Robert B. Parker
Photo Credit: John Earle

Robert B. Parker

Bio

Robert B. Parker was the author of seventy books, including the legendary Spenser detective series, the novels featuring Police Chief Jesse Stone, and the acclaimed Virgil Cole–Everett Hitch westerns, as well as the Sunny Randall novels. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and long considered the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, he died in January 2010.

Robert B. Parker

Robert B. Parker

Books

Q&A

Q: Your writing career began withthe 1974 publication of The Godwulf Manuscript,the first of twenty-four titles in the Spenser series. Why doyou think that Spenser has developed such a widespread, loyalfollowing and is still so popular among readers?

A: I think people are drawn to Spenser because he’s a very likeable man. He has many dimensions. He has important relationships, including an ongoing love relationshipwith Susan Silverman, a difficult, complicated, interesting woman.Spenser is beset by the same problems we all are, yet, being abit larger than life, he triumphs over them in ways that we don’talways. He can’t be bribed, seduced with sex, or frightened withviolence, and most of us can. Also, there’s a persistence to him.Publishers always like to have an author who gives them a booka year. Readers do, too. Spenser is dependable in that way. He’saround every year, growing and changing.

Q: Spenser is a Boston P.I. You live in Boston. Your independent film company is named after your short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in yourlast few Spenser novels. How much do you draw from your own experiencein writing your novels?

A: T.S. Eliot once talked about the function of the imagination, drawing the analogy of a bell jar with two separate inert gases in it. When you insert a piece oftungsten, the two become a third gas that was not present before.He likened that to the imagination; that it creates somethingnew out of what was there. That’s a fairly good analogy for whatI do. Certain aspects of my novels reflect my own life, but inways that only I understand; that is, you can’t read Spenser’scareer and draw any very intelligent conclusions about my life.Other parts are more obvious. My wife Joan and I were separatedfor a period in the early eighties, which was reflected in Susanand Spenser’s relationship. One of my recurring characters isa choreographer/actor and I have a son who is a choreographer,and another who’s an actor.

Q: Are there any underlying themesthat run through your work?

A: None that I consciously try topresent. Certainly, autonomy is a recurring theme in my books,as is perseverance and our ability to triumph over adversity.Undoubtedly, my novels are about love. Obviously, they are connectedwith what I care about. I don’t imagine I would have chosen tospend the last twenty-six years of my life writing about a characterwhose values and virtues I disdained.

Q: You are launching a new crimefiction series featuring Jesse Stone. Why did you decide to introducethis series when the Spenser novels are still going strong? Tellus something about Jesse Stone. How is he different from Spenser?

A: I created Jesse Stone to see ifI could — the way, if you lift weights, you try a 300 lb. benchpress. He is a different kind of character than Spenser and throughhim I can offer another point of view. This series is writtenin third person not first person. I intentionally deprived myselfof all the tricks that you can play with a first person narration.

I was quite careful not to make JesseStone Spenser by another name. Jesse Stone is about thirty-fiveand has had many setbacks in his life. He grew up in Arizona andCalifornia and started out as a minor league ballplayer, a shortstop.When he hurt his arm and couldn’t make the throw, that opportunitypassed him by. Then he became a cop in the LA police department.He has a drinking problem which he is controlling at the moment,but not perfectly. When his marriage broke up, Jesse got firedfrom the LAPD, not for insubordination but for drunkenness. Now,he is alone in a strange new environment, having moved from Californiato Massachusetts to be the police chief of a small town calledParadise.

So, Jesse Stone is employed as opposedto Spenser who is self-employed; he is young whereas Spenser ismore mature; he does not have a happy love relationship, althoughhis ex-wife is around, and that’s problematic. Also, Jesse isnot the same kind of self-contained guy that Spenser is. Jesseis a much more damaged individual who is coming to terms withhimself as he goes along, unlike Spenser who may have changedover the years, but is still the same person he was on the firstpage of The Godwulf Manuscript.

Q: You wrote Poodle Springs,a novel completed from an unfinished manuscript begun by the lateRaymond Chandler, and Perchance to Dream, a sequel to hisnovel, The Big Sleep. How has he influenced your work?Are Spenser and Philip Marlowe cut from the same literary cloth?

A: Like Chandler, I was in my lateforties when I started writing. At first, I was bold-facedly tryingto imitate Chandler, who I think is one of the greatest Americanwriters of the century. Somewhere along the way, I no longer feltthe need to be guided by the mentor. I suppose the first significantturn-away from Chandler/Marlowe was when Spenser met Susan Silvermanin the second book. By book four, when he acquired Hawk as a companion,Spenser had gone a fair piece from Marlowe, who could sit alonein his apartment playing chess and think aloud to himself: “Willsomebody get me off this frozen star?” None of this was conscious.It’s only in retrospect that I can see when I began to departfrom Chandler.

Spenser and Marlowe differ in severalways. Spenser is basically pleased with his life, he recognizesthat life isn’t perfect and that he will not always succeed. Marlowewas much more Galahad-like, motivated by some kind of Arthurian,romantic code. Chandler had a difficult life and was probablyno happier than Marlowe. I am intrinsically a happy person, andthat, I think, is the great difference between our characters;that Spenser is basically happy. He has a social and emotionalcontext and does the best he can with the knowledge that he mayfail. What is common in both Spenser and Marlowe is that, whetherthey succeed or fail, they are not compromised. That’s what Itook from Chandler more than anything else.

Q: You and your wife, Joan, haveworked out a unique way of coexisting in your marriage so thatit successfully sustains your personal and professional lives.Would you tell us more about that?

A: The best thing I ever did wasmarry the former Joan Hall on August 26, 1956. The next bestthing was to conspire with her for David and Daniel Parker. Atthat point, my life was essentially fulfilled and the rest ofthis has been frosting on the cake.

Joan and I separated in 1982 andreunited in 1984, at which time we had arrived at the conclusionthat it probably wasn’t a good idea for us to share the same livingspace twenty-four hours a day. There are dozens of reasons why:Joan likes to eat dinner about nine or ten o’clock at night, usuallyin bed; I like to eat dinner about six o’clock at the kitchentable. She likes the air-conditioning low; I like it high. Shelikes the heat high; I like it low. She likes to watch movies;I like to watch ball games. She likes to go to bed at two in themorning; I like to go to bed about the fourth inning of any ballgame. She is very social and entertains a great deal; I am notand don’t. There is no area of our lives other than the fact thatwe love one another and our children in which we have a commonality, so we drive each other crazy. Happily, we have found a way toaccommodate that.

We began the new marriage with onlyone rule, which was that we would be monogamous. We would alsobe sexually intimate, but we would not sleep in the same bed orin the same room or live in the same quarters. For about the firstten mo

Series

Penguin Hotline