Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writer's Voice

I'm a huge Robert B. Parker fan.  If I haven't read all of his books, I've read the vast majority, some of them multiple times.  I've even read the non-mainstream ones without his three well known main characters, though Spenser is where I met Parker and is my first love among his characters.  I was saddened when he died, not just for the loss of him, but also for the loss of Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall, who had become like dear old friends to me.

So it was with mixed emotions that I heard that Parker's widow Joan had tapped two people to carry on the Spenser and Stone series.  I was excited to have more exploits of my two favorite good guys to read, but how could someone else possibly capture the voice of one of crime drama's greatest writers?

The answer is that they couldn't.  No disrespect to Ace Atkins and Michael Brandman, but the writing is simply a pale shadow of the quick narration and sharp, witty dialogue that was Parker's trademark.  The characters are flat and unappealing in some cases (How in the world do you make Hawk feel smaller than life?), while in other cases they are just not who they used to be.  Jesse Stone is completely unlikeable in Brandman's iteration.  And Susan Silverman is, to quote a friend and fellow Parkerite, just plain snarky.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  It would be like going to a Yo-Yo Ma concert and hearing the following announcement:  "Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to announce that Yo-Yo Ma is not feeling well tonight.  However, his parts will be played by this other really good cellist.  He's just as good, really." Or like going to a New England Patriots game only to find that Tom Brady's uniform would be out there, but it would be filled by Tim Tebow.  They were going to run all the same plays, so the fans should expect Brady's uniform to be able to play just as well despite being filled by another player.

It's not the cello--it's Yo-Yo Ma.  It's not the uniform--it's Tom Brady.  It's not the names of the characters and locations--it's Robert B. Parker that makes them who they really are.  They just aren't the same without him.

Not to get all teacher-y, but the lesson here is that voice is important and each writer's voice is unique. I'm sure Mr. Atkins and Mr. Brandman are fine writers.  Atkins is a highly decorated author; I know less about Brandman.  But I'm 100% certain they are better writers when they are using their own voices than when they're trying (unsuccessfully) to imitate someone else's.  And the same is true for me.  You may hear echoes of writers like Parker and Craig Johnson in my voice because I love their writing so much and read it voraciously, but I write best when I write as me.  And I hope that's pretty good.

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