If author, Mark Pryor, seems recently familiar here at AuthorScoop, that’s because we saw him just a few weeks ago to discuss his debut novel, THE BOOKSELLER. Hot on its heels, Mark employs his other calling – the law – bringing to the non-fiction shelves a cold case story more than twenty years in the making. We’re as pleased as we can be to have him back to tell us a bit about AS SHE LAY SLEEPING.
We’d like to thank him for coming back once again to be part of our “5 Minutes Alone” interview series.
AuthorScoop: Twice in a (thus far, very short) year, we get the scoop on a new book by Mark Pryor. You’ve been a busy boy. Tell us about your latest, AS SHE LAY SLEEPING.
Mark: This is my first non-fiction book, it’s part memoir and part true crime. It begins with the murder of a beautiful young woman in Austin Texas, Natalie Antonetti, who is found battered and bleeding by her teenage son on their downstairs couch. She tries to talk, but can’t, and eventually sinks into a coma and dies. Police never have a good suspect and the case goes cold.
Twenty years later, police get an anonymous call that points them to Dennis Davis, Natalie’s former boyfriend and a respected music producer. That anonymous tip comes from Davis’s wife, of all people, and soon after making it she stops cooperating with police. Davis also has an alibi and when the detective checks with the woman he claims to have been with, she can’t remember (unsurprisingly). However, she used to keep a detailed diary and goes to look for the one covering the 1985 murder date. Sure enough, she wasn’t with him. Witnesses slowly come forward, including one who said Davis admitted to her that he killed Natalie.
I was the lead prosecutor handling the case, my first ever murder case, which went to trial in April 2011. We had no DNA, no eye-witnesses, and a lot of uncooperative witnesses. The book aims to be a detailed look at a fascinating case, as well as giving the reader an inside look at how the case was worked up and presented to a jury.
AuthorScoop: With fiction you have to craft a narrative around something that never happened, while with non-fiction, you have to choose just the right words to do justice to something that actually has. How has the contrast between these two disciplines felt from atop the hotseat?
Mark: You’re right. With fiction you can just make up people, and places, events to suit the narrative, to help the story along. But with non-fiction you are chained to a set of events that you have to make interesting, while sticking to the truth. Sometimes, and this will shock your readers, but the practice of law (even in a murder case) can be a little slow and boring. Then again, when an editor is waiting for your next book, that’s a lot of pressure on the creative engines whereas with non-fiction the story is all laid out.
Perhaps the hardest part, as you suggest, is doing justice to the people in the book. You don’t have to worry about that with fiction, your imaginary detective isn’t going to feel slighted by the way you describe him or what he does. But I had to work hard to represent people as they are, or appeared to me anyway, and not sell them short. With so many players in a murder case, that was hard!
AuthorScoop: In your career as a prosecutor, your head has to have been filled with many fascinating stories. Would you do it again, write it up in a book?
Mark: If I had the right case, I might. Maybe. It’s exhausting to live through a case like that and then recreate it on the page, it’s like living through it a second time almost. I don’t think I’ll have that concern, though, I have a lot of fiction rattling around in my head so I will busy myself with that for now.
That said, there’s nothing to stop me from taking snippets from the case and things I’ve seen and slipping them into my fiction, I’ve not done too much of that but one of the books I want to write will definitely include a few carefully disguised tidbits.
AuthorScoop: With two books (and probably most-if-not-all of a third, by now) under your belt, do you find that the experience of reading has changed for you?
Mark: That’s a great question because actually, it has. For one thing, with so much going on I don’t get to read as much as I used to. People have started asking me for blurbs, too, which is very flattering but also time consuming. On top of that, when I read for pleasure, and even though I try to stop myself, I find I’m very analytical, looking at word choice, plot structure, the mechanics of the book. I have to take a breath and get back to being a reader and not a writer.
Of course, the downside of that is when I’m reading a book by someone like Tana French, which makes me wonder if I can ever be that good!
AuthorScoop: Finally, what’s next for Mark Pryor?
Mark: A few days off?! Well, I suppose I’ll be gearing up for the release of my second mystery, THE CRYPT THIEF, in May, and I’m neck deep in the third book so I need to finish that up soon. If there’s a number four, I’ll have to think about where to set that and I do have a couple of stand-alone books in mind that I’d like to get to. In other words, not much slowing down in my future, as far as I can tell. I don’t mind though, this is a fun ride and I feel very lucky to be on it.
D.A. Confidential is Mark Pryor’s hub of up-to-date information on what he’s up to, but you can also find him on his website and Facebook. And do look for AS SHE LAY SLEEPING. In fact, why don’t you start right here.