The Exploding Envelope Series: CIA Headquarters

Leading up to the release of Take the Bai Road, and the re-release of Bai Tide, I’ve started a blog series about various espionage terms. Today’s installment? An exploration of CIA Headquarters, which are actually pretty cool.

You know what’s annoying? The CIA won’t give authors a tour of their building. Wait. Scratch that. They will, if you’re a major headline-type author (I happen to know that several of the instructors at the 2014 ThrillerFest I went to got to go on a tour after the conference), but regular schmoes need not apply. I’ve asked the CIA’s entertainment liaison, just to confirm I’m not a big enough deal, yet. That’s a good goal, right, guys? To be a big enough deal as a writer to merit a tour of CIA Headquarters?

Anyway, the CIA’s Headquarters in Langley, Virginia are pretty cool. Not much of Bai Tide takes place there, but parts of Blood Money do, as do parts of Take the Bai Road. Here’s what you need to know about one of the more secretive workplaces in the country.

This is the Old Headquarters Building (or OHB for those in the know). It’s a feat of 1950’s architecture, the designers of which worked off DCI Allen Dulles’ vision of a college-like campus for officers to work in. It contains a whopping 1,400,000 square feet of space.

I’ve had to use a little creative license to imagine how that space is utilized. The CIA is understandably cagey about the layout of their building, but they do share some aspects of it. Like this awesome tile inlay on the lobby floor:

This seal is made of granite and measures sixteen feet across. The symbology of the seal is as follows: Eagle (Our national bird, it stands for strength and alertness) Sixteen-point star (Represents the convergence of intelligence data from around the world that all meets at a central point) Shield (Defense)

This is the Memorial Wall, which is on the north wall of the OHB lobby. Each of the 125 stars represents an intelligence officer who gave his or her life in service of the U.S., The criteria for inclusion on the wall is strict: “Inclusion on the Memorial Wall is awarded posthumously to employees who lose their lives while serving their country in the field of intelligence. Death may occur in the foreign field or in the United States. Death must be of an inspirational or heroic character while in the performance of duty; or as the result of an act of terrorism while in the performance of duty; or as an act of premeditated violence targeted against an employee, motivated solely by that employee’s Agency affiliation; or in the performance of duty while serving in areas of hostilities or other exceptionally hazardous conditions where the death is a direct result of such hostilities or hazards.”

That book you see in the middle of the Memorial Wall? It’s the CIA Book of Honor. It lists the names of 91 officers who died in service, and 34 stars to represent the lives of those whose identities must, even in death, remain a secret. Can you imagine passing this every day on your way in to work?

Also in the OHB is the CIA Library. It’s extensive, and makes a prominent appearance in Take the Bai Road. Imagine every research tool you’d need to understand or investigate something from a different part of the world and you’ll find it in there.

The OHB is also home to several thoughtful memorials, a portrait gallery of directors past, a gallery of U.S. presidents, a museum filled with important items from the CIA’s storied past, and an art collection. It’s massive, and from what I’ve read, each new employee gets a tour their first day.

Now this is the New Headquarters Building, or NHB. By the 1980’s the CIA was bursting at the seams so they built this. It is two six-story office towers built into a hillside behind the OHB and the entrance is actually on the fourth floor.

They weren’t kidding about the college campus. The entire Headquarters property occupies 258 acres of land, and much of it is landscaped like this.

This is just one of many art installations on the CIA campus. It’s called Kryptos. Found at the entrance of the NHB, it contains complicated codes that apparently still have not fully been cracked.

Believe it or not, there actually is a Starbucks in CIA Headquarters. The first chapter of Take the Bai Road takes place there, as a matter of fact. Don’t believe me? Read this article on “Store Number 1.”

If you want more, the CIA’s website has a photo tour of their headquarters that’s a lot of fun. Feel free to take a look and let me know what captured your interest!

Did you enjoy this post? If so, be sure to order a copy of one of my books for more in-depth looks at the fascinating world of espionage!

Are You Ready to Take the Bai Road?

It hit me the other day that Take the Bai Road (book #2 of the Bai Hsu series) is coming out in less than two months. July is going to be an absolutely insane month for me, schedule-wise, thanks to the release of both Take the Bai Road and Close to the Bones, a writers conference in NYC (Thrillerfest! Woo!), and an appearance at the Eagle Harbor Book Company out on Bainbridge Island, so of course it’s right about now that I’m starting to get a bit worried about having bitten off way more than I can chew.

But listen to me, wah wah over here with my first world author problems. What I should be focusing on is that I have a new book coming out soon! It’ll be available for pre-order soon, so here’s a Q&A to fill you in on what you need to know about it:

  1. Do I need to have read Bai Tide first to enjoy Take the Bai Road? Noooooooope. You can dive right into the series with this one, and if you like it you’re welcome to circle back for Bai Tide when you’re done with taking the Bai road.
  2. What’s this one about? Bai Hsu is a CIA case officer (read: spy) who’s been stationed at Headquarters after the events of Bai Tide. He’s bored and itching to return to the field when a dangerous assignment gets dropped into his lap: His mission is to shadow a crate that’s being smuggled into Mexico along cartel trade routes by a mysterious organization that may or may not already have hooks in the U.S. government. Operating without official cover and on his own in every way, Bai must survive cartel wars, conspiracies, and chaos in order to stop corruption that reaches into the highest echelons of American power.
  3. Is Bai still a smart-ass in this one? Duh.
  4. Will I like this one? I don’t know. You’d probably better buy it and find out.
  5. Will there be more books? Yes! I’m actually in rewrites for Bai Treason (book #3 of the Bai Hsu series) as we speak. Well, right now I’m writing a blog post, but when I’m done with this post I’ll dive back into rewrites.
  6. What’s your favorite part of Take the Bai Road? The road trip with the racist truck driver, which was actually my friend Matt’s idea (he’s the King of the Beta Readers, all hail the king).
  7. Is there violence and strong language in this one? Ummm, yes. It takes place in an incredibly dangerous place with some horribly dangerous people, so yes. There’s quite a lot of violence and some profanity (though most of the profanity is in Spanish). I’d like to think the violence stays on the tasteful side of gory, though. There’s no sexual content, however, because I’m a prude.
  8. Does anyone besides you think it’s a good book? Thankfully, yes! Like this: “Mitchell’s winning tale…is constantly in motion, taking Bai from one perilous predicament to the next…Fast-paced, invigorating, and entertaining.” —Kirkus Reviews

    And this: “What makes this series so pleasurable to read is Bai himself, his somewhat snarky attitude and self doubt make him more than the mere superhero jumping into the chaos to save the day.” — Jeff Ayers for Suspense Magazine

    And this!: “Take the Bai Road is chock full of danger and suspense.  Starting with a slow burn in the power corridors of Washington, D.C., the story erupts into violence in Mexico and slams to an exciting finish in Seattle.  Bai Hsu’s search for the elusive Ghost Cartel will enthrall you.”   — Gayle Lynds, New York Times best-selling author of The Assassins

Pre-orders are coming soon, and I’m SO unbelievably eager to share this one with all of you because it’s my most ambitious story to date with twists, turns, and conflicts that absolutely rip apart everything Bai holds dear (like all good conflicts should).

Stay tuned, dear readers! The exit for the Bai Road is coming up fast!

Updates and Appearances and Anthologies, Oh My!

I just got back from a quick trip down to CA to visit family with my two children and these are the things I learned:

  • CA gets crazy flooding when there’s a monsoon-style downpour.
  • Dramamine makes my children almost catatonic.
  • In N Out is still delicious and the best thing ever.

I seem to have caught a cold while I was visiting, however, which is kind of a bummer because I’ve been invited back to do a guest lecture for the Writing for Publication class at Northwest University and I have this weird feeling like I’m going to need my voice for that. I’m getting really excited about it.

I had the chance to do this a couple years ago and it was a blast. There’s something invigorating and inspiring about discussing the craft of writing with other people who are as passionate about it as you are, and I fully expect to have a fantastic time (assuming, of course, that I have use of my voice and will not have to conduct the lecture via semaphore).

From one of my favorite Monty Python sketches, Wuthering Heights by Semaphore.

I’ve also recently applied to participate in the LitQuake Festival in San Francisco this fall, so fingers crossed for that, and I’m most likely doing a book singing on Bainbridge Island at the Eagle Harbor Book Company in late July as well. All told, 2017 is shaping up to be a very busy year, which is great because there’s almost nothing more frustrating than trying to get the promotional wheels spinning only to have nothing happen.

Oh! And I almost forgot the coolest thing that happened last week: I got invited by my writing buddy AC Fuller to participate in a thriller anthology that’s coming out in the fall! How cool is that?! Doing an anthology is on my writer bucket list, so I’m delighted the timing worked out for it.

I’m submitting a short story about what happens when Bai goes home to visit his parents after the events of Take the Bai Road. Hint: stuff happens. Lots of stuff.

I had a blast writing the story, and I think it’ll be a fun amuse bouche for those of you looking for something to read in between Take the Bai Road and book number three, which will be called Bai Treason. (Oh, man. Bai Treason is GOOD. I can’t wait to get started on revisions for that one after I finish Take the Bai Road and the anthology short story).

All in all, things are looking busy in a good way. Full steam ahead!

Toasting Marshmallows with Robert Ludlum’s Ghost

When I was a brand-new writer, the publishing world was overwhelming and intimidating. What was a query? How do you pitch? What’s a three-act structure? Why does no one use prologues anymore? And what’s the difference between awhile and a while?

I learned, as most authors do, the hard way. I self-published a book before it was ready because I didn’t know better. I wrote a book with a 20,000-word prologue. I used adverbs. I made one of my protagonists a writer. I thought people would just buy a book without any marketing effort on my part.

Over time, and through the loving tutelage of such fine organizations as the PNWA and ITW, I learned. I matured as a writer (maybe as a person?), and started learning the ropes.

Those ropes, as it turns out, are even more intimidating the more you learn them. It’s not until you’ve busted your butt trying to rustle up sales that you realize how remarkable it really is to earn that “New York Times bestselling author” distinction after your name. It’s not until you’ve done a book signing for an empty room that you understand how amazing it is when authors like Neil Gaiman pack entire theaters with eager audiences who want to hear him speak.

Over time, I’ve met some incredible authors. Generous, kind, helpful souls like Jon Land, Robert Dugoni, and Ted Kosmatka, who all blurbed my last book, Bai Tide. Or Anne Rice, who was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and answer my question at a Q&A she did in New York in 2013. Or Jeff Ayers, who’s a book reviewer, board member for the PNWA, and author in his own right.

And then there was the time RL Stine told me I grew up okay despite devouring all of his books in my youth.

I have too many writing heroes to name, and they’re all on my list for different reasons. Some of them are there because their books taught me something valuable about what writing could be. Some of them are there because they’re admirable people who help and serve and contribute. And still other are there because they’re all of those things and more.

Gayle Lynds is one of the all of the above heroines. She’s a legend in the thriller writing community, and one of the foremost espionage authors of all time. She’s also, lucky for me, a kind person who makes time to help nobodies like me.

When she agreed to read my book to possibly consider providing a blurb for it, I sent it off to her with my heart in my throat. I was so nervous, I held onto the package for so long that the mail clerk asked me if I was okay.

I told her I was and surrendered it to her, but how could I be okay? What if it wasn’t ready? What if Gayle hated it? What if she burned it and then toasted marshmallows over it while complaining to Robert Ludlum’s ghost about how schlocky these new authors are?

A month later, not only did Gayle email me back with an incredible blurb, she had the grace to thank me for sending it to her! Can you believe such a thing? I couldn’t. I read her email five times just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

So take it from me, kids. Dreams come true if you work for them and get really, really lucky. Here it is, folks. This is what Gayle had to say about Take the Bai Road, which is coming out in July 2017.

New Covers, Ahoy!

I’ve never spoken publicly about my dislike of my book cover for Bai Tide because I am totes professional and all that. There’s no accounting for taste, and my publisher said it was fine so we left it at that and I did my best to sell some books.

Well, it turns out that nobody else liked my cover, either, and the feedback I received was that my book sounded interesting but the cover was too much of a turnoff. Bummer, right?

Then came the new year and, with it, news that my publisher was under new management. When we discussed it, it turns out the new head of my publishing house agreed the cover could use some updating and now, to my barely-containable glee and excitement, BAI TIDE IS GETTING A NEW COVER!!!

And, even better, my friend Beth Morrell is designing it! You might remember her as the genius who designed the cover for her brother Ben Morrell’s book, Greatly, Deeply. (Remember that project I worked on? Well, it’s still an awesome book. You should go read it.)

Stunning, right?

Beth is so very, very talented and I’m lucky to have her help. She sent me a rough sketch last night and even the rough sketch was fricking awesome. I can’t wait to share the new cover with all of you. My publisher and I have some pretty ambitious marketing plans in the works so my hope is that with a new cover and some wider exposure, Bai can start catching on with some new readers.

Things are getting exciting around here, my friends. Only 164 days until Take the Bai Road comes out!