Why the shift to Quinn Colson from your previous novels?
My editor asked if I’d consider writing a contemporary series. I was completely dissatisfied with a series I had written when I was younger. There was a lot that taught me about what not to do. I wanted to write something nonstylized, completely authentic, about real people, and base these books on actual events. I had also seen men and women coming home from the battlefield to Mississippi where I live. Mostly, I wanted to give voice to the American soldier resuming normal life. For the first Colson book, The Ranger, I wanted something simple and straightforward—a man returns to find his hometown in chaos. It’s a little bit of Ross Macdonald’s Blue City, which I read as a teen.
How did you get chosen to continue the Spenser franchise, and what’s been hardest about that?
The answer I’m sworn to give is that Joan Parker asked a bunch of crime writers to enter the Harvard Stadium and the last man standing got the job. Actually, the process started with a requested submission of 50 pages of a new Spenser novel to Bob’s longtime editor. I had spent most of my life admiring and studying Bob Parker’s novels. A few months later, I got a call that the family was unanimous about me continuing the series. The hardest part is Bob’s absolute precision. I had always admired and appreciated his economy with words, but after writing a Spenser, my admiration has grown 10-fold.
Compare Colson and Spenser.
On a superficial level, the men are night and day. Quinn is a battle-hard veteran of two wars at 29. He has a hard time finding humor in many situations, and can be a little too direct and physical in his confrontations. Spenser finds humor in about everything and goes about things in a more sly manner. Spenser as a seasoned pro knows this stuff. Quinn—while very good in battle—is still evolving as a person.
What memories do you have of your days working as a Barnes & Noble book shelver?
I think every author who takes this business seriously should work for a while as a bookseller. It’s strange to me how many authors don’t understand how books are sold. I actually loved the job. While I was a part-time reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, I would spend my days stocking books and hand-selling those books I was passionate about.