January is said to be the month named for the Roman god Janus, who looked at the past and future. It’s a good time of year to size up where I’ve been and where I hope to be going next. For me, 2010 is all about change. New book project, new publisher and editor, new Web site, new blog, new house. Change is sometimes scary, bringing all sorts of uncertainty with it, but it can also be exciting and challenging. Creatively, I feel the need to shake things up now and then. There are few things worse for me than getting into a rut and slogging through the drudgery of same old, same old.
Often I’m so busy and distracted that I don’t recognize the rut I’ve worn for myself, or I don’t bother to take action. In the past five years, I’ve been dimly aware that my writing was getting too stale. I knew it had become more drudgery than fun, but like GM I can be slow to change. Finally I woke up and started a campaign to put myself on some new paths.
It’s been painful in some ways, but that’s okay, too. I don’t think a writer should run around tilting at windmills and inviting trouble, but it’s not good to live a totally insular existence either. Because that’s a sure way to dry up as a creative individual.
So I’ll see how these new directions turn out. I’ll keep writing new kinds of projects and regaining some confidence. Plus, now I have to pack up my book and movie libraries and strike the tent for the four-mile trek across town to my next abode.
In my previous blog, I wrote about the excitement and benefits of change. At the time, I didn’t expect that some of the changes in 2010 would include last week’s death of writer Robert B. Parker.
I first encountered Mr. Parker’s mystery novels in the 1980s, when I was in graduate school and my writing professor, Jack Bickham, assigned a Parker novel for class. That’s how I discovered Spenser – the tough, wise-cracking detective with a soft spot for Susan Silverman – and his way-cool friend Hawk. I adored Hawk because he was enigmatic and lethal. When I read a Parker novel, I could pretend that if I ever got into trouble, Spenser and Hawk would be out there somewhere, capable of rescuing me all the way from Boston.
At the same time, Spenser and Hawk were so cool that they were also in a television show. Robert Urich and Avery Brooks made a good team. And in my mind I can still hear Avery Brooks say, “Spen-ser” with that distinctive inflection. Even with hair and a Star Trek uniform, he will always be Hawk to me.
People often talk admiringly about Mr. Parker’s dialogue. It’s lean and stripped, sure. It conveys the complexity of Spenser’s sarcasm, irony, and perception, yes. But what always strikes me most about a Parker novel is the precision of detail. Vivid, specific, effective details that make the description come alive. Whether depicting Susan Silverman nibbling on a single lettuce leaf through an entire scene built around a meal or conveying the intensity of a dog’s stare at the piece of food in Sunny Randall’s hand, Mr. Parker nailed the exact word every time.
That, my friend, is excellence.