by | Aug 31, 2021 | Extraordinary Guest Bloggers | 3 comments

K.J. Howe: Today, we welcome a real-life heroine to the Rogues—former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland, author of YOU CAN RUN. When you work for years on a strict “need to know” basis, where being a chameleon and fading into the shadows is your way of life, how challenging is it to open up about your new identity as a crime writer? Let’s see what secrets Karen is willing to share about her exploits…

by Karen Cleveland

How do spies-turned-authors become comfortable with social media and self-promotion?

Truth is, I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure it out.

Social media is not my strong suit. Nor is publicity, in general. I’ve found it difficult to be in front of an audience—even in the digital realm—ever since writing my first book, NEED TO KNOW.

Part of it, I think, stems from the fact that I’m an introvert (like many authors. Writing is, after all, a rather solitary pursuit!).

But a big part of it, too, is that I’m ex-CIA. I was trained to be silent. To keep secrets. To stay in the shadows. So drawing attention to myself doesn’t just feel unnatural and uncomfortable…. It feels flat-out wrong.

In my CIA days, few outside the Agency knew where I worked, let alone what I did at work. If I ever wrote a word about my job, or spoke a word to a public audience, I would have had to have those very words cleared by a CIA review board. Now, several years later and three books in, it still puts me completely out of my comfort zone to talk freely about my new profession.

I was allowed to keep my personal Facebook account when I was a CIA employee. But I had to be cautious about who I accepted as “friends” and what I posted, and in the end I rarely shared anything at all. Now I have an author page on Facebook, and one on Twitter as well, and I still feel a vague sense of dread when I hit that button to post something publicly.

And then there’s the issue of what to post. When I was in the CIA, I was bound by a restricted interpretation of the Hatch Act—to put it in rather blunt terms, if I publicly expressed a political opinion, I could lose my job. It now feels unnatural to express any sort of opinion at all. Plus, there’s always the question of whether that opinion is too connected to my former career and therefore needs to be cleared by the CIA review board (as this blog post has been). Sometimes it just makes more sense to stay quiet.

I know I should share good news about my books. But I come from a career where the vast majority of successes will never be known, at least outside Langley. I’ve never breathed a word about that good news, and it’s a reality I grew accustomed to.

As for anything personal? Anything about my kids, or the places we go, or the things we do? I used to go after bad guys on behalf of the CIA. I don’t want my family to ever be a target. That’s always been one of my biggest fears, and it’s a fear that I think comes across loud and clear in all my books, particularly in YOU CAN RUN.  

Readers: if you’re former intel, or if you’ve struggled with this for any other reasons, I’d love your advice. You can find me—silently watching, for the most part—online. Send me your thoughts.

 I might even respond in a Tweet.

Karen Cleveland is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and the New York Times bestselling author of Need to Know and Keep You Close. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin and Harvard University. Cleveland lives in North Carolina with her husband and three children. Her latest thriller YOU CAN RUN goes on sale August 31.

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  1. Karna Small Bodman

    It’s fascinating to read how a former CIA operative now writes books that are obviously so well-researched. I can’t wait to read NOWHERE TO RUN — as well as Karen Cleveland’s other stories. Thanks, Karen, for being a Rogue guest blogger!!

  2. Lisa Black

    Wow, that sounds…a bit stressful. I have that in such a minor amount, in that I worry that someday I’ll be testifying as an expert witness and an attorney will throw something I said in a book at me. Fortunately (perhaps) no one in this area seems to read my books?? 🙂

  3. Chris Goff

    Fascinating. I can understand why you’d be afraid for your family’s safety. Are the CIA Review Board fans of your work?

    Looking forward to having you as a guest on Rogue Reads September 20th. Can’t wait to read your book!!