With Hollywood script writer, Will Akers
John Connolly Q & A
In this fantastic Q&A, author John Connolly chats with Hollywood script writer Will Akers, about Charlie Parker; the hero of many of John's novels:
When someone asks you to describe Parker in a couple of sentences, what do you say?
I say that he's a man in search of redemption, and we redeem ourselves by engaging in acts of sacrifice on behalf of others. (And that word "redemption" comes freighted with spiritual baggage, which goes part of the way toward explaining some of the supernatural elements in the books.)
He is also a creature of almost pure empathy, perhaps because of his own sufferings. There are those who suffer, and then close themselves off from the world because of their pain, and then there are those who, in a way, want others to hurt like they hurt. Finally, there are those whose own experience of pain makes them want to ensure that others who are vulnerable don't have to suffer in the same way. Parker begins as the first kind in Every Dead Thing, and by the middle of the book has moved toward becoming the third. He is aware of the distinction between law and justice - a recurrent theme in mystery fiction - and acts to breach the gap.
Finally, the essayist Edmund Burke wrote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." If we stand by and don't act, we become complicit. Parker refuses to be complicit, even at the risk of harm to himself, or of chipping away at other elements of his humanity - at the risk of quote-bombing, be careful when you fight monsters lest you become a monster.
When someone asks "what is the book series really about" what do you say?
I try not to answer it because my answer may not be the one that the reader wants! A lot of that is covered in the earlier question, though: justice, compassion, empathy, the overcoming of grief and loss. Ultimately, though, they're setting up a larger confrontation between Parker and those who stand with him, and a significant force of evil in the world. While each book can be read as an individual mystery, a larger story becomes apparent if someone reads them in order. That's not something mystery fiction tends to do very often. It's more the preserve of fantasy or historical literature. That might help your pitch a little: on one level, what draws in readers - and, I guess, viewers - is character first and foremost, but it helps if, as in, say, The Sopranos, one can then combine that with a larger plot that reveals itself gradually over time.
What do you feel Parker wants? What scares him? What does he need?
He is a conflicted man, and the twin poles of that conflict are represented by Angel and Louis, and the new relationship that he forms later in the series, out of which comes a daughter. If you decide that you want to fight monsters, then you can't have a family beside you because - as Parker learns - they may well be harmed. On the other hand, the idea of domesticity appeals to him: a wife, a family, a dog. Ultimately, though, I think the appeal of fighting is greater, in part because he has such rage and hurt and pain inside him. Quite often in mystery fiction, dreadful trauma of the kind that Parker has suffered is just mentioned in passing (a bit like the dead wife of James Bond in the movies). The reality, of course, is that, if one were to lose a wife and child under the circumstances that Parker loses Susan and Jennifer, the trauma would define you for the rest of your life. You might struggle against it. Whole hours might even go by when you don't think of them. Ultimately, though, the memory, and the pain, would return with a vengeance.
So what does he fear? Loss, I think: the loss of another wife, and another child. Harm coming to those close to him, friends included, because of who he is and what he is doing. Other than that, he is almost fearless: the worst that could happen has happened to him, and he has survived. He is fractured, but he is alive. Oh, he wants to avoid physical pain, but that's just common sense. But I don't think he fears death, or what lies beyond it. He's too close to it already. What he needs is fuel for his rage. What he needs is an answer to the question 'Why?': Why has this happened to me? Why do I draw these things to me? Like everyone, he wants to find out that, in the end, there was a pattern, a plan, even if the pattern ultimately leads to a confrontation with an entity he may not be able to defeat.
Whatâ€™s the hardest thing for Parker to forgive about himself?
Not being there when Susan and Jennifer were killed. If he couldn't protect them, I think he would have preferred to die with them than endure the pain of their loss. Killing the man responsible brought him no release.
What was Susan like, when she and Parker were together and happy?
I think they were happy once, but he wasn't able to open up to her, to share a deep-seated hurt and confusion that went back to his childhood. I think he was probably immature when he met her, and a little selfish. She was probably attracted to some of that hardness within him, but thought that she could go beneath it and find the better man. Sometimes she could; mostly, she couldn't. He wasn't bad, or violent, or a very poor father and husband, but there was a distance between them that was growing. Had she not died, I suspect that she would have left him.
And it's hard being married to a policeman, especially one who isn't ideally suited to the job. He doesn't find a second family in the force, which might have helped him a little.
Why were Parker and Susan having problems? What did he do that upset his wife? What did she do that upset him? What led to his drinking?
There's some of that above. I don't think she necessarily did anything to upset him: I think there was just a slow, sad breakdown in communication. One important thing: he's not an alcoholic, and never was. That's cleared up later in the series. A bar was just an escape, and a couple of drinks probably dulled the pain a bit, but he wasn't knocking back huge quantities of hard liquor.
Why are Parker and Rachel so good together?
Well, they are and they aren't. She understands him, basically. She's endured loss of her own - her brother, a policeman himself, was killed in the line of duty - so she finds an echo of her own rage and pain in Parker. Unfortunately, his anger is far more potent than hers. I think she thought that they might provide consolation for each other and through their daughter begin to rebuild a world for themselves. But - see above - he has other visions of world-building in mind, and a lot of them involve tearing things down first.
What are you most passionate about, re: Parker?
His empathy. He is a good man, but a compromised one. Also, I never have him say anything that I don't believe, although sometimes his views are a little more extreme than mine.
What ultimately is Parker's true nature?
If you mean in terms of the debate about him possibly being something more than human, well, there's a partial answer in the new book: he is no angel, although the person who tells him that has a vested interest, perhaps, in making him believe that he is not. But there is something in his nature that is more than human, even if he's only a channel for another power.
Do you plan on Parker ever finding happiness or at least peace?
He will find peace. He may have to achieve it through the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, though.
Why can't Parker stop? It seems like he could actually walk away if he chose to and have his life with Rachel and Samantha, but he chooses not to.
I don't think that he has a choice: he has a compulsion to act on behalf of others. He can't walk away and leave someone to suffer. He might have been able to in the past, but once you open that channel, once you allow yourself to feel the pain of others, you can't close it again. There is, I think, a kind of fatalism to him. He understands that he's on a ride and he can't get off. He just wants to see what's waiting at the end of it.
What's your favorite thing about writing the book series?
On a personal level, Parker is a prism: he allows me to refract experience, to see the world in a different light.
On a technical level, there's a pleasure in creating the villains, who seem to strike a chord with readers. They remember them, and that's unusual in mystery novels: the villains tend to blur into one. For some reason, mine stay with the reader. They're creatures of the id: even I'm not sure where they come from. They're grotesques, but each still has a spark of humanity. They're corrupted and blighted, but to be corrupted there has to be something there to corrupt to begin with.
What has made the book series popular over such a long period of time? How might that translate to television?
Again, there's some of that in the previous answer. But, first off, all fiction is character-driven. Well, all good fiction, or all fiction that aspires to be good. Dumb people make the assumption that mystery is plot-driven, but plot comes out of character. Plot is the product of the actions of characters: if you get the characters right, the rest will follow. So people empathize with Parker. They understand how he has come to be the way that he is, and they like that compulsion that he has to act, even if they wouldn't want to be him. They like Angel & Louis: they're hugely important to the series. They humanize Parker, and lighten the load of the books. Get those three right, and you're already sailing when it come to TV.
And then you have the supernatural element, which was never a big part of mystery fiction because mystery fiction, being rationalist in its roots, has a huge distrust of the supernatural. I never saw a conflict between the two.
That supernatural element feeds into the villains too: it makes them larger than life, and more threatening.