Reed Farrel Coleman has put his own literary stamp on Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. In the latest, Colorblind, he has the Paradise police chief in AA and encountering a new character who will change his life, all while dealing with a case that puts him up against a hate group when his black officer is accused of shooting the leader’s unarmed son. Reed will be at BookPeople September 16th at 5PM. We got to him ahead of time to talk about the book and the new paces he is putting Jesse through.
MysteryPeople Scott: In Colorblind you tackle the issue of race relations. Did you have a certain approach or aspect in looking at it?
Reed Farrel Coleman: The amazing thing here is that I turned this manuscript in a full month before Charlottesville. And for me, I’m not really tackling an issue. I don’t write message books and readers can take from the book what they will. My intent is always how the issue approaches the protagonist—in this case, Jesse Stone—not how the protagonist approaches the issue. I was also harkening back to the very first Jesse Stone novel, Night Passage, written by Bob Parker in the late ‘90s. I suggest readers go back to that book and see the connection between it and the new one.
MPS: Is there anything you have to keep in mind as a writer when your dealing with events that mirror what is in the news?
RFC: As per my first answer, I turned the book in a month before Charlottesville, so I wasn’t actually writing a “ripped from the headlines” book. But I did realize that this was a sensitive issue and that as deplorable as Jesse finds racism, his job is to first uphold the law and to protect the citizens of Paradise. And if that means allowing public demonstrations by groups he doesn’t agree with, he does it. I put Jesse in a very difficult spot. That’s the whole point, putting one’s characters in difficult and/or dangerous situations and letting them deal. The big challenge here was to bring some level of humanity to the “bad” guys. If all characters are is evil, then they are boring to write and boring to read.
MPS: The big change in this book is that Jesse is in AA. How was it writing him on the wagon?
RFC: Writing Jesse as drunk was easy, but it was getting played out in the same way that Jesse’s constant on again off again relationship to his ex-wife Jenn was getting stale. The series needed a shift. What makes this book different is that unlike other “dry” periods in Jesse’s life, he has made his desire to stop drinking official, for lack of a better term. He is committed to it and when Jesse Stone commits to something, he hangs in there. For Jesse this is now a lifetime thing and his struggle is no longer with drinking, but with not drinking. We’ll see how that goes.
MPS: Jesse is also dealing with a young man who comes into town as well as the case and his drinking. What do you enjoy about having your protagonists having so much to deal with in a story?
RFC: Life is pretty complicated for all of us. We’re never dealing with just one thing. My dad had a form of bone cancer from the time I was four years old, but that wasn’t the only thing in his life he had to manage. He had his job, his family, he still loved sports. Why should we let our protagonists have it easy by dealing with just one thing? What’s fun for me is watching Jesse juggle all the new stuff in his life with the old stuff and the crimes at hand.
MPS: I was happy to see Suitcase come more into his own. I think that’s the one character in the series that can easily be mishandled and you have always given him three dimensions as well as growth. Do you have to approach him in a certain way?
RFC: I approach Suit the way I approach all my characters. Anyone who has ever heard me speak or teach a class on writing has heard me say, “There is no such thing as a minor character.” I never think of my characters as cartoon-ish. For me, they all have full internal lives and that’s how I think of them when I write them. It’s easy to love Suit, the big guy, the earnest guy with the big heart who is kind of goofy and envious. But he was always so much more than that for me as a reader and I wanted him to become more realized in my Jesse books. He is brave and loving and I wanted to show that. I think I’ve accomplished with him what I set out to do.
MPS: You often have more than one iron in the fire. Is there anything we need to look out for?
RFC: Well, yes, I’m writing the prequel novel to film director Michael Mann’s magnum opus crime drama Heat. It should be out sometime in 2019. Also other big projects ahead about which I am very excited, but about which I cannot speak.