Michael Connelly talks new Audible Original and what sets ‘The Safe Man’ apart

Michael Connelly
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File

Best-selling author Michael Connelly has had his hands in many different story-telling vehicles throughout his decades-long career with multiple novels, TV shows, articles and even a true-crime podcast under his belt. His new Audible Original experience however, ‘The Safe Man’, is based on a short story of his, but the plot is transformed into a fully casted and scripted audio-only drama that unfolds over 8 chapters. 

To chat more about this new project and what fans can expect, Connelly sat down to dive a little deeper into ‘The Safe Man’ and what sets this story of his apart from all the others.  

Michael Connelly, The Safe Man

What makes ‘The Safe Man’ a great pick for an audio-only experience?

I think because it’s different. The origin of this was that I wrote a short story for a collection maybe 12 or 15 years ago where they asked you to write something that you’re not known for. So, I did a ghost story because at the end of the day, if I’m on vacation, sitting on a beach and I want to read something, I will probably go to whatever the latest Stephen King is or Scott Carson. It’s an escapism from what I do, which is essentially detective stuff. 

So I had this story, [and] I have a writer’s ego—I thought it didn’t get the audience it should have gotten because it was kind of buried in a collection of short stories, which in the world of publishing is not the big audience. A few years after I wrote this story, me and a friend named Terrill Lee Lankford wrote a script based on it, and we never did anything with that script. 

We always said we’d come back and make it better, and years go by and we got busy with other stuff and then this is presented to me by these two young producers—my daughter who is kind of fresh out of film school and finding her way in this very difficult business and wanting to produce something on her own, and a partner who actually works for my TV business, Theresa Snyder. 

What was it like for you to adapt this short story into an Audible Original podcast format? 

It is its own animal, and this is my first effort at it. Hopefully we did well, I think we did well. My part of this was the writing, and I knew we surrounded ourselves with people that are really good at what they do [at Audible.] This is broken into eight chapters, but hopefully people listen to it all at once because I think you have to keep listening to find out what happens next—that’s a key part of the script writing, and a key part of the sound design. 

We changed the beginning of it to really connect people earlier into what could be happening— and that all came from Audible, and it was all really good advice and choices. At this point in my life, I was looking for a new delivery system that would still match the quality that I think I have in my books and in my television shows and so forth. So it became another kind of notch in the storytelling realm, and before I’m finished, I hope I’ve notched every form of storytelling. It’s just fun to do new things. 

What initially inspired ‘The Safe Man’ and for you to venture down the paranormal route? 

I went to horror because it’s what I like in my off hours, I guess you’d say. But I also had somewhat of a similar experience, so you’re always kind of dragging stuff out of your own life and changing it up and so forth in your fiction. I lived in Tampa for a while in the house this is based on, and it was on an island that was dredged. The house that I had also had a safe in it, and it was put in when the house was built—I think in 1928— which is really old by Florida standards.

There’s no combination, we didn’t know how to get it open, [so] I drilled [and got it open] and it was empty. Nothing ever happened, and life went on. But, that’s where I came up with the idea of that being some kind of portal. And it gave me this idea of exploring some stuff that I usually don’t explore in my books: This idea of fate and where we come from and where we go, and the realms of the mortal realm, the eternal realm…A lot of these themes that probably tap into everybody, at least on the subconscious level. It gave me a lot of freedom to explore something I’m not known for doing. 

For fans of the short story and new listeners, what can they expect from the expansions on ‘The Safe Man’ and this Audible Original experience overall? 

They say when you’re writing novels, you have to tap into the suspension of disbelief— well, there’s no greater challenge than to say that there are ghosts coming through a safe door and that it’s a portal between the realms. The big challenge was, how do I parcel this story out into segments?

There’s a great writer named Stephen Cannell who wrote [detective] stories with a sign over his desk that said: What’s the bad guy thinking? When I was doing this, it’s more like: What is the listener thinking? Is the listener plugged in at this point? Do they want to know what happens next? People like to be challenged and to be spooked and to be dropped into this world. But that was a challenge of writing this and then to segment it with cliffhangers that would take you from one chapter to the next. 

Catch ‘The Safe Man‘ on Audible when it premieres May 16.