Exclusive – James Reasoner – Writing, Walker, Texas Ranger

How did you approach capturing the essence of the Walker, Texas Ranger TV series in your novels? Did you consult with the show’s creators or draw inspiration from specific episodes?

I was a big fan of the TV show before I was approached to write the novels, and that certainly helped. One of the editors I’d worked with at Berkley called one day and asked if I was familiar with the show. I could answer honestly, “I’ve not only seen every episode, but I can also sing the theme song.” Luckily she didn’t ask me to. But she asked me to hold, and a couple of minutes later I was on a conference call with two CBS executives in New York and Aaron Norris in Hollywood. By the time the call was over, I had a deal to write three novels. Someone—I think it was Aaron, but my memory is a little hazy—asked if I could write the first book as a sequel to one of the episodes they liked. I said that I could (I’ve always lived by the freelancer’s motto: “Sure, I can write that.”) and they sent me the script for that particular episode and several others so I could study them.

Walker, Texas Ranger has a dedicated fan base. How did you ensure that your novels stayed true to the characters and maintained the same level of action and excitement that fans expect?

It was that familiarity from actually watching the show more than anything else, and not just watching it but being a fan of it. That meant I wanted to get things right, just as I would have if I’d been a reader. I still managed to make a few mistakes, but it wasn’t from lack of effort.

What challenges did you face when translating the visual elements of the TV series into written form? How did you bring the fast-paced action and intense fight scenes to life on the pages?

I’ve always loved writing action scenes, so that stuff is right in my wheelhouse. And since I was just doing it on the page, I didn’t have to worry about whether a particular stunt would be too dangerous or some sequence would be too complicated and expensive to film. I could just blow stuff up real good, as the old saying goes. (Another writing rule I live by: “If you’re going over the top anyway, you might as well go ‘way over.”)

Were there any particular episodes or storylines from the TV series that you found especially compelling or influential when crafting your Walker, Texas Ranger novels?

I loved the episodes with flashbacks where Chuck played the Old West Texas Ranger, Hayes Cooper? So I knew I wanted to do a book with alternating, connected storylines featuring Cordell Walker in the present and Hayes Cooper in the past. Luckily the producers liked the idea and that become the second book, HELL’S HALF ACRE.

Chuck Norris’s portrayal of Cordell Walker is iconic. How did you approach capturing his unique character traits and mannerisms in the written medium?

Well, writing Walker actually turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I discovered fairly quickly that I had to have Walker talk more in the books. Chuck’s physical presence on screen is so imposing that he dominates every scene he’s in whether he’s saying anything or not. But on the page, without that physicality, the character tended to disappear. In a dialogue-heavy TV scene between Trivette and C.D., for example, Chuck’s reactions to what they’re saying give him equal weight in the scene. That’s harder to convey in a book scene without having Walker make a few comments along the way, too. At the same time, I wanted to maintain the personality that Chuck had created on-screen, so it was a pretty fine line to walk. My hope was that it would seem natural and the readers wouldn’t notice that Walker talked a little more in the books.

The Walker, Texas Ranger novels allowed you to expand on the characters and storylines beyond what was shown on TV. Can you discuss the creative freedom you had in developing these additional layers and exploring new territory within the Walker, Texas Ranger universe?

As I mentioned above, I didn’t have to worry about the constraints of whether or not something was actually filmable. I worked closely with Gordon Dawson, one of the writers and producers on the show, and he encouraged me to go big, so to speak. At the same time, he had to approve all the plots, and he let me know when I ventured too far away from the core concept, as I did a time or two.

Were there any specific aspects of the Walker, Texas Ranger mythology or lore that you found particularly interesting to explore or expand upon in your novels?

If the series had continued, I’m sure I would have done more flashbacks to the Old West novels. I loved the way Walker was a throwback of sorts to the old-time Texas Rangers and wasn’t entirely comfortable in the modern world. One bit from the TV show I enjoyed was how Walker would sometimes throw away his cell phone when the battery went dead, leading to all sorts of exasperation from Trivette.

The dynamic between Walker and his partner, James Trivette, is an important part of the series. How did you approach their relationship and interactions in the novels to ensure they remained true to their
on-screen dynamic?

I absolutely loved writing Trivette’s character, not only his interactions with Walker but also his arguments with C.D. There’s a lot of the Gunsmoke dynamic to the Walker series. Walker is Matt Dillon, of course, and Alex is Kitty (sort of), and Trivette and C.D. switch back and forth between being Festus and Doc, depending on what they’re arguing about. Those character dynamics are the real heart and appeal of the series, as far as I’m concerned, the true friendship and camaraderie between them. You can watch Perry Mason for the complicated plots, but what made the show iconic was the friendship between Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake. The same is true of Walker, Texas Ranger. The action is great, the villains are despicable, the plots are heart-warming (Gordon Dawson always said, “Make sure there’s a warm fuzzy somewhere in the story”), but we come back to the show because we want to spend time with our friends Walker, Alex, Trivette, and C.D.

Were there any specific challenges or advantages to writing novels based on an established TV series with a well-known and beloved cast of characters?

As discussed above, the biggest challenge was getting the character of Walker right on the page without changing him too much from the TV version. One slight advantage is not having to spend a lot of time describing the core characters. The readers already know what they look like.

For readers who are familiar with the TV series, what can they expect from your Walker, Texas Ranger novels that may offer a fresh experience or new insights into the characters and their world?

Bigger plots, bigger casts of characters, bigger explosions! If I wanted to blow up a riverboat or a whole mountain, I could. Although, when it comes to that, it would be hard to beat the TV episode where they actually blew up an entire mansion . . .

Did you have the opportunity to collaborate or consult with Chuck Norris himself while writing the Walker, Texas Ranger novels? If so, what was it like working with him, and did his input or feedback
influence the direction of the stories or characters in any way?

I never met or talked with Chuck. I was supposed to meet him and hang around one day while they were filming in Fort Worth, but that day’s shooting got called off at the last minute for some reason and my visit was never rescheduled. Despite that, he remains the single biggest influence on those novels, because without him they never would have existed. And I sure had fun writing them. It was an opportunity for which I’ll always be grateful.

Action Reloaded