Thursday, January 21, 2010

RIP Robert B. Parker

Although I've joined the Twitter set, I haven't really found that it's something I want to spend hours a day tracking. I've yet to figure out the nuances. I have under 200 followers, and even filtering for those who I find have useful or interesting things to say, I can't imagine reading all those tweets. What do the people with thousands of followers do?

Aside from finding some interesting blog posts and articles that were tweeted by others, I spend very little time with the application. But I checked out a tweet by Sarah of Smart Bitches and found a recipe for a Red Bean and Barley soup that sounded good enough to send me to the store for the ingredients I'd need to make it. Yummy.

And it was via Twitter that I found out, sadly, that Robert B. Parker died. I went to my first SleuthFest conference because he was the keynote speaker. He was funny, friendly, and SleuthFest became one of my 'must go' conferences from then on. Indirectly, he connected me with a fantastic group of mystery writers and because of SleuthFest, I've continued to pursue writing mysteries as well as my romantic suspense books. I highly recommend it as a small conference with some big opportunities (I met the editor who bought When Danger Calls at SleuthFest).

I will always remember that Parker spoke about how there's no such thing as writer's block. Writing is hard, he said. But if it's your job, you do it. You wouldn't accept it if you called a plumber and he said he couldn't come out that day because he had "plumber's block."

I first "met" Parker when the credits for the TV show "Spenser for Hire" said the series was based on his books. I started reading them, but only that series. I liked the Hawk-Spenser dynamic, the wisecracks, and the snappy dialogue. As a matter of fact, if anyone thinks the dialogue tag "he said" is overused, I suggest you read a few chapters – heck, a few pages – of any Spenser novel. Parker tags almost every line of dialogue, and almost always with "said." Yet I had to make a conscious effort to notice it. I realized I'd read pages and pages without "seeing" the said tag. The eye slides right past it, and it truly becomes invisible.

On the other hand, the more exotic tag words pop off the page and the reader stops to make sure the dialogue lines "match" the way they're spoken.

Later, I discovered Jesse Stone, again via television. Tom Selleck? I'm there. As a matter of fact, I'd have to say that Jesse Stone probably inspired my current manuscript—the story of a small town chief of police. There are few similarities between my Gordon and Parker's Jesse, beyond their professions, but that's what writers do. Take a spark and see what it ignites.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Parker. You will be missed.

(Tomorrow, Friday Field Trips continue with gorgeous shots "donated" by a guest. Pack your bags. We're going to Italy)


Sam said...

I was sad to hear of Parker's death, too. An obit I read said that he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the American detective novel. I didn't realize he had a Ph.D.--you'd never know it from the down-to-earth language in his novels. Now I want to find that dissertation!

Terry Odell said...

Sam, thanks for sharing. I didn't know that either.

Carol Kilgore said...

Nice tribute, Terry. I think he influenced a lot of us in many ways.

GunDiva said...

I was more than a little shocked to hear that he'd died. What a loss. But at least he left us with some amazing books to read.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I was so sorry to hear the news. What amazing characters he created! And you're right about the dialogue tags...we just ignore the "saids," but they help us keep track of who is speaking.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

The Old Silly said...

SleuthFest sounds cool for mystery/detective writers for sure. Twitter get more useful the more you get into it and figure out how to put lists together of twits you really want to interact with. You can actually do some excellent relationship marketing there. My blog traffic and book sales have gone up since I got a couple thousand followers - even though I only occasionally self-promote. Like any other marketing, if you offer value in your tweets, good blogs, links, helpful tips, etc., twits will check you our more and get interested in your products as well.

I hadn't heard about Parker's passing. Sad.

Marvin D Wilson

ps - hey do we follow each other on twitter? I'm at Paize_Fiddler

Terry Odell said...

Carol, GD, Elizabeth - He'll be missed; he's created characters we've followed, watched the changes in their lives, and now we won't get to know how things will turn out for them all.

Marvin - I'm following you ... are you one of the 200 following ME? And I guess if you have a couple thousand followers, you'll miss a lot of tweets. If I go to Twitter's web access instead of TweetDeck, there are updates constantly being 'announced' -- if I'm getting that many, it must be impossible to use the web interface if you have thousands of followers. So that could be why I noticed Parker's passing announcements and you didn't.

I have more fun blog hopping, but I'll keep my Twitter account and see what it does.

Terry said...

Yes, it was sad about Parker. Rather a young death, these days.

I love the "plumber's block." Made me smile. Thanks for sharing.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've read and loved Parker's books for years. He will most definitely be missed.

Terry Odell said...

"Other" Terry - Yes, sad ... but I think when I go, writing at my desk would be a nice way to leave.

Jemi - I agree.

jdcoughlin said...

I've read about Parker, too, another New Englander. He will be missed. You are so right. Great dialog writer.

Terry Odell said...

JD - thanks for stopping by.

Harl Delos said...

I don't think the "plumber's block" argument is valid. I've called a craftsman before and been told, "my husband can't accept any work right now; he injured himself on the job and it'll be a couple of days before he can go back to work."

When I am blocked, that's what it is - a temporary occupational disability, typically brought on by acute mental exhaustion. Maybe there are different kinds of writers' block?

I once kept track of my productivity when I was newspapering. Between researching stories (most of which were awfully easy to research, as you might imagine), and writing and rewriting the story to reach a publishable standard, I managed a whopping 200 words a day. Ouch! But then I asked friends to look at their past month's work, and I was actually more productive than most.

I think Parker started his new series as a way of dealing with his own block. There was only so much he could say about Spenser, and so he started writing about Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone.

Dick Francis stopped writing when his wife died. He called it retirement; I think it counts as a block, because he didn't stay retired.

I have Parker's "Spare Change" on my to-read pile, and I've been saving it, to reward myself when I make myself proud. I'm gonna have to do something really great to earn it now....