Friday, February 14, 2014

A Conversation with Thriller Writer Marilynn Larew

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Marilynn Larew
with Marilynn Larew

We are delighted to welcome thriller writer Marilynn Larew to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

Marilynn's debut thriller is The Spider Catchers (Artemis Hunter Press; October 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to talk with her about it.

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Omnimystery News: The Spider Catchers is the first of a series. Why did you choose to create a recurring character for your thrillers?

Marilynn Larew
Photo provided courtesy of
Marilynn Larew

Marilynn Larew: I like to read series myself. When I read a series book, if I like the characters, I will buy all the books in the series. I reread them, too, when I want to visit those particular people. Sometimes I have to stop rereading a series for a while because I can chant plots, but I find if I put them away for a while, I can read them again with pleasure.

I see Lee as a woman going from one adventure to another, and I hope my readers will enjoy going along for the ride.

OMN: Can you give us a hint about what that ride may include?

ML: First I intend to reveal the elements of Lee's past that have made her what she is. Right now, I'm seeing the plots of two more books ahead, and I hope to slip bits of information into those books. I've already slipped one bit into The Spider Catchers. As for character development, that's a difficult choice to make. If you develop your protagonist, you eventually reach a point where she's entirely developed, and the story arc is complete. I see some changes Lee needs to make, for instance, in the way she works. She's a loner and is proud to work alone, but she knows that's dangerous. She has a few scars on her body, and they all come from not having backup. She knows she needs a partner, but she can't quite see her way right now. I have a partner sketched out, for her, but I can't figure out how they will meet and how Lee will learn to work with him. One thing for sure. They can't be lovers. I hope I can figure out a way to get Fred into the plot of the next book.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in this book?

ML: I have written elsewhere about the "perils of the real." I have not based any character in The Spider Catchers on a real person, although my daughter says she can hear me speak when Lee speaks. I've never been to Morocco, so I imagined the setting, although it is so real that my editor asked me if I'd been there. The way I made Morocco real was research. Knowing the blood-boltered history of that country helped. Pictures downloaded from the Internet helped me see how Morocco and Moroccans look, so I could make Morocco as authentic for my readers as I could. I'm historian in real life, so I know how to do research. My problem is in knowing when to stop. In the beginning, I chained myself by trying to be exactly accurate — plane schedules had to be real, for instance. I needed to fly my characters from Tangier to the southeast corner of the country bordering on Algeria, but all domestic flights go through Casablanca. My worst problem was the terrorist group I was using. When I started sketching out the plot for The Spider Catchers, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was a small group on the edge of being wiped out by the Algerian army. By the time I started the last draft, it had developed into a formidable force, able to take over a large part of Mali and hold an oil refinery in Algeria hostage. This was clearly no longer an outfit that a pair of women, however competent, could mess with. I chewed my fingernails, paced, and whined a bit, and then the light bulb over my head lit up. You're writing fiction, dummy, I told myself. You make it up. That freed me from the fetters my research had locked on me. I made up a terrorist group and scheduled things to suit my plot and not Moroccan reality.

When I wrote the two histories of Bel Air, Maryland, I re-created the town — its buildings, its economy, it's society, and its politics from the end of the Revolution to 1946. Everything I wanted to know was all in the newspaper or in the Historical Society. The news was so full that I once learned that Mr. So-and-so, who lived on Broadway had painted his fence! It was marvelous fun, but that's sort of thing doesn't work for fiction writing. I had to break through "reality" before I could write fiction.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

ML: When I was a child I read everything that I could lay my hands on. We moved a lot when I was kid. I went to 14 schools before I graduated from high school. Anyway, I was always the new girl and often the library was my only friend. I read my way through several small town libraries. The books I liked best were mysteries like the Nancy Drew series, but Nancy Drew was not considered high enough on the literary scale to make it onto the library shelves, and I could afford to buy only a few. As I grew older, I continued my love affair with the library, and they finally let me read mysteries. I tried and failed to read modern literature. When I ask myself why, I concluded that it was too indeterminate. It never went anywhere, while a mystery was different. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something was accomplished. I realize that what I craved was order. The detective, in solving the case, set the world in order again. This was a desirable in the world as screwed up as the one we live in. I write what I like to read — books with a beginning, a middle, and an end in which the world is set right, if only for a moment. Lee finds that moment too short, because human trafficking, gun-running, and terrorism have no end, but then neither does crime. You clean up one mess, and there are two more tomorrow, but at least you cleaned up that one.

OMN: Do you have any favorite literary or series characters?

ML: It's hard to play favorites among the characters I meet in books, and favorites change from time to time. Dorothy Gilman has created Mrs. Pollifax,, the wonderful white-haired — what? not an agent — a volunteer? — for the CIA. Mrs. Pollifax is a woman of "a certain age," whose intelligence, experience, and resourcefulness take her through adventures that would make a younger woman blanch. That's important to reader of "certain age," and I'm certain my idea for Sidney Worthington's black money unit in the CIA came from the unit Mrs. Pollifax works for.

Another current savior is Kelly Greenwood's Phryne Fisher, the Melbourne flapper and private detective. Greenwood has a light and humorous style that often makes me laugh aloud, but Phryne's cases are anything but funny — murder, incest, human trafficking. Phryne is the opposite of Mrs. Pollifax. She lives, dances, drinks, and loves as she will without guilt or regret. A bit far from Nancy Drew, isn't she?

OMN: What's next for you?

ML: Lee's next adventure, Dead in Dubai, takes her to Dubai and Istanbul in search of a dead man and lands her in the middle of a turf war between rival Merchants of Death for market share, blood diamonds, and illegal gold.

Next up will be Charlie McGee, set in the mountains west of Khe Sanh in Vietnam to help a man find his father's Vietnamese family. That family is not quite what he expected. At last I will be able to use that trip to Khe Sanh.

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Marilynn Larew Book Tour

Marilynn Larew was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and after a living in a number of places, including the Philippines and Japan, she finally settled in southern Pennsylvania, where she and her husband live in an 150 year old farmhouse. She has taught courses about the Vietnamese War and terrorism at the University of Maryland and travelled extensively in Europe and Asia. She likes to write about places she has been or places she would like to go. She has published non-fiction about local history, Vietnamese history, and terrorism.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Spider Catchers by Marilynn Larew

The Spider Catchers
Marilynn Larew
A Lee Carruthers Thriller

Sex, money, and terrorism …

What do the violent takeover of Fez brothels and a new stream of terrorist funding have to do with the disappearance of Alicia Harmon from the Fez office of Femme Aid Maroc? When CIA analyst Lee Carruthers tries to find out, she is swept into a tangled web of dirty money and human trafficking, and people will kill to find out what Alicia knew. If only Lee knew.

She’s working blind, and in this case, ignorance is death. Her search takes her through the slums of the Fez medina to the high-rises of the new city and finally to a terrorist camp in the Algerian desert. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)


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