Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A World of Spies: Guest post by Clare O'Donohue

Clare O'Donohue:
The Amateur Spy Novel

I’m a spy, working for the CIA. Have been for years. At least that’s the joke in my family. Because my work as a documentary producer requires a lot of travel, some of it internationally, I’m often leaving home for days or weeks at a time. It’s months before the shows I work on appear on TV and, apparently, I forget to tell family and friends when to watch for them. So, some of my loved ones have taken to openly questioning whether I’m hiding something – like, secretly working for some spy organization as an undercover operative. And though it’s a joke, oddly enough it was almost true.

When I was in college I majored in International Studies, a politics degree that focused on world relations. Aside from studying economics, world history, and religion, I took several classes on Intelligence aka spy stuff. I loved the classes and for a nanosecond I considered filling out the 80-page application to join the CIA.

A man from CIA spoke to my class one day on what to expect if we applied (hint: if you want to work in covert operations, don’t tell your interviewer you want to work in covert operations because that will disqualify you). I listened carefully, fantasizing about the romance involved in James Bond -esque adventures. And when he was done, I took the application and left the lecture wondering if I could work as a spy. Maybe not out in the field, Carrie Mathison style, but as a handler back in DC. I walked across the quad thinking about what that life would look like, and it sounded cool - tough and important.

But then I wondered what it would feel like to hide so much of myself from people I loved. Not just what I did at work, but where I worked, what I knew about the world. I wondered what it would feel like to be facing that kind of stress every day, with danger and bad guys a constant companion. By the time I reached my apartment, I knew being a super-spy wasn’t for me.

Instead I went to work as a journalist and then a television producer.

I suppose it was the road not taken that attracted me to the idea of writing about a pair of accidental spies – a husband and wife team of college professors – caught between an offshoot of Interpol and an international crime ring.

The wife, Dr. Hollis Larson, is an International Studies professor (see Mom, I’m using my college degree!) and the husband, Dr. Finn Larson, teaches World Literature but also has a PhD in Art History. They’re both smart – the sort of people used to researching their way through a problem – thrown into a world where the danger isn’t theoretical.

When I originally began thinking about the series, I knew I wanted each book to be set in a different country, with my characters having to use their knowledge to help them navigate foreign climes and improvising when it fell short. But I planned on them being tourists stumbling across bodies the way I’d written my other mysteries. It was when I changed tactics and had them working as temporary operatives on what was supposed to be a simple mission, that the intrigue became apparent. As Hollis and Finn are drawn into secretive organizations where the line between good guys and bad can seem awfully thin, it made both their reasons for world travel and the threats they faced seem more real, and much more exciting to write (and hopefully to read).

As I wrote, I felt like I was back in the quad at my university, quietly contemplating work as a spy and a life filled with sinister characters and terrifying possibilities. But instead of tossing my CIA application, but this time I said yes.


Clare O’Donohue always knew she wanted to be a writer. She wrote her first mystery mini-novel (60 pages) at the age of 15 and in college, worked as a newspaper reporter and writing teacher before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her first job in television, HGTV’s Simply Quilts. Since then, Clare has worked on shows for The History Channel, truTV, Food Network, A&E, Discovery, TLC and others. Her work has taken her all over the United States and abroad where she’s met a diverse spectrum of people from CEOs to prison inmates, Malaysian orphans to famous athletes. Clare published her first novel, The Lovers Knot, in 2008. It opened a world to other authors, readers, bloggers and more.  Beyond the Pale: A World of Spies Mystery comes out May 8 from Midnight Ink.


Sherry Harris said...

Great post! I can't wait to read Clare's book!

Clare ODonohue said...

Thanks Sherry!

Gram said...

Thanks, I just put it on my library list!

Clare ODonohue said...

Thanks Gram!