Friday, October 12, 2012

Q & A with Mark Pryor

It's my pleasure to welcome Mark Pryor, author of The Bookseller.  Not only did Library Journal give it a starred review, the book was also awarded "Debut of the Month."  I reviewed it on Monday, and asked Mark to share some more information about himself and his novel.

You’re English by birth, so what prompted you to write a thriller featuring a Texan as the hero?

I've been living in Texas for the past ten years and there's something fascinating and romantic about the place.  Larger than life in so many ways, a place that, whether you love or hate it, conjures images of  the kinds of things great stories are made of-- heroes, bad guys, guns, horses, wide open plains.  But I always knew my novel would be set in Paris so somehow it made perfect sense to put a Texan there.  An old-fashioned Texan in cowboy boots amid the chic-ness of Paris… there's tension before a word's even written!

You’ve succeeded in making me want to visit Paris in the winter.  What is it that draws you to the city?  And why did you choose a winter setting?

Why thank you.  Several things draw me to the city.  In my humble opinion, it's the most visually appealing city in the world.  It's one of the few major European cities not bombed in the war so there's very little of that hideous fifties and sixties concrete that you'll see elsewhere.  It's also a city that's easy to explore on foot, and while you're doing that there are a million cafes where you can sit and rest your weary feet.  The food, too… love the food.  I've heard Paris described as a small city, not just because it's so accessible, but because its many arrondissments are like mini-cities themselves, each with its own nuance and flavor.  I definitely agree with that assessment.

As for the setting being winter, I was there in winter when the story came to me.  Simple, but there you are.  That said, I do think that the weather can be like a character in a book, creating moods and even obstacles for the characters to overcome.  I didn't try for too much of that, but it definitely plays a minor role.  I should also admit that I wanted Hugo to wear a hat and I only wear mine in the winter, so it seemed like he would, too.

Which appeared to you first, your character Hugo or the plotline?

The plot.  I wanted to write a story that revolved around the booksellers who work alongside the River Seine, the bouquinistes, so I began with that.  As I thought more about it, and came up with my crusty old bookseller Max, I wondered who might be a good counterpoint.  Hugo developed fairly quickly in my mind, a sort of coming together of people I've known.  He and Max have enough in common plus enough differences that a "friendship with sparks" seemed natural.

You started work as a journalist.  What initiated the move into law, and the subsequent decision to write?

I did.  When I moved to the US I did some freelancing but found it hard to land a full-time job because I didn't have a US journalism degree.  So, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill to complete that but while there became involved with an anti-death penalty organization, representing death row inmates.  From there, a move to law school seemed logical (oh, about the law v. journalism thing, I tell people, "If I'm going to do a job where people don't respect me, I might as well get paid well for it").  Now, from that background to being a Texas prosecutor, there's another story…!

As for the writing, well, I've always meddled.  I suppose about ten years ago I really thought I'd try and finish a story.  I did, and it was… average, probably.  Then I wrote another, which I liked a lot more.  The desire to write  has always lurked within, it's the end product that's really evolved (one hopes).  Now writing is less a choice than a compulsion--I have two non-Hugo stories I've started to put down on paper and am desperate to finish.  But before I get to them, I have a non-fiction (true crime) deadline and two more Hugo books to finish up.  It's a wonder I have time to work for a living…

Is The Bookseller your first novel?  Could you share with us how it came to be published?

It's the first one I've had published.  I wrote and tried to sell two before, but they never got off the ground.  I'm sure it's because they weren't good enough.  The Bookseller took me about six months to write, then another six months to land an agent.  That was exciting, I can tell you, after two abject failures to have a fair amount of interest from agents.  And I consider myself oh so lucky to have ended up with Ann Collette of the Rees Agency. 

She and I worked for about three months on tightening the book, changing the beginning a little to accelerate the action.  Then I was on submission to publishers for a year, and we got very close with some of the bigger houses but in the end they passed.  That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because  a year after being on submission I got an offer for a three-book deal from Prometheus Books, their new mystery imprint called Seventh Street Books.  The Bookseller is one of two that launches the imprint in October, and the folks there have been simply amazing to work with.

I’ve always assumed an author writes the kind of book he likes to read.  Are you a committed thriller fan?  Who are your favorite writers in the genre?

Yes, I am.  It's pretty much all I read, to be honest.  My favorite author is probably Alan Furst, I devour everything he puts out.  The way he can set up a scene, create atmosphere without drowning the reader in words, it's impressive.  And he's very much in the vein of other writers I like, the older ones like Eric Ambler or Cornell Woolrich.  Really, there are so many great writers out there these days, it's a treat for readers who love the mystery/thriller genre.

You’re an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, and have a family.  How and when do you make time to write?

My family has been so supportive and encouraging, that's the "how."  They make time and they don't mind if I take off for a few hours by myself.  I usually go to the library, maybe four to six hours a week, and I write very fast so I can knock out a chapter or three every week.  And when I'm not actually writing, I plan the next scene in my head quite carefully, while I'm working out or walking the dog, for example.  That way, when I do sit down with my laptop it flows from the dense mass that is my head onto the page without too much trouble.

Because I love cowboy boots, I just have to know:  what brand of boots does Hugo prefer?  Or does he have them made by hand?  Describe his favorite pair, please.

Great question!  He has three pairs, one for work, one for casual, and one for formal events.   All are quite plain, with fairly minimal stitching, he's not a flashy kind of guy.  His casual pair are his favorites, made in Texas by Lucchese.  They are brown and ten years old, worn and a little frayed, but they fit like a glove.  Or two gloves.  As any cowboy will tell you, putting on shoes is a part of getting dressed, whereas pulling on your favorite boots is a pleasure all its own.

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