The Homecoming of Tustin High School Alumni, T. Jefferson Parker

By: Karli Stichter and Shannimarie De La Cruz

Tustin High School, established 1921, has been home to several unique and diverse individuals. Not only have these students made an impact on Tustin High and have left their legacy, but they have gone out and made a name for themselves in the world. Mrs. Christine Matos, Principal of Tustin High School reinforced that, “The importance of our ties with alumni allows us as a school to keep tradition alive. When schools start losing ties with their alumni, that’s when tradition starts to get lost.”

This past Saturday, my fellow journalist Shanni De La Cruz and I attended a Tustin Rotary Club meeting celebrating the homecoming of author and Tustin High Alumni, T. Jefferson Parker. Parker attended Tustin High in the late 1960’s.

Unlike most readers or writers, it was Parker’s parents who enforced the value of reading at a young age. His parents were not convinced that the TV was good for children, therefore instilling the idea of reading into Parker’s head. Although Parker didn’t have much choice in reading, he did enjoy the storytelling of his parents. His favorite book as a child was called Shag, Last of the Plains Buffalo by Robert M. McClung. That’s where his passion for stories and storytelling began. Having read to him when he was younger, and nearly forced to read when he was older, his parents soon instilled a love of reading in him that wouldn’t soon fade. While his love for reading emerged at a young age, his love for creating stories, would not develop until years later.

Parker was a sophomore, sitting in his Mythology and Folklore class at Tustin High School when the key moment in his road to being an author took place. His teacher, Ms. Paige, burdened with the responsibility of attempting to teach their rambunctious, disrespectful class, decided on that particular day, she would not teach them.  Instead, she instructed each student to choose a book from her library and to read it.  Parker randomly chose Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.  Blown away by just how insightful it was to the teenage experience, Parker gained an interest in writing.

Parker remembers thinking, “If I could bring pleasure to readers the same way Catch 22 did to me, then I would consider myself successful.”

After attending high school and receiving his Bachelor’s from the University of California, Irvine he pursued writing. Parker soon found himself working for a newspaper in Newport Beach called the Newport Ensign. He wrote police articles, movie articles, and other small stories before moving onto the Daily Pilot Newspaper in which he won three awards from his articles that were published. Throughout his experiences over the few years, he gathered information he knew would be useful for a book that would be published someday. He continued to be inspired and started writing his first book in his own time. He went through several story lines and attempts before he published his first book, Laguna Heat, in 1985.

The rest, as they say, is history. His 1985 novel peaked on the New York Times Bestseller list.  He had visited and lived in many places around Southern California that have inspired novels out of him, such as Little Saigon—a Vietnamese town that inspired a novel by the same name.

He has since written twenty-six novels and short stories, and is working on his twenty-seventh to be released in 2016.  Notably, his favorite novel to write, California Girl, takes place right here in Tustin. Tustin is Jefferson’s home and it will always be the place that started his career as a writer.

Towards the end of his presentation to the Rotary Club, Parker opened up a time for questions. Shannimarie De La Cruz bravely asked the question, “What advice would you offer to aspiring young writers?”

Jefferson answered that question with great delight, giving Shanni and I, as well as three other girls from Beckman and Foothill High School, some great advice. He explained that the best way to teach yourself to write is to: (1) put in the time, and (2) read high quality fiction and nonfiction books.

“Read the good ones. Hear the best, read the best, be the best,” exclaimed Jefferson to the Rotary Club and the students at our table.

It is evident Tustin is a special place to Parker. Through his writing, his enthusiasm for different places in Southern California is evident. He will continue to write and do what he loves as an author.

 

Fun Facts about T. Jefferson Parker:

 

  • The “T.” in T. Jefferson Parker actually does not stand for anything. It was a “decoration” and his parents said it would look good on the president’s door someday.
  • Attended Orange Coast Community College then went to University of California. Irvine.
  • Jefferson produced 20 mystery novels, 1 novel, and 5 short stories.
  • Three of his books won Edgar Awards; Silent Joe (2001), California Girl (2004), and Skinhead Central (Blue Religion, 2008).

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