10 December 2009

Author Answers with Brad Parks

Word Nerd welcomes new author Brad Parks to the blog today. Parks is a recovering journalist who has also turned to writing novels.

His first book, Faces of the Gone, came out earlier this week.

WORD NERD: With the number of mystery books out there, why should someone pick up yours? What is a reader going to like about it?

PARKS: Word Nerd, were you somehow spying on my anxiety dream last night? You know the one: I’m in the Barnes & Noble and there’s my little book, spine out on the mystery shelf, way in the back of the store, quivering in the imposing shadow created by the mountain of Sarah Palin and Stephen King books up front. And no one is even looking at my book. Then suddenly this lady who sort of looks like my eighth grade English teacher is asking her daughter, who sort of looks like my high school girlfriend, “What do you think Daddy wants for Christmas?” And I’m trying to shout, “Mrs. Meyer! It’s me, Bradley Parks! The short, fat kid who nearly had to repeat eighth grade because he couldn’t diagram sentences! Look, I’m all tall and thin now and I wrote a book! It makes a great Christmas present!” But, of course, it’s a dream, so I can’t get the words out. I suppose if I was more in control of my dreams, I’d just – ALERT: blatant self-promotion incoming! – hand Mrs. Meyer the starred review I got in Library Journal, which called FACES OF THE GONE, “the most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.” And then I’d say, “See, I told you diagramming sentences was pointless.”

WN: People say "Write what you know." Clearly, you took your background in journalism to create your protagonist, Carter Ross, but the book is fiction, so you had to make some things up. How do you walk that line between keeping it real and creative license?

PARKS: I’ve been in the midst of an evolution – maybe even a revolution – on this subject. Because, as a journalist, I was loathe to make up anything at first. It’s such an anathema to my training as a reporter, and nearly everything from FACES OF THE GONE was the product of my experience rather than my imagination. But I’ve now written two more Carter Ross books – the second one is under contract and I hope the third one will be under contract soon – and I find I give myself a little more license with each one. I guess the main thing is that no matter where your material is coming from – an old reporter’s notebook or the depths of your soul – it has to pass the smell test. People have to feel like what they’re reading is plausible. So, for me, that’s the line. If I write it and feels real, I keep it. If I write it and it smells like low tide at the docks, I toss it.

WN: When you go to things like Bouchercon, do you have "fan boy" moments when you realize you're in the same room with other writers who you admire? What's your strategy for playing it cool?

PARKS: Oh, man, I don’t. Can I share my biggest fan boy moment from Bouchercon this year? Are you ready for this? You might want to sit down. Okay, here goes: I got Lee Child a Coke! It’s true! This was Saturday night, after the Reacher Feature party where you and I met, and I was back at the Hyatt bar. I was chatting with Rae Helmsworth, a lovely woman and the chair of Bouchercon 2010, and my website designer, the incomparable Maddee James (http://www.xuni.com/), who also does work for Lee. And the next thing I realize, I’m sitting at the same table as Lee Child. Now, Lee is a great guy – tremendous writer, gracious gentleman, all that stuff – and he’s also a huge Yankees fan. And on that Saturday night, the Yankees were locked in an epic, extra-inning game in the American League Championship Series. Now, I’m a former sportswriter. I can talk sports with anyone, right? And I think what saved me doing anything truly embarrassing – like asking him to sign my bosom – is that we were watching sports. Anyway, somewhere around the bottom of the 11th, I calmly say, “Hey, Lee, I’m going to the bar. You need anything?” And he says, “Yeah, would you get me a Coke?” So I got Lee Child a Coke. Been bragging about it ever since.

WN: Which of your secondary characters is your favorite and why? (C'mon, it's the cat, right?)

PARKS: I’m sensing Deadline the Cat might be your favorite, so I won’t disabuse you of the notion he’s my favorite. But, uh, you know he, uh, might just, uh… well, I don’t want to toss out any spoilers, but let’s say things get a little dicey for Deadline in FACES OF THE GONE. I guess you’ll just have to read to see if he makes it.

WN: You're a family man in addition to being an author. How do they respond to you writing?

PARKS: My son is 2 ½. When you ask him what Daddy does for work, he replies, “Daddy is auffer.” So he’s starting to get it, which is fun. My daughter just turned one and is probably my biggest fan. She literally drools over my work.

WN: The stereotypical journalist/writer is the chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, sometimes-foul-mouthed guy. How many of these things are true of you? And how many for Carter?

PARKS: I don’t smoke and neither does Carter. I don’t drink coffee and neither does Carter (we’re both Coke Zero addicts). The swearing? Well, I’m working on it. There was an, ahem, incident shortly after my son turned 2. My wife and I were driving along and suddenly from the backseat my son blurts out, “Jesus Christ f--k.” After that, we instituted a cuss jar: A buck a swear. So I’m cutting back. As for Carter’s language, my agent, Jeanne Forte Dube, and I had a come-to-Jesus moment about that not long ago. In the original draft of FACES OF THE GONE, I used the f-word 120 times and the s-word 116 times. I mean, the book is set on the streets of Newark, New Jersey (where people swear a lot) and in a newspaper newsroom (where they swear even more). But my agent made this point: No one picks up a book and makes sure the f-word is in it before buying it, but there are people who absolutely won’t buy a book that has profanity. I’m trying to reach as broad an audience as possible, so I used the word search function and spent several hours excising the swear words from the manuscript. All 336 of them. And, you know what? Other than perhaps the odd motherf---er – which really has no exact synonym, and is therefore difficult to replace – I don’t miss the profanity a bit.

WN: When you are writing, what's the biggest time-waster you find yourself distracted by?

PARKS: The Internet in general, Twitter and Facebook in particular, my e-mail, cobwebs, the need to urinate, unpaid bills, unwashed dishes, unopened mail, sweaters that are too itchy and require changing, unwanted nose hair that requires trimming, magazines, books, Kindle, that thing in the refrigerator I meant to throw away, Scrabulous (circa 2008), fantasy sports, swimming, jogging, breathing. So, yeah, I’m pretty easily distracted. Lately, I find myself writing at Hardees, which might be the last place in America that doesn’t have wireless Internet – PLUS, free refills on Coke Zero. It’s writer heaven.

WN: What's the best thing you've read in the past year and why would you recommend it to someone else?

PARKS: I’m a writer, which means I’m bad at math. So while you asked for one book, I’m going to give you three. And I’m going to leave New York Times Bestselling authors out of it, because they don’t need my help. First is A BAD DAY FOR SORRY by Sophie Littlefield. She invented an absolutely marvelous protagonist – Stella Hardesty, the vigilante sewing machine ship owner who terrorizes abusive husbands and boyfriends – and wrote her with a dead-on, middle-of-Missouri voice that I and other readers have found enchanting. Next I’d go with STARVATION LAKE by Bryan Gruley. He’s a fellow newspaperman and he has what we in the journalism business like to call “heavy fingers” – the man can just flat-out write. And as a former sportswriter, I can say with some authority he writes hockey scenes as well as anyone I’ve ever read. Finally, I recently discovered Sean Chercover (in the same way Columbus “discovered” America, I suppose… don’t worry, Sean, I have no animosity against your native peoples). BAD BLOOD, BIG CITY has everything you’d ever want in a P.I. Novel and I’ve already got TRIGGER CITY loaded on my Kindle and ready to go. Can’t wait.

For more, sign up for Brad’s newsletter at www.BradParksBooks.com, follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter (www.twitter.com/brad_parks), or become a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brad-Parks-Books/137190195628).


Rae Helmsworth said...

Hey Brad,

Congrats on your book's publication, and see you at Bouchercon ;-)

Anonymous said...


I'm so psyched for Bouchercon San Francisco, I wish it was happening tomorrow. Though I'm guessing you feel a little differently. : )

Thanks for dropping in!