Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Author Interview: Parker Francis: Matanzas Bay

Matanzas Bay (A Quint Mitchell Mystery)Today we meet an author who made the leap from an adventure/fantasy series to the hard-boiled mystery/suspense field with his newest novel, Matanzas Bay (rated 4.7 stars on 19 reviews). After a career in broadcasting working as a public affairs and documentary producer, reporter, fundraiser, and producer of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival for eight years, Victor DiGenti turned to his first love—writing. He found inspiration in his household of feline critters and wrote three adventure/fantasies with a feline protagonist. His novels — Windrusher, Windrusher and the Cave of Tho-hoth, and Windrusher and the Trail of Fire (Ocean Publishing) — have won multiple awards and attracted readers of all ages.
He wrote Matanzas Bay using the pen name Parker Francis, and the novel won several awards before it was even published, including the 2007 Josiah W. Bancroft Sr. Award, and was named a Book of the Year in the 2009 Royal Palm Literary Awards Competition.

DBT: Before I ask you about your book, I’m curious about why you decided to write Matanzas Bay using a pen name.
The Windrusher trilogy has attracted thousands of readers, and many of them are young readers, from middle grade on up. Since the Quint Mitchell Mysteries are definitely for adults, I wanted to separate them from the Windrusher books. Using the Parker Francis pen name serves that purpose, plus the name has ties to my father and my wife’s father.

DBT: So tell us about your book.
Matanzas Bayis the first of a new mystery series featuring private investigator Quint Mitchell. The story is set in St. Augustine, and Quint’s hobby is archaeology. When we meet Quint he’s helping the City Archaeologist with a survey in the heart of the old city. During the dig, Quint unearths the body of the vice mayor. Because the archaeologist had an ongoing feud with the vice mayor, he’s arrested and charged with murder. This propels Quint into an investigation that leads to old crimes and long-buried family secrets. And before it’s over, Quint’s investigation touches off a series of deadly events and he finds himself the hunted instead of the hunter.

DBT: St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city, and must have been fun to write about.
Setting the story in St. Augustine made a lot of sense to me. First, of all I live in NE Florida and I love the old city. St. Augustine has a storied past, and the streets and buildings, some of them hundreds of years old, seem to be alive with ghosts from that past. It’s the kind of town that begs to have a good murder mystery written about it. Secondly St. Augustine is nationally recognized as a tourist destination. Many of my reviews on Amazon.com mention how the book made them feel they were right there with Quint in the old city. I used a few of the more popular attractions in major scenes, such as the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the Alligator Farm, where Quint becomes a menu item on the midnight buffet. For those not familiar with the nation’s oldest city, it’s a lovely town with echoes of the Spanish settlers who lived and died there hundreds of years ago. It’s well worth a visit, and, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a string of murders like the ones that happen in Matanzas Bay.

DBT: Did you have a target audience in mind when you wrote Matanzas Bay?

My target audience is made up of people who enjoy reading intelligent mysteries with characters who are fully realized. Matanzas Bay is a kick to read, so anyone looking for a story that will provide enjoyment and take them away from the stress of their everyday lives might want to give it a try. I like to think mystery readers are looking for more than crime and punishment. They obviously enoy the challenge of working through the clues and red herrings along with the protagonist, but they also want to learn something when they read. In Matanzas Bay they’ll learn a little of the town’s amazing history, from its beginning in 1565 when the Spanish killed over 200 French settlers on the shores of the Matanzas Inlet— Matanzas means “place of slaughter.” This historical fact gives the story a sense of foreboding and expected violence.
More recent history also comes into play, as there’s a major subplot in which my lead character, is involved with a biracial woman. We learn later that her uncle was active in the city’s civil rights struggles and was beaten by the Klan in 1964. I found a way to use St. Augustine’s civil rights history, weaving the incident into the plot in a way that will surprise the readers.

DBT: Quint sounds like an interesting character. He comes with a bit of baggage of his Quint carries with him a sense of loss and guilt for his part in the death of his younger brother many years ago. Because of his actions, his father basically disowned him, and they haven’t spoken in nearly twenty years. This weighs heavily on Quint, and he can’t quite forgive himself. It’s part of the character arc he undergoes in the course of the story, and the redemption he finds at the end. Of course, it’s not all high drama for Quint. One of my reviewers wrote, “Quint Mitchell has hard edges, an anguished past, and just the right amount of wise-cracking good humor to keep readers smiling.” So he’s able to carry his baggage pretty well.
One thing that bothers me about some fictional protagonists in this genre is that they tend to be supermen. Obviously, we want our storybook heroes to come out on top, but Quint isn’t the kind of hero who takes on three or four thugs at once and easily overcomes them. And whie he’s a good detective, he has to work his through the curtain of lies to eventually uncover the truth. He’s a hard-working guy who wants to do the right thing, and yes, in the end, he does prevail.

DBT:And for every strong protagonist, you need a counterpoint, the antagonist or villain. Is there a villain who Quint battles in the book?
Ah yes, the villain. Unlike thrillers where you know who the villain is from the very beginning, part of the enjoyment of reading mysteries is trying to find out whodunit, so Quint’s true antagonist isn’t revealed until the climax of the book. But there are several characters that make life difficult for Quint in one way or another. And as in any good mystery, the reader has to decide what’s true and what isn’t. Who’s hiding secrets and why. The reader accompanies Quint as he sorts through the evidence, and blunders up a lot of blind alleys before he finds the real killer. I don’t want to spoil it for your readers, but I’ll say that Quint meets a number of colorful characters during the course of his investigation, including a former Florida Poet Laureate who mixes his poetry with large quantities of alcohol. Another is the murder victim’s brother, who happens to be a St. Augustine police detective. He’s a major adversary of Quint’s. And then there’s Kurtis Laurence, a successful developer and a leading candidate for Governor of Florida. Each of them have their own secrets, and each of them adds to the mystery Quint is trying to solve.

DBT: Is this a stand-alone novel or part of a series?
Matanzas Bay is the first of the Quint Mitchell Mysteries, the first in what I hope will be a long and successful series. When people purchase Matanzas Bay, as either an ebook or what I’ve taken to calling a “tree book,” the traditional print book, they’ll find it contains an extra bonus. At the end of the story, I’ve included the prologue and chapter one of the next Quint Mitchell Mystery, Bring Down the Furies. This one is set in South Carolina, where Quint has tracked down the Heart Throb Bandit, a guy who preys on rich, elderly women. He’s been hired by one of the victims to retrieve some property the con man stole from her. I won’t tell you anymore, but it’s an exciting adventure, and you can bet Quint is going to get into a mess of trouble before everything is over. Furies should be released in late spring or early summer. There’s also a Parker Francis short story collection in the works, including one with Quint Mitchell as a teenager. That story, tentatively titled, Blue Crabs at Midnight, will be published as a digital single right before Bring Down the Furies is released.
DBT: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’m not sure what you’d call my writing style. I just try to keep in mind my target audience and give them a story that will entertain them. Since I have great respect for my readers, I don’t write down to them. I try to tell a good story, and keep the reader hooked with conflict and suspense. I don’t know what you’d call that style, but that’s what I try to do.

DBT: Are your characters pure fiction, or did you draw from people you know?
My characters are all a product of my imagination. When people ask me where I come up with my weird characters and plots, I sometimes joke that it’s the result of the medication I was taking back in the 60s. Seriously, I hope readers see personality traits of people they know in my characters. That means they’re alive in their imaginations. I put a lot of thought into growing my book people before I start writing, and often while I’m writing a character will surprise me. That’s the great thing about the creative process when your imagination takes you in a new direction.
I strive to strike a balance between strong characters and a compelling plot. A strong plot drives the story forward, but the most memorable novels have characters that resonate with the reader. What lingers in the mind after we read Catcher in the Rye is the teenage angst of Holden Caulfield rather than the plot. My goal is to populate my books with characters that the reader can identify and empathize with. Of course, I like to stir the plot and throw in the unexpected to keep the reader hooked and turning pages.

Find out more about Vic and Parker at
Follow his blog: Windrusher@blogspot.com
Contact him at: author @ parkerfrancis.com (no spaces)

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