Postscript… with a bullet

It’s indicative how stunned I was by the death of novelist Robert B. Parker that I neglected to mention in my memorial post the most personal element of my Parker experience…

I actually met the man once.

This would have been, I believe, in the fall of 1982. Parker was on a tour promoting Ceremony, the ninth Spenser novel, which had just been published. One of his stops was a B. Dalton Bookseller location on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. I was in the midst of my first semester at San Francisco State University — my third collegiate year overall, after two years at Pepperdine and a year off working full-time. (I’d hum you a few bars of the school song, but I’ll confess that I have no idea what it is.) When I heard that my favorite author was in town, I hopped on the Muni Metro’s M Line and headed downtown to stare greatness in the face.

Parker’s popularity was still in its nascent stage at this point, so there wasn’t a mammoth crowd in the store, clamoring for the author’s autograph. In fact, during the time I was there, I could have counted on my fingers the people who stopped by Parker’s table, and still had enough fingers free to tap out “London Bridge” on a piano.

Parker, a bluff, broad-shouldered man with a walrus mustache, gave the distinct impression that this sort of personal appearance gig wasn’t his greatest thrill in life. Of course, he’d probably begun the tour in his native Boston and worked westward, so San Francisco was in all likelihood near the end of a long journey, during which he’d fielded the same inane book-tour questions (i.e., “Where do you get your ideas?” and “What’s Spenser’s first name?”) several dozen times. So I was willing to cut the guy some slack if he didn’t feel particularly chirpy.

Being on a student’s budget, I couldn’t afford to buy Ceremony in hardcover. Instead, I picked up the newly released paperback of the previous Spenser book, A Savage Place, and handed it to Parker to sign. (Because Parker wrote a new Spenser adventure annually, Delacorte/Dell would publish the preceding year’s Spenser in softcover simultaneously with the release of the latest novel’s hardcover edition. I always waited to read each book until I could purchase it in paperback. Every time I walked into a bookstore or library, I’d fight the temptation to devour the latest hardcover, forcing myself to hold out for the paperback twelve months later. It was a masochistic exercise in discipline.) Parker stoically scribbled his autograph on the title page and gave the book back to me.

Determined not to embarrass myself in front of this person whose work I so deeply admired, I had rehearsed my comments on the streetcar ride over. I told Parker that I enjoyed his books very much, and that I hoped one day to write a novel myself.

“Writers write,” Parker said. “If you want to be a writer, start writing.” Simple advice, but sound.

I then asked him the one question I’d prepared — “Do you think you’ll ever write a book specifically about Hawk?” — referring to Spenser’s ultra-efficient comrade-in-arms. Parker’s expression betrayed the fact that he’d heard this one a few bajillion times already, and he responded, “No. I really only see Hawk through Spenser’s eyes. I couldn’t write a book from his point of view.” (True as that was, Parker did eventually write a couple of Spenser novels in which Hawk played more than just a supporting role — 1992’s Double Deuce and 2005’s Cold Service.)

That was it. I moved off to pay for my book. I overheard Parker telling another customer that the Spenser story on which he was just beginning work would lay the foundation for some major changes to come in later books. In retrospect, I believe that he was probably referring to Valediction, published in 1984. In that book, Spenser and his paramour Susan separate for a time — events that reportedly mirror those in the lives of Parker and his wife Joan.

My autographed copy of A Savage Place rests on my desk as I type this post. I guess it’s a collector’s item now.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Celebritiana, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Good Reads, My Home Town, Reminiscing, SwanStuff

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