Monday, November 23, 2009

Would you rather?

Debut Authors Brad Parks (FACES OF THE GONE) and Carla Buckley (THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE) recently got together to play a game called Would You Rather. Brad served as victim.

Carla: Brad, my hope is that we’ll catch a glimpse of the real Brad Parks instead of the witty, debonair author you play at conferences.

Brad: Okay, I promise to be my true self: Dull and boorish, with a dash of insufferable.

Carla: Sounds like fun! Okay, first up: would you rather go sky-diving or spelunking?

Brad: Carla, you probably don’t know this, but according to family lore, my great-great-grandfather was the Maryland state skydiving champion in 1881. You can imagine how proud the family was, and it came with a first prize of $50, which was a lot of money in those days, and some crabs (the kind you eat, not… oh, never mind). Anyhow, he went onto nationals and was narrowly beaten out by a guy from Montana. Supposedly the judging was a bit circumspect, though that might just be my Aunt Patsy’s version. Either way, it haunted my great-great-grandfather for many years – sent him into a depression, really, but we don’t use the “D” word in my family – until his son, my great-grandfather, won both states and nationals in 1902. It was big. He was in the papers, did Letterman, the whole thing. Well, you can imagine the pressure on my grandfather when it came his turn to defend the Parks family name in the world of competitive skydiving and… what? The Wright Brothers didn’t fly until 1903? Oh, then spelunking. Definitely spelunking.

Carla: You had me right up until 1881.

Brad: You’re pretty quick. Aunt Patsy had me going for years with that bit.

Carla: It’s hard to think straight when you have an Aunt Patsy. Now your protagonist owns a pet, right? Okay, a pet question: would you rather own a ferret or a snake?

Brad: I know what you’re thinking: This is a shoo-in for the ferret. They’re furry. They’re cute. And there’s no better friend than a ferret when you’re hunting rabbits. But I’m going with the snake, for reasons of basic physiology. See, I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old, which means I already have enough life forms dependent on me for food on a very regular basis. So I have to think about the convenience factor here. Ferrets are mammals. Mammals are warm-blooded. That means they need to eat every few hours. Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles, which means you only have to feed them, what, once every two weeks? That fits into my current lifestyle a little better. Plus, have you ever seen a snake eat a mouse? It’s just cool. So snake. Snake all the way.

Carla: Nope, never seen a snake eat a mouse. I have seen my 12 pound dachshund leap up onto the kitchen table and devour a plate of Bagel Bites, though.

Brad: How is that possible? Is your kitchen table two feet tall or something? It’s a dachshund, Carla. Its legs are, what, six inches long? You’re just trying to get me back for the whole 1881 thing aren’t you?

Carla: Faced with a plate of Bagel Bites, a dachshund knows no limitations. Speaking of super powers, Brad, would you rather have the ability to see into the future or read minds?

Brad: Actually, Carla, I already can read minds. For example, when you were reading that skydiving bit from question one, you were thinking, “Oh my God, this answer is totally lame, I never should have agreed to be seen in public with this guy.” So I’m going to have to go with seeing into the future. There are a lot of practical applications to clairvoyance – in the stock market, in averting disasters, in knowing whether I can skip the latest version of Windows and wait for the next one – but the chief advantage is that I would never lose at fantasy football again!

Carla: Then you’re a gambler, hmm? So would you rather go to Las Vegas on your own and win, or go camping with your family?

Brad: This is question would seem to be a total trap. Because if I say “Vegas, baby, Vegas,” then I’m a typical pig of a guy, from the tip of my snout to my curly tail, and you and every other female reader out there will be like, “Oh, he’s one of those.” But if I say “camping” then I’m a liar. I mean, that’s the box you just put me in… right? Wrong! The truth is, I’m going to Vegas, but not for the drinking, the gambling, the chorus girls, the fake Sphinx, the all-you-can-eat buffets, or the luxury of sleeping past 6 a.m. (see the part above about having young kids). No, it’s because my wife doesn’t really like camping. At best, she tolerates it. So I’m going to Vegas for her. See? I’m really a good guy after all.

Carla: The secret to a successful marriage.

Brad: Yes. I’m sure trips to Vegas have saved many marriages.

Carla: Or resulted in them. So, it’s clear that you’re a good husband, but would you rather be a good friend, or a good son?

Brad: Excuse me, Carla, I need to go call my mother now. This question has sent me into spasms of guilt. Because my initial instinct was, “Of course! I’ve got my priorities straight! I want to be a good son!” I mean, my mother gave me life and breath. She stayed with me through ear infections and sore throats and those months in 1989 when I decided I wanted a mullet. Do you know she made pancakes for me every morning when I was in high school? Every morning! (Oh, yeah, my dad is a heck of a good guy, too). So shouldn’t I pick good son?

But then I thought about my actions since, oh, birth. Have I really been a good son? Haven’t there been, like, a billion times I put my friends first? I mean, I basically spent all of junior year of high school at the Kovarovics’ house (if you saw Kris Kovarovic, you’d understand). And I realized: I have totally taken my parents for granted. I’m a jerk. Ohhhhhh the guilt. Hello, Mom?

Carla: Please don’t tell my children your mom made you pancakes. Ever.

Brad: Aww, come on. I bet you do something self-sacrificing that will trigger spasms of guilt in your ungrateful children 20 years from now. Share.

Carla: Sorry, but that’s something that needs to come out in years of therapy. Now, I would be remiss to leave off without asking you a question pertaining to your craft, so tell me: would you rather know how your book is going to end before you start writing, or be surprised along the way?

Brad: This is easy. I want the surprise, every time. I want to take my characters, put them in a sticky wicket, and not know how they’re going to work it out. I know this brings a bit of agony, too – because there are going to be times when I get utterly stumped and have no clue where I’m going next. But that’s more than worth it for the pleasure of starting each morning not knowing what’s going to happen in my writing that day. I love those scenes that sort of arise spontaneously as one situation leads to the next. For example, in FACES OF THE GONE, my protagonist, Carter Ross, ends up smoking pot with gang members to prove he’s not a cop. About mid-way through writing that scene, Carter started whispering to me, “Hey, Brad, you know, I don’t really smoke weed that often (giggle). I’m kinda high right now (more giggling). I, uh, can’t walk.” The next thing I knew, Carter was stumbling all over the place, bumping into things, making messes. Then he goes back to the office, nearly runs over his boss, who smells the marijuana on his clothes, and more hilarity ensues. Very little of it germane to the plot. But, damn, it was fun to write – and, I hope, read.

Plus, can I tell you? I’m afraid of what I call super-readers. The super-readers are those people who plow through 200-plus books a year and can saw through my prose – and see through my artifice – in less time than it takes to assemble Ikea furniture. I’m always worried that they’re going to figure out the end by, like, page 50. So I figure if *I* don’t know how it ends on page 50, the super-readers won’t know either.

Carla: Brad, I have a feeling the super-readers will stick with you even if they do figure it out.

Brad Parks is the debut author of FACES OF THE GONE (December 2009, Minotaur Books.) He can be stalked at

Carla Buckley is the debut author of THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE (February 2010, Delacorte Press.) She can be reached at