NEED TO KNOW: Five Questions with Karen Cleveland

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Debut thrillers like Karen Cleveland’s Need To Know don’t come around all that often. Sure, there are always new writers who offer promising first books with hard-hitting and fast-paced plots, but very few actually deliver the goods. 

Cleveland’s book promises a lot. . .

And she delivers in spectacular, high-flying fashion. 

Think Gayle Lynds, the reigning queen of the spy thriller genre, meets Gillian Flynn, the world-famous author of Gone Girl. Cleveland falls somewhere between the two. The biggest difference, though, is that she writes with been-there-done-that experience, having worked at the CIA for eight years, six of which have been in counterterrorism. She really knows her stuff, and that realism bleeds through onto the page. 

The book is about a new mom who is struggling to balance time with her family and time on the job. A CIA analyst who helped to develop a program that can identify and track suspected Russian spies posing as American citizens, her whole world is turned upside-down when the latest face the computer spits out belongs to her husband. It’s a gripping, high-octane plot that strikes fast and quick, grabbing readers’ attention without ever letting go.

I loved her book, so I was really excited to do this Five Questions segment with Karen Cleveland, who gave some really great, entertaining responses. Check them out below, then keep scrolling to learn more about Need To Know, in stores everywhere tomorrow, Tuesday, January 23, 2018. 



TRBS: What a book! It’s hard to believe that this is your debut novel because it’s beautifully written and the characters are so well developed. Plus, the pacing is off the charts. When did you know you wanted to become a writer, and how did you come up with the plot idea for this book? 

Cleveland: “Thank you so much! I’m so glad people are enjoying it. You know, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really thought about writing a book. I was happy with my career at the CIA. But eventually I did get to the point where I felt like I needed a change. Thinking about terrorism day in and day out was taking a toll. And once I had kids, I wanted a more flexible schedule than intelligence work allows. I’ve always loved writing, so I decided to give it a shot.

“The idea for NEED TO KNOW had been in the back of my mind for years. I met my husband around the same time I started working for the CIA, and as a new Agency officer, you hear a lot of warnings about the potential for foreign intelligence services to try to get close to you. My future husband seemed almost too good to be true, and the thought actually crossed my mind: what if he is too good to be true? What if he’s not who he says he is? Luckily he’s just a great guy, but the idea stuck!”

TRBS: Your bio says you worked eight years as a CIA analyst and the last six in counterterrorism. How much of CIA analyst Vivian Miller is actually you, and how are you two different? 

Cleveland: “We have the careers in common, and we’re both moms of young kids, but beyond that I’d say that we’re very different people. Without revealing any spoilers, she’s much more… forgiving than I would be. And she makes some decisions I hope I wouldn’t make. Luckily I never found myself in the sort of situation she has to face.”

TRBS: Last year, it was reported that film rights for the book have sold to Universal for Charlize Theron, do you have any updates on that front? 

Cleveland: “Isn’t that exciting? She’s such an amazing actress, and I can’t wait to see her play Vivian on the big screen. As far as I know, things are moving ahead on that front.”

TRBS: Which authors inspired your own writing, and which books are currently on your TBR list?

Cleveland: “I love a good thriller. John Grisham has long been one of my favorite authors — he just tells such great stories. On the espionage front, there are so many great authors — Daniel Silva and Brad Thor are a couple of favorites. And I really enjoy reading twisty domestic suspense — authors like Shari Lapena and Paula Hawkins. Outside of thrillers, I like books that deal with families and moral dilemmas. Jodi Picoult is another longtime favorite. 

“On the TBR list? So many! I wish there were more hours in the day. John Le Carre’s A Legacy of Spies is up there near the top.”

TRBS: Lastly, now that you’ve got one critically acclaimed novel under your belt, what’s next for you and your writing career? 

Cleveland: “I’m hard at work on book two. It’s going to be another thriller set in Washington, DC. It’s coming along well and I’m excited about it. I hope readers will be, too!”


Special thanks to Karen for going on the record with me for this Q&A. Read the plot info for her thrilling debut novel below!


Need to knowIn pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family—and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?



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