Michael Brandman is a major Hollywood hyphenate—a writer/director/producer—with a long list of credits going back to the seventies. In 2005, he produced and wrote the script for Stone Cold, the first TV movie based on a novel about Jesse Stone, the third series character that Robert B. Parker created. It starred Tom Selleck, of Magnum PI fame.
I was looking forward to interviewing Brandman, because he’s responsible for the most exciting news in detective fiction in a long time. He has been authorized by Parker’s estate to continue the Jesse Stone franchise; Brandman’s first Jesse Stone novel, Killing the Blues, will be published on September 13th.
Do you remember the first Robert Parker novel that you read?
Parker’s long-time agent Flora Roberts, and an old pal of mine, recommended that I read one of the books. Once I read the first one, I was hooked. And then I begged her to introduce me to Bob.
What were the circumstances that made it possible for you to meet Parker?
After Flora felt that I had groveled enough, she arranged for me to meet him at the hotel in Westwood where he always stayed. I drove over for breakfast, and by noon we were still gabbing. And then Parker’s wife Joan came down, and we had lunch, and we stayed in the garden café all day.
That started a dialogue that continued pretty much constantly. Joan was part of that. We saw each other whenever we were in NY or they came here. He also came here on book tours. My son went to college in Boston, so we had an excuse to go to there as well.
And then we started working together. Bob sanctioned my proposal to get Spenser back into the media. Ultimately, we made three Spenser movies together. We hired Joe Mantegna to play Spenser. He was a huge fan of Bob’s, and brought that Spenser insouciance to the role.
We hit a stroke of bad luck with the movie, though. A&E, which funded the movie, premiered it the night they found the body of JFK Jr. That focused the attention away from the film. By the time they aired second and third movies, we were behind the curve.
I had been making movies with Tom Selleck, who is my long-time non-exclusive business partner. Bob worked on the scripts for them, and contributed a lot of the crackling dialogue. The third Western we did was a remake of Monte Walsh.
In 1997 Parker published Night Passage, the first Jesse Stone novel. Did you ever talk to him about his motivation for creating a new series character?
We talked more about that with regard to the Sunny Randell books. It was a stunning accomplishment that he was able to find the voice of a female character.
Jesse Stone was a logical successor to the others. Here comes this guy barreling out of LA because he was got fired, clinging onto that job although it feels like his fingernails are scraping down to the woodwork A great character.
One of the obvious differences from the Spenser novels is that the Jesse Stone books are written in the third person. Did he do that because he wanted greater freedom in the narration?
Yes, you’re exactly right about that. Over the years he felt sort of trapped in the first person narrative. He was very happy to break out of that. He had a greater leeway to fish outside the waters, so to speak.
Who first raised the possibility of continuing the Jesse Stone franchise—was it you or Parker’s widow Joan?
It would never have occurred to me to think about doing this. It was really the brainchild of Ivan Held, the publisher at Putnam’s, who was a fan of the movies. So out of the blue comes this phone call They wanted to extend the franchise. I was somewhat flubboxed, to use a Parker expression. I thought, “Well maybe I can do that.”
When I started writing, I submitted pages, and wrote on spec to make sure that people thought I could do it. I was encouraged that at every step Joan and Helen encouraged me.
What was it like when you were writing a novel using Parker’s characters and Parker’s style? Did you ever have the sense that he was looking over your shoulder?
I felt like there he was, sitting on my shoulder. If I went too far afield, well..you know that Parker was a boxer..It wasn’t so much a slap on the wrists that he would give me as a punch on the jaw! His spirit was the guiding light.
How long did it take you to write it?
Bob had discussed with me his work ethic. He had a daily assignment—to complete at least five pages a day. So 300 pages would take about three months. It took me that long to complete the first draft. Christine Pepe oversaw the revisions, and we were coming up against deadlines. I kept finding ways to improve and modify what I had written.
But finally we got it out. It’s called Killing the Blues.
Michael, thank you for your time. I look forward to reading Killing the Blues and talking to you about it.