Monday, March 07, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Mark de Castrique!

The best thing about creating a series like this is getting to know so many of my favorite authors a little bit better. With my interview of Mark de Castrique, this week is certainly no exception.

I can't remember what made me buy a copy of Blackman's Coffin-- whether it was the Asheville, North Carolina setting; Sam Blackman, the disabled war veteran who's the main character; or the literary twist in the plot. What I do remember is being delighted at the layered meanings of the book title, an intriguing main character (whose self pity sometimes got on my nerves), his strong female partner, and a plot that went deeper and deeper with each chapter.

Mark de Castrique

Since reading Blackman's Coffin, I've read the second book in the series and am eagerly awaiting the third. I've also gotten a copy of the first book in his Buryin' Barry series (Dangerous Undertaking), which features an undertaker in Gainesboro, North Carolina.

If you'd like to see about getting copies of Mark de Castrique's books, here's a list:

Sam Blackman Series

The Sandburg Connection (October, 2011)

Buryin' Barry Series

Besides being an author, Mark de Castrique is a playwright, a public speaker, and a television producer whose work has earned  CLIO, TELLY and EMMY awards. If you'd like to know more about him, here are two links for you:

At the end of this post, there is a very special video about Asheville, North Carolina, where the Sam Blackman books take place. Please don't miss it!

Now... on to the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

To answer your question honestly, the first book I remember reading by myself is one whose title is unknown to me.  At age five, I attended Mrs. Hughes' School for Little Folks because I was too young to go to public school but my mother thought I was ready to start formal education.  This first book was the story of talking barnyard animals who react to what they believe is a fire in the barn.  The panic and investigation yields a startling discovery: a family of fireflies has taken up residence in the hayloft.  Not exactly Anna Karenina, but the book is special for two reasons:  I read it myself with no idea of the ending and I read the story during "quiet time" after our class had walked several blocks to the medical clinic to receive our first shot of the new Salk vaccine that eradicated polio.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

My free time is limited.  My career spans thirty years in film and television production with my mystery writing as the free time vocation.  Both activities are energizing and can cross-pollinate one another.  Elements of storytelling occur in each.  One of my major video assignments is creating stories of children and families undergoing medical treatments at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte.  Shooting all night in an operating room as a four-month-old boy undergoes a heart transplant or getting close to a family whose child is going through her third series of chemotherapy treatments are experiences that help prioritize what's important in life.  Some of these experiences were integrated into my YA thriller A Conspiracy of Genes.

On the lighter side, I enjoy playing guitar and banjo badly and doing volunteer work.  I recently returned from eight days in Cuba where I taught video production at a theological seminary wanting to utilize television for training as the government allows new communication opportunities.

Mark at Connemara
If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

I split my time between Charlotte and Asheville, NC.  In Charlotte, I would want you to see Imaginon, a standalone library solely for children.  There are theaters for live performances, a no-adults-allowed hangout room for older teens, and plenty of computers and learning programs.  In the Asheville area where most of my books are set, I'd want you to visit Connemara, Carl Sandburg's farm in the village of Flat Rock.  It's a national historic site and the house has been frozen in time - left just as it was in 1967 when Sandburg died.  It's also the setting for my new book, The Sandburg Connection, being released in October.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Steve Martin
An actor to play my life?  Steve Martin.  He's not only a fine actor and writer, but he thrives on the quirkiness of life.  My accomplishments and life story are much more modest, but I'm sure he could set his standards low enough to portray me.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

My favorite recurring character has to be Sherlock Holmes, but he's such a standard answer that I'd like to offer a few more:  a contemporary tough guy, Lee Child's Jack Reacher; female detective, Laurie King's Mary Russell; and reluctant wimp, David Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter.  There are just so many wonderful series being written today that every mystery reader has a wide range of options.  I love discovering a new series and learning there are multiple volumes awaiting me.

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

Before my first published mystery, Dangerous Undertaking, I had a closet filled with at least five unpublished mystery novels, several short stories, two plays (one which had several community theater performances and the other professional staged readings), a magazine article on Edgar-winning mysteries for Young Adults, and several "interactive mysteries" staged on steam locomotive excursions through Virginia and the Carolinas.  One of my train mysteries was expanded into the YA mystery novel, Death on a Southern Breeze.  My writing career is an example of being persistent.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

Seeing my book on a bookstore shelf for the first time generated mixed feelings.  First I was delighted that the long process of writing for publication had resulted in a real book.  I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment.  The second feeling was the humbling realization my book was just one of thousands in the store.  I am grateful that my publishers keep my books in print so that my shelf space is growing.

When I got the word my first book was being published, I think champagne and dinner played a celebratory role.  But I also faced the reality of still completing the book.  My editor wanted the story to incorporate plot elements from two of my submissions (I followed the advice to keep writing even while a previous novel is under consideration).  It was a little unsettling to see the book appear in a catalogue while I was still creating it.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

My book signing events usually include sharing my writing process and trying not to misspell the reader's or my name. (I've done both.)  Sometimes attendees aren't interested in my book but want to tell me how their unpublished book is being unfairly rejected.  I'm happy to commiserate and offer suggestions, but a book-signing line isn't the proper place.  Once a woman handed me her card and complained that she had won a Pulitzer Prize but couldn't get her novel published.  I looked at the card and saw she was "A Plutizer-Prize-Winning Author."  Maybe that summed up why her novel hadn't been published.  (My apologies if there is such a prize as a Plutizer.)

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author? 

Ah, eBooks.  Well, I love real books - holding them, browsing through them, underlining and writing in the margins.  I hope there is always a place for real books.  But I am also an eBook reader.  I wanted to see what that reading process was like and I have to admit eBooks have merits.  They are ecologically sensible, they are priced so that someone who might not spend $25 or $15 for an author they don't know will take a chance on a new writer, and eBooks encourage more reading in general.  I read a study that readers who buy eBook devices see their overall reading increase.

As a writer, there was another unexpected benefit.  I wrote my last novel using a software program called Scrivener.  One of its features is outputting your work in compatible formats for Nook, Kindle, and other devices.  I found my Nook to be a great proofing device because I was reading my manuscript-in-progress in a form much closer to what a reader would experience.   I found mistakes and pacing issues that weren't as readily apparent on a word- processing screen or in a stack of printed pages.

But regardless of whether the story is presented as a hardback, paperback, iPhone app, CD performance, or some yet unimagined format, I hope to bring the reader into a world where he or she forgets the device and becomes immersed in the world of my characters.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Mark!


  1. OK. You hooked me on Dangerous Undertaking. I have already read the two Blackman books at your suggestion. I hope you keep wirting about the books you like for a long time.

  2. What a wonderful feature! I adore Mark's writing and have been a fan since Dangerous Undertaking. Thank you so much for putting a spotlight on him!

  3. Joe-- Thanks. I hope we both are!

    Elizabeth-- You're very welcome! I really enjoy his books. Thanks also for retweeting this feature. :)

  4. Thanks for introducing me to a new author. Asheville is such a magical place; I'm sure I'm going to enjoy these series.

  5. Barbara-- You're very welcome. I hope you enjoy them, too!


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