Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews was born in Binghamton, NY in 1963, the last of six girls. The family spent their summers on Cape Cod; Francine’s passion for Nantucket and the New England shoreline dates from her earliest memories. She grew up in Washington, D.C., where she attended Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School.
In 1981, she started college at Princeton, where she walked on to the women’s fencing team and joined the staff of The Daily Princetonian. Journalism eventually led to reporting stints on The Miami Herald and The San Jose Mercury News. Francine majored in European History at Princeton, studying Napoleonic France, and won an Arthur W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities in her senior year. But the course she remembers most vividly is “The Literature of Fact,” taught by John McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and staff writer for The New Yorker. John’s work and enduring lessons in craft remain touchstones for her writing life.
Francine spent three years at Stanford pursuing a doctorate in history; she failed to write her dissertation (on the Brazilian Bar Association under authoritarianism; can you blame her?) and left with a Masters. She applied to the CIA, spent a year temping in Northern Virginia while the FBI asked inconvenient questions of everyone she had ever known, passed a polygraph test on her twenty-sixth birthday, and was immediately thrown into the Career Trainee program: Boot Camp for the Agency’s Best and Brightest. Four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA were profoundly fulfilling, the highlights being Francine’s work on the Counterterrorism Center’s investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and sleeping on a horsehair mattress in a Spectre-era casino in the middle of Bratislava. Another peak moment was her chance to debrief ex-President George Bush in Houston in 1993. But what she remembers most about the place are the extraordinary intelligence and dedication of most of the staff—many of them women—many of whom cannot be named.
Francine’s first novel was published in 1993, the year she left the CIA and moved with her husband to Colorado. When she’s not writing, she likes to ski, garden, needlepoint, cook, and travel. She has two sons and a number of dogs, all of them terriers.