Virginia novelist finds inspiration at fast food restaurant
By LAURA PETERS.
Mar. 03, 2018
STAUNTON, Va. (AP) — Brad Parks gets up early. He splashes some water on his face, forgoes shaving and leaves the house as the sun begins to rise.
His first stop is Hardee's. He walks in with his already purchased medium soda cup and fills it up with some Coke Zero.
Parks has been going to the Hardee's on Central Avenue in Staunton, Virginia, for the past year and a half. The staff there is used to him — and often he purchases multiple cups ahead of time to skip the line.
He sits in the far left corner booth, opens his laptop and starts writing.
He'll spend hours there, clicking the keyboard, observing the customers and chatting with the employees. But it wasn't always that way.
Shift leader Melanie Beasley was taken aback when Parks came in the first time and offered up buying multiple cups and sitting in the corner of the restaurant to write.
"I went home and looked him up to make sure he was a real author," she said.
It didn't take long for Parks to become part of the Hardee's family, though.
"I kind of warmed up to him," Beasley said. "He's still weird, but a good weird . eccentric."
He has had the cops come to Hardee's after seeing him walk around mumbling to himself.
Parks says he likes to clear his head by walking around outside, talking to himself. He's talking to the characters in his head, he said.
"I can hear their voices."
Now, if he leaves for a number of days, there's an empty space left in the restaurant.
"It's not the same without him," Beasley said.
Granted, it's a weird place to write a book. Even Parks admits that. He wrote most of his new novel in the Staunton Hardee's, and this isn't the first novel he's written inside the fast food chain. It's his eighth. Previously, he wrote from a tiny corner at a Hardee's in Middlesex.
Starting in 2008, while living in Middlesex, he wanted to get out of the house. He had two little children running around. It was distracting; he had set a deadline to finish 1,000 words each day and he wanted to get it done early.
The only place that was open at 6 a.m. was Hardee's.
"Hardee's was really the writing sanctuary," he said.
In 2016 he, his wife and two children moved to Staunton. So, it's the same deal, new location.
It has no internet. No distractions. It's just him, his computer and a flip phone. Yes, that's right: He is completely unplugged to the social internet universe when he's in this Hardee's writing bubble.
Plus, it helps him add some colorful characters to his books — the customers that enter the restaurant at an early time are interesting creatures.
Parks is a creature himself, one of a habit. He looks the same each day, has the same routine.
Sometimes he's disheveled in a grayish North Face zip-up jacket that's filled with various things — gum, earbuds for music, a lightbulb charger (you can plug your computer cord into it then screw it into where a light bulb is, because in Hardee's, there are no outlets) and a Hardee's name tag.
The name tag was given to him by Beasley. It says, "Brad Parks: Novelist."
It took a while for Parks to get up to that status. The first month, they thought he was just a homeless person there to use the bathroom.
But he's become a regular, and he's even put some of the employees and other customers in his new book. The main character is modeled after Beasley. He uses her maiden name Barrick for the character's name, but from there it's entirely from Parks' imagination.
He knows he appears a bit crazy, but the employees at Hardee's can explain him: He's just the establishment's resident writer.
Parks, a former newspaper reporter for The Washington Post and the Star-Ledger, sets his own deadlines. He abides by them, lives by them. He says it's kind of like his religion.
"I'm a member of the church of 1,000 words," he said.
That means, he's got to write 1,000 words a day — no excuses or exceptions — and Hardee's is his church.
"I do treat it like a religion," he said. "Like, this is something I have to do. This is how I feed my family. I don't get paid by the hour, the day, the month or the year. I get paid by the book."
He's done pretty well for himself in the book industry. He's won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty awards — three of crime fiction's most prestigious prizes.
He also wanted to work in space that reminded him of a newsroom.
"These people are kind of my colleagues," he said. "I see them every day. I expect to see them every day and they expect to see me every day. If I don't come in, they notice."