Dennis Lehane knows Boston like the back of his hand. Born and raised in Beantown, he left to attend college and graduate school in Florida, but -- like a homing pigeon -- he returned soon thereafter. In order to support himself while he focused on his writing, he took a number of odd jobs that included counseling mentally handicapped and abused children, loading trucks, parking cars, working in bookstores, and waiting tables.
While he was still in college, he wrote the first draft of A Drink Before the War. Published in 1994, this Shamus Award winner introduced Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, private investigators who live and work in Dorchester, the same blue-collar Boston neighborhood Lehane grew up in. Since their compelling debut, Kenzie and Gennaro have gone on to star in a gritty crime noir series acclaimed by readers and critics alike.
The idea for his breakout novel , 2001's stand-alone thriller Mystic River, came to Lehane while he was still writing the Kenzie-Genarro installment Prayers for Rain. The story of three childhood friends who share a dark past, Mystic River is a murder mystery with powerful psychological overtones. An immediate sensation, the book achieved blockbuster status when Clint Eastwood turned it into an award-winning film in 2003. Then, in his 2007 directorial debut, Ben Affleck adapted Lehane's favorite Kenzie-Gennaro novel, Gone, Baby, Gone, for the big screen.
Lehane's career shows no signs of slowing down, Since the success of his Boston-based mysteries, he has broadened his oeuvre to include television screenplays and short stories -- one of which, "Until Gwen," was adopted into a successful, limited-run play.
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Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Lehane:
"My favorite job was parking cars."
"My favorite game is pool."
"I have an obsession with the color blue -- blue house, blue car, lots of blue shirts."
"I love good writing. Unequivocally. I think competition between writers is wonderful and healthy, but I never understood envy. When a peer writes a book that I know I couldn't have written, I feel the strangest elation because at this point I learn as much if not more from my peers as I do from the old masters."
"I unwind to Red Sox games and am a Patriots season ticket holder. The worst months of every year are February and March -- no baseball, no football, no point."
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In the summer of 2006, Dennis Lehane took some time out to answer some of our questions:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
The Wanderers by Richard Price. It was the first book I ever read in which the characters resembled the kind of people I knew, the kind of world I saw around me every day.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez -- Part fever-dream, part reinterpretation of The Bible, politically and socially furious, bawdy, heartbreaking, extravagantly entertaining on every page. It's the most perfect novel I know.
The Wanderers by Richard Price -- For the reasons stated above.
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy -- Introduced me to Southern Literature and the philosophical novel in one fell swoop. Exceedingly gentle and humane, beautifully written on every page.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- I never met a writer who wasn't deeply influenced by this novel. Structurally flawless, full of incandescent prose and observations, pretty much an immortal achievement in under 200 pages.
Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth all by Shakespeare --I developed an addiction to Shakespeare's tragedies as an undergrad. There's nothing I could say about them that hasn't been said much better by others.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy -- Seems utterly impenetrable when you first attempt to tackle it but gradually reveals itself as the Moby Dick of our time. Completely unlike anything I've ever read and yields new treasures every time I read it.
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley -- The benchmark novel in American noir. Literature masquerading as a "genre" novel. The gold standard in crime fiction, as far as I'm concerned, probably never to be equaled.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton -- War can be played out on a very quiet stage. Violence can be a misplaced whisper, a barely-heard rumor. At stake is love versus society, and society wins.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
Given that I'm an unrepentant film geek, to try to narrow down my favorites would be insane. I'll toss out a few and let everyone else figure out why:
The Godfather II
Sweet Smell of Success
The Wages of Fear
Out of the Past
Shadow of a Doubt
The Man Who Would Be King
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like all music, although I do seem to have a blind spot when it comes to jazz (unless I'm watching it live.) Otherwise, I've written a lot of my work to punk, grunge, and blues. Depends on my mood and what I'm writing that day. If I need to compose with a lot of verve and energy, I listen to energetic music. Sad scene, sad music.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I have a lot of writer friends and we all have an affinity for odd or unique reference books.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have to write with a felt tip pen. That's about it. My desk is usually a mess.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It was a long, slow, but steady climb. I bet the house on the concept that if you produce good work, the audience will come to the party sooner or later. My agent and my editor stuck by me -- 100% -- throughout the process. That loyalty is probably my inspirational cornerstone.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
The cart follows the horse. Don't get caught up in quick-fix answers or shortcuts to getting published. If you learn how to write well, you will get published. Simple. Not easy, believe me, but simple. There is no other magic potion.
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