Saturday, 24 March 2018 12:13

Several years ago, I interviewed Brad Parks for a profile that ran in the Spring 2013 edition of Mystery Scene, Issue No. 129.

An evergreen question I often ask authors is: “Where do you write?”

The answer often is surprising. Sure, a lot of authors have an office in their home, or actually go to an office. But some go to coffee shops or social clubs. Some have sheds in their backyards converted to a writing space. One had a guest house built in their backyard. Still another starts in his office but moves throughout the house as the story comes together.

Brad Parks had, perhaps, one of the oddest answers.

He went to his local Hardees.

Here’s an excerpt from that profile:

“By 7 a.m. most mornings, Parks can be found at his local Hardees and, no, he’s not there for the fast food restaurant’s Original Thickburgers. While some authors write at a coffee shop, Parks takes his laptop to Hardees.

““It’s the only fast-food restaurant in the county, said Parks. But there are more important reasons why he writes there. ‘It is not my home and I cannot be distracted [by chores] and it has no wireless internet and that is often my biggest distractor. A thousand words a day and lots of Coke Zero. That’s my plan.’”

Parks’ corner in Hardees has now gained national recognition.

Well, kind of.

In a way.

After the Staunton, Virginia News-Leader recently ran a story about Parks that mentioned his writing space, Hardees responded with a tweet:

“Novelist @Brad_Parks has written seven novels at his local Hardee’s,” Hardee’s tweeted. “His eighth, Closer Than You Know, drops Tuesday and will be a bestseller if it’s the last thing we do.”

The fast food restaurant even started a hastag: #BestsellerBrad.

Parks responded with this tweet: “Can’t believe it. Ten years after I started writing novels there, @Hardees is finally following me. I feel like I’ve won a Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Hardees also took out a full page ad in the News-Leader to show its support.

According to the News-Leader, Hardee’s will present Parks with a commemorative Lifetime Achievement Award plaque, which will likely be put on display on his booth at the Staunton location and personalized business cards, making Parks a Hardee’s ”Resident Novelist.”

“We love hearing about customers doing extraordinary things,” a Hardee’s spokesperson told the News-Leader. ”We nearly fell out of our chairs reading Brad’s story and knew right away we had to do something special for him,” the newspaper reported.

“We’re dedicating the booth Brad used in our local Hardee’s restaurant with a special plaque, and will rally our fans on Twitter to get Brad’s latest work on the bestseller list,” the Hardees spokesman told the News-Leader.

According to the News-Leader, and my interview with him, Parks’ Hardees habit began in 2008 when he and his family were living in Middlesex, Virginia.

Parks wanted to get out of the house to write, far from the distractions of two small children, errands, and normal household interruptions.

“The only place that was open at 6 a.m. was Hardee’s,” stated the News-Leader.

“Hardee’s was really the writing sanctuary,” Parks told the News-Leader.

When Parks and his family moved to Staunton, he continued his writing routine at the local Hardees.

Parks is the author of eight novels, six in his series about newspaper reporter Carter Ross and two standalones, Say Nothing and his latest Closer Than You Know.

Closer Than You Know is a domestic thriller about a woman whose life spirals out of control when her child is taken away from her after she is falsely accused of running one of the largest drug operations in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My review is here.

As for Parks’ future with Hardees, expect him back there when he starts his new novel.

“The number one rule of writing is: When something works for you, stick with it,” Parks told me in an email. “Hardee’s works for me. I don’t plan on writing anywhere else.”

Brad Parks Hurries on Down to Hardees
Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 20 March 2018 14:41

(Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series in which authors talk about their plots, characters or process.)

Author Michael Niemann’s third novel is Illegal Holdings, which finds his series character, United Nations fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen, on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. He’s sent there to find out if UN money is being properly used. But there is a little matter of a $5 million transfer that is missing.

Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. A fiction-writing course changed his career direction.

In this essay, Niemann shows how his character, Valentin Vermeulen, views the world and his background.

Here’s Valentin Vermeulen speaking:
How does a kid who grew up on a farm in western Belgium end up being a globetrotting investigator for the United Nations? Well, stuff happened. I should just leave it at that. The less said, the better. But you’re not going to be satisfied with that answer. I can see that.

So let’s get the formalities out of the way. My name is Valentin Vermeulen. I’m six feet tall, I got blond hair and my face is on the large side—rugged would be a kind description. I carry a Belgian/European Union passport. I was born a few years before The Clash started performing just across the North Sea. I used to fantasize about London. I’d be walking on the dike, staring across the steel gray water, and imagined being in a big city.

My village wasn’t on any map. Just a bunch of small farms, raising Guernsey cows and the crops necessary to feed them. Once a day, the coop truck stopped to pick up the 100 gallons of milk. Thinking back, I’m still amazed that my dad stuck it out as long as he did. By the late 1970s, the European Community was awash in milk and small producers like my father were totally unprofitable. The government wanted to consolidate farms and eventually, he threw in the towel.

We moved to Antwerp in 1983. Talk about culture shock. The biggest city in Belgium, a huge port, and me, the kid from the boondocks. The beginning was tough. But the hick from the sticks could stand on his own and learned the ropes. After school I was drafted and served in the Belgian military. The weird logic of bureaucracy assigned me to military intelligence. Good thing, too, instead of crawling through the dirt, I got to sit inside and analyze intelligence reports. The Cold War was still a thing and we were paranoid enough to see Soviet spies everywhere. As a draftee I didn’t do any spying in mufti, but I did get a course on clandestine investigations. It wasn’t really my thing. Gorbachov was in power and I could see that the Cold War was about to end. So I quit as soon as the conscription ended..

I enrolled at the law faculty of the University of Saint Ignatius of Antwerp. Justice had always been such an abstract idea and seemed to have little to do with the law. Observing my dad being pushed off the farm taught me that. It was all legal and it was unjust. How could that be? At the university, I learned that law isn’t some abstract concept, but something made and remade every day. Once I figured that out, I found my calling. I specialized in financial crimes.

That first year, I also found my first real love, Marieke, who was studying social work. We married right away and ten months later, our daughter Gaby was born. In hindsight, it was all too fast, we should’ve been more careful. But at the time we couldn’t wait to start our family.

I got good marks and the Crown Prosecutor’s office in Antwerp hired me right after I got my law degree. I was the financial guy in the organized crime unit. The cases kept on coming, each one as complex as the global connections that coalesced in our port city. I spent eighty to ninety hours a week at work. Once on a case, I couldn’t let it go. Worse than a dog with a bone. There were nights when I slept on the sofa in the coffee room because I stayed so long, it wasn’t worth going home.

My family noticed. I didn’t. When Marieke asked for a divorce. I had a dim understanding that all wasn’t well, but no clue how bad things were. And they were bad. We fought. A lot. Gaby couldn’t take it and ran away. The police didn’t do much. I searched for her and found her in some hell hole, strung out on heroin. I got her clean again, but she refused to speak to me for a long time. The short of it was, I had to get out of Antwerp, away from it all. And that’s how I ended up at the United Nations.

Not a story I am proud of, to be sure. But Gaby and I eventually made up. So there is little bit of a sweet ending.

Michael Niemann’s “Illegal Holdings”
Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, 17 March 2018 21:59

Most of the time, I pay little attention to Parade magazine when it comes in my Sunday newspaper.

I read the questions on the second page, flip through the rest, and am done.

(Yes, I get a newspaper delivered to my home; actually I get three newspapers every day.)

But lately, Parade has run a feature that I am most interested in—“Books We Love,” which lists three examples recommended by authors. And the first three are mystery writers.

Laura Lippman’s latest is Sunburn, a standalone novel of which I was most enthusiastic.

In my review, I wrote that Lippman’s 22nd novel Sunburn “ignites as a classic hard-boiled mystery and contemporary domestic thriller. Lust, deceit, and the simple quest of happiness rule the plot as Sunburn works well as an homage to Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Anne Tyler. Lippman delves into a study of contrasts with a story that is as cynical as it is hopeful, a look at hearts of darkness coupled with a domestic thriller.

Lippman’s three picks for Parade magazine are:

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Sharp by Michelle Dean

Brad Meltzer’s latest novel is The Escape Artist, which marks Meltzer’s 20th anniversary as an author and launches a new series.

In my review I wrote, “Meltzer’s novels come with certain expectations—a plot filled with carefully researched but often obscure bits of American history and the government. Those facts may seem far-fetched but are true and elevate the characters’ adventures.”

Meltzer’s three picks for Parade magazine are:

Rivers of London: Volume 1 by Ben Aaronovitch

Vision (Marvel) by Tom King

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

James Rollins’ latest Sigma Force thriller is The Demon Crown, which, as usual, has his mix of science, medicine, and technology. (I did not review this novel.)

Rollins’ three picks for Parade magazine are:

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Artemis by Andy Weir

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Laura Lippman, Brad Meltzer, James Rollins
Oline H. Cogdill