Robert B. Parker 2003 Interview
After Joan’s house tour, Robert and I meet in his high-tech office, done in his favorite colors, burgundy and green.
Just how similar are you and Spenser?
He comes out of me and, like me, is ferociously devoted to a remarkable and interesting woman. Like me, he was in Korea and loves baseball. He, too, is a weight lifter who runs, and of course he lives around here. But he’s not me. I’m not, for example, a fighter–I’ve never fought when escape was possible.
Have you found yourself becoming more like your character? Do you ever ask yourself, “What would Spenser do?”
No. I am more clear on the difference between Spenser and real life than anyone in the world. I have never read one of my books. I write five pages a day, five days a week. When I’ve written about 300 pages, I send it in to my editor. That’s the last time I read it. My relationship to my books is that of the carpenter to the house. Once, a Spenser fan club ran a 10-question trivia quiz, which I took. I got five of them wrong.
Spenser is supremely certain of his moral stance, of the way he meets the world. Are you?
Yeah. I’m satisfied with who I am. I’ve had some help learning that. When Joan and I were separated, I had a brilliant psychiatrist, and from him I learned a great deal about myself. Joan had her own therapist. What we learned from them, we taught each other. You can’t be together 52 years without learning something.
You dedicated Death in Paradise as follows: “For Dave and Dan who kept their mother going and brought their father home.” What’s that about?
In January 2000 I had a fairly rare operation called a whipple, to remove a cyst from my pancreas. And they made some mistakes–including rupturing the portal vein. I almost died, but I’m far too stubborn to do that. My sons, Dave and Dan, came home from L.A. and New York to help take care of me.
Early Autumn introduces us to an unlovely kid, Paul, who keeps turning up in later Spenser books. Thanks to Spenser, he becomes a fine young man. In Pastime, here’s what he says about his childhood:
“My childhood memories are almost empty of him.”
“What are they full of?” I asked….
“Fear,” Paul said. “Fear of being left. I was thin and whiny and had colds all the time and I used to cling to my mother like a cold sore. She couldn’t stand it. She’d try to get me away from her so she could breathe and of course the more she tried the more I clung.”
Is Paul like the young you?
No, I wasn’t that kind of kid. I was very fond of my mother as a child, but come puberty, I was anxious to distance myself. She was a smothering Irish mother.
Well, you capture Paul beautifully.
What’s compelling is not what I know; it’s that I was able to say it in such a way that you liked it. The real answer is, I don’t know what I’m doing. I type. We all know less about this craft than we say we do.
Your mother was Irish. What about your father?
Yankee. Parkers were here–here being Belfast, Maine–before the Revolutionary War. But there’s very little ethnic charge in being Yankee. So I write Irish. And I look Irish.
What kind of lives did they lead?
My father was an executive with the phone company; my mother was a housewife. He was a very good father. My mother was complicated, difficult, and drank too much. I was an only child.