On September 30th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor, we will be hosting Mark Pryor, author of the popular Hugo Marston series and, more recently, the standalone novel Hollow Man, our September Pick Of The Month. Hollow Man differs greatly from his Paris-set Hugo Marston series, following an Austin prosecutor and musician who is also a sociopath. Here is a quick discussion we had with Mark about writing such a different book than we’re used to from him.
MysteryPeople Scott: Hollow Man is completely different from the Hugo books. Were you deliberately wanting to write something different and darker or simply following an idea that popped into your head?
Mark Pryor: I would say the latter, except that it didn’t so much “pop” as germinate and gestate. Elements of the story had been rolling around in my head for a couple of years but it wasn’t until I was told about a real-life Ambrosio Silva-type character that the whole novel began to take shape. In fact, originally, the girl in the green dress was to be the protagonist, not Dominic. I suppose in some ways she remained the driving force but unlike most of my books, this one was very much a slow cook.
MPS: What did you enjoy about Dominic as a protagonist that you couldn’t do with Hugo?
MP: Yes, they’re almost complete opposite, aren’t they? The only thing they have in common is Austin and I’ve wondered whether maybe Hugo is the only man smart enough to catch Dominic. That might make an interesting book… Anyway, back to your question: I enjoy plotting novels and usually that requires scrupulous honesty with the reader. By that I mean, I can’t place various clues in a Hugo book and then spring a total surprise on the reader. I want people to think, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense, why didn’t I see it?!” It was a different process with Dominic because I always knew he was going to be a little unreliable as a narrator. Now, that doesn’t mean the ending is some kind of literary non-sequitur, it just means that the reader has two sets of clues to interpret: one to unravel what Dominic is up to, and the other to figure out who Dominic really is.
Put a little differently, Hugo is a straight-up guy and if he’s reporting something from his perspective, his point of view, you can take it as gospel. For Dominic, you need to look beyond what he’s saying, not take him at face value. In some ways, he forces the reader to look at events from his perspective, as a psychopath, because that’s about the only way to figure out what he’s really up to. And that was a lot of fun for me to write. Of course, dipping my toes into the dark side of someone’s mind was also a blast. Normally I only get to do that with the bad guys in the Marston series, and when I do it’s a fairly brief exploration. But with Dominic I could really swim around inside his head and try to imagine how he sees things, the bleak way he pictures people, and the callous way he might react. Fun, but a little scary at times!
MPS: Is there a particular reason, you just use his first name?
MP: Yes. And maybe this is odd, but I’d love for people to reach their own conclusions about that. And I know what you wanted to ask but didn’t: a related and similar question for the mischievous girl in green, right? I have the same answer for that, as you might imagine. Just me having a little fun, I hope you don’t mind me dodging the question…
MPS: With the Austin setting and his job as a prosecutor, you are working a bit closer to home. Did that affect the writing in any way?
MP: In several ways. For one thing, it made life easier: I know the physical places and the legal procedures that appear in the book, I know how the law works on the various criminal issues. Because I didn’t have to research or fret over those things, I was a lot freer to just focus on the story and the characters. Of course, now the book’s coming out and people know what it’s about, the effects are usually me assuring people Dominic is a fictional character and not someone I know (or even me!). Since my other books are set abroad, I will be interested to see how people I know react to the Austin setting – I think it’ll make it more fun for them to read the book, at least I hope so.
MPS: The book has some wonderful reveals. How much was planned before you sat down and wrote it?
MP: Thank you. I had to plan it pretty carefully, much more so that usual. It’s hard to describe the whys and wherefores of that without giving anything away but I definitely had to plan out the route to those reveals in advance, yes. Normally I just write by the seat of my pants but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep Dominic’s devious mind in check that way.
MPS: Do you see yourself going over to the dark side again?
MP: I’m absolutely leaving the door open to it, I had a lot of fun writing the book! Quite a few people have asked whether Hollow Man will be the first in a series but, if I do go back over to the dark side, I don’t think it’ll be through Dominic. The driving force of the book is his descent from a functional (mostly) member of society into the man we see at the end of the novel. It’s his journey that, I think, is the story and it’s not really a journey he can make twice.