We’d Be Fools Not To

Sarah Weinman pointed me to this fascinating interview with Robert B. Parker. I have a lot of emotional attachment to the Spenser novels… I loved reading the early ones and my first job in television was writing an episode of “Spenser: For Hire.” (by the way, that’s a picture of me with Parker at the Edgars a few years back). Leeparkerop

The comment in the interview that sticks with me the most, and apparently Sarah as well, is:

Parker: I write 10 pages a day. When I’m done with it that day, it’s what you see on the printed page. Maybe the spelling is improved or the punctuation changed, but essentially you’re looking at my first draft. I don’t do a second draft.

That’s no surprise to anybody who has been reading him lately. I listened to four of his unabridged books-on-tape over a relatively short period… BAD BUSINESS, STONE COLD, GUNMAN’S RHAPSODY, and DOUBLE PLAY…and was struck by how much he repeats the same dialogue, observations, and situations over and over, particularly ending chapters with the hero, or his girl, saying “We’d be fools not to.” That said, I loved listening to all four books. His lean, snappy, dialogue-heavy writing style is perfectly suited to the audiobook medium…and his regular performers, Joe Mantegna (the Spensers) and Robert Forster (the Jesse Stones) in particular, are terrific.

I suspect if I’d read the latest Parker books, I wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much and the repeated dialogue and situations would have grated on me more. Somehow, you’re a lot more forgiving to an author when you’re a captive audience stuck in gridlocked traffic.

3 thoughts on “We’d Be Fools Not To”

  1. Years ago I read that Rex Stout said that he wrote his Nero Wolfe books in one month each year. And that when he rolled a page out of the typewriter he laid it facedown on a stack and didn’t look at it again. I’ve often wondered if Stout might have been exaggerating. Maybe so, maybe not. Same thing with Parker, except I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth.

  2. After reading all the NERO WOLFE books, and adapting four of them for television, I can safely say that no, Stout wasn’t exagerating. The Nero/Archie relationship was wonderful, and some of the speeches were terrific, but the plotting was often terrible and the characterization of “guest stars” inconsistent (as if he changed their personalities in the last chapter or two just so he could justify the often bizarre explanations for his gaping plot holes). I am convinced he wrote without an outline and pushed himself along until he hit 60,000 words — and abruptly stopped, sending his operatives Saul or Orrie off to Brazil, or to burgle a house, or do whatever was necessary to pull out a clue that was with-held from the reader (and Archie Goodwin as well).

  3. It’s been awhile since I read the Stout biography, but I remember that a) he was very careful in recording his output, which I’ve strived to emulate and fail regularly, and b) he was perfectly capable of taking a short-story plot and reworking it into a novel. He did that several times.


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