The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘Robert B. Parker

Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” may have been the last time agents and book editors were excited about reaction words that don’t characterize and move the plot forward.

Shallow words like smiling, shrugging, grinning, nodding and laughing can make many agents and editors cringe. Sadly, I employ these “empty” words as placeholders in my prose, but they fail to give insight, depth or motivation to my characters.

Rewrite consultant Jean Jenkins advises her clients to give an internal reaction, a thought to interpret the mood of the character for the reader. “Have your characters do active things that show their feelings during a scene,” suggests Jenkins. “Or, couple these words with an action so the scene doesn’t feel choreographed, like a stage direction.”

What empty words are you working to eliminate from your writing? Let me know so I can add them to my list.

Here are some examples of wonderful word pictures from books I’ve recently read:

WORRY –“Mrs. Maguire dropped the silver polish. She fished a handkerchief out of her sleeve. She blew he nose mightily on it and said, “Dear Lord, don’t let a hair of head come to harm.” — Elizabeth George, “In The Presence of the Enemy.”

FEAR– “I crouched and kept my head low. I tried to swallow whatever was rising from my stomach, which tasted like lemonade, something fruity and sour.”– Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”

LOVE –“She smiled at me, that sunrise of a smile that colored her whole face and seemed to enliven her whole body.” Robert B. Parker, “Mortal Stakes”

INSIGHT–”When Roark had gone, Wynand sat behind his desk, smiling. He moved his hand toward one of the plastic buttons–and stopped. He realized that he had to assume a different manner, his usual manner, that he could not speak as he had spoken in the last half-hour. Then he understood what had been strange about the interview: for the first time in his life he had spoken to a man without feeling the reluctance, the sense of pressure, the need of disguise he had always experienced when he spoke to people; there had been no strain and no need of strain; as if he had spoken to himself.” Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead”

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

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Spenser creator Robert B. Parker

This week I’m mourning the loss of a friend. This friend isn’t someone I met for coffee, remembered on his birthday or friended on Facebook. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards. I didn’t call him to share my joys and frustrations. We didn’t take any journalism classes together.

I’m grieving the loss of a man I’ve never met, but he’s been in my home countless times. I will miss knowing — that while I’m at my keyboard writing — he’s somewhere across the country busy folding words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters and turning those chapters into best-selling novels.

Robert B. Parker died last Monday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77. The cause — a heart attack. I just finished reading one of his earlier works, Mortal Stakes, when I opened an e-mail from my sister asking me if I’d heard about his passing. She knew how much I enjoyed his books. Somehow I had missed the notice in the newspapers.

The prolific writer of more than 50 novels is best known (and in my case, best loved) for his Spenser novels: a series of nearly 40 books about a wisecracking ex-boxer turned Boston private eye. I lost sleep many nights wanting to find out how this PI would expose the bad guy, set the world right and still find time to cook for his beloved Susan Silverman. I loved his dog, Pearl, and I knew Spenser’s trusted friend Hawk would come to his aid in a moment’s notice. Mostly though, I loved the laugh-out-loud, self-effacing personality of Spenser, who Parker never gave a first name.

Parker’s mastery of short chapters wove vivid imagery with crisp dialogue. His books were so inviting that I kept a photocopied check-off list of his titles in my purse to help as I scoured booksellers and used bookstores hunting for them.

Parker began writing Spenser novels in 1971 while teaching at Northeastern University in Boston. His first one, The Godwulf Manuscript, was published in 1974, the year I graduated from high school. It opens with a sentence that immediately catches your attention and makes you want to read more: “The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.” And with that, Parker’s career — spanning some 36 years — was off and running.

In addition to the Spenser books, he’s written two other series-based novels, both with memorable central characters: the first is a female private investigator Sunny Randall and the other, a small town police chief, Jesse Stone. He’s also published numerous non-series novels.

Here’s the good news. The authors we love never really die. They live on through the pages of their books. I can still invite Robert B. Parker into my home any time I like. I can’t wait to read his next two books. Split Image, the ninth in the police chief Jesse Stone series, will be in bookstores on Feb. 23. And, for a change of pace, a Parker western, Blue-Eyed Devil, follows in May.

–Claire Yezbak Fadden


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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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