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GAYLE LYNDS under the spotlight

Written by Ali Karim


Gayle Lynds ©2004 Jay FarbmanI was fortunate to attend a writing seminar which was opened by Gayle Lynds at Bouchercon 34 in Las Vegas last year. At the time I was only familiar with her name from her Covert-One books, but her insight into thriller writing provoked me to explore her other work urgently. During the course of the weekend I bumped into her at various events, and we talked about the history of thrillers - an obsession of mine. When I returned to the UK I picked up her earlier novels Mosaic, Mesmerized and Masquerade, but nothing quite prepared me for her latest book -The Coil.

I guess David Morrell summed it up well when he wrote about it recently :-

"The Coil is a triumph - an absolutely compelling international thriller that confirms Lynds as being right at the top of the field. If you already know Lynds' work, then prepare yourself for what is definitely her best book yet; if you've never read Lynds before then I envy you, you are in for a real treat." - David Morrell

Now living in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, fellow author Dennis Lynds (AKA Michael Collins), The Coil has finally propelled her to the very top of International thriller writers. Gayle kindly agreed to talk to Shots Ezine about her work and the thriller genre.

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Ali:

Welcome to Shots ezine!

Gayle:

Thanks, Ali. What a warm introduction.

Ali:

First we must congratulate on the great reviews that you have received for your latest book The Coil. Did you realise that it would gain so much acclaim from your contemporaries?

Gayle:

Heavens, no. I was simply relieved to have survived writing it. I’d spent eight years researching and making notes, and then another two years writing and rewriting. I thought the book was good. How good was something else. At that point, one crosses one’s fingers and picks up bird’s feathers. The response has been more than gratifying.

Ali:

Looking back over your early career, I read that you were a journalist in Arizona, and worked as an editor at Santa Barbara magazine, and got involved in real world politics with a GE ‘think-tank’. Somehow Kurt Vonnegut was involved. Tell us about that period and what journalism brought to your writing style.

Gayle:


In the end, journalism was the bridge I needed into fiction. My first job after college was at The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, the largest newspaper in the state, where I was a general-assignment reporter. It was extraordinary training for a would-be novelist, although at that point I was still not admitting even to myself my hunger to write fiction. I covered everything from state and city government to criminal trials, political campaigns, movie stars, and education.



As I gained confidence and expertise in research and writing, I also began to see that my love for those parts of the work was never going to offset my qualms at powering through people’s pain or using that pain. But one must get the story, whatever it takes, short of violating the law. Particularly difficult for me was to question intensively the families and friends of those who were killed or injured or had committed a criminal act. Their emotions were raw, and most desperately needed privacy to sort through their confusion and to grieve.



Oddly, perhaps because I’m something of an A-type personality, I was good at it. I did a lengthy investigation into state support for mentally handicapped adults that led to new, more equitable legislation. I was inordinately proud of the series. Still, by the time my first husband and I moved to Santa Barbara, California, I was resigned to the fact that I simply didn’t have the stomach to be the great American journalist. Consequently, I never applied for work at another newspaper.



But what was I to do next? While studying for my degree in journalism at the University of Iowa, I had taken some literature classes led by the quirky and brilliant Kurt Vonnegut - and you’re right about his influence on me. As most writers do, he had worked many jobs to support himself and his family. One was as an editor at a think tank, which he described as bristling with so many ideas that they seemed to bounce off the very walls. From that percolating petri dish came the genesis for his extraordinary novel, Cat’s Cradle.



At the time, I’d been intrigued. So in Santa Barbara, I took a job as an editor at a think tank, too. It was General Electric-TEMPO, where scientists and engineers worked on projects around the globe, servicing both private industry and military contracts, everything from making deserts bloom to creating armaments that could wipe life from entire continents.



The Paris Option Book JacketAfter being vetted by the FBI, I was given security clearance up to Top Secret and soon discovered Kurt was more than right - not only did ideas seem to bounce off the walls, so did the people. The place was exciting and surrealistic, fertile with secrecy, information, pocket protectors in neon colors, rotating sexual liaisons, imaginations running amok, and a sort of swaggering cockiness that at its best swung the doors to potential wide open.



Best of all for me, I, too, found an idea for a novel: There were water-cooler rumors that the U.S. government was performing secret brain-washing experiments on unsuspecting citizens, looking for ways to control minds as another arrow in their Cold War quiver. Later I discovered the talk was true. Among other names, the black program was called MK-ULTRA, and although the government officially closed it in the 1970s, a source “suggested” it continued under different names and different leaders.



No one ever said the path of a writer was straight, and mine was certainly no exception. By the 1980s, I had learned to parse out a story quickly and cut like a surgeon to the facts. But I longed for more: I wanted to give readers the experience, too. At this point in my life, I’d written hard news, and I’d written and edited technical documents. If I were to stay in journalism, the next step was features, which was why I landed at Santa Barbara magazine, first as assistant editor then as editor-in-chief.



I took to magazine work instantly, at last finding a place where I could experiment with mood and setting and dialogue and description, using the techniques of New Journalism and some I invented on the spot. At the same time, my idea of what words were had changed. I no longer viewed them as simply serviceable tools, but as alive: they could and should dance and sing and paint with vivid colors and emotion and thought. At last, I was beginning to give readers the occasional opportunity to live a story.



Please remember this evolving life was in the backwaters of Phoenix and Santa Barbara, hardly the beating heart of publishing or of literature, but I was where I was because of choices I had made, primarily to have children. I couldn’t abide the casual disregard of humans as disposable, which I’d seen too often in all professions and trades, including in the arts. Since I was now divorced, and my children needed the stability, which included Santa Barbara’s familiar circumstances, I was determined to make the most of what I could find there.



Another direction I took was writing short stories, but they turned out to be literary, which among other things meant I was paid in copies of the journals in which they were published. Since paper was not a food group, and my children had grown accustomed to eating, and since Santa Barbara magazine was not paying enough to support us, I wrote male pulp novels, too. This serendipity was due to my husband-to-be, Dennis Lynds, aka Michael Collins, who signed the contracts and created the outlines for two Nick Carter novels, which I then wrote. The Nick Carter series has been around for decades, written by many male authors, and is sometimes described as an American version of James Bond. After I’d finished the first two, I insisted I create the outlines for the next books in the contract. This was because I wanted to learn how to think the bones of a book.



Masquerade Book JacketIn the end, I wrote five Nick Carters, all of which had international settings and were based on international political intrigue. I know that sometimes people are shocked I would “lower” myself to pulp fiction, but I looked upon it as an exciting opportunity to grow and experiment as a writer. And, too, Dean Koontz and Martin Cruz Smith and Ross Macdonald and my husband and other fine authors had plowed those literary fields early in their careers. Why shouldn’t I? (The titles of the Nick Carters and the rest of my published work are available on my website, for anyone who wants the details of my checkered literary past: (www.GayleLynds.com).



So there you have it, Ali - newspaper, think tank, magazine, literary short stories, and male pulp fiction. Everything I did added to my development as a novelist. But as you can see, I was reaching the point where I had nowhere else to go but into my own books. Thus, in the 1990s, I began my first spy thriller, Masquerade, which - thanks to the think tank - included a subplot about a CIA-sponsored brain-washing program.


Ali:

A writer once told me that the most interesting people (writers or characters in novels) are the ones with some personal trauma that splintered their youth. Did you have any trauma or incident that perhaps helped mould you in some way? And if so would you be prepared to share that incident with us?

Gayle:


Probably the most devastating event of my youth occurred when I was an adolescent, and the manner in which I learned of it was in the same way I learned much about life - from the written word. My younger sister had been going back and forth to doctors because she had an enlargement on the side of her neck, and none could make sense of it, despite painful exploratory surgery. She was a fragile six years old; I was a very grown-up twelve.



One afternoon, I arrived home from school to find my mother on the phone with our family doctor, crying - an unusual event - and trying to hide her tears. She said little, the phone dug into her ear, as she jotted a note to herself. Within minutes, my father showed up, having left work early - an even more unusual event - and they drove off.



As soon as I settled my sister with a book, I ran to the paper Mom had forgotten beside the phone. On it was only one word I didn’t know - “malignant”. Of course I instantly looked it up in our battered copy of Webster’s. That was how I discovered my little sister had terminal cancer. Ah, the incendiary power of a single word. Two years later, after a titanic struggle, she was dead. None in my family was ever the same.


Ali:

That is a terrible tragedy. I am so sorry for your loss.

Ali:

Have you always been an advocate of the thriller genre?

Gayle:


I’ve always been an advocate of all genres, since my theory is that I?m not God, Yahweh, the Goddess, Allah, or whatever. From mainstream to science fiction, romance to mysteries, cartoons to comic books... I just want to see people reading. A book in the hand is far preferable to a gun.



Having said that, I became a vocal advocate of the spy thriller in the mid- 1990s, although it seemed as if everyone, including New York publishing, had declared it as dead as the Cold War. Even two of the genre’s masters, Frederick Forsyth and John le Carre, fled the field to pursue other novelistic interests. Similarly, the United States was so exhausted by decades of international nuclear detente that the public’s interest in foreign affairs evaporated.



Nevertheless, none ofthat stopped clandestine activities. In fact, they increased, because the planet was growing progressively perilous. As you probably know, espionage is called the second oldest profession, and anyone who reads my books, particularly my new one, The Coil, will see why. Spies and spying have always been with us, and I believed at the time and still believe that that isn’t going to go away. Because of all of this, contemporary spy thrillers were not only relevant but vital to write and publish in the 1990s, and if they were well-done and exciting, I knew readers would want them.



So in 1994, I finished Masquerade, and my agent set out to sell it, although the outlook was grim. On top of that, we ran into a completely unexpected roadblock: On the deadline day she was to decide whether she wanted the manuscript, the head of Dutton Books asked her assistant to phone my agent with apologies, that she was home with a cold but she’d call in the morning with an offer. As promised, she called, but it was to say that although she loved it, she couldn’t buy it, because “no woman could’ve written this novel.”



He was stunned; I was stunned. It was out-and-out sexism, of all the crazy responses. Yes, the field was dominated by men, but how could she have forgotten the renowned Helen MacInnes, “the queen of international espionage,” who had died only nine years before, in 1985, after a string of some twenty New York Times bestsellers? MacInnes’s storied career had lasted more than four decades, beginning in 1939 with the classic Above Suspicion and ending just a year before her death with the publication of Ride a Pale Horse.



Even if one were to ignore the public’s hunger for MacInnes’s work, this was a modern, enlightened era. How could any powerful publisher - male or female - at the top of the industry imagine only male authors could write compelling spy tales?



The Hades Factor Book JacketAfter one’s shock wears off, one laughs. Lunacy knows no bounds, including in the book industry. To my agent’s everlasting credit, he never blinked; he sent the manuscript to Steve Rubin, president of Doubleday, who bought it without question. In 1996 when it was released in hardcover, Masquerade was named “Page-Turner of the Week” by People magazine, and it sold overseas to some twenty countries. When Berkley Books issued it in paperback in 1998, it became a New York Times bestseller.



Nevertheless, the spy thriller field was continuing to shrink; few new authors entered, while many established ones turned their talents to World War II and other sorts of historical thrillers. In this disheartening publishing atmosphere, I still wrote and published two more standalone spy thrillers - Mosaic and Mesmerized.



Then on 9/11/01, al-Qaeda units attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing some 3,000 souls from many countries. In that one tragic day, the United States learned that the world beyond its borders not only mattered, it behoved us to pay very close attention. Abruptly, television, radio, newspapers, and magazines doubled and tripled their overseas coverage. My friends who were international journalists and had been unable to find work were back on the job. Intelligence operatives who had been retired were called back in for “consulting” work. And the spy thriller was viable again.

Ali:

What novels were the early books that you read, that either influenced you, or made you take up the pen?

Gayle:


As a child, I read voraciously - everything I could get my hands on, from children’s novels to Campbell’s Soup can labels and comic books. Although words and ideas fascinated me, there was no one to guide me, for which I’m now grateful. This meant I grew up with no prejudices for or against any particular kind of story. It also meant I read not only interesting but boring novels. Still, as long as I could live the story, no matter how tedious it might be to others, I finished the book.



By the time I was ten, I was deep into adult novels. When I wanted to borrow The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee from my uncle’s library because it had the word “murder” in the title (I hadn’t a clue what a G-string was), I overheard my aunt call my mother to tell her it might have sexual content inappropriate for a pre-adolescent. This of course only increased my appetite to read it. My mother was not only an omnivorous reader but a liberal Republican, so she gave her permission. It was my first murder mystery. As it turned out, I found the story far from arresting and to this day can’t figure out why anyone would’ve bothered to publish the book, except that its author was the most famous burlesque dancer of her day.


Gayle:


A month or so later, I watched my mother reread the mammoth Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, so engrossed she missed a coffee date with girlfriends. When she finished, I picked up the book, testing its weight. She pointed out its enormous length and advised me it was very adult and I’d probably not understand it even if I managed to make it to the end; still, if I insisted, I could give it a try. What a smart woman: Of course, I was intrigued and began reading instantly. Once I got past the repetitive references to Georgia’s rich red earth, I fell in love with the story.



These two choices might indicate I’d turned my back on mystery and was headed into romance. Ultimately, it was true that straight mysteries have held little appeal to me as a writer, but not only the romance in Gone with the Wind caught my attention, so did the savage power struggles, the international influences, the rebellions against heartless overlords both before and after the Civil War, and the sweeping forces of history and culture that had led to this bloody moment in the nineteenth century. Plus, I adored the adventure.



I sound as if I must’ve been a supercilious little brat, but I was shy about this internal life of mine and seldom talked about it. (In fact, I was so wild about books that I inadvertently taught myself English grammar, only because I was curious about how by fitting words together one could create pictures in the mind.) Ultimately, by being allowed to pursue indiscriminately, I became discriminate. By my teen years, I was devouring authors like Dickens and Tolstoy and Mark Twain and, yes, Kurt Vonnegut.


Ali:

How crucial are the British in the development of the thriller genre? And who do you most admire from the British cabal?

Gayle:


You Brits were more than indispensable. While the private detective novel is a Yank invention, originally a novel of the proletariat, the spy novel - at least to my mind - arises primarily from your literary soil.



I always go back to Eric Ambler, who often ignored the usual alleys and government offices and placed his clandestine tales daringly into the drawing rooms, the dining rooms, and the neighborhood pubs of not only the working class but the elite. I admired his work enormously, plus of course Graham Greene’s, despite his occasional heavy-handed religiosity. I love you Brits and find you endlessly fascinating - the cloth of velvet over cold steel; there’s a reason you ruled the waves and more large land-masses than any other nation in modern history. In the work of both authors, I found the customary British understatement and good manners and occasional stuffiness well leavened with brutal realities, which made Ambler’s and Greene’s tales not only realistic but chilling.



I admire John le Carre’s books for their authenticity, but to my taste he often didn’t end them satisfactorily. When an author entices, excites, and surprises a reader into sticking with a very long book for hundreds and hundreds of pages, one owes that reader an ending commensurate with all that has gone before. In other words, there is a promise implied in the first seven-eighths or so of a novel. In Le Carre’s case, his endings should be rousing, weighty, and exciting. I’m not suggesting he change the outcome, only that he dramatize and, as we say in Yankland, “stand and deliver”.



As for Helen MacInnes, who was born in Scotland in the early 1900s and became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s, I quote from the dust jacket of The Snare of the Hunter, published in 1974, since it captures her work admirably: “Miss MacInnes has become distinguished as the creator of highly literate, remarkably acute, and supremely exciting novels set against a background of contemporary history. The recently exposed and increasing suppression of writing and thought in the satellite nations behind the Iron Curtain, which Miss MacInnes foresaw from its earliest evidence, provides the powerful motivation for this new novel of irresistible fascination and depth of meaning.”



To me, her sensibility was profoundly - and importantly - European. Hence her focus on fact, history, and culture. By moving to the United States, she broadened and deepened and became more worldly in the frontier, rough-and-tumble sense. As Bob Ludlum did, and I do today, she observed closely the constantly changing politick, drawing sharp-eyed conclusions from which she created stories that were chillingly predictive.


Ali:

And the Americans?

Gayle:


The Altman Code Book JacketIn my opinion, our contribution was to turn the spy novel into the modern spy thriller. Of course, Robert Ludlum is largely credited with this. He took MacInnes’s broadly appealing, reality-based work to the next level of violence, conspiracy, and adventure without being nearly as good a writer as she. He always said he created melodramas, and I think that’s an accurate assessment not only of his storylines and plotting, but is reflected in his use of excessive and overwrought language.



As you know, Bob’s early work particularly influenced me. Today he receives little credit for his daring not only in changing the form but in bringing to the attention of the public important but little-known aspects of real-life espionage. For instance, during the Cold War he finished a manuscript in which CIA operatives spied and conducted operations domestically, which was illegal. His publisher applied pressure, demanding he change the plot line, claiming readers would not believe anything so farfetched and ultimately appalling. But Bob refused, and the book was published as he had written it. Later during the 1970s, sworn testimony during the Frank Church Hearings before Congress revealed that the CIA had indeed been spying and operating extensively at home for years, and Bob was vindicated.



As for myself, I think I’m a better writer than Bob when it comes to use of language, structure, color, mood, and so forth. In terms of plots and stories, I hold my own but lean toward a briskness that didn’t interest him. Perhaps that is due to a certain impatience in our era. As a writer of melodrama, he was never concerned about the subtleties of characterization, preferring to draw his people with broad strokes, while three-dimensional characters are imperative to my sensibilities, and I work hard to make sure mine are. His women were stock helpmeets; mine are active heroines and adventuresses. After that, comparing us is like comparing apples and oranges. We come from different generations, different times, and are relevant to our particular eras, which is probably why he wrote melodrama and I don’t. The final question is one of timelessness. Is his work timeless? Is mine? That’s for literary historians and readers with long memories to judge.


Ali:

Talking about your early work, I read that you wrote several books in The Three Investigators series. Would you care to talk about those books and what you learned writing them?

Gayle:


My son had been reading the Three Investigators books, which at that point were affiliated with the Alfred Hitchcock name, and thoroughly enjoying them. As it turned out, his favorites were written by William Arden, who was really Dennis Lynds, my second husband. It was a complete coincidence, since neither of us knew Dennis at that point, much less that he lived in Santa Barbara.



Writing young adult novels during the late 1980s was yet another way for me to stretch my skills and experiment. Through Dennis I met the editor at Knopf who handled the series, proposed ideas until she finally liked one, and went to work. But when I finished the manuscript, I again ran into tired sexism: She told me, “Boys won’t read books written by girls.” She gave me the choice of the book’s not being published or of hiding my female identity behind initials. At the time, I was writing as Gayle Stone, since it was my name while married to my first husband, and I hadn’t bothered to change it yet. I wanted to write for the series, and I was fed up with fighting the silliness of sexism, so for the three books I wrote in the series, I became G.H. Stone.


Ali:

And I read that you’re pretty clued up on the topical subject of Weapons of Mass Destruction; so in general terms exactly how common are WMDs in the rogue states or has their existence been exaggerated for political ends?

Gayle:

For that answer, I recommend you read my next thriller, The Last Spymaster, which I’m supposed to be writing right now. St. Martin’s Press will publish it next year, in May 2005.

Ali:

So how did you end up married to the crime / mystery writer Dennis Lynds?

Gayle:


Now that’s a delicious love tale of which I’m personally fond. I’d dropped by the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for a night workshop, and Dennis was the guest speaker. I was just starting to publish short stories, had written an unpublished mainstream novel and an unpublished mystery novel, and was sitting on the floor, gazing up at him. He was an award-winning author with a slew of pseudonyms in the detective field as well as writing under his own name in mainstream fiction. Some of his short stories had been chosen for that select, highly competitive annual blue-ribbon collection: Best American Short Stories.



At that point, I’d been a “scholar” finalist to the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in New England, where I had just been told yet again that no one could write both mainstream fiction and popular fiction and be successful at each, much less combine them. Everybody - and I do mean everybody, from all literary fields, including the so-called intelligentsia and cognoscenti - advised me to give up the lunatic idea. The commonly held “wisdom” was that authors of mainstream did it for love and quality; authors of popular literature (or “commercial fiction” or “pop lit”) did it for money and were, alas, less talented. And never the twain would, could, or should meet. This of course has proved to be one more nonsensical prejudice - Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer have written fine murder mysteries, while Walter Moseley’s and James Lee Burke’s poetic suspense dramas are considered literature.



Back then, Den was not only living proof that the naysayers were wrong, he was also wonderful to look at, handsome in his tweed jacket and jeans, articulate as hell, and he kept staring at me. Finally, a girlfriend passed me a note as if we were back in high school, asking, “Do you know he’s staring at you?” Hello! One thing led to another, and Den and I have been together ever since. To this day I work very hard to marry literary and thriller fiction in my novels, as Helen MacInnes did decades ago.


Ali:

So could you tell us a little about his books? And which books you feel are the ones British readers should seek out urgently?

Gayle:


Please visit Den’s website, www.DennisLynds.com, for a full bibliography, which is terribly impressive. He’s credited with bringing the detective novel into the modern age. He’s won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) as well as the Marlowe Award for his body of work from MWA’s Southern California Chapter.



Den’s best-known creation is Dan Fortune, published under the pseudonym Michael Collins. As a writer, Den is very political and sociological, grand in all respects. I’d particularly suggest Castrato, my favorite novel. It deals insightfully with the problems of the modern male in today’s society. I also highly recommend his several collections of short stories - especially the mainstream collection Talking to the World and the detective collection Fortune’s World.


Ali:

Talking about family, this seems to be a theme, especially evident in The Coil about family relationships, with Liz Sansborough and her father ‘The Carnivore’, her kidnapped cousin as well as the British connection…..what is it about family that interests you?

Gayle:

The Coil Book JacketEverything! Families are a microcosm of the world at large. A reader told me he thought that what “The Sopranos” television show has done in revealing the inner workings of the American mafia, Masquerade and its sequel, The Coil, are doing in revealing the inner workings of international espionage. The truth is, both Masquerade and The Coil chronicle an American and British family of spies and assassins, which didn’t seem particularly unusual to me but in books apparently is. Just as there are families of plumbers and lawyers and school teachers and La Cosa Nostra, there are families of spies. For instance, the CIA’s greatest traitor, Aldrich Ames, was himself the son of a CIA man.

Ali:

Another theme in your work is how powerful people and conspiratorial groups like the international moguls in The Coil manipulate society, which I read was loosely based on The Bilderberg Group. Would you care to comment?

Gayle:

As I said, I spent eight years researching The Coil, and most of that time was focused on the Bilderberg Group, which is little known in the United States. I detail the research in my Author’s Note at the end of The Coil.

Ali:

When you wrote Masquerade, did you foresee that Liz would become a series character?

Gayle:

Heck, no. Masquerade was a stand-alone novel as far as I was concerned, and I saw no way to take the story further. My editor at St. Martin’s for the Covert-One novels, the great Keith Kahla, however, had loved Masquerade, and he kept asking me about a sequel. I talked with him off and on about it for several years, brainstorming, until at last I had an idea worthy of the project, and then another, and another, until eventually I was able to write The Coil.

Ali:

I noticed when I spoke to my sources, that you got a great deal of detail right vis-à-vis the modern MI6. Did you have to pull in many favours in your research?

Gayle:

I’m fortunate to have excellent sources, one of whom is a founding member of the CIA’s counterterrorism unit. He vetted The Coil, for which I’m most grateful. Apparently, my other sources were accurate, and so he changed nothing. Besides human sources - “humint” - I use a lot of public information. It’s amazing what’s available, if you know where to look and are patient.

Ali:

You also used the correct term for a British bottom - arse,not ass…well done!

Gayle:

Muchas gracias!

Ali:

How much travel do you have to do as there is a fair amount of globetrotting in your work?

Gayle:


With me, it’s not “do you have to”, it’s “would you like to”. Right now, I’m able to do very little travelling, since writing and touring take most of my time. However, my husband and I travelled a fair amount in the 1990s, when he was a guest of honor at a couple of French literary festivals. That took us to Britain, too, from which many of my forbearers came. In fact, the name “Sansborough” (or perhaps “Lonsborough” or some similar spelling - the name is hand written in personal letters so old that the ink has faded, and I can’t quite read it) comes from an ancestor who was, apparently, Lord Sansborough or the Earl of Sansborough.



I’ve tried Burke’s Peerage but found nothing about the name or variants there. I’ve always hoped someone would recognize it and tell me the truth of the following small tale, which has been handed down through my family, another wonderful love story. The basics are that Elizabeth Sansborough fell in love with a stable boy, Thomas Walker, and against her parents’ wishes married him. They disinherited Elizabeth. Thomas took her to the United States, where they settled somewhere in New York state. One of her daughters was named Sarah Walker, who married my great-grandfather, Charles Jay Tice, a Civil War veteran.



In Masquerade and The Coil, Elizabeth Sansborough and Sarah Walker are cousins. If anyone recognizes any of this story, I’d appreciate their getting in touch through my website. My family and I sure would like to know.


Ali:

Did you find it bizarre that back in your book The Paris Option you wrote about the links between the Basque ETA and madmen of Al-Quaeda, while in The Hades Factor you had a virus threat not dissimilar to SARS. How creepy is that?

Gayle:


I know, it’s interesting. Still, a large part of my job is to pay attention to the world. I subscribe to three newspapers a day and a slew of news magazines each month.



Mesmerized Book JacketAnother of my good calls was in Mesmerized, where I predicted the existence of a high-level mole in the FBI. I discovered I was right just weeks before Mesmerized was published, when the FBI arrested Robert Hanssen and unveiled him as the worst traitor in not only its history but in America’s. That’s when I knew I’d even guessed his first name correctly.



Events such as these are in the air for those of us who are looking. I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t occasionally hit very close to home. And as you may remember from my answer to an earlier question, I consider this sort of predictive quality one of the hallmarks of the best, most relevant thrillers.


Ali:

You have now written three Covert-One books with Robert Ludlum, the last being The Altman Code. How did this come about?

Gayle:


When Masquerade was published, reviewers and readers began calling me the female Robert Ludlum. I felt honored, because I had such respect for his work. Apparently, Bob heard about it and read Masquerade, interested in what the “competition” was doing. I find this terribly amusing and sweet, since I was just starting out and he was a literary icon. He continued to read my work, since he admired it (bless him), and when he decided to start an adventure series - his first deliberate series, not an inadvertent one like the Bourne series - he wanted a collaborator. He felt that we would mesh well, and an emissary phoned me, asking whether I’d be interested.



Bob was a delight, a real gentleman. As you can imagine, I’m asked many, many questions about him and our work together. Finally out of desperation I wrote at some length about it, which you can find on a special webpage called simply “Robert Ludlum” on my website: www.GayleLynds.com


Ali:

I heard that the fifth one, The Lazurus Vendetta, is to be written by Robert Ludlum and Keith Ferrell, so I assume that you will now only work on your own books?

Gayle:

Originally, I’d thought I could do the Covert-Ones at the same time as I wrote my own novels, but I found that I’m not nearly as superhuman as I’d hoped. When I jumped over to be with Keith at St. Martin’s, he pointed this out and suggested I devote myself to my own work. Besides, I make more money on my own books, although I forgot that for a while. (We writers often become so involved in the work that the money fades in importance - as long as we can pay our bills, that is.) In any case, it’s time someone else had the fun and the challenge of writing the Covert-Ones.

Ali:

Some people amongst our intelligentsia do not consider the thriller genre to be “literary” enough when compared to ‘general fiction’? Would you care to comment?

Gayle:

Well, from my viewpoint, the best of popular fiction is often literary, and the most popular of literary fiction usually can also be categorized in one genre or another. A weak book is still a weak book no matter how it’s labeled. Who knows - perhaps in the future that will be a genre, too. Can you imagine the sweaty consternation of some marketing department at the thought of marketing a book deliberately as weak?

Ali:

With the success of The Coil, I’ve heard that you have European rights sold in many countries. Will we be seeing you in the UK anytime soon?

Gayle:


In Britain, my own novels have been published for quite some time by HarperCollins, while the Covert-Ones are with Orion. Every time I visit your country I have an instant sense of being at home. The connection feels deep, almost atavistic, probably because I’m descended from so many English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish families. I suspect my telling you that being published in Britain is important to me is unsurprising. As for what the future holds, who knows? Ah, the suspense!



Thus far, The Coil has been sold to Germany, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Romania. My international agent, Danny Baror, tells me he’ll close deals for it soon in other countries, too.



As it turns out, my husband and I will be in Europe in the second half of October, because my great Netherlands publisher, Rienk Tychon of Luitjingh-Sijthoff, is flying me to Amsterdam to help publicize the company’s launch of The Coil. I’m curious about what it will be like to undergo the two days of consecutive press interviews they’re planning for me, which I suspect will be both political and challenging. On other days, I’ll research scenes for future books. And finally - a great joy - my new French publisher, Ariane Fasquelle of the legendary Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, will train from Paris to Amsterdam for a weekend lunch, our first meeting. I’m excited about all of this, especially since by then I’ll have finished writing my next book and will be more than ready for a new adventure.


Ali:

Thank you for your time and we hope to see you in the UK!

Gayle:

It’s been a pleasure, Ali. You always ask marvelous and provocative questions. I can’t wait to visit London again!


Gayle Lynds ©2004 Jay Farbman

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Gayle Lynds



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