Interview with Dennis Lehane

Dennis LehaneDear Dennis,

We are pleased to welcome you to the leading Scandinavian crime novel website!

To many of your Scandinavian readers, you appeared on the novel scene first with Mystic River which is really your 6th novel. What are your thoughts about that?

In terms of my own work, MYSTIC RIVER is one novel that doesn’t make me cringe when I think about it. So if that’s the first novel of mine most Scandinavians became familiar with, then that’s okay.


Does this success that Mystic River has proven to be, mean that you will kill off my best friend “ Bubba” ?

No. I just brought him back in my ninth novel, MOONLIGHT MILE


I first got to know Genaro and Kenzie in July 1999 on my flight between Copenhagen and Amman, when I found a copy of the book in the seat pocket in front of me. I have been following their adventures from that day onwards. Would you tell us little about how they were born?

I’d always loved reading private eye novels and one summer when I was twenty-five I found myself too poor to go out for entertainment. So I decided to entertain myself by writing a private investigator novel. And that’s where Patrick and Angie came from—poverty and a need to amuse myself.


Your characters in all novels are very much alive and I would say I find them much more important to me and to the story than the “story” itself. Since many of our readers are “amateur crime authors” as well, would you tell us a little about how you go about creating the characters?

Well, first, I care very much about “story,” but not terribly much about “plot.” Story is the journey; plot is the vehicle you use to get there; characters are the people who drive the vehicle and learn from the journey. And I care a lot about the journey and the people on it, but not terribly much about which vehicle they use to get there. As long as it’s serviceable, I’m, fine with it. In terms of how I create characters, I like to start with a flaw. Usually we envision characters with heroic qualities or else we probably wouldn’t write novels. So I take the heroic qualities as a given and then I go looking for the un-heroic qualities, which, for me, are what make characters interesting. James Bond, for example, was the most boring main character in the history of film (I never read the books) until CASINO ROYALE with Daniel Craig, where they looked at the darker, less attractive things that made him tick. That’s what I’m interested in—the things people would rather not admit about themselves; and that’s where I find my characters.


Are you one of those extremely structured persons who has a whiteboard and lots of post-its all over the place?

Not even close. I don’t even know what a whiteboard looks like. I just make stuff up, write it down, and hope twenty percent of it is useable.


My 85 year old mum tells me over and over that a “lady” does not read and enjoy crime novels, and would I please read a nice book for a change? In your mind – is there a generation to which the genre crime is “no-good” literature, and for men only?

That’s a theory beyond my pay grade. I just write. I let others decide where it fits in terms of propriety or what have you.


Some of your book has been made into great films, how much of the stories transferring from book into film did you have influence /veto in? Did you get to have an opinion on the casting for the films?

I control the sale of my books to film right up until the point I actually sell them to filmmakers. At which point, I step the hell out of the way. I’m a very hard sell early on. I have to respect you as an artist or as a producer before I’ll let you have my book, and I ask a lot of questions to make sure we’re on the same page. In that respect, I’m a pain in the ass. But once I make the decision to sell to you, once I put my faith in you, then I owe you my respect and unequivocal support. And the book is yours to do with as you see fit. So far this approach has resulted in three very good movies, so I don’t see any point in changing.


What books of yours are you yourself most proud of?



If there are readers who have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know your novels, which one do you recommend as a “starter” ?



Would you mind sharing with us some news on what are you working on right now?

I just finished a script adaptation of one of my own short stories called ANIMAL RESCUE and I’m working on a script for an HBO movie with George Pelecanos about a police brutality case in Boston in the mid-1990s.


I understand that you had some kind of accident involving your arms, this must have been really awkward and an effective break in your writing. How does one deal with something like that?

I took a six week break. It wasn’t bad. It made me realize my wife is right—I work too much.


One last thing – do you have a piece of advice for aspiring new crime novelists?

Don’t try to be “crime” novelists, just try to be novelists who write stories in which crimes happen. There are no tricks and no shortcuts to becoming a good writer: you need depth of story, depth of character, depth of insight, and depth of language. And it takes a bit of time to learn how to execute that depth. But if you then apply that to any genre you choose, it’ll probably work out okay.


On behalf of and I thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts and views with us, and we wish you a long prosperous time without injuries

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