Friday, March 21, 2014

Tess Talks To: Lee Carruthers

Marilynn Larew was here in February to talk about The Spider Catchers, the first book in her Lee Caruthers thriller series, published by Artemis Hunter Press. Today, my main character, Tess, sits down with Marilynn's mc, Lee Carruthers. Let the girl talk begin...

About the book:

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.

About the character:

Lee Carruthers was born in the small town in Maine where her mother’s family originated. She's the third generation in the spy business. Her father was in Hong Kong in the last days of the Vietnamese war selling counterfeit piasters on the black market to finance CIA operations. Her grandmother ran a safe house and escape route in Paris for OSS during World War II. She has Bachelors and Masters degrees from Yale in Islamic civilization and went to work as an analyst for the Agency directly out of graduate school. She's currently based in Paris, where she chases the profits of gun runners, drug smugglers, slavers, and terrorists by computer, seizing their money and putting them out of business. Sometimes her boss, Sidney Worthington, sends her out to do things analysts don’t usually do, which gets her into trouble analysts don’t usually get into.

Tess Talks to Lee Carruthers

Lee, how did you first meet Marilynn?

I was sitting at my computer in Paris, hacking into a private Geneva bank in search of a couple of million dollars belonging to a big-time Merchant of Death, when Paul, who runs the café-bar-tabac on the ground floor of my building brought her up and introduced her. He said she was looking for a heroine for a spy book. She didn’t look like much – tall and skinny with muddy brown hair and thick glasses. I didn’t know what writers look like, but she looked like one. She said she was looking for a girl who knew her way around computers and could handle a Glock. It sounded like more fun than sitting around the office, so I told her I give it a try.

Want to dish about her?

She turned out not to know her way around a computer, and she couldn’t handle a Glock either, so she needed a lot of advice, but she learned fast, although I’m not sure I’d let her behind me with a loaded gun even now. Her plots tell me she hasn’t had much adventure in her life; in fact, I think she’s had a pretty boring time of it. I guess writers don’t do much but sit at their computers thinking of outrageous things for people like me to do.

Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?

No, I didn’t, and to tell you the truth, I’d rather be in a romance. In her thrillers I get too much exercise of the wrong kind. Would it be too much to ask for her to put me in a romantic thriller where I get the guy – the hunky one I thought was the villain until the last chapter – and ride off with him into the sunset? She says in a series I can’t keep getting the guy, because I’d have to kill him at the end of every book, and that would make me look like the Black Widow spider we have on the cover of Spider, but couldn’t I have a partner. . .?

Did you have a hard time convincing Marilynn to write any particular scenes for you?

Actually, I have trouble holding her back. She likes to write things for me to do that are not humanly possible. I mean, readers will put up with stuff that’s a little bit over the top, but I have my reputation at the Agency to think of. The guys I trained with know what I can do.

What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?

I like to ski in a little resort in Switzerland where only a few of the guests are Beautiful People. After sitting at a computer for weeks on end or trying to satisfy the wildest dreams of my author, I find streaking down the run with the wind in my face the best feeling in the world.

Do have any secret aspirations that your author doesn’t know about?

I’d really like to have a little shack in the Caymans, a private beach where I can wear something or nothing, a banana tree, an avocado tree, and space to raise some tomatoes, beans, and salad. I could live off fish and crabs I caught, with the occasional bought chicken for a change. I’d buy the chicken and my gin by doing Arabic translations, and I wouldn’t have to think about guns or drugs or slaves or terrorists for the rest of my life.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

I love to walk around Paris, looking in shops, having a drink at a café, just doing nothing the way Europeans do so well. Americans always have to be doing something. If they’re not working, they’re not playing either; they’re exercising. Hard. The Puritans have a lot to answer for. Rooted in the American soul is the feeling that just having fun is sinful.

What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

I’m quiet and a bit of a loner. I guess my job is responsible for that or I like my job because it lets me be quiet and a bit of loner. When they first meet me, people almost always think I’m shy or standoffish.

How about after they've known you for a while?

After they know me better, they know I have a mordant sense of humor and am always ready to party. In small groups. I hate crowds.

What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?

Going to my father’s funeral and discovering he was a bigamist was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I guess I should explain that. My father worked for the CIA, and he wasn’t home much. I always thought he was out there spying for his country. I adored him and brought myself up in his image. I went to work for the Agency just as he had. One day when I was still at Langley, I came across the notice of his death in the Washington Post. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been notified. Everybody at the Agency knew I was his daughter. I went to the funeral home to see what was going on, and down by the casket, I saw a pretty, plump woman taking condolences from people who knew I was his daughter.
Beside her was a dainty blonde girl with a heart-shaped face and delicate features about my age. Probably exactly my age. So I learned that my father wasn’t home often because he had another family. And he wasn’t a spy after all. He was just a desk man.

What did you learn from that?

Probably the wrong lessons. I learned that loving somebody will break your heart. And I learned not to trust men. This has not been useful in my relationships with members of the opposite sex. I also don’t much like blondes.

Understandable. Tell us about your best friend.

Somehow I missed out on having friends. I have acquaintances but no close friends. I didn’t belong to any of the little cliques the girls moved around in in school. Maybe I am shy. More likely, it’s because I had to go home from school and take care of Mother. My mother was a drunk, and I could never tell what condition she would be in when I got home. I didn’t even have a date until I was in college. How could I ask a guy to pick me up at home when he might see my mother passed out on the couch? I didn’t get inoculated against love in high school the way most girls do. I don’t think I even know what love is.

What are you most afraid of?

Confined spaces. I can’t even sit in the middle seat in an airliner. I have to have space around me. I have to walk free.

What’s the best trait your author has given you? What’s the worst?

Curiosity is the best trait she’s given me. It’s also the worst. It tends to get me into serious trouble, but I have to know the answer to a question, no matter what the risk.

What’s Marilynn’s worst habit?

She talks too much. She used to be a college professor and is primed to lecture for fifty minutes. Doing research is a second flaw. She used to be a historian, and she has to know everything about everything; the tiniest little detail has to be just right. Until I talked her out of it, she was determined that even the flight schedules in Morocco had to be accurate. She couldn’t work them into the plot that way, but they had to be accurate. She was using a real terrorist group, and, when she first started out, it was a small rag-tag bunch of men on the run from the Algerian Army. By the time she got around to the last draft, it had grown rich and powerful and was certainly not the kind of group one woman, however brave and determined, could deal with. It took a lot of talk to convince her that she was writing fiction and needed to make up a terrorist group that I could deal with.

How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

If it’s not a spoiler, I’ll tell you that I left the Agency at the end of The Spider Catchers. My life is up in the air right now. I’m trying to decide if there’s life after the CIA. I know a guy in Boston who has a small IT company. He wants me to join him, but I’m tired of computers. I want somehow to have a life – a life I can depend on to be the same tomorrow as it is today. Right now she’s got me in Dubai in the middle of a turf war between contending gangs of arms dealers. Somehow I’ve got to convince her that I’m tired of dodging bullets.

What aspect of your Marilynn’s writing style do you like best?

She’s got a kind of smart-alecky, world-weary style that suits my personality. In the last performance evaluation I had before I left the Agency, the examiner wrote that I was impertinent, insubordinate, and impossible. I’m afraid she’s got me down pat.

You sound like my kind of woman! If your story were a movie, who would play you?

I’ve been out of the country for so long that I don’t know much about current American film stars. A friend suggested Scarlett Johansson, but I think that Daniela Ruah, who plays Kensi on NCISLA, comes closest. She’s a little young, maybe, but she can play older.

Describe an average day in your life.

There’s no describing an average day in the field, so I’ll tell you what life has been like in Paris. I get up in the morning, and Paul from downstairs brings me café au lait, bread, butter, and the morning’s L’Humanite, whose content is awful and whose credibility is worse. It’s fitting that it’s published by the French Communist Party. I find it at least as credible as Le Monde, and it somehow fits my mood. Then I go upstairs to the office in my bunny slippers to check the day’s email. If there’s nothing there that requires immediate attention, I turn to my Bad Boys and start hacking their money. Slipping into a Geneva bank’s files gives me the same kind of thrill that breaking into a flat to search it does. It’s always new – following the twisty trail of illegal money, and I get a similar thrill from confiscating the money or making it disappear into the stratosphere. I don’t have a very law-abiding mentality, do I? Sometimes when the trail is hot, the work goes on into the night. Sometimes when I can’t find anything, I stop beating my head against the wall and go across the river to look at the Egyptian collection at the Louvre. Sometimes I have a date in the evening, but more often not. How many times can you break a date because you have to “go out of town on business” before a guy gets tired and looks elsewhere? Sometimes I go downstairs to Paul’s and have a bifteck-frites and go upstairs and see what’s on my Kindle. It’s usually to bed early, sober, and alone.

Will you encourage Marilynn to write a sequel?

It would be hard to stop her. Right now she’s got me in Dubai trying to find out why George Branson is dead. So far, I’ve broken into a safe and discovered a baggie full of diamonds, used a forged Power of Attorney to get into a safety deposit box, and found another baggie of diamonds, raced from Istanbul to Varna, Bulgaria, in search of an arms dealer, and back to Dubai, where, at the moment, she has me in a midnight knife fight down on the dhow docks. Sometimes I wish she’d slow down. I’d give a lot for a good night’s sleep.

I don't blame you! Good luck with that! Why is it that authors always seem to enjoy getting us into trouble? Thanks for being here, Lee!

About the author:

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 traveled 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. This is her first novel.

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