Friday, June 22, 2012

New Release

Nothing to Hide

       J. Mark Bertrand

Release date: July 1, 2012

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher for this Homicide Cop. Publishers Weekly calls J. Mark Bertrand's writing "gritty and chilling." He returns once more to the streets of Houston for another twisting mystery featuring Detective Roland March. This time, a new case is launched by the discovery of a headless corpse...only the investigation quickly becomes complicated when a blood sample analysis brings a phone call from the FBI. The body was an undercover agent working to bring down Mexican cartels. The feds want the case closed rather than risk exposing other agents in the field, but March can't abide letting a murder go unsolved. And he doesn't have to dig long to figure out something isn't right. Someone is covering something up, and it seems that everyone has something to hide. Maybe even March, as the case soon intersects, unexpectedly, with the murder that led him to become a homicide cop, all those years ago.

Interview with J. Mark Bertrand. 

1. Your latest novel, Nothing to Hide releases July 1, 2012. Tell us how the Roland March character came into being. What inspired you?

I’ve always been attracted to anti-heroes, so the idea of a cop on his way out of homicide, marking time on dead-end assignments, wasn’t much of a stretch for me. It took a while to discover March’s voice, but once I had it, he kept revealing more and more layers. Each book in the series goes deeper into his identity.

2. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

In Nothing to Hide, I wrote a series of chapters set in 1986, recounting March’s origin story -- the strange chain of events that led to him leaving the military and becoming a police officer. They were a lot of fun to write, because I got to explore his point-of-view prior to so many of the cataclysmic events that shaped the character we know so well. This is a fresh, innocent March … kind of hard to believe.

3. Your publisher, Bethany House, is a CBA house and I wondered if you have had success as a crossover novelist and if so, what do you attribute it to?

It’s true Bethany is a CBA publisher, but I don’t write my books with the tropes of evangelical fiction in mind. I try to explore big themes with a level of realism, which appeals to all kinds of readers. Sometimes readers realize belatedly that a book is CBA material, and they post negative reviews because they feel hoodwinked. In my case, it seems to run in the opposite direction, with people saying, “Don’t let the label fool you, this is good.” Why is this? I’d like to think it’s because they’re good novels, and that’s what matters.

4.Your book covers are distinctive, and immediately identifiable as a J. Mark Bertrand, Roland March novel. How much input did you have in that decision.

I gave a lot of input … but Bethany House deserves all the credit. Paul Higdon, the guru of all things creative at BHP, sat down with me and went over my preferences, then brought in FaceOut Studio, which did the actual design. (They won an award for it, too.) We’ve stuck with the look throughout the series.

5. When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I’ve been writing since grade school. My first novel was a spy thriller I wrote as an undergraduate. It was never published.

6. What authors are on your book shelves at home?

My shelves are extensive, so it might be easier to list who’s not on them! How about a representative sample. On the shelf nearest my desk, we have Graham Greene, Georges Simenon, Flannery O’Connor, John Gardner, Philip Kerr, Jim Thompson, John Le Carre, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Barry Unsworth, Walker Percy, Charles Williams and many more.

7. Were you influenced by any particular author?

Whether it shows up in my work or not, I couldn’t say, but I’d claim James Lee Burke, Graham Greene, and Simenon. There have been many more. There’s never been a single, strong influence, always a crown of them, ever shifting.

8.Tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published.

It was pretty easy. All I had to do was write a wonderful manuscript that editors loved and publication committees hated. That opened the door for my editor, Dave Long, who offered to take a detective series proposal to committee -- without my having written the manuscript. Bethany House gave the March books a thumbs up, and green-lit a collaboration with Deeanne Gist that came out in 2010, too, the same year as Back on Murder.

9. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I spent a lot of time thinking I was too busy to write. When I finally decided to do it, I wrote one novel that hasn’t been published yet, and every book afterward is either in print or coming soon. Turns out I had the time. If I could go back, I would have started much sooner.

10. Do you work with an outline, or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer?

Does it have to be either/or? Plotting is both a rational and intuitive process. I imagine we all pre-plan to a degree, but to me “seat-of-the-pants” implies something haphazard about the intuitive side of the process. Was Mozart a seat-of-the-pants composer? Climbing off my hobby horse, I’d say I pre-plan the aspects of a story that don’t come naturally to me, but when I write, I tend to keep most of it in my head (which is why I can’t multi-task when writing a draft … my mind is focused entirely on the page).

11. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?

Oh, yes. The aforementioned loved-by-editors, hated-by-committees masterpiece. In the open scene, the main character is viciously beaten. One editor said: “Christian readers can’t sympathize with a hero who suffers like that … and yes, I know how ironic that sounds.”

12. Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

Nostalgia and absent-but-idealized women are two themes that seem to come up a lot in my writing. The March novels are full of both, which is what gives them their brooding quality. As far as characters I’d like to return to … can I say, Roland March? Nothing to Hide is the last book with Bethany House, which means he’s going on hiatus. But I’d like to come back to him in the future (hopefully the not-too-distant future).

13. Have you ever worked in law enforcement and if so in what occupation? If not, how do you research the technical aspects of your Houston detective?

The closest I ever came was taking a bunch of private investigator correspondence courses as a teenager. I’ve always been fascinated by detectives, though, especially the idea of the investigator as the epistemological truth-teller (he has to ask not only what happened, but how can he know what happened). So I’ve kept abreast of the field for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’ve had specific questions, there have always been friends and readers to help out. People praise these books for their authenticity, but I would say the real authenticity is psychological. They feel real because the characters feel real, not because the details are accurate (though they are, to the best of my ability).

14. I know from your biography, you were once arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, want to tell us about that?

I was arrested at O’Hare Airport for assaulting a ticket agent in the First Class line. I wrote about the incident in my 2007 book Rethinking Worldview. For a writer, it was a fascinating experience. The jail scene in Beguiled, the novel I co-authored with Deeanne Gist, is based directly on my time in the Chicago PD lock-up. For the record, I was innocent.

15. You and your family made a move from Houston, Texas to South Dakota. What adjustments have you had to make?

I never considered myself much of a Southerner until making the move. Now I describe myself as a Southern ex-pat. The long Siberian winters are the biggest adjustment, but for me it was a welcome change. There’s nothing like a blizzard to keep you indoors when a deadline is looming.

16. What do you do when you are not writing?

I blog about the physical form of the Good Book at I also dabble in bookbinding. And I do a lot of reading, of course. Mostly when I’m not writing I think about writing.

17. You won the Grace Award for Back on Murder, in 2011. Any other awards on your trophy shelf?

Back on Murder was also an INSPY finalist, and Pattern of Wounds is up for a Christy Award this year for Best Suspense. If you ask me, Nothing to Hide is the best of the three, but we’ll have to wait and see if it garners similar acclaim.

18. Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Just write. And do a lot of reading, mainly of great books. Avoid conferences and workshops until you can separate good advice from bad, realizing that a lot of teachers are simply passing along earlier pedagogy, not engaging directly with the experience of writing. The next time someone tells you to “show, don’t tell,” ask them why Percy Lubbock thought the perfect embodiment of that advice was Henry James, who was far from a cinematic writer. If they can’t answer, don’t listen.

19. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

I owe my readers and fans a debt of gratitude. The March books aren’t made for the masses. They appeal to a particular kind of sensibility, and if you happen to be in that category, I’d say that makes you pretty special. It still amazes me when I meet people who love these books as much as I do, who relate to March and his friends just as strongly. All I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is thank you.


  1. Loved this interview. Great questions and answers. It makes me want to read these books, which, I confess, I have not dipped into, yet. My mom is a fan. Probably your oldest fan, at 90. :)

    1. Sally:

      I hope your mom enjoys Nothing to Hide. I'll be in line to get it when it releases.

  2. Thanks for the interview, V.B., and thanks for agreeing to it, Mark. I read and enjoyed Back on Murder. I wasn't aware Roland March was a serial character, though. Time to do some investigation of my own and get my hands on the next books.

    1. Carrie:

      I was interested to learn that this is the last one for Bethany House. I'm sure they'll pick up the series or he'll have no trouble finding a new publisher. He was great the work with.

  3. Enjoyed the interview. Love your books, J. Mark, and I hope you do write more about him soon. :). Thanks for sharing!