I’m delighted to have author, Jake Parent on my blog today for a quick chat about peanuts, being curious and his new psychological suspense novel, Cristina. Over to Jake…
The Fun Stuff.
What part of the world do you come from?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, USA, but now live just outside of Washington, DC.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life – everything from construction to working in a liquor store to managing my own advocacy campaign at a major non-profit. But through it all, the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to be was a writer. I’m blessed to be able to now do that full-time.
List three words to describe yourself.
Curious, tenacious, Joie de vivre
Who would play you in a film about your life?
What’s your favourite snack food when writing?
Peanuts. I also make a mean chocolate chip cookie.
If you had a super power, what would it be?
Creating peace and understanding.
The Sensible Side.
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
About 2 years ago I quit my safe office job in DC and decided to tell stories for a living. When I’m not writing, editing, or trying to market my work, I’m chasing my 10-month-old daughter around. She’s the most important thing in the world to me. I also love to read and try to get through at least a book a week.
Where did the inspiration for Cristina come from?
I used to live in a California beach town very similar to the one in the story. The place was so magnificent and perfect, the whole time I lived there I always used to imagine a kind of seedy underworld that spawned evilness in the nooks and crannies. So that’s where I got the setting from. And as far as the characters, I wanted to show the strength of single mothers (the book is dedicated to them), while also exploring the frightening uncertainty we all face trying to trust the people we come into contact with.
What do you like most about writing psychological thrillers?
Above all else, I write books I would want to read. And whether its Stephen King, Bukowski, or Maya Angelou, I’ve always felt like a seductive setting and a compelling, driving narrative are the things that most draw me into a story. Since these are the fundamental building blocks to a good psychological thriller, there’s nothing I like to write more.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Wow, great question. Cristina is certainly dark at times, and I’m pretty open to exploring just about any person, place, thing, or idea in my writing. However, I think even the darkest topics have to be entered into with the purpose of telling the truth (even if the story is totally made up). Otherwise the darkness tends to come across as gratuitous and/or crass.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead characters?
Probably Michelle Rodriguez. And not just because she has the same last name as Cristina. She’s a total bad ass, too.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Keeping things fresh during the editing process is always really tough. Going back and forth with people reading it and commenting, and then having to go over the material again and again and again. We did 14 drafts of the book before it was ready for press. As a writer sometimes all I want to do is go onto the next story.
Can you give us a brief excerpt from Cristina?
It had been four years since the little girl’s body was found, mutilated and buried in a quarry near her home in Pleasure Point, California.
The same home Cristina Rodriguez now wanted to buy.
Elbows propped on a towel, lying on her back, Cristina wiggled her feet into the warm sand. The sun toasted her light-brown skin. She closed her eyes, inhaled a deep breath of salty air, and listened to the waves crash onto shore.
Thankfully, she’d remembered to grab her bathing suit before leaving her grandmother’s place that morning. A bikini, red with white polka dots, the tight material stretched around her youthful curves like a second sheet of skin.
After going by to see the house, she pulled over at the first beach she could find. It turned out to be a secluded paradise. Of the few people there, most were surfers, either going into or coming out of the water.
Cristina’s thick, black hair, normally hanging in waves down to her breasts, was now tied up in a red bandanna. Her almond eyes hid behind sunglasses set on high cheekbones. She dug a tube of Carmex from a canvas bag and rubbed it onto plump lips.
One hand protected a file folder against the breeze. She used the other to put away her lip balm, and then to light a cigarette.
The folder held a stack of photocopied news articles the real estate agent had given her. Each clipping told a part of the gruesome story.
But the beach is only ten minutes away, Cristina reminded herself. You can literally see the water from the front yard.
The agent had tried to be brief about what happened. Actually, all she would really say was that a “tragedy” occurred in the home, and that Cristina could get all the details by reading the collection of articles. That, of course, seemed more like the lady’s tactful way of not discussing it any more than she had to.
From what Cristina was reading, the official account was that the stepfather basically went crazy one day, secretly kidnapping his wife’s daughter, Annie. He then hid her away somewhere for several weeks, before murdering her and burying her body in a quarry up in the mountains.
Police only discovered he was the one who did it because he wrote out a confession letter before taking his own life. Prior to that, he’d successfully fooled everyone into thinking he had nothing to do with the crime.
Things only got worse from there. Annie’s mother was so grief-stricken by her loss, she too took her own life, hanging herself in the home’s downstairs closet.
The story touched a particularly strong nerve with Cristina, who herself had a young daughter. At five, Anise was only a year older than the murdered girl had been at the time of her death.
Even their names are similar.
With all that had happened to Cristina over the past year, Anise was now everything. Her entire world. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose her.
She smothered her Lucky Strike in the sand and slid another one from the package. She was supposed to be quitting, but lit up anyway before going back to the articles.
Skimming, but unable to really bring herself to read closely, most of what she saw concerned events immediately surrounding the girl’s disappearance. There was surprisingly little about what, if any, evidence had been uncovered later on.
One article talked about the initial massive search of the woods around the house, and even included a quote from the stepfather.
“We’re so worried and just pray every day that our little girl comes home.”
What a scumbag.
Cristina flipped onto her stomach, hot with anger.
She flicked an ash and kept reading, still not putting full effort into it. Not wanting to. Somehow her mind couldn’t bring itself to believe that something so awful could ever have happened in such a perfect house.
There was, however, one headline that caught her attention, just before she closed the folder.
FBI Questions PPPD Findings in Killing of Local Girl
But she couldn’t read anymore. No matter what had happened, it was in the past. It had nothing to do with her. And none of it changed the fact that Pleasure Point was an absolute paradise.
Finishing her second smoke, she unceremoniously removed her bikini bottom from her butt crack, examining her backside and legs as she did.
Cristina had always thought of her thick, round booty as her best physical feature. And still did, despite the numerous scars now covering it – part of a dense network of healed wounds that ranged from her knees to the small of her back.
She then peeked down at her chest. It wasn’t too bad either. Big for her small frame. Full. And despite having had a baby, her breasts still managed to defy the will of gravity, even when she was naked.
Rubbing lotion onto her arms, she fingered the slightly raised edges of her tattoos. A thick bush of red roses completely covered her left arm, beginning at the wrist and extending just past the curve of her shoulder. The flowers popped so vibrantly, sometimes she could almost smell them. The spaces in between the blooms were filled with dark-green leaves and thorned stems.
Her right arm was a mix of individual pieces she’d been compiling since she was a teenager. A music note on her shoulder. The California flag on her forearm. A calligraphy of her daughter’s name on her inner bicep. And a few other more random ones that had seemed like good ideas at the time.
Her chest, stomach, back, and legs were all inkless. Many times in the past year, she’d thought about getting something done to cover her scars, but could never decide on anything in particular. And, lately, she’d come to accept them as a part of who she was. A visible reminder of her journey.
Continuing to rub in the lotion, she smiled at the spongy elasticity of her skin. It felt so alive and vibrant, and she remembered a time, not so long ago, when that hadn’t been the case.
She slipped the bottle of Banana Boat back into her bag, watching as two blond surfers with dark tans walked by carrying boards. Each wore shades, and open wetsuits pulled down to the waist, showing off ridged abs.
Cristina watched them and smiled.
Both returned smooth grins.
One of them lost track of where he was going. His foot caught on a mound of sand, lurching him forward. But he managed to hang onto his board and recover impressively.
She held in a laugh.
Staring off toward the blue horizon, her mind continued contemplating the beauty of the house and the area, allowing the perfectness of it all to cancel out her uncertainty about the disturbing events that had taken place there.
Ten minutes from the beach, she told herself again. Ten minutes.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have another book coming out this fall. It’s another thriller, but I can’t really talk about it yet. Plus two more that I’m finishing writing.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
My website is www.jakedparent.com. And I always love to hear from fans via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blurb for Cristina:
Driven by a desperate need to escape her past, Cristina Rodriguez moves into a picturesque hilltop home with an ocean view. The same place where, four years earlier, a young girl was kidnapped and murdered.
At first, both the house and the scenic California beach town seem perfect. Fresh air. Fresh faces. And the ocean is just ten minutes away. But as Cristina and her daughter set about rebuilding their lives, they soon discover that the past is not about to let go so easily.
A gripping psychological thriller by a #1 Amazon bestselling author, Cristina will grab you from the first page and keep you guessing until the very end.