Author finds permanent home at Essex Library
Brad Parks (left) happily hands a signed copy of his novel, “The Good Cop,” to an adoring fan (right).
Last week, the aroma of barbecue and coleslaw wafted through the main hall of the Old Beale Church as series writer Brad Parks had an audience of over 100 people roaring in laughter.
He told jokes, sang a capella, read sections from his latest novel, signed books and greeted fans as part of his second book launching party held through the Essex Public Library.
Library Director Bess Haile and Hannah Overton, President of Essex County’s Friends of the Library, laughed along with the audience, awed once more by the man whom they deemed their “Knight in Shining Armor” for having come to their aid several years ago.
Now, Parks and his friends at the library aim to continue their partnership in bringing together a community of readers in Essex County.
On Tuesday, March 5, “Barbecue, Books and Brad” celebrated the release of the fourth novel in Parks’ Cater Ross series, The Good Cop.
As people streamed into Old Beale Memorial, Parks high-fived Overton when she told him that 118 residents made reservations to come see him.
“That’s one percent of the population [in Essex County]!” Overton exclaimed. “You don’t get that kind of turnout at football games!”
When first asked about the event, Haile watched in surprise as people helped set up chairs and ready the food for a group far larger than she was expecting.
“We got an awful lot of response from the community,” said Haile, adding her amazement at the turnout for a “library function.”
Haile and Overton described how Parks, then a new novelist, ignited their partnership in 2009 when he served as a last-minute replacement in an event held by the Friends called Weekend with the Writer.
“We had an author booked…and we had sold a lot of tickets for her to come,” Haile said, with Overton adding that the ticket count was over 50.
Haile noted that people were traveling from as far as Richmond and Orange County to come see her.
“But two nights before she could come, she called us up and said, ‘My husband’s got cancer, and he starts chemotherapy tomorrow…I don’t think I could come and be funny,’” Haile recalled.
Haile said she had discovered Parks earlier through Nancy Halstead of Twice Told Tales in Gloucester. With a few days before the event, Haile asked Parks if he would come.
“Sure! I’d be delighted to!” was Parks’ response.
The result exceeded the library’s expectations.
“He came and he just wowed us,” Haile said of Parks, who had brought his first book, Faces of the Gone. “He just was friendly and we really liked him and enjoyed him and the book was a big hit.”
Parks, a resident of Middlesex County, would not only come back to support the public library in Essex, but also the Northumberland Public Library when his second Carter Ross book came out.
“And darn if he didn’t just stand up [in the library] and sing a song a capella to the audience!” Haile recalled. “I said [to Brad], ‘Well! You need to sing for us!’”
In turn, Parks asked them if they would host a launch party for his third novel. From there, “Barbecue, Books and Brad” has quickly become a tradition with the Friends of the Library in Essex County.
Overton said that the goal of the launch party and similar events held by the Friends was to inspire young writers and readers through sharing literature.
She added that she grew up in Essex County and remembered people saying, “Oh, nobody in Essex County [or] down there in the country is going to go to something like that…they don’t read.”
“And then I’m like, ‘Oh, you just don’t know, do you?’” said Overton with a laugh.
Overton said that last week’s book launch was the first free event that the Friends put together.
“We’re thinking it may be the way to do it because it’s kind of hard to charge for these events and exclude people who can’t afford it,” she said. “This way you can come buy a book and we’ll make money off the book.”
Haile reported that the library sold 40 of Parks’ books that night, with each book priced at $25. Following the event, the Friends made $1,000 not including new memberships, with all proceeds going directly to the library.
Although the Friends and the library have had many authors attend their events over the years, including David Baldacci and Former Virginia Governor A. Linwood Holton, Jr., Parks is the first for whom they have held launch parties.
“He’s just a big supporter of the community and readers and libraries, and he’s very generous with his time with the community,” Haile said of Parks. “We want to support him and in return he supports us, too. “
When asked what inspired him to join forces with the Essex Public Library and Friends of the Library, Parks replied, “serendipity.”
“They’ve just sort of adopted me and I’ve been happy to be adopted,” said Parks. “It’s really a wonderful group with a lot of energy…there aren’t a lot of Library Friends groups who can rustle 118 people for an event.”
Parks, the 2010 winner of the Shamus and Nero awards for Faces of the Gone, said he first began writing when he was just seven years old.
“My first book was what you might call a nature thriller,” said Parks, adding that his story followed a bear and his friends through the wilderness. He did mention, however, that bear was misspelled with a second “e” in place of the “a.”
“Dad loved that book,” Parks recalled with a smile.
In discussing his future plans, Parks said he plans on launching his latest book throughout the country while knowing he won’t always be doing so in “friendly and folksy” places like Tappahannock with the library.
“It’s always good to start off among friends,” Parks said, “And these are friends for me.”
For more information about the Essex Public Library, the Friends of the Library and upcoming events, visit http://www.eplva.org/ or call 804-443-4945.
Brad Parks also has a website. To learn more about his work with the Carter Ross series of mystery novels, visit http://www.bradparksbooks.com/.