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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

INTERVIEW and Giveaway: HAROL MARSHALL

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Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Shadow Cabinet Long and Short Reviews welcomes Harol Marshall, who was named after her father's brother, Harold. Her father dropped the 'd' to make it a feminine name.

In addition to The Shadow Cabinet, Harol's first political thriller, she's written four mystery novels, a short story anthology, Growing Up With Pigs, and a stage play, Our New Thing.

I asked her which was her favorite.

"Choosing a favorite is like asking a mother to name her favorite child, because I like them all, though in different ways. My two Mexico novels (A Corpse for Cuamantla and A Corpse for the Matadora) are brimming with stories of life in Mexico and bring back memories of my time living there. I like my two P.I. novels (Holy Death and Holy Mole Murder) because of the quirky characters. My play is about two retired Mafiosos who decide to go into business as investment bankers because 'investment banks were made for guys like us,' which I find hysterically funny. However, I’ll admit to favoring my Pigs book because the stories are based on my childhood."

Her Mexico novels are village mysteries that focus on the social milieu in which the crime appears. The play, Our New Thing, is a satirical comedy and her short story anthology, Growing Up With Pigs, is a humorous memoir. Heral wrote Holy Death, the first of her P.I. Polly Berger series, as a tongue-in-cheek parody of P.I. novels.

"The joke was on me," she explained. "I fell in love with the characters and decided on a series. Holy Mole Murder, the second Holy book, is a straight up P.I. novel, with a generous dose of humor."

The Shadow Cabinet is set in and around Washington, D.C., but action also takes place in Prague, Czech Republic, and in Hawaii. Honolulu is home to a gutsy female CIA officer, the beautiful ex-wife of the CIA’s Eastern European station chief. She’s been assigned the mission of luring a handsome traitor to his death. Almost falling victim to his charms, she nevertheless steels herself to do her job and deliver him to justice, when the tables turn on her.

She's currently working on a sequel to The Shadow Cabinet, currently titled The China Contact. It's set in Singapore, Canada, and the U.S. and is about an assassin intent on killing the President in an unusual manner. She's also working on a third book in each of her two mystery series tentatively titled A Corpse for Cortez and Holy Kow.

One reason she keeps two or three books going at the same time is to help with times she suffers what she calls "plot block." If she's struggling with the plot on one and doesn't know what to write next, she can abandon it for a while and move on to a different book or write a short story.

"Concentrating on a different project seems to free (unblock) my mind," Harol said. "On occasion, I’ll discuss my plot issue with my husband or one of my writing friends. Merely talking out the problem often leads to a solution."

Harol is from Schenectady, New York.

"I love the name, which is a Mohawk word meaning ‘beyond the pines.’ The pines, refers to a rare pitch pine-scrub oak barren that lies between Albany and Schenectady. Comedians insist the name means ‘end of the trail,’ but for me it was the beginning. Once known as the ‘city that lights the world,’ Schenectady was the Silicon Valley of its day thanks to Thomas Edison’s Edison Machine Works, which in 1892, became General Electric. Most people stumble over the spelling, but children learn early how to spell the city’s name using a rather rude rubric that Schenectadians learn around the age of eight or nine," she told me with a smile.

Harol and her husband share an office and said, "My husband no doubt would describe my writing space as a mess. Our office has a large bay window overlooking our garden, so it’s a bright cheery space. In terms of our personalities, he’s left-brained and orderly, and I’m his polar opposite. In my half of the room, my computer sits in the middle of a desk stacked with books, papers, and sticky notes. For me, out of sight is out of mind, so I only file an item when I no longer need it. Fortunately, I share with W.C. Fields the unique talent of being able to locate precisely the correct piece of buried paper when I need it."

When she's not writing, her favorite hobby is dancing—she and her husband go dancing at least once a week.

"I love swing dancing, Lindy Hop in particular, but also ballroom dancing, with cha-cha and rumba topping my list of favorites," she told me. "My husband is an avid gardener and we have fresh vegetables and herbs growing nearly year round, which is nice for me because I love to cook. Like most writers, I’m an avid reader. However, I’m also a political junkie and like to keep up with what’s happening in the scientific world, so, despite writing fiction, I generally read more non-fiction than fiction."

I asked her to tell me about her family.

"I’m married to my second husband, a retired particle physicist, who spends most of his time these days gardening and singing (in a barbershop quartet and chorus, the church choir, and the local choral society). I have two children—a daughter, who teaches English in a private school in Utah, and is the mother of my two beautiful granddaughters. My son is a standup comic, who has retired from life on the road in order to farm and write in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His first book, about rural life in the U.P., is titled, Yoo Pee Funny. "

"Could you ever co-author a book with someone?" I wondered. "If so, who would you choose, and what would you write?"

"In fact, I’ve been talking about this idea with one of my cousins, who’s an attorney and an excellent writer. (The anthropologist in me requires a clarification here— he’s actually, my first cousin once removed.) With four children and a fulltime job, he can’t dedicate the time needed to write a book on his own. So, we’ve begun talking about writing a mystery together, possibly a legal thriller where he’ll write the courtroom scenes and I’ll write most of the rest of the novel. It could be fun!"

"What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?"

"In the 1960’s, my first husband and I helped pay our college bills by competing on game shows. We appeared together on the nighttime Price is Right with Bill Cullen, where we won an Amphicar, one million Triple-S blue stamps, and a variety of other prizes, all of which we sold for cold cash. Two years later, I was on Password with Lee Remick and Jack Cassidy. With Jack Cassidy as my partner, I won $350 and a portable TV that came with a rechargeable battery pack. Sometime in the next few months, my husband carried the TV outside to watch a football game while he washed the car. When the game ended, he unfortunately forgot about the TV, and promptly ran over it with his shiny clean car."

Finally, I asked, "What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you ever received?"

"The worst has to be the commonly offered advice, write what you know. Better, I think, to write what you love—you can always research what you don’t know. The best writing advice I ever received came from one of my professors in graduate school when I was in the midst of struggling to outline my PhD dissertation. 'Don’t wait until you have it all outlined,' he said, 'just start writing. Even if you end up beginning in the middle, you can always organize later.' I took his advice, and once I started writing, the words just flowed."

About the Author: Harol Marshall grew up in upstate New York, and began her career as a novelist after spending twenty years in academia. She earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. The Shadow Cabinet, her first political thriller, is due out from Storyteller Publishing in December, 2012. Harol has published four mystery novels, and a short story anthology, Growing Up With Pigs, about life on a family farm in the 1950’s. When not writing, Harol enjoys gardening and dancing in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and four cats. For more information, visit: http://www.harolmarshall.com.

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In a top-secret bunker... buried deep beneath FEMA headquarters on Mount Weather, a mysterious doppelgänger organization know as THE SHADOW CABINET prepares for the unthinkable. Secretly appointed by Congress, members of the Continuity of Government initiative prepare to carry on government functions in the event of a catastrophic national emergency. But Shadow President Fred McGuire has other ideas. His unhappiness with the current Administration translates into a cold-blooded plot to overthrow the executive branch and seize control of the White House. McGuire s co-conspirators include high-ranking government officials, a wealthy corporation, and a notorious private military contractor. Tensions mount when CIA analyst Malcolm Hall stumbles across evidence of the conspiracy, a discovery that costs him his life. Acting on clues Malcolm left behind, Dan Chavez at the National Counterterrorism Center, and Henry Larson, Director of the CIA s National Clandestine Services, begin a secret investigation that extends from Washington to Hawaii and beyond. Determined at all costs to disrupt the planned coup d' état by tracking down the homegrown terrorists and preventing high-level assassinations, Dan and Henry place their lives and those of their colleagues in mortal danger.

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