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Thursday, May 28, 2015


Thriller author Marilynn Larew sits down with us for an interview today. Learn more about Marilynn and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I wrote my first novel after I finished my PhD program. It was a hard-boiled mystery with a female protagonist. It almost sold. If it had, I would have been one of the first to write that kind of mystery.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I stopped writing fiction after that book didn’t sell and went on to publish history non-fiction. After I retired, I returned to thoughts of writing a novel. The Spider Catchers (Lee Carruthers # 1) went though a number of incarnations before I settled on its current form. I guess maybe it took eight years.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m an indie.

Where do you write?
I have an office in my home.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence is golden. I tried playing music while I write, but I found I didn’t listen to it, so I stopped bothering.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I write about terrorism, money laundering, gun and drug smuggling, and human trafficking, so my plots are taken from the daily news. My characters are entirely fictional, but people who know me say Lee’s voice is mine.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Foreign names I take from Internet lists. I’m not sure how I name my other characters. Names just come, and I fiddle with them until they feel right. I do take care that names are not similar and that they don’t begin with the same initial to avoid confusion.

Real settings or fictional towns?
All my settings are as real as I can make them: Fez and the Algerian desert for The Spider Catchers and Dubai, naturally, for Dead in Dubai, but Istanbul and Bulgaria also play a part in that book. I do a lot of research on my settings. The Internet is a wonderful resource, and so is Google Earth. Maps, maps. I’m a map junkie. Guidebooks, too. All of them allow me to give s real sense of place to my work.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
My heroine, Lee Carruthers, sleeps in the nude, and she keeps forgetting to pack nightgowns when she goes out of town.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I’m not sure I’m quirky. I’m just a mild-mannered retired historian whose most unusual publication is about the construction of a citadel near Hanoi, Vietnam, in 300 B.C.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
War and Peace. Tolstoy flipped that plot over more times than I thought possible, although he married Natasha to the wrong man. Her brother Nickolai’s sudden understanding that they are shooting at HIM as he rides in a charge against the French is every soldier’s realization of his own mortality. I quit writing for several years after I read it. Then I decided that not being a Tolstoy was no excuse for not writing.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I’d like to be as thin as my heroine and have long wavy hair. And have the ability to take down a grown man with my hands. There are a lot of men that need taking down by a mild-mannered historian.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Grammar in books and on TV. I know the language is evolving and all that, but some things are just wrong. A mild-mannered academic, eh?

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I worked in Woolworth’s 5 & 10 in Easley, South Carolina, when I was 14. It was a long Saturday standing on my feet, but I learned a lot about human nature.

Ocean or mountains?
Each in season. I love the ocean, but I have no desire to swim in it, so spring and fall after the tourist season is when I want to go to the beach. I love the mountains in the summer for their coolness and in the fall for their wonderful colors.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Country girl. We live on five acres five miles from the nearest town. It’s very peaceful. Unfortunately, that is also five miles from the nearest store or pizza. Still, I can see a Mason-Dixon Line marker from upstairs.

What’s on the horizon for you?
Number three in the Lee Carruthers series, Hong Kong Central. It takes place during the Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations of last year.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
You write what you know, and what I know isn’t cozy. I moved around a lot. I lived in a lot of small towns, but we didn’t stay long enough for me to develop the kind of network of friends that make for a cozy book. Other things I know – what I studied and taught – aren’t cozy either: military history and terrorism, bank panics and colonial rebellions. Apparently I have a taste for violence. And for far away places. I lived in the Philippines and on Okinawa. I’ve traveled in Europe and Asia. Studied in Hanoi. Funny, I’ve never felt alien in Asia, despite being a large round-eye, but I have felt alien in a lot of places in the U.S. when we moved, and I had to adjust to a new school and new people. My heroine, Lee Carruthers, goes alone into foreign places with a mission to carry out. She has to learn those places and their people and their dark streets fast to stay alive and carry out that mission. Not exactly my life, but not cozy, either.

Dead in Dubai (Lee Carruthers # 2)
Why is CIA officer George Branson dead in Dubai? It looks like straight detective work, finding out what George has been up to and why he’s dead, but when former CIA analyst Lee Carruthers arrives in Dubai, she walks into a deadly war between two rival Merchants of Death vying for market share. She learns that George has worked for each man under a different name. With his own, that gives George three identities. Which man is dead? Has George really been working for the Agency, or has he sold out and, if so, to whom? Who are the men following her? And why does she keep finding diamonds?

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Lourdes Venard said...

I do love your comment about not being Tolstoy! There is room for many types of writers.

Marilynn Larew said...

I'd rather be Tolstoy, but if I were, I'd be dead, wouldn't I?

Marilynn Larew said...

Thanks, Lois, for letting me drop by.

Angela Adams said...

Like you, Marilynn, I worked in retail while I was in college. Observing people, especially during the Christmas holiday season, plants a lot of seeds in an author's mind. Thanks for the post.

Marilynn Larew said...

Boy does it, Angela. I waited tables in college. The kind of place where you got 2 hot dogs and a fistful of chips for fifty cents. Boy! Does that date me! I was tipped once. A faculty member brought his family in for dinner.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

I loved the comment about Tolstoy as well, but more the fact that you stopped writing after reading him. It was such an "Oh, God," moment. I would have chosen James Michener. I loved how he made history interesting. My history teachers in high school and lower grades seemed to focus on dates and names that had no relevance to my life. There was no connection. He found the connection and made me care. By college, i was allowed to choose what history to study and loved my Tsarist Russia class. I look forward to learning about Dubai from you and Lee!

Marilynn Larew said...

Names and dates. The curse of the history student. I preferred to have my students learn how it all fits together, the sweep and flow of it all. My favorite was American westward expansion.

I'm not sure I've read any Michener, but what you got was caring, and that's what it's all about. He "made history come alive" for you.

I like to take my readers to foreign places, because I like to read books set in foreign climes. Next stop Hong Kong, one of my two favorite cities in the world. The other is Istanbul, where Lee goes in the Dubai book and will go again after she survives Hong Kong.

Polly Iyer said...

I read Marilynn's first book and loved it. I would have sworn she was a CIA operative, and no matter what she says, I still believe it. Looking forward to Dead in Dubai. It's on my Kindle. Funny, my first job was working in Woolworth's when I was 15. One think I've learned about Marilynn is she has a wry sense of humor and always makes me smile. Keep writing, Marilynn. Glad you found your writing niche.