Friday, July 10, 2015

What Does Brad Parks Blog Title Even Mean?

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. 


Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards. Now that he has made this confession, he is weeping into a handkerchief and reading a Nicholas Sparks novel. For more on Brad, visit


  1. Channeling feelings into the characters . . . sounds good to me. Looking forward to reading Carter's latest adventure.

  2. I'm here in NYC at Thrillerfest --on a panel today with John Sandford and so thrilled (is that why they named it that?) to meet him!

    And Brad is here too! So we'll be here on line and here in NYC -- very meta, right?

  3. Genuine feelings of outrage and anger are great fuel for a novel. So are all the feelings we try to suppress: jealousy, fear, paranoia... And sometimes in a thriller feelings get swamped by the pyrotechnics of action.

    I like to think that real life emotions are embedded in every page I write, but that would be far too exhausting. But the author has to care or the reader won't.

    And have a great time at Thrillerfest! Wish I could be there toasting your new book.

  4. We have a Jungle Reds couch?

    Kidding! Welcome, Brad and have fun at Thrillerfest! I'm waving from Brooklyn, where I'm in "Book Jail" until I get a lot more pages done....

  5. Oh, missing you both!

    And yeah, emotions are the building books of motivation, right? And since every action has a reason…

  6. Oh, no. Now I'm humming "Feelings." Thanks.

  7. Feelings on the page are what connect reader to story. Otherwise, it's just a recitation of events and facts, Hallie's "pyrotechnics of action."

    I'm seeing pictures of Thrillerfest. You all look like you're having a great time!

  8. Wow, the new book does sound excellent Brad.

    I have to confess. One of the reasons I am very selective about the thrillers I will read from male authors is because of the lack of emotion they seem willing to admit and put on the page. Probably a double-standard, since I criticize men who will only read male authors (and they are likely doing it because the emotion on the page "scares" them), but I have to really connect with a character to enjoy a book. I don't have to like them, but I have to understand where they are coming from, and that usually means the emotions behind the actions. There is probably a blog post in this brief paragraph...

    Anyway, all this to say that I'm glad you stopped by again Brad and I am looking forward to trying out the new book.

  9. Physician, firefighter, police, reporter, judge--I can't imagine the effort it must take to hold in one's emotions and get the job done--take care of the beaten child, the burning home, the crime scene, the story in front of one. Fiction, though, is the perfect place to give rein to those feelings--as a reader, I want to know that my characters are human, to see not only how they respond to life, but why. And the why is emotion.

    I need to meet Carter Ross--looking forward to your continued success, Brad!

  10. First of all: thanks for having me here, everyone! Hank and I were talking last night (in person... as opposed to online... yes, this is getting very meta very fast) about what a terrific community you've created here at the Salon. I'm pleased to be aloud to crash the party.

    Secondly, Blogger isn't letting me plant an image in here. But for a really special trip back to 1975, I think everyone needs to Google Image search "Morris Albert Feelings." Very, very groovy, no?

  11. Hallie -- I've become a big fan of the things I, as an author, know but don't put on the page -- the "embedded" feelings, as you call it. Without sounding like one of this stiff WASPY guys who conflates/misunderstands a host of Eastern religions, I think it puts an energy out into the universe that readers have a very sensitive antenna for picking up.

    (Uh, I think I just sounded like that stiff WASPY guy anyway. But you know what I mean).

  12. Oh, dear, I just realized I said I'm pleased to be "aloud" to crash the party. Sigh. Where are my copy editors when I need them most? Anyhow, moving on...

    Susan: You may be unaware of this, but Book Jail has special weekend furloughs. Surely you can join us at the bar just for a little while???

    Mary: We ARE, in fact, having a great time. (Hint, hint, Susan).

    Kristopher: Yup, there's a blog post in there, all right. And I think a dead accurate one, at that... :)

    FChurch: Your comment reminds me of a famous Michael Connelly line about how to write a police procedural: It's not about how the cop works on the crime, it's about how the crime works on the cop.

  13. RUnning out to a panel--but just a scheduling note:

    TOMORROW--the amazing Jim JAckson! With info you cannot afford--and I mean, AFFORD--to miss!

  14. Hi Brad! Waving from Book Jail in Dallas, so I guess it's unlikely I'll make it to the bar at ThrillerFest. Sigh. So jealous. I love the story behind your book and can't wait to see that righteous outrage on the page.

    I can't think of a book I've written that I didn't feel a strong emotional connection, but there are a few that have been so hard that I've had to go somewhere and lock myself up for a few days to write through the hardest parts. I figure if I make myself cry I've probably done a good job...

    Have fun, you guys, and have a martini for me!

  15. Congratulations, Brad! I find writing emotion in my own books to be difficult, probably because of my technical writing background (or a stoic familial vibe, maybe both), and I often add it in the second draft after writing the first in a task-oriented, "get it done" way. So I feel your struggles. Good on ya'!

  16. And Susan and Deb? I'm in the same book jail out here in California. I wish the wardens were nicer.

  17. Deb, Susan, Tammy... I am hereby giving all of you virtual drills and hacksaws you can use for your prison break.

    (And Tammy, my pal Carla Buckley always had a great term for what you're talking about: "Layering.")

  18. And here I thought "layering" was just a clothing choice.

  19. So, does Carter think he's coming unglued by allowing some emotion into his life?

  20. I'm definitely in favor of the strong emotional attachment. Brad, your new book is going on my TBR list. Now, I'm off in search of my first cup of coffee here in Honolulu, where I plan to do lots of reading here !

  21. Hello Brad -- glad to know you can exercise your emotions now that you write novels. It's fun -- join all us women who do it naturally!

    Sometimes emotion comes through that I wasn't expecting and I actually get a little choked up. It's the greatest feeling. I have to watch out for the opposite: characters spouting emotions all of the place like they're mentally ill (some of them are, of course, but ...)

  22. I'm the fourth writer who's languishing in Book Jail instead of exploring my craft and the publishing industry (ie, drinking and partying) at Thrillerfest. I urged my publicist to tie one on on my behalf.

    On a more serious note (which is hard to play, with Brad...) I believe one of crime fiction's great strengths is taking a long, hard look at the kind of outrage and injustice we read about daily and to make it come alive for the reader. Fictions great gift is allowing the reader to live for a while inside someone else's skin, and if that skin belongs to a dispossessed or disadvantaged person, it can give the reader more empathy than a hundred newspaper articles, no matter how well-written.

  23. Brad just had the crowd roaring with approval at his panel--ask him about what goes on at Hardies!