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Left: Michael Brandman signs his new novel One On One. Top Right: Reed Farrel Coleman talks Robert B. Parker and Jesse Stone. (photo courtesy of Hilary Davidson) Bottom Right: Otto Penzler in action signing copies of The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018.


Author Talk: August 7, 2018

an interview by BookReporter.com

ONE ON ONE is the second book in Michael Brandman's mystery series featuring Sheriff Buddy Steel, following MISSING PERSONS in 2017. In this latest installment, Buddy is investigating the brutal murder of a prominent high school sports coach while also trying to thwart the individuals responsible for the graffiti that is defacing both pubic and private property. In this interview, Brandman talks about the key contributions of his editors in helping to make him a stronger novelist; how his approach to writing these novels differs from how he tackled the Jesse Stone series, which he took over from his friend, the late Robert B. Parker; discusses the storyline of the 10th Jesse Stone made-for-TV movie, on which he is collaborating with Tom Selleck and is currently a work in progress; and reveals which actors he would love to see cast as Buddy Steel in a potential film or television adaptation.

Question: The first book in your new Buddy Steel series was MISSING PERSONS, which came out last year. What was the main difference between writing ONE ON ONE, your new Buddy Steel novel, and the first one?

Michael Brandman: 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.And I'm still learning new tricks. Which, to this old dog, is an unparalleled joy.

Q: How different is your approach in writing the California-based Buddy Steel books from the Jesse Stone series you took over from your old friend, the late Robert B. Parker?

MB: Bob's sudden death in 2010 came as a shock to us all.Being tapped by Putnam to write the Jesse Stone novels 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 saw Jesse differently than either Joan or I did, and 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 movies in partnership with Tom Selleck.

I submit there are six 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.

Q: 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? Will we be seeing it soon?

MB: “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 the spring of 2019, for a premiere on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel later in the year.

Q: 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?

MB: 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, he 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 8:00. 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," she 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 we were 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.

Q: What was your favorite film or television collaboration with Bob Parker over the years you were partners?

MB: Likely it was Small Vices, the first Spenser movie we made together, starring Joe Mantegna and Marcia Gay Harden.All during the scripting phase, Bob kept nudging me about being in the movie. An inveterate ham, he wanted to play the role of the shadowy spy, Ives. So we humored him. Director Robert Markowitz created a darkly mysterious scenic environment, and when Spenser appeared in the gloom for a meeting with him, Bob, as Ives, materialized as if from thin air wearing a trenchcoat and dark glasses.

Bob delivered a totally credible performance, however, and was widely praised for it. From that point on, for the rest of his life, whenever he phoned, Bob would lower his voice and spookily intone, "It's Ives." Elongating the name "IVES" beyond all reason. Bob could be so funny.

Q: 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?

MB: It's a question I ask myself. A lot depends on the format. Were it to be a limited series, 6-10 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 and 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.


BUDDY STEEL and MICHAEL BRANDMAN

A CONVERSATION

 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with San Remo County Sheriff, Burton Steel, Jr, at his home in Freedom, California, for a much delayed conversation.

BRANDMAN
A far cry from your days in Los Angeles.

STEEL
Ninety miles and a hundred light years.

BRANDMAN
Do you miss it?

STEEL
Every day.  I came back to Freedom, where I grew up, to assist my father.  Oh, and by the way, he's Sheriff Burton Steel.  I'm Buddy Steel.

BRANDMAN
Thanks for the clarification.  So, tell me, Buddy, in what way do you assist your father?

STEEL
After having won re-election to a third term as San Remo County Sheriff, he was diagnosed with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.  He asked me to join him in the Sheriff's department to help him weather his illness.  It's no fun having ALS and it's taken a serious toll on his health.  I agreed to come back for that and for some other reasons, as well.

BRANDMAN
Such as?

STEEL
Issues.

BRANDMAN
What issues?

STEEL
Personal issues.  We're working our way through them in an effort to better our relationship.  Find common ground where we never have before.  Settle our differences before it's too late.

BRANDMAN
And how's that working out?

STEEL
It's day to day.

BRANDMAN
Meaning?

STEEL
Ask me tomorrow.

BRANDMAN
What's it like being back in your hometown?

STEEL
Considering I fled at the earliest possible moment, seduced by life in the big city, by its anonymity,  I'd have to say that being back in small town USA sucks.

BRANDMAN
Excuse me?

STEEL
It sucks.  Everyone knows you.  Or thinks they do.  Your reputation was established in your youth, and it's very hard to overcome.  Also, small town politics and societal standing are by and large intractable.

BRANDMAN
So why do you stay?

STEEL
I just told you. 

BRANDMAN
Your father?

STEEL
Bingo.

BRANDMAN
For how long?

STEEL
You mean, how long will I be here?

BRANDMAN
Yes.

STEEL
For as long as it takes.

BRANDMAN
No end in sight?

STEEL
You know, I'm getting tired of this line of questioning.  Was there anything else you wanted to know.                                                                                             

BRANDMAN
Are you married?  Children?

STEEL
God, no.  I'm a long time bachelor and proud of it.

BRANDMAN
No prospects in sight?

STEEL
Prospects?  No.  None.  I'm more than content in my solitude and that's how I imagine it for the future.  As it's been said, I'm more interested in hooking up than in settling down.

BRANDMAN
Isn't that a lonely life style?

STEEL
That's really none of your business.  Unless you have something less personal to ask, I'm thinking this interview is over.

BRANDMAN
I was told you were intransigent.

STEEL
So, that being the case, shall we call it quits?

BRANDMAN
Not just yet.  Tell me, if you will, about the work.

STEEL
About being Sheriff, you mean?

BRANDMAN
Yes.  How is it different from the LAPD?

STEEL
Crime here is on a smaller scale.  Although I deal with many of the same types of crime as I did as an LAPD homicide detective, they're fewer and farther between.  What I mean is, although we have the occasional killing and are always on the alert for drug dealing and opioid abuse, the crime rate is far less intense here than it is in L.A.

BRANDMAN
Does that mean it's less challenging?

STEEL
Not at all.  We recently experienced the murder of one of the Freedom High School teachers.  A stabbing.  We're currently in the throes of investigating that killing which is proving to be more challenging than I had initially thought.

BRANDMAN
In what way?

STEEL
I'm not really at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation, but I can say that it's more far reaching and impactful on the community than the types of crime we generally see here.

BRANDMAN
Would you care to expound on that?

STEEL
I don't think so.  Let's just say it appears to mirror the spate of sexual abuse incidents that seem to be endemic these days.  What I can mention is that we're also deep into an investigation of an outbreak of grafitti desecration on any number of public and private properties and edifices.  Shameful, really.    

BRANDMAN
Can you tell me more about it?

STEEL
Not just yet.  We're zeroing in on the perpetrators but it's too early to be discussing it.

BRANDMAN
Was there anything else in particular you wanted to talk about?

STEEL
Not really.  I knew you wanted to interview me and I agreed so as to accommodate you.  I've read one of your books which is mostly why I agreed.

BRANDMAN
Is there anything else you'd like to say?

STEEL
Write better books.

 BRANDMAN
Thank you for your time.

With that, our conversation came to an end.  You can learn more about Buddy Steel and San Remo County in the soon to be published novel, ONE ON ONE.


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Michael Brandman stopped by to sign his new novel, Missing Persons, the first entry in a new series starring LAPD homicide detective Buddy Steel, who returns to his hometown 100 miles north of L.A. to assist his father, the long-time sheriff of Freedom, CA. You can order a signed copy of the paperback original here

You might know Brandman as the one-time author of the continuation of Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels. Check this week's rare list below for signed copies of those titles.


Author Talk: September 28, 2017

an interview by BookReporter.com

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.