Friday, February 7, 2014
Book deals, crime fiction, and French castles: a chat with Mark Pryor, author of the Hugo Marston mysteries
My guest today is not new to the blog: district attorney and author of the Hugo Marston mysteries, Mark Pryor has visited CHIMERAS before to discuss fingerprint evidence and DNA evidence in court.
Last time we talked, Mark had just signed a three-book deal with Seventh Street Books for his mystery series. That was two and a half years later, so I thought I'd check back with Mark to see how things are going with him and his books. Well, guess what? Mark has happily signed his second three-book deal with his publisher for three more Hugo Marston novels. Oprah.com has said of Mark's books: "Once you've had a bit, you can't wait for more"; and the Portland Book Review defined the series "A leaf out of a classic Agatha Christie novel, mixed with the modern world of crime."
Mark has also published a true crime book, As she lay sleeping, about a cold case he prosecuted. Mark appeared in the CBS show 48 Hours to discuss the case, how cool is that? Yes, I do love to brag about my friends. :-)
EEG: Congratulations, Mark: so many achievements in such a short time. How does it feel? Are you still floating twelve inches above ground, like last time we talked?
MP: It feels great, quite honestly, I still pinch myself. I have people asking me to give talks or meet with their books clubs, and when I agree they act like I'm doing them a favor. Little do they know! When people ask me what I do for a living, I feel good about saying, "I'm an author." Yet it still sounds weird to me...!
I don't know if it's changed me greatly, though. I feel more confident in my abilities as a writer, I suppose. But the thing about being a writer is that you're only as good as your last book, and the next one takes you to the precipice all over again. You peek over and wonder whether you've gone too high, and whether anyone will care if you fall. Scary.
The truth is (and don't tell anyone!) I've come further than I thought I would. All I wanted was a publisher for THE BOOKSELLER, to get that story out there. And now... an on-going series. So I'm still feeling fortunate and, hopefully, it's not changed me. I'll add, by the way, that as a result of the books being published I've met a lot of big-name authors and without exception, they all seem very down to earth, very generous with their time and advice. So maybe that says something about authors more generally, I don't know.
EEG: One thing I really loved from The Bookseller are the descriptions of Paris. What are your thoughts on writing about a place you don't live in? I know you travel to Paris often, but I'm just curious if when you go, you take notes/pictures and stuff like that. Did you find it challenging at first and then became easier as you went, or was it the opposite?
MP: I should mention I've been to Paris a dozen times by now. Thereabouts, anyway. I think there's a difference in the way I look at a place nowadays. Initially, I'd wander aimlessly and gaze at the monuments and famous icons of Paris. Now, I wander aimlessly and make a point of looking for the small things. For me, it's the little things that let you create atmosphere. For example, a year ago my wife and I were in Paris and we stumbled across this wonderful little street, almost a movie-set street with its restaurants and cafes, its cheese and flower shops. And, while we were enjoying it, a pretty girl on a bicycle came riding towards us, a smile on her face and pulling a wheeled, carry-on suitcase behind her. It was awesome, and so I plucked that out of reality and put it in the new book.
And that's my technique, if you can call it that. It's taking the small things and using them as color, rather than taking pains to describe the Eiffel Tower or other landmarks. Sure, they come into the stories because they're there, but the real flavor of a place is in the small things.
I'm curious if I can do a decent job with Barcelona, where book five will be set. I took the family there for ten days, and did the same thing: wandered around looking. I did have a notebook, yes, I have a different one for each novel. A couple of times we'd be strolling along and then I'd hear "Daddy!" from a hundred yards ahead of me. I'd stopped to write down a thought or idea, sparked by something I'd seen there.
I think this may be another aspect of why I'm lucky: being a writer, I'm forced to look hard at new places, or familiar ones, to try and see them in a new way, so that I can describe them with a modicum of originality, but also vividly.
EEG: That's so interesting. BTW, should you ever need a photographer to visually document these locations, I, er, happen to know one who would happily volunteer... Ahem. Anyways... when you signed your 3-book deal with Seventh Street you still had to write the third book in the series. Does it feel different to write a book on a deadline knowing that it's already slated to come out to the public on a certain day?
MP: Yes, it was very different. I tried to approach it the same way I had the first two, by just making up the story as I went along, but I plotted myself into a nasty corner. That's fine, no worries about starting over again except... that deadline! So THE BLOOD PROMISE, which was the third novel, became the first one I ever out-lined. I devised a system for plotting, actually, that I plan to use with future books so maybe all that stressing did me a favor.
Interestingly, I signed a second three-book deal with my publisher and the first of those books was already written. I know, it's weird, but it'll be a prequel and I wrote it about five years ago. It's set in London, but neither I nor my editor wanted to take Hugo back in time for the first three books. That was another one I plotted as I went along, so it'll be interesting to see if anyone notices a difference.
EEG: Can't wait to read it, Mark! What's next in your writing career? Are you working on more Hugo Marston novels or on something completely different?
MP: Yes, more Hugo. I have two more to write, which will bring the series to six. The London book (THE BUTTON MAN) will come out in September, and the next ones next year I expect. One will be set in Barcelona, and I haven't decided on the sixth. If they continue to attract readers, maybe we'll look at doing more, I certainly hope so.
I'm also working on non-Hugo stuff. Just this week I finished a novel set here in Austin, and I have another rattling around in my head that's asking to be let out. Both are crime fiction, I think I'm settled in the genre for good.
EEG: Who are your role models when it comes to writing?
MP: Oooh, that's tough. I don't know that I have any, to be honest. I mean, there are tons of writers whose books I admire but role model makes me think of the way someone lives their life. And I'm perfect, didn't you know that? No?
EEG: You told me "I'm not where I want to be just yet" -- where would you like to be as a writer?
MP: I'd like to be in a French chateau in the Loire Valley, behind the antique desk in my large study overlooking a manicured lawn and a winding river... seriously, that's where I'd like to be. :) For me, I suppose the ultimate goal would be to be able to write full-time and I can't do that now, not without my family making some significant sacrifices (that chateau in the Loire? Right now it'd be a shed on the outskirts of Marseille).
That said, I'm aware how far I've come and how lucky I am things have come together so quickly. It really goes back to your first question (nicely done!) in that my reality has changed, so have my ambitions, but I'm still feeling giddy about it all.
EEG: Haha, I'll settle for that shed outside of Marseille. Maybe in on of those Mediterranean pine groves right by the coast, how's that?
Thanks so much, Mark, for answering my questions and telling us about your writing process and your adventures in the world of publishing. Your success is very much deserved and I do wish you all the best with it. And if you do secure that castle on the Loire, please do come let us know. ;-)
You can find out more about Mark and his mystery books by visiting his blog, DA Confidential. Oh, and check out Mark's last book trailer, it's adorable !!