An interview with local novelist Brad Parks
Middlesex’s newest best-kept secret is a guy that gave up his day job to write about murder, lawlessness, and drug deals gone bad. Luckily for him it turned out to be a good move. Brad Parks’ first book, “Faces of the Gone,” sold out at several national distributors—including Amazon.com—when it first hit shelves in December. It is back in stock now, and Parks is back to working on more installments in the series. He recently took some time out from writing and swimming in the Rappahannock to talk to the Sentinel at one of his favorite writing spots—Cross Street Coffee in Urbanna.
You got your start as a sportswriter, but then jumped over to news, and now fiction. How has your newspaper background affected your novel writing?
Parks: In the age of the internet everybody knows the outcome of a game seconds after it has happened. A sportswriter needs to give them something different and that’s where the storytelling comes in. It is great training for a novelist. The opening scene of this book, four dead bodies found in a vacant lot, was the very first news story I was assigned to at the Star-Ledger in Newark. In the real-life situation there was no ending, so I made one up and wrote a book about it.
There is a saying, “Character is fate.” Since you have said that you don’t plot out your books would you say that is at play here?
Parks: Before this I was a non-fiction writer who had always heard fiction writers saying their characters tell them what is going to happen next. Secretly, I would say to myself, “Do your characters also tell you you’re a nut, because that is what you sound like.” Then I started writing mysteries and I found it to be true.
Parks: The pivotal scene in this book was also a pivotal scene for me as a writer. It is the point where Carter Ross, a mild-mannered reporter, smokes marijuana with gang members. I started trying to get him out of the scene and he kept telling me, “Nope. I can’t get up, I’m going to fall over.” I made him get up and of course he stumbles into something. That something is a stack of boxes and what ends up being inside the boxes becomes an important part of the plot. Of course, once I had a character who was high, I could do all this fun stuff with him—like having him run into his boss and his love interest. All of that happened because I was listening to Carter.
They say successful writers are ones that are able to kill their “little darlings.” Did you have to do any of that during this process?
Parks: I did have a character who was like a fictional Deep Throat that just wasn’t working out. Also, I think there is a temptation as a writer to put in a lot of stuff that you don’t really need to put in simply because you have thought of it or because you know it. All you are really doing is showing the reader, “Hey, look at me, I did all this research.” That’s dull. The trick is doing character development while you are moving your plot forward.
Besides getting most of your writing done at the coffee shop, do you have any other writing rituals?
Parks: I write a thousand words a day, every day, no matter what. Last summer, for example, I would get up, leave the house, and write at the coffee shop until 11 a.m. Then I would meet my wife at Taber Park to pick up the kids while she would go to work in the afternoon. Over the course of the summer, at a thousand words per day, I wrote all of Book Three in the Carter Ross series.
As an avid open-water swimmer out there in the Rappahannock you have to be pretty dedicated to brave the elements. Are there any similarities between that and your writing life?
Parks: With swimming you start each day on the beach, but you don’t know what is going to happen. You just know you are going to go out for a while and at some point you’re going to try to get back to shore. The same with writing. I start with the characters and I throw them into the water to see what happens.
When you are out there swimming, how do you know when it is time to turn around?
Parks: I usually just swim out to the crab pots and come back.
Just like reaching your thousand words a day?
Parks: Definitely. You have to have a gritty blue-collar mentality when it comes to writing. You can always make excuses not to write, but I don’t give myself the luxury. It’s a muscle—the more you work the muscle, the stronger it becomes. When I get stuck it really does feel like drowning. But you have to tell yourself just keep swimming. Stay afloat and eventually you will get back to shore.
About the author
Amy Rose Dobson is a freelance writer who divides her time between Urbanna and Northern Virginia in search of interesting people with a story to tell. She writes for several national publications and has found the best part of the job is hearing the story behind the one that runs in print. This gave her the idea for a column about how people apply metaphors to their lives, and thus this column, “Metaphorically Speaking,” was born.