Sunday, June 22, 2008


It was my privilege to be able to ask esteemed author Barbara Parker a few questions as her latest book, THE DARK OF DAY, hits the bookshelves. Barbara is a wonderful writer and a very strong supporter of up-and-coming writers as well. Here's what she had to say...

BookBitch: One of the first times I ever saw you was at a MWA [Mystery Writers of America] meeting. As I was walking through the lobby, I saw you sitting with a young woman, and you spent quite a bit of time with her. I later learned that she was an aspiring writer, and that you were encouraging and kind. Over the years I've heard from several writers that you give a great deal of your time to the writing community, helping new writers. What sort of questions are you asked most often?

Barbara Parker: So you saw me sitting in the lobby with an aspiring writer, huh? Were we near the bar? I've found that some people want to reach for a drink after hearing what I have to tell them. It's true I'm encouraging, but generally I say what I think. This is what works, and what doesn't, and this is how you can fix it. I give practical advice. Unfortunately, most new writers only want the "encouraging" part. They don't like to rewrite.

What questions do they ask? They don't. I wish they would, but usually I get the deer-in-the-headlights stare. Or I get an argument: But... But it's all explained later, in chapter three . . . . Or, Such-and-Such Author did it this way, why can't I?

BB: Tell me about your new book!

Parker: Did you ever glance at a supermarket tabloid and wonder why on earth those decadent people deserve so much press? I did, and it led to a novel. THE DARK OF DAY begins with a wild party on Miami Beach. A young model vanishes. The police think she was murdered. Add a suspect with a mysterious past and a lawyer who doubts he's telling her the truth.

Attorney C. J. Dunn is a terrific character. She's struggling to stay sober, she takes in strays, she's loyal to her friends, and she's tempted by the celebrity life herself. When reporters and paparazzi descend on the case, C.J. is caught in the media spotlight, a problem for a woman with secrets.

BB: A writers' time seems to be divided between the actual writing & editing process, and then promoting. How do you organize your time? What's a typical writing day like, and what's a typical book tour day like?

Parker: The writers I know agree that there's not enough time in the day. Just when you get rolling on a new book, you need to promote the one that's just coming out. I think we organize our time by triage, dividing our tasks among what can't be avoided, what is safe to ignore, and what we'll get to later.

For me, a typical day writing depends on how far along the book is. In the early stages, I stare into space a lot. I talk to my sources, and I take long walks with a notebook in my pocket, in case something worth writing occurs to me. Closer to deadline, I'm at my desk every day of the week for as long as I can stay awake. My fridge is full of frozen food, and sometimes I even have to board my dog, Max. But he forgives me.

What is a day like on book tour? What book tour? It's a sad fact that most publishers are cutting way back on touring, having realized that a presence on the internet gets as many or more readers for a fraction of the cost. There was a time when they gave me media escorts and a room at the Peabody Hotel or the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. That day is over, folks. As a working writer, you'll be expected to work on your website.

BB: What sort of books do you read for pleasure? Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books and why?

Parker: A couple of years ago I served as a judge on MWA's Best First Novel committee. Great fun! New writers are so daring and creative. They haven't fallen into a pattern, and they aren't too worried about what people will think. I try to read a few debut authors, along with my friends' books and established authors whose most recent book has earned good reviews. Sorry, but I'd rather not list my faves because I'd surely leave somebody out, and the truth is, I just don't have time to read as much as I'd like. Books are expensive, so I rely on word of mouth and reviews. I rarely buy a book online. I want to hold it in my hands and read a few chapters, hoping I will love it. Books are expensive!

BB: Writers often say that it is a very lonely profession. I know you were a practicing attorney before you started writing full time. Do you ever miss the camaraderie of an office environment?

Parker: The letter carrier just delivered my dues statement from The Florida Bar, and like every year, I will open it and sigh and think back to those days when . . . . But then I remember the anxiety of preparing an argument you might lose, the clients who resent paying even if you win, and the mix of naked greed and aggression that fuels the legal profession. I've gone to inactive status and probably will never practice again. True, writing is lonely, but I'm in control. Sort of.

BB: I understand your daughter is an attorney. Has she, or your son for that matter, been bitten by the writing bug? Would you encourage your children in that direction?

Parker: My daughter, Andrea, works in a tax firm in Washington, D.C., specializing in employee benefits. She's an excellent writer, if you like to read legal journals. My son, James, works in the graphic design department of Showtime Networks in New York. He too writes very well. I hope neither of them gives up a steady salary. I want to be taken care of in my old age.

BB: Your books are set in south Florida. I've heard Carl Hiaasen say that he doesn't have to make up the zaniness in his books, he gets most of it from the local news. Do you also find Miami to be a hotbed of ideas?

Parker: Back in the 1980s, in the post-Miami Vice era, the public developed an appetite for Florida fiction, thanks to Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White, Edna Buchanan, and many others. Twenty years on, Florida has become just another state, and Miami has lost much of its craziness. Oh, it still glitters, but a writer based in this area must do what every other writer does -- create unforgettable characters and a story that makes the reader wish it wouldn't end.

BB: You write a wonderful mystery series featuring lawyers Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana, and you have also written stand alone thrillers. Do you miss your series characters while writing stand alones? Which are easier for you to write?

Parker: My new book, THE DARK OF DAY, follows another stand-alone, THE PERFECT FAKE. I'm happy with both of these novels, but many of my readers keep saying they miss Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana. (Of course it's the steamy Anthony they really miss.) I sent the duo on vacation because after eight books in the series, I needed a break.

As for whether it's easier to write the series or a stand-alone, I'd have to say it depends on the book. How much research is involved? How complex are the characters and their relationships? Is the subject one that really interests me and pulls me along? When I care about the story, and can get emotionally involved, my fingers fly over the keyboard. Otherwise, it's a chore. The search for meaning takes up a lot of my time, both in the initial planning and as I work through the book. It helps to ask, What is the point of this scene? What am I getting at? Why should the reader care?

BB: Barbara, you are a breast cancer survivor and an inspiration to a lot of women. What advice do you have for others struggling with this disease?

Parker: I have always felt that a book must mean something to the writer before it means anything to the reader. I suppose that this has taken on particular urgency for me, as a result of my experience with cancer. The icy wind of mortality can tip you off balance, but it can also bring an awareness that life is so very brief, that none of it should be spent worrying about the small stuff. Easier said than done, I know.

My advice? Hang out more with your friends and family. Be patient because really, everyone's in the same boat. You might not be religious in the traditional sense, but it wouldn't hurt to start contemplating the larger truths in life. Here's one: Don't save all the fun for later.

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