Ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame’s first novel is written from experience

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Former CIA officer Valerie Plame’s first venture into fiction, “Blowback” (co-written with Sarah Lovett), features an undercover CIA agent named Vanessa Pierson (whose initials not-so-coincidentally match Plame’s) pursuing an international weapons dealer across the world. Plame will appear on a panel at the Boston Book Festival at the Back Bay Events Center tomorrow, with a few other likeminded individuals, including director Wes Craven, to discuss writing about terror and terrorism. We caught up with Plame pre-fest for a sneak peek. (Visit bostonbookfest.org for more info on the panel and the festival.)

The CIA redacted parts of your memoir, “Fair Game.” Was switching to fiction easier, in terms of freedom to write?

Well, I still had to submit it for pre-publication review to the CIA. Happily, they understood that it’s fiction. I tried to make it as realistic as possible, but I’m not revealing any classified information.

Did they end up asking you to cut anything?

No they did not, because I obviously know what sources and methods would be compromised. Unlike “Fair Game”, this is not in the heat of political nonsense.

Did you find anything difficult about trying to conform to the rules of fiction?

Maybe because I haven’t done it before, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how hard it would be. It was a joy to be able draw upon characters that I’ve met along the way and focus on this character, a female character, who so far doesn’t exist, who’s smart, and strong, and not just fixated on guns and sexuality.

You’re coming to the topic of fiction about the intelligence community from being within it. Are you often surprised by what authors and journalists on the outside know about it?

Sometimes. I do a lot of eye rolling, to tell you the truth, because they get a lot of things wrong. But I think that’s probably true of lawyers watching lawyer shows on TV, or doctors watching “ER” probably feel the same way. When you’re inside a universe, you know excruciating details that they’ve gotten wrong.

Are you tempted to correct them?

Well, that’s what I’m trying to do with “Blowback”!

It’s a corrective to some misconceptions people might have about what it’s like?

Yeah, in terms of how you really communicate clandestinely with an asset, and how you move in and out of countries, and the relationships, and that it’s much more of a team effort than typically comes across in what’s out there.

Do you find that your instincts from your past career are still active?

Definitely. I think the power of observation versus simply seeing doesn’t leave you.

Do you find yourself gauging people in a room to determine who’s dangerous?

I wouldn’t say consciously. I’m the mother of 13-year-old twins, so I’m trying to put all my super secret assessment skills to work in the teen world.

They know better than to try and sneak anything by you, right?

They try anyway. They’re completely unimpressed by their parents, as most teenagers are.



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