- Guest Post by Chris Angus
Humans seem to crave connection to famous people; celebrities, politicians, actors, athletes. Lately the phenomenon has taken a strange turn with the frenzy given to potentially famous people on American Idol and various reality shows.
As a writer, I’ve always been a bit star struck when it comes to my favorite authors. I’ve collected stories about them and relished the personal connections I’ve had with a few. I corresponded for a time with John McPhee and had a long connection with some well-known writers in the Adirondack region of New York: Paul Jamieson, Anne LaBastille, Barbara McMartin and Maurice Kenny.
Robert Parker, the writer of numerous detective series, including his Spenser, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall characters, passed away recently. He died with his boots on, metaphorically speaking, sitting at his typewriter pounding out yet another in his scores of books.
I discovered Parker more than thirty years ago and have devoured his books again and again. They are deceptively simple in format and utterly absorbing. The author honed his skills by studying the writings of Dashiell Hammett, even writing his college thesis on the subject.
Like many writers, I’ve picked up some of Parker’s writing habits. He’s a good writer to emulate when writing a mystery, but there’s also a danger that one’s own work will become derivative. I actually avoid reading him when I’m actively working on a mystery, because it is in the nature of the beast that Parker’s characterizations and even his plot will seep into my own words.
I was strongly influenced by Edward Abbey for a period. That man could write. His journals are filled with brilliant passages, including some incredible descriptions of Edinburgh, Scotland written when he was in his early twenties. He had a real passion for life and for telling the truth as he saw it. He could also be a bit of a cad, cheating on his wives and girlfriends. At least he seemed to be honest about it. What is the point, he wrote, of books that describe a hundred different positions when all a man really wants is a hundred different women? He believed men and women were entirely different creatures and marveled that the two managed to get along at all.
I wrote to Abbey to tell him how much I enjoyed his essay Blood Sport, about his distaste for hunting and also his book The Monkey Wrench Gang. His post card reply came from Oracle, Arizona in 1988, less than a year before he died. The handwriting was frail and meandering and made me fear for his health. Still, he appreciated a fan enough to take the time, and I still treasure that post card. Abbey had two children the last five years of his life. He was full of love for them and regrets that he wouldn’t see them grow up. One has to wonder what those children think of the father they have virtually no memory of, their poor, driven, joyful, passionate, angry father. In truth, when they read his work, they will probably learn more about him than most people ever do about their parents.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being a writer is knowing that your deepest feelings, your heart and soul are revealed in your words. Those words will last long after you are gone, influencing others, warming the hearts of descendants and perhaps even changing history. It allows readers to feel as though they have had their own close encounter with a famous person, even one who may have been dead for hundreds of years.