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.