“I write Dexter for a couple of hours each day, and during that time I am inside his head, exactly the way an actor gets inside a character. But I am acting, not being; I don’t actually become him, and when the day’s work is done, I stop thinking like him and turn back into everyday, banal me, married guy with kids, mortgage, dogs that need to be walked. I think about what to cook for dinner, or what to say at the parent-teacher conference next week, or where I left my car keys.”
Jeff Lindsay, Author of Dexter
This past Saturday, April 14th, I had the pleasure of meeting, speaking with, and listening to author Jeff Lindsay at the Hagen Ranch Road Library in Delray Beach, Florida. Lindsay was participating in an event dubbed Wine & Words. It is part of a continuing series known as “Writers Live,” which is presented by The Friends of the Palm Beach County Library System. Lindsay, for those of you, who may not know, is the creator of the character Dexter Morgan, which is the inspiration for the high rated and critically lauded series on the Showtime cable network.
Jeff Lindsay is the pen name of author Jeffry P. Freundlich, a Florida resident, who sets the backdrop of his Dexter stories in Miami; a fitting choice since that was where he was born on July 14, 1952, grew up, and graduated from Ransom Everglades High School in 1970. Miami is also the setting where Lindsay’s formal education in the craft of writing first began to take shape. In an interview he gave to The Wall Street Journal in November of 2011, the author credits an elective writing class he took when he was sixteen years of age, given by a teacher named Mr. Bowden, as being the place where he received his first true lessons on writing. Bowden told his students:“Good writing does not come from verbiage but from words. Good writing does not come from emulating, either. It comes from saying what you mean in a way that no one else can say it. F. Scott Fitzgerald is not Charles Dickens and the difference goes far beyond time and place and subject matter.” After high school, Lindsay attended Middlebury College in Vermont and graduated from there in 1975. He makes his home in South Florida where he lives with his wife Hilary Hemingway (niece of iconic author Ernest Hemingway) and their three daughters, one of whom, I learned at the event, is currently pursuing her Ph.D.
Before the first book in the Dexter series, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” was published on July 20, 2004, Lindsay had co-authored his earlier works, “Dream Land: A Novel of the UFO Coverup (1995), “Dreamchild” (1998), and the non-fiction book “Hunting with Hemingway: Based on the stories of Leicester Hemingway” (2000), with his wife Hilary. In addition, both Lindsay and Hilary co-authored another book, “Time Blender” (1997) with author Michael Dorn. Originally, he wanted to call the first of his, so far, six novels in the Dexter series “Pinocchio Bleeds” after his middle daughter suggested it, but his publisher disagreed. Before the novel was turned into a series and premiered on Showtime two years later in 2006, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” won the 2005 “Dilys Award,” which is named after Dilys Winn, who founded the first specialty bookseller of mystery books in America. The award has been given since 1992 to the mystery title of the year which the members of the Independent Mystery Bookseller Association have most enjoyed selling. In addition, it also won the 2007 “Book to TV” award and was featured on an episode of the Canadian television series “Booked,” which uses the expertise of real forensic scientists, psychiatrists, and other professionals to investigate crime fiction novels.
The first season of Dexter closely adhered to the printed pages of Lindsay’s first book. Afterwards, as fans of both the novels and the series very well know, the television writers have deviated from Lindsay’s subsequent works and developed original storylines over the course of the other seasons. During the third season of Dexter, Lindsay made a cameo appearance in episode 10, “Go Your Own Way,” which originally aired on November 30, 2008. Before I write briefly about this past Saturday’s event, let me note that in addition to his writing prowess, Lindsay is also very well skilled at martial arts; he is a black belt in karate, “Shito Ryan Kai,” a traditional Japanese form.
When I arrived at the library, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and changed the setting to silent; I didn’t want to be the inconsiderate jerk in the crowd who ruined someone’s question, or Mr. Lindsay’s answer, by getting a phone call. Afterwards, I glanced at my watch; it was five minutes to 6:00pm. I knew the author I had come to see, whose books I have devoured with great delight, was soon going to address his admiring fans. Both snacks and drinks had already been served, and everyone in the audience was settling in and anticipating his appearance.
After a quick introduction by a member of the library staff, Jeff Lindsay made his way to the front of the room and stepped onto the small stage, taking the mic from the podium and surveying the crowd. From the start, he came across as a very gregarious individual, who used both humor and his sharp wit to warm up the crowd. Lindsay related a quick anecdote about a fellow author, who had hosted a similar event and merely walked up to the front of the room, looked at the crowd, and said “any questions?” Lindsay then got into the meat of his presentation by speaking for a few minutes about his experience with Dexter thus far. He also made mention of the fact that when he is interviewed or speaks at events such as the one I was attending, that there are usually about ten questions he can inevitably count on being asked. There was, however, one question in particular, that Lindsay shared with the audience, which he has only been asked once, but which really stands out in his memory: A woman had asked him if he ever watched the television show “Dexter” before he began writing the books. That was met with uproarious laughter from all corners of the room.
In addition to learning about all things Dexter, thanks to numerous questions by those in attendance, I also learned that Lindsay’s favorite poet is Yeats; that as a child, he loved reading not only the “Tarzan” series by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, but his other works such as the “Barsoom” series; and that his first published work was in a children’s anthology of poetry when he was six years old. I had purchased the tickets for my fiancée, Andrea and myself weeks before the event and I was anticipating that Mr. Lindsay would be as entertaining as his books and as the TV series based upon them – and I am happy to say that he definitely did not disappoint. The evening as a whole not only met, but exceeded my expectations. Lindsay answered every question asked of him, never once being dismissive or curt to any of the audience members. When it came my turn to ask him a question, I asked him, what advice would he give to an aspiring writer? After a joke about telling anyone who wants to write to become an art welder, he got serious. A portion of the following is paraphrased: He spoke about how lightning doesn’t always strike, that you have to maintain persistency, face rejection as it comes, and the importance of being able to manage your time effectively because, as he put it, “the rent comes first; it is hard to write a novel when you’re living in a freezer box under the freeway.”
Persistency certainly was a key in Lindsay’s success with getting his Dexter series off the ground. After completing the manuscript for “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” Lindsay sent it off to his agent at the time, who took it and placed it on the floor of his office where it sat gathering dust for a year. Sensing that he needed to submit it to other agents and publishers, Lindsay began sending it out to different outlets for possible publication; it was rejected at every turn. Thinking perhaps the book was a lost cause and about to give up on it, at the urging of his wife, he sent it to one more agent, Nick Ellison, who loved it and got him a publishing deal within a short time frame – much to the chagrin of Lindsay’s former agent. As Lindsay put it when speaking about the incident: “Revenge is a dish best served as an all-you-can-eat buffet.” Lindsay has certainly got that with six books and counting. After the highly entertaining, (thanks to Lindsay’s outgoing personality) and informative question and answer session was completed, Lindsay kindly autographed my “Double Dexter” book, the sixth in the series. I hope he will continue to explore the mind of Dexter Morgan in future works and perhaps one day a Dexter movie that he not only writes, but has final say on – – one can hope can’t one?