A Conversation with Michael Brandman,
Author of WILD CARD, the Third Buddy Steel Mystery
1) The first book in your new Buddy Steel series was Missing Persons, and then One on One came out last year. What was the main difference between writing this new Buddy Steel novel and the first two?
Without doubt I’d have to say it was the contributions of Barbara Peters and Annette Rogers, Poisoned Pen Press editors extraordinaire. Both Barbara and Annette took me under their respective wings and introduced me to the finer points of novel writing. A devoted task-mistress, Barbara patiently instructed me in ways to enrich the narrative through diversions and distractions. She gave me a number of exercises that she evaluated and commented on.
Annette introduced me to the ‘elements of a manuscript’, and drilled me over and over again on those elements, as well as on structure. I’m not suggesting that I’m any kind of great novelist, but I’m a whole lot better than I was thanks to Barbara and Annette.
2) How different is your approach in writing the California-based Buddy Steel books from the Jesse Stone series, set in Massachusetts, that you took over from your old friend, the late Robert B. Parker?
Bob’s sudden death in January of 2010 came as a shock to us all.
Being tapped by the Parker estate to write the Jesse Stone novels for Putnam’s was a surprise. “Get the guy who’s been writing the movies,” was the reasoning behind why I was chosen. But when I said yes, little did I know I would be facing a baptism by fire.
What soon became evident was that everyone involved in Bob Parker World had his or her own opinion about Jesse’s character and those opinions rarely overlapped.
Bob’s widow, Joan, was very encouraging and supportive. “Make Jesse your own,” was her advice. But Bob’s longtime editor at Putnam’s saw Jesse differently than either Joan or I did, and as a result, no common ground was ever found. As a result, after Joan’s passing, I left the Jesse book business. But I continue to write the Jesse Stone movies in partnership with Tom Selleck.
I submit there are five different Jesse Stones: Bob’s, which to my mind is the best. Joan’s. Mine. Bob’s editor’s. Mine and Tom’s. And now Reed Coleman’s.
3) You are one of the principal architects of the Jesse Stone television movies starring Tom Selleck. Can you discuss the story that will be the crux of the newest one?
Jesse Ten, which is what we’re affectionately calling the movie absent yet of any official title, is currently a work in progress.
After a three year hiatus, we’re back at it… wrestling a narrative that will find Jesse experiencing a familiar ennui—writing parking tickets and bemoaning his presence in a small town where “nothing much” ever seems to happen. Suddenly Jesse is swept up in the exigencies of making sense of an unexplained death… was it a suicide or, as Jesse suspects, a murder?We’re planning to produce the movie in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2019, for a premiere on the Hallmark Movies and Mystery Channel, hopefully later in the year.
4) Bob Parker never knew that you would be taking over his Jesse Stone series in print for several years, but he did get to see the first few of the Selleck TV movies. Did he give you any feedback on those?
Bob and I had collaborated on five movies before we teamed up on the Jesse Stone films. But whereas he had been an active participant in the earlier films… even going so far as to appear in each of the three Spensers… Bob decided to take more of a back seat on the Jesses. He had shown me the manuscript of STONE COLD, and with his permission, I passed it on to Tom Selleck, who loved it.
Together, Tom and I pitched it directly to Les Moonves, the President of CBS, who bought it on the spot. We shot the movie in Halifax, and despite our entreaties to the contrary, Bob was determined not to see it until the night of its premiere on CBS. He wanted to watch it for the first time along with the rest of the country.
I remember being in Los Angeles on premiere night when the phone rang promptly at eight o’clock. It was Joan Parker, at home in Boston with Bob. It was three hours later there and both of them had just watched the movie. “I’d put him on,” Joan said, “but he’s still crying.”
Bob had been greatly moved by STONE COLD. He praised Tom as being the “perfect” Jesse. He proclaimed it was the best adaptation of anything he had ever written. He was as excited as were we when first thing the next morning, Les Moonves called to order two more movies.
Bob lived to see four more of our films and was unquestionably our best audience. Without him, Tom and I are left to deliberate as to what Bob would or wouldn’t like. And he still sits on both of our shoulders, unduly influencing each of us. But he’s much nicer to Tom than he is to me.
5) If Buddy Steel were ever to make it to the screen (big- or small-), who among today’s actors do you feel would handle the role best?
It’s a question I do ask myself…. A lot depends on the format. Were it to be a limited series— six to ten episodes (since there’s no ignominy these days in appearing on television)— I’d likely reach out to one of today’s more compelling young actors. I’d love to see what Jake Gyllenhaal’s take on the character might be. Chris Pine and Ryan Gosling would also be interesting. And if age wasn’t a factor, Jeremy Renner would be dream casting.
Since the role of Burton Steel, Senior, is also critical to the narrative, there are a number of older actors who would be effective in that role. Jeff Bridges; Kevin Kline; Tommy Lee Jones; Kevin Costner. Gary Sinise and John Malkovich are always interesting.
And there’s also a very fine actor you don’t see too much of these days… A guy named Tom Selleck.