LJ Talks to Samuel Parker

Parker made a splash last year with Purgatory Road (LJ 2/1/17), a gritty debut thriller about a couple’s day trip into the Nevada desert that goes very wrong and turns into an epic battle of good vs. evil. Not only did this novel receive acclaim from PW, LJ, and Booklist, it was also chosen as an LJ Best Christian Fiction title of 2017. Now, Parker returns with a second book that is sure to garner equal acclaim. A retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Coldwater (LJ 2/1/17) is an intense and riveting tale about the destructive nature of evil.

Both Purgatory Road and Coldwater are novels with very dark themes. What draws you to such stories?
I naturally gravitate to that type of storytelling. My favorite authors I’m sure play a factor: Cormac McCarthy, Robert Olmstead, Fyodor Dostoevsky. I don’t write as lyrically as they do, but what I am drawn to in their books is the stripped-down examination of the human condition.
I also think that people are capable of extreme violence and extreme charity, and that it’s all wrapped in the same box. I think we fool ourselves into believing there is a wide gap between good and evil. In my writing, I like to look at those dark thoughts we all have at some point in our lives and get down to the core of why we have them and how they can move us to a better place.

The Coldwater vigilantes spring directly from the self-righteous public outcry over a heinous crime committed by a young boy in our city. So, for [my novel], I started with the question: Can I move a reader to empathize with a character who did an incredibly evil act? I think that without empathy, you can’t have forgiveness, and without forgiveness, you have nothing.

Considering that your books are grittier than most typical CF fare, can you share the initial reaction from your readers and from the community of Christian writers?
The public reception is hard to gauge, as the only people who have personally contacted me are readers who have liked the book. I have read some reviews that were critical of the style or the nature of the storytelling. That just goes with the territory. One argument that I have heard several times would be whether the stories fit the genre, but that isn’t for me to decide. I’m just writing. I’ll let others classify or declassify at their leisure. The world is violent, people are prone to do selfish things, people are prone to [commit] horrible [acts], but even the least of these should be viewed as redeemable in some way, or what’s the point of the gospel?

Did you ever have any concerns about publishing a book so different and edgy for the genre?
Revell editor Andrea Doering provides great feedback on your question: “When I look for fiction for Revell, the biggest picture goal is to deliver on a quote I once read by Andy Crouch—’Christian fiction is fiction that can only be true because the gospel is true.’ In the case of Coldwater, the novel can only be true because, indeed, good and evil, damnation and redemption exist. For his [book], it’s the antithesis of the gospel that gets examined—what does it look like when we reject God, when we devalue what He values (life, humanity)?
Parker has picked an unlikely “anti-hero” [for his] main character, which he did with Purgatory Road as well. We don’t see much of this in the CBA [formerly Christian Booksellers Association], though we have at Revell, with the publication of novels by Steven James in the past. Among the many ways we express our faith and explore the larger themes of this life we’ve been offered, I believe there is room for novels such as these.”—Christine Sharbrough


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