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Interview: April 2, 2010

April 2, 2010

Gayle Lynds’s latest novel, THE BOOK OF SPIES, is the first book in a series that follows museum curator Eva Blake and former intelligence agent Judd Ryder as they attempt to uncover a terrorist plot linked to Ivan the Terrible’s legendary Library of Gold. In this interview with’s Joe Hartlaub, Lynds describes how she first became interested in this historical mystery and explains what aspect of writing and researching the subject thrilled her the most. She also stresses the importance of keeping things simple while plotting complex storylines, shares her own theories about the location of the legendary library, and reveals why THE BOOK OF SPIES was personally a significant accomplishment for her to complete. THE BOOK OF SPIES concerns the legendary Library of Gold, compiled by Ivan the Terrible and apparently lost to antiquity. A small, secretive group known as the "Book Club" controls the library, which also appears to be linked to terrorist financing. When one of the library's books, The Book of Spies, is stolen, the Club attempts to retrieve it while Catapult, a CIA counterintelligence unit, is drawn into the chase due to the Club's jihadist connection. It's perhaps your most entertaining work to date, not only for the action it contains but also for the fascinating historical anecdotes, which keep coming right up to the very end. How did you go about finding these stories and ultimately choosing which ones would --- and would not --- be included?

Gayle Lynds: Reading is my joy, so this was the perfect opportunity to read everything I could get my hands on about libraries and readers back through the centuries. I found nuggets in all sorts of interesting places, including on the Internet, and those I most liked lingered in the back of my mind, beckoning, until I could find places in the book for them. One I particularly favored begins Part One: "As he walked to the Senate, a note was thrust into Julius Caesar's hand. His spies had done their job, giving him a list of conspirators and their plans to kill him. Unfortunately, Caesar was in a hurry and did not read it. An hour later, he was assassinated." Until I found the anecdote, I'd had no idea Caesar had been warned about Brutus and the other conspirators. Imagine the difference to history if Caesar had taken the time to read the warning. Just one example of the importance of reading!

BRC: Let's talk for a minute about the pacing of THE BOOK OF SPIES. Occasionally books with complex plots move slowly, yet this one moved very quickly. What methods, narrative and otherwise, did you utilize to keep the flow going with several interesting, even fascinating, characters chasing The Book of Spies --- and each other --- across a number of countries?

GL: If you're going to write a complex novel, you want it to be rich, interesting and a tapestry of wonderful evolving characters and events --- but never confusing. So it becomes critical to keep things simple.

"Complex but simple" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's really not. I knew I had three basic plots running simultaneously --- the hero and heroine, the CIA, and the villain. At the same time, the story itself was linear and easy --- how to find the Library of Gold and stop the villains. Once I understood both those points, I was off and writing, racing from London to Rome, Istanbul and Athens.

BRC: THE BOOK OF SPIES is an extremely imaginative work, one that combines the best elements of espionage fiction with grand concept fiction while introducing new ideas into both. The first 50 pages set the pace, and the remainder of the book matches it practically to the final sentence. Given that the middle of a novel is often the most difficult to write, what methods did you utilize to recharge your creative batteries while writing the book?

GL: Thanks for your kind words. There's a wonderful old writerly saying that applies here --- a novel is like a cake; it tends to sink in the middle.

I agree completely that the center of a book is often the hardest to create. Still, in many ways, it's my happiest time because that's where all of the potential plot lines that have been set into motion in the front of the book grow complicated and entwine. That's fascinating, and fun. There are confrontations, despair, and of course, exciting ah-ha moments. And it's all in service to Act Three, which I sometimes refer to as the "clash of titans."

BRC: At the conclusion of THE BOOK OF SPIES, you list a partial bibliography for the Library of Gold. How did you initially become interested in the Library?

GL: I first read about the Library of Gold in a Los Angeles Times article more than 20 years ago, in 1989. I could see it in my mind and was instantly riveted --- a collection of some 800 illuminated manuscripts, all covered in gold and embedded with precious gems. Walls of missing books, the covers facing out, the gold gleaming, the jewels sparkling.

These were the last survivors of the Byzantine Empire's fabled imperial library. To think the Library of Gold might be found now, after nearly five centuries, was irresistible. So I continued intermittent research for two decades until I finally had a eureka moment --- an idea for a novel in which the library would be pivotal. The result is THE BOOK OF SPIES, which asks an apparently simple question: Can the CIA do something no one else has ever done --- find Ivan the Terrible's long-lost library of gold-covered books?

BRC: How did you go about sorting through the numerous sources of information on the topic when you prepared to write the novel?

GL: I didn't sort as much as collect. I have a banker's box filled with files about such topics as the library itself, bookbinding, textual analysis, Greek and Roman rulers and scholars, famous libraries and librarians, and Ivan the Great and his grandson Ivan the Terrible. Plus I bought a lot of books that I thought might be helpful, too. Truly, I just lost control. I had a ball reading everything and making notes.

BRC: There are any number of theories as to the resting place of the Library of Gold, many of which are enumerated in THE BOOK OF SPIES. Given the extensive research that you did in preparation for writing your novel, what conclusion did you reach as to what happened to it?

GL: It's entirely possible the library may be sealed in one of the maze of tunnels beneath the Kremlin. There are some 13 levels, the vast majority unexplored. Since I found nothing compelling to convince me I'm wrong, I'm sticking to the theory.

BRC: One of the many things that I enjoyed about THE BOOK OF SPIES is the brief but important appearance of a character --- I won't reveal who --- from one of your other novels. Who is your favorite among the characters you've created?

GL: In truth, my absolutely favorite characters are Eva Blake and Judd Ryder from THE BOOK OF SPIES. I've never had characters grow so slowly, but when each took hold, it was as if they were stars blazing across the firmament. I loved their integrity, yet they had pasts that others might find troublesome, but they used this to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

BRC: As noted earlier, history plays an important part in the book. What is your favorite historical period and why?

GL: My favorite historical period is today. Each day we're living history, but seldom do we think about it. Yet a hundred years from now, historians will look back at this very busy, dangerous and innovative era, and research and write about it in an attempt to understand what to us is simply our ordinary lives.

BRC: What type of work schedule did you adopt while working on the book? Did you complete all of your research before you started writing any of the book, or did you research as you wrote?

GL: THE BOOK OF SPIES was very intense to write. I could do a hundred pages, and then I'd have to stop. My excuse was to do more research. So although I'd compiled and read a great deal before I began writing, I did more throughout the book, sometimes because I had to, other times because I was rewarding myself or gripped by curiosity.

BRC: You have written both stand-alone novels and books that are part of a series. Which do you prefer writing? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of each?

GL: I love the idea of having the same main characters continue on to other books. As you know, THE BOOK OF SPIES is the beginning of a series, which means I have Judd Ryder and Eva Blake as my companions again as I write my new novel. It's exciting to think of a long story arc for them over several books. The drawback, of course, is that I'll have the same characters to work with over and over. It's a question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. Since I'm an inveterate optimist, of course it's half full, and in fact filling rapidly. As for which I prefer, the answer is whatever I'm currently writing.

BRC: Virtually every author has had a lifelong love affair with books. What was the first thriller you read that made you fall in love with the genre? And, in your opinion, what is the first thriller novel ever written?

GL: Beowulf is probably the first thriller, and what an exciting story that is, with a great hero, a terrifying villain, and life-and-death stakes.

The first spy thriller that really convinced me I wanted to write in the field was Frederick Forsyth's THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. It's a sprawling, exciting story with high stakes, breathtaking suspense, and characters who are vividly alive. If I could write something that good, I figured I could justify being besotted by writing and life.

BRC: You have had a long career as an author, under your own name and previously under pseudonyms. What do you see yourself doing if you were not writing for a living?

GL: I'd probably be out pan-handling. I've always had a fondness for tin cups.

BRC: Of all of the books you have written, which is your favorite? And which do you think is your best?

GL: Right now my favorite, and I'm convinced my best, is THE BOOK OF SPIES. It was one of the most difficult books I've ever written, but I loved it and was constantly excited by it. It's also the first book I'd written since my husband's death. Since he was also an author and we'd lived in each other's pockets in both life and work, it was a milestone for me. As I loved him, I dearly love THE BOOK OF SPIES.

BRC: Are you currently working on your next novel? What can you tell us about it?

GL: I am, indeed. It's called THE SPY'S APPRENTICE, and it brings back Judd and Eva in an international spy thriller in which Eva gets some serious training.

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