Monday, March 6, 2017

Library theft, family life, and angry ghosts: an interview with Brad Parks

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, our long-running author interview series. I'm very pleased today to be sharing my recent interview with Brad Parks, an award-hoarding star of American crime writing who is now making his British debut with SAY NOTHING, a compelling standalone.

Parks is the only author to have won the Nero, Shamus, and Lefty awards for crime writing. His 2009 debut, FACES OF THE GONE, introduced recurring hero Carter Ross and was inspired by a quadruple-homicide Parks had reported on during his years as a newspaper feature journalist.

Carter Ross is an investigative crime reporter (Parks himself was an award-winning journalist who wrote sports and news features, addressing crime among other matters). Parks' debut got a lot of critical praise, and won both the Nero and Shamus Awards. His later Carter Ross books were often 'pulled from the headlines' of Parks' own journalism, addressing issues such as subprime lending, the state of the newspaper industry, illegal gun-smuggling, toxic waste and organised crime. Parks has been roundly praised by fellow authors, awards judges, and reviewers in the United States as a top-shelf crime writer, who melds real-life issues with taut plots and a nice dose of humour. The series won a further Shamus Award (Best Hardcover for THE GOOD COP), two Lefty Awards for best humorous mystery, and appeared on many 'best of' annual lists.

SAY NOTHING, Parks' UK debut, is a departure from the Carter Ross series - a standalone focused on a Virginia judge whose six-year-old twins are kidnapped, to influence an upcoming ruling. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, saying "The nerve-shredding never lets up for a minute as Parks picks you up by the scruff of the neck, shakes you vigorously, and repeats over and over again till a climax so harrowing that you’ll be shaking with gratitude that it’s finally over."

Now, Brad Parks becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

BRAD PARKS, credit Sara Harris

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
If you’re talking contemporary characters, I have to say Jack Reacher. Maybe it’s just because I want to be him: 6 foot 5, 250 pounds, toothbrush in pocket, roaming the countryside, stomping mobs of thick-necked locals everywhere I go. Sign me up.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
GENTLE BEN, Walt Morey’s classic story of a boy from Alaska who takes in a grizzly bear as a pet. It not only ignited my imagination, it started me on a life of crime. I checked it out of my local library on August 9, 1984—a date I can recall with such accuracy because I still have the book. When it came time to return it, I told my mother I had lost it. Really, it was under my bed. It stayed there a long time. I must have read it twenty times.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I used to be a daily newspaper reporter, so I’ve been “published” several thousand times. Most of those efforts wound up lining hamster cages or wrapping fish, and deservedly so. I wrote my very first article when I was fourteen. It was a breathless account of a high school girl’s field hockey game for my local paper, and it finished with this highly trenchant observation: “Indeed, Ridgefield’s 1-9-2 record did not indicate the quality of its play this season, as it had several close losses, and some bad luck getting the ball in the goal.” I always did have a gift for words.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have two kids, so they tend to absorb most of my free time. In SAY NOTHING, I set up the protagonist, Scott Sampson, as having this ideal parenting life—playing board games with his kids, taking them to the pool, having family movie night, etc. Most of that is lifted straight from my own life. As I have Scott observe early in the novel, “There’s something about having genuine fun with your kids that’s good for the soul in a way nothing else is.” I genuinely believe that.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
It’s not my hometown, but the city where we live now—Staunton, Virginia, in the mountains southwest of Washington, D.C.—is home to an old lunatic asylum. Parts of it are now being converted into condos (boring!) but other parts haven’t been touched. I’m trying to find someone to give me a tour. Or, then again, maybe I’m not. I’ve read stuff about what they used to do there -lobotomies, electroshock therapy, forced sterilisation. You know there are some really pissed off ghosts hanging around that place.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Given my affinity for Jack Reacher, definitely not Tom Cruise. Otherwise, well... Do you have any idea how boring a movie that would be? Seriously. A guy sitting around in front of a laptop, having conversations with imaginary people and thinking of creative ways to kill them. Then he goes for a jog! Then he plays with his kids! After the third scene, the entire audience would be easing out of their seats so they could sneak into the latest Star Wars flick while there was still time.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I hate this question, because it’s like being asked which among your children is your favourite. But, at risk of seeming like a shill, I think I’ll always have a special affinity for this latest novel, SAY NOTHING. It’s my seventh novel, but my first to come out in the UK. It also sold in twelve other countries. Being as I’m the guy who wrote it, I’m probably the last person to understand its appeal. All I can say is the connection I had with these characters and their struggle was just incredibly intense. If I wasn’t afraid of ruining my reputation as a tough guy, I’d admit to you I cried when I wrote the end of this book. Oh, wait, that’s right: I don’t have a reputation as a tough guy. So, yeah, I wept like a fountain.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
It was July 8, 2008. Not that I remember or anything. I was working as a journalist at a daily newspaper in New Jersey, just outside New York City. I hadn’t told any of my colleagues that I had written a novel and was trying to get it published—it seemed so audacious. When I saw the call was coming from my agent, I hastily snuck off to the entrance of the freight elevators, where no one would be able to hear me. Then my agent told me The News. I was so excited, I had to leave the building and run around the block twice before I could settle down enough to call my wife and tell her.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
So I’m doing a signing at a Barnes & Noble—the largest brick-and-mortar bookseller in the United States. Halfway through my spiel, I see this guy, who is clearly just there to browse the shelves, getting interested. Eventually, he sits down, and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for being such an engaging speaker. After the Q&A, he comes up and says, “So, you’ll sign a book for me?” I beam and say, “Absolutely, sir.” Then he says, “Great, sign this.” And he whips out a James Patterson novel. (Awkward pause). I sign it anyway, of course. Why not? He then proceeds to give me a handwriting analysis. “I can tell you’re very creative,” he says. And I’m sitting there, thinking, Really, buddy? I’m sitting in front of a stack of books that I wrote, and you can tell from my handwriting that I’m creative? Good times.

Thank you Brad. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 


You can read more about Brad Parks at his website, or follow him on Twitter

Read what others have to say about SAY NOTHING: Liz Barnsley's review, Kirkus Reviews (starred review). 


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