Chuck Frederick column: 2020 not a bummer for everyone
With a TV pilot brewing, a Jason Bourne book out, a new Duluth-set novel on the way, and more, Minnesota author Brian Freeman is having an 'exciting year'
The trade paper Deadline Hollywood was the first to break the news in April: Minnesota author Brian Freeman’s “The Burying Place,” set in Duluth and Grand Rapids, is “in development” as a TV series.
“It’s Hollywood, you know, so there are 18 million things that need to happen still,” Freeman cautioned in a Zoom interview last week — a day after receiving a script of the pilot for his review and notes.
Nonetheless, there’s tons of reason to be optimistic.
The novel is being developed for the screen by AMC, the same network responsible for “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” and “The Walking Dead.” Clearly, its brass knows a promising project, and Freeman’s books — including a series featuring a likeable Duluth Police lieutenant named Jonathan Stride — seem a good fit.
Also, an impressive team is behind the project, including Kapital Entertainment, script writer Kelly Masterson (“Killing Kennedy”), producer Aaron Kaplan (“A Million Little Things”), and director David Semel (“Goliath”), who “has one of the best track records for a drama pilot director, with 18 of the pilots he has helmed going to series,” as Deadline reported.
“I think it would be so exciting,” said Freeman, “and I think it would be great for Duluth, too. They’re very intent on setting this in Duluth. How much filming will they do there? I don’t know, but they're not trying to relocate this in some other part of the country. This is a Minnesota and Duluth story, and that’s terrific.”
In a year that’s been so heartbreaking for so many, something “terrific” right now can be enthusiastically welcomed and cheered.
And while Freeman is a bit apologetic about it (although he shouldn’t be), the two-years-in-the-making TV pilot development is just among the latest in a string of terrifics that has made his 2020 a whole lot different from the anxious slog so many of the rest of us are experiencing.
“For all the just horrible things we’ve been facing in society as a whole, for Marcia (his wife) and me, this has probably been our most satisfying and exciting year of all,” he said. “So many really, really cool projects are going on. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. … It allows me to do really, really different stories and explore completely different characters and styles and genres, and that’s fun. I can put down one project and pick up another one, and because it’s so different, it’s really exciting and energizing. That kind of really stokes the creative fires.”
Freeman’s typically twisting psychological thrillers — including “Thief River Falls,” a standalone novel with a M. Night Shyamalan-like surprise at the end, published in February, as well as his new Stride novel, “Funeral for a Friend,” scheduled to be out Sept. 22 — are a stark contrast in style and pacing to the first of at least two Ludlum/Bourne books Freeman has been tapped to author. “The Bourne Evolution,” released the end of July, is “much more adrenaline-driven, really sort of a pure action thriller,” he said.
And it’s getting the sorts of reviews you’d expect from a rising, decorated New York Times bestselling author — who’s also still a Sammy’s Pizza and Fitger’s regular during his frequent visits to Duluth (pre-COVID, of course — and post-COVID, he promises).
“Freeman has a firm grasp of Bourne’s tangled background, plus the skills to keep the action front and center,” Publisher’s Weekly gushed this summer, as just one sample of the reviews. “Bourne fans will hope for an encore from this talented author.”
The new Stride book centers around a murder at the Deeps, the popular but dangerous Lester River swimming hole, with evidence pointing to Stride as the prime suspect. There’s also plenty of politics, family drama, and even a shootout in the harborside ballroom at the DECC.
“I’m just really happy to have Stride back after a couple of years,” Freeman said. “For all of the different projects that I work on, even when I’m doing completely different heroes and things, I can always feel Stride’s presence. He’s always kind of poking me in the side asking when he’s going to be back on stage. I’m very excited about ‘Funeral for a Friend.’ I really think it’s a great step forward for a lot of the characters. I just can’t wait to have Stride back in readers’ hands.”
And Stride’s many fans in Duluth and around the world (Freeman’s books have been sold in 46 countries and 22 languages) can’t wait to find out the answer to a question we’ve been debating for years: Who’d portray Stride in a movie or TV series? Matt Damon, who played Jason Bourne in five movies? Kyle Chandler from “Friday Night Lights?” John Cusack? Samuel L. Jackson?
Freeman is probably smart not to speculate publicly: “I just want a great actor who can take over that role and make it his own,” he said, very diplomatically. “They’re going to find a great person, but I wouldn’t dream to prejudge who they’d go after.”
Like so many of us, Freeman’s life has been waylaid by COVID-19. No book signings. And his talks and other events at bookstores, at libraries, and with book clubs are all being held virtually, if at all.
But unlike so many of the rest of us, 2020 has actually been pretty great, he had to admit, even if hesitantly, knowing that so many others are suffering this year.
“Staying at home for the writer’s life is pretty much business as usual,” he said. “This has just been an amazing year for us, and we are so honored that readers have come along for the ride. And I love that I’ve been able to deliver so many different kinds of books.”
And, soon — fingers crossed — a new TV series, too.
Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-723-5316.