Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Death panels in California (the fun kind).

Don't worry, the death panels are over. You and your loved ones are safe now.

Actually, you always were because the death panels I'm referring to only kill pretend people, in books. Here's a picture of one, snapped this past weekend at the huge mystery conference called Bouchercon, in Long Beach. Look how harmless they are (I'll  identify them in a moment):

Naturally, I don't approve of bunny ears in a photo, that's just silliness, very juvenile. Never do it myself, frightful behavior. But my point is, not only are these people harmless, they are very, very nice. That's why I'm posting this because most people don't get to know the authors of the books they love. It's funny, and I've had this discussion with many an author -- a lot of avid readers could walk right past their favorite writers and not recognize them. I imagine that's because we're not performance-based artists, like actors or musicians, so our faces aren't integral to our work (thank goodness, right?!). It may also be true that many writers are reclusive by nature (not me!), and so for those reasons it's understandable that our readers have no clue what we look like.

But it's also a shame. Writers are some of the nicest, friendliest, and most humble people I know. (Granted, I hang out with lawyers a lot so maybe that lowers the bar a little...) but the people in the photo above are NY Times bestsellers and multiple award winners, and also sweeter than pecan pie. There's no "I'm more famous than you," at these get-togethers, and even though I felt a little pressure at appearing amongst these guys, it was nothing but fun.

Ah yes, who they are -- from left to right: John Connolly, Tammy Kaehler, William Kent Krueger, and me. Taking the photo was Julia Spencer-Fleming.

The bar is a frequent hang-out spot at these conferences, which is a little bizarre. Not because writers don't drink, hell yes we do, but because hotel bars charge $16 for a scotch. Now there's a crime for you.  Fortunately, I'm at the point where I know enough people that I can often find someone mid-order and force them, out of politeness, to ask what I'm having. I suckered James Ziskin a couple of times over the weekend, although I did buy him a small coffee on Sunday morning to make up for it. He seemed grateful.

Another plus: these aren't sexist conferences, like some. I was able to mooch a martini from Jamie Mason, too. Here's proof:

See how she's holding onto her drink with both hands in a bar full of writers?? Smart woman.

Where was I? Ah yes, nice authors. So there I am, mixing and mingling, and the super-star Cara Black comes up to me and tells me how she saw my books for sale at a store in Paris (France, not Texas). She apologized that her phone battery was dead and so she couldn't take a pic, but she wanted me to know, because she knew I'd be excited. Heck yes, my books being sold in Paris? Love that.  And there she is, a woman who's sold more books than Shakespeare getting excited with me, taking the time to share that. Heck, even noticing my book there in the first place.

Right after talking with Cara, I spent more time with the man of the hour, Kent Krueger. I told him what I told several people that weekend - I read one of his books because it was getting good reviews and I was going to be on a panel with him. Now I recommend it to everyone I can because it's brilliant (and is picking up awards like an 18th century sailor picks up communicable diseases). Lucky for him he didn't try the bunny ears on me, I guess he knows I'm much too serious of a person for that nonsense...
His book, by the way, is called Ordinary Grace. Check it out.

One other person who's a must-see at these deals is Terry Shames. She's with my publisher, Seventh Street Books, and I love her mystery series, set here in Texas. Turns out, by the way, I'm not the only one who loves it because she won the Macavity Award for best first novel this year! Here's a pic of Terry and me at the pub the night she won.

Obviously, photo bombing with a thumbs-up is way more mature than bunny ears.

One more picture I want to share. And this exemplifies what's best about writing conferences because here you have (from left to right) aspiring author Jonas Paterno, B&N mystery guru Jules Herbert, and authors James Ziskin & me. Tall, handsome men. What else could a conference need?

I suppose conferences are self-selecting by nature, the rude and boorish (or boring) probably don't go. But when I stand at the bar and see Michael Connelly chatting with his agent, or Lee Child laughing with a bunch of people I don't recognize, it warms the cockles of my heart. I have seen first hand how welcoming established authors are to the new guys, and now that I'm not such a new guy any more, I look forward to mooching drinks off the latest batch of mystery writers. The least I can do, right?

But here's a challenge. Think of the last couple of books that you read and try to picture the author in your mind (if it's me, Krueger, Black, or Mason, stop cheating!). I wonder if you can.

But rest assured, he or she is probably extremely nice and feels very lucky, just like I do, to be published and to have the chance to hang out with other writers and hordes of readers at book conferences. I may be tired this week, but I'm already looking forward to the next Bouchercon, in Raleigh, North Carolina. If you have a free weekend and like mysteries, come along. You can meet and chat with your favorite authors, hear their words of wisdom, and maybe even buy them a drink. Although at $16 a pop, you might want to bring a hip flask and a couple of plastic beakers...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Trailer for THE BUTTON MAN !

Not your average trailer, this one previews the fourth novel in my Hugo Marston mystery series by showing how the books are created.

But let's not dwell on who forces whose kids to write what.

A prequel to the series, THE BUTTON MAN is set in London, England, where Hugo Marston is head of security at the US Embassy. He's assigned to protect a couple of movie stars, who've received death threats. But before he even meets them, one turns up dead in a graveyard.... Enjoy!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A book recommendation: DANTE'S WOOD, by Lynne Raimondo

Time to dust this place off and give you some useful information. Like, for when you're headed to the pool and plan to drink 'ritas and read something awesome.

Try this: DANTE'S WOOD, by Lynne Raimondo.

Booklist summarizes the plot thusly:

"Still reeling from a late-onset genetic disorder that’s left him blind, Windy City psychiatrist Mark Angelotti is assigned to assess Charlie Dickerson, a developmentally disabled youth allegedly molested by a teacher.

"Just days after dismissing the allegation, Angelotti is shocked to learn that Charlie has confessed to the teacher’s murder. When the defense hires him to testify on Charlie’s behalf, Angelotti’s colossal ego rears itself in a sparring match with the prosecution that gravely wounds the case.

"Motivated by guilt, barely acknowledged curiosity about the world of the disabled, and the aforementioned ego, Angelotti begins his own hunt for the killer."

The cover:

My opinion:

I was amazed to see a main character who's blind. Honestly, I didn't think Raimondo would be able to pull it off and so I was enthralled to see if she could. (I mean, your reader normally sees the world through your MC's eyes, so how the heck...?!?) And a murder-mystery blind MC????

Well, I was wrong, she was right. The characterization, actually, was one of the best things for me. The MC has just the right balance of bitterness, anger, hope, and resolve to really make him real. I was truly impressed.  The plot, too, never let go of you. It's one of those where, part way through, you think to yourself, "Oh, wait, I think I know who..." and then ten pages further on you realize  you were wrong, but think it all over again.

As someone who tries to put a little of the location in my books, I also really appreciated some good glimpses of Chicago in the novel. Another thing that stood out to me, so well done.

Her second book just came out, called DANTE'S POISON. That allows me to pay the author the best compliment I pay any series, which is to say that based on the excellentness of the first, I'm buying the new one. I suggest you do the same.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Advice Ever (and how it helped me learn to swim)

Naturally, the best advice I ever received came from a sprightly, white-haired old lady. She was my grandmother and I lived with her in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for quite a while when I first came to America. It's her birthday this week, she'd be 105 (hey, she made it to 96, which ain't bad).

This was in the mid 1990s. I'd been a newspaper reporter in the UK, and was freelancing for local papers in the Chapel Hill area. But I wasn't happy - the stories I was being assigned were fluff and the pay was pathetic. I was 27 years old and wanting more.

I was thinking seriously about law school, but discovered very quickly I needed a U.S. bachelor's degree for that (my English journalism diploma wasn't enough). So I went to meet with admin people at UNC, to see how many hours of credit they'd give me for my professional qualification and the three years experience working at a newspaper.

They said: "Out of 120 hours needed to graduate, we'll credit you with seven hours."


So I went home and, as we did most days, I made tea while Granny made cinnamon toast. She could tell I was disgruntled (because I told her) and she asked what was wrong.

I explained: "Well, I'm 27 years old and I want to get my law degree. But to do that, I'd have to do three years of undergrad, taking an overload of classes, and then there's three years more of law school after that."

"Okay," she said. "And what's bothering you?"

"To do all that, it'll take me six years. Six years! I'll be 33 by the time I'm done."

"I see." A little smile appeared on her face. "Tell me, how old will you be in six years if you don't do all that?"

It was a light-bulb moment for me. I could be 33 with a law degree and my bachelor's, or I could just be 33. Brilliant.

But what does it have to do with swimming? Well, this is me at the beginning of the year, doing a lap.

Okay, not quite doing one.

The thing is, I've always been active, my whole life. Even now I play on two competitive soccer teams, play squash at least once a week, and lift weights. But I've always been a horrible swimmer. Maybe I'm too big, too lazy, too... something. I don't know. For whatever reason, I could swim one length (not lap) of the pool before spluttering and gasping for breath, holding onto the edge like it was my only salvation. Which it pretty much was.

I didn't like that. It didn't suit the image I had of myself - as someone who is generally active and reasonably good at sports. I also didn't like that terrifying feeling of running out of air, a feeling I got every time I swam more than about ten yards.

So I took lessons. Signed up for swimming lessons at the age of forty-noneofyourbusiness. I wanted to make sure my technique was decent (it wasn't, but now is) and then after that I just swam. Twice a week. It started with the successful completion of one lap (not length!). Then I managed to sew two laps together without pausing. Then three...

That was in January.

Today I swam a mile. A mile. Such a thing was a pipe dream to me six months ago. Even four months ago. But I did it because I kept plugging away, adding lap after lap. And I've reached the point where I can swim a mile because I knew, back in January, that even though it was a pipe dream, it was a possibility. I knew that in four, six, or nine months I'd be able to swim without that terrifying feeling of suffocation.

The bottom line is that back in January, I told myself I could be forty-noneofyourbusiness and be able to swim a mile, or I could just be forty-noneofyourbusiness.

Thank you, Granny.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hooligangsters and Me

I got word last week that my work here at the DA's office may slowly come to a halt in about a year. A new position has opened up with the city of Austin and they've asked me to consider it. I've already agreed to sit down with some of the city's council members to hammer out the details, but the job relates to the new soccer stadium that will be built here.

The Austin Chronicle covered the story a few days ago: All Aboard the Soccer Train! Major League Soccer and urban rail take Austin by storm.  

In a nut shell: "the construction of a new soccer stadium in the middle of the Colorado River – a project which will also provide the missing link in a new urban rail line serving the entire Central Texas area. The train will cross the river between Congress Avenue and I-35, stopping mid-river at a new, landfill-constructed and designed 'Fantasy Island.'"

My new job? Well, it suits me perfectly because it combines my legal knowledge, my criminal law experience, and my knowledge and love of soccer. The job doesn't have a formal title yet but basically I'll be taking lead on ensuring the minimum of hoologanism before, during, and after the games.

It's kind of a quasi-lega, quasi-law enforcement, quasi-looking cool job, so here's a pic of me in what they've asked me to wear:

The need for someone to do this job is based on a significant fear is that outside groups will use the rail system and soccer matches to bring crime into the city -- drugs and prostitution mainly. There's also a concern that the gangs from south of the border will end up waging turf wars here against the established Bloods and Crips. Fighting on the terraces is bad enough when it's over soccer, but we simply can't have hooligangsters roaming the streets of Austin and causing trouble for innocent citizens.

One initial thought, and I welcome feedback, is that we should try and make the game itself a force against evil. I'm not sure how, but one possibility might be to make the goals a little larger (others are already proposing this, like here and here). I know, it sounds weird even when I write it, but it seems to me that if more goals are scored then the game is more interesting, and maybe the people who are in the stands to make trouble will actually become enthralled with the Beautiful Game.

The other thought rolling around in my head is to require everyone going to a game to bring a child. It's a clever idea, I think, because this will result in less violence (who wants to start a fight in front of a kid?!) but has side benefits: (1) more income for the stadium because it's two tickets instead of one; (2) ice cream vendors as well as beer vendors can make a buck; (3) more kids will get into soccer and in ten years maybe the U.S. national team will suck less. Probably other benefits, too, but I just had the idea so they're not coming to me just yet.

The last thought I'll share is about cheerleaders. A foreign concept for soccer, right? Well, in case you forgot what they are, here's one:

Wait, now I forgot my idea.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated. I won't give up my novel-writing, never fear, and maybe I'll even get a few ideas from the new position.

"Hooli-Czar." How's that for a job title?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good-bye Charlie, hello David.

After roughly two years riding in Charlie Sector, it's time for a move. I went with the sector I live in, known as David. In the map below, Charlie is the pink patch on the east side of Austin. David is in yellow, the south west part of the city.
I rode with Mario on Thursday, an officer new to APD but who'd been a cop in the mid-west for a few years. Super nice chap, we had a good time though it was a pretty quiet night. At one point I took a pic of an incoming call, which I thought might be interesting to readers. As you'll see, it's not about catching speeders and chasing bad guys.
Yep, someone wanted an officer to come out and shoot a cat caught in a fence. It wasn't our district so we didn't get a chance to respond, and my night ended before I could find out what happened. But it gives you an idea of the variety of calls they get. Actually, I think I'll do this in the future, take snaps of the holding calls. Hopefully no more cats in pain...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Honesty in court

In court recently, a teenage boy sat quietly while his probation officer, people from CPS and other social services spoke to the judge about him. The lad was having a hard time in school, subjects not holding his interest, no clue what he wants to do with his life, a few behavioral problems.

Eventually, the judge got around to asking the young man about his hopes and plans, his goals and dreams.

"What in school are you most interested in, Brian?"

Pause, wry smile. "Honestly. Girls."

Love the honesty, I hope it bodes well for him.

(Brian is not his real name, of course. His real name is Mike.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cats out of bags, and inclom... inclom...

In sad news, this will be my last in the "disarming reviews" series for a while.

First, I don't actually have many bad reviews to choose from (I know, tempting fate, right?!), and second, I'd hate to give the impression that I do have a bunch of bad reviews. As if.

But this one is high on the adorable stakes, very high.

In case you're wondering, this little lady has expressed a desire to be a vet, an airline pilot, and an actress. Working on the third, right now, obviously.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Me and J.K. in a literary storm

I had a hard time coming up with a title for this post, and you can see what I picked. Not because it's an awesome title but because it made me smile. I picture tweed-jacketed authors tutting extra loudly, indignantly overfilling their pipes. And no one outside the book world caring much...

But this little storm involves me (a little bit) and JK Rowling who has, oh, twenty three billionty fans. Including my kids.

Here's what happened. An English author wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post suggesting that J.K. Rowling shouldn't publish more books, because doing so ruins everything else for the rest of us. Her article was not well received. (A lot of the backlash is described on the BBC web site here.)

Read it here for yourself.

And this is where I came in. I wrote my second ever HuffPo article, which was published last night, as a rebuttal. It's in the form of a letter to J.K. Rowling, urging her not to quit the writing gig. You know, because she listens to my advice on a regular basis. In the editorial, I argue that Rowling makes like easier for other writers, not harder.

You can read my reply here.

I feel a little sorry for the author of the first piece, Lynn Shepherd. I'm sure she didn't expect the trashing she's received, and I'm also pretty sure she's a nice person who wouldn't really want any author to stop writing. I expect, too, she's learned that if you write an editorial for an international news service, you better have some solid evidence or reasoning behind your work. The writing game is tough, and this little episode demonstrates quite well that the best way to the top isn't by climbing all over your fellow writers.

Especially the ones who live in castles.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oh, BookPeople... you make me laugh

This is why I love BookPeople. It's a cancellation notice for an author event. Click and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Disarming reviews: "Sorry!"

Next in the series of kids reading bad reviews, comes one from The Crypt Thief. This one is particularly interesting because... well, you'll see:

That's right. The reviewer gave one star because he hadn't bought or read the book!

(As ever, my thanks for the idea goes to:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Disarming reviews: "Preposterous!"

The second in the series where I remove the sting of a bad review by melting it on the tongue of an angel.

This week features Natalie discussing my "preposterous" and most recent novel, The Blood Promise.

As before, a nod to the blog that started this for me:

Monday, February 3, 2014

A trailer for you.

Have you ever seen a book trailer? You know, like a movie trailer but for a book. Some are brilliant, usually the ones with high budgets, actors, and trippy CGI. Naturally, most aren't.

And yet I've always been fascinated by the concept even though I've never had the contacts or resources to make an outstanding one. (I'm waiting for locals Richard Linklater and Matthew McConaughey to call and offer their services. Actually, McConaughey would make a good Hugo Marston, hmmm....).

Anyway, my kids had science projects recently and I was feeling left out. Can you see what's coming? Well, I thought it only fair that since I helped them a little with theirs, they should help me with mine.

Please, take this trailer seriously. As seriously as we did.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stories and sandwiches... and jail.

If I were to write an "advice to criminals" column, this post would be in it.

There's a reason criminals wear raccoon masks and carry bags marked with a generic "SWAG."  It's because they don't want to be recognized, and bare faces and Gucci bags will stand out to members of the public being relieved of their possession in an illegal manner.

Therefore, if you want to commit a crime, (a) don't wear a distinctive t-shirt when there are witnesses, (b) if you do wear a distinctive t-shirt when there are witnesses, don't wear it the very next day while the cops are looking for you.

Sound reasonable?

(And yes, the below item of clothing was the distinctive t-shirt in question.)


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Disarming reviews: "So disappointing..."

I'm starting a new, weekly habit here on D.A. Confidential and I'm calling it "Disarming Reviews." Yes, I know that's an ambiguous label but it's intentional. Here's the plan: I want to take my bad reviews and disarm them, render them harmless, and do so in a way that is itself quite disarming. Simple, no?

But why would I do this? Two reasons.

First, as you might imagine, if a writer has a hundred good reviews and then one bad one comes in, guess which gets his attention? The words sting and smart, even for the writer with the thickest skin (and mine's pretty thick). But an author has to suck it up because there's a rule in the writing community that forbids authors from responding to, addressing, or otherwise interacting with reviewers.

"Reviews are for readers, not writers" goes the saying.

Fair enough. I don't do any of those things but you know what? Thumb tacks are for art projects, but they still hurt when you step on one. So, every week I'll be taking a bad review and not interacting with the reviewers, but rendering their words cute and harmless. Like this, which addresses my first novel, The Bookseller:


The second reason I'm doing this? Well, any excuse to put my kids in videos...

Oh, in case anyone wants to give me points for originality, please don't. I saw this done on a website where children's book authors read aloud their bad reviews. It's awesome.
Here's that site:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Numbers one, seven, and ten. Good numbers, those.

This may never happen again, so I'm marking it for posterity: all three of my books are best sellers at BookPeople. Love that place, the magnificent staff and its wonderful customers.

The books in question:
The list in question:

That's all. Have a wonderful Sunday. :)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

An English pyschopath... (no, not me!)

As regular readers of the blog will know, I am utterly fascinated by psychopaths and sociopaths. To the extent, actually, that a novel I'm working on right now features one.

I have no idea what the gender breakdown is for psychopaths, in terms of how many men to women. But I do know that female serial killers are rare. One has just popped up in England and I thought I'd share for anyone who missed the story.

Her name is Joanna Dennehy, she's 31 years old and she just pled guilty to murdering three men, by stabbing them in the heart. She then dumped their bodies in ditches in Cambridgeshire (very close to where I grew up).

Cute girl, pop over here for pictures.

The outstanding (in terms of story potential) things is that this woman had a henchman named "Stretch" who was 7'4". I prefer ironic nicknames myself, so would rather he was called Shorty, or Midge, but hey, I'm not going to second guess these people.

They get all stabby.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Polly busts a drunkard

This has to be one of the best stories I've seen in a long while:

Police in Mexico City said a drunken driving suspect stopped at an alcohol checkpoint was betrayed by his pet parrot, which told police "he's drunk."

Investigators said Guillermo Reyes, 49, was pulled over last week at a routine checkpoint in the city and officers heard a voice in the car repeating "he's drunk, he's drunk," Spanish-language newspaper El Universal reported Tuesday.

Police said they looked inside the vehicle, expecting to find another person, but instead discovered Reyes' pet parrot.

Reyes failed a sobriety test and was arrested on a drunken driving charge. The parrot was supposed to be taken away by Animal Surveillance Brigade officers, but Reyes told them the bird is with him at all times and could suffer stress if separated.

The parrot was allowed to accompany Reyes to jail.
The story is here if you don't believe me.

For fun, let's make a couple of assumptions. (1) that the police based their testing on the parrot's statement, and (2) Mexican law looks like US law.
So, I think the defense lawyer gets to put the parrot on the stand and cross examine it.
Defense lawyer: "Do you have any training that allows you to recognize someone above the legal limit for alcohol?"
Parrot: "Caw."
Defense lawyer: "You have core training?"
Parrot: "Polly got a cracker."
Defense lawyer: "A what?"
Prosecutor: "Judge, I believe a cracker is slang for a drunk person. The parrot is reiterating that his owner is a drunk."
Defense lawyer: "I object to the prosecutor putting words in the witness's beak."
Judge: "Is this really happening? I need a drink."
Also, did you see that the parrot was allowed to go to jail with its owner, to avoid separation anxiety?  What does that even look like in a parrot??
Also, I'm concerned for the bird. Snitches don't do well in jail.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Crikey, it's here already!

The day snuck up on me, like one of my own dastardly ne'er-do-wells.

Release day for The Blood Promise!

Here are a couple of nice things people have said about it, already (but I'd rather you made up your own mind, of course):

“Mark Pryor is one of the smartest new writers on the block. His new novel is a doozy.”
Philip Kerr, author of A Man Without Breath, a Bernie Gunther novel

"Pryor seems to have hit his stride in this series, as he adroitly juxtaposes the light banter between Marston and Green with some scenes of intense emotion.... And, all the while, the suspense ramps up. Top-notch mystery in a skillfully delineated Parisian setting."

And don't forget, if you're in Austin you can come to the launch at BookPeople, Friday Jan 17 at 7pm, and enter a free drawing to have your name used in a future book. Yes, you could be a killer, a victim, or just some dude/dudette on the street corner selling balloons.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wow, two years already?

I was going to let yesterday pass in quiet reflection of an old bugger. An old bugger who passed away two years ago. But he visited me last night in my sleep (dreams, people, I don't believe in ghosts. Though that'd be cool, and he'd get a kick out of haunting me).

As a result, and because I'll likely be talking about him at the launch of my next book (since he's one of the inspirations for my hero, Hugo Marston), I thought I'd repost the tribute to my Dad that I wrote the day after he died.

Now, before you reach for the tissues (or the "back" button) this isn't a sloppy, sad, boohoo post. No, Dad wouldn't have liked that. Which is why, when I first shared it, I included a disclaimer.

Here is the post, starting with that disclaimer: if death is holy to you, and the deceased are sacred, if you believe that our loved ones who've passed on cannot be around laughter, or can no longer be objects of amusement, delight, and ridicule (just as they were, and we all are, in life) then I salute you and respect your position completely.
I would also caution you not to read this post.

You see, in the early hours of . . . yesterday, I suppose, my father died. That was the reason for my trip here, to help my mother care for him and to say good bye. He's had cancer for ten years and lived five more than they said he would, so his death is not a shock in that sense. But the end itself came faster than expected, and my sister and brother arrived a few hours after he'd shuffled from this mortal coil.

Naturally there have been tears, but to understand the gamut of our emotions you have to know my dad. He was highly intelligent. He was the most unjudgmental person I have ever met. He was a solitary figure, invariably preferring the company of trees and animals to human beings, but one of the delights of life for him was a good, deep conversation with a bright friend or stranger about politics, technology, or social issues. He enjoyed good champagne and provided his family with the best port of the previous century, as well as the good taste to appreciate it.

Now, despite being a quiet man, he had one foible that risked making him the center of attention at the wrong time: he would get the giggles. Not just a few of them, but a barrowful that would set his shoulders to shaking and his eyes watering, pulling the breath from him for minutes at a time. My sister and I inherited the gene and my greatest memories are of us sitting at the dinner table quivering with laughter at some minor amusement (any true Giggler will tell you that they require no ignition, they are laughter's version of spontaneous human combustion).

One other thing: there is no more practical man in the world than my dad. In the sense that he resurrected this barn of a mountain home, clearing out door-mice (while never killing one of them) and remaking ceilings, stairs, the water system, the patio, etc etc. Practical, too, in the sense that he detested unnecessary extravagance. Silliness, yes, extravagance, no.

This is dad a few years ago, during a three-year volunteer project in Namibia. Taking a wild guess, I'd say around Christmas time (I'm pretty sure those are his Christmas trousers. . . ).

So he died late Friday night, this humble, honest, antlered man, with my mum and me holding his hands, telling him how much we loved him. She and I stayed up the rest of the night, we lit a fire and made tea, and finally we dozed off in our chairs towards dawn.

And then the fun really began. Because, you see, this is France. And in France there are a few certain truths: (1) the bread is better, (2) everything requires paperwork, and (3) the bread requires paperwork.

First of all, the nurses who'd cared for him the past few months immediately drove up to our mountain home, at 2:30 A.M., to clean and dress his body. We left him in the bedroom so my brother and sister could visit and say good bye. We all spent the day coming and going, finding ourselves talking to him, sticking our heads into the room to see if he needed anything, that sort of impractical, self-comforting nonsense he'd roll his eyes at.

What he wanted, of course, was for us to find a nice tree, wrap him in a sheet and tuck him into the soil facing the mountains. Not surprisingly, the French don't permit that. Can't blame them. So cremation (my sister has begun calling it "his transmogrification") is the next best thing, but that requires a coffin. I half-believe the old man would have made his own, but he works with nice oak and I'm guessing didn't want to waste it on a box that would be buried in wet soil. So, very unashamedly, we ordered the cheapest there is. No silks, no cushions, no frills or finery at all.

Our options as far as funeral homes were twofold: the professional, practiced company who'd take care of things in a hushed reverence, or the local chappie from the village. Only problem with him, being a sole proprietor he'd need help carrying dad out of the house, though he said his wife could come up and lend a hand if need be. Given the price difference, and our terror of hushed reverence (what if one of us got the giggles?!), we of course opted for the local chappie.

He duly showed up last night and halfway through the conversation, we all realized there'd been a misunderstanding (easy when you're speaking a foreign language over the phone, and using go-betweens). We were by the fire in the kitchen and he suddenly looked puzzled and jerked his thumb towards the ceiling.

Chappie: "You mean, he's here? In the house?"
Mum: "Yes. You didn't know that?"
Chappie: "No, I thought he'd died in the hospital."
Mum: "He died here. He's still here, dressed and ready to go."
Chappie: "Ah, that's a problem. I didn't bring the casket."
Mum: "Oh dear. Well, if the van's refrigerated, maybe. . . "
Chappie: "No, no, I brought my car, it's too small."
Me: "You have a front seat and a seat-belt, don't you?"
Chappie, nervous laughter: "Yes, but. . . "
Mum: "Can you go get it?"
Chappie: "No. I need permission. Paperwork from the mayor and the police, it's required to transport the body."
Mum: "What about tomorrow?"
Chappie: "Tomorrow is Sunday."
Me: "People don't usually die on Sundays?"
Chappie: "Yes, but . . . then they wait."

You get the idea. The end result is that while he works on getting the papers signed, he'll drop off a casket (I'm writing this as I wait) and, with the help of my brother and me, we'll load our dear old dad inside and keep him as a piece of furniture in the front room, or the cellar if it proves to be a warm day, until the signatures and permissions have been gathered.

The problem with keeping him in the main room is that we'll keep talking to him and, if yesterday is any guide, getting the giggles. Not that he'd mind, of course.

The problem with putting him in the cellar is, well, he'll be blocking access to the port. That, I am certain, he'd mind a lot more.

We will miss you, dear dad, but more than anything we will remain grateful. For everything you did, and everything you were.


Back in the present... I was right! We DO miss the old fella. But, I was right about the other stuff, too, and two years on the happy memories and giggles far outnumber the tears, which is how it should be, right?

He would certainly think so.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New year, new book, new names needed...

Happy New Year everyone.

Remember a month or so ago, I mentioned wanting to use real people's names in my upcoming books? Oh wait, here's the post. Anyway, I'll be having in in-person drawing at the launch of my new Hugo Marston novel, called THE BLOOD PROMISE. I'll be sharing wine, cheese, and a hat full of names at BookPeople on January 17, at 7pm.

In fact, the new book contains the names of the winners from the last drawing in May. So yes, it's for real! But you have to be there to win. Or leave a comment below, and beg.

And in case you haven't seen it, here's the cover. I love, love, love it.

Some people like the book, too:

Praise for The Blood Promise:

"Mark Pryor is one of the smartest new writers on the block. His new novel is a doozy."
—Philip Kerr, author of A Man Without Breath,
a Bernie Gunther novel

"Pryor seems to have hit his stride in this series, as he adroitly juxtaposes the light banter between Marston and Green with some scenes of intense emotion.... And, all the while, the suspense ramps up. Top-notch mystery in a skillfully delineated Parisian setting."