by | Nov 28, 2018 | Gayle Lynds, The Writer's Life | 12 comments

by Gayle Lynds

File boxes on Gayle’s shelves contain research & a few secrets

Most people can’t bear to keep a secret long enough to die with it untold.  On the other hand, professionals in our intelligence agencies are not “most people.”  They’re committed and do keep the secrets.  Imagine their relief when they can get together and talk about what is known only to them. 

I got to thinking about all of this because I recently had the wonderful experience of being interviewed by journalist extraordinaire Susan Spencer on CBS Sunday Morning for a segment called “What’s REALLY behind conspiracy theories?”

This is how the segment started….

Spy novelist Gayle Lynds has made an entire career out of dreaming up conspiracies, hundreds of them. Her office, at home near Portland, Maine, is a breeding ground for conspiracies, filled to bursting with evil secrets and nefarious plots involving military technology, special ops, and war tactics.

“The C.I.A. is overflowing, as you can see,” Lynds said of her bookshelves.

Her espionage novels have sold millions of copies, and they all start with one unbreakable rule: the conspiracy has to be believable. That’s not hard, given that genuine conspiracies have existed, from Watergate to Iran/Contra.

“They’re wonderful to write about,” Lynds said.

Susan accused me of being a spy.  Of course I denied it.  Secrets, anyone?

So confession time … here are three of my favorite secrets from my personal past that only a few others ever knew….

1.  I learned to drive (illegally) when I was 12 years old on an elderly Chevy with running boards, a stick shift, and a manual choke.  My cousin, Linda, was only 14 and taught me.  Taking turns, we used the Chevy to herd my Uncle Red’s dairy cows along the country roads of eastern Colorado where they could graze on the free grasses on either side.  It was a warm, idyllic summer in which my cousin and I devoured paperback books lying on the old car’s seats.  She and I still devour books but now we drive automatics. 

Writerly lesson: The important things of life don’t change all that much — books, summers, and the right companion.

2.  I was the most notorious employee at the think tank where I worked after college because I often forgot my security badge.  The guards at the security kiosk eventually gave up trying to improve my ADHD and instead made a hand-written badge for me that they kept behind the desk.  I expected it to say “idiot.”  But no, it just said “She forgot her badge again.”

Writerly lesson: Security has gotten draconian since then, but the guards personally are often sweethearts.

3.  In Santa Barbara where I lived for many years, I usually left my front door open.  One day I was passing it on my way to the kitchen when a teenage skunk strolled in.  How do you say “get out!” to a skunk?  I backed up.  The skunk sauntered past me and into the kitchen and went straight to the cat’s water dish.  It drank a good draught then cleaned out the dish of kitty kibbles, swished its tail, and walked back out of the house.  Obviously it had visited before.  I closed the door.  And locked it.

Writerly lesson: Close the barn door so the horse can’t leave, but close the front door so the skunk can’t get inside.

Dear Rogue Readers … We’d love to hear what you learned from one of your secrets.  Please tell!

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Lisa Black

    I can't keep my own secrets, but I will take other people's to the grave. One example is super-stupid. My extended family used to rent bare-bones cottages at Lake Erie one week during the summer. It was the best times of my childhood, running around all day with my passel of cousins, going to the beach during the day and walking to the roller rink at night. One year my closest cousin had a crush on a cute employee at the rink–Scott–and one night during a 'couples skate', the kind where you had to switch partners when the bell rang, I wound up skating hand-in-hand with him. Somehow in the course of conversation he told me he had a terminal illness and had six months to live, but he didn't want anyone else to know. I know now that this is a common male ploy, but I didn't know then! I have no idea why he said that, whether he was just screwing with me or thought it might actually get my pants off, but if the latter was his intention he didn't try very hard as we never spoke again, so I suspect the former. I worried during the intervening year, what would happen when we returned the next summer and my cousin heard that the boy was dead? Of course when we went skating the next year he was still there, healthy as all get-out. But I never told anyone, not even my cousin, until today. I had promised not to.
    Lesson Learned: Teenage boys suck.

  2. Robin Burcell

    OMG, Lisa! (I'm already thinking of fictional possibilities on this one–writer's brain.)

  3. Robin Burcell

    Secrets, secrets… I have some that I've passed on to very close friends, or spouse, but the big secrets are still tucked in my head. They're from 9/11 and the resulting things passed from the Feds to local law enforcement that have to do with security and such. Didn't even tell my husband. My fave quote from Ben Franklin: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

  4. Chris Goff

    Great post, and great responses. The first time keeping secrets really hit home for me was in 1975. I was nineteen and backpacking Europe with a girlfriend. In Munich we stopped to visit some family friends, and the man's new girlfriend was a young woman who had recently escaped from East Berlin. We all wanted to know how, but that was a secret she took to her grave. Her reasoning: people could still get out that way, and as long as someone might gain their freedom, she was keeping the secret.

    Gayle, your story of the skunk reminded me of the racoon who snuck into our kitchen through the doggy door. LOL. Glad you had a happy outcome.

  5. Karna Bodman

    Keeping secrets? The government is pretty good at that (usually). Case in point: When I first served in The White House, I was scheduled to be in the car with Press Sec. Jim Brady for the President's speech the day of the assassination attempt (I was his deputy) — but I stayed back at the last minute and spent the day in the Situation Room jotting down notes of actions of the Cabinet, the Allies (Were all safe? Was it an international plot or just one lone gunman?), the Soviets (Would they go on alert to take advantage of us? Turns out one of the subs WAS closer to our eastern shore than it should have been) and so on. Two days later a memo commanded, "Anyone with notes of March 30 – turn them in!" I typed up 11 pages of single-spaced notes…went to turn them in to the Dep. Chief of Staff — who said sternly, "Did you make any copies of this?" (I had not) — he then stamped "Top Secret" at the top and bottom of each page and shoved them in his drawer. Fast forward 35 years: since documents were now being declassified, I filed a FOIA request with the Reagan Library to get my notes back (could be a great story to use on book tours)– and was told "We located your notes, but you can't have them back – they have not been declassified yet." I'm still waiting for those "secrets" to be released. Oh well.

  6. Gayle Lynds

    Wow, what a great story, Lisa! I think of the torment you must've felt, worrying about that rotten kid all year! I'll bet he grew up to be a bank robber. Yep, felony was in his blood!

  7. Gayle Lynds

    You were in that life deeply, Robin. Thank you for your service, and thank you for keeping the secrets!

  8. Gayle Lynds

    Munich was a hotbed of Cold War espionage in those days. How wonderful that she got out, and how wonderful she was able to keep the secret so others could follow. Brava!

  9. Gayle Lynds

    What a wonderful story, Karna. You were in the middle of world events all the time there. We're so proud of you, and I love this story!

  10. Terry

    Secrets! What a great topic. On the laugh side: I was a CIA employee for three years. I had a top secret clearance, but never used much of the knowledge for various reasons having to do with China. When I left, my boss got me in a room and "debriefed" me, reminding me of all the secrets I had been told that I shouldn't talk about. I had forgotten most of them! On the romance side. My good friend's boyfriend told me told me that it as really me he wanted and that he loved me and thought about me all the time. I told him that was tough, but I wasn't betraying her. We were eighteen! He's long gone and she and I are still close friends.

  11. Gayle Lynds

    What wonderful secrets, Terry! You are a good 'un! I remember when I left my job where I had Top Secret clearance, and I couldn't remember a lot of them either. I think that may be what happens when there are just so many of them, and they keep coming. What a life, but I enjoyed it!

  12. Norma Huss

    I worked for the Air Force many long years ago. I think I had a secret clearance because I filed stuff to do with contracts. I don't think it was any secret that I took the minutes when the Air Force and Boeing decoded to scrap the B29 tooling. (Yes, that was many, many years ago.)