Q&A With O.C. Author T. Jefferson Parker

The prolific crime writer sheds some light on the dark side of Orange County
Crime novelist T. Jefferson Parker

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

What makes the county compelling, crime-wise?

It’s the whole idea of “sunshine noir.” How can you have a place as beautiful as Orange County, and yet have a guy like Randy Kraft cruising around, or [Nightstalker] Richard Ramirez traveling down from L.A. It’s just cognitive dissonance when you have that happening around the planned community of Irvine. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s what’s interesting about it.

What role do real O.C. crimes play in your books?

We’ve all heard about a lot of the crimes that have taken place here over the decades, and some are referenced in my books. But for me, headlines are factual stage dressing.

Your books favor South County as a locale.

To a middle-class suburban Tustin boy, arriving in Laguna Beach in 1980 was like showing up on a distant shore. It was so romantic, so different, so worldly. Then there’s the Pacific and the jagged coastline and the whole culture of the beach—the artists and the history. There’s something very singular about places like Laguna and Newport.

But isn’t the county more than that?

To me it was always puzzling why the WASP Republican stereotype persisted. You could hardly talk to people outside of O.C. without them mentioning John Birchers and John Wayne Airport. But that’s never been true. Orange County is very diverse, and there are some rough-ass places. It’s a writer’s paradise.

In recent years you’ve strayed from O.C. settings.

True. I’ve been crossing county lines and genres. [Parker relocated from O.C. to north San Diego County in 2000.] But down the road I’d love to catch up with some of my earlier characters, maybe the character of “Silent Joe,” or the Becker brothers from “California Girl.” And I’ll see how Orange County has changed. I’m only saying adios for now.

Your latest book, “Full Measure,” is a literary novel was inspired by troops returning from war to Camp Pendleton, near your home in Fallbrook. Can you recommend three books about war and homecomings?

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” by Ben Fountain. Fountain accomplishes the impossible here, finding the absurd heartbreaking-but-funny side of a squad
of Army combat troops who return from Iraq—briefly—for a “victory tour.” Fountain is not a combat veteran, but he sees into these characters with better than 20/20 vision.

“Redeployment,” by Phil Klay. The author had his Marine Corps boots on the ground in Iraq during the surge. Like the IEDs he describes, these stories
are sudden and devastating. You get a real feel for the lines between “us” and “them” that military service draws. Overpowering, limned with the sacred and the profane.

“Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. Within this astonishing short-story collection, the 34-page “Home” releases in the reader all the emotions of a novel. It’s the best single piece of short fiction about coming home from war I’ve read. The final sentence is a heart-stopping challenge to all America, a cry bellowed with raw beauty.


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