Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Author Interviews: Karl G. Larew

Karl G. Larew was born in 1936 into an Army family, moving a lot before settling down in a Washington, D.C., Virginia suburb. He received his B.A. in history from the Univ. of Conn. in 1959, in history/French/philosophy/ROTC. Masters and doctorate in history from Yale 1959-64. Active duty as a counterintelligence officer (Army 1st lieutenant) 1964-66. Part-time college teaching 1960-64; and most summers as a civilian historian in the Army 1956-61. Full-time professor of history (mostly military), Towson University, 1966-2005; part-time teaching as an emeritus, 2006-2016. Married and divorced 1959-1969; remarried 1972 to history professor, government historian, and novelist Marilynn Larew, Ph.D. Lived in Maryland 1964-1991, Pennsylvania since 1991. His wife has two children, two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Love cats. Has been writing since childhood: comic strips, short stories, poems, novels, and professional works.

His 10 novels (plus a book of student bloopers) may be found on (You'll also see a book of Larew genealogy, but it is of no interest to anyone outside of the Larew and allied families.)

1. You are the author of the book Candles in the Window, a novel set in the 1950s about the lives of several students revolving around a mysterious girl named Silky. While working on it, what reactions did you think readers would have and how was that different, or the same, from the response you received?
I thought readers would appreciate a dose of reality mixed with empathy. I was somewhat surprised when a couple of professional writing coaches wanted me to dump the “brutally frank” sex and language from my draft; one of them wanted college sex to be punished, and another wanted a much happier ending. But some of my reviewers saw what I was getting at (see Books/under my name).

2. How long did it take you to complete your book—first draft, editing, the publishing process?
The first glimmer of my idea came in 1959, after I'd graduated from UCONN (where the novel is placed); the first draft came in 1963-64; then I put it away until 1976, when I revised the ms.; minor work in 1987; major work in 1992-94. During these decades, I received opinions from editors and coaches, including a writers’ group within my university’s faculty. In 1999, I had enough money to self-publish, to good reviews but few sales. In the past decade, I've put out a new edition, also self-published, on Amazon and Kindle—again to some good reviews (and one of two bad/mediocre ones) and again to few sales. This new edition is identical to the 1999 edition except for polishing up typos and a few other minor matters, plus a new cover.

3. What is one opinion about writing you’ve had that’s changed over your career?
I've become more resistant to employing cliches - at least what seem to me to be cliches; I suspect what seem to me to be non-cliche stuff is just another kind of cliches to other people!

4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told? (If not, are there any common writing rules you don’t agree with?)
See my first answer. How many Hollywood movies have twisted the meaning of the books they were based upon by tacking on happy endings, or endings that are pleasing to the audiences' self-images? Lawrence Durrell, author of the Alexandria Quartet, noted that we grow through pain. And look what the movie Justine did to his character, Darley - they turned a jaded, middle-aged anti-hero into a dewy-cheeked lad!

5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?
Maybe I belong in another decade - say, the 1930s or 40s. (I am, after all, 80 years old). I'm willing to change, but the Alexandria Quartet (which I've read some 25 times over the past half-century) is a hard act to follow. (The Quartet helped inspire Candles in the Window.)

6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?
I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this one. I can say that I'd like to see my wife's novels inspire future writers.

7. What trends would you like to see disappear?

8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?
Candles in the Window somewhat "wrote itself" (although with many revisions and much polishing); so I didn't get stuck anywhere. It was a novel in me that "had to come out." In writing some of my other novels, however, I've experienced getting stuck in the middle. I get a great idea for a beginning and a hazy idea about the ending, which then guides me through the middle.

9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to him?
I would have appreciated a proof-reader and typist for my mss., back before the computer age made revisions so much easier to do!

10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?
Some people assume that Candles in the Window is auto-biographical. Well, some of it is, in the emotional sense, anyway; but mostly it's invention, putting together much material from my life, the lives of people I knew, incidents I knew of - I might, for example, put together something I heard about with my memory of a scene, and with someone I knew and with a life experience of my own. So my novel is a stew with many ingredients but with very little that is truly autobiographical. Don't most writers do that?

11. Tell us a little about Candles in the Window.
My novel is about the psychological and love lives of students at the University of Connecticut in the 1950s. As in the Alexandria Quartet, there are many viewpoints as my characters sail past each other, "writing letters to each other," so to speak. They try to connect (sometimes actually do), and cling to each other when faced with a seemingly dumb older generation. I hope the novel isn't too didactic. One reviewer compared it to the TV series, "Mad Men." Like that series, there is an undercurrent in the 1950s that breaks lose in the 1960s. This was noted also in a review on

12. How much unpublished work do you have sitting around?
Through the miracle of virtually costless self-publishing, I've published a lot of novels, some that had been stuck away in file drawers for years and years. There isn't much left unpublished - some short stories, some poems, a couple of false-starts novels. I have a couple of ideas for new novels, but nothing on paper (or in computer) yet.

13. How did being a history professor affect your writing? Your tastes, your knowledge, and the execution?
In graduate school, I learned that a good historian removes his/herself from what s/he writes. Purple prose was suspect. This training sometimes hampered me when I wrote some of my historical novels - a tendency to "tell" instead of "show," to lecture instead of dramatizing. Yet, remarkably, "Candles in the Window," first drafted right after graduate school, was not full of lecturing - rather, it was a liberation, a chance to return to the less academic style of my pre-graduate school writing!

14. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?
I think I would get along well with most of them. I might not have much patience with Mario, or (especially) the policeman, and it might be hard to find common ground with the priest, but my major characters would be easy to relate to.

15. What was the hardest part in writing your book?
It was actually painful for me to see my characters in pain/trouble.

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