Stephen Parrish • The Tavernier Stones
Remember that kid in the old neighborhood who managed to get along with everyone? It didn’t matter who — the tough kids, the rich kids, the nerds, the jocks, the stoners. Somehow he or she found a way to befriend each one of them, and somehow that guy made it look easy.
That’s how it feels when you visit Stephen Parrish’s blog, at least that’s how it felt to me in the heady 18 months before the last presidential election. I don’t know what Stephen was like as a child, but his blog was a town hall where a very wide group of beginning, emerging and professional writers went to play, and it was always combative and often entertaining. Debates raged, and arguments were probed and dissected with literary flair. Each week was a political donnybrook, with Republicans pitted against Democrats, Independents battling Libertarians, and one stouthearted and dashing socialist treehugger holding off a screaming horde of wild-eyed capitalists.*
Admittedly, I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the liberals on Stephen’s blog won the election for Obama, but I have to think it was a very near thing. We were just that good.
During these debates, Stephen adopted a take-no-prisoners pose that was never less than forceful and persuasive — characteristics that I admire because they’re crucial for anyone who fancies himself a journalist. Like me, he also enjoys a good argument. But here’s where we often part.
Steve has the ability to vociferously disagree with people, and still hold their friendship. I think he should give lessons.
It’s a really useful skill. And it’s one reason why Stephen Parrish has a legion of followers who are helping to introduce his first book — The Tavernier Stones — through social media.
I’m happily one of those people, and although my contribution is small, I believe that we can be mighty together.
For my part, I am honoring a friendship that appeared just when it was needed. I had barely emerged from an exhausting battle with migraines and other illnesses, and I wondered if I could still string a few words together into something that looked like a sentence. I practiced haltingly and frequently on my first blog, Smart Like Streetcar, and Stephen was an early reader. It felt like I was standing in sunlight for the first time in a dozen years, so I had to shield my eyes. I couldn’t tell how I was doing.
As a few of you reading now will tell, Stephen was kind and encouraging. It didn’t hurt that we had much in common, besides our desire to write. We both know the crushing pressure of 18-hour days in the restaurant industry (although Steve still doesn’t dice an onion with my grace or gallic élan). We share a love of fine food and celebrate the noble ancestry of Riesling grape, though this is less of a nerdy club than it used to be.
But most importantly, Stephen was one of the first people besides Kristina who encouraged me openly, and that was as vital to me as water when words started trickling out again. For that kindness — and for the quiet fellowship of the writing life and his truly epic battle in publishing The Tavernier Stones — allow me introduce you to author Stephen Parrish through 25 Questions.
*I jest; the treehugger was supported by many people who want to save the planet, including his combative and astonishingly cute spouse. We made a great tag-team.
The Tavernier Stones
In Steve’s own words: The Tavernier Stones is based on the true story of seventeenth century journeyman and trader Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He made six voyages to the Orient, chiefly India, and brought back to Europe many of the world’s most famous diamonds, including one that would eventually be recut into the Hope. He mysteriously disappeared during his seventh and final voyage to India. My novel capitalizes on that mystery: it postulates that he arrived at his destination, amassed the largest cache of gemstones in history (including several actual stones that haven’t been seen since his time), and was robbed during his return trip to Europe. The legend of the “Lost Tavernier Stones” swelled during the centuries following Tavernier’s disappearance, until the day a body floated to the surface of a bog in northern Germany, with one of the stones clutched in its fist. That’s where my story begins.
25 Questions With Stephen Parrish
What was your favorite book as a child? What is your favorite children’s book?
It’s funny, but when I was very young I liked pretty much everything I read. Because I wasn’t reading critically. If I had to choose one YA book, it would be Rascal, by Sterling North. Judging from an adult perspective, I think Shane, by Jack Schaefer, is a textbook example of how to write a novel.
What is your most marked characteristic? Does it help or hinder you?
I’m not the right person to ask. I’ll tell you what I’ve been working on lately: learning how to turn problems into opportunities. It’s amazing what you can turn around, after a little practice.
Which quality do you most like in a man?
The less you try to show me you’re stronger than me, or smarter, or richer, the better we’ll get along. Crushing handshakes are for Neanderthals.
Which quality do you most like in a woman?
The smarter a woman is, the prettier she looks to me.
What is your favorite memory?
Playing Barbies with my daughter. I’d give anything to have those days back again.
Describe the best meal you’ve ever had.
Oh, you should have been there. Salamanca, Spain. Tapas appetizers: spicy sausages, mushroom canapés, fried calamari, Serrano ham, hot peppers, smoked oysters, cubes of marinated cheese. Rioja wine. Hmm. Silver trays, waiters in red velvet jackets, shards of light sprinkling down from crystal chandeliers, bejeweling the low-lit room. Clinking wine glasses, the distant clatter of cooking utensils, hushed conversations; like an orchestra tuning up. Deep fried sheep brains, rice cakes drenched in clotted beef blood. Rioja wine. Hmm. Crown roast of lamb, Salad Niçoise, sautéed potatoes, lemon sponge custard. Oh, you should have been there.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last two years? The best movie you’ve seen?
The Orphanage is a Spanish horror film that put tears into my eyes. I don’t know whether it’s been dubbed in English. There’s an American remake in production, but try to see the original with Belén Rueda. As for books, everytime anyone asks for a recommendation I say The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter. I think I’m on my twentieth copy, because I keep lending it out.
What characteristic about yourself would you most like to change?
I’m afraid the list is too long. I’d need a complete makeover.
What always makes you happy?
Emails from friends.
What always angers you?
The presumption of privilege.
At this moment, where would you most like to be?
Somewhere in 2003. My daughter was eight years old.
Tell me about a boneheaded mistake you made in writing The Tavernier Stones.
Early beta readers told me to cut some perspective characters, and I resisted. I resisted so long, that when it came time to cut them, when I had no other choice, I was attached to them. In my observation writers typically wait until they’re completely done, until their work is polished, before passing the manuscript around. I think this is a mistake. Better to get your structural stuff fixed early in the process, when it’s less painful. And don’t worry about it sounding like a draft; that’s what beta readers are for.
What has blogging brought to your life?
Far more than I expected. In no particular order:
a) Numerous contacts in the industry, many of whom helped me, some, without whose help, I wouldn’t have succeeded.
b) Friends; most of my friends nowadays, including close friends, are people I’ve never met face-to-face.
c) Practice writing; you know when you post it, people are going to read it.
d) The blog is a vehicle for expressing things that just won’t fit anywhere else.
e) Some short works that first appeared on the blog, just for the sake of blogging, are being picked up by an anthology, and I’m confident others will be published as well.
Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why? And fictional hero?
Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because I identified with her as a boy. (Of course, I never could admit that to anyone.) Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, because I wish I were more like him.
Who are your three favorite composers?
Ludwig van Beethoven. That’s three names, right?
Who is your favorite painter?
Andrew Wyeth, Edgar Degas, and John Singer Sargent.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to make readers laugh and cry in the same story.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a writer who could make readers laugh and cry in the same story.
What has been the most exciting part of being published?
Upon publication, the characters in your story become immortal.
What is your greatest regret?
Since I practice turning problems into opportunities, I must challenge the premise of the question. (See how I got out of answering it?)
Aside from your daughter and your book, of what accomplishment are you most proud?
The answer always surprises people, because I’m a pacifist: My honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Infantry.
What is in heavy rotation on your iPod?
I’m afraid I don’t know what an iPod is.
When was the last time you wept?
Last night. You didn’t ask why, so you’re SOL on that one, bub. Oh, I may as well as admit it, I watched The Twilight Saga: New Moon last night and I cried like a heartbroken schoolgirl. It’s just so sweet and sad.
Steve didn’t actually say the part in italics, but as omnipotent editor I had to extract some punishment for ducking the question.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I never met a priceless gemstone I didn’t like.
In what way do you hope your life will change now that you’re a published author?
I’m hoping the first book will create the opportunity to publish a second. Someday I’ll get rich, solved the world’s problems, and wear sunglasses indoors like Bono.
— XXX —
File it under cool: Steve has created a treasure hunt to promote The Tavernier Stones and the prize is a one-carat diamond.