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Talking with Jefferson Parker

Jeff Parker is Southern California, through and through. He was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Orange County, and now lives east of San Diego. The initial “T” in front of his name is legal, but it doesn’t stand for anything. “My mother told me that she and Dad put the T. there because it would look good on the president’s door.” But instead of a president, Mr. and Mrs. Parker had a mystery writer. And quite an impressive mystery writer at that. He is a three-time nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, which he won in 2002 (for SILENT JOE) and 2004 (for CALIFORNIA GIRL).

When asked his secret to good storytelling, he says, “I think I’m good at writing believable, multidimensional characters. I try to make my heroes and villains touchable and solid.”

When Parker isn’t writing or spending time with his family, he enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, and tennis--and, of course, listening to audiobooks. He prefers unabridged over abridgments but will listen to nearly any type of book, as long as it’s well written and well read. “I like it when the author reads his own work. I like to hear the author’s voice. One of my favorite audiobooks is Norman Mailer reading HARLOT’S GHOST. It’s a big-ass book, and every word is read in Mailer’s gravelly voice, and it’s just wonderful. You feel like you’ve really spent some time with the author.”

Parker does his writing at home, a lifestyle that saves him the grueling Southern California commute. “My sole regret about not driving much is that I don’t have as much chance to listen to audiobooks.” But he does find opportunities to enjoy listening to a good book. “I go fishing with a group of guys every year. We rent a van and load all our junk, and everybody brings a book on CD. We jockey for position to see who gets to play his first. The last one that we listened to was a novel by E. Annie Proulx, THAT OLD ACE IN THE HOLE. The reader is terrific, and the story just lends itself to a reading.”

Parker’s novels include a trio of books about Merci Rayborn, a second-generation investigator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Parker’s dozen other books are stand-alone novels. His plots are riveting, his characters are engaging, and his style is musical. “Words should be harmonious, with a certain rhythm and cadence. And when you get all those things right, you get lovely sentences. I was brought up with that kind of writing. My parents would read Jack London and Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson to us. And those are the kind of writers I began reading when I was 11 or 12. Those are writers who have a rich ear for the music of language, as opposed to a tin ear.”

For Parker, storytelling is a poetic--almost spiritual--experience. “If you take it back, the oral tradition predates the written one by thousands of years. It’s natural that people learn their appreciation of story through hearing the spoken word first and only later as written literature. The sound of words is so important. It’s different from the way writing is enjoyed on the page, strictly with the eye.” With his poet’s ear for the rhythm of writing, T. Jefferson Parker is a storyteller for the ages.--Steven E. Steinbock

APR/MAY 08
© AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine

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