The Bookseller by Mark Pryor
By Jamie Rush
I’m sitting down with Mark Pryor today to find out all the juicy details about his debut mystery novel, THE BOOKSELLER.
Mark, how exciting it must be to see your first book come out! Congratulations! Even more, this is the first in a new mystery series. Tell us what this story is all about and what drove you to write it.
Exciting is an understatement, I’m thrilled to pieces. It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, and hoped so much for, that now it’s happening I can scarcely believe it!
Here’s a summary of the story (forgive me if I use my publisher’s summary): Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.
Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter.
Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold? Or perhaps to recent spate of killings related to a turf war between drug gangs?
With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy’s lair.
Just as the killer intended.
As for what drove me to write it, well, it was old-fashioned inspiration. I was in Paris with my wife. I have the writing itch no matter where I am but when on vacation it’s overpowering. I had the idea while walking alongside the river, looking at the books and art sold by the riverside bouquinistes. I bought myself a notebook and started writing the story there and then.
The main character of a mystery series holds the weight of many a book. He must capture the interest of the reading public, but more importantly, he must captivate you, the writer. What is it about Hugo that grabbed your muse, and why will readers love him?
I agree, a main character has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Fortunately, Hugo’s are broad—literally and figuratively. I think there are several things that make him interesting. As a professional, he’s a former FBI profiler, a job which captures the interest of most fans of criminal fiction and true crime. I’ve known and worked with a couple of them in real life and, as they are in fiction, they are simply fascinating people. But he’s also an interesting man, I think. He’s not the tortured soul that we see in a lot of crime fiction nowadays, fighting booze or drugs or family dysfunction. (Nothing at all wrong with that, by the way, I just chose a different route.)
Hugo is almost old-fashioned in the way he looks at and deals with the world, with people in particular. He’s a little stand-offish and takes some getting to know. That’s especially true when you compare him with his best friend, Tom, who’ll buy you a drink (or ten) and regale you with exciting tales all night long. In THE BOOKSELLER, a character compares him physically to a 1960s movie star, one who had a bit of a reputation. I finesse that observation by pointing out that Hugo’s more of a watcher than a player, the kind of man who’ll stand on the edge of the party, totally comfortable, taking in the scene before joining it.
I hope the reader will admire Hugo, who’s a genuinely nice guy, and want to spend the time to get to know him better over the series.
While this is your debut book, this is not your first published writing. You had a career as a newspaper reporter in England before moving to Austin, Texas and becoming an Assistant District Attorney. I can see how all of that crime fodder would feed your imagination, but moving from non-fiction to fiction really does take a leap. Can you tell us what led you to come up with your own mystery. And how much of that real-life fodder fed THE BOOKSELLER?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in crime, though don’t ask me why! So as a crime reporter and now a prosecutor you’re right, I have been closer than most to real-world stories and actual murder and mayhem. The truth, though, is that most murders are simple. Tragic, always, but rarely complicated. The stories behind them are straightforward. In terms of fodder, I can’t say I’ve taken much from the true crime that I’ve seen and put it in my writing, though some may have seeped in through osmosis.
The biggest effect on those two careers has been on my writing, I think. Both require a facts-only approach, whereas writing fiction almost requires a writer to grant himself flexibility and a license to be descriptive, playful, artistic. (I don’t claim to be near the latter, but I’m working on it…!)
You weave in several elements of holocaust survivors, revenge, drug gangs and old, rare books. Were there personal reasons for exploring these?
Other than a great interest in history, I don’t think so really. Every country has its secrets, its ghosts, and sometimes we forget that sometimes they can rise from the past and haunt our everyday lives. Maybe they are always there and we don’t usually see them, but I’m fascinated when we do. In Europe, for example, the Second World War sent ripples forward through time and even people who weren’t born then carry the weight of that event inside them. Guilt, shame, anger, all of those emotions live on in the people of the countries who fought in the war, and so many secrets were kept hidden by the survivors, so when they are unearthed… well, it can be deadly.
As for the drugs angle, that plays into a personal interest, I suppose. You see, when I was growing up, Europe was a patchwork of nations, each with its own money, language, and culture. I have no doubt that modern-day Europe is a better, easier place to live but from my vantage point I can reminisce about the good old days when driving from France into Switzerland was an event, and carrying nine types of money was part of the fun of traveling. So with the drugs angle, maybe I’m taking a poke at the new Europe, where the opening up of borders has not only let residents, business, and tourists flow freely but has also allowed criminals to expand their horizons. I make no judgments, of course, as Hugo wouldn’t. But like Hugo, I can also appreciate a simpler time where local merchants might take advantage of a foreigner’s unfamiliarity with small change in a border-town market, and where terribly nice border guards carried guns for the bad guys and candy for kids.
Not to take away any of the glitter of the new novel, but you also have a non-fiction book coming out in January 2013 called AS SHE LAY SLEEPING. Having written full-length non-fiction and fiction, what were the differences in the process, the good and bad parts? Do you enjoy writing one form over the other?
The writing process is very different, you’re right. In some ways, non-fiction is easier because I don’t have to dream up a plot or twists and turns, or even characters. The story is laid out for me and I just have to tell it in an interesting and truthful way. But there is also a lot more responsibility to real people. People whose loved ones died or went to jail, and to people I work with. I have to be truthful, but also not alienate folks! I think, if I had to choose, I’d pick fiction as the way to go. Maybe it’s because I deal with real crime every day, I’d rather deal with pretend crimes in my spare time.
Your series is set in Paris, a city of such history and beauty. Why did you choose that locale?
Easy: it’s my favorite city in the world. It has so much to recommend it, history, beauty, food… I also find it to be one of the most walkable cities, in terms of exploration, which allows my characters to stumble into all kinds of experiences they may not have if they drive or even take the metro.
More specifically, once I’d settled on the bouquinistes as the target in THE BOOKSELLER, I thought it was be fun to pick an aspect of Paris and run with it for each book. The next one is called THE CRYPT THIEF, and features two of the beautiful old cemeteries in Paris. After that, we have some Napoleonic treasure…
That all said, I’ve talked to my editor about Hugo moving around Europe, and he thinks it’d be wonderful to have a story, or part of a story, elsewhere. That gives me a lot of leeway and, as you can imagine, I can’t wait to get started on the in-person research.
We love to hear stories about triumph. Tell us about your journey from dream to being published.
I always took comfort in other people’s success stories, so I’m happy to share mine. I began writing seriously, that is trying to get published, about ten years ago. THE BOOKSELLER is the fourth novel I finished, the third I tried selling. The first two garnered very little interest from agents, and I know why: they weren’t good enough. Each one was better than its predecessor, so it was a learning process for me, even if I didn’t really appreciate that at the time! THE BOOKSELLER took me about six months to write and almost immediately I saw interest from the agents I was querying. Several asked for the manuscript, and I eventually got very lucky indeed to be taken on by Ann Collette of the Rees Agency.
She and I worked on the story for about six more months, and while some authors don’t like an overly-involved agent in terms of the writing, I was delighted to have her so involved in the up-front editing. Once we had it in shape, we were on submission to publishers for a year. Let me tell you, that’s a painful process! We got close with a couple of the ‘big six’ but in the end, no dice. That’s why I love my agent, though. She never gave up, and a year after she started sending the book out, she got me a three-book deal with Seventh Street / Prometheus Books. And those folks have been simply amazing. I feel fortunate to be working with hugely professional, energetic, and just plain nice people. Quick to turn the book around, too, because the publication date is almost a year to the day that I accepted their offer.
Is there a theme in your books, a thread that you see coming up in your stories? For instance, underdog fighting for justice?
The word “theme” always reminds me of high school English lit classes, and not in a good way. I would suggest that all crime fiction inevitably deals with similar ideas, those relating to good v. evil, the ends justifying the means, etc. But I wouldn’t say I intend to connect the series with other profound and deeply-embedded theses, no. To the extent that recurring themes do exist, I’m happy for readers to settle upon their own, to draw out whatever is meaningful to them.
Now, within each book I do think it’s fun to examine aspects of topical or historic events, but I can’t imagine I do it in a very sophisticated way. The disappearing boundaries in Europe, for example, might be worthy of a chat in the pub, as might the question of why people became collaborators or resistance fighters in the war. But I don’t pretend to answer any of these questions, nor make them overly important to the book. In other words, I’m certainly not trying to make a point that’s any grander than the story itself.
Were you inspired by other authors or television shows?
I’m constantly inspired by other people’s creativity. I love the old spy-masters, like Eric Ambler and John le Carre. My first inspiration would have to be Agatha Christie. I devoured her books as a teenager and young man. I also think there is currently a huge sea of talent out there writing crime fiction, so I always have something fun on my nightstand to turn to. Of the modern writers, Alan Furst is one of my favorites, and I’d like to point out I was reading and recommending William Landay before his break-out novel DEFENDING JACOB.
As for television, I love the BBCs Masterpiece Mystery series – from Poirot, to Inspector Lewis, to Wallander. I’m also a fan of CRIMINAL MINDS. From my limited knowledge of profiling, it’s more accurate than most portrayals (apart from the private jet, insanely gorgeous profilers, constant shoot-outs…)
Do you have any writing rituals before you begin a book or start your day?
Before I begin a book, I like to sketch out the basic premise: who gets killed and why. Also, I usually know how the bad guy is caught. The rest I pretty much make up as I go along. As far as specific rituals, well, before I begin a session’s writing I’ll go through the previous day’s and edit it, which serves two functions: it reminds me where I am exactly, what just happened, and it also makes the editing at the end much less onerous.
What does your writing space looks like?
The local library. I do almost all of my writing there. I have to have a certain amount of background noise, white noise I guess, and if I’m home alone it’s just too quiet. Of course, if I’m home with the kids, it’s way too noisy… But there’s something about being in a library, surrounded by books and readers, that helps me settle into the right frame of mind to write.
What’s the best way for reader’s to get in touch with you? Your website? Do you Tweet/blog/etc.? And please tell us about your blog.
I started the blog almost three years ago. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk for me, actually, because as a practicing prosecutor I have to be very, very careful about the information I put in there. With regard to ongoing cases, I usually say nothing, although if I want to let people know about an upcoming case or trial I have been known to link to newspaper stories. Generally, it’s a more light-hearted look at the world of crime, an outlet for my humor. But I also try and provide more general information about what it’s like to be a prosecutor, how we do our jobs, that kind of thing.
As far as getting in touch, I do Tweet and hope to do more of that: @DAConfidential. For more direct contact, I love to hear from readers and my email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for spending time with me and sharing your exciting story! I wish you all the best with it.
Thank you, it was my great pleasure.
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 true-crime blog D.A. Confidential. He has appeared on CBS News’s 48 Hours and Discovery Channel’s Discovery ID: Cold Blood. This is his first mystery novel.
Missing the romance, relationship drama, and action of her favorite television shows, X-Files, Roswell, and Highlander, Jaime Rush created her own mix in the Offspring series, from Avon Books (DARKNESS BECOMES HER). Rush is a pseudonym for Tina Wainscott, best-selling author of eighteen novels for St. Martin’s Press and Harlequin. Contests, sneak peeks, bargain e-books, and more at www.jaimerush.com.
- When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth - March 31, 2014
- Gated by Amy Christine Parker - July 31, 2013
- Opposing Forces by Adrienne Giordano - May 31, 2013