An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: SBWC Chief of Staff Paul Lazarus introduced Robert B. Parker, he highlighted Parker’s background as a tenured professor at Northeastern University in Boston. Lazarus explained that although a tenured professor, Parker was only teaching one Wednesday class a week when he left the university to write full time. When asked why he left academia where he only had to teach on Wednesdays, Parker replied, “Yeah, but it was every Wednesday.” His Spenser thrillers were hailed by the Washington Post as “a seminal and exceptional series in the history of American hard-boiled detective fiction.”
Parker was a big, affable man with an “elegant mustache,” according to one newspaper account of his visit to the SBWC. With his doctorate in English Literature, he created the well-read Spenser, a Boston detective whose cases comprised twenty-four novels and a television series. That same newspaper account noted that the purchase and subsequent loss of a handgun was the only genre related research Parker conducted in developing his character’s character.
On his writing process: “I write five pages five days a week.”
On his struggle as a beginning writer: “None, I’m sorry to say. I wrote my first book and sent it off to Houghton Mifflin because they were the closest. Three weeks later they wrote me to say they wanted to publish it,” and the Spenser series was born with publication of The Godwulf Manuscript.
Parker was sheepish in explaining that his wife Joan was responsible for much of his success; for encouraging his pursuit of a doctorate to get a better job, and negotiating with agents and publishers. “Trust me,” he explained, “if you have to get into an argument with one of us you want it to be me and not Joan.”
On what mystery writer he read: “I don’t read much at all. I have a Phd, so I don’t have to,” he joked, but seriously, he explained that he saved his creative juices for writing. “I like Dutch, because of the way he sounds,” referring to Elmore Leonard. He also admitted to reading non-fiction.
On Robert Urich who portrayed Spenser in the TV series: “No, I didn’t imagine Urich as Spenser. If I thought of anyone it would probably be a young Robert Mitchum, or now, an older Robert Mitchum.”
SBWC workshop leader Matt Pallamary always had an affinity for the Spenser books and television series because he grew up in Dorchester, a tough Irish Catholic neighborhood, a setting where many scenes from and many of the Spenser stories took place. Best selling Crime writer Dennis Lehane is also from Dorchester.
When Matt met Parker this first time in Santa Barbara the exchange went something like this:
"Hi Bob, it's nice to meet you. I grew up in Dorchester and I have always enjoyed Spenser."
Parker sat back, eyes wide in an exaggerated gesture and said, "Dorchester? What the f*ck are you doing here?"