Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It''s all Ronald Reagan's fault (nope, not a political post)

Please welcome my Wednesday guest historian Marilynn Larew who has published in such disparate fields as American Colonial and architectural history, Vietnamese military history, and terrorism, and has taught courses in each of them in the University of Maryland System.
Before settling on the Mason-Dixon line in southern Pennsylvania, she lived in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, South Carolina, Maryland, in Manila, and on Okinawa. It’s no surprise that she likes to travel. When she’s climbing the first hill in Istanbul to Topkapi Palace, strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, or exploring the back streets of Kowloon, she is not just having fun, she’s looking for locations for her next novel. She’s busy now on Lee Carruthers #3, "Hong Kong Central."
When she’s not traveling, she is writing or reading. She writes thrillers and likes to read them. She also likes to read Vietnamese history and Asian history in general, as well as military history. Marilynn lives with her husband in a 200-year-old farmhouse in southern Pennsylvania and belongs to Sisters in Crime, the Guppies, and the Chinese Military History Society.

It’s All Ronald Reagan’s Fault
That may sound extreme, but bear with me. My series heroine, Lee Carruthers, started out as a CIA analyst stationed in Paris. She found and seized the proceeds of gunrunning, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and terrorism funding. Particularly terrorism funding. And that is where Ronald Reagan comes in.
They say you should write what you know, and one of the things I know is terrorism. In 1981, shortly after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan, my boss at the University of Maryland called me into his office and said he thought a course in the history of terrorism might be interesting. So did I, so I developed one. But it didn’t stay interesting to me for long. American presidential assassinations are essentially quite dull. I found assassinations in other countries much more interesting, so I began adding them to the course as a contrast. Soon I began to discover terrorist assassinations. And then somehow the terrorists took over the course, and I found myself teaching the history of terrorism. It was the heyday of the Red Brigades, and terrorism was a hot topic.
I retired from teaching just as the current group of Islamic terrorists came online, but I retained an interest. After the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center it became impossible to ignore them.
I retired, settled down to writing, and created Lee Carruthers, a woman who works on the international scene in situations taken from the daily news. I wanted her to have some connection with the CIA but not as a field operative, so I made her an analyst and put her in Paris, a city I know reasonably well, rather than in Langley, Virginia, where I would have to write all of the agency’s internal politicking, a topic which would have made my books quite different from what I wanted them to be. But sitting before a computer in Paris was also quite dull, so I gave her a boss who sent her into the field to do things analysts don’t usually do, and then I had to give her skills analysts don’t usually acquire.
When we first meet her in The Spider Catchers, Lee’s been with the agency for about ten years and is getting mortally tired of it. One of my reviewers said she was world-weary but also essentially optimistic, a contradiction in terms of there ever was one.
After fighting her way out of a terrorist camp in Spider, she branches out. In Dead in Dubai, she confronts a violent struggle between two major arms dealers for control of the market. In Hong Kong Central, I’ll take her into the middle of the pro-democracy demonstrations there. There’s another plot in the back of my head that takes place in Istanbul, and I’ll eventually find a way to use the time I spent in Hanoi.
And all because of Ronald Reagan.
Find Marilynn at or contact her at

Thanks, Judy, for inviting me to come by and chat.





Marilynn Larew said...

Thanks again, Judy, for letting me visit. If there's anything I like better than talking about myself, it's talking about Lee. She keeps me young. Well, younger.

Gloria Alden said...

Wow! What life experiences you've had. Yes, I know it's not like your main character, but you have certainly done a lot of traveling and done a lot of things. I'm impressed.

LD Masterson said...

Not to give credit to the bad guy, but it seems like John Hinckley kicked things off more than Reagan.

Congratulations and best of luck with Dead in Dubai.

Patg said...

Good luck, Marilynn, and keep traveling.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying anonymous this time. I've been trying to respond to your kind comments since yesterday. Apparently the captcha doesn't like my name.

L.D., you're right. But I thought Ronald Reagan had more "star quality."
Pat, I don't get very far these days, but I keep trying.

marilynn said...

Yeah! It prefers my clandestine self. Who knew?

Marilynn Larew said...

I'll try one more time to get my identity up and then quit.