INTERVIEW WITH LEILA MEACHAM

Dragonfly by Leila Meacham is a spellbinding novel.  The story from the very first line pulls readers into the mystery: which of the five American spies embedded in Nazi occupied Paris has survived? The dramatic scenes are riveting as each character plays a cat and mouse game with the Nazis.

In 1942, Americans Brad, Bridgette, Bucky, Chris, and Victoria have been recruited as spies for the CIA’s Office of Special Services.  They are recruited for their skills, but also have a personal agenda.  The two women and three men are from very different backgrounds: Texan athlete with German roots, an upper-crust son of a French mother and a wealthy businessman, a dirt-poor Midwestern fly fisherman, an orphaned fashion designer, and a ravishingly beautiful female fencer. Each is assigned a new identity as well as a code name.( It seems like a lot to keep track of, but there’s a cast of characters at the beginning of the book and Meacham does a great job intertwining all the names throughout the story.) The team is code-named “Dragonfly,” and upon arrival in Paris, the group disperses and sets about to fulfill their individual missions while also pursuing their own agendas. Not allowed to share their identity it was planned that they would meet on a certain date in a certain place at a certain time after the war.

An added bonus is how their cover stories offer surprising glimpses of daily life for the French and their German occupiers. Vividly portrayed is the treachery in German-occupied Paris that constantly existed for those working to remove Hitler and the Nazis. This includes those Germans plotting against Hitler as they extricate others from his machine in the hope of saving Germany.

This clever, suspenseful, and character-driven plot is not the typical espionage story.  It is uplifting and shows the close bond where each spy considered the others in the team part of their family. The novel takes readers on a journey with the characters as they attempt to navigate and defeat the Nazi regime. This story is as compelling and riveting a novel as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

Elise Cooper: You drew readers in from the beginning?

Leila Meacham:  I write my books with a certain level of suspense that hopefully keeps readers questioning what is really around the corner.  Generally I start out with the first line and go from there. In this book, I wanted to write more of a human interest story than a war story,  a different kind of spy novel without the seek and destroy mission.

EC:  What is your style?

LM:  I just sit down and write watching my characters evolve.  I do not have much of a plan for the place, characters, and plot before I begin writing.  I also do not sign up front contracts.  For heaven’s sake I am eighty years old and didn’t start writing until I was 65.  After five years, at the age of seventy, by a string of miracles, my book was picked up by a literary agent.  I have been writing ever since.  I made a deal with Grand Central Publishing that I will write a book without a contract.  I am only out of time and if they like the book then we can talk contract.

EC:  Why the cast of characters chart?

LM:  There were five main characters.  Each had three names: their Christian name, working name, and code name plus there were different police and military organizations.

EC:  How would you describe the five spies?

LM:  Collectively each was smart, capable, innovative, honest, and resourceful.  They were all patriots. They are loyal, devoted, and consider each other family. As with any family those that survived mourned the possible loss of those that did not.  All are fearless. 

EC:  Why the code name for the group, “Dragonfly?”

LM:  As Brad said in the book, they are almost impossible to snare and have no blind spots.  Their eyes wrap around their heads like a football helmet to give them a three-hundred-sixty-degree view.  Dragonflies have no vulnerable areas and can see all around. They are natural escape artists. 

EC:  How did you come up with that name?

LM:  Grand Central Publishing likes one word titles for my books.  On my end table was a little box and on the top lid was a dragonfly.  There was also an inscription, which I used in the book, “The sun on the hill forgot to die, and the lilies revived, and the dragonfly came back to dream on the river.” It is a great translation for the reality of the plot.  The French did not die and the spies that lived went back to the river to reunite eighteen years later.

EC:  You also compared those qualities with the spies characteristics?

LM:  Dragonflies do not track their prey.  They would calculate the insect’s location, direction, and speed, then lay in wait in their prey’s flight path for the chow to fly right into their mouths.  Similarly, the team of spies would be inserted directly into the enemy’s line of sight without the target being aware of their presence.

EC:  You even evoke sympathy for the two Nazi characters?

LM:  They turned out not to be the enemies of America.  I tried to make a distinction between the horribleness of the Nazis and a German.  I think readers sympathized because these men were working against the regime.  They saw the wrongness of the Nazis. I contrast that with how the Parisians were treated by the other Nazis: no food and no heat.  I tried to write an authentic environment.

EC:  You also talk about the atrocities of the Nazis?

LM: I wrote in the book how Hitler ordered 16,000 Jews murdered at Pinsk in the Soviet Union, and how SS troops locked 200 Polish Jews into a synagogue and set it afire. I also wrote how Hitler expected the German youth to be physically strong and if not they were basically tortured, such as water dunking, beatings, and the requirement that the student stand on his toes with arms outstretched for an unendurable length of time. My character, German Major General Konrad March was horrified when he learned of these.

EC:  You also have the Nazis against Christmas?

LM:  March was also horrified as he described how German soldiers were ordered by Hitler to pass out posters that forbade any display of the Christian elements.  Shops were ordered to replace their Christmas toys with tanks, fighter planes, and machine guns.  The star on top of the Christmas tree was to be replaced with a swastika. They emphasized that Christmas was not about the coming of Jesus, but the coming of Hitler who they are to consider the real savior of the world. Such a nasty regime.

EC:  What role did the mural play?

LM:  The spy, Bridgette, who became the radio operator had to communicate with the team.  She would be given information to pass to the rest of the team.  Because she could not negotiate the logistics of the drop boxes she came up with the idea of a mural, which also became a work of art for the neighborhood.

EC:  Your next book?

LM:  It will take place in Avon Colorado over a period of one month.  A housewife, Kathryn, thinks she is being stalked.  She comes in contact with a former Delta military fighter who informs her she is being investigated, and that could lead to her demise. 

THANK YOU!!