By Rick Reed
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 Newsshow, 48 HOURS, and Discovery Channel’s Discovery ID: COLD BLOOD. As an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, he authored the nationally recognized true-crime novel, AS SHE LAY SLEEPING, the true account of a ‘cold’ murder case he helped investigate and prosecuted. PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY gave this novel a starred review and called it “compelling” and “riveting.”
THE BOOKSELLER: THE FIRST HUGO MARSTON NOVEL was his first mystery novel and received a starred review in Library Journal’s Debut of the Month. That book also received 4 ½ stars from RT BOOK REVIEWS, and was listed on Oprah.com as an “unputdownable mystery.”
Now, all of that talent shines in his newest novel, THE CRYPT THIEF: A HUGO MARSTON NOVEL, to be released in May 7, 2013 by Seventh Street Books.
It’s summer in Paris and two tourists have been killed in Pere 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. One of the tourists proves to be an American and the other a woman linked to a known terrorist; so the U.S. Ambassador in Paris sends his best man, former FBI Agent and embassy head of security—Hugo Marston—to help the French police with their investigation. 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.
There’s no shortage of excitement in this second Hugo Marston mystery-thriller, set in modern day Paris. So strap in, it’s going to be a ride you won’t forget.
What was your first experience with being a published writer? How did that experience influence your future writing?
My very first publications were newspaper articles in England. I always liked seeing my name in print but because my name was on those stories I learned that it was crucial to always get my facts right, and to own my words. That’s as true in crime fiction as journalism, I think. I’ve been very careful to get the street names, the descriptions of weapons and places, all as correct as I can. And when I’m making things up, well, that’s why I have a disclaimer in the front of each book!
Do any of the characters in the Hugo Marston novels resemble real people you have known? And, of course, are you Hugo Marston in your books? If not, how do you create your characters?
I think they are all amalgams of people I know or have known. Hugo himself is a composite of my father (from him, Hugo gets his honorable, slightly quiet, and non-judgmental side), some FBI profilers I’ve known, and maybe a few other folks too. I don’t see him as me, or see me as him, no. That’s because I like to talk to him in my mind, and it’d be weird to talk to myself, right?
As for the other characters, I like to find people who are interesting in and or themselves, but who also compliment the people around them. Tom Green, for example, is everything Hugo isn’t: brash, uncouth, promiscuous. Yet he adores Hugo and is, in his own way, as honorable and trustworthy as his friend.
Interestingly, the character who has resulted in the most feedback is Claudia. I have known some strong and independent women in my life and I see too many female characters in books, crime fiction and beyond, who are mere foils for their man, whose sole role in the book is to require help. Claudia needs Hugo’s help, sometimes, but there so much more to her. And as you’ll see in upcoming books, the need goes the other way…
We have had a similar path in writing and I’ve been asked this question many times, so I’ll ask you. Do you keep a list of people that you are going to use in your books—killers, victims, news people, etc?
You and I have trod a very similar path, maybe I’ll get lucky and emulate your success, too! I don’t keep a physical list, no, but you’re right in that some of the people I come across in my daily life as a prosecutor make it into the mental character-bank. That said, I don’t really take-and-drop people from the real world to fiction, just aspects of them: a physical description maybe, or a personality trait, or even something they’ve done, a crime they committed, perhaps.
You have written both true-crime and fiction, which in itself is quite remarkable. If you had the opportunity to write any genre, which one would you choose?
I love crime fiction. I’ve always been a devotee as a reader and while I enjoyed writing AS SHE LAY SLEEPING, at the moment I think I’d prefer to stick to making up crimes. I would like to try a stand-alone crime novel, something Texas-based, and I have a couple of ideas. The problem is finding the time to write them.
THE CRYPT THIEF is your second in the Hugo Marston series. How difficult, or easy, do you find it to keep coming up with plots, characters, and endings? Where do your ideas come from?
I’ve never had a problem with ideas, to be honest. Plot ideas leap into my head all the time, the real task is weeding the bad ones out and making sense of the good ones. It’s fun, actually, it’s like a puzzle or riddle I set for myself: the idea drifts into my head and I toy with it, asking the “what if?” question as I change the outcomes, or invent and maybe kill different characters in my head before setting it to paper.
What kind of research did you do to write crime-thrillers?
I have spent a lot of time in Paris. I know it quite well, and I hope that comes across. Going to Paris doesn’t really seem like ‘research,’ though, because the word implies a degree of work and Paris is never that for me. I did have to research some specifics for each book, but I’ve found that people are incredibly eager to help, once they find out what you’re doing. Just as an example, I spent a fascinating two hours with some folks at the US Embassy in Paris, getting a tour and peppering them with questions to make sure Hugo was as right as I could make him. Likewise an FBI agent helped me with certain aspects of THE CRYPT THIEF. One of the discoveries for me had been the kindness of strangers, and their willingness to help a new writer.
How important is a writing routine?
My routine is very flexible, and has to be. Maybe it’s not even a routine at all. With a full-time job, three young kids, and a need for frequent exercise, I have to write when I can. Now, I do try and preserve a few hours on each day of the weekend to write, but I’m able to do that because my wife is so understanding. Those weekend hours are as close to a routine as I get, the rest is snatched when I can.
Without giving your ‘special’ place away, is there a special type of place that you like to work? Do you require quiet and solitude, or do you need to be near activity and music?
The library. I have one close to me that I try and get to every Saturday. They know me and have been wonderful about supporting me and inviting me to talk to local reading groups. There’s another library near my kids’ school that has nooks and crannies for me to settle into and write before picking them up at the end of the day.
I like the library because it has just the right amount of white noise, the shuffling of feet, the solid scrape of books coming off shelves, the mumble of voices… total silence is distracting for me, and home is a little busy most of the time. I do keep a pair of headphones in my computer bag in case things get noisy, though, or in case I get stuck sitting next to someone blasting their own tunes.
What is a typical day like in the life of Mark Pryor?
I’m up at 6am for a cup of tea and then a fruit smoothie breakfast. I take my kids into school, leaving around 7am. I work nearby, so am at my desk by about 7:40am, and then have a full work day for the DA’s office. I get home around 5pm and try to do some writing, maybe for an hour, and usually in the main room while my wife’s in the kitchen cooking – that way we can talk, spend some time near each other if not totally interacting.
Two or three evenings a week I’ll take my kids to their soccer practice, which I like. Weekends are full of kids activities, too, of course, but unless we’re on a trip I can probably scoot to the library.
In the evenings my wife and I like to settle in for an hour of TV, it’s our way of switching off the day. Unsurprisingly we like crime-related shows, particularly anything on the BBC Foyle’s War is our current favorite. After that, I try and read for a while.
What advice would you have for aspiring authors?
I usually say two things. First, learn the craft. I don’t pretend to be anywhere near the finest crime writer on the block but I know I’m a lot better than I was ten years ago when I began. Learning the craft of writing is work, yes, but it makes life easier when later in your career you sit in front of your computer/typewriter to put words on paper.
Second, I tell people to stick with it. I wrote and tried to sell two novels before hooking an agent with The Bookseller. They went nowhere and I could have filled my house with rejection slips. But I kept going, working on making my writing better, and I just kept telling myself that giving up wasn’t an option. It’s a long, hard, ego-bruising road but the rewards (and I don’t mean money) can be incredible. The first time I walked into a bookstore and saw my novel on the shelves, the first time I got an email from a reader who’d loved my book, the first time… there are a lot of first times, so many utterly joyful, that perseverance made even more special. So stick with it – if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Where can your fans find a list of where you’ll be appearing, and do you have a Facebook or twitter account?
I rarely Tweet, though I’m told I should, and can be found at: @daconfidential (which is the name of my true crime blog, if you’re wondering).
“Much like a baguette, this fabulous story is crusty on the outside, sweet on the inside, and once you’ve had a bit, you can’t wait for more.”
“[A] fascinating adventure with enough intrigue to satisfy every reader… a fantastic debut!”
—RT BOOK REVIEWS, 4 1/2 Stars
“Pryor’s steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue. With a cast of characters you want to know better….”
—LIBRARY JOURNAL, Starred Review and Debut of the Month
“In this well crafted, intriguing murder mystery, readers are led on a chase through the streets of Paris, and the bodies soon begin piling up…. [Pryor] uses the City of Light as a great setting for his storytelling. The characters are distinctive….”
—REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE
Mark Pryor (Austin, TX) is the author of THE BOOKSELLER, the first Hugo Marston novel, and the true-crime book AS SHE LAY SLEEPING. 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 DAConfidential. He has appeared on CBS News’s 48 Hours and Discovery Channel’s Discovery ID: Cold Blood.
For more on Mark Pryor, visit his website.