Friday, February 5, 2010

Interviewing Robert B. Parker, 1984.

[Originally posted at Curtin's Corner, Jan 20]

I've been immersed in all sorts of things the last few days, catching up from last week's devotion to wiping out some late deadlines and prepared for deadlines on the near horizon, and somehow missed until this morning news of the death of Robert B. Parker, the prolific creator of Boston PI Spenser (no first name ever revealed) and other memorable characters, at his desk, writing, on Monday.

Here is the New York Times obituary, but for a real in-depth look at this very popular writer and his work, I commend to you this posting at J. Kinston Pierce's Rap Sheet, an excellent blog devoted to crime and mystery fiction. The piece includes a good selection of links to other commentary.

I own every Spenser novel ever published, (38 of them to date, with another two at least still in the pipeline), plus all the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books which he introduced in more recent times. I actually became somewhat disenchanted with the Spenser stories for a bit in the middle of the long run, but I still bought and read every one and slipped easily back into the fold as Parker, Spenser and I all grew older. Each new one was ordered immediately, devoured upon receipt---if they had a serious flaw it was that they were so easy to read, so fast to finish. Like any great writer, Bob Parker always left you satisfied and at the same time craving more.

Parker gave me permission to call him "Bob" and did me a grand and wonderful favor back in 1984, just as his latest in the series, Valediction, was being published. He was on a book tour in May and coming to Philadelphia for a signing at the center city Encore Books. I was trying to put together a public access cable show (bearing the same name as this blog now does) and contacted his publisher about doing an interview for my first episode; I was told his schedule was too tight.

Then, the morning of his visit to town, I got a call. The person handling the author's travels said they could free an hour for me if I could get to Encore at, I think, three that afternoon. I called the cable company I was working with, got a cameraman scheduled to meet me there, showered, shaved, wished I'd gotten a haircut and headed downtown, trying to formulate my questions on the fly.

We did the interview in a room not much larger than a closet, barely space for the two of us to sit facing one another, with the cameraman shooting from the open doorway. After Parker left, we had to shoot a series of "back shots" In which I faced the camera and tried to recreate what I'd said at certain points so that the finished tape could periodically cut away to my face. He was witty, gracious and, while he was known not to suffer fools gladly, kind enough to treat me gently when, revealing that desperate and all-too brief preparation of mine on the train, I stumbled a bit here and there.

I just pulled out that old tape for the first time in more than 20 years (the show ran for six episodes and then graciously slipped away into history) and was, I must admit, impressed. I asked a lot of the right questions, touching on aspects of his work still being mentioned now in various obituaries and reminiscences, and he revealed some interesting aspects of his creative process and how he saw Spenser who, we both agreed then and everybody agrees now, was a far cry from the traditional hard-boiled private eye he had been in the first books.

I wish I had the skills or capability to post that tape on YouTube since it's a bit of history that few have ever seen and I'd love to have it on the record. But I don't and can't, so anybody who's really interested will just have to come over to my place.
Photo acquired from this obituary

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