Interview With The Author: T. Jefferson Parker
John Dwaine McKenna
We are in rarefied air today, speaking with writer T. Jefferson Parker, an extraordinary three-time winner of the prestigious MWA, or Mystery Writers of America, Edgar Award for fiction and the author of twenty-six crime-fiction thrillers. Thanks so much Mr. Parker for sharing your time and insights with us. Here’s our first question:
Why do you write?
I caught the bug in college and it never let go. It’s something to do with wanting to show others the fascinating, wonderful, spooky, mysterious world I see. It has to do with stories.
Where do you write?
I’ve got a wonderful office on the lot here in Fallbrook. It’s a metal building, like a small aircraft hangar, but the inside is finished off as an office and library. I love it. It’s my spot. Every single thing in it is something that’s important to me.
What do you write about?
Life and crime in Southern California, mostly. My tales are all contemporary, rooted in the here and now. I see myself as a reporter still, which is what I used to do for a living.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
There are bits and pieces of me in most every character. But mainly my characters aren’t me. I haven’t done anything worth writing a novel about. My characters have!
When do you write?
I like mornings. The head is clear and the phones aren’t ringing and the email and text messages are on Do Not Disturb! Plus you’re open to things when it’s early. Not enough has happened yet in the day to distract or disturb you. And the story comes.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I’ve done both. My preference is to start with a brief story proposal and get my editor enthused, then, when I feel ready to begin, write that first sentence. After that it’s a free-for-all. Sometimes the finished book looks a lot like that proposal, sometimes just faintly, sometimes very much not. You have to be ready to write a book that’s better than the proposal. That’s the goal. The proposal/outline/synopsis is the lowest denominator.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Read a lot of good things. It’s the only way you’ll learn to write good things. Then, beg, borrow or steal at least one hour every day to write. Do not let anyone take that hour away from you. Defend it with your life. If you an write one double-spaced page in one hour, you’ll have a 365-page manuscript at the end of a year. That’s how books get written.
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And now, as a special treat for our MBR audience, and with thanks to the folks over at Putnam, here’s three more questions and answers about the character Roland Ford from A Conversation with T. Jefferson Parker
How well do you, as his writer and creator, know Roland Ford at this point? Is he still surprising you and are you finding stories wandering off in directions even you didn’t expect?
I think I know half of him. He’s a half-finished man. He’s yet to experience a lasting relationship or fatherhood. He’s experienced loss in combat, loss in love and loss in his personal life but he hasn’t replaced those losses. I suspect he won’t be able to. Maybe that’s one of the themes of the Roland Ford series, is that you can’t find what is lost, you can only fill the tank with something else. As he says on the first page of THEN SHE VANISHED: ‘We don’t heal stronger in the broken places but we do heal.’
With this book, you’ve also reached a milestone: 2020 marks your 35th year as a bestselling mystery writer. What are your thoughts on the genre today, and how have you seen it evolve since your debut novel, Laguna Heat, was published?
I think the mystery/thriller genres are healthy as ever. Look at this year’s Edgar nominations and you’ll find really good, staunch writing, timely storylines and a wide breadth of subject matter. I think we writers have changed with the times that have formed us. In a loose but important sense, out villains have evolved from the privately psychotic (Poe’s guilt ridden murderers, Raskolnikov, Hannibal Lecter) to the publicly theatrical (Richard III, the Joker, Chaos Committee). Roland, in just four books, has faced down a professional torturer who has written a book about his exploits; an American-born terrorist who pledges his fealty to the Islamic State on Facebook; white haters who throw public rallies and want to poison thousands of Muslims living in the United States; and the aforementioned anarchists. These villains are brash and loud, and are born of racial, religious and political and cultural grievance. So the mystery genre is trying its best to capture and define out times.
Can you tell us what’s next for Roland Ford?
Only that, as always, Roland will get far more than he bargains for!
Thx again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.