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Ron McLarty's first novel depicts cross-country trip

Author Ron McLarty constantly edits and rewrites his work. He even travels with his manuscripts so he can read them again and again.

"I take them with me everywhere," McLarty said in a recent phone interview.

After many years, his work paid off when his first book, "The Memory of Running," was published in 2004. "It took me 35 years to get discovered," said McLarty, 58.

The author, who is also an actor, is often away from his home in New York City. Right now, he's on the road promoting "The Memory of Running" (Penguin, $14), which was just published in paperback.

On Feb. 1, McLarty's book tour will bring him to The Georgia Center for the Book in Decatur.

McLarty spent years on "The Memory of Running," which he wrote in 1988. The story began as a poem he wrote just after his parents were in a car accident. Shortly after the accident, both his mother and father died.

A similar accident is depicted at the beginning of "The Memory of Running." Shortly after his parents' funeral, narrator Smithy Ide finds out about the death of his older sister, Bethany. It had been years since Smithy and his parents had seen Bethany, who was mentally unstable.

Smithy, who is overweight and a heavy drinker, decides to take a ride on the bicycle he loved as a boy. This short ride turns into a cross-country bike trip as he pedals away from his parents' house in Rhode Island and heads for California to claim his sister's body. The scenes in the novel alternate between past and present as Smithy remembers his family while riding his bike.

A writer's life

McLarty, 58, has worked as an actor for more than 30 years, but he has always considered himself a writer. "I've been writing, really, all my life," he said.

When he got out of the Army in 1971, he had already written quite a bit. "I had two completed novels that I won't show to anybody because I wrote them for the wrong reasons. I wrote them to be rich and famous," McLarty said.

Just before he left the Army, he decided to become an actor. He got his first role in a show at a theater in Washington, D.C., and quickly discovered a passion for acting. "I loved it. It was fun and I could do it," McLarty said.

He always kept writing, but made a living as an actor. One of his many jobs was recording audio books for an small online company. After getting the company's permission, McLarty recorded an audio version of "The Memory of Running." His book was added to the company's catalog.

Recording his own work helped him with yet another edit of his novel.

"I found that when you read your work out loud, you know when you're being a phony," McLarty said. "I was able to re-edit it during that process."

Years later, McLarty was working on a TV show and met Stephen King. The author asked McLarty if he was Ron McLarty the novelist. McLarty told King yes, realizing that King must have seen his name in the audiobook catalog, which also offered King's work.

Soon after, McLarty asked the audiobook company to send King a copy of "The Memory of Running."

"I expected nothing of it," McLarty said. He was already excited enough after being recognized as a writer by a bestselling author.

But then King mentioned "The Memory of Running" in his Entertainment Weekly column, calling it "The Best Book You Can't Read." A week later, McLarty got a publishing deal, and his book became a bestseller.

If you go

Come to the next meeting of the Gwinnett Daily Post Book Club to talk about "The Memory of Running" by Ron McLarty. This book follows a man as he rides a bicycle on a cross-country trip after his parents die in a car accident.

•What: Gwinnett Daily Post Book Club

•When: 7 p.m. Feb. 16

•Where: Collins Hill Library meeting room. The library is located at 455 Camp Perrin Road in Lawrenceville

•Cost: The meetings are free. The book is available for $24.95.

•Info: Call 770-963-9205, ext. 1324.

•Note: The author will not attend the book club meeting.

n What: Book discussion with Ron McLarty, author of "The Memory of Running"

•When: 7 p.m. Feb. 1

•Where: Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St. in Decatur.

•Cost: The event is free.

•Call: 404-370-8450, ext. 2225 or visit www.georgiacenterforthebook.org.