The new edition of Barely South Review is now online, and among its many new features is an interview/essay by Tony DeLateur with Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and other novels.
DeLateur is a pal from the Old Dominion University Creative Writing program. He does a nice job walking through Lehane’s general chop-busting of writerly writers and the critics who love labeling, and slides into the advice:
Responding to the aspiring writer’s first great hurdle, the blank page, Lehane simply said, ‘Gut it out…the only answer is the answer that nobody wants to hear: you just have to put your ass in a chair and write.’
And capping his take on Lehane:
Dennis Lehane’s ability to execute intricate, believable stories that rise naturally from characters’ actions has garnered him both success and recognition. In addition to his print work, Lehane was tapped for HBO’s The Wire, a sprawling drama hailed by many critics as one of the greatest television series ever made. Three of his novels have been adapted into feature films. All this is proof enough to certain bitter writers that his work is too universal, too simple. But after hearing this author expertly dispatch preconceived notions about what a “crime author” should value, I left believing that only two types of fiction exist: stories that work – that have journeys which contain drama and emotional depth and action – and those that don’t.
So I hope you’ll read the story, if you dig Lehane or writing in general. The advice is fairly common sense, of course. I just like Lehane.
I also pulled out my notes from Lehane’s talk last year at the ODU Literary Festival, and here provide some high points.
Lehane on Lehane:
I’m a bastard child of pulp fiction and high art.
You should always write the book you want to read.
You can’t be an author without being an outsider, a round peg in a square hole.
The relationship when I write is a very intimate and charged relationship between me and an imaginary reader.
If you’re going to write a novel, you’ve got to know how to plot. Tell a story, move it forward, have a beginning, middle and end. … People read for story. … You have to engage the reader in telling a story, and nobody can tell me different.
On when you meet an ass of a writer:
It’s cause they never had friends.
And (though you miss a bit without Lehane’s delivery) on graduate students in MFA programs and such:
I always write 20 pages into a book of a character sitting in a room. You guys actually turn them in.