When I wrote my original introduction to Brad Parks’ interview, I lauded his award-winning journalism career. Since then, however, I’ve “spoken” to him several times via e-mail, read numerous other interviews and blog posts, and changed my mind. You can read the scoop about his awards and his entrepreneurial spirit on his excellent website (that’s where I got the information).
What his website may or may not tell you--depending on your degree of astuteness--is that he’s a very funny man. Downright, hilarious, in fact. He also bears the burden of a humongous crush on Paris Hilton. If you’re good, I’ll give you the link to a guest blog post he wrote recently that shares a few lesser-known facts about the talented Miss Hilton and how they relate directly to writing. My fervent hope is that if Brad thinks I’m a halfway good interviewer, he’ll post a comment with links to some of his other funny stuff. I can use a good laugh…or four.
Tell us how your career in journalism prepared you to write mystery fiction.
Two ways: One, it honed my writing muscles. I was a sportswriter for many years. Sports tends to be a little less news-driven and therefore a little more entertainment-oriented. So the job of a sportswriter, every single day, is to find a story and tell a story. And, depending on the day and the deadline – and how many different editions of the paper you need to fill – you can end up writing 2,000 words or more on deadline. That’s marvelous training for a novelist, because it really teaches you how to remove that filter between the brain and the page and let your words flow (because sometimes you don’t have a choice!). The second thing journalism did for me, especially once I became a news writer, was to force me into close contact with my source material. As a reporter, I got to meet fascinating people, hang out in some of the best – and worst – places, see a range of human experience I’m not sure I would have gotten to witness in another line of work. By the time I sat down to write FACES OF THE GONE, I didn’t have to do a stitch of research: I had already lived it all. It was just a question of taking what was already in my head and giving it that little fictional twist to make it fit my story.
What are your most and least favorite things about writing.
My wife and I have this debate all the time: I say if we hit the lottery and didn’t need the money, I’d never write another word; she says if we hit the lottery, I’d probably take about two weeks off, grow bored and disgusted with myself for not writing, and pick up where I left off with the last story. Ultimately, she might be right. Because, sure, there are times when I absolutely abhor writing, when everything I write reads like a tax document, when I am convinced I will do humanity a great service if I never let myself type another word. Those are definitely my least favorite times. And they do happen: I’m convinced self-loathing is an essential, unavoidable part of the writing process. Otherwise? There’s just no greater high than writing well. I live for that high.
I’m sure you have definite opinions about deadlines and “writer’s block.” Care to share them?
First of all, let’s define our terms, because a journalist has a very different understanding of “deadline” than a novelist. In publishing, you say your deadline is “January.” I’m sorry, that’s not a deadline. That’s a month. To a journalist, a deadline is “9 o’clock for first edition, 10:15 for second edition,” and so on. And can I tell you? There’s nothing more euphoric than knowing it’s the eighth inning, the Yankees have just scored three runs that changed everything, and you’ve got about 20 minutes to re-write as much of your 800-word story as possible. I never feel more alive than in those moments. Sometimes I wish I could collect that feeling, bottle it, and save it for later (or sell it at writing conferences). Because in those moments of extreme deadline, something has to come out of you. It may not be Shakespeare. It may barely be English. But it will be something. And if it’s horrible, you always have that excuse, “Well, I was on deadline.” But sometimes what comes out is actually quite good. It’s a tremendous exercise and it teaches you what you’re capable of as a writer.
As for writer’s block? Well, it does happen. And, for me, the absolute last place I need to be when it hits is sitting in front of the computer. Lately, my solution to writer’s block is to get in the car and drive somewhere, preferably on a highway. I find that’s the optimal level of engagement for my brain, because it gets me a little distracted – if I don’t concentrate on driving, I’ll run off the road – yet still leaves enough headspace to work through a problem. I wrote the third book in my series this summer and solved the vast majority of the plotting problems during a six-hour drive from New Jersey to Virginia. For an alternate view on writer’s block, you can also consider some advice I once got from Mary Higgins Clark. She’s an absolute gem of a woman, and I had the pleasure of being introduced to her at Book Expo America. When she learned I was a writer she said, “Well, you know the secret for avoiding writer’s block, right?” I said, “No, Mary, what’s that?” She replied, “Think of the royalty check.” I’d probably rather think of her royalty check than mine. But that’s another subject.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?
Is there a greater challenge for any writer than the blank page? You know: The one with that cursor sitting there in the upper left corner, blinking insistently, mocking your lack of progress. Once I type that first sentence – a first sentence I actually like, as opposed to one I feel like throwing in a nearby sewer – I’m generally okay. But, man, the blank page can intimidating.
What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.
You can find it (hopefully) wherever books are sold.
What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?
The next installment in the Carter Ross series, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, is already written. And it will be available whenever my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, chooses to release it. (The writer is often the last to know!). As I said above, the third, as-yet-untitled Carter Ross novel is also written. And I hope it’ll be made available just as soon after the second one as possible.
Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?
This may sound counterintuitive, but: Don’t be afraid to write dumb. If you find yourself trying to prove to people how smart you are, do particle physics instead; they’ll be much more impressed. Otherwise, just relax, don’t take yourself so seriously, and concentrate on your story instead of your ego. I see too many bright people get almost paralyzed by their need to show their genius to the world in what they write. That need to be brilliant stifles creativity and – worse – stifles productivity. Unless you’re Ann Frank and wrote a diary you hid from the Nazis, your unfinished manuscript is simply never going to be published.
Are you a member of any writer’s organizations? Why? Why not?
I’m a member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. Someday I might join the Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime as well, if they’ll let a Y chromosome crash their party. Why? Lots of reasons. Community. Camaraderie. Support. Writing is a solitary act but no writer – or at least not this writer – can stand alone. I’ve really enjoyed the interactions I’ve had with fellow writers, the vast majority of whom I’ve found to be gracious, talented and fun. Oh, and can I just say: Margery Flax, MWA’s administrator extraordinaire? Love that doll! Knowing her is worth the price of the MWA membership alone. [Interviewer Comment: As a member of both RWA and SinC, I can attest to the fact that both organizations welcome Y chromosomes at the party. In fact, a Y was once president of RWA--bet you didn't know that!]
Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.
Lots, actually. It might be best to hit my website (http://www.bradparksbooks.com/scoop.php) or my Booktour.com page (http://www.booktour.com/author/brad_parks). I’m also in the nascent phases of planning a New England swing for February – because where better to be in February than New England? – so if you live up that way and think you can round up a bunch of people who want to hear more drivel like this, e-mail me at brad (at) bradparksbooks.com.
FUN QUESTION: What do you like better, hot dogs or hamburgers, and why?
I’m an unabashed carnivore who very much enjoys his spot atop the food chain. I suppose if I was trapped on a desert island and could only have one with me, I'd go with hot dogs -- but only because you can eat them raw without fear of getting sick.
What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):
[DRUM ROLL] And now, as promised, the link to the hilarious and entertaining blog post I raved about. Writers, remember: you HAVE to deliver on your promises: http://dosomedamage.blogspot.com/2009/12/faces-of-divas.html