What inspired you to write The Spy’s Son?
On weekdays I toil at the U.S. District Court in Portland as a reporter for The Oregonian. I am intimately familiar with the torturous benches, precisely 13.5 inches wide, which force journalists and other spectators to squirm in their seats in pain, hour after hour, as major cases unfold in the cheap seats of American justice. One day in 2009, an international spy walked into the courthouse. Jim Nicholson, who in 1997 became the highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of espionage, had just been charged with betraying his country again — this time from behind the bars of a federal prison, and with the help of his twenty-four-year-old son, Nathan. I was interested. This wasn’t just an intriguing spy story. It was a father-son drama choked with conflict, pathos, and multiple layers of betrayal. So, as my fellow poker players say, I pushed all in.
How was the research process?
The Spy’s Son is the result of five years of investigation, the toughest reporting of my 33-year career. It required huge amounts of time getting one background source after another to trust me enough to get the story right.
Did you try to stick to straight reportage, or were you aiming to include your own voice and insights?
The book opens and closes deeply in the first-person, but for the bulk of the book I try to stay out of the way of the story as it unfolds. But sometimes, I enter to steer readers in the right direction, or translate legal language.
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what music did you listen to while writing the book?
Ha. Great question. I can’t listen to music while I write. But when things are chaotic outside the door of my writing room, I clamp on headphones and listen to the sounds of waves crashing, crackling fires, or birds in the jungle (courtesy of 7 hours of ‘Relaxing Nature Sounds’.) My favourite: Ocean Waves – Dawn in Ibiza.
Which books inspire you?
I’m moved by great fiction writing by American masters. Hemingway, for one. But I’ve read all of Carl Hiaasen’s darkly comic mysteries, all of Dan Jenkins’ sports novels, and several novels by Patrick Conroy.
Which book do you wish you’d written and why?
I’d have loved to have written The Falcon and the Snowman, probably the best true spy story ever written in the U.S. One of the authors blurbing The Spy’s Son is the author of The Falcon and the Snowman, Robert Lindsey. I had breakfast with him in January 2015 near his beach house in Carmel, California. With movie rights and a lot of books under his belt, Bob Lindsey accomplished in his career what I hope to accomplish over the next decade.
Describe your typical writing routine.
I rise fairly early, take my English Spring Spaniel (Archie) for a walk for coffee at a Starbucks in my little village in southwest Portland. I write for about five hours, take a long lunch break, and then write until I collapse. I was an accomplished marathon runner in my youth, and also a champion distance runner in high school and college, so I have the ability to go like a bomb for many hours at a time.
Is there anything else about you or the book you’d like to share?
This book took me into the deep pockets of a world I’d never plumbed before. Before writing it, I scarcely watched the latest Bond movie. Now I can’t get enough of the spy world.