Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hard-Boiled Dick

I first discovered Robert B. Parker’s detective hero Spenser through the Robert Urich TV show. I’ll cop to my normal shallowness here. I liked the show primarily because Robert Urich was cute. That, and Hawk. Avery Brooks as Hawk was the coolest character ever to appear on a TV show, before or since. Put the two together and magic happened. Who cares who the murderer is and if the case gets solved? The fun part of the show was the two guys tossing quips at each other, and Brooks looking killer in those shades. That’s what I tuned in for.

With my curiosity stirred by the show, I checked out the novels. This wasn’t the pretty, cleaned-up-for-TV character I was used to. However, I warmed to him quickly, this thug with a heart of gold, a modern-day white knight with his own code of chivalry in a tarnished world. And Hawk was there, still cooler than cool, and the two were together and trading quips and making Boston a safer city for you and me. When the show was cancelled, I still had the books. I was a happy camper.

Skip ahead a couple of years. The library hosted a talk by a local romance writer. We had a lively time asking questions and picking up tips on writing, promotion and business. Yes, you could make a living writing for Harlequin if you can write four or five books a year. Oops, that lets me out.

Somehow the subject turned to the Spenser novels. To my surprise, almost every woman in the room was a fan of the tender tough guy. It wasn’t memories of cutie Urich or Spenser’s devotion to his girlfriend Susan that drew them in, either. It was the relationship between Spenser and Hawk. The women didn’t care that much for Susan. I think if Parker had killed her off they would have been content. They came back book after book for the Spenser and Hawk scenes, just like I did. That, somebody said, was the real romance in the series.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first experience with M/M fiction (outside of fanfic slash) and its appeal for a female audience.

Let’s be clear here. These aren’t sex books. They’re hard-boiled detective mysteries. I wrote it “Spenser and Hawk” and not “Spenser/Hawk” because there’s no romance in a traditional sense. Both men are straight. Both men also understand each other, are completely at ease with each other, and have each other’s backs in all situations. They’d die for each other. Best of all, they’re fun to read about together. They’re the perfect fictional romantic couple, just without any sex scenes.

But if you did add sex scenes, you’d have a classic M/M series.

I’m pretty sure Parker didn’t intend his books to serve as an example of how to write epic bromance. They are a textbook lesson on how to develop character and advance plot through snappy dialogue. Plus, the Spenser and Hawk relationship and how Parker maintains it from book to book bears careful study. The relationship between two (or more) men is the heart of any M/M novel. Parker weaves this and other male relationships through fast-paced mysteries with lots of physical action and endings where the good guy doesn’t necessarily win, but does achieve satisfaction. As examples to emulate when writing M/M—or mysteries, or pretty much anything—you could do worse.

Sadly, there won’t be any more new books forthcoming. Robert B. Parker passed away last year—died at his desk, according to reports. The last Spenser book he completed came out in January. Hawk wasn’t in it. Maybe that’s best. Now we don’t have to say good-bye.

Somewhere in an alternate universe, Spenser and Hawk still team up to fight crime and battle the bad guys using fists, guns, brains and their own code of honor, bringing justice to an unjust world. And trading those wry quips. I’m going to reread some of my favorites, with an eye toward figuring out how Parker make his pairing so likeable, and how I can apply his lessons to my own M/M books. Happy writing, folks!


Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, I loved that show! I hated it when the show ended because it was cool on all fronts, and had a certain intelligence to the stories and their relationship that always drew me in.

I haven't read any of the novels, though.

Great observations, Pat.

Pat C. said...

I just started reading a how-to book on M/M, and the discussion on its huge female audience reminded me of the library incident. There was a whole audience there eagerly looking for a genre, but I didn't recognize it at the time.

The Susan in the books is really high-maintenance. That could be why the women didn't like her. Or maybe they just liked Hawk more. Can't blame them there.

Savanna Kougar said...

I barely remember Susan. What I remember is how Hawk treated her, loved her.

Yeah, you're right about the female audience looking for a genre, the m/m romance genre. So too bad, I can't take advantage.

I love man pardners and bantering like Butch and the Sundance Kid, but hey my heroines want all their lovin' attention.

I'm out in the not-trendy cold, once again... lol...

Pat C. said...

Don't worry ... trends come and go, sometimes quickly, but as long as we have two genders the books you write will find their audience. Don't give up!

Pat C. said...

See, you "barely remember" Susan, but Hawk stands out. Exactly my point. My aim is to figure out how Parker achieved that so I can copy his tricks. Or film my books and cast Avery Brooks in the lead, whatever works.