By the spring of 2008, she found one, at a school in Virginia’s Tidewater region. By July, Parks had a two-book deal from the Minotaur imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. By the end of the year, he had left The Star-Ledger.
These days, he is the stay-at-home father of two young children and writes his Carter Ross mysteries in a 1,200-square-foot cottage on a bucolic campus. “That’s really how we’re able to survive. We couldn’t do this if we were still living in New Jersey, with an expensive mortgage and all of that stuff,” Parks says on a recent spring morning. He was on his way from Virginia to a book convention in Ohio.
Faces of the Gone, his debut novel, came out in December 2009. Eyes of the Innocent is due out in February 2011. He’s completed and sold a third yet-untitled book in the series.
Parks deeply misses the camaraderie of the newsroom but is sanguine. “The elevator that had taken our careers steadily upward had stopped,” he says, “but it let me out on a pretty wonderful floor.”
Matt Rainey and Michelle Segall-Rainey
Neither Matt Rainey, a photographer, nor his wife, Michelle Segall-Rainey, a former photo assignment editor, ever wanted to leave The Star-Ledger. But with three children to support, by the time the 2008 buyout came around they felt they needed safer ground.
Michelle, who spent nine years at the Ledger, left in December and soon began a one-year college program to become a paralegal. Matt’s feature photography had won the Star-Ledger’s first Pulitzer Prize, in 2001, for an emotional series on the recovery of burn victims from a dorm fire at Seton Hall. He stayed on at the paper, which he had joined in 1995.
But he also founded his own photography/videography business. After the buyout announcement, the couple also worked hard to make themselves more financially secure in case the situation at The Star-Ledger worsened—cutting expenses, paying off their car, and even putting their spacious suburban house on the market before they concluded they could still afford it. Matt also continued to teach photojournalism at Kean University. “We came to the conclusion that being diversified was the best thing to do,” he says.
Michelle, who is forty-seven, had always been interested in the law, and she knew that paralegals were in demand. She enrolled in the training program at a local community college, juggling school, a part-time job, and childcare (she and Matt, forty-three, have a young son together, and Matt has two children by a prior marriage). She graduated, winning an award for academic excellence along the way, and landed a job as a contract analyst with publisher Rodale Inc. in March 2010. “They’re another family-owned company,” she says, sitting at her dining-room table. “Rodale will be the happy ending to my one-and-a-half years of tumult.”
For Matt, who grew up delivering The Star-Ledger, leaving the paper is something he doesn’t even want to consider. “I’m Matt Rainey, staff photographer at The Star-Ledger,” he says, laughing. “It’s just that I’m also Matt Rainey, wedding photojournalist. Matt Rainey, corporate editorial photographer. Matt Rainey, freelance photographer. And Matt Rainey, juggler of chain saws.”
The freelance work and teaching are crucial, he says, to make up for the pay cuts both he and Michelle have taken in their jobs, as well as the ten-day annual furloughs imposed by the paper.
Still, The Star-Ledger and New Jersey continue to constitute his identity. “One of the things that I pride myself on, and certainly one of the things that I hold most dear about the Pulitzer, is that I did it in New Jersey. I didn’t travel to Africa or Iraq or some foreign country and shoot some extravagant foreign story. I’ve done a lot of that and it’s wonderful and incredibly exciting.
“But I’m a community journalist,” he says. “That’s how I grew up, that’s how I was trained. My first job was working for a small weekly newspaper. What I love the most about it is that I’m telling the stories of the people in my community and the stories that affect their lives.”
And is that possible in the future? “I’m in the I don’t-know-part,” he says. “I hope so.”