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Meet the WritersImage of T. Jefferson Parker
T. Jefferson Parker
One of the best loved crime writers of our time, T. Jefferson Parker was born in Los Angeles and has lived all of his life in Southern California. The poster boy for Orange County, he enjoyed an almost idyllic childhood bodysurfing, playing in Little League, and enjoying family outings with his parents and siblings. He was educated in public schools in Orange County and received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, in 1976. (He was honored in 1992 as the University's Distinguished Alumnus.)

His writing career began in 1978 as a cub reporter on the weekly newspaper, The Newport Ensign. After covering crime, city hall, and local culture for the Ensign, Parker moved on to the Daily Pilot newspaper, where he won three Orange County Press Club awards for his articles. During this time, he filed away information he would later use to develop characters and plot points for his novels.

Published in 1985, Parker's first book, Laguna Heat, was written in whatever spare time he could find during his stint as a reporter. The book received rave reviews and was made into an HBO movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn.

Since that auspicious beginning, Parker has made a name for himself with smart, savvy bestsellers dealing with crime, life, and death in sunny Southern California. In 2001, he hit the jackpot with Silent Joe, a bittersweet thriller that won the Mystery Writers of America's coveted Edgar Award for Best Novel. In 2004, he repeated the feat with Califoria Girl, making him one of only two writers (the other is James Lee Burke) ever to have won two Best Novel Edgars. Among other honors and accolades, Parker has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and the Southern California Booksellers Award for Best Novel of the Year. His books continue to score big on the national bestseller lists.

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Good to Know
The "T" in Parker's name doesn't really stand for anything. His mother once told him she thought it would look good on the presidential letterhead!

In an interview with, Parker explained how his definition of noir has altered: "It seems to me that since 9/11 our appetites for darkness have shrunk a little. Mine have. I know that as a writer I've tried to bring more breadth and humanity to my stories. I think when all is said and done, a noir attitude is fine, but it's still just an attitude, a pose.

Parker's first wife, Catherine, died of a brain tumor at a very young age. He has since remarried happily.

In an interview with Harlan Coben, Parker was asked about the state of crime writing -- i.e., what's wrong and what's right with it. " I think the Achilles heel of mystery/crime writing is character," he responded. "You have to have good characters -- and sometimes I think mystery writers rely to heavily on plot and velocity of plot at the expense of characters."

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In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Parker had to say: Somehow, "summer reading" has come to mean entertainment but that's fine with me. I love to be entertained. Ten great summer reads, in my opinion, would be:

  • Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith -- This is the consumate mystery/thriller, absolutely engaging.

  • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris -- Still his best, in my opinion, and influential on an entire generation of writers. The multiple viewpoint is used beautifully here.

  • Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard -- Another Leonard book you just can't put down. I still can't figure out if writing is easy for Elmore, or if he just makes it look easy, though I have my suspicions.

  • Horse Latitudes by Robert Ferrigno -- I love this look at SoCal. Ferrigno can be harrowing and funny at the same time and that's what makes this book a treasure.

  • The Fermata by Nicholson Baker -- Funny and nasty and a delightful read.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker -- What a great book. And all told in letters. I love the way the story unfolds, layer upon layer of dread and evil.

  • Sunburn by Laurence Shames -- Perfect title, perfect story, wonderfully funny and believable.

  • Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald -- It's always nice to read one of the masters of mystery. I still like Travis McGee, though he won't pass the PC test.

  • Brain Droppings by George Carlin -- Hate guys who wear loafers without socks? Me too. So does George, along with a million other things, like people who use their thumb and little finger to imitate a phone.

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain -- Wow. You think you've read some good opening lines until you get a load of this one. Dark, sexy, pathetically human. Enjoy!


    T. Jefferson Parker took a few moments to answer some of our questions.

    What was the book that most influenced your life, and why?
    A distressed Mythology & Folklore teacher in high school made her unruly students pick a paperback from a box (eyes closed) and read the book for the whole period or get sent to the principal. The book I got was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read it, laughed and fell in love with it. I thought if I could ever write a book that would give readers 1/1000th of the pleasure I've gotten from that, I'd be happy. I'm trying.

    What are your 10 favorite books – and why?

    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Fabulous in ways that are inimitable, mysterious and singular. Work as play, genius as gesture, literature as pure, unadulterated fun.
    • Panama by Thomas McGuane. Just one of those books I keep going back to. McGuane's voice suits his times better than any other, for my money. Very dark and self-involved, very funny and lucid and totally psychotic at the same time.
    • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I re-read it every five years and cry every time. Writing doesn't get much better than this.
    • The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré. Nobody straddles the gap between popular writing and genuine literature as well as le Carré. This is one whoppingly great novel, not to mention prescient and eternally relevant.
    • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. You want to talk about heart and guts and really writing something that matters. Steinbeck did it all in this book.
    • Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. Three of the best novellas you can find anywhere. I love this form – 90 pages each, and Harrison shreds the living hell out of it.
    • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. An almost perfect thriller. We crime writers are still paying debts to Harris that we're slow to acknowledge. Read the last paragraph and tell me it doesn't make your spine tingle and your heart recognize truth.
    • Bullet Park by John Cheever. Right there on the luminous edge of things, so true, so fanciful, so good.
    • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. Big, dirty, sprawling, American, poetic, tragic. I can read that first paragraph over and over and never get tired of it.
    • Cat Chaser by Elmore Leonard. I can't really tell you why I love this book so much. Maybe it's all of Elmore's books, symbolized by one. He's a treasure.
    Who are your favorite writers?
    All of the above, plus Joyce, Faulkner, Proust, Dickens, Dreiser, Wolfe, Bellow, Updike, Mailer, Chandler, John D. McDonald, Hammett, Parker, Lethem, Winslow, Shannon, Connelly, Crais, George. The list goes on and on and on and on.

    What else can you tell us about yourself?
    I like to play tennis and read. I like to hunt birds in the fall and flyfish anytime I can. I like dogs, snakes and some people. I like fast cars. I like humble people. I haven't figured out anything yet except that everything in life just happens once.

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  • About the Writer
    *T. Jefferson Parker Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by T. Jefferson Parker
    *Laguna Heat, 1985
    *Little Saigon, 1988
    *Pacific Beat, 1991
    *The Triggerman's Dance, 1996
    *Where Serpents Lie, 1998
    *Blue Hour, 1999
    *Red Light, 2000
    *Silent Joe, 2001
    *Black Water, 2002
    *Cold Pursuit, 2003
    *California Girl, 2004
    *The Fallen, 2006
    Photo by K. Saltman