next book and work until dinner and sometimes after dinner. At the moment I’m writing and researching at the same time. This will go on with the balance shifting away from research to dominantly writing as I close in on The End. My husband, John C. Sheldon, a retired judge and legal scholar, has a fine eye and a good ear, so I use the poor man a lot for brainstorming, research, and editing. I also check in with fellow novelist Melodie Johnson Howe, with whom I’ve been exchanging manuscripts since my previous husband, Edgar-winner Dennis Lynds, passed away several years ago. Finally, when I’m no longer embarrassed by the manuscript, it goes to my fantastic agent, Lisa Erbach Vance, and my equally fantastic editor, Keith Kahla. Then I take a lonnnnng nap.
AUTHORLINK: Well deserved! How do you relax?
LYNDS: I love to work out – particularly a water aerobics routine I created for myself – and bike ride, snow shoe, and walk. Many nights, John and I watch movies. I find movies to be such an easy way to relax while at the same time, if it’s a particularly good one, I’m inspired and often get ideas for whatever book I’m working on.
AUTHORLINK: That’s true. How long does it usually take to write one of your books? What do you do to celebrate after you finish?
LYNDS: I’ve been a slow writer for a number of years for a variety of reasons, but it’s obvious to me in the way I’m working on my new one that I’m speeding up. So let’s say I expect 18 months between publication of The Assassins and my next one. When I send the book in, John and I will open a very fine bottle of wine and toast the future.
AUTHORLINK: Ms. Lynds, thank you so much for your time today! It was so interesting talking to you. We wish you fantastic success with The Assassins.
LYNDS: Thank you. What a wonderful interview. I enjoyed you and it a great deal!
|About the Author:|
Gayle Lynds is the bestselling, award-winning author who writes thrillers in the male-dominated genre of international espionage, including Masquerade, The Coil, and The Last Spymaster. Her books are published in some twenty countries.
Born in Nebraska, Lynds was raised in Iowa, graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Journalism, and now lives in Maine where she is a full-time novelist.
Lynds began her writing career as a reporter for the Arizona Republic, where her investigative reporting made such an impact that it led to changes in state legislation.
Later, she was an editor with Top Secret security clearance at a government think tank. Her fiction career began with short literary stories published under her own name and several pulp fiction novels under male pseudonyms such as G.H. Stone, Gayle Stone, Nick Carter, and Don Pendleton. She also wrote three novels in The Three Investigators, a YA mystery novel series. With Robert Ludlum, she created the Covert-One series and wrote three of the books. In 2004, she co-founded and was elected co-president (with David Morrell) of International Thriller Writers, Inc.
The Last Spymaster was awarded the 2006 Novel of the Year prize from the Military Writers Society of America. Masquerade was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the ten top spy novels of all time. The Coil was a 2004 BookPage “Notable Title” and won the Affaire de Coeur reader poll for “Best Contemporary Novel.” Mosaic was named “Thriller of the Year” by Romantic Times magazine. Mesmerized was a finalist for the 2002 Daphne du Maurier Award. The Hades Factor, which she co-wrote with Robert Ludlum, was a CBS television miniseries in April 2006. She was also the first author to be featured by The Internet Book Database in June 2006.
|About Anna Roins:|
Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor in Sydney before she embarked on a career in writing seven years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to articles on social and community issues and edited a number of books, websites, and dissertations. She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.
Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.
Categorised in: Interviews
This post was written by Anna Roins