News & Politics

How Valerie Plame Went From CIA Agent to Novelist

With her second book out, Plame talks about her switch from agent to author.

Valerie Plame. Photograph by Norah Levine.

In a town known for abrupt transitions, few were as dramatic as Valerie Plame’s 2003 ejection from the CIA after her covert status was blown by a State Department official. Plame, who now lives in New Mexico, has fashioned a new career as a public speaker—and a novelist: Her second thriller, Burned, cowritten with Sarah Lovett, is out this month. Here she talks about how she made the switch.

“Burned” by Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett.

Get Out of Town

“We made a conscious choice to leave the bustle behind. Here in Santa Fe, if there are three cars ahead of me at a traffic light, I get mad.”

Reset Your Priorities

“Many interesting things come my way, and I’m grateful, but I’ve also learned to say no. That’s helped me evolve from my CIA-centric notion of who I am. I’m constantly switching gears, and my life is overscheduled—but it’s my own.”

Mix Things Up

“I have the opportunity to get involved with things I care about—nuclear nonproliferation, local politics. I don’t think of myself as a novelist, because I do so many different things.”

Play to Your Strengths

“I’m endlessly curious about people and their stories. I use listening skills that I developed in the CIA to turn the stories I hear into novels, screenplays, and TV projects.”

Use What You Know

“My protagonist, CIA operative Vanessa Pierson, knows what a stakeout’s like: You wear the same clothes for days, you smell! No high heels for her—when she gets dressed for work, she dons flat boots that won’t trip her up in a chase.”

It’s Not About the Money

“Like working for the government, being a novelist is something you do because you love it—it’s certainly not for the pay.”

This article appears in our October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.