I was part of a panel discussion yesterday at the Writers Guild with
Jan Nash, executive producer of WITHOUT A TRACE. In the midst of the
discussion, she mentioned how difficult it has been coming up with
tie-in novels for her show. Her frustration, she said, was that none of
the books have been able to capture the highly-visual nature of the
franchise…and that in prose, the books come across as simply "a
flat missing persons story" that doesn’t feel at all like WITHOUT A
TRACE. The problem, she said, has been coming up with a way to make the
books as distinctive as the series, to find a story-telling frame-work
that matches the unique flashback gimmick of the show. I don’t know if
her creative frustration with the books has anything to do with the
rumored licensing problems between Warner Brothers Television and Warner Books, which recently shelved the three completed tie-in novels that they commissioned and were planning to release in 2007.
I understand what Jan is talking about. I faced the same issue when I tackled the MONK books. How could I convey the humor and the melodrama when so much of what makes Monk work is visual? I think that I solved the problem by telling the stories first-person from the point-of-view of Natalie, Monk’s assistant. That gave me a framing device that allowed me to "observe" Monk from a distance and, at the same time, add a level of intimacy with the characters that isn’t possible on television. So while my books don’t mimic the experience of watching MONK, they have their own unique voice that offers a fresh experience for fans of the show and one that makes stories stand apart from other mysteries. At least that was my goal.