Sunday, October 12, 2014

Author Larry Farmer: Using Personal Experience to Write a Love Story

Fiction is not always just making stuff up. Sometimes an author draws heavily on personal experience.

Larry Farmer's bio-fiction novelette, The Kerr Construction Company, is about a disenchanted ex-Marine after the Vietnam War. Searching for a new direction in life. Dalhart McIlhenny heads to Gallup, New Mexico, and finds employment in a construction company working with the Navaho, illegal aliens, and ex-bullfighter from Durango.  Far away from fast cars and parties, Dalhart searches for meaning. Finding peace in a callous world seems impossible. Then he meets Carmen.

How much of this story is based on your life?
Most of it. After a stint in the Marines during the Viet Nam era, and time spent traveling the world, I came back home to Houston. It was the fastest growing city in America at the time and perhaps the most prosperous. All around was wealth with no substance. People elevated material things over culture. I had seen poverty both in America and during my travels. Rural Mexico was just a few miles from where I had grown up. People traveled in donkey carts and wore shoes made from worn out tires. Wealth sure beat that, but I quickly became disenchanted by the new America. We seemed absorbed with money and much of our social fabric had been discredited, although some of it justifiably.

I needed to get away and reexamine my life, so I bought an old beat up panel truck and started driving. That truck became my home. With hardly a penny in my pocket, I eventually ended up in Gallup, New Mexico, the capital of the Navajo world. The poverty wasn’t pretty, but I wanted to know more. Houston has been my life, but here was a different perspective.

Wanting to get back to my roots, I found a menial job working with both Navajo and illegal aliens. I met the ex-bullfighter who eventually became a character in my story. He was charismatic and smart and became a close friend. It put a very personal face on the immigration issue. This whole immigration thing has been so politicized its easy forget the struggle illegals have in order to carve out a life. Living among them made me face difficult questions about their survival and mine every single day.

 So…the girl in the story.  If you are Dalhart, did a romance with Carmen really happen? Spill the beans, Larry.
There was a Mexican waitress. I was sitting at this restaurant at the end of a long hard physically demanding day. While waiting for my order, I looked up from my book and there was this dark skinned goddess who took my breath away. There was this electricity between this girl and me even before we said a word. We tried not looking at each other but couldn’t stop ourselves. She poured a glass of water and her hand was shaking, spilling water on the table even. She was a recent divorcee, living with her mother, also trying to survive and find herself again. When dating back then you always had to be cognizant of racial and social divides, but this girl just knocked my socks down. I didn’t want it to consider racial or social issues. All I wanted to do was be with her.

What was the most difficult part to write?
None of it. All of it. It just flowed. It had already written itself into my life and I was simply the messenger.
No spoilers, but was the ending in the story the same as real life? Did you make any changes and why?
I made up the ending. Circumstances occurred in my life too complicated to write about and took away from the story. So, I tried to find a place about my relationship with Carmen and make it entertaining and believable. The truth is much my inner search than just the events in Gallup, New Mexico. That’s another story.

Since you’re a nice Jewish guy from Texas did you have more trouble writing a woman’s point of view or a Native American’s? What challenges did you face?
I was the only boy growing up in my family of two sisters and three step-sisters. I opened up to a lot of changes brought on by the woman’s movement. It made including a female perspective easier for me. I’m part Cherokee too. I love the Cherokee, one of the Five Civilized Tribes. They endured perhaps the cruelest history when Europeans came. So, meeting Native Americans such as the Navajo wasn’t a new experience. I wanted to present some of their lives, but not dwell on it. The story is not about that, but Gallup and the Navaho were part of the setting.

How difficult was it for a man to write in what is generally thought of as a woman’s field of romantic fiction?
I loved the process. I want to say I love women, but that sounds tacky, uncouth, and a little too macho. I like the ying and the yang thing; Mother Nature plotting to keep the species alive and thriving by bringing the two sexes together.  

I’m part of a writer’s club in College Station near Texas A & M. Two of the female members are romance novelists, published by The Wild Rose Press. That’s how I found out about this publisher. I had been writing, developing the craft and decided to give it a shot. My editor suggested I nurture the love story. I thought that was a great idea. I didn’t want to be a strict romance novelist, but I do love a love story. It enhances a good tale.

Since many of your characters are based on real people, have any of them read it? If so, What did they think?
I’ve lost contact with everyone back then. It would be great if this story catches on, they recognize themselves, and remember this college educated Texas cowboy that entered their lives. They didn’t have a clue what the hell I was doing there. I didn’t make a lick of sense to them. I didn’t belong, but we ended up fitting in to each other’s lives. Ideally this is how life is supposed to be. I’d like to think they’d read it and say “That son-of-a-gun gave us form.”

Your second novel, I Will Be The One, is due out late 2014. It's also based on biographical experience, this time your Peace Corps experience in the Philippines during the Ferdinand Marcos administration. Was a full-length book more difficult? What new challenges did you face?
Once again, it wrote me. I couldn’t get it out of the word processor fast enough. The Peace Corps is so underrated. It was a marvelous experience, but there were some real problems going on where we lived. Violent upheavals in a dangerous place made more so by politics. My best friend in the Peace Corps at first was a girl from Cleveland, but then we got sent to different parts of the county. Next this Southern white conservative became close friends with a smart as a whip, politically liberal, African-American man from Los Angeles. It was a great dichotomy, but we hit it off.

For the story, I wrote about the day in the life stuff, the dangers, the unbelievably horrific poverty, and the insurrection against a dictatorship. I was there for the overthrow. I met Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin. I saw political assassinations. So, again, I don’t want to make it sound too easy, but the story wrote itself. It told me what to say and I couldn’t get it out fast enough.

Even though this wasn’t a strict romance novel, a deep love story is the foundation. Life as seen from the eyes of two people living in tumultuous times. So out goes my black liberal friend and in goes the girl. I mixed the characters up, shared her life and times, but added some details from his life, too. Funny thing, after all these years he looked me up on Facebook and we reconnected. I found the girl on LinkedIn and she shared even more stories and experiences to enhance the story.

Excerpt from The Kerr Construction Company

“Quitting time, McIlhenny,” I heard Ira shout.
“Another five minutes,” I shouted back.
“I’ll load up,” he answered. “Oh yeah, another thing.”
“What’s that?” I asked when he didn’t follow through.
“Didn’t you say you used to play football?” he asked.
“You’re a fast runner, right?”
What does that mean? “Yeah,” I answered again.
“You better be. This is a stick of dynamite here in my hand.”
He lit it and threw it my direction. I didn’t look back until I heard the explosion. There was a hole ten yards from where I used to be.
“Come on,” he shouted again, not bothering to laugh. “Let’s go home. Go get your shovel if it’s still there.”
Later I thought of Ira’s shenanigans, sitting in the restaurant, savoring the rich garlic aroma. He would have made a good Marine, I decided. I never made it to Vietnam, but I get to tell my grandkids about when I worked for the Kerr Construction Company.
I heard Carmen’s voice come from beside me. “You got a look about you, hombre,” she said as she walked over to me and planted a small kiss on my lips. “Is that a smirk? What wickedness are you contriving? Better not leave me out of it.”
“Nearly got blown up by dynamite today,” I said as my smirk turned into laughter.
“Good Lord, man. How did that happen?”
“Aw, not really,” I said. “It’s a long story anyway.”
“Don’t eat here tonight, Sweets,” she said with a wink. “Mother has supper ready for us. She’s going to bring up Monument Valley. She knows what the hell we did there. And I ain’t talking the scenery or our intimate little conversations. I’m talking she put two and two together and she knows we’re not virgins.”

“She would’ve suspected what was going to happen even before we left.”

Larry Farmer is an ex-Marine who grew up on a cotton farm on the southern tip of Texas. He has two degrees from Texas A&M University where he works in IT. Married with three sons, he writes fiction incorporating experiences from his extensive travels. Find Larry at:         
Twitter @LFarmerWrites
Pinterest larryfarmerwrites


  1. Loved the interview, Linda. Great post and great blog. Thanks so much.