Tag Archives: Susan Ouellette

My Interview With Susan Ouellette

Susan Ouellette is the author of the thriller The Wayward Spy. I don’t usually read thrillers, but this one really kept me turning pages, and I can hardly wait for the second in her three-book series, The Wayward Assassin (coming from CamCat Books in March 2022). Here’s my interview with Susan.

How does she know so much about the CIA?

Kathy: Back in the 1990s, you worked as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. Can you tell us a little about what that was like? Was it as glamorous as it sounds?

Susan: I remember my first day of work at the CIA like it was yesterday. The first time my supervisor handed me documents stamped TOP SECRET, I had to suppress a gasp. So exciting! Some of the glamor wore off as I grew accustomed to reading intelligence reports, but every day held the possibility of learning something new and interesting. And I was there at a great time – as the Soviet Union was collapsing. It was like having a front row seat to history.

Kathy: Any interesting stories you can share from your time with the CIA?

Susan: When the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev happened in 1991, I worked on a 24/7 task force set up to monitor and analyze this very volatile situation. So there I was, a rookie analyst, working the overnight shift when the phone rang at 5 am. No one else was around, so I answered. It was the CIA Director calling to get an update on overnight developments. I just about fainted, but apparently did a good job briefing him because I didn’t get fired.

I also wrote a piece for the President’s Daily Brief about a situation involving a potential outbreak of hostilities in the former Soviet Union. My analysis went to the President and turned out to be spot on. That was thrilling. My third story is quite sad. I was out of the office the day Harrison Ford visited CIA headquarters. I missed Harrison Ford? I’m still not over it! 

Kathy: I love Harrison Ford, too. The kids and I tease my husband that he looks like Indiana Jones when he wears his leather jacket and fedora.

What made you choose the former Soviet state of Georgia as part of the setting for The Wayward Spy? Have you ever been there?

Susan: During my time at the CIA, Georgia was one of the Soviet republics (turned independent country) that I followed closely. Sandwiched between two worlds – the Russian behemoth to the north and Turkey and other Islamic countries to the south and east – Georgia is a country with a complex, rich history and culture. I have not been there, but it is on my bucket list.

Kathy: The Wayward Spy takes place in 2003. In your opinion, has the threat of a terrorist attack in the United State decreased, increased or stayed about the same since then? How would you say the threat has changed?

Susan: Up until the recent events in Afghanistan, I would have said that the threat of an organized terrorist attack (i.e., a non-lone wolf attack) on U.S. soil had diminished significantly. Now, with U.S. and allied military and intelligence assets out of Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and ISIS will have the latitude and luxury to train, organize, and grow (despite whatever rivalries and hatred exist among and between them and the Taliban). I’m afraid the threat of a major terrorist attack has increased significantly in recent months.

Kathy: Not exactly what I was hoping to hear…

And what does Susan read?

Kathy: What kind of books do you like to read?

Susan: I love spy thrillers, which I suppose is no surprise. I love time travel/parallel universe stories because I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how every decision we make has the potential to alter the trajectory of our lives. I also enjoy World War II fiction, particularly stories with characters living under Nazi occupation. As for non-fiction, I love Cold War spy books. The Spy and the Traitor (Ben Macintyre) is a must-read for any student of 20th century history.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite author? What do you like about that author?

Susan: This is such a difficult question. I enjoy so many thriller authors. Robert Littell, Nelson DeMille, Daniel Silva. And more. Their stories grab the reader and don’t let go. The best book I’ve read lately is A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles). It’s a beautifully written story about a Russian aristocrat whose life is smothered by the growing oppression of the Soviet state.

Kathy: I loved A Gentleman in Moscow, too.

What were your favorite books as a child? How did they influence you?

Susan: Nancy Drew! I loved how Nancy used her wits to solve every mystery thrown her way. She made me want to be a detective. That was my childhood plan – become Nancy Drew. Then I learned about the CIA and the KGB and decided that being a detective would pale in comparison to being a spy.

Her writing process

Kathy: I noticed in your dedication to The Wayward Spy that you had set the book aside for a while. Why did you do that? And what inspired you to dust it off and get back to work on it?

Susan: The Wayward Spy had several close brushes with publication many years back. When those didn’t pan out, I gave up on trying to get published for a long time. I had a young family and a job, so I focused my attention on them. But I never lost the desire to get the manuscript published. Fast forward many years, and I found myself at a writing workshop where several people took interest in the story. After much gentle persuasion, I decided it was worth one final try at publication.

Kathy: Once you got back to work on The Wayward Spy, did you work with a development editor? If yes, how did that help you?

Susan: Yes. At the aforementioned writing workshop, I met Elaine Ash, an author and freelance editor. She convinced me to send her the manuscript and we began to work together to rewrite the novel. She helped me untangle the essential threads of the story, which I had greatly overcomplicated. The plot was in there, but we had to detangle it and let it shine.

Kathy: Can you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

Susan: I did not write from an outline for either The Wayward Spy or The Wayward Assassin (coming March 2022). With both stories, I knew the beginning and the end but not much in between. I am about to begin writing the third story in “The Wayward” series, and this time around, I plan to plot the story before I begin writing. My goal is to simplify the developmental editing process that comes after the draft manuscript is done. I have learned a lot from revising the first two books. It’s time I apply that knowledge to the first draft of my next book.

Kathy: How long does a first draft take you to write? How many edits do you usually do before you feel your book is ready to be submitted?

Susan: It took me about a year to write a first draft for both books. I wrote both while working and raising little ones so I only wrote about ten hours a week. I’m hoping to write a first draft of the next book in about six months. (I may fail miserably.) I plan to do a couple of edits before submitting the third story to my editor.

Kathy: It took me longer to find a publisher for The Saint’s Mistress than it did to write the book. How long did it take you to find a publisher for The Wayward Spy?

Susan: After working with the freelance developmental editor, it took about a year for me to sign with CamCat Books.

Kathy: What have you done to market The Wayward Spy? Have you found any marketing strategies to be particularly effective?

Susan: As a new author, I’ve discovered that there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to effective marketing. I’m definitely still learning and experimenting with different marketing avenues. I have blogged on my own website (susanouellette.com), done blog interviews with other authors, run a Facebook ad campaign, run several book give-away contests, and done several interviews with local media.

Kathy: Did you learn anything about yourself from writing your books?

Susan: This may sound trite, but I’ve learned not to quit. Although I put writing on hold for years, deep down, I never really gave up on getting published.

Oh, and what about those chickens?

Kathy: I see from your personal Facebook page that you raise chickens. How did you start that? What is the best part of raising chickens? What is the worst?

Susan: One of my favorite subjects! Five years ago, we moved from a home on a quarter acre lot to a small farm. We knew nothing about farming, so we decided to start with chickens (thank goodness for the internet!). The best part of raising chickens, aside from the fresh eggs, is watching them interact with each other. They have distinct personalities, moods, and quirks. I find them quite hilarious – the more dramatic they are, the better. The worst thing about chickens is their bathroom habits. Not the most sanitary beasts.

Kathy: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise readers.

Susan: I almost caused a full-blown national security incident on Capitol Hill. Accidentally, of course. I can’t provide details because I plan to weave this story into one of my future novels.

Kathy: The Wayward Spy ends on a real cliffhanger. Can you give us a few teasers about what happens in the second novel in the trilogy, The Wayward Assassin?

Susan: The Wayward Assassin begins about ten months after Maggie leaves us all hanging at the end of The Wayward Spy. In the sequel, Maggie is engaged in a furious pursuit of….someone…in order to prevent…something. I dare not say more. There are several characters who appear in both stories and some fresh faces to keep things interesting. It’s very fast paced. With any luck, this story will keep reader up reading late into the night!

Where to learn more about Susan Ouellette

Kathy: Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

Susan: Please check out my website at www.susanouellette.com. I also can be found on these sites:

fb.me/SusanOuelletteAuthor

https://twitter.com/smobooks

https://www.instagram.com/susanobooks/

https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomsusan_ouellette