After a long absence (let’s call it Summer holiday) I finally have a new book to show you! In The Bookseller, Mark Pryor brings a Texan to Paris – which is enough to hook me, but then I’m a big fan of cultural shocks 🙂 Go check out the new pins on the map!
How did the setting of your story impact your writing?
Setting was crucial in two ways, one specific and one general. The Paris Librarian is set in and around the American Library in Paris, and so I needed to make sure I made that location as real and interesting as possible. To do that, I took a week’s vacation and got a tour of the library. It worked out perfectly because the book is an old-fashioned locked-door mystery, and turns out the library has a small room in the basement that was utterly perfect to be the place for my (first!) victim to die.
Even more amazingly, the library has a “secret” door, which I incorporated into the book, of course. So for this book, I needed that setting to emanate menace and mystery, and it enabled me to have a focal point where I could bring the characters (and therefore suspects) together.
There is a wider issue of setting, too, which I try to bring out in all of the Hugo Marston books. Whether he’s in Paris, London, or Barcelona I want the reader to get a strong sense of that place. Most of my readers are American so it’s fun to be able to transport them to a Parisian cafe or a Spanish bodega.
How or why is the setting important to who your character is?
Hugo Marston is an old-fashioned, cowboy-boot-wearing Texan in modern Paris. So for him, setting is vital because he has to try and figure a way to live in a place very different than he’s used to. The food is different, the women are different, and the police are different. All this challenges let me draw out his character by placing him in situations he’s not comfortable with, allowing the reader to see how he reacts.
When you visited France, which location did you prefer?
Ooh, this is so hard. I’ve been to Paris roughly 15 times and can’t wait to go back. It’s always a treat and an exploration. But I also love the Pyrenees mountains, the beauty of the area around Pau. The freshness of the air, the total lack of tourists, and the amazing wheels of cheese you can buy direct from the farmers. In an ideal world I’d have a country cottage in the mountains and an apartment in the St Germain area of Paris. A man can dream, right?
Which part of the French archetype did you discover to be wrong? Right?
I think the first one that comes to mind is the politeness and kindness of the French people. One always hears vague stories of rude waiters or hoteliers but that’s never been my experience. I often tell people headed there to do the minimum, say “Bonjour” when you walk into a store or cafe, and all will be well.
Now what I discovered to be right is the delightful cafe culture. Settling into a creaky chair behind a small table to take coffee (or something a little stronger in the evening) and watch the world go by… I miss that each and every day.
Which part of France would you like to visit? Why?
I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have visited most parts. My wife and I honeymooned in Bordeaux and the Loire, my mother lives in the south west, and I’ve been to Nice, Valence, and most other places. I think it would be fun to spend a summery week in northern France, go to some of the WW2 sites and experience a part of the country that I’m sure has a slightly different feel to it.
If you were to create a “typical French” character, how would you describe him/her?
That’s a great question for an author, actually. I think, though, that I try very hard to avoid the “typical,” just because one runs the risk of slipping into the stereotypical. The French do exhibit some traits that we don’t see as much over here, like their focus on culture and enjoying life as opposed to making as money as possible, but just as over here individuals vary so much that I try to create people who are French, rather than French people. If that makes any sense!
What do you think would be the greatest cultural shock for a Frenchman who visited your home town?
I’ve had a few Europeans visit me in Austin, though no French people are yet. I think they’d be struck by people openly carrying weapons in Texas, and by the size of our food portions. I also suspect they’d have a hard time dealing with our August heat, but I do too, so we could commiserate together!
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