With the release of his new novel, “The Famous and the Dead,” New York Times Bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker is extremely busy. He took time out of his hectic schedule to answer questions about his writing, the Charlie Hood series, and what will be coming next.
While many writers struggle with creating antagonists that are strong enough to challenge their protagonist, Parker knew exactly what he wanted when he created his. He said, “With Mike Finnegan, I was trying to personify wickedness. He’s manipulative, very smart, extremely well read, very cruel and very funny, too. He’s old. There’s something jolly in the way he enjoys his nature. I’ve always thought of life as a battleground between good and evil, so Mike is my evil and Charlie Hood my good. Those two things exist inside all of us, and my characters are a way of dramatizing and illustrating that state of tension that is a life. Mike actually is evil through-and-through. But you can’t take your eyes off him, like a car wreck. There’s something grimly funny to his staggering but almost off-handed evil.”
In fact, when asked which character was his favorite in the book, Parker selected mostly the bad guys. “I love Mike. I love Bradley, who is a corrupt deputy. And Carlos Herredia, the narcotrafficante for whom Bradley works.” However, he also fell in love with one of the female characters in “The Famous and the Dead,” Mary Kate Boyle.
Mary Kate’s character came about in an unusual way, which Parker described. “I wrote a character named Mary Kate Boyle, who I put in the first scene that involves Charlie. I fell for her right then and there and she plays a big part in the novel. The ‘real’ Mary Kate Boyle is a woman whose husband donated a handsome sum at a Heart Association fundraiser, which was auctioning off a character name in my next book. After talking to the real Mary Kate on the phone, I realized that my fictional Mary Kate would have to be bright, brave and sassy. I think I captured her!”
What’s next for Parker? He’s not quite sure. “I’m making notes now and outlining story ideas. It takes me longer and longer to get started, the older and more experienced I get. Maybe it’s a form of ‘measure twice and cut once.’ I hope so! I do feel that we are living in pivotal times—more pivotal than usual—and really want to get some of it down on paper.” As a writer with a large following, Parkers feels it’s his job to help create the record of these times we live in. He said, “Maybe that’s the old newspaper reporter in me coming out.
Parker recently spoke on author panels at the Tucson Festival of Books and described why he goes to that event each year. “I love Tucson and the desert just for starters. I think the level of reading and discourse is very high out there. It’s a smart, curious city. Parts of it are poor and rough, too. So I love the contrast. I left that festival thankful for the people who read me. It’s hard to find readers these days. So much competition and distraction. I value mine, and I see lots of them there each year. I think very highly of Bill Viner, who put the festival together years ago. It’s a great venue for fans and writers. I get to see Luis Alberto Urrea every year there! What could be better?”
Even with three Edgars and 20 books under his belt, Parker is one of those authors who hasn’t let success go to his head. He said, “I try to get out of my own way when I write. I try not to steal the show, but rather let the stories and the characters come forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love the huge-author-takes-center-stage kind of approach, where it’s all about the wiring in his/her brain—the author’s own monstrous personality. That’s just not me. I think one of the reasons I make stories is to spend time with characters far more clear and compelling than I’ll ever be! I mean, I’d much rather break bread with Mike Finnegan or Charlie Hood than with T. Jefferson Parker.”
Learn more about T. Jefferson Parker on his website at tjeffersonparker.com, where you can also find his upcoming event schedule.
In addition to his columns on tapeunit.com, Terry Ambrose (terryambrose.com) also writes mysteries and suspense. His latest novel, “License to Lie,” was called “almost sure to satisfy discerning readers of thrillers” by Edgar-Award winning author T. Jefferson Parker.