Friday, December 11, 2009

The Greatest Researcher, uh, ever

Today we welcome debut author Brad Parks, author of the brand-spankin'-new mystery novel FACES OF THE GONE (St. Martins Minotaur, December 2009). Brad's novel is already reaping great reviews. (Ahem, a certain Pen might just share an editor with Brad, and is planning to soak up as much reflected glory as possible.)

A little more about Brad: he started writing professionally at 14, when he discovered two important things about his hometown newspaper, The Ridgefield (Conn.) Press: One, it paid freelancers 50 cents a column inch for articles about local high school sports; and, two, it ran most submissions at their original length. For Brad, that meant he could make more money writing than babysitting. For the parents of the girls' basketball players at Ridgefield High, that meant glowing accounts of their daughters' games that ran on for no less than 40 inches. Brad left the newspaper industry in 2008 to become a full-time author/stay-at-home Dad to two young children. He and his wife, Melissa, now live in Virginia, where he is currently working on the next of what he hopes will be many Carter Ross Mysteries. Read more here.

I am pleased and honored to be here today at Pens Fatales to talk about research. Sophie has invited me to blog on this incredibly vital topic because, of all her author friends, I am the one single greatest researcher ever in all of the history of the whole entire world.1

Since all well-researched articles cite their sources – and to stave off the rigorous debates that routinely erupt within the academy over the minute details of crime fiction – I have arranged for the hard-working interns at to compile meticulous footnotes on today’s blog post, so that you might get a small insight into my unparalleled researching genius.2

Now, clearly, research is the single most important aspect of writing. As has been established in classic texts by Cunningham (1967), Rothstein (1974), Fischbein et. al. (1978) and Hurdbinder (1981), no one cares about your engaging characters, your clever dialogue or your page-turning plot. They are reading because you give them excruciatingly detailed technical descriptions that run on for many long and fascinating pages. This is important advice for young writers: Whenever there is an opportunity to stop the action and show the reader how much research you’ve done, you must seize it with both hands.3
I can’t tell you the number of times, when I ask a reader why they like a certain author, they reply, “She researches better than anyone I’ve ever read.” I must hear that fifteen times a day.4

Knowing this, I absolutely pride myself on the unparalleled verisimilitude of my work.5 Before I allowed myself to sit down and write FACES OF THE GONE, I did many years of intensive research, often researching late into the night, on weekends, even on holidays.6 For example, there’s a scene at the beginning of Chapter 3 that I researched several times in college, researched perhaps once or twice after college and that I still might research again someday as long as I don’t have to drive anywhere.7 Later in the same chapter, there is a scene that I researched – often painstakingly – for the better part of my adult life. 8
I do not want to pretend I’m alone in my dedication to research. Lee Child, for example, spends many long months at the library before penning a single word of his next Jack Reacher thriller.9 Harlan Coben – who has often told me he wants to be just like me when he grows up – has staked his career on the quality of his research and may someday become a modestly accomplished mid-list writer because of it.10

There is nothing more galling to me than an author who hasn’t done thorough research. I was reading a book not long ago, by a Very Famous Author I Won’t Name11, and I was appalled to see an egregious error. He had a character using a gun that, from his rudimentary description, was either a Glock S445 Snubnose Stopper Elite or a Glock G54 Supersubcompact Brainsplatterer – the author was rather imprecise in his description of the left anterior reportalization chamber, so it’s impossible to say with any accuracy which it was – and, get this, he had the character remove the safety on the gun before firing it. Everyone knows Glocks don’t have safeties!12

I was so appalled and upset I had to stop oiling the ballistical androgynator on my Smurf & Wilson .556 Magnum, put down the accordion-cotton/hydroglyceride melignite I was getting ready to test-detonate, unsheathe my serrated double-sided Hackmaster Pigsplitter, and walk away from the book.13
I mean, what’s wrong with some authors?

They owe it to their readers to do better. For example, say I were to write a book where the villain is the leader of a rogue group of extreme Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.14 The only way I would feel comfortable capturing their worldview with any amount of authority would be to learn Arabic so I could read the Quran in its original text, grow a beard down to my belt, convert to radical Islam, and declare jihad on the baristas at my local café.15

But that would only be the start, of course. The most important rule of research is that you’re never done researching. There is always one more expert to call, one more Dexis-Flexis article to read, one more Giggle search to complete. So don’t even think about starting to write until you are totally, utterly and completely done researching every possible question and scenario that might arise in your book. Because you can’t just go back and look it up later. That’s cheating. And we all know what happens to cheaters.16

Thank you to all the Pens Fatales for hosting me today. I am sure this has been educational for many of you and that you will look forward to my next non-fiction work, Police Procedure, Weapons Specifications and Forensic Expertise For Dummies: How to Grind The Joy Out of Your Writing One Needless Detail at a Time. I’m sure you’ll also enjoy a visit to my blog at I think you’ll find that by following this simple advice I have given you here, you too will be a successful published author. 17

1. For fun, we spiked Brad’s Frosted Flakes with peyote this morning. He is currently hallucinating.

2. We’ve spent most of the day playing a classic version of “Frogger” on our laptops.

3. In fairness, this seems to have worked for Tom Clancy. Others might want to pause before considering this tact.

4. Brad spends most days by himself, writing in a small cottage in rural Virginia. The only people he talks to regularly are his wife, who buys perhaps four books a year; his two-year-old son, who likes to throw books; and his one-year-old daughter, who likes to eat books.

5. No, he didn’t know how to spell “verisimilitude” on his own. We had to look it up for him.

6. This is actually true. This highly unusual method of research is called “being alive.”

7. This is the scene where the protagonist, Carter Ross, gets stoned.

8. This is the scene where Carter thinks he’s about to score with a hot chick but gets a sisterly hug and a brush-off instead.

9. Actually, Lee Child is apparently blessed with one of those absurd, wolf-trap brains ( that snatches information and never lets it go.

10. This entire sentence is the peyote talking.

11. Jason Pinter.

12. Everyone except Brad, that is. The sum total of what Brad knows about guns wouldn’t fill the tip of a hollow point bullet, and he never would have noticed the Glock mistake on his own. The only reason Brad was aware of this anecdote is because Jason once volunteered it at a Bouchercon panel, saying he was very sorry for the error. Brad probably brought it up here because he’s jealous that Jason is not only more successful, he is also younger and has better hair.

13. None of these weapons actually exist.

14. Yeah, because no one is writing that book these days.

15. For the record, the baristas could kick his ass. Especially Jean. She’s small but scrappy.

16. That’s right! They get bitch-slapped by Stella Hardesty! Oh, wait, he’s not talking about that kind of cheating? Well, then never mind.

17. Just as soon as your manuscript is done. In the Fall of 2023.

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Gigi Pandian said...

Laughed so hard my coffee nearly came out my nose. Thanks a lot, Mr. Parks.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Duuude, where can I get me some of that peyote??? Seriously, thanks for stopping by and visiting, Brad. I always believe in copious footnotes to shake things up. One question, though: I thought you were married to Sophie???

Anonymous said...

Gigi -- My apologies for the mess. Reading blogs can be a dirty business sometimes.

Julie -- That marriage is only recognized in Nevada... and wherever the next convention happens to be.

Unknown said...

Hey, I only got as far as "jihad" before some dude in dark glasses took my computer away.

I'm hoping he works for Oprah, not the CIA...


Sophie Littlefield said...

You know, they're pretty conservative in Ohio...we might have to keep it kind of under wraps at RT...

seriously you guys, to really appreciate this post you have to read the book. The intern in the book? F'ing hilarious :)

Carla Buckley said...

"Now, clearly, research is the single most important aspect of writing. As has been established in classic texts by Cunningham (1967), Rothstein (1974), Fischbein et. al. (1978) and Hurdbinder (1981), no one cares about your engaging characters, your clever dialogue or your page-turning plot."

I'm sorry to have to point this out, Mr. Parks, but my own dedication to excruciatingly exact research necessitates that I correct your spelling of Hurdbinder. The actual spelling is "Hurlbinder."

I'm sure you'll correct that in future posts.

Yours most sincerely, etc, etc.

L.G.C. Smith said...

But, but, Brad... you didn't give us your full citations! Pfft. I sniff disdainfully at your so-called research prowess.

(Okay, maybe that wasn't so much a sniff and a snort from laughing indecorously enough to earn a dirty look from the dogs.)

Brad Parks said...

Mysti -- He actually works for Bill Gates. Haven't you heard they're doing attack Windows 7 installations?

Carla -- Actually, you're incorrect. You may THINK I meant to quote Richard W. Hurlbinder's seminal essay, "On Procrastination." But, really, I was actually referring to Frances R. Hurdbinder's piece for The Journal of Pointless Studies, the slightly lesser known -- but, in some ways, more important -- piece, "The Epistemology of Etymology: An Exploration of the Deconstruction of Classic Postmodernist Neo-Daoism." How DARE you accuse me of an error?

And LGC -- Your dogs sound pretty judgemental. If you need a more self-affirming crowd, find Sophie and I at a conference sometime. We're mean to a-holes but quite accepting of everyone else.

Rachael Herron said...

I absolutely believe, as you say, that research is the single most important aspect of writing. That is why I only write about immoral acts and making lots and lots and lots of money.

(Love the Stella H. cameo.)

Brad Parks said...

Can we EVER have too much Stella? I think not.

Carla Buckley said...

Mr. Parks:

I believe you have thrown down the gauntlet and I am not one to let one lie in the mud. Ahem. I do believe that if you took a moment to check your sources, you will see that when Frances Hurdbinder married Richard Hurlbinder shortly before she published that ghastly essay, she took his last name as her own, claiming it was easier to spell. Personally, I believe she was trying to duck tomatoes.

I despair over the quality of writing these days. Despair.

Yours, etc.

Brad Parks said...

See, Carla, you're WAY far behind, as usual -- it must be your age. Either that, or all that bird flu you researched went to your brain.

Frances DID marry Richard, you're correct. It was what some called a marriage of compositional convenience, because she was said to have entered into the arrangement simply because he was a far more gifted copy editor. Nevertheless, for a while she went by Frances Hurdbinder-Hurlbinder -- even though you can imagine the confusion that caused. But then one day Frances walked in on Richard with one of his students and the marriage ended. The divorce decree cited "irreconcilable cliche."

So know she's Hurdbinder again. That was eons ago. You really must try to keep up.

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