I have always loved it when art is interwoven into mysteries. It makes the stories richer and the canvas of the narrative comes alive. So I wanted to do a series on some of my favorite authors who bring art into their work in compelling ways. Today I have Mark Pryor joining us on Art & Murder with MissDemeanors! I truly enjoyed and was completely absorbed in his latest book, The Book Artist. Thank you so much for being part my interview, Mark. Please give a little introduction of yourself.
Thanks for having me, Laurie and MissDemeanors! I grew up on a beautiful farm in south-eastern England and attended two boarding schools, which gave me fodder for my later writing. I was a journalist over there, a general news reporter and the crime reporter for my daily newspaper. I moved to the US in 1994 and lived with my grandparents (mother’s parents) before getting my journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and then a law degree from Duke.
I have written and had published ten novels, making up two crime fiction series, one is traditional mysteries set in Paris, France, featuring Hugo Marston (eight books so far), and the other series is much darker, psychological thrillers starring bad boy Dominic, and set where I live, in Austin, Texas (two in the series). I also have a fascinating day job, working as a felony prosecutor for the DA’s Office in Austin.
You’re such a slouch;-). Could you possibly do more?! Hah! I love your varied background and you can feel that depth in your books, Mark. Do you stick to crime fiction and what drew you to that genre?
I do stick to crime fiction pretty closely, because those are the books I like to read. In fact, even as a kid my reading was crime fiction, with Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle etc. I never took to fantasy or sci-fi, I think you have to be an absolute genius to write those, and I’m not! The first novels I remember reading the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators, so I’m sticking true to form!
I first noticed your love of art when I read The Book Artist. You incorporated art as part of the plot, but I also thought your descriptions of Paris and your characters had an artful bent that made me appreciate the story even more. Within your writing, is art an integral aspect for you? Is it how you’re wired or is it a writing device that just works?
Art appears in several of my books, and in different forms. Usually book-related, as it happens. In my first novel, The Bookseller, I take great pleasure in describing the physical aspect of several books, because it’s not just the words on the page that make a book art. A beautiful cover can do it, or the careful, painstaking selection and construction of a leather-bound volume with marble end-papers and a silky bookmark. Obviously, in The Book Artist,I take it in another direction, the transformation of books into something new, the building bricks of various sculptures. (Laurie here: I really enjoyed her art! I craved the ability to actually see it!)
Do you have multiple levels of symbolism within your mystery and your art? Or is the art more of a backdrop, giving ambiance?
I don’t think I layer in symbolism on purpose, not in any pre-planned or conscious way. But when you write a novel about art or artists, I suppose it’s inevitable. For example, the tree trunk made of books in The Book Artist, it’s a return to form for the books used, paper made from wood, returning to wood once more. Or the irony of the Slow TV concept I write about in that novel, where the most mundane and long-lasting events (a camera mounted on the front of a train showing its journey from coast to coast, or one showing a boat crossing the sea) is filmed and broadcast in real time. Ironic because in my book you’re watching someone write a novel this way, from first word to last, watching a book be written using a medium famous for bringing us entertainment at high speed, giving us instant gratification without having to work for it. But in this case it’d be quicker to read the book itself than watch its creation on television. (Laurie here: I LOVED that part! Such an interesting concept to think about.)
Do you have a favorite scene or moment involving art that is near and dear to you? And why?
When I was eighteen a friend dragged me to the Art Institute in Chicago. I’d been made to go to museums galore as a kid so I wasn’t excited, but the place blew my mind. It was my first exposure to modern art, to Marc Chagall even, to different media. It opened my mind as to what art could be. It was a similar experience to seeing some of Picasso’s early work – I’d rather dismissed his paintings as childlike, assuming he did it that way because he couldn’t draw/paint “properly.” I realize now how laughable that is (Hey, I was very young).
It’s a lot like choosing your favorite child, but do you have one or two favorite pieces of art that you’d like to tell people about within or outside of your own work?
I do, ones that are personal to me. The first is a painting by my cousin of my sister, done when she was a teenager. My cousin is super talented and the painting really captured her quite brilliantly. I also love this painting above (I was told it was by Piero Sansalvadore, but have no proof, and don’t care that much), which used to belong to my grandmother, and which was passed down to me. Lastly, this is far from original, but my favorite painter is Johannes Vermeer, his work is utterly mesmerizing to me with the contrast between the domestic settings and the expressive faces lit so beautifully.
What is your current book that’s out and what do you have planned next? Where can you be found over the next several months?
My most recent book is The Book Artist, and I’m working on the next in the Hugo Marston series. It is called (for now!) The French Widow, and will feature a fictionalized version of a wonderful house in Paris, right beside Parc Monceau: Musée Nissim de Camondo.
Fabulous! I am really looking forward to it! Thank you so much for being part of this interview. I believe you’ll also be at Bouchercon and I hear you may be interviewing L.A. Chandlar and a couple of other amazing authors at Book People in Austin, TX on October 28th;-). Thank you for sharing your love of art, a little part of your history, and your zeal for life. It’s been a wonderful time, Mark. Thank you~
Hello Mark! So nice to have you visit! I love paintings, too, especially the ones I grew up with that now hang on my walls. The one of your sister is stunning, by the way. I look forward to getting to know you in your books.
I loved that one of Mark’s sister, too, Connie! I think paintings that we grew up with are so meaningful. I have one in my living room that I’ve had art experts say was probably done by a street artist in Paris, and that it’s not valuable. But I LOVE it so much. It has a lot of stories to tell…
Welcome, Mark! I’m tempted to ask what you do in your spare time. I have to join in with Connie and Laurie and say that painting of your sister is lovely. It reminds me of one of my favorite paintings, Alice Blue Gown, rumored to be Alice Roosevelt. I’m intrigued by the upcoming The French Widow and look forward to reading it.
I didn’t know that painting was rumored to be Alice Roosevelt! I love R.J. Koreto’s Alice Roosevelt series. Have you read them yet? Alice and the Assassin is first. Teddy hires one of his Rough Riders to be Alice’s bodyguard and the mystery is told through his perspective as he tries his darnedest to keep up with her. SO fun. I need to go look up Alice Blue Gown again!