Stan Parish: The International Man of Mystery Every Crime Writer Wants to Be
The "Love and Theft" author on books, birthdays and hiding from the pandemic in Europe
No offense, but Stan Parish is probably having a better summer than you.
He just published his second novel, Love and Theft, and for his birthday — he celebrated 37 in Barcelona — the New York Times handed down a rave review by Adam Sternbergh, who happens to be a long-admired influence of Parish’s.
“They sent me the text for that review on my birthday,” says Parish, “which was a great email to wake up to.”
By the time we spoke a few days later, Parish had made his way to Ibiza, where he spent the day putting in five or six hours of writing before taking a dip in the ocean, “on an island that had zero new cases of coronavirus yesterday,” he tells me.
In short, everything’s coming up Stan at the moment. But none of this is exactly how he would have pictured it happening.
As is true of most people these days, Parish’s life looks a little different right now than he imagined it would five months ago. Back in February, the writer had just relocated to L.A. after more than a decade in New York, making the de rigueur transition from New York media type grinding it out on the train to Midtown every morning to L.A. screenwriter. But 2020, as Parish puts it, had other plans.
“I told everyone that I was in L.A. for good,” he says. “I wasn’t going anywhere. I believed it.”
The moral of the story: “Never make plans. Or at least don’t make them out loud,” he advises. “I feel like the universe punishes you pretty heavily for that.”
Fortunately for Parish, his punishment currently finds him waiting out the pandemic in Europe, for which he fled California in late May.
“Once I realized I could work anywhere, the question became, ‘What is the nicest place in the world to work from now?’” The answer was Europe, and Italy specifically.
He says he wasn’t exactly “welcomed with open arms” at the Italian border, but thanks to dual citizenship into which he was literally grandfathered, he managed to muscle his way in.
“They were not thrilled,” he admits.
Since then, he’s spent the summer bouncing around Europe with two of his closest friends from growing up in Jersey, one of whom happens to be a former bullfighter with Spanish citizenship.
Together they’ve been “up and down Italy,” including a few nights at Massimo Bottura’s new country retreat outside of Modena. They also hit Capri for about a week, as well as stints in Positano, Florence and Venice. Parish was based in Rome for a bit, but of course there were friends to be seen in Ibiza, “so we came over here,” he tells me from his latest remote office by the Mediterranean Sea.
“Basically, hotels and Airbnbs are up to 80 percent off here now, so it’s a great time to be floating,” he explains, adding that the heavy travel and lodging discounts have left wine one of the trip’s only major expenses.
But for all the floating and natural wine sipping around Europe, Parish still identifies as a Jersey boy, and he has a “What Exit?” tattoo on his shoulder to prove it.
“New Jersey is where I’m from,” he tells me. “My spiritual home.”
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Parish’s first novel, Down the Shore. The author’s 2014 debut is a coming-of-age story following Tom Alison, a working-class teen from Princeton who finds his Ivy League plans dashed after getting caught selling drugs at his exclusive New Jersey prep school. With his Columbia offer off the table, Tom finds himself at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, where he gets high, chases after an elusive summer fling, and parties with a circa-2003 Prince William.
Parish maintains — as authors of first-person narratives are often called to maintain — that he is not Tom. But the Prince William part is true.
“Several times,” he says, when I ask if he actually partied with the prince while studying abroad as an undergrad in Scotland. Parish would go on to graduate from Wesleyan in 2006 before moving into New York media with roles at magazines like Esquire, GQ and Vanity Fair, but he still managed to score an invite to the royal wedding in 2011. He couldn’t make it, which is somehow even cooler.
For fans of Down the Shore, Parish’s second novel might sound like a significant departure from the literary fiction of the author’s debut bildungsroman. But according to Parish, the shift in genre is actually less of a pivot than it is a return to the original plan.
“There was a significant subplot in an early draft of Down the Shore, which gave it a much more thriller-y and genre-y feel, that ultimately didn’t work in that book,” says Parish. “But I loved writing that part of it, and was really loath to cut it.”
From then on, the author knew his next move would take him toward thrillers and crime fiction, which he says have always been his “first love” as a reader.
That love affair began when a 10- or 11-year-old Parish first spotted Robert Stone’s 1975 National Book Award-winning novel, Dog Soldiers, on his father’s bookshelf.
“I pulled it off my dad’s bookshelf when I was a kid,” says Parish. “He said, ‘You put that back. You can’t read that. It’s full of sex and drugs and violence.’ So of course, as soon as he went to bed, I snuck in and took it, and read it cover to cover.”
He still considers it the greatest thriller ever written, “if you classify it as a thriller, which I think some people don’t.”
The fact that Parish cites Stone as one of the chief influences behind Love and Theft makes sense then, considering Parish’s own debut thriller differs somewhat from the cookie-cutter potboilers many readers associate with the genre. As most reviews have noted, Love and Theft is the finely plotted story of a thriller woven with the craft and character development of Parish’s earlier work.
“I’ve always gravitated towards those thrillers, where there was a real attention to craft and to language,” he says, citing Sternbergh’s work as a prime source of inspiration, genre-bending books like The Blinds and Shovel Ready. “Which is why that New York Times review is particularly delightful,” he adds. “He writes these fantastic, beautifully plotted and executed thrillers, where there is a real attention to language and craftsmanship at the level of the sentence.”
Love and Theft, Parish’s own contribution to the highbrow thriller genre he’s long admired, officially dropped Tuesday. These days, he spends his time in a variety of remote European offices, from coffee shops to the backs of tiny Fiat Panda rental cars, where he’s working on a TV pilot, filing the occasional freelance story on the joys of drinking in the shower or curing writer’s block with techno, and sipping wine — “both in and out of the shower” — in between post-writing ocean swims.
“I feel like Americans forgot this. But Europe is a really great place to work as a writer,” he says. “There are tons of places to write, if coffee shops and cafes are your thing, and the pace of life is pretty forgiving.”
Parish, who says he’s his best self around 2 in the morning, finds the time difference agrees with him as well.
“It was tough being in California, and waking up and already having all these emails from New York. Here, it’s completely fine with me, being this far ahead of America.”
Between the bullfighting best friend and the late night, European-cafe-writer aesthetic, this is all starting to sound like a 21st-century return to the expat days of Hemingway and his fellow American modernists in Europe.
“I’m going to try to pull off a resurgence of that era, but with well-written crime fiction instead of experimental novels,” says Parish. He’s joking, of course, but there’s some truth to it. In a world of indefinite work from home, he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see an influx of American creative types taking their craft to Europe.
“Again, the minute my book events became Zoom events, the question became, ‘What is the best place to work from if you can work from anywhere?’ There was no obvious answer for me in America, whereas Rome was immediately at the top of my list,” says Parish. “If you can work from Europe, there is no downside, as far as I can tell.”
That said, he does hope to return to the US eventually, where he imagines he will one day pitch that TV pilot in person — he just has no idea when that might be, and neither does anyone else.
“I’m extremely grateful to be able to get over here and do this,” he adds. “But yeah, at the end of the day, I am American. I would like to return.”
In the meantime, he knows that from the perspective of the perpetually quarantined American, all the European travel and oceanside wine sipping might look a little tone-deaf. “I’m sure if I saw what I was doing from the vantage point of someone in lockdown in America, I would also be annoyed with me,” he says. “Which I guess is the risk of hiding out in Europe during the pandemic. But what can you do?”
Indeed, weird times call for weird measures.
“I mean, it’s a weird time to be doing anything. Celebrating your birthday, publishing a novel. But yeah, I guess it feels as good as it can.”