Monday, July 27, 2015

At The Poisoned Pen with Brad Parks!

It felt like a millennium since I'd been to my favorite bookstore, so I whipped out my calendar to check. Yup. May 21. Over two months-- no wonder I'd been suffering withdrawal! I arrived at The Poisoned Pen with plenty of time to talk books with the staff and do a little browse-buy. I even had time to sit and read a few pages of my book before a fellow Brad Parks fan sat down with me and asked me about my next trip to Scotland. I have a feeling that most of the other regulars think two things when they see me: Scotland and blog. (It could be a lot worse!) In no time at all, the fans had gathered, including two notables-- Chantelle Aimée Osman, creator of The Sirens of Suspense, and author Graham Brown.

When the author walked in, Patrick had some mail order books that needed signing so Brad sat down to do the deed. All the other fans then swarmed the table with their books, and it sounded like Old Home Week listening to them chatting and laughing. This should be good, I thought to myself. It's obvious Brad is an outgoing guy. I'd already thought that based upon reading his books, but it's always good to have confirmation.

Is this Peggy?!?

Poisoned Pen staffer Karen with author Brad Parks

Before sitting down, Brad showed off his pink polo shirt. "My six-year-old daughter has started choosing my wardrobe," he told us. "Her favorite colors are pink and purple."

When I'd first arrived, Karen and I had talked about authors whom we thought should be hugely popular and famous. We both think Brad Parks is on that list. Karen brought this up right at the beginning of the interview. After thanking her, Brad mentioned authors who didn't become famous until after their deaths. "I have a plan for faking my own death," Parks said. "It's going to be a beautifully done demise. Shortly afterwards my wife is going to 'find' a manuscript. Then my mistress is going to 'find' the 'real' manuscript, and there's going to be a war between the two women. I have it all planned out."

Deftly maneuvering through the laughter, Karen voiced the hope that these plans would proceed quickly-- she wanted it all to happen during her lifetime. This brought on even more laughter, and Brad assured her that his plans were indeed fast-moving ones.

"There are many people who believe that the character of Carter Ross is based on me," Parks said. "I don't know how they got that idea!" (Cue more laughter.) "There is one major difference between the two of us: Carter Ross is single, and I am not! I am very aware of the fact that my wife is going to be reading every word that I write. Take for example my description of Tina. I wanted to make sure that my wife wouldn't read that description and start asking, 'Is this Peggy? Is this our neighbor?!?'

"I'm one of those crazy mystery writers who talks to his characters. I ask them questions. I argue with them. One of the things I liked about the relationship between Carter and Tina was that Carter is a guy who wants a committed relationship, but Tina just wants the sex. I love turning that whole dynamic on its head. I began to wonder why Tina behaved the way she did, so I had a conversation with her. That led to having some questions about her answered in The Girl Next Door.

Evanovich and Coben? I don't see it!

Brad Parks with a fan.
Karen mentioned that Parks is the only writer to have received the Nero and Shamus Awards for the same book (Faces of the Gone)-- among other awards-- and she couldn't understand why he wasn't famous yet. Brad smiled and said, "This is my sixth book. Everyone knows who Lee Child is. You can read the first paragraph of Killing Floor and just be blown away by how good it is. Well, it took Lee Child seven books before he made the New York Times Bestseller List."

He went on to mention other writers who didn't make the list until their eighth or even tenth book before adding, "It only took five books for Michael Connelly, which makes him the idiot savant of mystery writers."

Karen mentioned authors needing more publicity. Parks countered with, "Publishers just don't have that much money to spend on promoting books. They have to use it where they'll get the most bang for their buck. They want an author to have a proven track record before they will invest that money." (Hear that, everybody? Help your favorite authors hit the big time so they can write more of what you want to read!)

One of Brad's fans mentioned Newark, New Jersey, which is the setting for the Carter Ross books. Newark could be considered a character in its own right. "I'm proud of the fact that I've never heard from someone from Newark saying that I got it wrong," Brad said. "Some white people treat going to the inner city like it's a trip to the zoo-- and it's not!" Karen asked how the inner city was created. "In the 1950s and 1960s, agriculture was going through tremendous changes in the South, and thousands of blacks came to Newark looking for work. During that same time frame, Newark lost 20,000 jobs because plants were being closed and the work sent overseas. People were moving there at the wrong time," Parks told us.

Another person brought up the blurb on some of Brad's books that says he's a cross between Janet Evanovich and Harlan Coben. "I don't see it," Brad laughed. "I was complaining about it to my editor, who asked me if I knew how much Evanovich's latest contract was. When I said no, he said, 'Fifty million dollars. That's a lot of books. If that blurb gets some of Evanovich's readers to read you, don't complain!' I don't complain!"

There's not a lot of call for...

Brad Parks enjoys his fans.
"I feel I'm getting better as I go along," Brad said. "When I take a look at my first book, Faces of the Gone, I think 'Wow, I made a lot of mistakes!'"

Fellow author Graham Brown spoke up: "No, no, no! Don't ever make the mistake at looking at your earlier books!"

After the laughter died down, Brad continued. "I like to strive to be better. Besides, I have no job to go back to and two young children to feed. This really helps me to keep wanting to write a better book!"

When Karen asked, Brad confirmed that the reason why he has no job to go back to is due to the impending death rattle of the newspaper industry. (He was a newspaper reporter-- one of the many reasons why people feel his character Carter Ross is autobiographical.) "One day out of curiosity, I logged onto," Parks said. "You know, there's not a lot of call for people who've spent the past six years thinking of creative ways to kill people!"

Another question that came up was how he handles the deadlines for his books. "The word 'deadline' comes from the British prison system. It was a line on the ground that, if you crossed it, you were shot dead. Journalism sticks to that definition. Every minute that the paper is late coming off the presses costs the newspaper $15,000. The person who explained that to lowly little intern me looked at me and said, 'And how much do we pay you in a year, young man?' That made it crystal clear that the paper always comes out on time!"

In contrast, Parks told us that the book industry seems more than a bit lackadaisical when it comes to deadlines. With his background in journalism, he finds that very difficult to get used to. Even more bizarre is when he hears other authors laugh about blowing their deadlines. Knowing all about real ones, Brad just doesn't understand this attitude in others.

Parks still has some newspaper ink running through his veins. "When things like the terrible shootings in Charleston happen, I'm used to dealing with those situations by writing about them. I miss that world. I also miss the immediacy of the feedback. I would write something, people would read it and comment on it the very next day."

Waiting for that next book...
Karen then mentioned his writing style-- how there was humor, action, compassion, newspaper reporting, and more-- and it all worked together so well. 

"I was a nerd growing up. Books were always my friends, and they could be smart and silly and funny, and we could talk about the universe, discuss baseball, or tell fart jokes. I think my writing shows all this, and publishers don't always know what to do with that. I have a feeling that they underestimate you readers."

Brad's next book is a standalone featuring a federal judge whose children are kidnapped in order to control the outcome of a high-profile case. Then it will be back to Carter: "As long as I can still hear these characters talking in my head, I'll still write about them!"


When Karen said she'd heard that Brad had had some community theatre experience, he admitted it and then treated us to an a cappella rendition of "Keep Away from Alphabet Sue!" which was a blast. He serenaded Sue Grafton with it at Left Coast Crime one year, and when he'd finished and sat down next to Sue, she leaned toward him and said, "Well, that's never happened before!"

Brad was then asked about Hardee's. "Yes, I still do all my writing at my local Hardee's. I sit back in my corner, and people just leave me alone. I never realized that anyone was paying any attention to me until I'd been gone for a while and a woman came up to me saying, 'Where have you been? Are you all right? I prayed for you! I didn't know your name, but I asked the Lord to watch over the man from Hardee's!'"

Available Now!
Now we all thought that was funny (and touching), but we hadn't heard nuthin' yet....

"You know how I told you that I hear my characters talking in my head and that I talk back to them? Well, that happened to me one day while I was at Hardee's. In fact, I had two characters arguing with me, so I took it out to the parking lot.

"There I was, in the far corner of the lot, walking back and forth, waving my arms around-- probably a bit wildly-- and arguing out loud with those characters in my head. Well, a Virginia State Trooper stopped to get some lunch, watched me out in the lot for a minute, then went inside where he asked one of the employees, 'Do you know you have a deranged man in your parking lot? Do you want me to pick him up for you?' Luckily they vouched for me!"

Someone in the audience commented that Parks should use some of the Hardee's employees in his books. "Oh, I do!" Brad said. "Lots of Hardee's workers are getting killed in my books, and they love it!"

A Writer's Trip to the Grocery Store

Brad also does some ghost writing, and-- when asked-- he would not divulge one tiny bit of information about it. He's had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and one of them stated that the consequences of breaking this agreement would go "far beyond mere money." Brad's always wondered what exactly that meant!

He also gave us a bit of insight into the mind of a mystery writer:

One day he drove his father's huge Cadillac to the grocery store. When he came out of the market, he popped the trunk lid, and as he was raising it, he looked inside and thought, "Now wouldn't it be funny if I found a body in there?"  

Karen asked him what he read. "I definitely read in the mystery genre." He then recommended Lisa Gardner, Linwood Barclay, and Megan Abbott. What's Brad's idea of a vacation? "A bathing suit and seven books in my bag and a beach for a week."

Brad is a self-confessed extrovert-- something that he doesn't really have to confess to. It's obvious that he enjoys being among people. Writing isn't exactly the profession for folks like him because writers spend so much time alone. Brad shook his head and laughed. "When my wife gets home from work, I pity the poor woman. I haven't talked to anyone all day, and there she is!"

His wife is a school psychologist, and when she was in grad school, Brad was (literally) her test dummy. "She had me take a test in which you got a certain score if you finished in a minute, and another score if you finished in two minutes. You didn't receive any score at all if you took longer than two minutes, but you were not told to stop.

"Twenty-six minutes later, I nailed that sucker!"

Not only that-- you nailed this event, Brad! 

I was the only person left who hadn't had her book signed, so I walked right up to the table. While he was signing it, I told him that a group of book bloggers had recently been discussing the worst-ever book pitch that they'd received. "I don't remember the bad ones," I told him. "I only remember the best one, and it was yours for your third book. It was obvious from your email that you'd taken the time to look through my blog-- and you made me laugh. It's a winning combination!"

Another winning combination? Brad Parks and Carter Ross. If you haven't read a book by Brad Parks, please do so!

My latest Poisoned Pen book haul


  1. So glad you've been going back to PP, Cathy! Nice to catch up on the doings there, and it sounds like you had a great evening.

    1. It was a rare happenstance: two months when none of the authors who were appearing made me want to race over there. I would've missed it more if it hadn't coincided with pool season-- and I've been reading many wonderful books!

  2. Always enjoy your trips to the PP. What a great sense of humor Brad Parks has! The image of him taking the 26 minute test and walking in Hardee's parking lot made me smile. He is a very entertaining speaker. I was entertained just by reading about his presentation. I am now going to look up his Carter Ross books

    1. You are in for a treat, Lynn. You are *definitely* in for a treat!

  3. What a fun event! Loved hearing about it. Brad Parks has been on my list for way too long. Going to find out if I actually own his first book - seem to remember that I do. I'm also happy that you showed us what you picked up at the PP. Some fun books there. Enjoy!

    1. I usually try to do that anymore because I know most book lovers are every bit as curious as I am about what new books a person has purchased!

  4. Oh, I so see the Hardee's parking lot thing. And the sitting in a back corner thinking nobody notices you. And Hardee's employees being thrilled at being dead bodies in the books!

    Sounds like a wonderfully fun event. Thank you for writing it up and sharing it with us.

    1. How could I go to something that was so much fun and NOT share it, I ask you? ;-)

  5. What a hoot! How much fun you all must have had with this hilarious writer.

    I must read one of his books. Which one do you recommend for a first read?

    1. I must admit-- to my shame-- that I've only read two so far, although I have them all waiting on a shelf for me to read. The two I've read are that good. I read the third first and the first second. (I feel like I'm in the middle of "Who's on first?") Having not begun in order and not found it confusing, I'd recommend either one: Faces of the Gone (#1) or The Girl Next Door (#3).


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