You might say T. Jefferson Parker (Jeff) has to be in the mood to write. That’s because he sees the starting place for each of his novels to be an “internal atmosphere” (or mood) he wants to explore. For his 19th novel, THE JAGUAR, he took captivity, fear, and helplessness, whose only antidotes according to Jeff are “the creation of art and serious good luck.”
And he continues, “I wanted a languid jungle, tropical heat and history, surprising flora and fauna. I wanted music in the face of narco-terror, the idea that Art is the Answer to Death. I wanted a long-in-the-tooth castle in this jungle, filled with mysteries and treasures and beauties and scary, scary people.”
You can find all this and more in his newest release, THE JAGUAR.
Yet early in writing THE JAGUAR, Jeff was asking himself, “Well who’s going to want to read about this poor woman stashed in a castle in the Yucatan who is trying to keep the demons at bay and preserve her life and sanity?”
The woman in question is a pregnant Erin McKenna who has been kidnapped by the leader of a powerful cartel. Kept in a crumbling castle hidden in the Mexican jungle, Erin needs to accomplish only one feat – write “the greatest narcocorrido of all time.” Yes, the kidnapper wants her to use her songwriting abilities to tell his life story in a unique folk ballad. The penalty for failure is death.
Meanwhile the two men who love Erin—her corrupt American cop husband, Bradley Jones and upstanding lawman Charlie Hood—have to ignore their on-going rivalry in order to work together to rescue her.
“I wasn’t sure I could build a thriller around a kidnapped songwriter, but it worked. So in the end the book works as a thriller and an adventure story. Tons of action.”
Even for successful authors like Jeff, writing a novel is hard. But the hardest element in THE JAGUAR for Jeff to accomplish was not in writing the novel: it was writing the song, the narcocorrido, that Erin writes in the book. He wrote a rough draft, his former brother-in-law Tom Bagley rewrote it and then brought in some fellow professional musicians to rewrite and record it. “It’s awesome,” Jeff reports. “I think by the time this interview is published it will be available on my website. It’s called “City of Gold.”
The narcocorrido, according to Jeff, is a tale of drugs and money and violence that often features a noble or at least a sympathetic drug lord (or runner) who is pitted against vicious American DEA agents or brutish Mexican cops. “It’s real folk music, but contemporary. I’ve always liked the various forms and styles of Mexican music and how they often developed when European influence collided with native American music,” he adds.
THE JAGUAR is the fifth novel to feature Charlie Hood. Jeff knew he was going to write a series around Charlie when he made his appearance in LA OUTLAWS in 2008. It wasn’t until the third book, IRON RIVER (2010) that he knew Charlie’s tale felt like a sextet. “And that’s the plan,” Jeff said. “I’m writing the sixth and last Charlie Hood novel right now. No title yet. I’ll bring the whole wild series to an appropriate grand finale – I hope!”
But just because Charlie’s saga is drawing to a close doesn’t mean Jeff lacks inspiration or subject matter. Besides a “big, black tub filled with newspaper and magazine clippings,” he has little piles of material “littered” throughout his office, each one dedicated to a certain project.
“One of the delights of being a fiction writer is you can write about pretty much anything that interests you. I have stuff from decades ago that I still haven’t used. For instance, the disease rabies plays a large part in my 2011 novel THE BORDER LORDS. I had been looking for thirty years for a way to write about rabies, and finally found it!”
Jeff has said that at the end of his life he would like to hold one of his books and know it was an “excellent novel in every applicable way.” To reach this goal, with each novel he tries to improve on all fronts: “from the smallest use of punctuation to the economies of language to the understanding of human beings, to having a sense of the past. I try to raise the bar with each book. It keeps the challenge real.”
One interesting way Jeff would like to improve is to “get inside and really understand how things work in a criminal enterprise. I can imagine bad guys, but I’d like to know more of them.”
To see just how well T. Jefferson Parker imagines bad guys (and heroes and heroines), check out THE JAGUAR.
T. Jefferson Parker is the bestselling and award-winning author of eighteen previous novels including LA Outlaws, Iron River, and The Border Lords. He is also a three-time winner of the Edgar Award. Formerly a journalist, Parker lives with his family in southern California.
At his website, you can find essays pertaining to his fiction, information on his previous novels including those that feature Charlie Hood, FAQs, and what the T in T. Jefferson Parker stands for.