The New, Unimproved Monk

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It wasn’t easy for me to walk away from writing the Monk books. After 15 novels over seven years, I’d become very attached to the characters. Monk, Natalie and the rest of the gang were always on my mind because I was always writing the books. But I decided it was time for a change (little did I know I’d soon be writing THE HEIST with Janet Evanovich!) And when I let my publisher know I was leaving, they told me they’d like to continue the series without me. They asked if I could recommend someone to pick up where I left off. I strongly recommended my friend Hy Conrad, a writer-producer on MONK and a terrific mystery plotter. He already knew the characters inside-and-out and had written some of the most beloved episodes of the TV series.  I knew the characters would be in very good hands with him, no matter what direction he decided to take the books. And that, of course, was the first, fundamental issue he had to deal with, as he explains in this guest post…

When it was announced I was taking over these novels, Monk fans started contacting me in droves, all asking the same question. Was I going to reboot the series, like a Batman or Spider-Man franchise, or just pick up where Lee Goldberg left off?

 To be honest, I never thought of rebooting. To me, the Monk characters are real. On the show, the other writers and I took Monk and Natalie to a certain place in their lives. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Lee continued to expand them, smoothing out little bumps and creating new ones.  I didn’t want to mess with that reality.

 In the new books, some things will naturally be different, because Lee and I are naturally different. For example, his Natalie knows a lot about architecture. Mine, not so much. His Monk is more obsessed with numbers and symmetry. Mine is a little more phobic.  I tried to insert some pop references into Natalie’s voice.  But the show never did many pop references and it doesn’t come naturally to me.

 In many ways, Lee strengthened the Monk franchise. For one thing, he knows San Francisco and the wonderful character of the town. We wrote the show in Summit, New Jersey, and, while we did have a San Francisco map, it was pinned on the far wall and no one wandered over there very often. I’ll try to do improve on our atmospheric quality, I promise.

 The same goes for forensics accuracy. Lee had called on a cadre of experts to make sure his details were right. Despite our own police consultant, the Monk writers tried not to burden ourselves with too many facts. At one point, the production team called to tell us our formula for bomb making was ridiculous. We replied, “Do you really want us broadcasting how to make a bomb?” That shut them up.

The good news is that we were sticklers for logic. We may not have known bomb making, but we insisted that the logic of every story always worked.  For example, when Monk was in a life-threatening predicament in Act Four, which he usually was, we knew we had to send Stottlemeyer in there to save the day.   In a lot of TV shows, the writers never ask, “Well, how did Stottlemeyer know Monk was in trouble?”  We did.  And sometimes it would take us a full day to answer the question.

 The other good news is that I was with the show from beginning to end, for all eight years. I was the mystery guy, while everyone else had come from the world of comedy. Along the way, I think I had some influence on the way Monk talked and interacted. In other words, he wound up a little bit like me, which makes writing for him a pleasure.

When I first told Monk creator/executive producer Andy Breckman that I was doing this, his response was, “Great. You can use some of the Monk stories we never got to do.”

Mr. Monk Helps Himself is one of those stories. I brought it into the writers’ room during season six. We played around with the idea until it morphed into something totally different—Mr. Monk Joins a Cult, guest-starring Howie Mandel. That’s how it happens in a roomful of writers. There are dozens of great plots, half thought through, buzzing around in our collective memory.

 I have to admit it’s nice to finally have the last word in what mysteries Monk solves and how he reacts.  I’ll try not to abuse the power.

7 thoughts on “The New, Unimproved Monk”

  1. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading the Monk books in the post-Goldberg era, but it sounds like the series will continue in the same vein (I’m glad to hear there won’t be a “reboot”!), so I’ll definitely be picking up “Mr. Monk Helps Himself” and looking forward to more adventures with Monk and Natalie.

  2. I am so thrilled that the Mr. Monk books will continue and be written by such a worthy source.
    We literally cried when the Mr. Monk t.v. series was over.. The books have become very important to us. We will get #16 to add to our 15 by Lee Goldberg.

  3. I just got and read the two new books by Hy Conrad and he has ably managed to continue the fine series started by Lee.

  4. Well, this is a complex topic. Do I want a trnaitiodal publisher? Yes. Do I want the kind of relationships Goldberg enjoys with his publishers? Yes. I have an agent who opted not to try to sell certain books because they were too small and quiet or the market for the book wasn’t entirely clear to her so, am I supposed to sit around and wait to be chosen some day? The huffpost article was important not only does it show why all the support given in the trnaitiodal publishing arena is important, it also shows how unreliable the dictates that surround the process are. The author of the article (Goldberg) delineates the great degree to which he’s supported in shaping, revising and editing his work well, that’s not the way it works for most. The prevailing thought for fiction is hey bring it to us packaged exactly as we want it. Then we’ll talk. Goldberg is fortunate and talented and it’s terrific that the world has worked that way for him. But, it’s about time there’s a doable option for the rest of the world. Yes, I want what he has. Perhaps, building an audience with my self-published work will get me there. I guess we’ll see. Good luck to us all!


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