Skip to main content

Author Talk: September 28, 2017

Michael Brandman is the author of three Jesse Stone novels, each based on characters created by Robert B. Parker. With his longtime partner, Tom Selleck, he has produced and co-wrote nine Jesse Stone movies and three westerns. MISSING PERSONS is the opening installment in his new mystery series starring Buddy Steel, an LAPD homicide detective who returns home to care for his father, a legendary sheriff who has fallen ill with Lou Gehrig's disease. In this interview, Brandman talks about what differentiates Buddy from other protagonists in today's crime fiction, why he considers the made-for-television movie Stone Cold to be his favorite collaboration with Robert B. Parker, and his working relationship with Tom Selleck as they currently write the 10th Jesse Stone film.

Question: Buddy Steel represents your first original series character, coming on the heels of the Jesse Stone novels you wrote a few years back following the death of Robert B. Parker. How do you see Buddy standing out from other protagonists in today's crime fiction?

Michael Brandman: Buddy is a guy who was living his dream as a highly regarded LAPD homicide detective whose unalloyed commitment to the job was paramount, and whose unconventional lifestyle afforded him the opportunity to hook up without settling down. Or, as he defined it, "Hooray for Hollywood."

When reality, in the form of his father's life-threatening illness, struck from out of the blue, he was faced with the choice of either continuing to live his dream, or pay heed to the unsettled relationship he shared with his autocratic father, in the hopes that both of them might work through their myriad difficulties and grow closer.

What separates Buddy from the rest of the pack is his commitment to establishing an emotional detente with his father, even at the expense of his own career. He's willing to sacrifice his self-perceived well-being in exchange for a level of emotional maturity that will inform the rest of his life.

Q: You collaborated with Robert B. Parker, the creator of both Spenser and Jesse Stone, for many years on a variety of Hollywood projects. Which one would you describe as your favorite? And why?

MB: Stone Cold is my favorite. We had collaborated on three Spenser movies and two westerns before Bob presented me with a copy of the Stone Cold manuscript, which we both agreed was a perfect fit for Tom Selleck.

Within a day of his reading the manuscript, Tom agreed to play Jesse Stone. A pitch meeting with Les Moonves, the legendary head of CBS, was hastily arranged, and Les bought it on the spot.

If ever the making of a movie was a pure joy, that movie was Stone Cold. And if that by itself wasn't enough, the ratings were through the roof.

Bob wouldn't look at the movie before it aired. He wanted to see it when the rest of the country did. So, on the night of the CBS premiere, he and Joan were at home in Boston, glued to the TV.It was Joan who called immediately afterward. She explained that Bob was so moved by the movie and by Tom's performance as Jesse, that he was too emotionally overcome to speak. Ol' Tough-as-Nails Bob was, in reality, an ardent sentimentalist. And as Joan described it, he wept as he watched the film.

Tom was Bob's dream casting come true, and he was enormously proud of the series. He lived to see six more of our movies, each of which he watched on the night of its premiere.

Q: You've been working with Tom Selleck for nearly 15 years now on the Jesse Stone series of television movies. Can you describe how the two of you work together? And how will you be dividing the preparation for the 10th film that you will be shooting in Nova Scotia this fall?

MB: The 10th Jesse Stone movie that we're currently writing will be the 13th movie Tom and I will have made together. And over the course of them, we've developed a kind of shortcut lingo.

We start by closeting ourselves away and batting around ideas. Our first question is always, "What's going on with Jesse?" As he is the center of any narrative, we're attuned to Jesse's state of mind and how well he's currently handling his demons.

In the last few movies, he's been somewhat at odds with the town council, and he's even taken time away from the job to work freelance in Boston, lamenting that nothing much happens in Paradise. In our present deliberations, we're debating as to what he'll be faced with next.We're also examining which of the characters in his universe he'll be engaging. Suitcase? Dix? Healy? And of course, his new dog, Steve.

Once we make those determinations, we'll set about outlining the first few scenes. We generally get as far as the end of Act One before the characters themselves take over and dictate the rest of the narrative.

We've made all of our Jesse movies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has become a kind of home away from home for us. Robert Harmon has directed eight of our movies. Our key production and design team has been with us since the beginning. And we have worked repeatedly with our sensational Halifax-based staff and crew.

Q: Just as Tom Selleck made the Jesse Stone role his own over the course of nine television films, which of today's actors do you see as a good fit for Buddy Steel?

MB: Good question. I hadn't really thought about it. Buddy is in his early 30s and, as he describes himself, a former point guard who is still fit and agile.

Although the producers will greatly rely upon a casting director to help them decide, and availabilities will surely be a factor, the few names that come to mind include Zac Efron, Matt Bomer and Chris Hemsworth. (If only Jeremy Renner were 15 years younger, he'd be ideal.)

Q: In terms of time expended, how much more work is writing a novel versus writing a screenplay based on a similar novel?

MB: Difficult to say. Both are hard. The difference is that a screenplay is a living document that will ultimately involve the participation of hundreds of people. Actors, directors, cinematographers, designers --- all will play a role in shaping the look and feel of the narrative. Dialogue changes will be made in order to fit more comfortably into the mouths of the actors.

A novel, on the other hand, is pretty much the work of an individual, aided and abetted by his or her copyeditor and influenced by his or her publisher. A novel is intended to be read by one person at a time, as opposed to being witnessed by large audiences in large auditoriums. Which makes this assessment basically a sort of apples to oranges analogy.

Q: Did you happen to learn a particularly useful writing stratagem from Bob Parker that you now utilize?

MB: Bob Parker had a single axiomatic rule, and it related to his unbending discipline: Five pages a day, six days a week. No going backward. In 10 weeks, you have a book. It's an amazing discipline, and if you adhere to it, it's a life-changer. And it works.

In Bob's case, he did indeed have a finished book in 10 weeks. But, of course, he was a Grand Master. In my case, I do arrive at the 300-page mark in 10 weeks. (Thank you, Bob!)

But that's really just the beginning of the process, because as Neil Simon taught me, writing is re-writing. And so, that's what I do.