As he prepares to launch his latest thriller, I invited Florida author Ward Parker to share an insight in his writing and the influences behind it. Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards mystery and thriller writing?
In early adulthood I was heavily influenced by Hemingway’s style, for better or worse. In contrast to his terse, controlled prose, the steam-of-consciousness approach of the American Beat Generation also appealed to me, as well as the strong narrative voice of Salinger. So I suppose my style is a combination of constrained and verbose, depending on what’s happening in the story at the time. If that make sense!
My mother is always reading mysteries—or whodunits—as she calls them, so that influenced me growing up. I also loved the escapist aspect to thrillers. I was the kind of kid who was forever hidden away somewhere with his nose in a book, and at a very early age I decided I wanted to try my hand at it. One thing about a mystery: It’s such a fundamental type of plot. The struggle to solve some sort of mystery drives many stories in all genres.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
When I was very young, I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and decided I wanted to become a novelist and veterinarian. I gave up on being a vet, but the writing part stuck. I’ve dabbled in journalism and ended up as an advertising copywriter and creative director for most of my career. In advertising, you’re under constant pressure to keep your copy short, the opposite of a 70,000-word novel. But the field does teach you to write to your target audience, which is helpful in commercial fiction.
Drawing on my past was a big inspiration for my debut novel Pariah. In my early twenties, I lived in a cottage community on a former pineapple plantation in Florida, along the shore of a tidal lagoon called the Indian River. The nutty people who lived there and the intoxicating subtropical atmosphere demanded that I write about them someday.
Please tell me about your books.
Pariah is the first book of an amateur-sleuth thriller series from Pandamoon Publishing in the U.S., the book involves the story of Zeke Adams, a former tabloid journalist trying to live a more respectable life managing the cottage community in Florida he inherited from his father. But he stumbles upon drowned Haitian migrants on the beach and finds out the human smugglers might be holding a half-sister he never knew he had. Trying to find her is complicated when identity theft causes his name to appear on the sexual offender database and the police suspect him of more crimes.
Coming out shortly, also from Pandamoon, is The Teratologist, the start of a new historical mystery/horror series set in Gilded Age Florida. It’s about a physician who encounters supernatural monsters. In the first book, he teams up with Mark Twain in Palm Beach to find a serial killer who kidnapped a young patient. But in the process, he discovers supernatural forces that challenge his scientific mind—and threaten his life. A teratologist is a medical specialist who studies congenital abnormalities; an extreme example being the Elephant Man. “Teratologist” comes from the Greek word for “monster.” It’s just crying out to be in a horror story!
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I’m inspired by my past, my nightmares, my anxieties and the vagaries of human nature. The fragile, unique environment of Florida greatly inspires me, too.
I believe the subconscious mind really drives the writing process and if you have writer’s block, it’s about your conscious mind getting in the way and blocking the subconscious. At least for me, it’s when I want to do something that’s not right for the story. For example, I make a bad plot decision or force a character to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. To fix it, I like to work on something else for a while, then return to my project with a fresh perspective so I can find a different path forward instead of banging my head against the wall.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I’d love to do a wacky Florida book with Carl Hiaasen and/or Tim Dorsey. They’re big influences on me and love this state as much as I do.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Before the end of 2018, the next Zeke Adams mystery should hopefully be coming out. I’m giving it a bit more humour than the first book.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
My fellow writers at Pandamoon Publishing include some great writers who push the boundaries of the mystery genre. To name just a few, Dave Housley is coming out with a detective story about a vampire on the final tour of the Grateful Dead. Susan Kuchinskas has private detective noir series set in near-future Los Angeles and Laura Ellen Scott is due for her third instalment of a literary mystery series set in Academia.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks so much for speaking with me and giving a new author a voice.
It was truly amazing to hear from you Ward, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.