The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
25 May 2010
Interview with debut mystery novelist Stephen Parrish
In Stephen Parrish’s mystery-adventure novel The Tavernier Stones (Midnight Ink), a varied cast of fortune hunters race to decipher the secret code on a centuries-old map that leads to a treasure trove of fabled jewels.
Welcome to my blog, Stephen, and congratulations on your new novel!
You’re a cartographer and gemologist by training, and you live in Germany. How much of your own background ended up in your novel?
Practically everything. You're familiar with the old adage, write what you know. I knew maps, I knew gemstones, I knew Germany. When the idea occurred to me to put them all together I couldn't resist. I had also lived among the Pennsylvania Amish and have long been interested in codes and ciphers. After reading my book you'll know pretty much all there is to know about me.
One of the things I really enjoyed about your novel was that it was full of interesting tidbits about maps and cutting gems. How much of that did you already know and how much did you have to research for the book?
I'd already had the formal training and experience, but I needed to brush up a lot. There's a big difference, it turns out, between knowing something and knowing enough about it to construct a believable scene. Basically I just went back and read all my textbooks again, only this time I actually took notes.
Was living in Germany a help or a hindrance in writing, researching, and selling your manuscript?
The research on this side of the ocean was of course easier, but I had to fly to Philadelphia (someplace I'd never been) to write the scenes that took place there. As for selling the manuscript, a few people warned me I'd have trouble because I lived so far away, but the issue simply never came up.
What attracted you to study cartography?
Initially, the mathematics of map projections, the science of deforming the sphere. Then the art, the graphic design. Finally the history. I said what the heck, let's get paid to do this for a while.
What was your favorite part of writing The Tavernier Stones?
The very first scene. I needed a bog in northern Germany, and after studying some maps I decided to try the area around Hamburg. So one weekend I drove up there, stayed in a hotel, and spent a couple of days driving and stomping around until I found the right bog for the story. Unfortunately most of my description of that bog has been cut, but I couldn't wait to get back home to write the opening chapter.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code made mystery novels about lost knowledge and treasure popular. How does it help your promotional efforts for The Tavernier Stones to be in such a hot subgenre, and how does it hurt?
I didn't read The Da Vinci Code until after Tavernier was in submission. Afterwards I figured being tagged as a copycat was inevitable. My publisher is using the similarities to promote the book; maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't. I don't care. The two works that probably influenced me the most were Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Gold Bug" and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
I was intrigued that one way you’re promoting your novel is by having a treasure hunt on the Web. Could you explain more about that?
[Comment from S.R.: Rules for the treasure hunt can be found at http://www.tavernierstones.com/.]
My mother’s family is Pennsylvania Dutch, so I was surprised and pleased that one of your main characters was Amish. How did the character of John Graf come to you?
I lived for a while in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home to the greatest concentration of Amish in the country. As I looked around me, trying to figure out what kind of cartographer would serve best as protagonist, it was only natural that the Plain People occur to me. I wanted a character never remotely employed before. John was born, and he's been very much alive to me ever since.
What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?
Long hours in front of the computer screen, accomplishing almost nothing, interrupted by furious bursts of clickety-clack. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
The Tavernier Stones resolves all the characters’ lives satisfactorily at the end. Does that mean there won’t be a sequel? What will your next novel be about?
There won't be a sequel. My next novel is about an American soldier who is recruited to spy on his country, and it turns out his own country is the one that recruited him.
Thank you, Stephen, for visiting my blog today to talk about writing and your new book.
Learn more about Stephen Parrish and The Tavernier Stones at his Website at http://www.stephenparrish.com/ and his blog at http://stephenparrish.blogspot.com. The Tavernier Stones is available and can be ordered from your favorite bookseller as well as online from Amazon.com, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.