Showing posts with label Robert B. Parker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert B. Parker. Show all posts

09 April 2018

Parker – Under the Influence


by Jan Grape

Jan Grape
I’ve been binge re-reading books by Robert B. Parker, the Spenser books. I’ve enjoyed them a lot this time around. It had been so many years, I had forgotten the plots. But Hawk and Susan and Spenser remain quite vivid. Of course, the television show did add to those three.

Parker was excellent at character description. Even a minor character, we learned how they were dressed in detail.
“He had on a light gray overcoat with black velvet lapels and he was wearing a homburg. The hair that showed around the hat was gray. The shirt that showed above the lapels of the overcoat was white, with a pin collar and a rep tie tied in a big Windsor knot.”
The Spenser early books were excellent. The last few… not as good.

THE WIDENING GYRE wasn’t the first Parker book I read but, it was the one I bought in Houston at Murder By The Book and got him to sign. He was one of the first Best Selling authors I met. I vaguely remember saying something about how I was writing and he mumbled something like “Good luck, kid,” or maybe “Forget it, lady.”

By 1983, I had finished my first novel and was shopping it around. It came close to being published three times but either the editor pushing it left or the publisher folded. I’m glad it was never published because it wasn’t ready and never would be. However in the hands of a good editor, maybe…

From that first novel though, came Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn, my female private eyes. I eventually wrote maybe a dozen short stories about their adventures. Jenny was white and Cinnamon Jemimah Gunn was African American, but back then everyone said ‘black’. Jenny usually described C.J. as looking a lot like Nichelle Nichols who played Uhuru on STAR TREK. She also could look like Nefritti when she took on a haughty look.

My dearest friend during those days was Choicie Green who was black. She and I had worked together in a small hospital in Ft. Worth. Choicie was my x-ray student and co-worker and I was the chief technician. We showed how two females of different cultures and backgrounds could be close friends. She and I remained close for many years. Choicie was the one who gave C.J. her full name of Cinnamon Jemimah.

Spenser and Hawk were a big influence. I didn't want C.J. to be as tough as Hawk, but I made her an ex-policewoman. Six feet tall, slender and beautiful, she’d modeled in her teens and early 20s.

These were some of my thoughts last night as I read THREE WEEKS IN SPRING by Parker and his wife Joan about her finding a lump in her breast and having a mastectomy. I could relate. He seemed to lose his way for a while. Heard he and wife had problems but still lived together. That could have been merely a rumor.

One thing I’ve remembered that I sometimes quote but give him credit. Once on a radio call in show the caller asked “Why don't you write your books faster?” And Robert said, “You’re  supposed to read them the way I write them… Five pages a day.”

I love that.

04 February 2017

For Dialogue Lovers Only



by John M. Floyd



All writers have things that we enjoy most (and least) about the process of creating fiction. Some of these preferences, I think, are related to our backgrounds--former journalists/nonfiction-writers seem to be especially good at descriptions and exposition, psychology folks seem to focus on emotions and relationships, teachers like style and editing, engineers seem more comfortable with plotting and structure, etc. Then again, some say our prior and non-writing experiences don't matter a whit; we just like what we like.

I can speak only for myself. My two favorite tasks in writing a story are, for whatever reasons, (1) outlining the plot and (2) writing dialogue. Since we've had a great many columns at this blog about the pros and cons of outlining, I thought I'd focus on my second preference.

Talking points


I love to write dialogue. Probably because I love to read dialogue. When I pick up a magazine or anthology or collection of short stories, I almost always find myself flipping through it and looking for "white space." When I find stories that have a lot of that--which of course means short sentences, which means dialogue--I usually read those stories first. Why? Because dialogue means something's happening. I'm cruising along through the tale listening to people talk (and sometimes scream and shout and argue), and not plodding through all that thick, margin-to-margin writing.

Does that searching-for-white-space approach always work? No. Stories with a lot of dialogue, if they're not done well, can be more tiring and tedious than pure narrative, and, since there's no magic formula for all this, stories written either way can be either wonderful or terrible. I've always said dialogue is like playing the guitar: it's hard to do well and easy to do badly.

But I should point out that the amount of dialogue in a piece of fiction depends on the piece. Three of my recent published stories had almost no dialogue, and one of them had none at all. In fact, of the five widely accepted "elements" of fiction (plot, characterization, POV, dialogue, and setting), dialogue is the only one that's not absolutely necessary. Well, okay, I realize that some stories don't have to have plots either, but most good stories do. Another point: I'm convinced that dialogue is a marketing advantage. If you write two stories of equal quality and one has a lot of dialogue and one has very little, I think the one with more dialogue is easier to sell.

Masters of the craft

My fondness for dialogue is probably one of the reasons I've so enjoyed the books of the late Robert B. Parker. His series novels, whether they're about Spenser or Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall or Virgil Cole, contain a LOT of conversations between characters. And it's snappy, believable dialogue that either moves the plot forward or tells us something about the people in the story. Sometimes it does both. Other writers well-known for the quality of their dialogue are George V. Higgins, Dick Francis, Elmore Leonard, James M. Cain, Carl Hiaasen, Toni Morrison, Harlan Coben, John Steinbeck, Janet Evanovich, Joe Lansdale, James Scott Bell, etc. Advice to fellow writers: Read these authors, then go ye and do likewise.

Contrast that kind of fiction with the work of, say, James Michener or Tom Clancy, whose novels usually contain very little dialogue. Don't get me wrong--I liked their books, and I have all of them right here on the packed and groaning shelves of my home office. But I also maintain that those novels were not as much fun to read as (and certainly took longer to read than) those of Parker, Leonard, Coben, and company.

According to Sol

I think all this goes beyond the "easy-read" aspect. I like dialogue because of the rhythm and sound and feel of the sentences, and the way it can immediately create a reversal or plot twist when needed. In his book Stein on Writing, Sol Stein called this "oblique" dialogue, which allows the writer to introduce the unexpected. Here are some examples, from that book:

SHE: How are you?
HE: I suppose I'm okay.
SHE: Why, what's the matter?
HE: I guess you haven't heard.

SHE: How are you? I said how are you?
HE: I heard you the first time.
SHE: I only wanted to know how you were.
HE: How the hell do you think I am?

HE: It's beginning to rain.
SHE: What do you suggest?

In all of these, the responses aren't direct, as they often are in real life. They're indirect and surprising, and serve to turn the story in a different direction. It's a great way to advance the plot and keep the reader interested.

The voices in my own head

Something else dialogue can do, as was mentioned earlier, is help with characterization. In a Western mystery story I just finished writing, a man named Wade Carson is knocked unconscious while trying to rob a bank and wakes up lying with his wrists tied in a room that turns out to be a temporary jail cell. Sitting in a chair beside one of the windows is a young woman in men's clothing and boots, with a five-pointed star pinned to her shirt and a Winchester rifle across her lap.

"Where am I?" he asked her.
"In an extra room, behind the sheriff's house. He was planning to rent it out."
"I don't see any bars. What's keeping me in?"
"I am." She lifted the rifle off her lap, then lowered it again.
"And who might you be?"
"I might be Deputy Morton."
"You a real deputy?"
"This month I am." She tapped her star. "This is my uncle's badge--he's home with a broken leg."
He sighed. "An interim jail and an interim deputy."

Later, still under guard, he tells her he'd been on his way to San Francisco, to see a friend.

"Girlfriend?" she asked.
He broke out a grin. "I think you sound jealous."
"That's probably because of your head injury. What kind of friend?"
"An old partner. Wants me to go into business with him."
"What kind of business?"
Carson hesitated. "You'll think it's funny."
"No I won't."
"Banking. My friend owns a bank. And I'm good with figures."
"You're right," she said. "That is funny."
"You won't think so, when I do it. California's a booming place, these days."
"I've never been there."
He smiled again. "Want to go?"

And so on. I'm not saying these exchanges are great writing, but I am saying they're great fun to write. And I'm always pleased at how they allow a reader to be told, in very few words, a lot about the characters who are speaking.

Real vs. realistic

The main thing about dialogue is, you have to make it sound right. Here's another quote, from Stein on Writing. "If you need proof that dialogue and spoken words are not the same, go to a supermarket. Eavesdrop. Much of what you hear in the aisles sounds like idiot talk. People won't buy your novel to hear idiot talk. They get that free from relatives, friends, and the supermarket." Stein adds, on that same subject, "Elmore Leonard's dialogue is invented. It is a semblance of speech that has the effect of actual speech, which is what his readers prize." To sum all this up, dialogue doesn't have to sound like what we really say or hear. It has to sound better.

Do any of you writers share my obsession with dialogue? Do you find it harder, or easier, to create than other things in the writing process? Are your stories/novels usually heavy on dialogue, or not?

A final note. Having finished the eighth installment in Robert Parker's Appaloosa series (since his death those books have been written by Robert Knott, who does a good job of imitating Parker's "style" and frequent use of dialogue), I've just pre-ordered the ninth novel, Revelation. It's due out next week, and will continue the adventures of Old West lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.

I can't wait to hear them talking to each other.




16 February 2013

And the Beat Goes On


by John M. Floyd


As most of you know, author Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. Parker was a prolific writer, turning out some 68 novels in two different genres--three, I suppose, if you count Young Adult (Edenville Owls). But the crime novel was his forte, and three of his four "series" were in the mystery genre. The protagonists of two of those three series--Spenser and Jesse Stone--successfully made the transition to TV, and the first installation of his Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch Western series was adapted into the critically-acclaimed feature film Appaloosa.  (Parker's third mystery series featured female P.I. Sunny Randall and included half a dozen novels, none of which has yet been adapted to either the big or small screen.)

The purpose of this column, though, is not to discuss Parker's work. At least not specifically. What I'd like to talk about today are three recent efforts to extend his work, and to keep alive most of the beloved-by-millions Parker characters.

To this date, three authors have been given permission to continue writing novels based on Parker's characters and settings: Ace Atkins for the Spenser series, Michael Brandman for Jesse Stone, and Robert Knott for Cole/Hitch. It would appear they are all well qualified for such a task. Atkins is a journalist and bestselling mystery/suspense author, Brandman co-wrote and co-produced (with Tom
Selleck) the Jesse Stone TV episodes, and Knott co-wrote and co-produced (with Ed Harris) Appaloosa. Since Parker's death, there have so far been four Parker-inspired novels published by the new authors, the first three of which were Lullaby (Atkins), Killing the Blues (Brandman), and Ironhorse (Knott).

I, for one, was thrilled to learn that these wonderful characters had been granted a new lease on life. The question, of course, is Are the new novels any good? Well, I just finished Ironhorse last night, so I've now read all of those first three--and here are my humble opinions on each.



Lullaby

In this novel Spenser winds up helping a kid, which has worked well in the past--and it works here too. I won't dwell further on the plot; let me just say that Ace Atkins did what I thought was a great job with Parker's writing style. The almost-entirely-dialogue scenes, the spare and simple language, the action sequences, the fast-paced narration--all of this was well done. Spenser's strange relationship with Hawk rang true, his personal code of honor came into play on several occasions, and even though Susan Silverman was featured, she was--thank God--less nauseating than usual. This was a darn good book. I remember reading someplace that Atkins doesn't sound like someone copying Parker; he sounds like Parker.






Killing the Blues

While this one didn't impress me quite as much as Lullaby did, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The only things I found a bit jarring were that (1) it was a little more violent than most of the Stone novels, (2) it involved a lot less "thinking" on Jesse's part (which is one of the things he's really good at), and (3) Jesse didn't seem to carry around quite as much emotional baggage as he usually does. Jesse's faults--his brooding over his now-distant ex-wife, his drinking problem, etc.--aren't something I particularly like, but they do help make him what he is. Even so--as I said--I found the novel interesting and entertaining, and Brandman writes a smooth story. I will happily buy the next one in the series when it comes along.







I
ronhorse

I really liked this novel. I'm a sucker for Westerns anyway--I'd probably write more Western stories than mysteries if there were a market for them--and I thought this one was intelligent, authentic, and great fun to read. The terse conversations between Marshal Cole and Deputy Hitch were done extremely well, and the settings were so real I felt I was riding beside them, both on the trail and along the railroad tracks that run throughout this tale. The action scenes were understated but effective, and the keynote of the novel was--as in the others--the rock-solid friendship between the two leads. A good effort, I thought.



Question for you mystery (and Western) fans: are any of you Parker fans as well? Have you read any or all of these "additional" books? If so, did you enjoy them?

NOTE: While researching this column, I learned that the second of Michael Brandman's Jesse Stone novels, Fool Me Twice, is now available--and I understand the second of Ace Atkins's Spenser novels, Wonderland, will be out in May. I look forward to reading both. 

I still remember how sad I felt when I first heard about Parker's death, almost exactly three years ago. Part of that was purely selfish, since I figured his creations had died with him. Nobody's happier than I am that his characters are still around. 

I cannot, however, say that I envy any of the three authors who've agreed to carry on. Bob Parker left some big shoes to fill.





BY THE WAY . . . Here are the answers to my Mystery Trivia quiz, posted two weeks ago:


1. What was the full name of Sherlock Holmes's landlady?
Mrs. Martha Hudson

2. In what magazine did Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story appear?
Black Mask

3. What was Evan Hunter's best-known pseudonym?
Ed McBain

4. Who killed Richard Kimble's wife in TV's The Fugitive?
The one-armed man

5. What's the name of Bill Pronzini's famous detective?
The Nameless Detective (Okay, it was a trick question.)

6. Who played the gangster who carved up Jack Nicholson's nose in Chinatown?
Roman Polanski (a cameo by the director)

7. What fictional series character hitchhikes across America carrying only a toothbrush, an ATM card, and the clothes on his back?
Jack Reacher

8. Where did Nick and Nora Charles stay when they were in New York?
The Normandie Hotel

9. What mystery (and former Western) author wrote the novel Hombre and the short story "3:10 to Yuma"?
Elmore Leonard

10. What Poe story is considered to be the first "locked-room mystery"?
The Murders in the Rue Morgue

11. What was taken in John Godey's novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three?
A New York subway train

12.  Who played a judge in the final episode of Perry Mason, telecast in 1966?
Erle Stanley Gardner

13. In what city was Spenser based?
Boston

14. How do you pronounce Ngaio Marsh's first name?
Ny-O (rhymes with Ohio)

15. In North by Northwest, what is Cary Grant's reply when Eva Marie Saint says, "Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for?"
"Nothing."

16. Who shot J.R., on TV's Dallas?
Kristin Shepard (Sue Ellen Ewing's sister, played by Mary Crosby)

17. What was the basis of many of the titles of Martha Grimes's detective novels?
They were names of English pubs

18. What was Mike Hammer's secretary's name?
Velda

19. What did BullittVertigoThe Maltese Falcon, and Dirty Harry have in common?
San Francisco

20. Who lived on a houseboat called The Busted Flush?
Travis McGee

21. Edgar Box is the pseudonym of what writer?
Gore Vidal

22. Who always includes a number in the titles of her mystery novels?
Janet Evanovich

23. Who played the murderer in Rear Window?
Raymond Burr

24. In Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd--how did he die?
He was stabbed in the back

25. How did Nero Wolfe finish the following line: The only safe secrets are . . .
. . . those you have yourself forgotten

26. What TV character's name was taken from the British film industry expression "man-appeal" or "M-appeal" (which is what the series producers were looking for)?
Emma Peel

27. What was Robert B. Parker's middle name?
Brown

28. What was Dick Francis's only collection of short stories?
Field of Thirteen

29. Who was the voice of Charlie in TV's Charlie's Angels?
John Forsythe

30. How did Hitchcock manage to do his trademark cameo in the cramped setting of the movie Lifeboat?
He appeared in an ad for a fictional weight-loss drug, shown in a newspaper aboard the lifeboat

31. What's the name of the bog that borders the Baskerville estate?
Grimpen Mire

32. In Richard Diamond, Private Detective, who played Sam (RD's answering service)?
Mary Tyler Moore

33. What mystery writer is actually Dr. Robert William Arthur?
Robin Cook
(This was my mistake. The real name is Dr. Robert William Arthur Cook. Nice way to keep you from guessing the correct answer, right?)

34. In which of the Thin Man movies did James Stewart play a suspect?
After the Thin Man

35. Who had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones because he was tied up filming a P.I. series?
Tom Selleck

36. What's unique about the settings of Nevada Barr's mystery novels?
They're all set in National Parks

37. In The Maltese Falcon, what was Sam Spade's partner's name?
Miles Archer

38. Who were the two cousins who used the pen name Ellery Queen?
Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee

39. What Ben Gazzara/Chuck Connors TV series had the following format: the first half was spent catching the crook and the last half was spent convicting him?
Arrest and Trial

40. What do P.D. James's first two initials stand for?
Phyllis Dorothy

41. Who writes mystery novels starring sports agent Myron Bolitar?
Harlan Coben

42. Who was the producer's first choice to play Lt. Columbo?
Bing Crosby

43. The movie Heavenly Creatures was based on a crime actually committed by what popular mystery writer, when she was in her teens?
Anne Perry

44. What musical instrument did Sherlock Holmes play?
The violin

45. What TV private detective frequented a bar called Mother's?
Peter Gunn

46. What was used to simulate blood in the Psycho shower scene?
Hershey's chocolate syrup

47. What do Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series and Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series have in common?
The Stone series is set in Paradise, Massachusetts; the McKnight series is set in Paradise, Michigan

48. What did the dying man tell James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much?
That someone would be assassinated 

49. What is romance author Nora Roberts's mystery-writer pseudonym?
J.D. Robb

50. Which Agatha Christie novel featured Alice Ascher, Betty Barnard, and Carmichael Clarke?
The ABC Murders