‘It’s hard to find a more congenial place to write’


Q&A with author Gayle Lynds

For those who don’t know, a trove of globetrotting spies and assassins are based in Westbrook – and they’re living in the mind of best-selling espionage writer Gayle Lynds.

Lynds, who moved to Maine from California in 2011, has multiple New York Times bestselling novels under her name, including a number of award-winners.

Her first novel, 1996’s “Masquerade,” was included on a Publishers Weekly list of the top 15 spy novels of all-time – in the company of books like “The Bourne Identity,” by Robert Ludlum, and “The Spy Who Loved Me,” by Ian Fleming.

Lynds grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and studied journalism at Iowa State. She began her writing career as a reporter for The Arizona Republic. According to her website, her investigative reporting made such an impact that it led to changes in state legislation.

However, she said this week that even at a young age, “all I really wanted to do was write novels.” She has been active since the mid-1980s.

But what brought her to Maine was a relationship with John C. Sheldon, a retired Maine district court judge. They married in 2011 and have lived in Westbrook since. Her previous husband, Dennis Lynds, died in 2005.

“I’ve spent all of my life in cities, so this is quite a change, and a welcome one, for me,” she said. “I figure I’m in an ideal place with the ideal man to live and write.”

The American Journal spoke with Lynds recently about her latest work, working alongside legends, and her (relatively) new Maine community.

Q: The world of espionage and spies is often seen as being male dominated. What’s your take on this?

A: Spies generally are men, and spy authors are, too. But on my refrigerator is a CIA magnet (really) that proclaims: “We are looking for a few good women.” Times are changing. Women make first-rate intelligence officers, and I think we write well about the field, too. After every book I receive emails from men who are voracious readers of spy and adventure thrillers who tell me I’m the only female author on their bookshelves. Who knew I’d be a pioneer?

Q: How did you get interested in writing about espionage?

A: I’m fascinated by secrets and power. Espionage is often referred to as the fourth leg of U.S. government. The three other legs are the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. Our intelligence agencies play a vital role in the ability of government to make good policy. Without accurate information, much of it secret, the government flies blind. No matter how much you read that’s critical of the CIA, FBI, DIA, etc., the truth is their officers and staff do remarkable work. You hear about their errors, but seldom about their accomplishments. They keep the secrets. That’s their job. I salute them.

Q: Tell me about your latest book, “The Assassins.” Library Journal called it one of the best thrillers of the year.

A: As I was working on my previous book, “The Book of Spies,” I realized I’d never really focused on assassins. Then it occurred to me that most of us think of assassins as monolithic, virtually identical, which isn’t true. With that, I was off, writing about six fascinating characters from very different backgrounds, some political, others religious, and a couple simply in it for the money. All are master assassins from the old Cold War days, independent, and extremely accomplished to have survived so long. The story takes place in the snowy countryside of Maryland, and then on to the chaotic markets of Marrakesh and the dangerous streets of Baghdad. I wrote most of “The Assassins” in Maine, and as a result one of the characters is a kindergarten teacher from Portland. At the end of the book, one of the assassins discovers the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein’s missing $40 billion fortune. By the way, the U.S. has recovered only a couple billion of it, and I’d like to know where the rest of it is. Wouldn’t you?

Q: What’s next?

A: I’m writing another international geopolitical thriller. Shh, don’t tell.

Q: What was it like to work on the “Covert-One” series inspired by Robert Ludlum (author of “The Bourne Identity”)?

A: Bob (Ludlum) had never deliberately done a series before, and I hadn’t, either. This was early in my career, and I’d published a couple of well-received spy novels and was being called the female Robert Ludlum. Apparently he’d enjoyed the books, which was why I was approached to help create the series. What I hadn’t been told was that he was gravely ill. Sadly, he died shortly after the first came out. I think he would’ve been pleased that it, “The Hades Factor,” became a CBS miniseries. I wrote two more in the series, but by then I was so busy with my own career that I had to retire. I think back with pleasure on those days.

Q: What is your impression of the fiction-writing scene in Maine?

A: In one word, thriving. Maine is marvelously entrepreneurial. Drive down any country road and you’ll see signs outside homes offering insurance, gardening, hair cutting, silk screening, hand-thrown pottery, and so forth. Writers and other artists are by nature entrepreneurial, too. Add the state’s great natural beauty, and it’s hard to find a more congenial place to write, paint, or sculpt. Writers aren’t dummies. We move here. And if we’re already here, we start writing. For more about Maine writers, check out the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance at http://mainewriters.org/. I’m a new and proud member of the MWPA board.

Q: Do you think Maine, or Westbrook, settings could ever make it into one of your books?

A: You’ve read my mind. One of the major characters in the book on which I’m working is a professor at USM. Maybe he should live in Westbrook. Hmm. Thanks for the idea.

Q: What was your reaction to being invited to the Westbrook authors’ event this weekend?

A: I was thrilled to be invited. I look forward to meeting the other authors and book readers. When we get together, an atmosphere grows that’s unmatched in warmth, fun and liveliness. Besides, it’s the holiday season. An autographed book makes a wonderful gift.

New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, who has lived and worked in Westbrook since 2011, highlights an event this Saturday at the Westbrook Community Center.