The Inspiration for Past Perfect

Before I wrote Past Perfect, some random ideas were floating around in my head. The first was what a tight grip the past has on the present. For so many of us, a long-ago relationship (a lost love, a callous parent) or an event that happened years earlier (getting fired, being the victim of an unjust accusation) still has so much power in our lives. Friends advise, “You’re thirty/fifty/eighty. Get over it.” Yet we can’t.

Another idea: Like so many other Americans, I was thinking about Iraq. How did we get it so wrong? More specifically, How did the CIA, an agency filled with supposedly smart people, make such bad calls? In Shining Through, which was set in New York, Washington, and Berlin during World War II, I’d written about America’s spy organization, the OSS [Office of Strategic Services]. The CIA grew out of that group, and I’d read a fair amount about its development – everything from spy novels to books on American foreign policy to memoirs by ex-spooks. So I got to thinking how the Agency had gotten it wrong before: the Bay of Pigs invasion, failing to predict the rapid implosion of East Germany.

And suddenly I had a new novel. Katie Schottland had her dream job in the CIA — and then lost it in 1990, just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She never learned why she was fired, but the pain of that dismissal still plagued her years later. Sure, she had what most people would say was a great life, but… That’s one of the joys of writing fiction. Disparate ideas meet and suddenly, whammo. It’s like falling in love.

I did the usual library and online research that I always do for my novels. I also spoke with former and current CIA employees. What I didn’t want was yet another Six Days of the Condor-type novel (the movie compressed it to Three Days…), in which the Agency is run by wicked men engaged in nefarious doings. Nor did I want to write about the poor, unfairly maligned, good guys of the Central intelligence Agency.

I wanted to create a real woman who had both weaknesses and guts. That’s how I viewed Katie Schottland of Past Perfect.