Monday, November 21, 2016

At The Poisoned Pen with Jeffrey Siger & Mark Pryor!

It was the day before Denis and I were leaving for California, and where was I? Sitting in my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, to see Jeffrey Siger, author of the Andreas Kaldis mysteries set in Greece and Mark Pryor, who writes the Hugo Marston series set in locations like Paris, London, and Barcelona.

There wasn't any reason why I shouldn't be there. I had all the packing done. Denis was working. Why not? Naturally, I was early so I spent the time browsing, reading, and writing down ideas for blog posts.

L to R: Jeffrey Siger, Mark Pryor

When the event began, host Barbara Peters immediately hit the two with a question: "Why write about where you're writing?

Mark was the first to respond. (I'd never met him before, so I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to hear an English accent.) "I had written three books that went nowhere. I was walking along the bank of the River Seine in Paris when I saw a lovely old man next to a book stall. My first thought was 'I wonder if I should throw him in the river?' My next thought was 'Why did I just think that?' I walked to a nearby café and began outlining a story."

Evidently I wasn't the only one who hadn't expected Mark's accent because Barbara enlightened us all by saying, "Mark is a Brit who practices law in Austin, Texas."

Now it was Siger's turn to reply to Barbara's question. "I visited Greece, fell in love with it, and now I live there half the year. I've always felt so comfortable writing a main character who's Greek that I didn't realize how unusual it is until Martin Limón and Tim Hallinan told me. Now I feel a bit self-conscious!

"You both write about big tourist destinations which means you avoid the dreaded Cabot Cove Syndrome," Peters observed. The two men agreed.

Mark Pryor
"My character, Hugo Marston, is partly based on my father," Pryor told us. "Hugo is the head of security at the American Embassy in Paris. Occasionally my publisher sends me off on vacation to check out different locations for my books." Mark looked over at Jeff and said, "I'm surprised that you don't speak Greek because Sons of Sparta reads like a Greek novel that's been very well-translated into English."

Siger laughed and said, "I understand a lot of the language, but when I speak Greek, they switch to English to save their mother tongue!"

The next question Barbara had for was "Do you have your story first and then decide on the setting, or does the setting come before the story?"

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"I'm a pantser," Siger replied. "I never know what it's going to be. Right now I want to write about immigrants which is going to limit my choice of locations."

"I'm very happy to say that Jeff [who writes for Barbara's Poisoned Pen Press] is the only writer who is successful writing about Greece."

"I think my books are a collage of different elements of Greek society," Siger said. Barbara agreed. "The books are contemporary, but they're also tied to ancient tropes like hubris. This makes them timeless."

Barbara turned to Mark. "Speaking of tropes, we have another one in The Paris Librarian: the body in the library!"

Mark smiled. "I love Agatha Christie. My publisher told me that readers tend to love reading about books, so I decided to write a mystery that took me back to books and libraries. I wrote to the small library in Paris and asked them 'Do you mind if I kill someone in your library?' Their response was 'We love it!'

"I wanted to find a place for the bad guy's escape route, so I went down to the library's basement-- which is really creepy. I decided that there was one spot that was the perfect place to have a secret door. Shortly after I was there, they closed the library for some renovations, and they discovered a secret room!"

Barbara looked at Mark and said, "I wish you hadn't killed the librarian. I really liked him!" Mark replied, "Somebody had to die!" Speaking of his characters reminded him of another one. "The American actress in the book is based on Olivia de Havilland. I tried, but I didn't get a chance to meet her, so I had to change the character's name."

Jeffrey Siger
When Barbara mentioned that the Greek military has a rather large role in his latest book Santorini Caesars, Jeffrey Siger said, "Greece has four times as many top-of-the-line German tanks as Germany. The Greek military takes very good care of itself, and it has a lot invested in the government."

A fan in the audience asked about editing. Peters [Siger's editor] said Siger takes the editing process very well. Jeff replied, "Mark and I are both lawyers. We're used to submitting something to a judge and having sixteen other lawyers criticize it. Editing? This is easy!" By the way Mark was nodding his head, we could see that he agreed.

Another fan wanted to know if authors needed to travel to the places they wrote about. Mark Pryor commented, "You have to go to a place to be able to write about it. Yes, you can use Google Maps, but there are all sorts of things that Google Maps can't tell you-- like how the area smells."

"There's also a famous instance concerning Dan Brown and Google Maps.  He used it for a scene in one of his books, and in real life it wouldn't have worked because the buildings are too tall," Barbara said. 

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Another fan wanted to know about Pryor's law practice. "I'm a prosecutor," Mark replied.

Siger's next book? "Immigration, and it's probably going to be set on the island of Lesbos," Jeff said.

"I'm writing another Hugo Marston book set in Paris and a follow-up to Hollow Man," Pryor added. "I have two other ideas competing for space in my head. I have more ideas than I have time to write!"

This jogged Jeff's memory to tell us about Sunshine Noir, a collection of short stories to which he's contributed his very first one. (I'm just about to finish it now, and I have to say that it's a great collection of both authors and some very fine short stories.)

And just like that, the event was over. In less than twenty-four hours, I'd be on the road to California-- but I was certainly glad I'd made the decision to come to The Poisoned Pen to see these two talented writers first!


  1. You always have the best PP stories to tell, Cathy! Thanks for sharing this one. One day I"ll get there.

  2. Great summary of a fascinating event.

    Thanks for doing it.


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