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.
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.