On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today we celebrate SEAN McLACHLAN‘S win on Kindle Scout with THE LAST HOTEL ROOM, published by Kindle Press on September 20th, 2016.
He came to Tangier to die, but life isn’t done with him yet.
Tom Miller has lost his job, his wife, and his dreams. Broke and alone, he ends up in a flophouse in Morocco, ready to end it all. But soon he finds himself tangled in a web of danger and duty as he’s pulled into scamming tourists for a crooked cop while trying to help a Syrian refugee boy survive life on the streets. Can a lifelong loser do something good for a change?
A portion of my royalties will go to a charity for Syrian refugees.
- Congratulations on the success of THE LAST HOTEL ROOM. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
The novel was written over the course of three years of writing retreats in Tangier, Morocco, but was inspired by an earlier trip to Iraq. More on that below. Once I was finished, I was thinking of going the regular indie publishing route but heard about Kindle Scout. This is a program where you put up your cover, blurb, and first 50 pages and people vote on whether Kindle Press, an imprint of Amazon, should publish it. Those who voted for it got a free copy, and I got a book contract. Win-win! A print edition will be coming out in October and I’ll be going to the Tangier Book Fair next spring to hopefully drum up interest from foreign publishers.
- You’ve traveled extensively, both as an archeologist and as a writer. How do your real-life experiences impact your fiction? I’m thinking not just in terms of setting, but also culture / dialogue / style / characterization.
Since the Muslim world is such a contentious topic, I wanted to make sure to portray it realistically and not fall into stereotypes. For example, my main character Tom never meets any radical Muslims in Morocco. I haven’t either. (There was that one nutcase in Damascus, however. . .) I also blended in a lot of cultural elements, trying to remember my reactions to learning them and adapting them to Tom’s personality. That was a bit of a challenge since it was Tom’s first trip to the Muslim world and I’ve been visiting regularly for 25 years.
Dialogue was an interesting challenge. You can’t just throw a bunch of mistakes into the sentences and pretend it’s broken English. People make mistakes because they try to use their native language’s rules in English, where those rules don’t apply. For example, Arabic doesn’t have the indefinite article (“a” or “an”) so that sometimes gets dropped in their English.
- Can you share your reasons for choosing Tangier as the novel’s setting?
That happened organically. I first went to Tangier as part of a larger trip to see Morocco, with no idea of a book project in mind. I fell in love with the place and started taking down my impressions. A lot of the detailed descriptions of people and places in The Last Hotel Room are taken directly from my journals. Then the story began to develop.
- You’re an award-winning travel writer for your reportage on Iraq. Can you talk about the challenges you faced in covering that part of the world?
I went as a travel writer and not as a reporter so my experience was different than many foreign writers who visit. My series focused on daily life, the cultural sites (some of which have since been destroyed by ISIS), and the human interactions I enjoyed. The last part was the most difficult, because we had two armed guards from the Interior Ministry following us at all times, and that kind of makes it hard to break the ice. I did manage to slip away sometimes, and met fascinating people such as some Yazidis in Baghdad who ran a liquor store, and the Syrian refugee boy who was the inspiration for Asif in my novel. It was the article on him that won the Society of American Travel Writers Award in 2013. Also, Kurdistan, the northern part of the country that is in effect its own nation, was perfectly safe to walk around in. I had lots of freedom there.
- How do you navigate the transition from nonfiction to fiction?
I write a lot of history and travel and I’m almost always working on both nonfiction and fiction projects. I don’t find they conflict at all, except of course that both take time and energy. They use different parts of my brain and I find that doing both helps keep up my forward momentum. When I need a break to think things over on one project, I can switch to the other.
I also tend to double up on the research. After I wrote a book on guerrilla tactics in the American Civil War, I started writing a series in that setting. Saves time!
- Tell us about your other work. You’re developing a number of series?
I currently have three series. House Divided is a Civil War horror trilogy that already had two books out. The third is coming in 2017. Toxic World is a post-apocalyptic series with three books out and a standalone novella. Book Four will be out by the end of the year. That series is very gritty and realistic. No zombies, no meteor, no supervirus, we screwed up the world all by ourselves. Trench Raiders is an action series set in World War One, a longtime research interest of mine. That series currently has three books and a standalone novella, and a fourth book coming by the end of the year. I also have a few standalone books. So yeah, I’m busy!
Sean McLachlan is a former archaeologist who has excavated in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Now a full-time writer, he specializes in history, travel, and fiction. He won the 2013 Society of American Travel Writers Award for his Iraq reportage. Sean is busy working on three fiction series: Toxic World (post-apocalyptic science fiction), House Divided (Civil War horror), and the Trench Raiders action series set in World War One. Half of Sean’s time is spent on the road researching and writing. He’s traveled to more than 30 countries, interviewing nomads in Somaliland, climbing to clifftop monasteries in Ethiopia, studying Crusader castles in Syria, and exploring caves in his favorite state of Missouri. Sean is always happy to hear from his readers, so drop him a line via his blog!
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