Over a decade, Malcolm “Mac” Parker of Addison did the unthinkable: He raised $28 million from Vermonters to make a film. But the bulk of that money went to repaying the investors themselves, and $3.8 million allegedly ended up in the pockets of Parker’s silent partner, Connecticut chiropractor Louis Soteriou. Now, as his fraud case draws national press, Parker is trying to begin the repayment of his debts — by self-publishing a book.
It sounds like a joke. But, unlike his still-unfinished documentary, Birth of Innocence, Parker’s novel, Rare Earth, is readily available. He’s selling downloads for $12 on his website, with an assurance that “55% of proceeds will go directly into an escrow account for the benefit of lenders.” And he has sent the book to each of those lenders — whose responses to his new endeavor vary.
On April 11 Parker, 54, pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud in federal court. He is cooperating with the prosecution of Soteriou and can’t discuss the case. But he agreed to sit down with Seven Days — at his attorney's office — to talk about Rare Earth.
“I’m not so naïve as to think that writing one novel and posting it on a website as a PDF is going to repay the money that I owe,” says the soft-spoken Northeast Kingdom native. While Parker hopes to secure an agent and trade publication for Rare Earth, he says he made no “calculated decision” to write it. “That’s what I was given to do, and that’s what I’m doing.”
That’s no mere turn of phrase. After he realized Soteriou had betrayed his trust, Parker says, “I began thinking and asking and praying, literally, OK, what can I do as a creative person to fulfill the promises that I have made?” In April 2011, he continues, he “woke up in the middle of the night and the whole book was there, saying in no uncertain terms, ‘Write me.’” He posted it on the web in February and has sold 30 copies so far.
What is this book that Parker was “given” to write? It is not a thinly veiled account of his current troubles. (Parker has detailed his history with Soteriou in a statement to the U.S. District Court.) While it doesn’t argue Parker’s own cause, Rare Earth does defend a value he says is still paramount for him: trust.
The novel’s protagonist is Marnie Miller, a young woman who has left her ancestral Vermont farm for a city job and a series of dead-end relationships. Until, that is, she meets a sensitive young man named Cecil Billings, who is smitten with her and her background. (“And you left this place?” he asks, when she brings him to meet her parents.)
The two fall chastely in love against the backdrop of the rugged mountain that rises above the Millers’ farm — for them, an emblem of nature’s beneficent power. For a Texas-based energy company, however, that same mountain is a potential lucrative source of “rare earth” minerals.
The defenders and exploiters of nature square off in a battle for the land with echoes of recent cases such as the Lowell Mountain protests. “They would be stealthy,” writes Parker of the Texans, “using Vermonters’ own words and ideals against them — ‘alternative energy,’ ‘green technologies.’”
Defending the land is a perennial subject for Vermont writers. But what about the charges that Parker himself took advantage of his fellow Vermonters by collecting their money for a project that remains unrealized?
Parker has described himself to the court as acting under the guru-like sway of Soteriou, a self-styled healer. Some readers might see in the story of Marnie and Cecil a wishful rewriting of those events. Marnie fights her native mistrust as she gives herself over to a new way of looking at the world. But while her slow-to-come trust is rewarded, Parker’s “decade of positive, transformational experience” with Soteriou eventually led to a radical betrayal.
“For me, this whole story is really about trust. Phenomenal trust,” says Parker. “My trust — misguided, but trust nonetheless — and people’s trust in me.”
The book, he continues, is “about trust and reclaiming it, and reestablishing it in places where it’s been broken.” By sending it to the lenders, he claims, he sought not “to try to convince them, but hopefully to demonstrate that I’m doing all I can to make this right.”
How do Parker’s investors feel about that endeavor? Robert Melik Finkle, who lent him $525,000, has become one of his strongest critics. “At this point I am so angry and disgusted by Mac Parker that anything he attempts in the guise of creativity is repulsive to me,” Finkle writes in an email. Still, he “forced” himself to read Rare Earth, which he calls “insipid, trite, predictable and saccharinely sentimental,” as well as a “diversionary tactic” aimed at the courts, not the public. In a message to Parker, Finkle calls upon him to abandon this venture and focus on bringing Birth of Innocence to market.
Sharon Gutwin, owner of RehabGYM, lent Parker $100,000 and considers herself a friend of his family, she says in a phone interview. She hasn’t had time to read Rare Earth, but says, “I don’t think that it has much chance of helping in any sizable way. This is a show of how Mac Parker’s heart is in the right place.”
Of Parker himself, Gutwin says, “This is a person who was extremely gullible and vulnerable.” She recalls an occasion on which she met Soteriou, who seemed mentally unstable to her, and observed that “Mac was looking at this guy with a smile and a trance. That’s what scared me.”
“Part of what I’m learning is that I’m still a trusting person, but I’m far more awake,” says Parker now. “I don’t want the lesson for me to be to go into a shell and be a hard and cynical person. That’s not who I am.” His book, he says, “is about and for the people who trusted Mac Parker. So my hope is that it will be very successful, for them.”
Whatever its prospects, Rare Earth conveys the author’s worldview with passion and eloquence, giving readers a taste of what they might eventually see in his film. Gutwin thinks Parker is sincere: “He really believes he can someday pay everything back.”
At the same time, she sees irony in his choice to devote 15 percent of the book’s proceeds to his family’s living expenses: “If it were me, I’d be living in a tent.”