MysteryPeople Q&A with Mark Pryor

We can’t wait to host our friend Mark Pryor this Friday, Jan 17 at 7PM for a reading & signing of his latest featuring Hugo Marston, The Blood Promise. Here’s an insightful interview he did with us to give you an idea of what to expect.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In Blood Promise you are telling two stories, one in the past and one in the present, that merge. How did you go about juggling the two?

MARK PRYOR: Clear chapter headings! Seriously. Okay, a few other things, too. You’re right in that combining past and present was a challenge. On one hand, I wanted to make the historical action stand apart so that the reader was very clear on where and when things were happening. But there had to be a link, too. What I tried to do, as well as the clear chapter headings, was limit the number of chapters set in the past. In the same way you don’t want your reader to “head-hop” from character to character, I didn’t want my readers to expend a huge amount of mental energy in time travel, figuring out which century they were in. The way to do that, I thought, was to keep the number of chapters set in the past to a minimum and make every event in those chapters memorable and relevant.

Also, those chapters were purely action and activity. There was no musing, solving, or deduction. All the links from then to the present were established in the contemporary chapters. That’s sort of inevitable, of course, but it’s another way to make those chapters read differently. And, of course, revealing those links was Hugo’s job so those revelations had to come in the modern setting.

MP: All three of the Hugo Marston books deal with some aspect of French history. What do you find compelling about the country’s past?

M. Pryor: It’s not just French history that fascinates me, it’s all history. And that’s something of a recent revelation because I went to very traditional English boarding schools where history was memorized from a book, a series of kings, battles, and dates. But history touches us everyday. Our family history impacts who we are, where we live. Society’s development, a result of historical successes and failures, impacts us as a whole. That’s what appeals to me about history: the way it reaches out to us from the past and not just in a way that makes us behave in a certain way, but perhaps in a way that gives us a choice in how we behave.

Now, I will concede that there is a certain romanticism when I think of French history. Every nation has had great historical figures. As a writer who loves to see strong individuals characters, the likes of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and Joan of Arc are always going to impress me. I’m not saying the French have produced more or better figures in the past. For me, with my preconceived penchant for things French, I see those characters through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s more than just personalities, too. Places contain history that speak to us, to me. The best example is the grand Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise, a place truly unique to the city.

MP: You introduce a transgender policewoman, Lerens. How did the idea for her come about?

M. Pryor: One of the most fun things about being a writer is that you can create people in any image you choose. It can be done for fun or because a character fits a need in the plot. Or, it can be done to acknowledge certain aspects of humanity that matter. That sounds kind of touchy-feely, so I’ll start by saying how much I loved bringing Tom alive. He’s fun to write, of course. A reason for that is he reflects a part that lives in most of us, the guy or gal who wants to say what they think, to be loud and loyal and not care so much about consequences. Likewise, I love working with Hugo because he reminds me of the good things I’ve seen in people, the honesty and lack of judgment I saw (and hopefully inherited from) my father, and the intelligence and integrity I’ve seen in so many police officers.

Which brings us to Camille Lerens. She’s different in that I don’t know any transgender people. But I was talking to a good friend who is half-black, half-Hispanic, and lesbian. We were talking about book characters and just talking with her I realized how many straight, white men I have in my books. Even the bad guys!  As as result of that, and because I like to test my own boundaries, I came up with a mixed-race male-to-female transgender character.

MP: What kind of research did you do for her?

M. Pryor: Thank heavens for the internet, right? I actually tried pretty hard to connect with someone in real life who had been through that process; but the way the deadlines for the book came about, I didn’t manage that. I learned a lot about the surgeries and physical changes from medical web sites and personal accounts online.

But it’s important for me to emphasize that I didn’t want to make her gender the only important thing about her. Initially I was kind of annoyed with myself for failing to sit down and get one person’s in-depth experience. But now, I’m not because I wonder if I would have infused too much of that into Camille. In other words, I might have risked making her trans-gender status the only important thing about her. That would be ridiculous because, for her, all she wants to do is be a cop. Not a trans-gender cop, just a cop.

I’m sort of hoping to get feedback from real trans-gender people to see if I’ve done a decent job. I’m definitely open to both positive and negative feedback.

MP: While many of your stories deal with politics, you don’t take a political stance in your books like Barry Eisler or Brad Thor. Is that deliberate?

M. Pryor: Yes, it is. I haven’t read those guys so I’m not commenting on them specifically, but I can’t imagine it’s ever a good idea for a writer to start a novel while on his soap-box; or clamber aboard his high-horse for specific issues. Readers are too smart to be manipulated like that, and I know it would irritate me as a reader. As far as Camille Lerens, I tried doubly hard to stay away from my own views. The fact is, no matter what you think, there are people like her all over the world, and all around us. Novelists should reflect the world around them, the good the bad and the ugly. As I mentioned, I had a lot of straight white dudes in my first two books, so I’m looking to change that a little – prepare for the half-Asian, wannabe dominatrix. Seriously.

I also think that a person who challenges the norms can, and should, be used for reasons that aren’t political, but that show the characters of the other people in the book. Hugo is “Mr. Accepting,” so his response to Lerens reinforces a consistent personality trait. In other words, we can learn a great deal about other characters by their responses to unusual people and events.

MP: Hugo seems very comfortable in a foreign setting. Do you see him as an American or more a citizen of the world?

M. Pryor: This is a great question and brings me back to the basis for Hugo’s personality. My father was born in a tiny village in England; but the first chance he got, he rode a motorcycle around America (and met my mother!). He loved to travel to Europe whenever possible; and when they were in their fifties, my parents moved to Africa for three years. On their return, they moved to a little village in the Pyrenees mountains.

So, Hugo was born bearing the DNA of a man who loved to travel and explore the world. His own personality, though, furthers those interests. He is inherently interested in people, and sure, you can meet a million folks just in Texas. But if you really want to experience the gamut of human personality, you should probably expand your circle to include Oklahoma, then Colorado, and New York. And why not Paris?

That said, he’s a man of deep loyalty and appreciation for where he comes from. I sometimes wonder if he’s minutely insecure, hanging on to his cowboy boots and his Texas manners and charm. I hope these things make him a complex and real character. The truth is I don’t feel like I know everything about him yet. That’s part of the joy of writing, and hopefully reading, a series.

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Mark Pryor will be here Friday, Jan 17 at 7PM to speak about & sign The Blood Promise. If you can’t make it to the event, you can order a signed copy order a signed copy via our website. We ship all over the world. 

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