Dr. Karl G. Larew interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Jun 22, 2017 11:01:04 PM
Dr. Karl G. Larew interview with David Alan Binder
Bio from Amazon: Karl G. Larew, Ph.D., is a retired history professor (still teaching part-time) at Towson University, near Baltimore. He has served as a civilian historian in the Army and as an Army intelligence officer. His special research/teaching field is military history, especially WWII, WWI, and Korea, but he also has published in the fields of intellectual history, popular culture, music history, and comic book history. He has published many articles, book reviews, and encyclopedia entries, plus one fantasy short story, two books of Larew genealogy (featuring a Civil War ancestor), and a novel about college life in the 1950s: "Candles in the Window"(1999). Recently he has published (through Amazon.com's CreateSpace and Kindle) a trilogy--three novels of family saga covering the eras of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, featuring Pearl Harbor investigations, combat in WWII and Korea, adultery, child molestation, post-partum depression, McCarthyite anti-Red witch hunting, Soviet spying, 1950s-60s fears of homosexuality, and the anti-Vietnamese War movement. These books are entitled "Paul, Betty, and Pearl"; "Daddypaul and the Yo-yo War"; and "Gran'paul's Family." He has also recently published, again through Amazon.com and Kindle, two spoofs on vampire/werewolf/James Bond stories entitled "Bad Vampires" and "Nazi Werewoofs." And, more recently, he has published a new edition of "Candles in the Window" (see above), also on Amazon.com and Kindle, and a new edition of his Larew genealogy (1st volume); most recently, he has published "The Mask of Freya" (a novel about pagan nature worshippers in the Revolution of 1848) on Amazon and Kindle. Also, even more recently, "The Philistine Warrior," a novel which in large part is a retelling of the Samson and Delilah legend, but from the point of view of a Philistine warrior; now on Amazon.com and Kindle. Finally: "Zoombies from Planet X," the final in my spoof triology (see above), also in Amazon and Kindle. But wait! My spoof trilogy now has a 4th volume! That's right--count them! It's called "Ghost-toasties" and features the same fearless crew of Good Vampires! In non-fiction, Karl has recently published a small book of student "bloopers" drawn from his own experiences as a teacher, plus some from colleagues--plus a few of his own faux pas!
1. “Larew” is pronounced “lah-ROO.” It was originally French; probably my branch (in the 17th Century) originally spelled it “Le Roux” (“The Red,” meaning red-haired person). It was also spelled many other ways: La Rue, Larrew, Larrowe, La Roue, etc. Some of these spellings resulted from the family’s mixing with Dutch, English, and other Protestant peoples moving to America around 1660-1700; but some variations resulted from misspellings by clerks, etc. Not all people by these different names are related—note that “La Rue,” for example, means “The Street,” i.e., someone living on an important street; therefore no reason to suppose a relationship with a “Le Roux,” unless the different spelling is simply a clerical error. See my book, “Garret Larew, Civil War Soldier,” a genealogy but in large part the life of my great-grandfather. (I once knew a man who insisted that my name must be Slavic and therefore pronounced “LARR-eff.”)
2. I’ve lived in southeastern Pennsylvania since 1991, and lots of places before that, having been born and raised in an Army family—and having myself served in the Army; and having taught at Towson University (near Baltimore) since 1966, living several places in that vicinity before moving to southeastern PA.
3. Writing (like reading) has helped teach me that people see things differently (in part, I’ve learned this because I’ve tried to create characters who see things differently from each other).
4. I like some quirky writing, and so I’ve tried sometimes to write quirky myself. Notably: Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet,” which influenced my novel, “Candles in the Window.”
5. All my books (except the original editions of my genealogy book and my “Candles in the Window”) have been published by Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle. The procedures have gotten easier over the years—or I’ve learned how to do it!
6. I prefer to have paperback or hardback in my hands, but I know that many (almost all in the last couple of years) of my sales have been in digital.
7. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes—will what you write interest them (rather than interest only you)? I find it easier to preach this rather than do it!
8. I found my first agents in “Writer’s Digest.” I got nowhere with them, which doubtless is because my writings weren’t good enough—but I also got annoyed when they didn’t communicate with me, or demonstrate that they were really trying.
9. Get advice but don’t always take it. I had a writing coach once who wanted my book “Candles in the Window,” to have a “moral” as if I were writing a medieval morality play; another wanted a happier ending, which would have (in my view) ruined the point of the novel. Another tip: show, not tell. I’ve been a teacher all my professional life, and have to resist the temptation to explain to the reader what’s going on rather than show it by action, dialogue, or even description.
10. I guess I’ve been surprised by the degree to which my characters become my children, my creations, and I don’t want them messed with, or misunderstood, by readers. This is all a mixed blessing, I think. Also surprised that writing has become easier for me over the years—which I don’t think (& hope not) means sloppier!
11. I’ve written—and published--10 novels, one novella, two genealogy books, and a book of student “bloopers.” Not counting a number of books written but never published (professional as well as creative). I’ve written in several genres, as you can see by scanning the blurbs about my books on Amazon.com (under Books and my name).
12. How to write better? I’ve given some of my ideas already in this interview, but I want to underline the bit about showing/not telling, and avoiding clichés, avoiding long descriptive passages (many readers won’t read them, anyway); write dialog in short sentences or sentence fragments—the opposite to academic writing!
13. I like to startle the reader, especially by challenging the usual, the expected. For example, my “Mask of Freya” up-ends the idea that Christianity was all good, paganism all bad, Attila the Hun bad, Christian Rome good. In my “Philistine Warrior,” Samson is a bad guy, Dalilah a good gal. Below the level of plot and characters, I like to (read: hope to) surprise people by creating an obviously bad guy, while planting enough clues so that the reader will expect someone else to be the villain--and then it turns out the obvious bad guy was actually the bad guy—or at least somewhat bad. Sometimes I’ve (maybe) fooled the reader by (in the end) not having a bad guy, at least not a major bad guy; the point being that we are all, often, and mostly, playthings of an evil universe and what matters is how one faces up to that universe, win or lose. See “Alexandria Quartet.”
14. Non-fiction books that stand out, in my view, are books that are accurate and don’t pander to the reader’s prejudices or tastes, yet move along and are a joy to read. Same with fiction: I love Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet,” yet can’t stand his “Avignon Quintet.” In non-fiction, I love Prange’s books on Pearl Harbor yet can’t stand John Toland’s book on same—it was readable but not historically reasonable.
15. I promote, or market, through Amazon’s channels, plus I get as many reviews as I can, even if I have to pay for them, and I spread the word through Face Book. Also, I’ve paid for some ads. I’ve missed some opportunities to promote, yet my sales were good (though not spectacular) for many years; only in the past two years (out of 10) have my sales been scanty—suggesting that I’ve saturated the market, i.e., people who will like my works have bought and my niche isn’t going to expand. But I keep hoping to regain the sales figures I used to have.
16. I would hire a professional proof-reader. As it is, I’ve had to take down and then republish some of my books because every time I re-read them I found more typos.
17. My inner drive is to write what I want (subject to the advice I’ve given above) and hope I find kindred spirits who will buy; that seemed to work for a while (see answer # 15). I never expected to sell big-time (although of course I hoped!).
18. It seems to me that most of my answers in this interview have been based on my experiences in writing “serious” fiction. Yet in many cases I’ve gotten great reviews for my “non-serious” novels—the four books in my “Good Vampires” series, spoofs of vampire/James Bond movies/books. Very recently, I’ve published a “novella” (small novel) “Puss in Combat Boots.” It is also a spoof, although some of my family/friends have suggested that it should be called a “fable” rather than a spoof. It’s been out only for two weeks and no reviews as yet. Of course, all of these “non-serious” books, as well as the “serious” ones, are available at Amazon.com and Kindle.
Please feel free to edit! This has turned out to be a very wordy interview! Best regards, Karl