Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Faces of the Gone"

Brad Parks spent a dozen years as a reporter with the Washington Post and the [Newark, N.J.] Star-Ledger.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Faces of the Gone, and reported the following:
Character development. For the debut novelist, these can be two deathly words. Because you’ve got this character – your marvelous protagonist – and he’s perfect-yet-imperfect in just the right ways, with admirable traits and high-minded ideals and quirks and flaws all mixed into a wonderful, charming package. And you’re just sure he’s going to be the next Travis McGee/Jack Reacher/Myron Bolitar and that the whole world is going to love him, so you feel utterly compelled to fully introduce him... at a length of something approaching the Bible.

And, of course, it’s a trap. Because while you’re doing all that introducing, your story is going exactly nowhere. And readers, who don’t yet fully appreciate your obvious genius, will put the book back on the nightstand, turn off the light, and sleep soundly knowing they’ll never have to read another word of anything you write.

The trick, of course, is to develop your main character and move your plot forward at the same time. And that’s what I’m trying to do on page 69 of my debut, Faces of the Gone.

By this point in the story, we’ve met our intrepid narrator, Carter Ross, an investigative newspaper reporter for a big-city paper, the Newark Eagle-Examiner. We might even think we know him: He’s a white-bread-eating WASP from the suburbs with good diction, impeccable grooming habits and a penchant for pleated pants. He’s the guy you can bring home to mother.

But, at the end of the day, he’s still a newspaper reporter chasing a story. And one of the victims in the quadruple homicide he’s covering, a guy nicknamed Dee-Dub, is a former member of the Brick City Browns, a notorious local street gang. Carter thinks the Browns might know something about what went down.

So in this conversation with Tee Williams, one of Carter’s best sources in the ‘hood, we see for the first time that Carter, the nice white boy, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He’ll do pretty much anything to get the story, including…
“The Browns are pretty old-school. If they had a beef with Dee-Dub, they

(Page 69)

would put him down nice and quiet, not make some big thing out of it.”

“Good point,” I said, shifting my weight and fixing my eyes on a blob of melted wax that had once been a candle.

“However,” Tee said, pointing one finger in a professorial manner, “they might know something about what happened, being that it involved a former member. You know what I’m saying?”

“For once, yes, I know what you’re saying,” I said. “You got any kind of in with the Browns?”

Tee looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Well, let me ask you something,” he said.


“That cat of yours. You got someone who will take care of it in the event of your untimely death? I don’t want no orphaned cats in this world.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, cracking a smile. “It’s dealt with in my will.”

Tee had me follow him back to his store. It shouldn’t have been hard to trail Tee’s mammoth truck, except he squeezed it through the tiniest holes in traffic. He and I had once had a debate about what made a “good” driver. To me, it was someone who didn’t get in accidents. To him, it was someone who could make a 15-minute trip in 10 by doing a Grand Slalom through three lanes of traffic, one of which was oncoming.

I could see he was talking on his cell phone, and by the time we pulled up in front of his store, he had already made some arrangements. I parked behind him and rolled down my window as he walked toward my car.

“Okay,” he said, “I got you an interview with the Browns.”


(Page 70)

“There’s just one condition.”


“At some point they’re going to offer you some weed,” Tee said. “I strongly suggest you smoke it.”

“And if I don’t?”

“They’ll think you’re a cop and they’ll shoot you.”

“Well, then, tell them to put on Marley and bring on Mary Jane!”
Read an excerpt from Faces of the Gone, and learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue