I never dreamed I’d be talking sex with former CIA operative Valerie Plame. After all, she’s the covert operative whose name was leaked to the press by senior members of the George W. Bush administration, abruptly ending her CIA career, and who is married to former U.S. Ambassador Joe C. Wilson.
Let’s face it, in the world of government and politics, it’s not a good career move for a woman to talk about sex, especially her own sex life (…or a husband to publicly contradict the administration he serves).
So why are we talking sex? Because in Plame’s second spy novel, Burned, co-written with veteran suspense novelist Sarah Lovett, there’s some hot sex—in fact, quite a bit of hot sex. And why do I say we’re talking about Plame’s sex life? Because no one denies that Burned’s lead character, CIA operative Vanessa Pierson, is the fictional version of Valerie Plame. They’re both beautiful, blonde daughters of military men. They’re both smart, funny, like to sneak cigarettes and fight nuclear proliferation.
So when I mention to Plame that when it comes to government and politics one needs to keep one’s sex life hidden, she laughs. After I ask her if she agrees with that, she says, “Are you talking about in books?”
I answer that Vanessa Pierson is basically Valerie Plame, and she says, “Sure.” Then she begins to stumble. “Well, the sex scenes are, um, ah, of course there is a little bit of awkwardness. I’m the mother of teenagers. My mother is still living. So it has to be, um, appropriate to demonstrate that there is a sexual side to this character, but no need to go to the Fifty Shades of Grey territory.”
“I write sex,” I say to Plame. “That’s my job.” And I thought, Whoa! after reading the sex scenes in Burned.
“Did you like the sex scenes or you thought they were silly?” she asks.
“I was just thinking this was a woman who testified before Congress.”
“Let’s not forget that ‘Scooter’ Libby, who was Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, wrote a book in which there’s included some pretty graphic sex scenes of bestiality, okay?” she replies, referring, of course, to the man who was convicted for perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the Plame affair.
“You don’t think it was graphic?” I persist.
“I don’t know. We’ll see what my mother says.”
“Oh, that’s funny,” co-author Lovett responds when I tell her about my conversation with Plame. “When you’re sharing the initials of the main character…I think there’s also a certain amount of protectiveness. Certainly I feel some protectiveness.”
Lovett and Plame created the sex scenes to add dimensionality to the character of Pierson. “She very obviously can become obsessed and is obsessed with her own way of protecting the world,” Lovett says. “And she’s young, but she’s also someone who wants a—and this is very important to Valerie, too—wants to have a full life and not to fall into the trap of becoming a burned out alcoholic.”
So why am I focusing on sex rather than the plot of the book? The plot details Vanessa’s continuing hunt for nuclear arms dealer Bhoot, a task she began in Plame’s and Lovett’s first novel together, Blowback, a task that’s complicated by the emergence of a new terrorist group, True Jihad. Why focus on sex when Burned is uncomfortably timely with its dirty bombs, kidnappings, murders, and talk of Muslims and World War III due to nuclear proliferation?
Because if I tell you what Plame and I discussed the most, and what is most disconcerting and controversial about the antagonist in Burned, I’ll reveal the ending of the book. And I don’t want to do that.
As Lovett says, “Valerie takes her oath to the CIA with complete faith and she has never shared anything that would get me knocked off.” And though Lovett emphasizes that she’s joking, I take my oath not to reveal the ending with complete faith. And maybe I’m joking and maybe I’m not.
But I will leave you with a one non-sex bit of information.
Like Vanessa Pierson, Valerie Plame is a fan of Graham Greene, “who sees the world”—she actually says—“in every shade of gray. And that is reality. It’s not just black and white. And the same goes for our actions and how we move through the world. So I hope I brought a little bit of that questioning stance to Blowback and Burned. I think as individuals, we always need to be asking ourselves what’s the right thing to do, what’s the context I’m doing it in, why am I doing it, and, of course, in a story about espionage, those stories come into sharper focus.”
Or as she and Lovett put it in Burned, as Valerie Pierson’s mentor talks to her over dinner in Venice, “You and I, Vanessa, share a hunger for truth as well as a kind of core morality, which is why it is vital you understand that you’re endangering your heart, your moral center, even if your goal is bringing a traitor to justice. You must decide how far you can go without compromising yourself. And I’m not talking about your career. Do you understand?”
Yes. Sex and all.Suzy Spencer talks more about sex in her memoir Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.