Saturday, April 07, 2012

Recap of Brad Parks' Appearances

I finally met Brad Parks! I'd been waiting since his first book, Faces of the Gone, came out. I kept my first edition copy, hoping I'd have a chance to meet him someday, and have it autographed. Not only did I get to meet him, I hosted him for Authors @ The Teague, interviewed him at the Poisoned Pen the same evening, and then three of us went to dinner with him. Wonderful day!

I introduced him by telling the audience, "When Brad Parks' debut mystery, Faces of the Gone, won the Nero Award for Best American Mystery, and the Shamus Award for Best First Mystery, he became the first author in the combined sixty-year history of the awards to win both awards for the same book. He's the author of three books featuring investigative journalist Carter Ross. Brad was a reporter for The Washington Post and The Newark Star-Ledger before turning to a life of crime." Then, I encouraged everyone to sign up for Brad's newsletter at, where the interns have all kinds of information. Before Brad could begin his program, I showed some of the funnier pictures the "interns" had posted on his site.

Brad started by asking me, well, who named Eyes of the Innocent one of the best books of the year. When I acknowledged that I had, he told everyone we had only met about fifteen minutes earlier, but he felt as if we had known each other for quite a while, between email, Twitter, Facebook, and my book reviews.

He told us this wasn't his first time in Glendale. He had covered the Super Bowl when it was here. He even interviewed our mayor, but said she might not have been pleased with his coverage since it wasn't a Chamber of Commerce rah rah piece. He did a piece showing what development had wrought. He talked to a teenager who mentioned that she had played in strawberry fields right about where the movie theaters were in the western part of Glendale. He thought something had been lost, and asked the girl which she would have preferred, the strawberry fields or the movie theater. He forgot he was talking to a seventeen-year-old who said, the movie theater, of course.

Brad said he also did a story about prostitution at the Super Bowl. There is a horde of women who follow the Super Bowls. So, he found a prostitute who told him she was just a lady looking to get paid. According to Brad, that's just what it's like to be an author.

Brad then moved to talking about his books. Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. He knows exactly when and where he had the idea for his latest book, The Girl Next Door. The idea was born on July 30, 2008. He was a reporter at The Newark-Star Ledger at the time. The publisher called the staff to Classified, and told them the paper, the eleventh largest in the country, was on life-support. It would shut down at the end of the year unless two things happened. First, the unions would need to make concessions. And, 150 newsroom personnel would have to take voluntary buy-outs.

Parks was thirty-four at the time. Reporting was all he had ever done. He had been a reporter since he was fourteen when he wrote for his hometown newspaper, The Ridgefield Press, in Connecticut. Brad told us he went into journalism for money and sex. He was paid 50 cents a column inch, which was more than he could make babysitting. And, at fourteen, he was covering the Ridgefield High School girls basketball team. He was not a strapping lad. He was short, with braces, and those gorgeous tall blond girls didn't pay any attention to him. He hoped he could get their attention because he was writing about them.

Seriously, Parks enjoyed being read. He discovered he had a readership when the fathers of some of those girls would tell him, "Parks. Good stuff." And, he enjoyed the characters he met on the job. He had one editor who red-inked everything. She called people either "shithead" or "asshole." If she called you "shithead", she was in a bad mood. She was in a good mood and liked you if she called you "asshole." And, you'd go away feeling good. "She called me asshole." Parks was hooked.

When Brad went to Dartmouth College, he started his own newspaper, The Sports Weekly. He told me that was about as creative a title as Lesa's Book Critiques. He added that a mutual friend, Jen Forbus, regrets the simplicity of the title of her own blog, Jen's Book Thoughts. The Sports Weekly covered the sports on campus, and he did everything from gathering the news, writing the stories, editing them, taking photos, getting it printed, and distributing it. For him, writing for newspapers was sort of like a Broadway musical. Then, Brad, who has a marvelous voice, broke into song, singing "It Had to be You."

Parks found that newspapers were fun. They were also important. His junior year he was interning for The Boston Globe when a classmate committed suicide during the summer. It was a front-page story. Sarah Devens was from a well-known Boston family. She played three sports in college, all at a high level. When  Parks was back on campus, he decided to investigate further because he wasn't happy with the stories that said she had committed suicide because she was depressed over the sports. He didn't feel that was the whole story. He interviewed people, and had complete editorial control over the story he wrote. He discovered Sarah had a rough family life. Her parents were divorced, and her father was relentless in his pressure on her. Sarah's family didn't like the story Brad wrote. They put a great deal of pressure on Dartmouth. They forced the advisor to the newspaper to step down. They created a firestorm, and tried to get the newspaper shut down until Dartmouth's attorneys stressed a little thing call Freedom of the Press. It left the young news reporter shaken. Then, the letters from the community started coming in. They all said thank you for telling us what was going on so we could make sense of the tragic death.

So, while Brad's classmates from Dartmouth were going into law and medicine, he found another path in journalism. It was sort of like the title character in Pippin. And, Brad sang "Corner of the Sky" for us.

A Washington Post reporter had cone to Dartmouth to cover the Sarah Devens story as well, but he went back empty-handed. So, when Parks graduated he was hired by The Washington Post. And, the Post sent him to cover high school sports, but it was no longer appropriate for him to be in love with the girls' basketball team. He eventually moved on to The Newark Star-Ledger where he covered the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Masters, the Yankees. He said he actually preferred smaller events such as the Buff Bowl, a flag football game at a nudist colony, (where not everyone should be nude, and you have to make sure it's the flag you're grabbing.)

A sports reporter spends 120 nights a year in a hotel room, which is fine when you're young and single. Brad was thirty and married. He switched to the news side, and found a wealth of source material for gritty mysteries set in Newark. He covered a quadruple homicide in which four people were shot and left for dead. That was the inspiration for his first book, Faces of the Gone. The subprime mortgage crisis was the inspiration for the second novel, Eyes of the Innocent. Then, July 30, 2008 was the inspiration for The Girl Next Door. If the publisher character is somewhat contemptible in the book, there's a reason for that.

According to Parks, two things killed newspapers. One was the consolidation of retail. Take electronics. There would be four to six little regional electronics stores buying advertising. Then Best Buy comes in. Take five to seven small hardware stores. Then Home Depot or Lowes knocks them out. Towns used to have department stores. Then Macy's moved in. Six advertisers would be knocked out at a time, with only one left to buy advertising in the newspaper.

The Internet was the second thing to kill newspapers, and not in the way people think. It killed classified advertising. Newspapers lost classified advertising to Craig's List, EBay, Autotrader. Classifieds was the profit margin for papers. The ads covered the expenses, and classifieds made up the profit.

With that July 30, 2008 meeting, Parks found himself like Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees when he sang, "Goodbye Old Girl," which Brad sang. He had to say it was time to go. He hadn't been planning to go that young.

Brad had written a sports book, and he used that to get an agent. She said it was OK, but she couldn't sell it. Did he have anything else? He'd always loved mysteries, and he had written three chapters. It was about a white kid from the suburbs of Connecticut, who graduated from the mean streets of Dartmouth College, and was plunged into Newark, New Jersey.

Parks said he had found himself in the inner city, talking to great-grandmothers. Their ancestors were slaves. Fifteen to twenty generations of their family had never owned a piece of property. He was a rich white boy from Connecticut. She was a poor black woman from Newark. But, their differences stopped mattering when they found out he cared about their lives. People want to be understood. He was just there to listen.

He thought that would make a cool mystery story, and told the agent he did have something else. He had invented a protagonist. He was a newspaper reporter, about 6'1", 185 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore pleated pants, and boring clothes. He had a boring childhood, and was as boring as he could be. That protagonist hasn't worked out, though. People seem to be interested in Carter Ross.

Ross needed a love interest. But, Parks knew his wife would be reading the books. So, he created Tina Thompson. She is the one character made entirely from fictional cloth, the one purely fictional character.

Brad's agent liked those three chapters, saying that I can sell. St. Martin's Press bought if for hardcover. On July 8, 2008, he received the phone call about the purchase of the book. Twenty-two days later, The Newark Star-Ledger publisher held that meeting. All arrows were pointing in the same direction.

It was time to make the move while Parks' children were young. They moved to Virginia, where his wife's job is. Brad became a full-time author. It was weird to move to rural Virginia, where the community has 10,000 people, and three stop lights. He lives in a rural county, on a beach on the Rappahannock River. He can go down to the beach and write about Newark, New Jersey.

Brad told us we won't like the publisher in The Girl Next Door. Parks' books have some laughs in them, some silly stuff, and some really serious stuff. Then, he read an excerpt from The Girl Next Door.

After the reading, Brad took questions from the audience. He and Carter do have their differences. Carter isn't a closet community theater nerd. Something was said about a smart phone, and Brad told us he has just about the dumbest phone there is because, otherwise, he wouldn't get anything done. The Internet is his biggest distraction, and he wants to write 1000 words a day.

Asked if his books are on audio, he said yes, on Jen Forbus says the guy is excellent who reads them, but he can't listen. In his last stage of editing, he reads his book out loud. He can't listen because the characters sound different. He doesn't read his books on audio because he understands when people see "Read by the author," it's often the kiss-of-death. Most authors are not that good at reading. Brad has a little theater background. He was in high school, college, and community theater.

He said he's six hours from Broadway. He has sung with some people who made it there, and they're better than he is. He does community theater, and passed on bookmarks with his picture from his role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Asked what he reads for fun, Brad said he doesn't read while he's writing. So, his TBR pile grows until his wife warns it better not fall and injure the kids. John D. MacDonald was a favorite. There's a little Travis McGee in Carter. He liked the way Travis would go off on a tangent and editorialize, and Carter does as well. He adores Harlan Coben, and not just because he blurbed his first book. He likes Michael Connelly, not just because he blurbed Parks' second book. He likes Lisa Gardner and Sophie Littlefield. Brad looks for a book's voice and the characters, the setting.

What's next? He thinks The Good Cop will be out next March. This one has to do with Virginia, where Parks lives now. New Jersey has tough gun control laws. Do you know what you have to do to get a license in New Jersey? First, there's a thirty-day waiting period. Then, you have to be interviewed by the local police chief who can turn you down if he doesn't like the way you look at him. Then, you have to get another license to purchase a gun, followed by another thirty-day waiting period. When Brad moved to Virginia, he found out what their gun laws were. To buy a gun in Virginia, you have to show you're a Virginia resident. Fifteen minutes later, you can walk out with a gun. If you take a class, you can get a concealed permit. In Virginia, you can buy as many guns as you want, and fifteen minutes later you can be selling them out of the trunk of your car. Where can you sell them? In New Jersey, which has tough laws. Route 95 is known as The Iron Pipeline, because lots of guns go up and down the route. That's the subject of Parks' next book.

Brad's fifth book is already done. The subject is brownfield redevelopment.

Asked how long it was before he was successful, he answered that he'd let us know when it happens. He doesn't get a paycheck in the morning. There are not many authors making a living as authors, however he hopes to someday. He hopes he's slowly building momentum.

Brad told us libraries meant a lot to him as a kid. He wasn't the best student, but he always had a library card. That's how he got his education. His choice of reading material showed his path in life. He loved sports books, and became a sports writer. He loved books about the presidents. He still loves history. He loves mysteries. And, here he is.

We all had a good time with Brad, and we set him up with a poster and flowers, so we could be groupies. I thought you might want to see a couple of the pictures.

Brad and His Groupies

Brad with Coreen, the genius behind the sign and the flowers

I was supposed to interview Brad at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale that same evening. Huh! As a friend said, you really just need to wind Brad up and let him go. I asked two questions. However, this was a different audience, and much of the conversation revolved around writing. Brad did sing two more songs, though!

Our mutual friend, Chantelle Osman, joined us at the bookstore for the program. Chantelle took all the photos of me interviewing Brad, and of the waffle sign. That's a joke between Chantelle and Brad from Left Coast Crime when he had waffles.

Brad singing Broadway tunes

Then, Chantelle poised for pictures while Brad signed books. Chantelle spent a lot of time helping me promote these two programs.

Then we all walked to dinner. Brad even sang for us at dinner, and in the parking lot afterward. A terrific writer and a gifted entertainer as well, lots of fun. I'm sorry you couldn't all be there with us. If you get the chance to attend one of Brad's programs, I encourage you to go. I promise you won't be disappointed.

For more Brad, sign up for his newsletter, like him on Facebook, or follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter.

The Girl Next Door by Brad Parks. St. Martin's Minotaur. 2012. ISBN 9780312667689 (hardcover), 326p.

Thanks for being a good sport, Brad.


Anonymous said...

What a fun time you guys must have had! Lesa, you're becoming a seasoned interviewer. Barbara certainly recruited the right gal to fill in for her!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kay. I have one more interview at the Poisoned Pen coming up in a couple weeks, Cara Hoffman.

Oh, we had a blast. Brad is so much fun to spend time with. And, Chantelle is always fun. She & I go to plays and dinner together when we get a chance.

Rosemary said...

Oh Lesa, what a fun evening - I am so jealous. However, the chief librarian of our library service is interested in what i have told her about your library (like the brown bag lunches) - now that they have made the move into their new building, they are hoping to start lots of new things, so here's hoping.

Lesa said...

It was a fun evening, Rosemary. That's so great about your library! I hope they get the chance to add some exciting new services that you can enjoy!

Karen C said...

Oh, Lesa, this is a wonderful post! I felt like I was right there with you all! What a great time! Thanks.

Lesa said...

It was a great time, Karen. Wish you had been there. It was so much fun!

Teena in Toronto said...

I finished "The Girl Next Door" tonight ... it's good!

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