Monday, 28 October 2013

The creator of the Hugo Marston mystery series comes to town...and answers questions re Publication, Setting, Influences like Agatha Christie and more...

Hello friends!

What better way to welcome Halloween week than with mystery author, Mark Pryor. I've been a huge fan of Mark's since reading his first novel in the Hugo Marston series, The Bookseller, set in Paris, which I reviewed here.  Mark happened upon my review and wrote to thank me. Needless to say, I was thrilled, so thrilled, I asked him if he would be interviewed on my humble blog and was so very pleased when he said he'd be happy to.


Who is Mark Pryor?

Mark Pryor is a former newspaper reporter from England, and now an assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, in Austin, Texas. He is the creator of the nationally-recognized true-crime blog D.A. Confidential. He has appeared on CBS News's 48 Hours and Discovery Channel's Discovery ID: Cold Blood.

He is the author of the Hugo Marston mystery novels. The first was THE BOOKSELLER (Oct 2012) and upon release was Library Journal's Debut of the Month with a starred review. RT Book Reviews called it "a fantastic debut!" and gave it 4 and 1/2 stars, and listed it as an "unputdownable mystery." The second was THE CRYPT THIEF, released in May of 2013, and next up is THE BLOOD PROMISE, due out in January 2014.

Mark is also the author of the true crime book, AS SHE LAY SLEEPING, which is the account of a "cold" murder case he prosecuted. Published in January 2013, Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "compelling" and "riveting."
Mark lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three children.

Now Mark answers my questions...

Mark, share with us your journey to publication.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, but got serious about wanting to be published around ten years ago. I wrote two mystery novels, basing them on an English barrister who was burned out, and moved to the US (Texas, of course!) to teach law. He found himself drawn into murder cases, and defending those wrongly accused. I think the premise for the series is actually decent, but I suspect the execution left something to be desired – neither novel garnered any interest from agents.

Then I wrote THE BOOKSELLER. I think it was a better book, by a long chalk. My wife told me, “Wow, it reads like a real novel,” which was a good sign! When I approached agents with it, I got some pretty immediate, positive responses and eventually signed with the wonderful Ann Collette, of the Helen Rees Agency in Boston. It took a year for us to knock it into shape and find a home for it, but I’m thrilled with my publisher (Seventh Street Books) and since they signed me up, Random House has taken on their distribution, which has helped sales a lot.

Since then, it's been sort of a rollercoaster. I suppose THE BOOKSELLER (and to some extent, the second book, THE CRYPT THIEF) have done pretty well because they made me another offer and now I'm working on books four and five!

What were your writing influences?

As a kid, a teenager, and adult, almost all of my reading has consisted of mysteries. The Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, the Sherlock Holmes stories. It was inevitable that, should I become a writer, I’d write mysteries! 

More recently, since taking up the craft, I’ve paid more attention to the writing styles and techniques used by the authors I read. One of those is Alan Furst, who has a wonderful ability to show the character of a place by sketching its outlines and then putting in one or two dabs of color.
The example I give of this, as applied to my writing, is this: when I was last in Paris, I walked down a cobbled, pedestrian street. I looked ahead and saw, coming toward me, a pretty girl on a bicycle, her winter coat billowing out behind her, with one hand gripping the handlebars and the other latched onto an airport carry-on bag, jumping and bouncing on its little wheels as she towed it behind her. She had a big smile on her face.

That image conveys, I hope, an impression of Paris as vividly as any description of the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees. And far more personal. I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying that I now try to convey as much as possible through close-up imagery. There’s a place for rooftops and cityscapes, sure, but I use those more sparingly.

How did your MC, Hugo Marston, come into being?

I wanted to create a hero who is a little more traditional, a bit more old-fashioned. Hugo doesn’t have the quirks and agonies of some modern heroes. Nothing wrong with a tortured MC, of course, I just didn’t think I could do it as well as people are already doing it, and I actively wanted someone whose demons were no more ferocious than most of ours. I also based him a lot on my father, Hugo gets his quiet intelligence, and his non-judgmental nature from my dad.

As for his background, well, I’ve long been interested in behavioral profiling. I’ve worked with a couple of profilers in my job as a prosecutor and what they do, and the cases they handle, are fascinating. So I thought it’d be a good background for Hugo. Now, I don’t rely on those skills too much, I like old-style crime detection too much to allow Hugo to solve his mysteries by pontification alone. A mix of detective work and profiling keep me, and him, happy.

Finally his job – I wanted him to be a professional, and to operate in Europe. I wanted him to have a gun and a badge and some authority. I wanted him to have reasons to investigate crimes, and not just happen to be where a crime is committed for every book, like dear old Ms. Marple stumbling into bodies all the time.  As head of security at the US Embassy, he can roam France and even go assist other embassies and consulates abroad. Very helpful.

Why did you choose Paris for the setting for your first novel in the series. And how many books do you plan for the series?  How much research do you do when writing your stories?

I had the idea for THE BOOKSELLER while on a trip to Paris with my wife. As such, it was inevitable the first book would be set there, and once I created Hugo it seemed necessary for the first few, at least, to be in Paris. Which I didn’t mind at all, of course!

Right now we’re planning on six. The third comes out in January of next year, the fourth in October. He’ll stay in Paris for number three (THE BLOOD PROMISE) but the fourth will actually be a prequel, and take place in London and a quiet country village not too far from the city. The fifth will be set in Barcelona, and the sixth… undecided! I’m thinking Bordeaux right now, but Prague is also a possibility. Which brings me to research… I won’t ever set a book in a place I’ve not visited. I’ve been to Paris a dozen times, probably, and spent a lot of time in London when I lived in England. Which meant a trip to Barcelona for me, obviously another tough part of this writing gig…

On the research issue, one of the fun things I did was spend time at the US Embassy in Paris, meeting with the folks who work there and making sure I got (most of) my facts right. I’m still in touch with a couple of people, and get to ask them questions on protocol and capabilities when I have them.

I was fascinated by the 'bouquinistes' along the River Seine. How did you get this idea?

That was purely situational. I was quite literally walking alongside the River Seine, passing these bookstalls and thinking how wonderfully original, how peculiar to Paris they are. And something went kapow in my mind and the story was born. As I was writing, I liked the idea of featuring something truly Parisian and decided that in future books I’d try to do the same. Hence, in THE CRYPT THIEF, the city’s wonderful cemeteries play a central role, and in THE BLOOD PROMISE… well, I can’t actually tell you which aspect of Paris plays a role, it’d give things away!

Are you a PANTSER or a PLOTTER? 

I wrote THE BOOKSELLER and THE CRYPT THIEF from the seat of my pants. Totally. I tried the same with THE BLOOD PROMISE, but failed miserably and I wrote myself into a corner. So I backed up, and started again with a plotting plan. To begin with, I didn’t plot it in detail, just wrote more of an outline. Then I broke the book down and wrote one or two sentences for the first eight chapters – what was going to happen in each one. Then I wrote those chapters, and then did the same for the next eight, sort of hop-scotching my way forward like that. I’ll be using that method from now on, it’s quite effective for me, gives me a target to aim for but isn’t too limiting.

Thanks so much Mark for visiting this week...


It’s summer in Paris and two tourists have been killed in Père La Chaise cemetery in front of Jim Morrison’s grave.

The killer leaves the bodies untouched but moves deeper into the cemetery, where he breaks into the crypt of a long-dead Moulin Rouge dancer. In a bizarre twist, he disappears into the night with part of her skeleton. The cemetery is locked down and put under surveillance, but the thief returns, flitting in and out like a ghost, taking more bones from another legendary can-can dancer under cover of night.
One of the dead tourists proves to be an American and the other a woman linked to a known terrorist; so the US ambassador sends his best man and the embassy's head of security-Hugo Marston-to help the French police with their investigation.
At first, Hugo is stumped. How does this killer operate unseen? And why is he stealing the bones of once-famous can-can girls? Hugo cracks the secrets of the graveyard, but soon realizes that old bones aren't all this serial killer wants: his ultimate plan requires the flesh and organs of the living.
And when the crypt thief spots the former FBI agent on his tail, he decides that Hugo's body will do just fine.

Buy Mark Pryor's books on Amazon 

In a few days, the net will be flooded with spooky stories. Sign up for the WEP blogfest if you haven't already done so, and share your creepy story with us!

  • If you're published, what did your journey look like?
  • If you're still seeking publication, did Mark's story help you?


Suze said...

Congratulations, Mark! Very good of you to profile him and his work, Denise. :)

Yolanda Renée said...

Great Interview!
Books set in Paris, and mysteries with exciting characters and story lines. I'm there! Now on my TBR list. Thanks for introducing me to a new author, again. I remember your review in August. Excellent that you've made a connection too!

Denise Covey said...

It was certainly a pleasure Suze.

Denise Covey said...

I know you'd love this series Yolanda. You know how exciting it is to set a mystery in Paris yourself! I like how Mark becomes familiar with a place before he uses it as a setting, much like you did with Alaska.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Denise .. just my sort of novel - with a lot of authentic background using his work experience ... Also his descriptive passage of the girl on the bicycle .. very Parisienne ..

Love the questions you ask Denise .. and so interesting to read Hugo's answers ... getting to know a place - I like the sound of that!

Cheers .. Hilary

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome interview. I love Mark's rule that he has to visit everywhere he sets his book. And his outlining idea sounds good. I may try it.

Denise Covey said...

Yes, Hilary, I loved Mark's description of the girl on the bicycle. So very Parisienne.

Denise Covey said...

I wish I could get outlining to work for me, lol!

D.A. Confidential said...

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Denise, I really appreciate. And I'll pop back and answer any questions people might have in the Comments section. Thanks again!


Denise Covey said...

Thanks for calling, Mark. It will be great to have you back.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm sure it helps that he's visited Paris, too. Every location in my series is one I've been to.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Welcome to the world of outlining!
And nice your wife gave that first book a vote of approval.

Bevimus said...

What a great interview, thanks for sharing this Denise! And Marc- I LOVED reading about your process, especially the insiration you found for your settings! It sounds lovely and dream-like and yet the process you described for actually writing sounds not too different from my own- outlining and then filling it in.
Really enjoyed reading this, thanks!

D.A. Confidential said...

Thanks Beverly, it was a fun interview. Dream-like is a good description of the whole publishing process, actually - a nightmare getting all those rejections, but wonderful once things finally started happening for me. And good luck with your writing, too!


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I love intelligent mysteries with clever protagonists. I wish I could afford to travel some and get ideas for some very cool settings.

Kittie Howard said...

The time zones are making my eyelids shutter so will return to your post in the a.m. -- but, oh, those precious frogs, Denise. Actually, the three discoveries warmed my heart. But, I, too, thought the same thing, about humans not messing up their beautiful lives. And I'm really interested in that special plant. If you see an interesting link, can you send it to me, pretty pleeze? Thank heavens you Australians have common sense and are guarding it. Some idiot here would probably shoot it! Nite, nite!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Denise, Hi, Mark.

Terrific interview. How exciting to travel the globe for your stories. I can't way to get to that status. Luckily I traveled extensively with my former career so, I do have lots to draw from.

How cool to do a series like Agatha Christie… And your locations are great!

Congrats and continued success, Mark.

Thanks Denise for this interesting interview!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Loved the interview.
And yes, writing and publishing is such a slow process. But well worth it in the end :)

Kittie Howard said...

Oh, but I loved "The Bookseller!" And you had me with the latest series--until I came to the part about being tied to a U.S. embassy--sorry, but Mark needs to fine-tune this as he's got it off a bit. On the plus side, no tortured MC, yay

farawayeyes said...

A most interesting interview, and a new series to add to my TBR. I enjoy reading about the process other writers go through.

Denise Covey said...

That's great. I have googled foreign settings, but not the same as visiting.

Denise Covey said...

Kittie, Mark kindly sent me the next two, so I'm one happy camper. Can't wait to read them.

Denise Covey said...

So do I. Endlessly fascinated how different we all are.

D.G. Hudson said...

Enjoyed this interview, Denise. Thanks for the notice. I like to read about Paris and about the people who have lived there.