Interview With Author Susan Ouellette
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Susan Ouellette's spy thriller, The Wayward Spy comes out March 2, and Susan had the perfect background to write about such espionage. In addition to her flair for storytelling, she worked for the CIA. I had the pleasure to talk with her about her experiences as both a CIA analyst and a novelist.
What is the premise of The Wayward Spy?
The Wayward Spy tells the story of Maggie Jenkins, an intelligence analyst whose fiancé, CIA operative Steve Ryder, is killed in a terrorist bombing in Tbilisi, Georgia. When government officials suggest that Steve might have been involved in treasonous activity, Maggie travels to Tbilisi, where her efforts to clear Steve’s name and find out who was behind the bombing put her life in danger. Unsure of whom she can trust, Maggie closes in on a plot against America whose players include the Russian mafia, Chechen rebels, and corrupt U.S. officials. How far will she go to uncover the truth?
You have a background perfectly suited to write this story! Can you tell a bit about your experience as a CIA analyst and a Professional Staff Member for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and how these experiences influenced The Wayward Spy?
I first began working at the CIA as a college undergraduate. The CIA’s internship program is the real deal – I never ran a single errand or fetched a cup of coffee. From the first day, I was thrown into the job of intelligence analysis. In fact (and at the risk of dating myself), within two months of starting the job, I was detailed to an emergency task force established to monitor the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. Early one morning, near the end of my overnight shift, I answered a call from the Director of Central Intelligence himself. I froze momentarily, but managed to update him on the latest intelligence. That did it. I was hooked! I continued to work for the Agency on and off for several years as I finished my undergraduate and graduate degrees. But then another opportunity arose – a position with the Intelligence Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was there, tucked away in a secret office in the Capitol Building’s attic, that I first conceived of a character named Maggie Jenkins. Like me, she was a former CIA analyst working for the Intelligence Committee. Unlike me, she found herself embroiled in tragedy, danger, and corruption. It was years before I began to write The Wayward Spy, but once Maggie took over my imagination, I couldn’t let her go.
What was the path for publishing The Wayward Spy?
It’s been a long and winding road. I began writing The Wayward Spy in early 2001. Osama bin Laden, whom most people had never heard of, was the villain. When 9/11 happened, I decided he would get no “glory” in my book. I deleted him and created a new antagonist, a woman bent on revenge for injustices she’d suffered. I finished the novel in 2003 and quickly secured a literary agent. She sent the manuscript out to a handful of publishers and then seemed to forget about it. In the interim, I wrote a sequel. The agent never got around to reading it, so I left that agency and secured a new agent for the second novel. After rewriting it twice for her, she decided she no longer liked the story. (The publishing industry is…interesting). For a time after this, I “quit” writing. But even though I stopped querying editors and publishers, I never really gave up on Maggie’s story. Over the years, I’d rewrite here and there. I’d attend conferences. I even entered a few writing contests. Finally, in 2015, I met Elaine Ash, an author and freelance editor, at a writers conference. She persuaded me (after two years of effort) to let her read The Wayward Spy. Convinced that this book belonged on bookshelves, she helped me streamline an overly complicated plot into a fast-paced page-turner. Elaine also secured my current agent, Steve Hutson (WordWise Media) who signed me with CamCat Books.
The Wayward Spy is the first in a trilogy, right? What can you tell us about Maggie’s adventures after The Wayward Spy?
There will be at least three books in this series. The second novel picks up nearly a year after the events in The Wayward Spy. Maggie, who is back working at the CIA, has unfinished business with certain characters (no spoilers!) and is determined to settle the score. Her quest takes her from CIA headquarters to the streets of London and war-torn Chechnya. Can Maggie put aside her personal vendetta long enough to uncover the looming threat against countless innocent lives?
The plot of book #3 is starting to come together in my head. I like where it’s going, but before I begin writing, I need to finalize who survives the second novel…and more importantly, who doesn’t.
What a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Never give up. That might sound odd coming from someone who freely admits to quitting writing multiple times. Even though I “quit” (out of rejection, frustration, competing demands of family and work, and/or an I’m-not-good-enough mentality), I never really gave up on the dream of being a published author. It took a lot of time, many setbacks, and tons of effort, but every second has been worth it. Don’t give up!
Where can people get your book?
The Wayward Spy is available at CamCat Books, Amazon and Indiebound.org.
Where’s the best place to follow you?
You can follow me on my website or at any of these links:
Your bio says you wanted to be a spy, but never became one. But would you tell us if you actually are a spy?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you….so….Funny enough, my teenaged son thinks I may still work for the CIA because sometimes I know things he thinks I shouldn’t. I haven’t disabused him of this notion. I don’t plan to.