Monday, February 14, 2011
"HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK" Brad Parks
This is a book that began with discarded mattresses.
As a reporter with The Newark Star-Ledger in the winter of 2008, making daily drives
through Newark, I felt like I was suddenly seeing mattresses everywhere – leaning up against porches, discarded on sidewalks, tossed near dumpsters. Finally, I asked the question: What’s with the mattresses?
Foreclosures, I was told. People were defaulting on their loans and being ordered out of
their houses. They tended to be folks who didn’t have cars, or only owned small ones, and
therefore couldn’t take along their mattresses. So they were left behind.
Little did we guess, but those mattresses foretold a worldwide economic collapse – and,
as it turned out, also led to my next book, Eyes of the Innocent.
The first part of that story is, by now, well known. We began learning about something
called “mortgage-backed securities” – mortgages, many of them of the subprime variety, that had been packaged, sliced into pieces, and sold to investors who were assured they were ultrasafe.
Except they weren’t. Not even close. Mortgage-backed securitization was really just a pretty
ribbon on a bunch of ugly loans, given to borrowers who couldn’t afford them. In Newark, it
wasn’t unusual to find applicants making $35,000 a year being approved to buy houses that,
with prices inflated by speculators and flippers, were going for $350,000 or more. The math
didn’t work. And as soon as the global credit crunch hit, depriving the housing market of the
easy money that had fueled the insanity, it all got bad in a hurry.
The wave of foreclosures that first pounded Newark in 2008 – which I covered in some
depth for The Star-Ledger – soon spread across the country. Many mortgage-backed securities became worthless, a blow from which some of the world’s largest financial institutions never recovered.
For Newark, the pain has been no less acute. Houses left empty by foreclosure are magnets
for trouble. And all those years of speculation and house-flipping left a messy legacy,
especially for the people who dove in it over their heads and were left standing when the music stopped and the market crashed.
Those two elements – what happens to the houses and the people victimized by the
subprime mortgage scandal – helped inform and inspire Eyes of the Innocent, fictional reporter Carter Ross’s latest romp into urban America.
Brad Parks is also the author of FACES OF THE GONE.