Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is your new book about two teenagers, Dallas and Lonnie, taking a road trip. What are these boys like and what is their relationship?
Dallas and Lonnie have grown up in a small farming community. They are both kind of oddballs and so when it comes to friends they have mainly had only each other. They know each other better than they know anyone else. As they graduate from secondary school, they are feeling a bit alienated. A lot of people their age are already getting married and starting a life of hard work. They’re not really mature enough yet to want to settle down. Also they have grown up in a conservative religious environment which they have rebelled against. They are not particularly political, but they are definitely rebels by nature.
The book is set in 1971 for those of us too young to know anything about the 70’s, too old to remember, or those who were in the 70’s and therefore can’t remember, can you tell us what was culturally happening at the time and in particular what Dallas and Lonnie were facing?
Yes, I would in the third category: I was there and thus it is all a blur! More seriously, for much of the United States–and in much of the rest of the world, for that matter–in that year there was a lot of turmoil going on. The Vietnam War was still being fought and university campuses were roiling with protests and resultant police crackdowns. Because of the rural setting of where they live, Dallas and Lonnie are largely sheltered from all of this. It is a politically conservative area where most people are supportive of U.S. policy. But what the two young men are not sheltered from is conscription. They have a lot of uncertainty hanging over them because, having turned 18, they could now be drafted into the army and sent to fight in the war.
The boys are hitting the road under the pretence of looking for a missing friend – can you expand on this?
A few years before the story begins Tommy Dowd, a young man that Dallas and Lonnie were acquainted with, went to Central America as some sort of freelance journalist and then disappeared. Lonnie has always been bothered by not knowing what happened to him and so, after a period of bad behavior and boredom and family problems, he cajoles Dallas into the totally daft idea of driving down to Central America to look for Tommy. They both understand that the idea is completely crazy but each wants to see how far the other will go before insisting on turning around. Basically, it is all just an excuse to run away from home, engage in a lot of bad behaviour and let off steam before they have to finally grow up.
But this isn’t a book about missing people – what happens to the boys and how do they change throughout the story?
Lonnie, who is the more self-destructive of the two, seems to be on something of a downward spiral. But for Dallas the travelling opens up a whole new world to him. On the way to the border they pick up a younger Mexican boy and he becomes a window for Dallas on Mexican language and culture. Dallas even manages to have a brief but intense love affair before the journey leads to a series of difficult situations. They run into muggers in Tijuana, become stranded in the middle of nowhere, get arrested by a corrupt policeman and eventually wind up separated. By the end of the story Dallas finds himself on his own in a very dangerous situation with no one else to rely on but himself. In the end Dallas and Lonnie have opposite reactions to their experiences. While Lonnie’s reaction is to want to retreat to the places and people he knows, Dallas is fascinated by the wider world that he never knew that much about.
This is a story based on some of your own memories, are you Dallas or Lonnie? And what memories contribute this story?
Well, I am the exact same age as the two characters and grew up in the same place, which made the research a bit easier. The details of the draft and the lottery by which draftees were selected were (and are) all still vivid in my memory. Both characters are composites of various people that I knew, but I suppose I drew more on my own personality for Dallas. And there is a lot of the best friend I grew up with in Lonnie. But we never got into nearly as much trouble as these two characters! And while I had some interesting road trips with my own best friend, we never went to Mexico together. I did go down across the border a few times with other friends during my misspent youth but never as far south as Dallas and Lonnie go, so I had to do some research on Mexico. I have always had a fascination with Latin American culture so that informed Dallas’s awakening to that world. And I lived in Chile for a year, so that will explain why references to that country keep cropping up. And, given that I have lived in Ireland for the past decade or so, I had to introduce an Irish character along the way. After all, you can’t go anywhere in the world without running into the Irish.
The setting is the South down to Mexico for those of us who have never seen that part of the world can you describe it to us (please feel free to use an extract).
The region where the story begins is more accurately described as the Southwest. (In the U.S. “the South” somewhat illogically refers to area bordering the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico and evokes the old Confederacy and plantations and Gone with the Wind.) The Southwest is very dry and very hot, alternating between deserts and mountain ranges. The following passage from the second chapter describes a journey I made often, climbing into the mountains and looking back at the flat floor of the San Joaquin Valley:
As Lonnie’s Impala strained its engine climbing the Ridge Route toward Tejon Pass, I turned to look back at the lights on the San Joaquin Valley floor. When it came down to it, I hated the valley. I always had a feeling of escape when I drove up out of it. Even hell isn’t as hot as the San Joaquin Valley in the summer. And it’s flat. It has to be the most boring place on the face of the earth. As we got higher into the mountains, things felt different. We were headed to places that weren’t boring and hot. We were headed to places that people had actually heard of. We were less than two hours from Los Angeles. I had only been there a few times, and that was only straight to my uncle Jack’s and back with my parents. Now it was just me and Lonnie heading down there, and anything was possible.
And finally what is next for Scott R Larson?
In a total departure from the first book, I’m currently working on a fantasy novel. It’s a story I first wrote in high school and which evolved into a recurring bedtime story for my daughter. In some ways it is a variation on Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in that it is a road story and a coming-of-age story. After that I plan to write a novel set in the burgeoning software industry in Seattle in the 1980s, another time and place that I lived through. And I keep going back and forth about whether to write a sequel to Dallas’s story, specifically where is he and what is he doing nine years after the events of the first book.
You can read more about Scott and his other works here