©2011 by Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Talk about spooky characters! I am sitting at a coffee shop in Washington D.C., talking to Oleg Kalugin, former head of KGB operations, getting a warm, fuzzy, feeling … and it is creeping me out. This friendly man, in whom I find it so easy to confide, once received high honors for the assassination of Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov; though KGB chief Yuri Andropov probably ordered the hit. Admittedly, I’m already in a heightened state of excitation, having just visited the International Spy Museum, an operation dedicated to the art of espionage, for which Mr. Kalugin serves as an advisory director, but still ….
I am actually in Washington on government business, helping an agency give money away to arts organizations all over the country. It is a tedious affair trying to slice up a pie that is nowhere near big enough. The International Spy Museum and the chat with Oleg Kalugin are my idea of adding a bit of—how shall I say it—a thrill to the visit. The museum and the chat have been thrilling. I have an almost unhealthy interest in investigation, particularly of the clandestine variety, as part of my work as a writer and certainly in relation to my novel, Dead Love. In Dead Love, The Consortium, an evil organization run by the dastardly Christian Orison, is threatened with exposure and strikes back in nefarious ways with the help of a shape-shifting ghoul. My book is a global supernatural thriller with an international chase full of torturous twists and turns, and I need to know plenty about covert operations in order to make it real.
At the International Spy Museum I have learned about bugs and drops and micro-devices and, most significantly, about creating what spies call “a cover.” The fabrication of a fictitious personality and a past that supports it—from sales slips for items never purchased to passports, entire families, and tickets to events never attended—strikes me as the essence of what writers must do when creating a character. I know that my characters often become so real that I have trouble confining them to the works for which they were generated. A really well drawn character will speak to me, maybe even start making demands. Erin, Christian’s daughter in the novel, who almost becomes a zombie, now has her own website where she blogs every day on The Daily Slice. She’s even been a guest blogger for other sites. Clément, the aforementioned ghoul and master at assuming identities—he changes bodies like humans change clothes—is demanding top billing in a book of his own. In other words, a well-invented character has an authenticity that it should be hard to question.
My website features a quote by Jessamyn West: “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” Uncovering the truth that lies hidden seems to be at the root of the most alluring tales. Writers are experts at this, and it is a known fact that inventive writers make very good spies. One of my uncles was an American war correspondent and a spy. When he died at an advanced age; the real stories were buried with him.
When I think about it, a lot of my favorite authors were spies. Anthony Burgess, who wrote A Clockwork Orange and Tremor of Intent worked for British Army Intelligence in WWII. John le Carré (real name: David Cornwall); author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Smiley’s People; and more, worked for British Intelligence during the Cold War. Ian Fleming worked for British Naval Intelligence and our own André Le Gallo, Left Coast Writer and author of The Caliphate served as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism for the CIA.
There is one little problem for both spies and authors, particularly writers of fiction. When you are inventing people and worlds, the line between truth and fiction seems to blur. But haven’t we learned, post Einstein, that everything, including the truth, is relative? Well, that opens up a whole can of worms, many of which like playing with the characters in Dead Love. As for me, I’m recruiting for my own spy ring, the Z.I.A., or Zombie Intelligence Agency; their mission is to report to me on all matters zombie. How to join? It’s no secret. Just send Erin a note on Facebook.
©2010 by Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Poet, travel writer and novelist Linda Watanabe McFerrin (www.lwmcferrin.com), is the founder of Left Coast Writers®. She has been traveling since she was two and writing about it since she was six. A contributor to numerous journals, newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online publications, she is the author of two poetry collections, an award-winning novel (Namako: Sea Cucumber) and short story collection (The Hand of Buddha), and the editor of a travel guidebook (Best Places Northern California, 4th ed.) and four literary anthologies.
A past winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction she teaches and leads workshops in fiction and creative non-fiction. Her latest novel, Dead Love, is available now from Stone Bridge Press.