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An Interview with T. Jefferson Parker



T. Jefferson Parker is the prize-winning author of sixteen novels. His latest novel, The Renegades, the second crime novel to feature Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood, will be published in February 2009. A native Californian, Parker’s crime novels are set in Southern California. For more information about Parker, visit his website

This interview was conducted by Guy Savage for (MF). Also, read Savage's review of L. A. OUTLAWS and THE RENEGADES.

THEMF: Please describe THE RENEGADES for our readers

PARKER: The story is about a young sheriff's deputy whose partner is murdered right in front of him. The understory is a battle between good and evil for the body and soul of a 17-year old boy.

MF: Word is that this new series, L.A. OUTLAWS and THE RENEGADES has captured a wider reading audience than your previous novels. Any speculations as to why these novels are selling so well (apart from the fact they’re so damn good)?

PARKER: People love characters, espcially characters who come back. It's interesting watching Charlie Hood change and grow. He's a young man, so there's plenty of room for him to develop.

MF: L.A. OUTLAWS and THE RENEGADES both imply that the Old West isn’t a thing of the past. In what way(s) do you think the Old West survives today?

PARKER: I think of the troubles along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the general sense of lawlessness presiding in Baja California right now. Virtually all of the violence down there is carried out with guns bought from U.S. dealers, both legal and not, purchased with U.S. dollars that flow south in payment for drugs. There's a real sense that the best armed, most violent men are carrying the day.

T. Jefferson Parker

MF: In L.A. OUTLAWS, part of the novel was written in the first person through the eyes of Allison Murietta. How difficult was it for you to write as a female?

PARKER: It was fun to create that character. She's a man's fantasy of a wild woman. I tried to make her believable but I also wanted to exaggerate her propensities, make her bigger than life. When I read over some of the Allison passages from "L.A. Outlaws" I think there's a feminine sensibility running through it. Not that anyone would mistake Allison for their eighth grade history teacher!

MF: L.A. OUTLAWS is structured to lead to THE RENEGADES, and similarly THE RENEGADES points to another novel in this series. Do you have a third novel in mind and if so could you give us a hint?

PARKER: Yes, I'm almost done with it. It's a tale of that troubled border we were talking about. It's about guns and money going south and drugs and people coming north. Charlie Hood joins an ATF task force and moves to the desert. What he finds is incredible, and actually mostly true. It's really a good novel.

MF: Apart from not bumping off or writing out crucial characters from series mysteries, what other challenges are presented for you as a writer when creating a series of novels?

PARKER: I always worry that at some point the reader -- or I -- will say: how many adventures can this guy get into in one lifetime? I mean, doesn't he ever get just an average work week? One thing that I've got working in my favor is kind of an ensemble cast. Charlie isn't the only character who comes back. There is a young couple, Bradley and Erin, who are big fat characters in the new book. I love writing young characters. And of course the ghost and perhaps even the head of Joaquin Murrieta.

MF: Joaquin Murrieta’s name crops up frequently in L.A. OUTLAWS and THE RENEGADES, Please tell us a little bit about him.

LA Outlaws by T. Jefferson ParkerPARKER: He was a horsethief, bandit and murderer who operated in California with his gang in the early 1850s. He was shot down and beheaded in 1853 and his head, in a bottle of alcohol, went on tour. It cost a dollar to see it, because Joaquin was widely feared. He was also widely loved, as a kind of western Robin Hood. His whole story is shrouded in myth and legend and fable and god knows what else. I've got a stack of books on him -- I mean a whole stack -- and there's little agreement about him and his life. Certain historians of good repute claim there was no such person. Other historians of good repute claim there were actually up to five different "Joaquins" operating in California at that time, and Joaquin Murrieta was actually all, or none, of them. So go figure. I'm adding to the Murrieta confusion and having a blast in doing so.

MF: Allison Murrieta seems to spiral out of control as L.A. OUTLAWS continues and her celebrity grows. She isn’t portrayed as a "bad" person by any means. How did you create her character?

PARKER: I look around me and see an unquenchable thirst for fame. The cult of celebrity, the endless self-promotions of people, the complicity of the media. So I made up Allison, who makes no bones about wanting fame, or infamy -- same thing, really. There's also in Allison a genetic predisposition for crime and violence -- or so she tells us -- which I think is an interesting idea. I mean, we call carry genetic predispositions to something, don't we? Allison teaches history, and she loves history, and she's sharply aware of the way that history reaches its long pale finger through time and touches us now and then. She feels touched by Joaquin, aided and abetted and even guided by him.

MF: Which of your novels are you the proudest of? Why?

PARKER: I love the forty-year sweep of Calfornia Girl. I love L.A. Outlaws for the reasons we've been talking about. I wrote a novel called The Blue Hour way back in 1998 that I've always been proud of. I think it's humane and scary and sad.



MF: How familiar are you with the Antelope Valley and what led you to set THE RENEGADES in this area?

PARKER: I love that Antelope Valley. It's north of L.A. and in some ways it's a "last frontier" of L.A. in that it's being developed now. I love the desert, the sunsets and the wind and the rocks and sand and critters. I don't love the endless tracts of gigantic houses being built out there, but they are certainly emblematic and meaningful in a human sense. There's an odd culture of rednecks and drugs and bikers and hippies and general weirdos up there, dumped right on top of aerospace and the Skunkworks and Chuck Yaeger and the right stuff. A brew like that is always good for mystery/crime fiction.

MF: What sort of research did you do for THE RENEGADES?

PARKER: Hung around in Antelope Valley. I buddy of mine grew up there and he gave me a royal tour. I read some old clips about deputy "gangs" within the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. Those groups had names like the Saxons and the Vikings and the Grim Reapers and the Regulators, and they inform the book.

MF: Your sixteen novels are all set in California. As a native Californian are you ever tempted to set a book in other state or in Northern California?

PARKER:I haven't been tempted yet. One thing I like about Southern California is the seemingly endless supply of stories, history, change. I well may set a novel somewhere else, I just don't know where it will be.

MF: You were a reporter after graduating from UC Irvine. How did journalism impact your writing career?

PARKER:It taught me to ask questions and listen to the answers. It also made me be brief in my writing, and fact-filled. The very best thing that being a reporter does is educate a person on how the world works. You really see it face to face. As a young reporter I covered crimes, government, politics, business, cultural news, practically everything. It's a crash course on the world around you. I was an English major. I'd been reading Aristotle and Yeats and Joyce and Shakespeare for four years. I didn't know squat outside of that. Then, you get assigned to cover the county supervisorial election, or a murder, or a big fire, or a school board scandal and wow, you gotta get your facts right, and get them right fast.

MF: You clearly love California. Would you consider yourself a regional writer?

PARKER:I hope I'm not. I hope my books are of interest to anyone, no matter where they live. I also hope that what I write is a reasonably accurate depiction of life as we know it in Southern California, given the usual exemptions for dramatic license and the making of a story that will entertain and surprise. It's really the universals that I'm after.


MF: Thank you for your time and this interesting conversation.

Read our review of L.A Outlaws and The Renegades at