Out in the Open with Valerie Plame

Valerie Plame became a household name in 2003 when the Bush administration outed her as a CIA operative. Of course, the exposure was politically motivated. Her husband Joe Wilson, a former diplomat, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Namely, he didn’t find nuclear materials heading to Iraq. You can read about it in her memoir, Fair Game, My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, except for the 10 percent redacted by the CIA.

Now, Valerie has ventured into writing fiction — a spy thriller — in

collaboration with Sarah Lovett. (Both live in Santa Fe.) The first book, Blowback, came out this fall, and that’s why she was in Taos, Feb. 7, and I got to interview her at an event for SOMOS, the local literary group.

That night Valerie spoke about her experiences and read a little from the first chapter. Then, I joined her on stage to ask questions. 

We talked about her career as an operative, the White House’s betrayal, Edward Snowden, of course, and the writing process used for the new series of thriller novels. The next, Burned, is coming out this fall. 

And from time to time, Joe, who was standing on the side, offered a comment at Valerie’s invitation. Even their young daughter asked a question about 9/11 when we opened it up to the audience. (Not surprisingly, it was a full house.)

Afterward, people have asked my impressions of Valerie and Joe. (I got to meet them beforehand at dinner and at a reception afterward.) I will say they are extremely likable, certainly a useful character trait from her days as an operative and his as a diplomat.

Valerie and Joe are smart and engaged in what is happening politically. But like the rest of us, they talk about their kids — their son was in a basketball tournament at Taos Middle School that afternoon — and are interested in what others have to say. They have a good sense of humor and certainly don’t lack opinions. 

What about Valerie’s novel, Blowback? She told me it was not poetry or literature. (I said thank goodness, on the poetry part.) The book moves fast with short chapters and gunfire. Valerie says it is a realistic portrayal of that life. She says she aimed to move past the stereotypes of female CIA operatives with Vanessa Pierson, who she said in a NY Times interview is a younger, smarter version of herself. (One of my questions: How is Vanessa smarter?) 

By the way, just like Fair Game, the CIA got to read Blowback first. However, Valerie says this time the CIA only changed one line.