Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler
By: Stacey Purcell
I was so excited as the wheels to our plane touched down on the tarmac. Jenn and I were on our way to the Romance Writers of America’s annual national convention. I knew I would meet hundreds of interesting people while I was there. After all, it is the crossroads of the world.
I never knew that I would stumble across someone who completely captivated me.
While attending the conference, I had the opportunity to attend workshops led by the industry’s most talented. Planning out the next day’s agenda, I came across a workshop titled Spy Lingo. That got my attention.
The class started like all the rest. Sue Simon stood at the front of the room. She didn’t look like she had a background in counterintelligence. (Of course, I don’t know what that would look like!) She looked like an everyday kind of woman. (Again, what does THAT look like?) Well, with all my stereotypes swarming in my head, she surprised me. She looked more like a mom than a spy.
I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
Without further ado- Sue Simon…..
Tell us what you used to do.
I got a job when I was in college on a Naval base as a civilian and found cryptographics so interesting. The office I was assigned to used satellite communications through cryptographics. They needed someone cleared to Top Secret quickly and since I was young and had never even spit on the sidewalk, they cleared me. I found Intelligence and Counterintelligence work to suit me almost perfectly.
Except for the part about losing boyfriends over not being able to tell them where I was going and when I’d be back. Yes, it’s all fun and games for awhile until they showed up at the airport and I get off the plane with a guy from work and I can only greet the current boyfriend then have to go on with said guy. Sure, that’s believable for awhile.
So I worked Intelligence for the government (best training in the world) and private industry (better pay).
Can you tell us the different levels of security?
Confidential -Don’t tell others what your company is doing, even if it is just land acquisition or the secret sauce recipe (like that’s a secret).
Secret- You’re working on a government project, please don’t talk about it.
Top Secret- You’re working on a government project, shut up or else.
Beyond Top Secret- Don’t even talk in your sleep about what you do. (Yes, they check to see if you talk in your sleep.)
What do you mean when you say you worked in “the black box”?
It’s slang for a lockup and I don’t mean jail. Projects that do not exist or items being made that are above top secret must be maintained in an area that is extremely secure. The offices, engineering computers, and personnel access the area through several retinal, hand, badge or visual means. Sometimes you have to sing the Star Spangled Banner to gain access…
I’m kidding you can stop rehearsing!
So we work in a secured area like the almost indestructible black box on an airplane so it’s slang, black box. The word ‘black’ like in black ops is well known to the general population and originated as code for these special projects, black projects. But since everyone knows….. Computers are encased in lead shields and there are no windows. Obviously, you don’t share this information with your dog groomer or anyone else.
If you have to be so secretive about your job, and you work in a black box- How did you date and meet your husband?
I told myself I’d never date an engineer, uh huh. On a new project in private industry I was the intelligence liaison. There were many young, hunky, intelligent engineers who needed to be briefed onto the project. Craig was one of those, especially the ‘hunky’ part. He was the first man I dated who actually knew what I did for a living! We didn’t have to kill each other to get information so we got married.
That’s all the time we had this week with Sue. Stop by next Thursday to learn more about this woman. Just when you think this has nothing to do with writing, I want you to know that Sue is also an adoptive mother, an opera singer, a comedian, a children’s writer, a romantic suspense writer, and is working on a sitcom in LA.
You’ve got to hear the rest of her story!