Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dennis Lehane Visits Inkwood Books

Dennis Lehane, author of bestsellers including Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, stopped by Inkwood Books in Tampa last night to talk about his new historical novel The Given Day.

Lehane, headed to the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading this weekend, enchanted a packed house with insights into his writing process, tales about his script-writing work for HBO's "The Wire," and background on his new book. The Given Day, he said, required a year of research and four years of writing.

I'm a great admirer of the movies adapted from Lehane's work, but I've only recently begun to read his books. Shutter Island is a great read, a period piece, set in and around a mental institution/prison in the years not long after WWII, that begins as a crime thriller and gradually evolves into a very creepy piece of ... can't say more, as I'd hate to spoil the superbly crafted conclusion for anyone interested in reading the book or seeing the movie.

Lehane described that novel as "the aberration of aberrations" relative to his other fiction, and "the most whacked-out book I've ever written." He said that the plot came to him, in full, after he awoke from a deep sleep.

He also recounted a recent visit to the set of the Shutter Island film production. After watching Ben Kingsley make the quick-change transition from on-screen tough guy to off-screen chatty English fellow, Lehane asked the actor, "How do you turn it off?" Kingsley responded: "Acting."

Acting, Lehane said, is similar to what he does, as a writer, when he forces himself to enter the minds of even his most despicable characters.

BTW, Martin Scorsese is directing Shutter Island, and the movie also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, and Max von Sydow. Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) and Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander) share credit for the screenplay. Release date is set for next October, according to IMDB's info on the film.

Other comments made by Lehane:

On his method: "I don't have one. I refuse to outline, but at the same time that (approach) gives you problems. I'm a terrible plotter. I forced myself to learn how to plot, but I still don't outline. Plot is one of the last things that comes to me."

On his early interest in writing dialogue: "At age nine, I could hear very well the way people spoke."

On season four of HBO's "The Wire": "We so went over the cliff with that one."

On his next television writing gig, for a "premium cable" network: "There's some discussion. It's in the works."

On his reaction to the film adaptations of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone: "I'm fine with looking at them (book and movie versions) as two different animals."

On The Given Day, which he described as a political allegory: "I didn't want to editorialize. The last thing I wanted to do was write a polemic."

One of his latest obsessions, an interest which may or may not find a place in a future work, is the incident during which James Brown's concert helped avert Boston riots in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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