Today I’m pleased to welcome Brad Parks to the blog. Brad is the author of the Carter Ross series which includes The Good Cop and The Player and the standalone novel Say Nothing. His latest novel, Closer Than You Know was published by Faber and Faber on 15 March 2018.
Brad kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Closer Than You Know.
The premise is really quite simple: That no matter where you go in the developed world, there is an agency of government that has the authority to take people’s children from them; and that someone who understands that system could manipulate it to steal someone’s child. So we start with Melanie Barrick, a working mother, rushing away from her job to pick up her son at daycare—only to learn the child has been taken away by social services. And no one will tell her why.
2. What inspired the book?
It goes back to an incident when I was a newspaper reporter—an incident that was too horrific to appear anywhere near this book. True story: A man went looking for his boots one day at his girlfriend’s house. He reached the basement door, which he had to pry open with a screwdriver. He didn’t find his boots. What he found was two children, filthy, emaciated, covered in burns. From there, the story only got worse. One of the kids told police he had a twin brother, who he hadn’t seen in several weeks. Authorities eventually found the mummified remains of a seven-year-old named Faheem Williams, enclosed in a plastic storage bin. The family had a file with child protective services, but it turned out the file had been closed nine months earlier—and the social worker had never even talked to the children. This led to a complete overhaul of child protective services in New Jersey, the U.S. state where all this happened. It also put child protective services in my consciousness, and made me want to write a book set in that world.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I am reminded of the immortal words of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. For me, writing is like getting punched in the mouth every day. Whatever plans I come into a novel with don’t usually last long.
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
This is going to sound terrible, but readers are a lot smarter than I gave them credit for when I first started. They don’t need to be whacked over the head with things. Sometimes the lightest touch is all you need. The good readers—and I’ve come to realize how much a good book needs a good reader—will be right there with you.
5. You also write the Carter Ross series. What are the benefits and downsides of writing a standalone compared with a novel that is part of a series?
I have something in my head I call “the kill bell.” It’s this chime that goes off from time to time while I’m writing (thankfully, only while I’m writing). It tells me that, sorry, things are feeling a little too comfortable for these characters. It’s time to kill someone. In a series, there’s one guy who doesn’t have to worry, and that’s Carter Ross. He knows that I ultimately have to send my children to college, and that in America college tuition is terribly expensive, and that therefore I’m unlikely to kill him. Probably, his girlfriend is safe, too—because readers would hate me if I killed his girlfriend. In a standalone, no one has that kind of protection. They’re all ripe for the killing at any old time I feel. For as much as I enjoy being with Carter, I also like that lack of safety for all the characters that writing a standalone brings.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Oh geez. I am probably never truly “away from it all.” Because—and I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse—you could put me on holiday, take me to a beach in the Caribbean where the sun is just bobbing low on the horizon, put a fruity drink in my hand, put my beautiful and loving wife next to me. . . And all I would do is create a scenario where a guy on a beach with a gorgeous woman and a drink suddenly has EVERYTHING… GO… WRONG.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That sounds like an utterly gruesome life. Can you just pluck my eyelashes out one by one instead? Okay, if I have to answer: Cyrus the Great, by Georges de Scudéry (although everyone knows his sister Madeleine actually wrote it). It’s a 17th Century romantic epic that goes on for—get this—13,095 pages. If I’m going to be stuck with just one more book for the rest of my life, I at least want to get my money’s worth.
8. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
The question is easy: What group of complete strangers are you most grateful for? And the answer is even easier: Readers. I absolutely love what I do for a living. And I am acutely aware that if people don’t read my books, I won’t get to keep doing it. Being given the opportunity to entertain people with words is a real privilege. And I try to be worthy of it every time I sit down to the keyboard.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
Thanks for having me
About the Book
Disaster, Melanie Barrick was once told, is always closer than you know…
It was a lesson she learned the hard way growing up in the constant upheaval of foster care. But now that she’s survived into adulthood – with a loving husband, a steady job, and a beautiful baby boy – she thought that turmoil was behind her.
Until the evening she goes to pick up her son from childcare, only to discover he’s been removed by Social Services. And no one will say why.
A terrifying scenario for any parent, it’s doubly so for Melanie, all too aware of the unintended horrors of ‘the system’. When she arrives home, her nightmare gets worse – it has been raided by Sheriff’s deputies, who have found enough cocaine to send her to prison for years. If Melanie can’t prove her innocence, she’ll lose her son forever. Her case is assigned to Amy Kaye, a no-nonsense assistant Commonwealth’s attorney. Amy’s boss wants to make an example out of Melanie, who the local media quickly christens ‘Coke Mom’.
But Amy’s attention continues to be diverted by a cold case no one wants her to pursue: a serial rapist who has avoided detection by wearing a mask and whispering his commands. Over the years, he has victimized dozens of women in the area – including Melanie. Now it’s this mystery man who could be the key to her salvation… or her ultimate undoing.
About the Author
Brad Parks received the Shamus (Best Private Eye) and Nero (Best American Mystery) for his debut novel, Faces of the Gone, the first book to take both awards. For subsequent books in his Carter Ross series he won a Lefty and a further Shamus (Best Hardcover Novel). Before starting his career as a novelist, Parks spent a dozen years as a reporter for the The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger.