This week, my featured author said, “We’re going on a cruise.”
I was excited. A cruise. The Bahamas, Hawaii, Fiji. Warm sunshine, sandy beaches…
“No, we’re going to travel the Bosporus,” she said.
“But I want to go to Tahiti. Come on, you’ll love it.”
However, as with some of the more insistent authors I interview, in the end, I don’t get a say in the matter. Marilynn was no exception. She hip-checked me out of the way and before I could utter a word set the controls on the transporter and soon we were sailing between the Black Sea and Istanbul.
Once again, though, I found the experience exhilarating. Thracian white wine, a fish dinner, ruins of a fort and an ancient palace gleamed under the moonlight. A tugboat headed for the Black Sea belched up fumes.
We finished our interview at the top of the Galata Tower overlooking the old city and the surrounding hills.
I did insist she drink the Turkish coffee and I’d settle for something else with the baklava. Later I realized I missed a question, but she was so thorough in her information, I didn’t care.
1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
I’m Marilynn Larew, author of The Spider Catchers, a novel of sex, money laundering, and terrorism. I live with my husband, Karl, in a 150-year-old brick farmhouse in southern Pennsylvania near the Mason-Dixon line. Our township is largely agricultural, which makes me, if not the most fascinating person, then surely the most different. Most families who live in the Township has been here for generations. The two families who live across the street are the grandchildren of the man who owned our house.
Me? I have lived in 6 states and 2 foreign countries. I attended 17 schools before I completed my PhD. It’s not that I was a juvenile delinquent, it’s just that my father liked to roam. It was the glory days of broadcast radio, when 500 watt stations were popping up like mushrooms all over the country. My father liked to put the pieces together and get the stations on the air, but he soon grew bored with running them, so we moved on to the next project. Finally he joined the Voice of America, which allowed him to travel freely around the world and accounts for my 2 foreign countries: the Philippines and Okinawa.
I have two children, two grandchildren, and great grandchild on the way. After the children were in school, I returned to college to finish my BA and then went on to get a PhD in American history at the University of Maryland, College Park.
In University of Maryland system, I taught courses in several periods of American history, the history of Vietnamese war, and the history of terrorism. Along the way, I taught the history of American architecture, which accounts for the long description of buildings that I have to shorten or delete altogether. I tried to write fiction while I was still teaching but to no avail. When I retired, I was determined to write a novel. With a life-long interest in military history and political violence, writing about terrorism was a no brainer. After many stumbles and dark alleys and dead ends, the result is The Spider Catchers, #1 in the Lee Carruthers series. #3, Dubai Gold, is on its way.
Altogether, a pretty different life from that of the farmers in the neighborhood.
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
That this mild-mannered housewife has published an article about 3rd century Vietnamese military history.
3. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
I’d love to dine with Kerry Greenwood, even though I’d have to go to Melbourne to do it. One of her series characters is a baker, and I’m sure Kerry could find us delectable food. Kerry is amazingly productive author with a wide range of interests. She’s published detective stories, children’s stories and plays, historical novels, and science fiction. She is the author of one of my favorite series, featuring Phryne Fisher, an aristocratic Melbourne flapper, not your usual private detective. Kerry has a light and pleasing style that will often make you laugh aloud and masks the quite serious topics she covers. For instance, the book I’m currently re-reading, Away with the Fairies, deals with blackmail and piracy in the South China Sea. She has even edited the diary of an Aussie soldier who took part in the battle of Gallipoli. That one Santa Claus is supposed to bring me for Christmas. I don’t believe there’s a topic on earth that she couldn’t talk about with wit and intelligence.
4. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book be great company?
While you are watching the men apply de-icer to your plane and wondering if what goes up will come down abruptly, joining Lee Carruthers in Morocco will take your mind off the cold. The topics aren’t cozy – human trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism, but Lee’s adventures will take you right away from thoughts of your appointment tomorrow or meeting your mother-in-law for the first time.
On a desert isle, you might not be so interested in more heat, but Lee’s travels from Casablanca in Fez to the Algerian desert will divert you from thinking about whether you can attract the attention of the next ship that sails by on the horizon. After you read the book, you can tear its pages out one by one, crumple them up, and prepare to start a fire when you sight the next vessel. Just hope it’s not been captured by Somali pirates.
5. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.
The way I wrote The Spider Catchers is not so much a process as an Awful Warning to anyone who wants to write a novel, and I don’t recommend it. If I had had a lick of sense, I would have plotted the whole thing from beginning to end, but I’ve tried to do that several times and found it intolerably frustrating, so I’m stuck with being a pantser – a person who writes by the seat of her pants. I write every day, two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, and two hours after dinner. At least that’s the plan. Very often life intervenes, and I have to go and do other things.
I can no longer remember why chose Morocco as the setting; possibly because I’d always wanted to go there. I started out with my heroine, Lee Carruthers, a CIA analyst who is regularly sent out to do things that most analysts don’t do, in this case, to find a missing colleague, a woman who said she had found a new line of terrorist funding. And then I had the ending, Lee and her colleague imprisoned in a terrorist camp and needing to escape before the terrorists behead them on a video that would doubtless go viral on YouTube. I invented some good guys and some bad guys and wrote their biographies. Then I had that vast space in the middle. We all have trouble with middles. They are sometimes called sagging middles, but mine at the beginning was a missing middle.
Next came the research. I’m a historian, so I know how to do that. Indeed, I may do too much of it. I studied Morocco, Moroccan history, current Moroccan politics, the life and times of any Moroccan or French colonial official I could find. I do use books, of course, but there often isn’t a book that covers what I need. God bless Wikipedia and the Internet! Then came a massive Internet search for pictures of Morocco and Moroccans so that I would know what things look like. After that, I took to Google Earth and scoured Morocco from southeast to northwest, learning in the process towns, highways, terrain, probably more than most Moroccans know about their country. All of that gave me a number of ideas to link my beginning and my end. The first draft was huge and clumsy, if beautifully written. One of my readers told me sharply that I should go out and learn how to write a novel, so I did. I read the books she recommended and lots of others. I shaped my ideas so they would link together and work. I pared and polished and painfully cut out paragraph after paragraph of beautiful writing, and then got my husband read it. Poor soul, he has read every draft. I can no longer remember how many drafts there were. I think four, but I may have forgotten one or two. It wasn’t just rewriting, it was rethinking, redoing, reshaping. I gave it to a number of other people to read, and I considered their advice carefully.
When I had gotten it in the very best shape I could and typo free, I sent it to my wonderful editor, Lourdes Venard, and we began to pummel the thing into acceptable form. Did I say no typos? Oh, there were typos. There were typos up to and including publishing the Kindle, which went up and down like a yo-yo, as I corrected typos that were there after all our care. The paperback on Createspace? I only had to proof that one twice. Both the eBook and the paperback are up and running on Amazon now, and as I look back over the process, to dignify it, I wonder how I ever arrived.
I’m fifteen chapters into Dubai Gold now. I still know the ending, and I’m not entirely certain about the middle. Right now I’m not in Dubai at all but in Istanbul working on a dead Merchant of death. I’m sure he will link to Dubai and the gold. Perhaps he is smuggling gold from the Congo or buying blood diamonds and turning them into gold in Dubai. This one is not going to take so long. There may be scratches and bruises along the way, but The Spider Catchers was my learning piece. And I did learn some things. In this business, there’s always more to learn.
6. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit! I’m not joking here. Writing a novel takes a long and sometimes heartbreaking commitment. Is your story that good? Is your heart—your desire—that strong?
OK. How will your story begin? How will it end? What’s going to happen in that middle? If you wish to persist in this folly, try to write your story out into three paragraphs. Think about who’s going to be in it. Write them down and write a biography for each of them. Where is this going to happen? Have you been there? If not do the research required to make your readers think you have. My editor asked me if I had ever been to Morocco because the descriptions were so vivid. All internet pictures and Google earth.
What is the conflict in your story, because every story has one or it’s not a story. More than one conflict usually. A romance? Conflict between the guy in the gal. Conflict with their parents or conflict in something that’s going on around them, like an old girlfriend or a forest fire.
Mystery? What will prevent your detective from finding out whodunit? Does your detective have a family? Conflict there, if only the allotment of time to family and detection. Does she have special knowledge? Does that make her suspect somebody she knows or loves? Is your detective an amateur? Conflict with the police. Thriller? What is the thing about? Finding the Holy Grail? Stopping Al Qaeda from getting a nuclear weapon? Preventing the outbreak of an epidemic that could sweep the world and kill millions of people? What kind of forces will try to prevent your hero or heroine from saving the world? What kind of conflicts arise? You get the idea.
When you have written it all down, if not a detailed outline, then the major events, the next step is the most fun: turn on your computer and stare at the screen. Write that first line. It has to hook the reader. Write that first paragraph. It has to hook the reader. That first page does, too. And all the succeeding pages, and when you’re finished, read it over. Does it make sense? Are all of the parts there? Send it out to colleagues to critique and take their advice, but only if you agree with it. Get rid of the typos. Find a good editor to help you put in shape. When you’ve done all that, you’ve written a novel. Piece of cake, right?
And then you have to sell it. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
7. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?
Life isn’t about how you survived…
It’s about how you danced in the rain.
Who said that? Let’s blame it on the usual suspect: Anonymous.
8. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing. What’s next for you?
What did I say? Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit? I’m not taking my own advice. Lee Carruthers #2 is titled Dubai Gold. In it, Lee agrees to find a woman’s missing husband and finds herself in the middle of a turf was between rival Merchants of Death, and somebody is smuggling embargoed items to Iran. And then there’s that mysterious key. . .
#3, titled Charlie Magee takes place in the highlands of Viet Nam, where Lee helps Charlie search for his father’s Vietnamese family.
I’m well into Dubai, and Charlie Magee exists in a bunch of scribbled notes. At last I’ll be able to use my visit to Khe Sanh.
9. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
I’m building various sites. Some already exist, some are in process, and some are just a twinkle in my eye.
You can probably find the most information about me on my LinkedIn profile. If you’re a member, have a look and invite me to join your network.
My web site is http://www.marilynnlarew.com. You can buy a signed copy of the trade paperback there.
My Facebook author’s page is in its infancy, but in the meantime, you can find my civilian page: https://www.facebook.com/marilynn.larew
You can read Chapter 1 of the Spider Catchers here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/347667-the-spider-catchers?chapter=1
Check out a review of The Spider Catchers: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/marilynn-larew/the-spider-catchers/