The Blog Carnival will be next Monday, so please send in your mystery book reviews this week (click here to submit an entry).
This Monday, we have a very special guest post by Hy Conrad. Hy was one of the original writers for the highly successful television series, Monk. He worked on the show for all eight seasons, the final two as Co-Executive Producer, and received three Edgar Nominations from the Mystery Writers of America for “Best TV Series.” Hy now writes the Monk book series. We are happy, and deeply honored, to have Mr. Conrad with us today.
Many years ago, before Lee Goldberg so graciously agreed to write the Monk novels, Penguin had approached me. I considered it. But I was busy with the TV show, and I had never written a novel at the time and, most crucially, I had no idea how to transform Monk and his twisty little stories into books. I let Lee do the grunt work and he turned it into a wondrous franchise – 16 of them to date. Fifteen for him; one for me.
It’s not as easy as it may seem to transform a well-loved show into a novel. There are hundreds of choices to make and problems to solve along the way.
From the beginning, the most important choice was point of view. Telling the stories in the third person seemed too impersonal for such a character. And using the first person, through Monk’s eyes, would have been maddening. (I can just see writing an entire chapter about vacuuming the herringbone nap on his living room rug.) Lee’s solution, and mine, was to tell things through Natalie’s eyes. It was the best alternative, giving the stories a “Watson” character as well as a sympathetic woman’s perspective.
But even this solution isn’t perfect. For one thing, when Monk is alone, getting into trouble, we can’t be there with him. We hear about it later, either from Monk or someone else. And when Monk goes in for his private sessions with Dr. Bell… Well, you may have noticed that Dr. Bell doesn’t play much of a role in the novels. Maybe I can figure a way to get him in there.
Another difference is the size of our stories. In TV, we had 42 minutes to tell a mystery. They were clever but very simple. When you have 70,000 words to kill – I mean fill – you either have to make the stories complex, which is not really the Monk way, or you have to throw in some fancy footwork. The Monk books often spend the first two chapters on a “starter mystery”, one that has no connection to the rest of the book but may help set up Monk’s emotional track.
Then there may be a few fast cases thrown in along the way, things that show off his brilliance but are really just there to entertain. Plus the novels tend to tell two mysteries at once, switching back and forth until we let loose with two climactic scenes in the last fifty pages. I’m probably making this sound like a formula. It’s not. We prefer to call it a template, and every mystery writer has one. That’s also what keeps fans coming back, a feeling of familiarity, even if the story is brand new.
Another problem; visual vs. literary. In the show, the clues we used were often visual. We even wrote them into the action lines, for the director’s benefit. Here is one, word for word: “A television plays in the bg, showing a clip of Darryl Grant breaking the home run record. The camera lingers on a man in the stands who catches the priceless ball. Not really lingers. We barely see his face. Forget I even mentioned it.” Obviously, you can’t do this in a book. You have to find other ways to sneak in your clues.
Tied in closely with this visual challenge is the subject of humor. On the screen Monk can shrug and it’s funny. Stottlemeyer can growl and do a slow burn five times a show and it works. But try ending a chapter with, “Monk did a funny little shrug and Captain Stottlemeyer growled in reply.” Okay, that’s not funny. In a novel you have to rely on situations and dialogue, along with the voice of your narrator. It’s always a compromise to make Natalie funny but not too funny, and to keep Monk from being too talkative. Which brings me to my last point.
One of the most important differences between the show and books is Monk’s voice. You may not have noticed, but on the show Monk isn’t a big talker. He rarely says more than two sentences in a speech, except when it comes to the solutions in Act Four where, for the good of the viewer, he becomes practically verbose, going on for page after page and using flashbacks. Tony Shalhoub is an actor who does so much with his body and face that we didn’t have to give him a lot of lines. He didn’t want them. But it’s darn hard to get that kind of nuance across in a plot-driven mystery, at least the ones I write.
The sad truth is that the books will never be the show. All the actors have moved on. They've all gotten older, except for Traylor Howard. All the writers have relegated Adrian Monk to a fond memory, except for me. But the books are their own thing, continuing to exist because they’re good. And because, luckily, Monk fans can read.
I was talking the other day with Andy Breckman, the man who took the suggestion, “Why not do a show about a cop with OCD?” and turned it into a phenomenon. We were discussing the Monk novels and Andy said, “Well, you’re it, kid. The last one. Keeping Monk alive.”
I like to think that we’re all keeping Monk alive. You as the reader and me now as the writer. Here’s to many more.
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Thank you very much Hy Conrad for your guest post. Your perspective of the unique challenges of taking the TV series to a book format are fascinating. We all thank Andy Breckman for his initial idea that created such a memorable character, and the series writers that showcased the talents of the cast.
We are running a special giveaway of the most recent book,
"Mr. Monk Helps Himself" to one lucky winner as well.
Single book giveaway
Entry for giveaway lasts until Wed. June 5 8:00 p.m. (MST).
The publisher will ship the book to the winner.
*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***
All entries are to be in the comments for this post.
I will accept entries for this giveaway Monday June 3 beginning at posting time through to 8:00 p.m (MST) on Wednesday June 5.
IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.
BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already, and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.
Thank you blog readers, and a big thanks to Hy Conrad.