HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What can I say. Brad Parks is incorrigible. And he likes it when we say that, so we try not to say it, but yet, it’s true.
Incorrigible Yang to Hank’s Yin
The following is a confession that would no doubt be cheered, if dubiously, by many of my ex-girlfriends; and probably be questioned, even more dubiously, by my wife.
But here goes:
I finally wrote a book that helped me get in touch with my feelings.
Really. It’s my sixth novel featuring investigative reporter Carter Ross, and it’s called THE FRAUD (though that should not bring into question the sincerity of this confession).
I realize that as a guy and a thriller writer, I’m not supposed to admit I even have feelings. But if you’ll permit it, I’d like to recline on the Reds’ couch and get in touch with my inner Love Actually watcher.
Please understand, I was a journalist for many years. I wasn’t allowed to have feelings other than, “Boy, I’m glad I filed that story on time.”
I got my start as a sportswriter, where the number one rule is: no cheering in the press box. Then I switched over to news, where having feelings was a kind of professional taboo. As reporters, we were supposed to be impartial arbiters of world events. Feelings didn’t enter into the equation.
And yet, wow, sometimes they would get to me. I can remember covering a triple homicide trial where the state’s lone witness tying the alleged killer to the crime was a woman who only spoke up six months later, and only because she had been arrested on other charges. She admitted to being high on heroin at the time she saw the shooter, but she thought the guy’s last name was Scott, and that his first name started with a T.
The cops ran off a book with mug shots of all 53 T Scotts in their system. The woman looked at the first page and said, “That one.”
By that capricious accident of the alphabet—and because the cops were looking for any excuse to clear a triple homicide off their books—a man named Taqwi Scott was charged with three murders he clearly did not commit. He spent more than a year of his life in jail waiting for his day in court.
The only greater tragedy was the poor victims’ families. They had to watch this farce of a trial knowing their only shot at getting justice for their loved ones was gone long before the 45 minutes it took the jury to return a not guilty verdict.
When I got back to the newsroom that day, I was righteously outraged. I also had editors who recognized my anger and knew it had no place in the newspaper. The story I wrote was edited beyond recognition and buried on the county page. I begged to do a follow-up but was told to move on.
So I did.
Fast forward to 2013, to ten days before Christmas. A young lawyer named Dustin Friedland was shot and killed during a botched carjacking at The Mall at Short Hills. It was a terrible, tragic crime and because it happened at the most high-end shopping complex in one of the wealthiest towns in America, it became national news.
The reward for information leading to the capture of his killers grew to $41,000. After an exhaustive police manhunt, the band of carjackers responsible was tracked down and arrested.’
The next day—nine days before Christmas 2013—a man named Naeem Williams was gunned down on the streets of Newark, less than ten miles away, in the same county as Short Hills. It was a terrible, tragic crime and because it happened in one of the poorest cities in America, which averages a hundred murders a year, no one noticed.
The reward for information leading to the capture of his killers was $10,000. In a legal system where we are all supposedly created equal, one person was deemed to be worth four times more than another. There was no great effort put into finding his killer, who was never caught. I was, once again, righteously outraged.
The difference is, I was no longer a journalist. I was a novelist.
So I started writing a book about two murders: one high-profile, the other ignored; one involving a white victim, the other involving a black victim.
It was a new experience for me, actually being allowed to have feelings as I wrote, and then channeling them into some of my characters. Perhaps not coincidentally, the characters were also facing new situations in their lives that provoked emotional responses. Carter Ross’s girlfriend is pregnant. The editor-in-chief at his paper gets sick. I actually let Carter cry in one scene.
And while I’m sure Carter would say he was just having an allergic reaction, there’s no question to emotion in some of the scenes made it a better book. When my Kirkus review came out, and it called this novel “more deeply felt that Carter’s first five cases,” I don’t mind admitting I was thrilled. (So was my agent, but that’s another matter).
I realize that when it comes to writing with feeling, many of the Reds—and their regular visitors—are nuclear scientists who have learned to generate heat by splitting the atom, while I am still the chimpanzee who accidentally discovered fire.
So I’m curious to hear about your experiences: What role does has real-life emotion played in your fiction? How have your feelings informed your work?
HANK: And see above for my additional question: What does the title of this essay even mean? Hey, pssst. Listen, Brad's on tour (check his schedule here) for his much-praised new book.(Which does sound terrific--cannot wait tread it!) Why don't you go to one of his events..and ask him?
Okay, dear Brad, teasing.