Who is Marah Chase?
Well, to answer that is really to answer who is Jay Stringer?
My brain has always been split in two. Half of me wants to be Elmore Leonard, to write quirky crime characters, plotting heists, in street-level stories, showing the conversations that happen when authority figures aren’t around. The other half? Steven Spielberg. Stan Lee. Jack Kirby. Ray Harryhausen. I want to blow shit up, and have car chases, have sword fights with statues, and swing at big, daft, fun ideas.
But there’s no way to be both, right?
Sure there is. I came to realise, the biggest problem I was facing in my career, was my own ideas about what the career needed to be. My first three books were hardboiled crime tales set in the Midlands. My next two were louder, funnier, more violent, and set in Glasgow. Two very different series of books. But I’d still gotten it into my head that I needed to stick to one overall tone -street level crime- to reach an audience. The Spielberg side of my brain was clamouring to be listened to, the Leonard side of my brain was, frankly, demanding a break.
I would keep trying. I wrote a couple books that were supposed to be fun but ended up as oddities. As a writer stuck between two warring impulses. Those books Just. Didn’t. Work. I wrote an action adventure set in the 40’s that just read like a flimsy pastiche. They’re doomed to stay in the drawer.
That’s when I looked again at one of my big influences. Chris McQuarrie. McQ gained fame (and a way-too-early academy award) for writing The Usual Suspects. A quirky, intelligent, dialogue-heavy crime story. (We won’t focus too much on that film now because…tainted by human trash.) His next major credit had been The Way of the Gun, a dark little oddity of a crime movie that I truly love. It was slightly obnoxious. It didn’t care whether you liked it. And it was a crime movie about criminals. From a writer (and first-time director) who was feeling trapped by the fact Hollywood only wanted him to keep doing the one kind of story. And when he did tackle a big project, he always found a way to ground it in the same spirit. This is the guy who decided the place to start an X Men movie was in a concentration camp. But if you’ve come to hear McQ’s name for the first time in recent years, it’s as a guy who writes and directs big movies. Edge of Tomorrow. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Mission Impossible: Fallout. Looking at his directorial credits is kinda nuts. First film: Way of the Gun. Tiny crime movie, vehemently rejected. Second film: Jack Reacher. A Tom Cruise vehicle. A big movie that was really just a small crime movie at heart. Third film: Mission Impossible.
If the guy who influenced me so much in my teens could shift gears like that, why couldn’t I?
I thought back to the very beginning. Way back before I’d written a novel, before I dropped out of University, to the young guy writing short stories and scripts. My brain was split in two, but I was young and sure the two sides could co-exist. I was writing dialogue-driven heist stories starring two different versions of myself, sarcastic kids named Fry and Fuller, and I was writing stories about a rogue archeologist-turned-treasure hunter named Marah Chase.
Yep, she’s been around in my head for that long. I had Chase kicking around in here long before I met Eoin Miller or Sam Ireland. I can date her creation pretty close to the fall of 2000 or spring of 2001. Why? Well, that’s the period when my head was owned by one specific album. Kids in Philly by Marah. It was a fun, loose, freewheeling album. Slightly chaotic. Both old and new at the same time. And in my mind, stealing that name for my character was the best way to signify what -and who- she was.
So if the me of 2000/2001 had been so sure, so confident, that I could embrace both sides of my writer brain without fear of losing anyone, and if the writer who’d been a major early influence on me was managing to do the same, why was I holding back?
I opened up to the idea of listening to who Marah Chase had become now, after (at the time) fifteen years in my head. And she was fun. I had fun writing her. People that I passed early pages to had fun reading her.
Not that she’s a bag of laughs. Who is Marah Chase? She’s difficult. She’s angry when you want her to laugh, she laughs when you want her to be angry. She’s a mercenary who isn’t comfortable with that choice. She’s an adventurer who has lived life without a plan. She’s gay. She’s not a “kick-ass heroine” because she lives, and survives, in the real world, where she’s smaller than most of the men she comes up against, and has to be intelligent about how she fights. But because of this she can also kick some ass. And she just can’t seem to keep from getting in car chases, motorcycle chases, hanging off the side of moving vehicles, and finding fascists and nazis to punch. In her first adventure she’s teaming up with a British spy to go up against ancient cults to find the tomb of Alexander the Great and foil a Westminster coup. In the second adventure, that I’m finishing up now, she starts out looking for the Fountain of Youth but soon learns the trail actually leads to [REDACTED] and that every history book on the planet may soon need to be changed.
And I realised, after letting her run across the pages for a full book, that she wasn’t that far from my quirky crime characters. She’s a rebel. She’s someone who lives in a space that authority figures don’t mingle in. She’s still, really, pulling off heists. She’s a bag of contradictions. She’s just telling a story on a larger canvas, with 99% more explosions. (There was that time a small gas canister blew up in the Miller trilogy…)
And embracing this new voice allowed me to embrace representation in the way I’d been trying to for years in my crime novels. For me, it’s never been about a gimmick. It’s never been about marketing. It’s never really been about making books about representation issues. I wanted to populate my book with diverse and interesting characters, and to say to readers of all backgrounds, you are welcome in my fiction for who you are, not what I can make you. The problem was, as a cis straight white able-bodied author, I found that if I didn’t specify what ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation a character was, the reader’s default would be to assume they were cis, straight, able-bodied and white. But then, if I did specify, as a crime writer who likes tackling issues in his work, it was too easy to slip down the road to tackling the issues. And then you start to worry that this will be seen as a marketing gimmick. ‘Buy my books because I have X in it.’ Which defeats my whole intention. But then, oddly, embracing the big fun ideas of Marah Chase showed me that was another limitation I was imposing on myself. In writing the equivalent of a summer action movie, I was starting to populate the cast with the kinds of characters who haven’t typically been featured in big summer action movies. And in this new writing voice, they simply were who they were. (I can’t wait for you to meet Hass in Chase 2. He’s trans. He’s Muslim. He’s strong as hell, and loyal to Chase. And only the latter two elements are important to the story.) Finally, my characters could just be who they were, with no need to explain themselves.
So who is Jay Stringer?
He’s a writer who’s finally let go of the limiting rules he’d imposed on his own career. There are times I want to give you the cinematic equivalent of small heist movies full of character actors and crackling dialogue. There are times I want to give you the big summer blockbuster. I’m sure there will be times, soon, when I want to give you some horror or sci-fi. I don’t have two sides of my brain at war with each other anymore. I just have one brain that wants to enjoy writing stories. I hope you come along for the ride.
Pegasus Books, and my editor Katie, got the point of the whole project and jumped on in for the ride. The first Marah Chase adventure drops -probably from the side of an aeroplane- on July 2nd. And it’s already had some awesome people saying awesome things.
Here’s some praise for Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb.
“Stringer, author of the Sam Ireland and Eoin Miller mysteries, has a winner here with Marah Chase―pulse-pounding adventure, in the best Indiana Jones tradition, with a charismatic gay woman fueling the action.”
- Booklist (starred)
“Stringer effortlessly weaves a complex web of espionage and betrayal around a rip-snorting, larger-than-life adventure in the spirit of Indiana Jones.”
- Antony Johnston, creator of 'Atomic Blonde' and 'The Exphoria Code'
“A fun, new twist on the traditional adventure tale, Jay Stringer’s Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb updates and re-imagines the Indiana Jones-style treasure hunter narrative. Marah Chase is cunning, empowered, and queer, a Lara Croft for the 20th century. The action propels forward at a breathless pace, each chapter a cliff-hanger. A delight to read!”
- John Copenhaver, author of 'Dodging and Burning'
“If you merged Ocean’s Eleven with Indiana Jones, you’d get Marah Chase and The Conqueror’s Tomb―a high-octane, pulse-pounding race to save the world from an ancient weapon.”
- Julie McElwain, author of the Kendra Donovan Mystery Series
“A full-throated adventure that combines the politics of contemporary terrorism with ancient myths. With conspiracy theories and a sassy heroine, Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb will keep you turning the pages to the very end.”
- Tessa Lunney, author of 'April in Paris, 1921'
“Ever wonder what Raiders of the Lost Ark would be like if it was set in the present day and Marian Ravenwood got to do all the cool stuff instead of Indiana Jones? Marah Chase and the Conqueror’s Tomb gives you a chance to find out. Jay Stringer has given readers a ripping yarn with all the elements of a multi-dimensional spy adventure: a dangerous, high-stakes quest, formidable adversaries, international intrigue, love and lust, loyalty and betrayal, cliff-hanging suspense a la Dan Brown and, best of all, a cast of characters that will keep you thinking about them and wondering what they’ll do next. Then there’s Stringer’s deliciously ambiguous approach to the potentially supernatural. Is it magic or technology? Read it and decide for yourself.”
- Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, co-author of the New York Times bestselling 'The Last Jedi'