RARA-AVIS: Parker interview

David White (dpwhite@eden.rutgers.edu)
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 02:04:40 -0400 (EDT) since parker's been on our minds recently, or at least mine, I thought I'd
post this interview from amazon.com to the list... If you don't like
parker, it's kind of lengthy, so ignore it:

Spenser Turns 25

<Picture>The mean streets of Boston may seem miles away from the
ivy-covered towers of academe, but in Robert Parker's 26th installment in
the Spenser series, Hush Money, Spenser and Hawk find plenty of shady
dealings as they investigate the tenure case of an old friend.
Amazon.com's Patrick O'Kelley talked with Parker about his famous PI, his
creative process, and his works in progress.

Amazon.com: For fans who aren't familiar with Spenser, can you give us a
little background on him? What can we expect in Hush Money?

Robert Parker: I started writing the first Spenser book in 1971, but The
Godwulf Manuscript was published in January of 1974, so 1999 is the 25th
year for Spenser.

Spenser is a private detective. He works in Boston. He has a long-term
relationship with a female psychologist, Susan Silverman, and a long-term
friendship with a vigorous black man named Hawk, whom he's known since
they were both kids. Spenser is a collateral descendent of Philip Marlowe,
though he has a far more connected world than Marlowe. He's got friends,
he's got a girlfriend. He's a happier man than Marlowe was, who once
remarked, "Get me off this frozen star." He plows ahead and doesn't pay
too much attention to what other people want him to do or what other
people think of what he does, and being a private detective allows him to
live life on his own terms, which is what he wants.

In Hush Money Spenser is hired to look into the problems of tenure denial
for a black activist professor at a university in Boston. And there's also
a stalking problem that he encounters with a young woman who, after he
solves her stalking problem, begins to stalk him. So Hawk helps him, and
Susan helps him, and he deals with his two problems.

Amazon.com: In all of your books, you confront some kind of controversial
issue. In Hush Money you saddle yourself with the rancorous discussions of
tenure politics, racial preferences, and sexual orientation. Can you give
a clearer perspective on what draws you to these controversies?

Parker: The issues of the day, or whatever I confront, are part of what I
have to talk about. It makes for fascinating reading. I've put Spenser in
a situation where, for example, he's with a Jewish woman, and one of his
closest friends is a black man. These circumstances lead him to worlds
that he might not see as a white male detective.

Amazon.com: Did you have any trepidation as you waded into the waters of
political correctness, particularly with Hush Money?

Parker: I'm too old to worry about political correctness! I have some
impulse towards ecumenism that started this. It was not an accident that
Susan's Jewish. It's not an accident that Hawk is black. When I'm writing
a book, all I'm trying to do is make a book that I'd want to read. My
positions are not extreme--I'm in favor of racial equality.

Amazon.com: How did you decide to put Spenser and Hawk into an academic

Parker: There is a certain delimiting factor at work in anything I write,
which is that I have to know enough about it to write about it. I am not,
for instance, going to set a novel at an international chess tournament.
I'm not going to do a novel in which the crucial point has something to do
with nuclear physics.

I was an academic, albeit, I'm proud to say, a very bad one, and I know
about how that works.... But, everyone assumes that writers have a far
more conscious plan than I, at least, ever have. So, it's time to write a
new book, and here I go: What shall I write about? Well, I think this will
be one of Hawk's books. So Hawk will have a friend. And what will he do?
He's an academic who's been denied tenure, perhaps because of race,
perhaps because of sexual preference. And that's all I know. So I start
off on page 1, and I don't know where I'm going, and I don't know how it's
going to end, and I don't know who the characters will be that will appear
later. And so it goes. I just get my five pages written, and then the next
day they lead me to another five, and the next day that leads to another

So, my life is research. I don't leave the desk for the book. But I do
have a life. Sometimes I'm in Boston, and sometimes I'm in Cambridge, and
sometimes I'm in Toronto.

Amazon.com: What was happening in Toronto?

Parker: I was just up there making a movie. In fact, we have a project
deal with A&E--"we" being not the royal "we," but me and my wife Joan and
my producing partner--to do five Spenser movies and five Jesse Stone
movies. We just finished principal photography on the first Spenser movie,
which stars Joe Mantegna. And, while we're on the movie chat, I
have--again, Joan and I have--a deal with Helen Hunt... one of my close
show-business friends. I have written a novel about a female private eye
named Sunny Randall, which Helen and Columbia Pictures will buy.

Amazon.com: When can we expect to see the debut of Sunny?

Parker: That book will come out in the fall. I don't have a title yet.
We're messing with it. It's currently called Family Honor. Whether it will
be called Family Honor when the thing hits the stands, I don't know. As
for the movie, if it is made, Helen and her business partner Connie are
saying we'll shoot in Boston in the year 2000, in the summer. So a year
from this summer. We'll see how that goes.

Amazon.com: Do you have a vision of how you see Spenser evolving?

Parker: I have no vision. I have none whatsoever of where he's going. I
don't know what he's going to do in the next book, which I am going to
start probably next week. At the moment, it's called Spenser 12, which
means the 12th book under some contract or other!

Amazon.com: As a writer, do you go back and reread your other works, and
try to pull together a larger narrative?

Parker: No. I will go back and reread my books occasionally to double
check on data that I'd put in there and can't quite remember. I don't
remember how tall Spenser is, to tell you the truth!

Amazon.com: What authors are you enjoying right now?

Parker: I admire Elmore Leonard. He writes exceptionally well, better than
almost anybody I know.

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