Mark Pryor enters the literary ranks on the mystery shelf with a hell of a good resume. A journalist-turned-Texas-prosecuter, his boots belie the accent – he’s English. But the tangles only give gravitas to his work. THE BOOKSELLER released this week to tremendous buzz, including a starred Debut of the Month review from Library Journal. As such, we were fortunate to snag him at the start of his book business. He may simply be too busy for us later.
We’d like to thank him for taking the time to be part of our “5 Minutes Alone” interview series.
AuthorScoop: What was your very first publication credit?
Mark: That was as a newspaper reporter in England, oh so long ago. The very first thing I ever had published, and of the hundreds of newspaper stories and features I remember this, was a story for the Hitchen Gazette about a new line of public transport. I think it was called “the Hoppenstopper” because it’d stop and you could hop on…. the picture on the side of the bus was a rabbit, unsurprisingly. Anyway, I wrote a short article about it, as an intern, and when it was published I was thrilled. No by-line, of course, it was only about four paragraphs long. I think I still have a copy somewhere…
As far as fiction, I really count THE BOOKSELLER as my first publication. I’ve had a couple of pieces published in non-paying journals, but this is the first story someone was willing to pay for!
AuthorScoop: Tell us about your latest release.
Mark: THE BOOKSELLER is a mystery novel set in Paris. The main character is Hugo Marston, who is a former FBI profiler and now the head of security at the US Embassy. He has a friend called Max, a grumpy old fellow who works as a bouquiniste, which is one of those booksellers you see alongside the River Seine. Hugo is buying a book from Max when a man appears out of nowhere and forces the old man onto a boat, at gun point and right under Hugo’s nose.
For some reason (and I’m not saying why) the Paris police are only mildly interested and Hugo is devastated that he let this happen, so he goes after Max himself. But to do so, he has to find out more about his friend and what he uncovers is… surprising. Suffice to say, that Hugo has a number of avenues he can go down, relating to 19th century homosexual love poetry, Nazi hunting, and east European drug gangs.
He does have help though, from his best friend Tom who is somewhat uncouth but who is also effective: he now works for the CIA and doesn’t have the investigative scruples Hugo has. On his journey to find Max, Hugo also meets a beautiful journalist who has a secret or two of her own…
I think the book will appeal to people who like a traditional, almost gentlemanly hero and a couple of very kind reviewers (who I didn’t bribe, but would have) made mention of Eric Ambler and Alan Furst, though there’s no way in the world I’d put myself in either category. In terms of setting being important, I get what they mean because I love Paris and hope very much I bring it to life for the reader.
AuthorScoop: Aside from your own hard work, who (or what) else do you feel has contributed to your success?
Mark: So many people. I think first and foremost, my wife. I don’t think I realized, when I first embarked on this journey to publication, quite how demanding it is in terms of time and emotional energy. My wife, Sarah, has helped me on both of those fronts. She encourages me when things are going well, consoled and supported me after the (many, many) rejections, and happily takes the lead with the house and kids while I take off to the library to write. It’s so rewarding to be able to share in the good moments, to have someone like that beside me who has been there through thick and thin.
I will add, too, that the level of interest and support from people around me, people who have no idea how tough this road is and who have no real interest in the process other than being readers, have also been so encouraging and happy for me when things have gone well. Likewise, I’ve been amazed at how willing established (in same cases pretty famous) writers have been to share their time and wisdom.
AuthorScoop: At what time of day or night do you do your best writing?
Mark: I’m afraid I’m not one of those writers who has a best time, much as I’d like to be one of those pipe-smoking, whiskey-swilling chaps who labors over his manuscript until four in the morning. I usually end up writing at the local library for a few hours in the afternoon on Fridays and Saturdays, maybe grabbing an hour or two at some coffee shop somewhere at other times. With a full-time job and three kids, I have to stay pretty flexible and be ready to write when the moment presents.
AuthorScoop: Finally, what advice would you give to new or unpublished writers?
Mark: A couple of things. First, keep reading and writing. I tried selling two novels before an agent bit on THE BOOKSELLER. Why? Because I thought they were good enough. Thing is, they weren’t and it was only through writing a second and then a third that I improved, and that I realized my shortcomings.
Second, if you have written a good book, keep at it. Work hard to find an agent, exhaust every resource but if it doesn’t happen, don’t give up. It took me ten years to get to this point, and I’m at the beginning of my writing career (I hope!). I never got completely used to the rejections, and they never really stop coming, from publishers and then readers who don’t like your book. But if you become good enough, and you keep at it, the rewards (and I don’t mean financial) easily outweigh those few irritations.