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A Shot To The Chin

January 20, 2010

I think there’s a slight chance he’d be pissed I’m crying.  Yet, as I think about it, I don’t think so.  I think he had a pretty clear vision of when a man needs to cry and when he’s just being a sap.

I sat down at my desk to bang out some words on my shift this evening.  I took ten minutes and checked my email, my Facebook.  That’s when I got the news.

Robert B. Parker was dead.

They say he died at his desk working on his next novel.

I’ve never cried for a celebrity.  I came close with Paul Newman.  This time though when I got the news it was a tight fast uppercut I never saw coming.   It left me staggering with my face in my hands and my eyeglasses tumbled to the floor.  I took a long walk with my dog.  I got a hug from my wife.  I’m finishing a beer.  It still stings so I’m going to write it out  in hopes that it eases the pain.  Even though I know I’ll be dealing with this over the next few days,  I’m sure it will help the processing.

He was an iconic writer for me.  I spent most of this past December trying to figure out why I write.  The ins, outs, and what got me started.  One of those reasons was because of him.  He showed me how to do it.  In college, I was so enamored of his work I took one of his Spenser novels and scribbled all over the damn thing.  Underlines, phrases in the margins, page corners folded over adorned that book until it looked like it had been handled by a maniac.  I took several chapters and, over the course of a week, hand copied them into a lined Mead notebook.  I remember it had a green cover.  Like an artist doing a sketch of a master’s painting, I needed to see how he did it.     Few words, maximum clarity, and dialogue you could cut paper with.  It’s been so long I can’t even remember which one I used.  I wish I could find it now.

I have to admit something else.  It hurts a bit more to admit but I bet many of his fans out there might have to agree with me.   He helped me get a hand up on how to be a man.  No, not that exactly.  He helped illustrate how NOT to be a phony.   Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of it in the real world but his characters helped underscore in me  a deep sense of humor, humility, honor and no bullshit honesty.    By writing strong but flawed characters like Spenser, Hawk, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Virgil Cole he gave me a glimpse into himself and he shone a little light on a slightly confused young man.

I’d always hoped I would get a chance to meet him, shake his hand, and tell him “Thank you.”

Guess that’s gonna have to wait for now.

Instead, what I have to do is shake this off and write.  Time is limited for all of us and he showed how to make good use of it.  The biggest form of thanks I could give is to press forward and that’s what I’m going to do.  Regardless, it’s going to take awhile for me to really get over this.

A titan has passed and another like him shall not pass this way again.

———————————————

Here’s a small list of links that cover the story and offer their own appreciations.

“His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction” by Tom Nolan at the Wall Street Journal

Sarah Weinman on the Los Angeles Times “Robert B. Parker left a mark on the detective novel”

Sarah also has a great page full of links, information, and updates

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Megan permalink
    January 20, 2010 2:20 pm

    I’m glad I found out about his passing from you. And I’m glad I saw this eulogy.

    *hug*

    I started reading Parker’s novels because Mike read them. We often got copies of his most recent books from Mike’s mom and her husband, who are also avid fans. At dinners together we talk about them sometimes, or we make references to them. Reading the “Spenser” novels in particular helped me to bond with his mom and step-dad, an invaluable thing. So I went from reading something my boyfriend liked, to reading something I liked with my boyfriend and his family.

    In looking at our 2 shelves full of Parker novels, I’d say my favorite is “A Catskill Eagle.” The one that is more about Hawk getting vengeance but I can’t remember the title right now is a close second, with “Appaloosa” coming in third. What was yours?

  2. MEgan permalink
    January 20, 2010 11:26 pm

    “Cold Service” was the one about Hawk I was thinking of. I went through our shelves tonight and put all the Spenser novels in order. We are missing two in the series: “Promised Land” and “Now and Then.” And according to Wikipedia he wrote one called “Chasing the Bear: a young Spenser novel” which I’ll have to keep my eyes open for.

    Anytime you want to borrow them, just let me know.

  3. June 3, 2010 6:20 am

    I’ve always liked Robert B. Parker, though I’m more partial to the other characters over Spencer. Parker was a stunning writer. When I, myself, decided to get more serious about writing, he was one of the people I specifically re-read to study. There’s this mistake that simple prose is easy prose. It’s not–read Parker. And good dialogue is harder to write than most people give credit. You’ve got to strike that balance between real enough it seems like someone would talk that way, but crafted enough that it’s understandable since “true life dialogue”, taken out of context, usually amounts to gibberish. All things that Parker can teach you.

    His death hit me on several different levels. One is the feeling I get whenever anyone dies–every man’s death diminishes me. Another was that feeling that brings up your own mortality–hitting that age where the people you admire across all the different walks of life begin to pass. And, of course, lastly–no more books. Ever.

    You said he taught you how to be a man, how not to be phony. And that’s it exactly. So many people dismiss genre fiction. But I’ve learned more from genre writers about life, about love, about death, about manhood than I ever did from any “literary” writer. Robert. B Parker was one of those teachers.

    I’m just glad he died at his desk. I like the sound of that. It’s like saying, he died with his boots on.

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