Once a writer for TV series such as ‘Law & Order’, Stonington’s Robert Palm is now publishing his first novel

Author/screenwriter Robert Palm at his home in Stonington on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Author/screenwriter Robert Palm at his home in Stonington on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

When writer Robert Palm was in his mid-twenties and still looking good, he received a poster from his mother. It featured a quote from James Joyce.

On the poster, her mother wrote: “Joyce was not published until she was 40 years old. Do not abandon.

Palm became a renowned writer. His early career as a journalist, beginning at the Hartford Times, was followed by decades as a writer for television shows, from “Miami Vice” to “Law & Order.”

But he had never published a book.

Now, at 73, he is. Palm, who grew up in West Hartford and now spends a lot of time at his home in Stonington, will have his novel “Erasure” published by an Italian publisher in the spring.

Save a drowning woman

When people are faced with death, they often think of their own life.

In 2014, Palm’s brother Barry was dying. Robert had gone to say goodbye to her.

Later, Palm wondered: what would be his only regret at that time?

“It immediately occurred to me that I had never even tried to write a novel, never even tried – it’s too big, I was too busy, for all these reasons. If I couldn’t be Fitzgerald, why bother? I had a million,” he recalls.

Palm was living in Noank at the time, and in a small garden shed, he sat down and began to write with a magic marker on the plywood wall. It was a potential start for a novel.

Of course, the question was: what story would he tell? The one that came to him comes from an experience his cousin Eddie Odlum had.

“We grew up together in West Hartford. There were five of them, five of us,” Palm says.

They were as close as brothers.

About five years before Palm started writing the book, Odlum had called him and was very moved. His wife of over 40 had just died of breast cancer. Odlum lived in Malibu, Palm recalls, and “he was like a hippie surfer house builder. He was a great guy… St. Francis on a surfboard.

In his younger years, Odlum was a lifeguard at Groton Long Point, where his family had a place. (Palm jokes, “When some people say (to me), ‘You spent the summer at Groton Long Point,’ I always correct them. I say, ‘We mopped up our cousins.'”)

Odlum was walking his dog on the beach in California when the dog started barking. It was November, the waves were beating hard and the day was overcast and dark so the beach was empty. Odlum thought his dog might have seen a seal in the water. But then he realized it wasn’t a seal; it was a person.

Odlum jumped into the water and swam.

He discovered that the character was a woman. She was fully clothed. He asked what had happened.

“She said, ‘I came out to kill myself.’ He said, ‘Well, yes or no? Let me know.’ She said, ‘OK’,” Palm says.

Using his lifeguard training, Odlum brought her back to shore.

“He collapsed on shore after a very arduous rescue,” Palm recalled. “He said there was no one on the beach… It just wasn’t a day at the beach. A couple came out of nowhere. He thought they had some kind of German accent, but he himself was half unconscious, face down. They said, ‘We’ll take her, we’ll take her, we’ll make sure she’s okay. And they kind of took her away. He couldn’t even stand up.

The next day, Odlum went to the police station to follow up, but there was no record of the event or the woman or what happened to her after Odlum rescued her.

Palm says, “He called me and he was very emotional. “You are a journalist, can you help me find her? I was living here (in Connecticut) at the time, but I was still going back and forth to LA, doing my dogs and ponies show for TV. He said: ‘I just want to know that she’s okay. To say that I saved someone’s life…”, with the obvious reference to his wife. So I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

“A week or two later he fell while skiing and broke his neck and was paralyzed from the waist down. So his search for the woman, obviously, was over.

But years later, thinking about it all, Palm decided to answer Odlum’s question in a novel.

In the literary thriller, Palm even calls the main character Ed. (Odlum died in July 2021.)

Published in Italy

Palm completed the first draft in about three months and sent it to Odlum to read. He also submitted the novel to agents in New York and “got some really nice, well-written, full of praise rejection letters,” he says. His “Law & Order” jobs meant nothing in the world of fiction, he notes.

Then, last winter, an old Law & Order friend, Rene Balcer, and Balcer’s wife, Carolyn, were visiting Palm in Stonington. Balcer asked Palm what happened to his novel, which Balcer had read and liked. Palm explained that he submitted it to agents without success. Carolyn said she had a friend in Milan who is an agent and suggested sending it to him.

Palm did. The wife, Gabriella Ambrosioni, said she liked the manuscript. Last month, Palm traveled to Italy to meet her in person. She took him to lunch and dinner and introduced him to various editors and publishers.

“Whatever happens with the book, (this trip was) my fantasy of what this world would be like,” Palm says. “I’ve had a good long run on TV, but… there’s no glamour, just throw it. And they pay you a lot of money, but that’s not really a good life for a writer, in my romantic fantasy life.

Eventually, three publishers made offers on the novel. Palm went with Piemme, a Mondadori imprint. Mondadori is Italy’s largest publishing house. “Erasure” will be released in Italy in May for the company’s beach playback lineup.

Getting into TV

Becoming a television writer is not an easy thing. Here’s how it went for Palm.

After serving as a young reporter at the Hartford Times, Palm moved to Los Angeles and got a job at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

This newspaper had a little softball league, and one of the players brought Brandon Tartikoff to a game. Tartikoff was then the head of NBC and was a very good athlete.

Palm and Tartikoff talked, and Tartikoff later called Palm a few times at the Herald-Examiner to tell him that he really liked an article Palm had written. Palm says Tartikoff really liked writers, which made him unusual in that line of work.

Although he enjoyed reporting, Palm, who earned $350 a week, decided to give television a try.

He approached Tartikoff with an idea for an episode of the sitcom “The Last Precinct.”

“He looked at me like, ‘What took you so long?'” Palm recalled.

“He said, ‘Come to my office on Monday. I will open the door. If you can do it, you’re in. And if you can’t, I can’t help you,” Palm says. “And that’s the line I always use for young writers or anybody.”

Palm ended up becoming a writer for several cop shows despite the fact that, he says, “I didn’t know anything about cops except that I had a dislike for them.”

His first work was on “Miami Vice”. He hadn’t yet been cast on the show when ‘Miami Vice’ honcho Michael Mann asked him to write an episode in which Don Johnson’s character marries a rock star, played by Sheena Easton. . (Johnson’s character was hired to protect Easton’s, they fell in love and married, before, amid much crime and personal drama, she was murdered.)

Mann’s reaction to Palm’s first draft was, “Really good script, but not the one I wanted. Do you want to do it again? »

“I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ He said, ‘OK, you have four days,’” Palm recalled.

With this second version, Palm was hired by the series.

Dick Wolf, who was showrunner on “Miami Vice,” walked into Palm’s office after the wedding episode aired and told him he got 30 shares, which means 30 million people watched him. had watched.

“So I was in it,” Palm says.

Wolf was the later tie-in to “Law & Order”, which Wolf created.

Palm was a writer/producer on the original series, as well as the “SVU” offshoot.

He loved the work and enjoyed research.

“It was like being a journalist. It was really fun,” he says.

“Law & Order” is known for taking real-life cases and turning them into TV dramas. Palm, for example, drew inspiration for an episode from a newspaper article about a Connecticut case that went to the state’s Supreme Court. The court finally ruled in 1991 that, as The New York Times reported, “the property of a homeless person living under a highway bridge is protected by the same constitutional privacy rights as the property of any resident. of a house or apartment, even though the man’s ‘house’ was technically a public place that anyone could enter.’ »

Palm was able to discuss his ideas with former New York Assistant District Attorney William Fordes, who worked as a legal consultant on the show.

Opened some interesting doors in Stonington

“I had a good long run,” he says of his television career. “I never really liked LA…but I was there a long time. Then I came back here.

Palm has been involved in some local projects. He wrote something for the Stonington Historical Society’s book on famed photographer Rollie McKenna, titled “A Village Love Affair: Rollie McKenna’s Stonington.”

“It was a wonderful experience. I wrote the kind of bio/intro to the book and made some really good friends locally because of that,” says Palm. “It kind of opened some interesting doors in Stonington in a way that I really liked.”

He also wrote a screenplay for a fundraiser for the Enders Island Recovery Center which was adapted into the short film “Floater” by Jake Metcalf, a young filmmaker from Stonington. Lamb was the co-producer.

‘The dream becomes reality’

As for “Erasure”, there are discussions with agents in the United States and England, but Palm says: “If it is only published in Italian in Italy, and I can see it in a bookstore from my little town (in Italy where he has a house)… it’s a dream come true.