Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Interview with Carrie Stuart Parks

There's a new book you need to read, called A Cry from the Dust.  It's exciting, full of suspense and twists, and fascinating, full of conspiracy and historical revelations. The author, Carrie Stuart Parks, is a forensic artist who has worked with law enforcement, as well as being the protege of the incomparable Frank E. Peretti.

Here's an endorsement I wrote for the book:
Things I loved about A Cry from the Dust: the fascinating and painstakingly researched historical tapestry into which the story is woven, the frantic but intensely believable arc of events that makes you hold on extra tight, the compelling and flawed heroine who has absolutely no idea she's the heroine. Part CSI, part Lie to Me, and all relentlessly original, A Cry From the Dust blends rich characters, little-known history, and a dose of conspiracy into a very modern storytelling style. Can't wait to tear into Gwen Marcey's next adventure.

You can buy A Cry from the Dust here (and you totally should).

I'm jazzed that our publisher is cross-promoting our books (meaning, a chapter of my book Playing Saint is featured in the back of A Cry from the Dust and vice versa) and I was lucky to have a chance to interview Ms. Parks a couple weeks ago.

You have one of the most fascinating backgrounds of any novelist I've read (forensic art). How did you get into that field?
I was an artist. My dad was the director of the N. Idaho Regional Crime Lab. He needed someone to prepare the trial charts and diagram the crime scenes. He hired me because he said I was the best artist he knew. I was the ONLY artist he knew. Ha! In 1985 he sent me to the FBI academy to learn more about forensic/composite art. Interestingly, ten years later, I was hired to teach the FBI artists. Starting in 1988, I taught forensic art across the US and Canada. The biggest thing I think I bring to the field of forensic art is my ability to teach anyone (without learning disabilities)  to draw a face:

Is it unusual for someone to be both a forensic artist and fine artist?
Hmmm. There are a couple of us. I was an award-winning artist first. Signature member of the Idaho Watercolor Society. I have a few folks that I trained that were first artists. Some of my students learned how to draw from me and went from there.

How did you make the leap from visual artist to the written word?
As a teacher, I used words as well as visuals to teach art techniques. When I started writing fine art books, I just wrote down what I said in class. When I wrote a book on signs of deception, I fictionalized some of my cases, and from that, I felt I could … just maybe … write fiction.
Were you a fan of Frank Peretti first, and then become his neighbor? Or vice versa?
I had NO clue as to who he was. He became my “neighbor” (in an Idaho sense--about four miles away.) I live on a ranch that’s been in my family since the 30s. He was my husband’s banjo-picking buddy.

Would it make you think less of me--as a person--if you knew that I went three days and nights without turning my bedroom lights off in 1988 because I had read This Present Darkness and I was freaking out that demons were flying in and out of my house? Acutally, that may be more of a rhetorical question...
Naaaa. I spent the night sitting upright in bed, terrified after watching The Exorcist. Then there’s the small matter of not swimming in ANY body of water after Jaws.
The Mormon church and its history are at the center of your debut novel; do you have a background in Mormonism? If not, what drew you to this topic?
I’ll go into a slightly different answer than what I wrote in the author notes. Or maybe I should say, I’ll explain a bit further back.
I started studying the LDS church when I became a close friend of a staunch Mormon. We talked about beliefs at length, and I got to wondering just how far “off” from Biblical Christianity someone could be and still be saved. I mean, there are some pretty meaningful differences between different Christian denominations: pre/mid/post trib, speaking in tongues, Calvinism vs Arminianism. It was a dedicated, two year study. Sadly, I determined that someone believing in the tenants of the LDS church did not know the Biblical Jesus. Jesus is not Satan’s brother, was not born of a physical union between God and Mary, and is capable of completely covering our sins, and through grace alone are we saved. This actually gave me a heart to reach Mormons. They really want to know God, to worship, to live moral lives.
How much of your protagonist comes from you yourself?
Gwen is prettier, younger, and slimmer! She is less secure, gets more rattled at things, and doesn’t have as … rip-snorting? sense of humor. The knowledge of all things forensic art is totally me. We’re the same, but different. (how’s zat for a dumb answer?)
Have you ever gotten a little too personally wrapped up in a case?
I have followed cases, but getting personally wrapped up is very unprofessional—in fact, the first name for this debut novel was “Superman Syndrome,” a negative term to describe someone who gets too involved. I have cried with victims and prayed for victims.

When will Gwen Marcey's next adventure be hitting shelves?
I just turned in book #2 about the Phineas Priesthood and Gwen. I suspect next August, unless something changes.
How many books in this series do you have under contract?
It was a three book deal.
How many germs of stories in your head?
Several strong ideas, one pretty complete plot. The books involve a lot of research, so I have to look for the story idea long in advance. Then I have to figure out how a forensic artist would become involved. I don’t want a “Murder She Wrote” situation where Gwen shows up and someone dies. I mean, you lose a lot of friends that way. No one wants to invite you over… I also have to like the subject because of the time I’ll be researching it. 
What are some other themes you want to explore in future novels?
I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you……….
What was it like being mentored in writing by Frank E. Peretti?
OOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh, it was heaven. I would bring over a chapter or three, sit at his kitchen table, hand him a copy and have my own along with a highlighter, pens, post-it notes, and my computer. Barb would serve munchies and lattes. I’d read, Frank would comment. I kept a few pages to show my notes (scrawled EVERYWHERE.)
Which of his books is your favorite?
Well, I have to confess that the YA series, the Veritas Project, is loosely based on my dad and I working together in the crime lab. I tend to like his later books.

What's the most bizarre case you actually worked on as a forensic artist?
I did a TV special for the History channel where I interviewed and sketched folks who claimed to have seen bigfoot…..LOL. We are consulted for local forensic artists to work on “The Dead Files.” I did refuse to work on a case where the person wanted me to age Amelia Earhart. They said she survived and was a Tupperware salesperson in New Jersey…..sigh.

If your readers take one thing away from A Cry From the Dust, what do you want it to be? Aaaah….just ONE?

Christian takeaway and emotion: a feeling of satisfaction, that even through the darkest days, God has a plan for our lives. We may not know it at the time, but someday we will. In the meantime: all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.

Non-Christian takeaway and emotion: A satisfying story with a strong protagonist, life problems they can relate to (acting out kids, divorce), and a message of hope.

Mormon takeaway: I wove actual events from the LDS past together in such a way that should they research it, they’ll be shocked that it’s true. Within this story are additional points I want them to examine: does God change his mind? Did Brigham Young and early leaders re-write their history? What happens when someone has complete power and control (in the past: Mountain Meadows massacre.)I hope they will experience a cognitive dissidence.

Cancer survivor takeaway: the humor of being bald. And how useful it can be at times. :)

Carrie Stuart Parks has also written and contributed to more than twenty instructional books and DVDs about drawing (particularly drawing people and faces), some of which you can find here.

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