Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hired for Spenser

This morning brings my latest contribution to the Kirkus Reviews Web site, its subject being Sixkill, the 39th--and last--novel Robert B. Parker finished writing before he died in January of last year at age 77. You’ll find my thoughts on the book and its author here.

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While working on that Kirkus article, I had the chance to interview Mississippi author Ace Atkins, who has been hired by publisher Putnam to compose new entries in Parker’s renowned series featuring Boston gumshoe Spenser. Because Kirkus blog posts are limited in length, I wasn’t able to include most of my exchange with Atkins. Rather than let the excess go to waste, I’m featuring it below.

Since the announcement that he’ll take over Parker’s series, I haven’t seen Atkins quizzed about either what he hopes to do with Spenser in the future or what affect this new responsibility will have on his existing career as a novelist. (After all, Atkins is just starting a new series of his own with the release next month of The Ranger [Putnam], which introduces Army Ranger Quinn Colson.) So I hope this material will be enlightening to Rap Sheet readers.

Author Atkins samples the winter delights in Parker territory, Boston. (Photo by Carrefour, Ltd. Used with permission.)

J. Kingston Pierce: Did you ever meet Robert B. Parker?

Ace Atkins: I never met Bob, but we corresponded. He thought it was pretty great that we shared the nickname Ace. He’d been called Ace Parker by his close friends. The nickname was after the Pro Hall of Fame football player Ace Parker, who, in a strange twist, was a friend of my father’s.

I had been a big fan of his work since I was a teenager. Spenser turned me on to [Dashiell] Hammett, [Raymond] Chandler, and [Ross] Macdonald. Parker and those writers helped me form the backbone of my career and find my voice as a writer.

JKP: Did you have to audition to become the new author of the Spenser series, maybe by submitting a sample story of some sort?

AA: Yep, I became aware of the search for a new Spenser author last fall, and turned in 50 pages in October. I was already into my sequel to The Ranger, but felt very strongly about trying my hand.

JKP: What made you the right guy to take over the Spenser series?

AA: More than any other writer, except perhaps Elmore Leonard, Bob shaped my style and taste in storytelling. I learned a lot from him and use much of his technique in everything I do. We also have a very similar worldview and an appreciation for sports, beer, food, and dogs. I also draw a lot into my work from my love of Westerns. You can see a lot of that influence in the Spenser novels.

I also think there is a certain musical quality to his novels--much like Chandler. My earlier writing was shaped by turning music into prose. Bob wrote Spenser like classic jazz.

JKP: Are you picking up the Spenser series right where Parker left off in Sixkill, or are you planning your books to be prequels, transporting Spenser back to his younger days?

AA: I would love to write about some cases in the Spenser files from long ago. But it was very important to everyone involved that Spenser remains a very contemporary character right now. Much of the fun of Spenser is his reaction to pop culture in America. Reading the entire series, you get such a pulse on trends that Bob thought were pretty silly at the time.

JKP: I’ve heard that you are just wrapping up work on your first Spenser novel. Does it have a title?

AA: The novel is done. I’m sending it to Bob’s longtime editor at Putnam this week. Spenser #40 has a title, but not an official title yet. Although, I hope it’s kept. I think Bob would’ve liked it, as it comes from a jazz standard.

JKP: Finally, what does this new assignment mean as far as your writing non-Spenser books? While penning the Spenser series, will you have time and energy enough to keep up a separate writing career?

AA: Very good question! I was half into the next Ranger novel when Spenser knocked on my door. I will be finishing up that novel this summer and fall and will have two novels on bookstore shelves in 2012. For the immediate future, I look forward to rotating between Boston and the Deep South for my Quinn Colson stories. For someone who was born in the South but raised in many northern cities, this just seems ideal.

READ MORE:Let’s Talk Ranger” (Official Site of Ace Atkins).


Barbara said...

I was very much against continuing the Spenser series after Parker died. This interview assures me that Atkins will write in the same style, but I'm still torn about it. I guess I'll just have to read Spenser #40 and find out. Meanwhile, I must read the last real Spenser.

Evan Lewis said...

I either love this idea or I hate, but I'll be damned if I know which.

HannibalCat said...

Having read every Spenser novel - most in the space of a single day each when I was catching up with them all - I was very sad to hear of Robert B. Parker's death. I am ambivalent to hear that a new author is carrying the brand onward, but willing to give the new book a read. If the laconic magic can be recaptured, it would be nice to see Spenser and Hawk continue on a while.

Bret said...

I was also ambivalent about someone continuing Spenser. However I miss the expectation of a new novel and so I read Ace's take on him. I was not disappointed. He really seems to understand the characters, what they mean to each other, and us.