MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Parks

  • Post and Interview by MysteryPeople Scott 

Brad Parks is doing something I don’t see as often as I’d like: His Carter Ross book series is getting better and better. Too often authors of a book series start out strong and then start coasting or becoming a caricature of their former selves.

But Parks, with his newest book The Fraud, takes his series about Carter Ross, a journalist at a Newark, NJ newspaper, on a deeper and wilder ride than any of his previous novels. I feel a kinship with Brad since we both worked as newspaper reporters but in different regions so I have interviewed him for most of his books (read an interview with Parks about his second-to-latest novel).

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Noir At The Bar with Andrew Hilbert, Jesse Sublett, CJ Howell, and Brad Parks Happening This Wednesday

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This Wednesday’s Noir at the Bar should be a lot of laughs. Every guest author in attendance – Jesse Sublett, C.J. Howell, Brad Parks, and Andrew Hilbert – is known for the humor in their work. Their characters’ rough escapades provoke as much laughter as gunfire.


andrew hilbertAndrew Hilbert is the zen anarchist of Austin publishing. his own novella, Death Thing, starts with Gilbert, a white, middle-aged man fed up with his car being broken into, so he sets up a brutal booby-trap for the next thief to come along. Soon he’s on a bloody spiral involving a bizzarro cop, a vigilante organization, two slacker drug dealers, and fast food carnage. This book is wrong in all the right ways. Read a review from Dead End Follies. Death Thing will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves, or call to reserve a copy. 


cj howellCJ Howell’s novel, The Last Of The Smoking Bartenders, has been the book people have been telling their other avid reader friends about for the last year and a half. The story revolves around Tom, a man living off the grid, convinced he’s a government agent out to stop a terrorist attack on Hoover Dam. He treks across the modern West populated with disenfranchised Navajo and fringe dwellers, creating a path of havoc and arson in his wake. There is no other other novel to compare to it. The Last of the Smoking Bartenders will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves, or call to reserve a copy.


brad parksBrad Parks is a naturally funny man, so it is no surprise his series character Carter Ross often views the situations he is in from a humorous angle, even if they are dire. In his latest, The Fraud, Ross is juggling a series of carjackings tied to the country club set and the pregnancy of his girlfriend/managing editor. it is a great introduction to a fun series. The Fraud will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


Jesse SublettWe will also have music and a reading from Jesse Sublett. His true crime book, 1960s Austin Gangsters, follows the Overton Gang, whose criminal deeds provided a lot of black humor. 1960s Austin Gangsters will be available for sale at the event. You can also find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


We’ll all be down at the Penn Field Opal Divine’s, 3601 Congress, at 7PM, Wednesday, July 22nd. All of the authors’ books will be available for sale at the event. Join us for a drink and more than a few laughs.

MysteryPeople Q&A with C.J. Howell

CJ Howell has gotten praise from critics, readers, and fellow writers from his novel, The Last Of The Smoking Bartenders. In the novel, Tom, a man living off the grid, who may or may not be a secret agent, sets out to stop a group of terrorists from blowing up Hoover Dam. The journey takes him through the lives of several fringe dwellers of the American West with more than a couple acts of arson. CJ Howell will be joining us at our July 22nd Noir At The Bar, along with Andrew Hilbert, Brad Parks, and Jesse Sublett, and was also kind enough to let us ask him a few questions.


MysteryPeople: The Last of the Smoking Bartenders is such a unique novel.  What was the initial idea that sparked it?

CJ Howell: I wanted a character who was traveling off the grid.  When I was young, I hitchhiked from Boulder, Colorado, to Tierra del Fuego.  This was before cell phones and even email.  I crashed on many kind people’s couches and floors and got stuck sleeping on park benches and under bushes or in bus stations.  There was an immediacy to that kind of living that has always stuck with me.  But the character needed motivation for living off the grid, so I steeped him in post 9-11 paranoia and the desperation of the Great Recession and set him off on an adventure.

MP: It is also a unique title.  Did you have it in mind from the beginning?

CJH: No, the original title was “American Wasteland”, but that seemed to be too generic as the writing progressed.  The Last of the Smoking Bartenders was the title of a little end piece to a short story collection of mine and it just seemed to fit thematically.  All the characters are sort of hold outs against change, clinging to the way the West used to be, the freedom that it once offered.

Here is the original The Last of the Smoking Bartenders:

“There was a time, not long ago, although some days it feels like it was just a sepia toned dream, when bartenders carried smokes behind their ears.  They were quick with a match to light your smoke, and if you needed a smoke, they always had one for you (since they knew you’d leave ‘em an extra buck which was worth ten smokes).  They’d keep one smoldering in an ashtray at the end of the bar and take drags off it from time to time.  With shirt sleeves rolled up they’d dribble ashes on the polished oak bar, smoke rolling in the faces of the regulars, whispering a trail to the bronze tiled ceiling.

They don’t let ‘em do that no more.”

MP: Tom is a character who may or may not be living in his head.  How was your approach to writing him.

CJH: I approached him as a sane person who from time to time was forced to question whether the fundamental facts that shaped his life were real. And whether deep down he wanted them to be real.  Or if he had the power to decide.

MP: Do you consider him a hero, anti-hero, or something else?

CJH: I can’t consider Tom a hero, you know, because of all the arson and murder and whatnot, but I think he sees himself as a hero.  He wouldn’t want to be considered an anti-hero.  I don’t think people are good or bad.  They just are.  Whether they come across as a hero or not is a matter of what story is being told and who’s telling it.  I like writing characters that we are conflicted about. That has led to some criticism that sometimes my protagonists are too unlikable.  But I think we like Tom, and I’m good with that.

MP: This is a different look at the American West.  What did you want to convey about the place?

CJH: It’s a good question and hard thing to explain.  In many ways I wrote the book to show what the West looks like through they eyes of the people eking it out on the margins.  I wanted the West to be a character in the book.  The things that happened to the characters couldn’t have happened anywhere else.  Stark, rugged, beautiful, harsh, the vast open spaces and unrelenting danger ever present in daily life.  Modern society is never going to imprint neatly on that landscape.  Today the West is full of contradictions, anachronisms. It is still a place of outlaws and individualists.  But it is only getting harder for them as the march toward progress continues.  I think that’s why the title fits the theme — what’s the West coming to when you can’t even smoke in a bar anymore?  Of course the irony for me is that I quit smoking years back after I gave up bartending and now I can’t even imagine being able to smoke in a bar.  It seems barbaric.  I travel a lot, and I still get a kick out of the few places where it’s somehow not yet outlawed, like Oklahoma and Montana. That’s freedom, man.

MP: What can you tell us about your upcoming book?

CJH: The Hundred Mile View is scheduled for release in 2016.  It’s set on the Navajo Nation and features plenty of murder, meth, and moral ambiguity.  What else would you expect?

Copies of The Last of the Smoking Bartenders are available on our shelves and through special order here at the store or over the phone. Come by Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7 PM for readings from CJ Howell, Brad Parks, Jesse Sublett, and Andrew Hilbert. Copies of each author’s latest will be on sale at Opal Divine’s for signing purposes after the speaking portion finishes up.

MysteryPeople Q&A with BRAD PARKS

The Fraud is Brad Parks’ latest mystery to feature Newark, NJ reporter Carter Ross. In The Fraud, Ross juggles piecing together a connection between two carjacking murders and managing his anxiety over his own impending fatherhood. Brad will be joining us for our Wednesday, July 22nd Noir at the Bar (starting at 7 PM at Opal Divine’s) and allowed us to do this little interrogation with him.


MysteryPeople: The Fraud deals with carjacking. What do most people not know about the crime?

Brad Parks: This delves into an issue dear to the hearts of New Jersey criminals: boosting cars. From the 70s through the 90s, Newark and Elizabeth swapped back and forth being the car theft capital of the nation. They practically taught hot-wiring in elementary school. (Note to potentially irate Newark and Elizabeth school officials: the previous sentence employs a literary device called “hyperbole.” Please don’t take it too seriously). Anyhow, automakers eventually wizened up and started making cars that are impossible to hotwire. This left modern-day car thieves with no choice but to forcibly take a car from its owner with the keys still in it. Thus, in the well-intentioned hope of deterring car theft, we’ve actually replaced a non-confrontational crime (grand theft auto) with one that is quite violence prone (carjacking). As I say in the book: it’s the law of unintended consequences, and in Newark it remains well enforced.

MP: The relationship between Carter and Tina is fun. What do you like exploring in it?

BP: I’ve always consciously tipped stereotypical conventions on their ear when dealing with those two: Carter is the one seeking a long-term committed arrangement, while Tina just wants booty calls. Obviously, now that she’s pregnant, things are getting a little more serious. But I think the thing I like is that while Carter may be the protagonist in this series, he’s not calling the shots in his love life. There’s no question who is the dog and who is the tail.

MP: Carter now has several interns to help him out. Is there one in particular that is really fun for you to write?

BP: Careful readers of the series will note that, other than Tommy Hernandez–the intern who has been Carter’s constant sidekick since the debut–the rest of the interns only get one book to shine before they’re ushered off the page. So in book two, Eyes of the Innocent, we got Sweet Thang. Book three, The Girl Next Door, was Lunky. And so on. Well, I was doing a library show in Cuyahoga County, Ohio a few years back, and as soon as I entered the room, a gentleman in back held up a poster that said, “BRING BACK SWEET THANG.” How could I refuse him? I promised him Sweet Thang, aka Lauren MacMillan, would make a return someday. And in The Fraud, she does. And, yes, I enjoy writing her very much.

MP: As a former reporter, what do you want to convey about the job?

BP: I’d like to think I bring some humanity to what can be a faceless occupation. Because they’re supposed to be unbiased and impartial and all that hokum, reporters often appear to be unfeeling about the news they print and indifferent to its consequences. Trust me, we’re anything but. Hopefully, Carter reminds readers that newspaper reporters bleed too.

MP: How has Carter changed since Faces Of The Gone?

BP: When the series began, Carter was this happy, go-lucky bachelor without a lot of responsibility beyond making sure his cat got fed once in a while. He enjoyed cracking wise and snickered at dick jokes. As THE FRAUD begins, he’s on the verge of fatherhood and, if he can ever wear Tina down, marriage. Those things have obviously raised the stakes in his life and made him more serious, more contemplative, more–dare I say it–mature. That said, I don’t think he’s ever going to stop snickering at dick jokes.

MP: You’ll be attending our July 22nd Noir At The Bar. How drunk are you planning to get before you read?

BP: I shouldn’t admit this, because it ruins my noir street cred. But I’m such a lightweight it typically only takes half a beer to ensure that I am feeling no pain. Let’s just say I won’t be signing up to be your designated driver, Scott.


MysteryPeople welcomes Brad Parks, along with Andrew Hilbert, CJ Howell and Jesse Sublett, to Opal Divine’s on Wednesday, July 22, at 7 PM for another great Noir at the Bar.  You can find copies of Parks’ latest novel, The Fraud, along with books from each author attending Noir at the Bar, on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Copies will also be available for purchase at Opal Divine’s during our Noir at the Bar event.

Author Brad Parks Conspires With Murder in The Afternoon Book Club


The Murder In The Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 pm on BookPeople’s third floor. Join us Tuesday, May 19, at 2 PM, for a discussion of Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks, who will join us via phone call during the discussion. 


Author Brad Parks will be calling in to our discussion of his Shamus Award-winning debut novel, Faces Of The Gone, for our Murder In The Afternoon Book Club on Tuesday, May 19th, at 2 PM. Brad has gotten much acclaim with his series featuring Jersey journalist Carter Ross, and has now published five books. A former investigative and sports reporter, he uses his background and a good dose of humor to  bring his books to life.

Faces Of The Gone introduces us to Carter and his eccentric fellow journalists and colorful contacts. When several people are murdered execution style, it’s written off as gang killings. Carter thinks different and follows his hunch, leading to an investigation of city corruption and the discovery of a very surprising kingpin. This book set up Brad Park’s signature style: both gritty and funny.

Brad is as entertaining in conversation as he is in his books, so join us Tuesday May 19th at 2PM on our third floor. The book is 10% off at the register in the month of book club selection to those who attend.

Bouchercon 2014 Wrap-Up!

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With Brad Parks and his Shamus Award

Long Beach, California is known for sunny weather and soft breezes. Thursday, November 13th it became gloomy and overcast with rain. Some blamed this on the hoard of crime fiction fans, writers, publishers, and booksellers recently arrived in town. It was the first day of the 2014 Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference, where we talked about dark stories under an eventually bright sky.

The first night, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner for the authors and supporters of Seventh Street Press, celebrating their second anniversary. It was fun to hang out with my friend Mark Pryor, creator of the Hugo Marston series, and meeting Allen Eskens, whose debut, The Life We Bury is a must-read for thriller fans, and Lori Rader-Day. Terry Shames arrived late, but had the excuse of winning The McCavity Award for best first novel on her way to dinner.

With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue
With Richard Brewer and Bobby McCue

At the most entertaining panel I attended, titled Shaken, Not Stirred, writers discussed their use of drinking and bars in their work. Con Lehane, a former bartender, opened the discussion by stating that James Bond’s vodka martini is not really a martini because it is shaken. After he described the process of making a vodka martini, no one argued. Johnny Shaw said the more his characters drink, the more they surprise him. Eoin Colfer spoke of how he loved bars because a bar is a great equalizer, where anybody can walk through the door. When asked about the new smoking ban in Irish pubs, he said “It’s horrible. You can smell the men.”

The most enlightening panel I attended was Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Peter Rozovsky moderated a panel of learned crime writers and scholars who picked an author they felt deserved their due. Max Allan Collins, one of my favorite hard boiled writers, talked about Ennis Willie, who wrote about mobster on the run Sand in the early Sixties. Collins described  the books as a Mickey Spillane imitation, but also discussed how these novels had a lot in common with Richard Stark’s Parker, who debuted the same year. Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an upcoming anthology of stories by female thriller authors of the forties and fifties, introduced me to Dolores Hitchens. Gary Phillips gave a history of Joe Nazel, who formed a triptych of Seventies African-American crime writers, along with Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.

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Bouchercon has proved to be a great source for upcoming books. All of us who met Mette Ivie Harrison couldn’t wait to read her new novel, The Bishop’s Wife, coming out at the end of December. Harrison, who has had an interesting history with the Mormon Church and her own faith, has written a novel based on a true crime set in her community. I also got into a conversation with Christa Faust and CJ Box as Christa talked about the research she’s doing for her next Angel Dare book, where she puts the hard-boiled ex-porn star into the world of rodeo. CJ and I were both impressed by her knowledge of the sport.

There were also personal highlights. I got to hang out with Bobby McCue and Richard Brewer, the two men responsible for hiring and re-hiring me at The Mystery Bookstore, my first book slinging job, and showing me the ropes. It was also probably one of the best Dead Dog Dinners (the meal shared by the people who remained Sunday night after the conference has closed) as we talked about the state of the industry, books that moved us, and plotted 2015 in Raleigh. And if that wasn’t enough, there was this moment with Texas Author Reavis Wortham and a cheerleading squad.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Parks

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~Interviewed by Scott Butki

Author Brad Parks and I share some things in common. I’ll admit from the start that this may be a conflict-of-interest and why I’ve always look forward to reading his books. However, it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one who feels that way. Brad Parks has won the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award, becoming the only author to have ever won all three. He and I were both newspaper reporters – he on the East Coast (New Jersey) and me on the West Coast (starting my journalism career in California). We both enjoyed covering corruption. We both like reading mysteries. We both left the profession. From there, our differences emerge – he left because he was writing popular mysteries, I left to work in special education. I kept interviewing authors, especially journalists and mystery writer and sometimes, in the cases of Michael Connelly and Brad Parks, interviews with mystery writers who were former journalists.

Scott Montgomery recently interviewed Parks about Camden N.J., which is where Carter Ross, the reporter who is the protagonist in Parks’ series, lives and works. I focus more on his books and his relationship with journalism. And with that let’s get to the interview:

Scott Butki: How did this story develop?

Brad Parks: I’m almost afraid to answer this one. The fact is, I’ve long had an interest in land use issues and brownfield redevelopment in particular, and I wanted my protagonist, Carter Ross, to be able to explore some of those subjects. But when you say “land use issues” and “brownfield redevelopment,” people’s eyes tend to get this glaze. So I’ve learned to say: I realized I had reached book five in a series set in New Jersey without ever having tackled toxic waste or the mob. This book remedies that egregious oversight.

SB: Some of your earlier books were based on actual events you covered. Was that also the case with this one?

BP: Yes and no. While I did cover the topics of land use issues and brownfield redevel…. uh, I mean, of toxic waste and the mob, and while I draw on that experience heavily in writing this book, there are no actual events that inspired the plot to this story.

SB: Do you run some of your stories/books past current reporters, especially at your NJ employer, to fact check anything?

BP: I keep in touch with other reporters, mostly because they’re my friends and I like them. I wouldn’t say I use them as fact checkers. But I definitely had other sources for this book. One may or may not be inside Newark City Hall. The other may or may not work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. But since either of those theoretical people were not authorized to talk to a disreputable author such as myself, I could not confirm or deny having ever spoken to them. And I certainly couldn’t list them in my acknowledgements.

SB: You talk about the mob in this book and naturally, thanks to the Sopranos, everyone thinks the Mob practically runs N.J. Can you separate fact from fiction on that front?

BP: If by “the mob,” you’re speaking of organized crime tied to certain groups of Italian ancestry, then yes: the mob is still extant in New Jersey, particularly in certain industries I won’t mention because if I ever move back to the state I’d like my garbage to actually get picked up. Is it the force it used to be? Well, no, of course not. For example, numbers running has virtually disappeared – there’s now a state lottery. Sports betting and other forms of illegal gambling have been eroded by the Internet.

The protection rackets are all but dead. A lot of it, if we’re talking about the Italian mob, is part of an inevitable demographic shift that has happened with other ethnicities throughout America’s history. Part of what drives ethnic groups to become organized criminals in the first place is the lack of economic opportunity attendant with their immigrant status. But as the years go on, those ethnic groups become more assimilated into the mainstream. As economic opportunities improve, there’s less reason to go into crime. That, and the ethnic group becomes more geographically dispersed. What’s happening with Italians in America now happened to the Irish and Jewish mobs at the turn of last century. And… oh, never mind, this has been a long enough, pedantic enough answer already.

SB: Do you miss newspaper work be it reporting, interviewing, etc?

BP: I love what I do now. I could scarcely imagine a better, more fulfilling life – at least one that doesn’t involve me discovering I’m an heir to the Walton fortune. With that as a caveat? Yeah, I miss reporting. I miss the newsroom – such a wonderful, chaotic place filled with so many entertaining characters. I miss the thrill of deadline, chasing the big story. I miss the immediacy, and feeling like the thing I’m writing about is the thing that everyone is talking about. And I miss finding and telling great (true) stories. I think that’s part of the reason I keep writing Carter Ross: he has become the vessel for all of my unrequited journalistic desires.

SB: Do you, like me, sometimes see or read about a news story and wish you could go back to report on that particular story? If so, which story(ies)?

BP: Oh, yeah, all the time. Newark recently had a mayoral election, and I was dying to jump into that fray somehow. Governor Chris Christie’s BridgeGate seemed like it would have been a lot of fun, too. That said, I also like getting to sit out stories now. The Newtown school shooting – and every other school shooting, for that matter – is a good example of that. I’ve got school-aged children myself. I just can’t imagine having to confront that kind of horror, even in the refracted way a reporter does.

SB: I am happy to see you share with me a preference of soda over coffee. In your experience was coffee still the stimulant of choice at your employers?

BP: The coffee-holics still probably win out, but by much less of a margin than they used to. The aspartame army of diet soda drinkers is slowly gaining. On a separate but related topic, I was very pleased that my most recent book tour was sponsored in part by Coke Zero, which I  — like Carter Ross – consume in large quantities on a daily basis.

SB: How far out have you planned this series?

BP: I’m just completed a draft of book six and… yeah, that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I wish I was one of those writers who could image an enormous, 17-book story arc for my characters. I’m just not that smart. I take it book by book, scene by scene. I’m constantly asking the characters (who, yes, I have conversations with in my head) what they would do in a certain circumstance or how they would respond to a certain problem. The goal is to make sure they’re remaining true to themselves, not conforming to some predetermined ideas I have for them. It sounds hokey to put it this way – because I know who’s actually doing the typing here – but I really try to let the characters dictate their own arcs.

SB: What’s next? Any plans for any standalone books?

BP: There’s a standalone somewhere in my future. I just haven’t yet figured out when that future is going to begin. As I just alluded to, Carter Ross No. 6 – which doesn’t yet have a title – is done and due for publication sometime in 2015. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten at the moment.

SB: You get a bonus question – pick something you wish you would be asked but aren’t and then you can answer that question.

BP: If you could ban one thing from the reading universe, what would it be?:

The phrase “guilty pleasure.” It pains me when I talk to someone who says, “I can’t wait to read (BOOK BY AUTHOR THEY REALLY LOVE) but first I have to get through (BOOK BY AUTHOR WHOSE NAME HAS BEEN REDACTED DUE TO PROFESSIONAL COURTESY).” Please don’t slog through a book because you feel like you “should” read it, or because someone else has deemed it “important” or because, like a trip to the dentist, you feel like it’s “good” for you. (Unless, of course, you really like going to the dentist—I’m cool with that). If reading something gives you pleasure, don’t feel guilty. Life is too short to go around apologizing for what’s on your nightstand.


Brad Parks’ latest book, The Player, and other titles are available now on our shelves and via bookpeople.com