Craig Parshall is a new author to me. I'm really happy to have him visit our blog. Welcome, Craig. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Most of the leading characters have bits and pieces of me in there. On the other hand, just because many of my fiction characters are lawyers it would be easy to assume that I have transplanted myself whole-cloth; and that’s certainly not the case. In fact, I can’t think of anything more boring that to spend countless hours writing myself into a suspense plot! For me, the really exciting part is to watch an entirely new character being unwrapped in the crucible of conflict.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
My wife Janet and I were traveling through Scotland in a rented car. I was very proud, by the way, of my ability to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Though occasionally I gave her heart palpitations along Loch Lomond, where the little lanes were just wide enough for one car and there were stone walls on each side that are right up to the edge of the road with no shoulder. That Loch is, for us, a kind of demarcation that we are about to leave the “small town” areas and will soon be immersed in the haunting majesty of the Highlands, with the towering cliffs and little plunging waterfalls. So, we were driving farther north, and then suddenly we crested a hill and saw it all laid out before us: a panorama of lush green hills and ridges, peat bogs, and a single little one-lane ribbon of a road, stretching out into the horizon. There was a lilting Celtic song playing on the car’s CD. I parked the car in the middle of the road, opened the door so the music could be heard. Then I invited my wife out into the road to dance with me. “Quirky?” I don’t know. It just seemed like the right thing to do!
Sounds fun to me. When did you first discover you were a writer?
There were three points in time I think. The first was when I was in grade school. We had the assignment of writing a story. Being much enamored with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, I wrote a little story on the same theme. The teacher liked it a lot and made a point of making sure that her note of encouragement found its way back to my parents. Then there was my high-school period. I tried my hand at writing a book – a horrible kind of audacious, stream-of-consciousness essay on life, death, time, truth, and seasoned with my personal angst of being a teenage boy not yet seventeen years old. I am happy to say I later dumped it in the trash. But my need to continue writing, to put things into words, continued. Also, at that time I tried my hand at some poetry, a few short stories, and a lot of reading of fiction that I admired. Then when I was in college, I took a class in creative writing from a professor for whom I had a lot of respect. We were told to write a short story.
My story was simple: my experience as a boy in a row boat at night, fishing for walleyes and crappies on a lake in Northern Wisconsin. It was based on an actual time and place that had been for me the ultimate in an idyllic summer. To my surprise he chose to read it aloud to the class. Then he told me to see him after class was over. He asked me privately if I had ever considered fiction-writing as a profession. I was flattered of course, but ultimately decided to go into the law. That, I think, was God’s leading. Due to the rigors that go with the life of a trial lawyer, it would be about thirty years before I got around to writing what would be my first published novel.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
A real mish-mash. Christian apologetics, and theology; classic collections of poetry (Wordsworth currently) history, a lot of books on media trends because of my position with National Religious Broadcasters, some fiction, but not nearly as much as I would like.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I have been very blessed to have had all my books published. I wrote a five-book legal thriller series called The Chambers of Justice. After that, a stand-alone suspense novel, Trial by Ordeal. And, of course, my most recent suspense novel, The Rose Conspiracy. I have also co-authored a three-book historical fiction series, The Cross and the Thistle, with my wife Janet, who is a nationally syndicated talk-show host, together also with our three non-fiction books which dealt with the cultural and spiritual challenges facing Christians.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
This is one of the most difficult things to master … and I have not yet mastered it. But I am getting better at it, I think. Balance is certainly one key. I try to remind myself that Jesus was the perfect paradigm of balance. He separated the urgent from the truly important. Which doesn’t mean that you can evade the crush, the rush, or the push. Much of Jesus’ ministry was lived-out in the midst of a cultural, political and emotional cyclone. Yet He exemplified a steady, focused emphasis on others. People are more important than projects. When I take the time to kiss my wife good night. When I look into those big, unassuming eyes of my grandchildren, or really try to listen to what that other person is saying to me. Or even when I take the time to take care of some of the animals we have around our place … those things keep me sane. That, and continuing to find ways to laugh at myself, and some of the foibles of life.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Research first. Geography, demographics, profession, and background of the character, all give me a start. I sometimes build-in little asides to myself, inside-jokes with a character’s name. But more often than not, once I know something about who this person is, then the rest is a matter of phonetics … the music or atmospherics of the name.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Having Dr. Tim LaHaye give me a ringing endorsement for my first novel, and then continuing to encourage me in this area certainly ranks up there. He is quick to say he is not a fiction writer himself, but he has an incredibly keen eye for what makes a good story (hence, his block-buster collaboration with Jerry Jenkins in the Left Behind series). And, of course, he is a prolific, tremendously successful non-fiction writer whose books have spanned the decades. In addition, garnering some nice words from Ken Wales, veteran Hollywood director/producer, for my most recent novel, The Rose Conspiracy, was tremendously humbling. Now, I do know both of these gentlemen personally. At the same time, when I get a positive independent review, as I did from CBA book reviewer John Bernstein on that same novel, someone I have never met but whose book savvy I respect, that really lights my fuse to not only keep writing, but to try and do it even better.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
We had this discussion once in a college class. One class-mate said I would be an alligator. Another said a lion. Me? I’d love to agree with the business about the lion, but in truth I would have to say I’m more of the alligator … love to be lazy and lay in the sun, hang out by the water … and when I get my jaws sunk into something I tend to stay locked onto it – for good or bad.
What is your favorite food?
A tie between lobster thermidor, and a good New York style pizza. Second place goes to Cajun, and third to Asian.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Two many layers in the story-line. I often diagram my plot to make sure that on the diagram at least, it is a smooth, linear story, or if not, I try to make sure that those extra arrows are really critical to the tale I am trying to tell.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Figure out if you want to write because you have to write, or want to write merely because you find it enjoyable and satisfying. If it’s the latter, there’s nothing wrong with that. If it’s the former though, that will probably ensure that you will have the persistence to handle the isolation inherent in the writing process, the frustration with not being as good as you want to be, the rejections, and the inevitable (and often accurate) criticisms of your work.
Tell us about the featured book?
There are two mysteries that need unraveling. The first involves the murder of the head of The Smithsonian Institution which occurs while he had been examining the recently discovered pages of the John Wilkes Booth diary. The hunt for answers leads inevitably to a cleverly concealed, centuries-old occult quest of the Free Masons. I spent nearly two years looking into out-of-print books written by the Masons before I finally figured out what I think that secret really was all about. The protagonist, J.D. Blackstone who is a brilliant but privately tormented law professor ends up unwinding that mystery. But there is a secondary secret he must face, and that one is intensely personal and in a sense, even more formidable. It requires him to come to grips with his own guilt, and the motivation behind his sometimes ruthless and failed interpersonal interactions (particularly in the area of romance). Lastly, I hope the reader will be led to do some thinking about the question of eternal life, and the difference between what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth” on the one hand, and on the other hand those seductive but ultimately fantasical theories put forth by the likes of the Gnostics and the speculative branch of the Free Masons.
Please give us the first page of the book.
The driver behind the steering wheel was sweating like a hunter in the dripping heat of the jungle. But this was a very different kind of jungle.
It was five minutes before midnight, and the car was cruising along the marble-and-monument-studded streets of the Capitol Hill district of Washington DC. The driver was tugging at a collar edge. Drops of perspiration trickled down the back and torso, even with the air conditioning on.
Maybe it was the freakish heat wave that had hit the city, causing brownouts and power failures across the city. Maybe it was something else… the nasty assignment that had to be taken care of. When the trigger was pulled, and it was all over, the long-missing pages of John Wilkes Booth’s
personal diary would then be in the grip of someone else’s hand.
Yet the driver knew what was actually at stake that night. And it really wasn’t about the Booth diary. Or even the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the hand of a Confederate radical. The note that was about to be seized contained a message with ramifications far beyond any of that.
Sweltering temperatures had suffocated Washington with a relentless haze of humidity that week. Even though it was only June, temperatures were in the low hundreds during the day and in the nineties at night. The only thing cool to the touch was the white marble of the statues
and monuments. The driver steered past the Lincoln Monument and then slowed the car slightly. As usual, interior lights illuminated the massive likeness of Abraham Lincoln in his great marble chair.
Interesting. How can readers find you on the Internet?
They can check out my latest book at http://www.jpamerica.com/; or find out more about me at http://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/books_authordetail.cfm?ED_ID=100003. Thanks!
And thank you, Craig, for spending this time with us.
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