1. What was the inspiration for The K Street Affair?
I’m a bit of a political junkie, and I’ve always been fascinated by the nexus of money and politics. At this point in our nation’s history, large corporations hold unprecedented sway over laws and lawmakers. Which is problematic, because as Lee Raymond, the CEO of Exxon/Mobil famously said, his multinational corporation isn’t a U.S. company, so he doesn’t make decisions based on what’s good for the United States. Think about that. These are the people with nearly bottomless resources. They employ armies of lobbyists and spend mind-boggling sums to shape the laws of the land in their shareholders’ favor. Since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, there is no way to prevent corporations and even foreign interests (whose agendas may conflict directly with our economic and national security interests) from making enormous donations to political causes. In writing The K Street Affair, I set out to answer two questions: What if a politically wired multinational corporation set out to start a war to advance its own economic interests? And if one relatively ordinary citizen stumbled upon their plans, should she risk everything, including her life and the lives of her family members, to stop them?
2. The K Street Affair is very different from your debut novel, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken. What inspired you to go in this direction?
I actually wrote a draft of the novel that would become K Street Affair before I wrote The Hazards. The most interesting rejection that manuscript received said something along the lines of “You can write, but the world isn’t ready for a female Jason Bourne. Try something less far fetched.” I shelved the project and focused on The Hazards, which is a less quirky women’s novel. Once The Hazards was published, I decided to dust off K Street Affair. It was a fascinating exercise. Plots involving secret offshore money laundering and terror finance (whether witting or unwitting) by politicians and their corporate friends somehow seem less far fetched that they did five years ago. Ultimately, both novels feature a young woman protagonist forced to find her backbone through a series of unwanted events.
3. Did you do extensive research into politics and corporate America while writing The K Street Affair?
Yes. I cite some of the books I devoured in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I had extensive conversations with a private equity executive, who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous. He was the first person to whisper the words “offshore money laundering” to me, and for that I am grateful. The central crimes in K Street Affair wouldn’t have been feasible without the series of blind trusts and blocker corporations the villains set up outside the reach of the IRS.
4. What is your typical writing day like?
Sometimes I wish I had a typical writing day. I usually write while my son, a newly minted three-year-old, is in preschool, which gives me twenty uninterrupted hours a week (if I’m lucky). I wish I could say I’m one of those people who can work late into the night, but I’m exhausted by the time my son goes to bed. Whenever I work during the wee hours, I write the most awful drivel, which I inevitably end up deleting. Once in a while, if I’m on a roll, I’ll hire a sitter. I get nothing done if I try to work while watching my kid. Because he’s three, he’s permanently set to self-destruct mode. I’m pretty sure that any parent who claims to work while minding a preschooler either gets accomplishes very little. Small kids are wired with invisible antennae that alert them to rivals for parental attention. In our house, my work is my son’s nemesis.
5. Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you outline? Are you a planner?
I always know how things will end for my main characters when I start writing, but I don’t write extensive outlines. The downside of this method is that I write myself into corners every so often. I suppose that’s part of my process. If something a character does isn’t working, I go back, unravel and re-write until the scene makes sense.
6. What is the best writing (and/or life) advice you have ever received?
Failure isn’t an option. If you suffer a set back, you dust yourself off, maybe even lick your wounds a little, but you always get back on the metaphorical horse.
7. What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE — My book club’s pick this month tells the intertwined stories of two young people from the Italian Alps who emigrate to America before the First World War. A well researched novel, told in a charming voice and presented on a nearly epic scale. The Constant Gardner—John LeCarre’s best spy novel ever, in my humble opinion. I saw the movie years ago but never read the book until this summer. DRIFT—I confess I’ve been waiting to read this look at the military-industrial complex until the galleys for K Street Affair shipped, because when it released in May, I was making the last edits to my manuscript and I was terrified this critically acclaimed book would inspire another massive re-write.
8. What do you think is the biggest myth of being a novelist?
I think there’s a perception among many non-writers that if you publish a book, you’ll make a good living. While that certainly happens for some authors, it’s not the norm.
9. What advice would you give to an unpublished writer?
You need thick skin. Writing involves a staggering amount of rejection and criticism. As to process:
(1.) Write a draft.
(2.) Put it away for several weeks.
(3.) Take it out a revise ruthlessly.
(4.) Show the manuscript to an editor or writers’ workshop—people other than your mom or best friends.
(5.) Revise again.
(6.) Repeat steps 2 through 5 until satisfied.
10. What are you working on now?
I’ve started work on my third novel, about a woman who sacrifices her legal career in order to follow her celebrated humanitarian husband to the third world. If he works tirelessly to save countless children, but treats his own family abominably, is he still a great man? In aid to the developing world, do appearances matter more than results? Does modern marriage have room for two big, ambitious personalities, or does one partner always end up yielding? I also have an entirely different book percolating: a courtroom tale about a big firm lawyer assigned to a capital case. I want to look not only at the legal system, but at the personal toll a case with such stakes takes on the lawyer, a young wife and mother.
Read more about Mari on her website and be sure to pick up a copy of THE K STREET AFFAIR.