Creative Block

I have just submitted my latest work to the CIA’s Publication Review Board for approval. The first of an e-series, begun while I was pregnant for the second time. It seems pregnancy brings out my creativity. Even though I had a miscarriage, the story went on to completion. And I only mention my miscarriage because so few do, and I feel it is important to talk about.

I’m very excited to be writing more creative non-fiction this time around! I thought my creative writing skills had gone to waste, squashed permanently by working for the CIA for eight years, but I think I am gradually getting some of it back. You see, when you work for the CIA you learn to write like a robot – you HAVE to write that way – with as little personality as possible.

As a child I used to love writing stories. Now I feel as if that part of me is waking up from a very long slumber. What a thrill to see the characters come to life and make me laugh!

I have finally found a job that I love.

Oh, Young Forbidden Love…

…Technically, Jarod and I were not allowed to have any relationship outside of work. [Text is redacted here] Ed knew this, but he also knew he could not stop us from hanging out if we wanted to. Over lunch at a nearby restaurant Ed and I conspired about ways that I could get Jarod alone in order to ask him to get a drink after the meeting. The best we could come up with was for me to come up to the room by myself after one of Jarod’s meetings. He would be meeting with a psychologist to assess his mental state [Text is redacted here]. Ed and I lurked around the hotel lobby waiting to spot the doctor leaving the meeting…

The DGSE is Following Me!

…Chester would sometimes entertain me with stories about Annie and Carina. Apparently the two of them would go out bar hopping and come back the next day to report their shenanigans to Security. They would run their stories of being followed by French intelligence at DC bars by Chester first to see if it warranted a report to Security. Chester would entertain their delusions, figuring that at least the security officer for the division would get a good laugh…

My Review of Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West

Wonderful book! I found myself drawn in to the story and sympathizing with the main character – sympathizing with his self-doubt/self-loathing. All of his mistakes felt like my own. Exceptional writing. Not since being a child, reading Stephen King novels, have I found a writer that engages me the way Ms. West does. I will read this book over again and hope that there is another in the future!!

Don’t Fight the Cake

…As with all offices in the Agency, we of course had to have cake for as many occasions as possible. It did not matter if you were working on time-sensitive intelligence that could save lives, you had to stop and gather around a giant cake at some point at least once a month. Heaven help the individual who did not have a sweet tooth (like me) or was diabetic and refused the cake – your refusal would be so offensive to the women of the office and you would risk ostracization. I was not a fan of the cake, so I experienced many a forced-cake-eating episode during my time in this office..

My Review of A Pink Mist by John Bercaw

A Pink MistA Pink Mist by John Bercaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic read – I couldn’t put this book down!! As a former student of political science/international relations, I can’t help thinking that this would make great college course reading. Had this been a book in my university curriculum I would have undoubtedly gotten better grades! This book really puts life into perspective. Any time I feel like whining about petty problems, all I have to do is read parts of this book to see how hard life can really be, as it was for soldiers in the Vietnam War. It reminds me of an expression the father of one of my former friends and co-workers at the CIA used to use when she complained about something trifling or had a fear of something. He would say, “How bad could it be? What are they gonna do – shave your head and send you to Vietnam?” Great book.

View all my reviews

So you think the government can protect your information from hackers?

…The usefulness of studying computer forensics and ethical hacking was questioned, although I’m pretty sure no one discussing it knew what either of those things were, and it was deemed a worthless pursuit… During at least one of these meetings an anonymous female officer insisted that she had worked with me in the past and snarkily implied that I was a terrible employee. I had no idea who this woman could be, but my request was doomed. All I could surmise was that she was one of the many people who were evidently offended by my presence when I had worked in CE years ago. Perhaps it was my rejection of cake…

Excerpt from my interview with Frank Boccia, Author of The Crouching Beast: A United State’s Army Lieutenant’s Account of the Battle for Hamburger Hill, May 1969.

Frank: You write well, economically, clearly. As a professional author, I appreciate that kind of writing.

I can see why the book might have made the CIA squirm a bit, but considering the bad press they get I suppose they’re used to it. And, yeah, the waste of money is disturbing, but then the entire government does the same. I know. I had two separate and brief periods of employment with Uncle Sam and spent most of the time shaking my head.

But I’m left with a question that I hesitate to ask, but must. First, let me make clear that I am not making a moral judgment here; I would be the world’s most egregious hypocrite if I did, because I was an executive in a major corporation and there was a period when I was the Barry or Archie — well, no; not Archie. I could never reach his level of weird hypocrisy — or Jarod. I’m ashamed of it now, but back then — well, there were a lot of attractive women in our company. So, if anything what I did was much less ethical. A young clerk and a middle-aged exec is not a fair match.

So… the question is, how did you come to bare all that you did? I don’t mean for its affect on the Agency, or even your partners — no matter that you changed their names (I know you did because I was forced to change a lot of names in my account, or the lawyers would have hissy fits and massive heart attacks) many of your former colleagues will know who the men were — but so what? They probably did anyway. No, I’m thinking only on how it affects YOU. Did you hesitate at all, for that reason? I understand that this is probably an embarrassing topic, but, you must have known your father and his colleagues and friends would read it. I sat and thought about that after I read the last paragraph.

Regarding his book, The Crouching Beast: Many have remarked on how intimate and revealing some of my passages are, showing things that weren’t necessarily attractive in my character. I wrestled with that, but in the end decided that if was going to be honest, and write about my comrades as I did, then I had to write about myself, warts and all. Again — no moral stance here. Call it vulgar curiosity, or, as I think of it, a professional writer’s research. I will thoroughly understand if you don’t wish to answer, or if you send me a blazing dart filled with names — all of which I’ve been called before, probably deservedly — and suggestions for my future address.

I will say it took courage to do what you did. Sort of like charging a machine gun nest. After the first step it’s too late to back out.

Shelly: To answer your question – I really don’t find anything that I exposed in the book embarrassing… In today’s world, what I wrote is practically a child’s cartoon. I think at the end of the book I clarified that I was never a victim in the situations I was in, I was merely along for the ride. I was actually just as bad as the men I talk about in the book (and I’ll add that Barry and I are still friends). They don’t have a name for the female equivalent of a womanizer… But that’s what I was! I think the book actually delivers a good message in the end – it shows that no matter how much BS you deal with and how dreadful your life can seem (as it did in the Fall of 2011), things can completely change in a very short span of time. Because of the risk I took leaving the Agency my life became 100% better. I am now living happily with a young son, happily married, and doing things I never could – with the help of my book sales! I think the book is more of a triumph than something to be embarrassed about. And as you know, as a writer, you cannot hesitate or censor yourself if you want to write well. I struggled with censoring myself quite a bit while writing it – I left out A LOT of really bad behavior – both on my part and others. That’s the stuff that might actually embarrass me. But, I also know that I wouldn’t be afraid to write a sequel to Single in the CIA, which could include some of the worst behavior that I left out this time around.

And don’t worry, I am not offended by your question at all!!! Hey, I am a 40 year old woman now, whose book is doing well considering the obstacles I have (friends who don’t know how to use the internet, friends who are afraid their CIA cover will be blown if they purchase the book, etc). I’m not easily offended – I kept reading your question over and over trying to figure out what you think might actually offend me!! I can’t find anything. Trust me, the book could have been WAY more intimate – I went light on the sex stuff. I’ve had so many people tell me that I needed to put MORE of the sex in the book – they said it wasn’t sexy enough.

Regarding the changing of names – yes, I did that – but that is more because when you work for the Agency we all get pseudonyms. So half the time we didn’t even know each others’ real names!

In closing, all of the “douche bags” in the book have contacted me since its publication, and none of them are mad about what I wrote – except Archie. But, like I’ve said before, if you don’t want someone to write about your bad behavior one day, don’t act like a douche bag!

The good news – I’ve apparently got a huge following of certain officers in the CIA. Some of them have thanked me for “bringing it all together” for them. They are coming to grips with the idea that they may not be able to get another job when they leave the Agency – their professional life is a big black hole, more so than mine, and they are squirming now trying to figure out what to do if and when they jump ship. Most will stay there until they can retire, living very unhappy lives, because they are, in a sense, prisoners to the Agency.

Thank you for saying it took courage to write it! I always have been a risk-taker, and also a pretty blunt person. Not everybody recognizes that, but I am also a very misunderstood person. That’s ok with me.

When One Door Closes, Another One Opens…

…Being free to spend my days as I wanted opened up a world that I had long been removed from. A world where you do not have to buy a separate throw-away phone to talk to someone. A world where you can introduce yourself with your real name and explain what you do for a living. A world where you can maintain a friendship with someone from a foreign country without filling out a bunch of paperwork. A much less paranoid world. A much more truthful world…