Mar 102014

by Brad Parks, award-winning mystery writer

– Note from Jodie: I sold my house (Yay!) and am busy planning my cross-country move, editing a great new thriller for our own Joe Moore and his co-author, Lynn Sholes, and preparing a webinar to present at a cyber conference, so it was perfect timing when Brad Parks contacted me about guest posting on TKZ. – Take it away, Brad!

It was the great and revered mystery author P.D. James who once said, “Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.”

I mention this because, one, it makes me sound well-read and erudite. And, two, because it is exactly the kind of soft-headed, touchy-feely, writer-as-artiste horse-apple I used to completely dismiss.

Of course things that happen to a writer are wasted. I mean, when I was a newspaper journalist I had to write whole stories about peoples’ reaction to the weather (“Boy, is it hot,” said Robert Smith of Manalapan. . . “I’m soooo cold!” said Sarah Jones of Weehawken). Believe me, those are dead brain cells I will not get back.

I think up until recently, I would have been ready to tell P.D. James to take her nothing-is-ever-wasted aphorism and stick it on a poster with kittens, because real writers don’t think of themselves as artists but, rather, as craftspeople. We use a well-honed set of tools – our sense of story, our intuition about human nature, a facility with language and prose, etc. – to craft thrilling tales of suspense. We don’t go in for all that navel-gazing, namby-pamby hogwa…

… And then along came this book. It’s called THE PLAYER, the fifth in my series featuring sometimes-dashing investigative reporter Carter Ross.

I was throwing a few notes together for various talks I’ll be giving at bookstores and libraries in the coming months and I remembered that, back when I started writing it, I thought of it as a book that dealt with the subject of brownfield redevelopment – that is, the cleaning of contaminated sites to make them suitable for new construction.

(Mind you, I no longer call it a book about brownfield redevelopment, because I’d actually like to sell a few of them. When you say “brownfield redevelopment,” peoples’ eyes get glassy. I now call it a book about toxic waste and the mob).

Anyhow, just for kicks, I went back and looked at some of the clips I had written about this subject back when I was a reporter. I tripped across this one story from 2007. It was about an abandoned landfill in Edison, New Jersey that was being eroded away by the Raritan River. The result was that every time the river rose – every rainstorm, every high tide – fifty-year-old trash was being swept into the current.

It was unhealthy, unsanitary, and a major eyesore. And yet because the original owner of the landfill was no longer around, there was no money to clean it up. Basically, the only hope for this dreadful little patch of earth was if a developer came along and decided to build a golf course there – or an office park, or whatever.

When done well, this is actually a great win-win. The contamination gets cleaned up. The developer gets some free land. It’s all good. But of course in the name of journalistic balance you always have to find someone to sound a note of alarm and remind readers that something that sounds too good to be true sometimes is. So I interviewed this environmentalist named Bill Wolfe. Here, I quote from what I wrote:

Wolfe said old landfills have been known to leach benzene, TPC, TPE, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium – a laundry list of killer chemicals. He calls redevelopment schemes “madness.”

“What should have been a public enterprise – cleaning up old landfills – has become a private, for-profit, economically driven enterprise,” Wolfe said. “It really is asking for a disaster.”

When I re-read that not long ago, I was agog. It was the thesis of THE PLAYER, stated in two succinct paragraphs. And I had completely forgotten that I ever wrote it. It was just fifty-six words buried near the bottom of a 1,800-word story. Since it published, I have written hundreds of other articles, to say nothing of a pile of full-length novels. We’re talking about something that was roughly a million words in my rearview mirror. I had no shot of remembering it.

But it was obviously rattling around in my head somewhere. And it managed to leak out onto the page and form a novel. Apparently P.D. James was onto something.

(Oh, incidentally, I did look up Bill Wolfe and sent him a copy of THE PLAYER. I figured it was the least I could do).

Now, maybe for some of you who are more enlightened on this subject, this connection between what you do and what you write isn’t news. For me, it’s been something of a revelation. It’s not that I’ve given up on my view that writers are craftspeople. It’s that I’m opening myself up to the idea that we’re artists, too.

I find myself living more consciously, being more aware of what I’m reading, who I’m talking to or what I’m seeing – because you never know when that article, that conversation or that experience will inform your future scribbling.

After all, nothing that happens to a writer is ever wasted.

Brad Parks is the only author in history to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards. His latest book, THE PLAYER, received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. RT Book Reviews made it a Top Pick for March, saying, “Parks has quietly entered the top echelon of the mystery field.” Visit him at

Aug 212012

by Gar Anthony Haywood

My writer Facebook friend Jeff Cohen recently posted a lament regarding a great pet peeve, one to which all but the most successful published authors among us can relate.  He’d recently gone to a party and had some thoughtless dumb-ass ask him The Question.  You know the one I’m talking about, because you’ve almost certainly heard it yourself:

“So, are you still writing?”

Naturally, Jeff was somewhat irked, as we all are when our choice of career is similarly treated with such disrespect and disdain.  But if we were to give the party guest who’d accosted Jeff the benefit of the doubt, and tried to understand why he (or she) would ask such an asinine question, we might be less ready to condemn.  Because this, in my opinion, is what The Question really breaks down to whenever it’s asked, in terms of what the person asking it is actually trying to find out:

“Since your writing hasn’t yet made you rich or famous, and you pour so much of your heart and soul and time into doing it, why are you still bothering?”

Granted, that’s still a rather insensitive inquiry, but I can see how people might wonder.  Why do we authors keep writing when the ultimate rewards we seek — fame and, if not fortune, a decent living independent of a day job, continue to evade us?  What in the hell keeps us going in the face of all the discouragement and rejection we regularly endure?

The little things, that’s what.

Those small, golden moments in which we are made to feel, however fleetingly, like a winner.  Unexpected notes of recognition from surprising corners of the universe that serve to prove we are not, in fact, writing in a vacuum.

Example: Not two weeks after my first novel, FEAR OF THE DARK, was published by St. Martin’s Press way back in 1988, the family and I went to pick up some photos we’d dropped off at the local Fotomat.  (Remember them?  Those little drive-thru booths in strip malls just big enough for a cashier and about 100 rolls of film to fit in?  How about film?  Do you remember film?  Nevermind.)  Anyway, I’d paid the old guy behind the window for our developed photos and was about to walk off (yeah, we’d walked up, rather than driven through) when he said, “You aren’t Gar Anthony Haywood the novelist, are you?”


Turns out he’d found my book in the library, read it, and liked it.  A lot.

I floated on air the rest of the day.

That’s a “Little Thing.”  And we all experience them, sooner or later.  And this being Wildcard Tuesday, I thought I’d ask some of my other writer friends to share their favorite Little Things with you.



Tess Gerritsen, author of LAST TO DIE

The incident that stands out for me was while flying aboard a British Airways flight from Boston to London. A short time into the flight, the male flight attendant quietly approached and said the crew were all wondering if I was the famous author. I never had such attentive service!


Bruce DeSilva, author of CLIFF WALK

Howard Frank Mosher (“Waiting for Teddy Williams”) is my favorite living novelist, the closest thing we have today to Mark Twain. So I was stunned to receive an unsolicited email from him shortly after my first crime novel, “Rogue Island,” was published. He raved about it, calling the book “a highly serious work of fiction combining a fascinating evocation of a twenty-first American city with a lyrical tribute to the dying newspaper business.” When my second novel, “Cliff Walk,” was published in June, he got in touch again, saying my protagonist, Liam Mulligan, is “the most human, unpredictable, and anti-authoritarian fictional character I’ve met since Ranger Gus McCrae of “Lonesome Dove.” But that’s not even the best part. My hero and I are email buddies now.


P.D. Martin, author of HELL’S FURY

I remember when my first novel got published and my ‘publicist’ rang me to introduce herself and chat. The whole idea of a publicist sounded pretty special and made me feel very much like a celebrity! And then I went to my first event with her, and she was like: “Can I get you a drink? Coffee, wine?” Might be the closest I come to having ‘people’!


Aaron Philip Clark, author of A HEALTHY FEAR OF MAN

I don’t have too many stories about folks recognizing me or any of those cool happenings. However, I did receive an email from a reader who thanked me for “writing a character with a soul” and said she typically didn’t read mysteries unless it was something Mosley had written. It put a smile on my face.


J.T. Ellison, author of A DEEPER DARKNESS

So many wonderful experiences: Winning the thriller award in New York last summer. It was an insane night – I was dreadfully ill, had laryngitis, a wicked case of nerves, and two of my literary heroes were in the room: John Sandford and Diana Gabaldon. To win a prestigious award in the presence of two of the writers who shaped me was incredible and gratifying. The very first Thrillerfest in Phoenix, 112 degrees and all the people I’ve only ever heard of there in the flesh; meeting Lee Child and having him react with, “Oh yes, I’ve heard your name.” I was floored. What? How? OMG!!! Allison Brennan talking to me like I was a real writer. The moment my agent called to tell me I had my very first deal – and not just for one book, but three. The day my agent called to tell me he wanted to be my agent. The first time I finished a book – Christmas Day, 2003, at my parents’ house in Florida, and the exhausted realization I’d finally done something special. But the very best was the very first sentence I ever wrote with intention to follow it with another, and another. I finished that paragraph and began to cry. There’s true magic in intention.


David Corbett, author of KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE

Do They Know I’m Running? produced some of the most generous and heartfelt communications from readers I ever received in my career. I was deeply touched by many of the comments people shared, this one in particular:

“My father-in-law was finishing your book when I got home tonight. When I mentioned I met you, he right away asked, ‘Is he a cholo with a white boy’s name?’

I said nope, a white boy.

He got quiet for a second, then said, ‘He is a poet of my people.'”


Pari Noskin Taichert, author of THE BELEN HITCH

I was at a party the other night. It had nothing to do with my writing or writing at all, just a social gathering mostly of people I didn’t know. I introduced myself.  A woman in the group recognized my name, squealed loudly and said, “I can’t believe this! I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for you to get me another book! When are you going to write one?” Then she gushed about my books to me and to the group.  It was a small moment and an utter surprise. And it made my evening.


Brad Parks, author of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

I was at a doctor’s office, doing some routine intake stuff with my wife, who has a different last name than me (and who, of course, carries our insurance, because her husband is a ne’er-do-well writer). Anyhow, the doctor got through asking my wife all the questions she needed to ask, then turned to me. “And what’s your name?” she asked. “Brad Parks,” I said. The doctor gasped and blurted, “The author?!?” She then launched on a 90-second rave about the great pleasure of reading my books and the tremendous admiration she had for me as a writer. I loved it and try to visit that doctor whenever possible. Strangely, my wife doesn’t use her anymore.


Zoë Sharp, author of FIFTH VICTIM

I’m constantly both humbled and honoured when I hear from readers who have enjoyed the Charlie Fox books. I try not to read reviews, so when people make a point of getting in touch directly it really means something special. It’s hard to pick out individual occasions, but three relatively recent ones spring to mind.

I have a fan in New Zealand, Karen, who is a huge champion of Charlie on Goodreads. She is always making sure the book covers and the details are correct, and she is an absolute wonder.

The second is reviewer and blogger Judith Baxter, who has done some wonderful posts about the books, and even about her surprise that I would get in touch to thank her for her kind words.

And thirdly is US singer/songwriter Beth Rudetsky, who wrote an amazing song for FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine called ‘The Victim Won’t Be Me’. I am just so moved by this.


Alexandra Sokoloff, author of HUNTRESS MOON

I was thrilled that Shelfari’s mystery and suspense group picked Huntress Moon as their August read, and the incredible discussion questions they’re coming up with are making all the work worthwhile.


Brett Battles, author of THE DESTROYED

When my first book (THE CLEANER) came out, I was still working at E! Entertainment Television. Every summer we would have this big party with a top named musical artist…can’t remember for sure, but think LL Cool J might have been that year. I had given a copy of my book to Ted Harbert, President of the network and he read and loved it. I had heard that he might say something when he was up on stage talking to everyone. He did…unfortunately I was in the bathroom at the time and never heard it. But I did have several folks later come up and congratulate me.


Robert Gregory Browne, author of TRIAL JUNKIES

I remember a young aspiring writer approached me at a conference and was so nervous he could barely stop shaking. I assured him that there was nothing to be nervous about—I mean, for godsakes, I’m NOBODY—but to think that someone was as nervous around me as I would be around, say, Stephen King or Donald Westlake, certainly got me to reflect for a moment on how I see myself. I rarely take time to realize that I’m doing what others only dream of and I’m a very lucky man, indeed.


Bill Crider, author of MURDER OF A BEAUTY SHOP QUEEN

In 1980 I attended Bouchercon for the first time.  It was a very small convention in those days, and I hadn’t published a novel yet.  (My first one, a book in the Nick Carter series, came out in January 1981.)  I was, however, writing reviews and articles for a number of fanzines like Paperback Quarterly, The Mystery FANcier, The Poisoned Pen, and The Armchair Detective.  I was looking at paperbacks at a dealer’s table and found one I wanted: The Case of the Phantom Fingerprints by Kendall Foster Crossen.  I can’t remember the price, but it was more than I wanted to pay.  I asked the dealer if he’d take less, and he looked at my name tag.  “Bill Crider,” he said.  “Are you THE Bill Crider?”  I told him I was the only one at the convention as far as I knew, and he told me how much he’d enjoyed reading my articles in Paperback Quarterly.  Then he said, “I’ve enjoyed them so much, I want to give you the book.”  This was particularly gratifying because the publishers PQ were standing there beside me, amazed.  I thought that as soon as my Nick Carter novel was published, things like that would happen all the time, but of course nothing like that’s ever happened to me again.


Gary Phillips, author of VIOLENT SPRING

One of my biggest thrills early on was being on a panel with Ross Thomas at the downtown main library.  We both talked about having worked for the same national union — AFSCME- and among his books he signed for me was the Seersucker Whipsaw, his novel about, among other things, union shenanigans.


Timothy Hallinan, author of THE FEAR ARTIST

Aside from the thrill of getting on a plane a few times and seeing someone reading one of my books (rocked my world) my biggest thrills come from fan mail.  My hero, Poke Rafferty, and his Thai wife, Rose, have adopted a little street child, Miaow, as their daughter.  Once or twice a year I get email from people who have become cross-cultural adoptive parents who want to say how accurately my books describe the joys and pitfalls of bringing someone into your family who has different beliefs, experiences, and expectations.  The emails practically paralyze me with pleasure–not only because the books mean something to these people but also because I blithely wrote the relationships in Poke’s little family without giving a thought to the possibility that I’d get it all wrong.  The best of these letters arrive with photos of the children.  The VERY best of them came from a 15-year-old Korean-American adoptee whose father wrote me in 2006 and now, six years later, she was old enough to read the book (A Nail Through the Heart) that had prompted his letter.  She wrote to say that I’d told aspects of her story so accurately that parts of the book had almost seemed to be about her.


Stephen Jay Schwartz, author of BEAT

The very best “shout-out” I got was when I stood in the back of a Michael Connelly signing at Mysterious Galaxy – a room packed with almost 200 people – and a woman in front of me asked Michael what authors he liked to read.  He answered that he didn’t always read in the genre in which he writes, but occasionally someone will send him the work of a new author.  “Like the author behind you,” he said, “Stephen Jay Schwartz’s work is exceptional.”  At that point every one of his fans turned around to look at me and my face went completely white.  I nodded to him, thanking him for his kindness.  That was an amazing thing for him to do, at his own signing.  I really love him for that.


Questions for the Class: Writers: What Little Things motivate you to keep writing?  And readers, have you ever done a Little Thing that may have inspired a favorite author to keep on writing?

Jul 172012

By Hilary Davidson

My confession: I hate summer. I have a vague memory of enjoying it when I lived in Toronto, but in the decade since I moved to New York, it’s become my least favorite season. My lack of affection for it is based partly on the sticky unpleasantness of heat and humidity in the concrete jungle. It’s also because summer is invariably a crazy time for me. I spend most of it chained to my desk, and when I venture outside, I wish I were still chained to my desk.

That said, there is one highlight: Thrillerfest, the conference of the International Thriller Writers, which takes place in New York every July. While there’s plenty going for the conference, the very best thing about it is that it brings so many wonderful people to town. This year, that list included Meg Gardiner, Sean Chercover, Dennis Tafoya, Brad Parks, Daniel Palmer, Jennifer Hillier, Owen Laukkanen, Peter Farris, Jamie Freveletti, Carla Buckley, Boyd Morrison, Sophie Littlefield, Mike Cooper, Shane Gericke, Josh Corin, Pam Callow… um, I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Some highlights from this year. I was having so much fun I forgot to snap photos until the last night, at the ITW awards banquet:

At the Tor/Forge table with my awesome publicist, Aisha Cloud, author Jon McGoran (who has a novel coming out with Forge next July), and editor extraordinaire Kristin Sevick Brown.
Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer rock the house with “Ghost Writers in the Sky”
You cannot imagine how hilarious this was… 
With one of my favorite thriller writers, Jeffery Deaver, at the afterparty. 
With the always-awesome Todd Robinson at the after-afterparty. While Thrillerfest is terrific for bringing out-of-town friends into NYC, it’s also fantastic for getting New Yorkers into Manhattan to party. 

Wait, there’s more! Check out the video of Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer performing “Ghost Writers in the Sky” at the awards banquet. Many, many thanks to Karen Dionne for recording this for posterity:

If there’s one negative thing I have to say about this year’s Thrillerfest, it’s this: some wonderful writers were missing from it. In particular, I would have loved to see Rebecca Cantrell there, so I could say congratulations on her latest Hannah Vogel novel, A CITY OF BROKEN GLASS. The book is out today from Forge, and it’s earning rave reviews. Library Journal gave it a star and said: “Cantrell’s fourth historical featuring journalist Hannah Vogel (after A Game of Lies) is compulsively readable. A palpable sense of dread builds, as we know that Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom of November 1938, is imminent. This award-winning series succeeds at weaving a very personal story into a well-researched historical survey. In an increasingly crowded genre period, Cantrell’s series stands tall.”

Check out Becky’s website to see more praise for the book. Read an excerpt over at Macmillan’s site. And please send email to Becky telling her that she needs to come to New York next summer!

Mar 212012

Contrasted Confinement

At The Kill Zone, Joe Moore has an insightful post about the pros and cons of using a pen name that’s definitely worth your time.

The Rap Sheet has a great guest post from Brad Parks on the inspiration for his newest novel THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Michael Robotham’s newest Joe O’Loughlin thriller BLEED FOR ME is in bookstores now and continues to garner fantastic praise. Marilyn Stasio reviewed the novel in The New York Times Book Review, writing that “Robotham writes with grave tenderness about unhappy people caught in terrible situations…” CBS News ran a great interview with Robotham on Author Talk. And don’t miss this great Salon review, or online raves from Spinetingler, Murder By TypeAuntie M Writes, and the Murder by the Book Mystery Blog.

Bloggers are also loving Joe R. Lansdale’s EDGE OF DARK WATER, which is working its way into bookstores across the country as its March 27th publication date approaches. But don’t take our word for it–check out reviews from Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, Demon TheoryMystery Scene, and B&N’s Ransom Notes.

Looking for some great Spring reads to look forward to? We can’t wait until Nick Santora’s amazing FIFTEEN DIGITS hits bookstores next month. Bestsellers World’s review should certainly whet your appetite; Julie Moderson raves that “Nick Santora has a unique style of writing that I can only compare to John Grisham or Harlan Coben or a wonderful combination of both.” Marcia Clark’s GUILT BY DEGREES, coming in May, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which says: “Clark humanizes her tough lead, and gets the mixture of action and investigative legwork just right, more than making the case for a long life for this West Coast analogue to Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper.”

Are you seeing The Hunger Games this weekend?

And hot dang–Seth Grahame-Smith fans everywhere take notice:

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at or DM us on Twitter.

The Story Behind the Story: “The Girl Next Door,” by Brad Parks

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Mar 152012

(Editor’s note: This latest entry in The Rap Sheet’s “Story Behind the Story” series marks a repeat appearance by Nero and Shamus award-winning author Brad Parks. In February 2011, he wrote about Eyes of the Innocent, his second novel featuring New Jersey investigative reporter Carter Ross. Below, he explains the background of its sequel, The Girl Next Door, which has just been released by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.)

I will long remember the day that inspired my latest novel, The Girl Next Door.

It was July 30, 2008, and all the employees of the newspaper where I was working at that time, the Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger, had been summoned to the first floor for a special meeting with the publisher.

We all knew this was likely grim news–it wasn’t exactly a secret that our paper, like every large daily across America, had been hit with a tsunami of bad financial circumstances. But even under those soggy circumstances, the message our publisher delivered that morning was shocking: our newspaper, then the 11th largest in the country, was on life support, and it would be shut down by the end of the year unless several conditions were met.

Among them were that three of our unions, including the Teamsters, needed to renegotiate their contracts; and that 150 newsroom employees had to take voluntary buyouts.

I remember this day clearly not only because it was the start of this book, but also because it was the end of my career in newspapers. I gave my notice later that morning. Under the terms of the buyout I eventually worked out, I would continue working until Thanksgiving. Then I was gone.

I was 34 years old. Newspapering was all I had ever done.

And it was more than just my job. It was really my identity, this thing–my vocation, my avocation, my passion–that had come to define who I was and how I thought about the world.

My first newspaper gig had come when I was 14 years old and I conned my hometown weekly into letting me cover the local girls’ basketball team. I kept writing sports all through high school.

Then I went to Dartmouth College and did the same. I’d file stories on the same college football game for three newspapers (they all had different deadlines). When I got frustrated by how the student paper covered sports, I started my own, running it out of my dorm room. I was the publisher, editor-in-chief, ad salesman, writer, designer, layout artist, paste-up guy, even paperboy–after getting it printed on Monday mornings, I would dash back to school and spread copies all around campus before running off to class.

My summers? I spent them writing for newspapers. I won internships with The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

My first real job? That was when I got hired by the Post full-time. Two years later I jumped to The Star-Ledger. I basically grew up in the newsroom, this wonderful place full of irascible, irreverent, fascinating, passionate people, most of whom were unapologetically ink-stained. And I soon became ink-stained, too. I loved working for newspapers. The thought of leaving the industry terrified me.

But it was clearly time. The Star-Ledger wasn’t the only newspaper on life support. They pretty much all were. Even if I tried jumping to a different paper–not that any of them were hiring at the salary I was making–I’d just be hopping from the last flight of the Hindenburg to the first voyage of the Titanic. I knew I had to leave, or I would just be the guy still hanging around 10 years later when they finally turned off the lights. As much as I loved newspapers, I didn’t want to be that guy.

Besides, I wasn’t exactly making the leap without a back-up plan.

I had long thought that writing mysteries would make a great semi-retirement career, something I’d do in my late 50s and 60s, when the kids were finally out of college, when the mortgage was paid off, and when the grind of working for a daily newspaper finally became too much for me. So I had started dabbling with writing fiction in my mid-20s.

I completed my first manuscript when I was 30 (no, you’ll never see it). By that point, I was in the groove of writing during evenings and weekends. So I started another novel.

My career had taken me over to the news side at The Star-Ledger by that point and I was really diving into the urban world of Newark, writing about all the issues and events that shaped the city. I was covering crime. I was understanding poverty in ways I never had before. I was becoming immersed in Newark’s attempts to reinvent itself and in all the barriers that kept getting in the way.

So it seemed natural to write about an investigative reporter who was doing the same thing. (Besides, being as I had a very demanding job, I didn’t have time to do extensive research. “Write what you know” was sort of a necessity for me.) I named my protagonist Carter Ross, because it was the whitest, WASPiest-sounding name I could think of. And I sent him plunging into Newark’s neighborhoods and let him bumble his way through them, just like I was doing.

The first Carter Ross manuscript–which you now know as Faces of the Gone–sold to St. Martin’s Press on July 8, 2008. And 22 days later, there I was, listening to the Star-Ledger’s publisher utter his dire message about our future, realizing full well where it was going to lead me.

(Left) The front page of today’s Newark Star-Ledger.

Under the contract I had just signed with St. Martin’s, the second Carter Ross book–you now know it as Eyes of the Innocent–was due in January. So I had to jam it out pretty quickly, while I was still working full-time.

By the time I started work on book number three, The Girl Next Door, a lot in my life had changed. My family and I had moved to Virginia, where my wife had gotten a job. I was no longer making daily trips into the newsroom. I no longer identified myself as a journalist when I met people. I was now a full-time novelist.

But my brain was still stuck on July 30, 2008, that day when everything started to become so different. And I think maybe I was still trying to process all that had changed–to the point where maybe I couldn’t have written anything else but a book in which one of the central characters was a newspaper in trouble.

So I started with the idea of a contentious negotiation between that newspaper and one of its labor unions. (I invented the union in question, calling it the IFIW–International Federation of Information Workers–because I was afraid that if I used the Teamsters and they didn’t like what I wrote, there could be repercussions. Jimmy Hoffa has been dead a long, long time, but if living in New Jersey for 10 years taught me nothing else, it’s that you still don’t want to mess with the Teamsters).

Then I asked myself: who might get caught in the middle of such a negotiation? Someone who was involved but, basically, an innocent? Someone whose death might catch Carter Ross’ interest?

I came up with the idea of a paper deliverer, figuring Carter would likely have a soft spot for someone like that; and, because you can’t support yourself delivering newspapers alone, I made her a waitress, too. She was hard-working, conscientious, devoted to her family and her church. She was pretty, but not too pretty.

She was basically the girl next door.

The story takes on a life of its own at that point. And, no, Carter doesn’t end up taking a buyout at the end. He’s still got a long career ahead of him, writing all the stories I never quite got around to doing myself. I could never let him leave the newsroom we’ve created together.

I’d miss it too much.

* * *

For more from Brad Parks, sign up for his newsletter here, like him on Facebook here, or follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter.

READ MORE:Dumb Answers to Stupid Questions: Brad Parks Edition,” by Gar Anthony Haywood (Murderati).

Mar 142012

by Gar Anthony Haywood

A warning to all you Brad Parks haters out there: Get used to seeing this guy’s pretty face because he’s going to be around for a while.

Brad is a Dartmouth College grad and former investigative reporter who spent a dozen years writing for The Washington Post and The Newark Star-Ledger, and now that he’s turned his attention to writing crime fiction, he’s damn near taking over the world.

His debut novel, FACES OF THE GONE, won the Nero Award for Best American Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First Mystery, a feat no single book had ever accomplished in the combined 60-year history of those awards. FACES OF THE GONE, which Library Journal called “the most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY,” launched the career of Brad’s fictional investigative reporter Carter Ross, who was just recently named by the readers of Jen Forbus’ terrific blog, Jen’s Book Thoughts, “the World’s Favorite Amateur Sleuth.”

Brad’s second Carter Ross novel, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, was even better than the first, or so said Library Journal and almost everyone else who read it.

Now his third Carter Ross novel, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, has just been released, so naturally Brad’s spanning the electronic globe pimping it like a daddy whose baby needs new shoes.

Because that’s exactly the kind of shameless behavior I engage in when I have a new book out, and because Brad is actually as good at what he does as his press clippings would lead one to believe, I am happy today to introduce him to the Murderati faithful via the following Q & A.

But before you leap to any conclusions about this being just another boring, predictable Q & A, let me disabuse you right now of any such notion.  Brad’s a very witty guy, as his Carter Ross novels clearly demonstrate, and everyone here knows how hilarious I am, so we both thought we’d try to have as much fun with this interview as Brad’s readers will have reading THE GIRL NEXT DOOR . . .

Gar: You and I first met in the hotel bar at Thrillerfest a few years ago, when you weaseled your way into an incredibly personal conversation I was having with legendary book blogger Sarah Weinman.  Shortly thereafter, Sarah shut down her popular blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, for good.  Coincidence?

Brad: C’mon. Any good mystery writer – and, Gar, you’re one of the best – knows there’s no such thing as a coincidence. You just happen to be the first to put it together. The fact is, Sarah’s tastes are pretty high-brow, and I’m not a 50-years-dead Icelandic author whose achingly beautiful and hauntingly spare novels are crying out for rediscovery. One brush with me convinced her the whole genre was heading straight into the crapper. She folded up shop, right then and there.

By the way, sorry to horn in on you that time, but I did want to say it was really courageous of you to tell Sarah about your gonorrhea.

Gar: After you won the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus award for your first novel, FACES OF THE GONE, you celebrated by posting photos of yourself posing with the award in locations all over San Francisco.  Any idea what you’ll do to celebrate when you inevitably win the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award?

Brad: Yes. I’ll do the exact same thing in New York. But I’ll be naked.

Gar: You and your series character, investigative reporter Carter Ross, would seem to have a great deal in common.  In fact, I applaud you for resisting the temptation to name him “Parker Bradley.”  But in what ways are the two of you quite different?

Brad: Well, I’m left handed. And color blind. And otherwise… can I get back to you on this one?

No? Okay. Truth time: there’s a lot Carter and I obviously share, but I don’t really have Carter and I confused. He’s a separate person in my head. When I envision a scene, I don’t see myself as Carter. (He actually looks like a guy I used to work with). I think, more than anything, having Carter share certain traits with me is a convenience that allows me to write certain things with a little bit of extra authority. I know what it’s like to be a starchy, 6-foot-1, 185-pound white guy walking into a housing project in Newark. I know how people reacted to me and how it made me feel. And I can put some of those feelings into Carter.

Gar: You’ve been writing full-time, away from the daily grind of the newspaper racket, for a while now.  Besides the occasional threat of a libel suit, what do you miss most about your former occupation?

Brad: Without question, going into the newsroom. Up until the industry totally imploded, your typical American newsroom was the greatest working environment in the world. It was full of bright, witty, irreverent, malcontented people, many of whom ended up working for newspapers because they were incapable of coexisting with polite society. Collectively, they were experts on just about everything – and yet nothing at all – and there was always someone around who could give you an education on any topic that interested you. There was a lot of yelling, some seriously off-color jokes, and we could have all sued each other for sexual harassment ten times over. Yet, every day, we managed to overcome all that dysfunction just long enough to put out a newspaper. It was a great place to grow up.

Gar: In your three novels to date, Carter Ross is surrounded by a cast of colorful, amusing secondary characters.  Tommy Hernandez, a gay, Cuban intern at the paper for which Carter works, is a prime example.  If you could sit down for lunch with all of Carter’s people, would you pick up the check or insist on dutch?

No, no, just joking.  Here’s the real question: Who among these fictional characters would you most like to have a long, heart-to-heart with, and why?

Brad: I reserve the right to change this answer depending on my mood. But at this very moment, I’d say Buster Hays – the cranky, cantankerous old newsroom salt with the four Rolodexes full of sources. Buster is one of those guys who have a million stories, but he won’t just volunteer them. You have to ask him. Oh, and making sure he’s well-watered with Scotch doesn’t hurt.

Gar: Another great supporting character in your books is Carter’s boss Tina Thompson, a smoking hot city-editor who’s constantly trying to get Carter between the sheets.  Aside from your wife, if you could have any one woman in the world desire your flesh as desperately as Tina does Carter’s, who would it be?

Brad: Gar, you must have one of those open marriages – y’know, the kind Newt Gingrich supposedly wanted from his second and/or third wife (I can’t keep Newt’s wives straight). Being as I do not have one of those marriages, there’s no way I’m answering this question. Because my wife never reads any of the stuff I put online. But you just know if I answered this question, this would be the one thing that would somehow end up in front of her eyes.

(Okay, okay, fine. My wife knows anyway: Taylor Swift. Throw me in jail if you want to. But she is over 18 now. And she’s also the most talented and beautiful woman in the world – other than my wife, of course).

Gar: Over the course of a long career as an investigative journalist, you must have had a close scrape or two with some angry people.  Any near-death experiences you’d like to share here?

Brad: Most of the people who threatened to kill me were really just blowing off steam (obviously, because I’m still here). But there was this one time… I was doing an investigative piece about doping in horseracing and I had been trailing this one trainer from his barn down in Freehold, New Jersey to the Meadowlands Racetrack up in the northern part of the state. I had been told the cheaters often pulled off the New Jersey Turnpike just before they got to the track and treated their horses on the side of the road (because once they reached the track, they had to put their horses in the detention barn, where the horses were put under watch). Sure enough, I saw this guy veer over to the side of the Turnpike. I watched him go into his trailer for a few minutes then get back on the road. When he got to the track, I followed him into the paddock area, then hopped out of my car and asked him, point blank, what he had been doing. Things got pretty heated pretty fast. He kept saying, “I’ll kill you . . .  I’ll kill you. . .” and then added that lovely caveat, “I’m going to find out where you live.” (He later called me up, apologized, and said he had pulled over because of engine trouble).

Gar: When Jen Forbus asked readers of Jen’s Book Thoughts last year to name their favorite amateur sleuth of all time, your man Carter Ross beat out 63 other contenders to win the title.  Putting aside the fact that the final showdown matched a 30 year old man in the peak of health against a woman who could be his grandmother—Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple—why do you think Carter won?

Brad: Easy. Agatha Christie isn’t on Twitter. Some folks were a little incredulous about that result – one guy from New Zealand suggested I must have stuffed the ballot box – but it was completely legit (I mean, c’mon, you think Jen would allow cheating?). Fact is, Carter put a hurting on that ol’ bat Marple because I was able to muster a get-out-the-vote effort on social media. That’s politics, baby: It’s not the will of the people that counts, it’s the will of the people who actually take the trouble to vote.

Gar: I have a real fascination with plagiarism and the people who engage in it.  If you could steal from any one author, alive or dead, without fear of ever getting caught, who would it be?

Brad: I rank plagiarists only slightly ahead of people who trip old ladies as they cross the street. Maybe behind. (After all, old ladies eventually heal). And as a journalist, plagiarism has always baffled me. All you have to do is add “it’s like so-and-so once said…” and then you can lift anything you want. Why not just give credit where it’s due?

But to play along with the question, I would probably reach into some of John D. MacDonald’s classics and start transcribing. Maybe an exchange between Travis McGee and Meyer. Maybe one of McGee’s great rants. Some of them are a little dated – and his sensibilities about women could probably use some modernizing – but a lot of it is still just great stuff.

Gar: I’m a devoted subscriber to The Los Angeles Times and you’re an ex-newspaper man.  In 100 words or less, make your best case for why people in this electronic age should still read newspapers in hardcopy form.

Brad: Because The Times would be dead in three weeks if they didn’t (that’s 12 words, if you’re counting). Newspapers continue to have a terrible time monetizing their digital content. The bulk of their revenue still comes from the print product. I’m making up these numbers, but as a print subscriber, you’re worth, say, a dollar to The Times in advertising revenues. As a web-only reader, you’re worth about five cents. But don’t get me started on this subject, because I’ll get wound up for a lot more than 100 words.

Gar: My affection for memorable, original titles—and contempt for monosyllabic, ubiquitous ones—is legendary here at Murderati.  Fortunately for us both, I think the titles of all your novels—FACES OF THE GONE, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, and your latest, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR—are quite good.  Are unique, evocative titles important to you, as well, or were these three just a fluke?  (Please don’t tell us, for instance, that the working title for Carter Ross #4 is DEADLINE.)

Brad: I didn’t have that pet peeve until now. But I think I like it. Can I adopt it? (Don’t worry, I know how you feel about plagiarism – I’ll quote you when I do it). I’m glad to hear my titles meet your high standards, because I actually feel like I struggle mightily with them. I give my editor, Kelley Ragland at Minotaur, a long list of possibilities. She bounces it off this cabal of editors and marketing people – a group I think of as the “they” in “that’s what they say” – and then she comes back to me with what “they” have decided. I’m usually just relieved to have it over with. (Carter Ross No. 4 is currently THE GOOD COP, by the way… you like?)

Gar: In your new book THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the obituary of a young woman who died delivering copies of the New Jersey newspaper Carter works for, The Newark Eagle-Examiner, inspires him to do a personal interest piece that, quite naturally, turns into a murder investigation.

If you could write Carter’s obituary yourself when the time comes to put him down (unless you’d like some hack hired by your estate to continue his adventures after you’ve passed on), what would it sound like?

Brad: I’m rather fond of Carter. And I’d like to give him a good send-off. So let’s go with:

Carter Ross of Bloomfield died yesterday when, while having rigorous sex with an intern, one of his eight Pulitzer Prizes fell off a shelf and knocked him unconscious. He was 107.

Gar: Finally, your books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal.  Harlan Coben called your first novel, FACES OF THE GONE, a “terrific debut,” and Michael Connelly wrote that EYES OF THE INNOCENT “is the complete package.”

All of which begs the obvious question: What the hell does Lee Child have against you?

Brad: I think he’s threatened by my sales figures. But I keep telling him: Don’t worry, Lee. Good things’ll happen for you. Just keep plugging.

The Kill Bell

 Brad Parks, The Girl Next Door  Comments Off on The Kill Bell
Mar 082012

Today TKZ is delighted to welcome guest blogger Brad Parks, whose latest release THE GIRL NEXT DOOR has been described as, “darkly humorous…a Sopranos-worthy ragout of high drama and low comedy,” by Publisher’s Weekly.

By Brad Parks

I hear it all the time, echoing in my head.It sounds like a ticking at first – high, soft and steady, like a baby bunny’s heartbeat. It’s there, but it’s not terribly insistent. At least not at first.

Then it starts getting louder. And more ominous. And harder to ignore. I begin feeling the reverberations in my chest.

Before long, it becomes absolutely incessant. And unrelenting. And undeniable. It’s down to my toes and in my ears and I can barely hear anything else.And then, brrrrrring! Off it goes:

The kill bell.

That malicious peeling noise that lets me know, as I’m drafting my latest book, that it’s time to drop a body.

That’s how it sounds to me, anyway. Maybe yours sounds different, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in having one. As a mystery/thriller writer, I know I have to kill, early and often. And since you’re on this blog – it is called The Kill Zone, for goodness sakes – you probably know it, too. Lord knows, no one here is writing cozies. I’m betting the Kill Zone authors alone traffic in more blood than your average Red Cross chapter.

But how much do we spill? And how do we know when the time is right?

That’s what the kill bell is for. I’ve come to value it, to know to listen for it, and even to anticipate it. It’s that little friend that tells me things have gotten a little too comfortable for the reader and I need to shake things up.

It’s not like it happens in predictable intervals – and thank goodness, since it would get a little too cookie-cutter if you whacked someone every 10,000 words. I can sometimes go 40,000 words without slashing so much as a single throat. Then I shoot someone and I think I’m okay for a while but, ding-a-ling, there’s the bell again. And, even if it’s a mere 2,000 words later, I’m puncturing someone’s temple with a nail gun.

I suspect every writer’s kill bell is set to a slightly different frequency, which is why we all write different books. The important thing is to respect it and, when you hear it ringing, to act. Even when it’s not clear how.

I’m thinking about one of the more recent times I heard my kill bell. I was in the midst of drafting my latest, the as-yet-unnamed Carter Ross No. 5 (No. 3, The Girl Next Door, is the one that hits next week). I was cruising along, roughly 70,000 words in, and I realized I hadn’t killed anyone since word 40,000. And that, suddenly, felt totally unacceptable.

So I gathered all my characters in a room – yes, I talk to my characters – and said, “Okay, which one of you am I going to kill?”

Naturally, they all started staring down at their feet, scuffing their shoes, shoving their hands in their pockets, that sort of thing. Can’t blame them. Who wants to die, even in spectacular literary fashion?

But at that point my kill bell was doing a full-on whoopwhoopwhoop. I knew someone had to go. So I started going through my characters one-by-one until I realized, wait a cotton-pickin’-frickin’ second, I couldn’t kill any of them! It was either someone integral to a later plot point; or people who were totally implausible to kill, because they weren’t a threat to anyone; or my protagonist, who I can’t kill (this is a series and my kids will need shoes next year, too); or my protagonist’s cat (the kill bell does not apply to animals – sorry, I just can’t deal with that much hate mail).

I was stuck. But the kill bell has to be heeded. So I went back and wrote a character into the plot at word 20,000 for the express purpose of killing her later. And it turned out be a good thing, because I actually went back and un-killed her – she had taken a double tap between the eyes, but no more! – and killed someone else instead (I burned him, if it matters). It ended up leading to a great plot twist at the end. And I had the kill bell to thank.

As I said, I know I’m not alone in this. So what about you? What tells you when to follow the impulse to kill? I look forward to a robust – if slightly disturbing – conversation on the topic…

Brad Parks is a winner of the Nero Award and the Shamus Award. His latest book, The Girl Next Door, releases from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books on March 13. For more Brad, sign up for his newsletter, like him on Facebook, or follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter.