'The most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.'
**Library Journal*starred review
When Brad Parks' editor asked me to blurb his book, FACES OF THE GONE, I said sure, send it, I’ll read it. Fellow journalist, good guy, St. Martin’s publishes the only highest quality. It’s probably going to be fine.
When I closed the book, I mulled it over for a bit, then handed it to my husband. I said: Honey? Could you read this, too? What I didn’t say: I thought it was such fun and so good—I figured somehow I might be wrong. But Jonathan agreed.
I have one little problem with it—smiling now—which Brad understands full well. And I’m sure he wont be able to resist talking about it.
HANK: What was the first seed of your book that you thought of? The main character? The twist of the plot? The setting. When did you think—oh, hey, this could work!
BRAD: In my case, it was the crime. I had covered this quadruple homicide in Newark, this grisly, execution-style slaying: Four people shot in the back of the head, left to die in a vacant lot. The crime was a total mystery. No one knew who did it, why, or even how these four people in particular had come to know each other. So one day -- with the real-life murder still unsolved -- I just started typing. I invented this journalism-hero protagonist, Carter Ross, a guy who was the kind of investigative reporter I maybe always hoped I could be. And, page by page, he solved the crime for me. Though, to be honest, I really had no clue what I was doing. It was pretty much a high wire act right until the moment I typed "the end." Then I had to go back and try to make it seem like I knew what I was doing all along.
HANK: So recently you got--an email? And the subject line says: Library Journal review.
BRAD: Yep, it was an e-mail from my editor at St. Martin's, Toni Plummer, and it came in at 8:51 a.m. on the last Wednesday in October. The subject line was "FW: FACES OF THE GONE LJ." The top of it, the part Toni had written, simply said "One word: Wow." I read the review, then calmly poured myself a spot of tea...
No, actually, I started parading around my home office (which also doubles as my kids' playroom), tripping over Thomas the Tank Engine trains while impersonating a marching band doing "STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER." I must have done this for close to 10 minutes, because my reply to my editor went out at 9:01 a.m., and it read: "One question: Do you think 'The most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.' would fit on a tattoo? Because I'm about to have that inscribed on my chest." Shortly thereafter my agent, Jeanne Forte Dube, called and said, "Forget tattoos. I'm thinking Turnpike billboards!" And then we took turns hyperventilating for a while.
HANK: Having a first novel published is such a complicated thing. You see your actual book. There it is, the thing you loved, and worked on for so long, and it actually exists. I don't know about you, but I look at every person on the street, assessing: have they read it?
Tell me about what you're thinking these days.
BRAD: Well, first off, Hank, you're so popular, everyone you pass on the street probably HAS read your novel.
HANK: Oh, absolutely. They all wear I Heart Hank t-shirts. And I get all the good tables at restaurants.
BRAD: That's only because they're afraid you'll go undercover and expose unsanitary practices in their kitchens if they're not nice to you. Anyhow, what was the question again?
HANK: (You guys see what I mean, here...) Anyway, Brad, what's it like being a debut author? Heady? Humbling?
BRAD: I guess I'm still in that phase where I find it incredibly gratifying that anyone -- other than my mother or someone legally required by the bonds of marriage to do so -- wants to read my book. And if they actually like it? I start to get a little dizzy. My publication date was Dec. 8 and on Dec. 9 I got my first piece of legitimate fan mail from a woman named Maureen in Massachusetts. It began, "I just finished your first book...WOW. As an avid reader of mysteries, I can't wait until your next book." In some ways, getting a note like that is even better than the Library Journal review, because it came from a real reader who said she had never written an author before but just felt moved to do so in this case. I mean, getting a note like that, I felt like I could have flown all the way to Massachusetts to thank her personally.
HANK: (She wrote me that, too. Oh, gee, not really…but I know what you mean. A stranger—reads your book and likes it. That’s a real moment.) )So, your life is changing. After you get back from thanking the Massachusetts fan—are you thinking of yourself in a different way? The pressures? The—expectations? The lack of control over your future? (Or are you still just reveling?)
BRAD: Paaaaarty!! Wha? Huh? Were you sayin' somethin' Hank?? I'm having a tough time hearing 'cuz the music is so loud. Okay, there we go (had to find the volume control). I guess I AM really trying to heed the advice everyone gives a first-time author, which is: Your debut only comes once, so enjoy it. And I am. I mean, the notion that someone actually wants my signature on a book I've written? Incredible. That's just not getting old anytime soon. Of course, it probably helps that Book Nos. 2 and 3 in the series are already written. That takes some of pressure off. As for "the future," I guess I've tried to take a very long-term view. The fact is, writing books is my dream and it's what I want to keep doing for the rest of my life. So I figure I've got a long time to build an audience and can enjoy the process of doing that one book -- and one reader -- at a time. I don't know. Is that naive?
HANK: When someone asks-what do you do for a living—what do you say? Seriously, if you can.
BRAD: Usually I just say, "I'm a writer." But I'm thinking I need to change that. Because I think when you say "I'm a writer" I think what people hear is, "I'm a shiftless, lazy, unemployed bum who is only pretending to be a writer so you will be slightly less ashamed of me." Example: For more than a year now, I've been writing at this coffee house nearby me. I probably see the owner of this coffee house four, five times a month, and we always chat and exchange pleasantries. Finally, publication date comes, and we hold a big book launch party at my wife's school. Well, who should show up but the owner of the coffee house -- only he's looking at me in a whole new light, apologizing the whole time. "Everyone comes into my cafe and says they're a writer," he said. "I didn't know you were a real writer." So maybe I need to start saying "I'm an author." I don't know. Still feels a bit... pretentious or something. Or maybe I just need to bring my son everywhere with me. He's two-and-a-half. When you ask him what Daddy does for work, he says, "Daddy is auffer. He writes books."
HANK: Rewind a moment. Your Book 2 and 3 are already written? Are you daft, man?
BRAD: Darnit, Hank! Here I was going to try to go this whole interview without pointing out the inherent superiority of print reporters to TV reporters, and now you've forced it out of me. See, unlike you beautiful people on TV, who can get by on your charm and good looks, we lowly, humble newspaper reporters learn to work for a living. So that's what I've been doing. I signed my book deal in July 2008 -- and book No. 1 was written by that point, of course. It's now December 2009. So, two more books in 18 months? Really not that big a deal. I mean, shoot, James Patterson has probably published 28 books during that span.
HANK: Ahem. Happily, you don’t have to rely on TV reporters purchasing your books to make you a best-seller! And don’t worry, I won’t mention this to any of my pals on the Today Show or Oprah. (Just kidding.) (Probably.)
And just to prove there's no hard feelings, Jungle Red is giving away an autographed copy of FOTG! Just comment to be entered to win.
Brad Parks debut novel, Faces of the Gone, is the first in a series from St. Martin's Press (December 2009). Parks relied on his experiences as a staff writer at The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger to create Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for the fictional Newark Eagle-Examiner. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks lives in Virginia with his wife and two children. His website is http://www.bradparksbooks.com