Mark de Castrique, one of Charlotte’s most prolific writers of mysteries, recently brought out his 19th novel. Titled Murder in Rat Alley, this novel is the 7th in his Sam Blackman Series. For more information about Murder in Rat Alley and Mark’s other books, please click on the following link: http://www.markdecastrique.com
In most of Mark’s mysteries, there is no clear line demarcating the past and the present. Events that happened long ago often have a bearing on the mystery at hand, and the dead often have a say in the unfolding of the story. Such is the case with Murder in Rat Alley. Although the story is set in present-day Asheville, much of the story deals with the disappearance of a NASA engineer in 1971. In this novel, the underside of the Space Race and the current climate change crisis converge in a dark alley in Asheville. Rat Alley is a real place.
Since the publication of his first mystery, Dangerous Undertaking, in 2003 to the publication of Murder in Rat Alley in December 2019, Mark has published on average about one book per year. I recently contacted Mark and asked him how he sustains this high level of productivity. In his response, he interrelates the past and the present, just as he does in his mysteries. He also addresses the importance of being part of Charlotte’s community of writers:
Writers often are portrayed as solitary figures, alone in a room with a pen, blank sheet of paper, and their imagination. That image isn’t necessarily false. But there comes that time when pen must go to paper or keyboard connect to computer screen, and I’ve found those secluded moments more productive because of the community that has contributed to my writing endeavors.
I came to creative writing through a side door. My career has been in film and video production. In Charlotte, I’ve worked on documentaries and bio-pics that offered the opportunity for collaborative script writing, editing, and wide public distribution. In short, storytelling. My only creative writing education had been several screenplay courses as an undergraduate. I was not familiar with Charlotte’s writing community.
I was introduced to that community through the good fortune of being in a city with outstanding higher educational institutions. It’s my belief, that from community college to major universities, writing cells come into existence when nurtured by the shared desire to learn the craft. With that goal in mind, I nervously signed up to take a continuing-education short story writing class at Queens University (Queens College at the time). I found myself in a room with twenty students and an instructor. What I soon discovered was writing isn’t a competitive sport. Someone else’s success doesn’t diminish your own. Someone’s authentic voice doesn’t silence your own. And writers who want to support other writers have the ability to become honest and constructive listeners. That first class and its collaborative spirit taught me it’s not the writing, it’s the rewriting that leads to success.
Out of that class grew a smaller writing group that encouraged and critiqued each other’s work. That gave me the confidence to plunge into grad school in the English Department of UNC Charlotte, which introduced me to a whole faculty of writers of one kind or another. They became my community as I concentrated on narrative theory and how a story is constructed. Thanks to faculty support, my creative graduate thesis became a published novel.
That was nearly twenty years and twenty novels ago. One thing I’ve learned is that there is always more to learn. The Charlotte Writers Club has a wonderful history of offering programs. I was privileged to speak recently at their monthly meeting. New technologies create new support methods such as Landis Wade’s Charlotte Readers Podcast that not only connects readers to writers but writers to writers.
Yet, there is no escaping that moment of staring at the blank page. I try to remember it represents a world of possibilities. I don’t face it alone. I have a community of writers behind me.
Mark’s remarkable success as a mystery writer is not the only reason I think of him as a man of mysteries. There is also a bit of a mystery behind his name. In most cases, names that include “de” are French in origin. Since “de” is French for “of,” a name that includes “de” technically means that a person with that name is “of” a particular place in France. However, there is no Castrique in France. In an effort to solve this mystery, I sent Mark an email and asked him about the origins of his name. In his response, Mark wrote, “The last name of my great grandfather Charles was Castrique. This was in England. His father had several altercations with the law so when Charles immigrated to the U.S. he added the de.” Well, now that I know that Mark isn’t tied to some village in France named Castrique, I think it might be more appropriate to call him Mark de Charlotte, as in Storied Charlotte.