INTERVIEW WITH MARK DE CASTRIQUE

Mike Barson: The premise of the Buryin’ Barry series, of which this book is the seventh entry, connects to an early event in your own life. Please discuss.

Mark de Castrique: My Buryin’ Barry series grew out of personal history.  My father had been a funeral director in the small mountain town of Hendersonville, NC.  For the first few years of my life, we lived upstairs.  My earliest memory is as a three-year old when I crashed a visitation one evening.  I was physically removed from behind the casket where I was singing, “So Long It’s Been Good To Know You.”  We moved shortly thereafter and my father pursued another career, but when I considered a character and setting for my first mystery, I thought a funeral director in a Western North Carolina town would be interesting.  And a funeral home collects all the town’s memories and the town’s bodies.
MB: You are one of those authors who is able to write multiple mystery series…. Along with Buryin’ Barry you also have the Sam Blackman series. They are linked by their North Carolina settings, but what are the challenges you find in alternating between two premises and sets of characters?
MdC: I think the toughest challenge is keeping Sam and Barry distinct characters.  They are both about the same age and both quick witted.  But Sam has a harder edge than small-town Barry.  Sam was a Chief Warrant Officer who lost his left leg in Iraq.  He not only has to deal with the challenges of a prosthesis, but also he is driven to work inside and outside the law if necessary for the benefit of his clients.
Barry is a part-time deputy as well as funeral director.  He gets pulled into cases through circumstances overlapping both occupations.  Each plot needs to play true to the characters’ personality and environment.  Barry lives in a fictional town whereas Sam lives in Asheville, NC.  Each provides a different avenue for storytelling. 
MB: Who would you point to as the mystery authors you’ve read over the years who have had the most impact on your own crime fiction?
 
MdC: There are so many great mystery writers out there, it’s hard to focus on a few.  Although their styles and characters are different from what I write, I really enjoy Michael Connelly‘s work, Margaret Maron‘s series, Adrian McKinty‘s Sean Duffy novels, and for fun, laugh-out-loud mysteries, David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series.  I hope to emulate those authors who strike a fine balance of character, setting, and plot.  And if I learn something about history or a social condition in the process, all the better.
MB: Your depiction of North Carolina in your two series have earned you a great deal of praise. But are you ever tempted to transport either Barry or Sam Blackman to a wholly different setting for just one book, just to see how he might operate as a fish out of water?
 
MdC: I’ve toyed with that idea of a different setting.  Obviously the storyline would need to grow out of a compelling reason.  In an earlier book, FINAL UNDERTAKING, Barry spends some time with a police officer in Florida tracking down a lead, but that wasn’t anchoring the story.  The question is intriguing   I’m curious as to how the characters would react in a different locale.  Thanks for the prompt.
MB: Do you have a standard method of conducting research for each of your series? What are some of the more unusual resources you have accessed in the course of doing your research?
MdC: First, I do general research on a topic that might interest me.  For Sam Blackman, it’s usually something in Asheville and Western North Carolina’s history.  For example, in the 1930s, the largest fascist organization in the U.S. was headquartered in Asheville.  That was news to me and became a plot element in THE FITZGERALD RUSE.  Or I heard a story about a commune in my home county that was established after the Civil War by freed slaves and ruled by a king and queen.  Again, news to me but it became the basis for A MURDER IN PASSING.
While Sam confronts crimes in the present generated by the past, Barry’s small town faces those issue that might affect small towns in general.  He’s tackled unscrupulous developers, opioid rings before they were national news, and in SECRET UNDERTAKING he goes up against the Witness Protection Program and its unintended consequences.
Once I’ve determined the general backdrop of the crime, then the research becomes more targeted and continues throughout the writing process.  I’m currently researching a secret NSA site that was located within Pisgah National Forest for Sam Blackman’s next adventure.
MB: Is there any chance that Sam and Buryin’ Barry might ever join forces in a crossover novel?
MdC: A year or two ago, I would have said no.  Although both characters are fictional, Sam is in a real city and Barry’s in a fictitious town.  I thought their worlds shouldn’t meet.  But in SECRET UNDERTAKING, Barry travels into Asheville and so now he’s in Sam’s backyard.  Who knows?  They might not only meet, but also gang up against me.  I won’t stand a chance.

SECRET UNDERTAKING will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in September.