But then I consider this criteria:
My Dream Team = the writers whose books I've given most often as gifts; whose hardcovers I always buy on release day, sight unseen, without reading reviews; whose novels I evangelize more than any others; whose works sit on the shelf above my writing desk, always close at hand.
With that criteria, there's no question that today's guest holds a permanent place in my Dream Team's starting lineup.
Dennis Lehane is the author of ten international bestsellers, which have been translated into more than 30 languages. His debut novel, A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR, won the Shamus Award for Best First Detective Novel; his most recent work, LIVE BY NIGHT, won the Mystery Writers of America's prestigious Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year. Three of Dennis' bestsellers -- MYSTIC RIVER, SHUTTER ISLAND, and GONE, BABY, GONE -- have been made into blockbuster films. His wonderful story collection, CORONADO, features five stories and the play "Coronado," which has been staged in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Genoa, Italy. Dennis has also written award-winning episodes for the ground-breaking HBO series THE WIRE and currently writes and consults for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.
For a reader, a Dennis Lehane novel is world-class literary entertainment. For a writer, a Dennis Lehane novel is a master class in craftsmanship. I often re-read his work, like an apprentice magician trying to figure out just how the pro pulled off the damn trick with so much grace and aplomb.
A generous author to fans and fellow writers, Dennis has taught writing at several universities and workshops and is the co-founder/co-director of a popular writers conference at Eckerd College, his alma mater. Even in today's Q&A, the guy is still showing us the way. It is an extraordinary thrill for me to welcome to the blog today, the master craftsman--and permanent starter for my Dream Team--Dennis Lehane.
When I was 20.
And when did you know you were one?
Who or what inspired you as a kid or teenager?
Reading, watching movies from the '70s, hanging around a lot of bars and hearing people tell stories.
What creative work most recently inspired you?
THE SON by Phillip Meyer
The most underrated creative (writer, musician, artist) is …
Daniel Woodrell, though he's not very underrated anymore, thank goodness, and the movie QUICK CHANGE, which is a comic masterpiece that almost nobody's seen.
In moments of self doubt, how do you push through?
You just nut up. Tell yourself no job's easy if it's worth doing. My old man worked 35 years at Sears. I bet that job lost its luster around day 40. And he still put in another 11,000 days, give or take. I imagine telling him (he's deceased) how hard my job is, and then I imagine his arched eyebrow and accompanying look of amused contempt and I find my second wind.
Have you ever abandoned a creative project?
A few of them. It always sucks, it's always fraught with doubt and some self-loathing, but then again I've never looked back a year or two later and thought I was wrong.
Which of your works comes closest to the way you heard/saw it in your head?
What was the best creative advice you ever received?
My favorite fictional character or hero is …
George, the character Bob Hoskins played in MONA LISA. I'm also quite fond of Iago, for different reasons.
The last film I enjoyed was …
THE BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
The next book on my reading pile is …
THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY by Luis Alberto Urrea
The book I can’t wait to read again is …
Any Elmore Leonard novel, any Andre Dubus short story, any Joseph Mitchell essay.
The book I really should have read by now is …
I don't think you should feel you should have to read any book. You should know your Shakespeare and probably your Bible and it's not a bad idea to be well-versed in the giants of the canon, but if you haven't read FINNEGANS WAKE (I haven't, though I did read PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST and ULYSSES, so there) or V., my feeling is there are only so many hours in a life. When I was in grad school, I kept passing on books that were in vogue at the moment to re-read Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, and Denis Johnson's JESUS' SON. The work I chose endures; the work I passed on mostly hasn't. Like anything else, I guess, you pick your spots.
Does The Great American Novel exist (yet)? If so, what is it?
There's a whole bunch of them. It's not a zero-sum game; there's no winner; there's no sound barrier to break.
What creative work might we be surprised to find on your shelf, iPod, or TiVo?
A lot of really dumb comedies. I can quote YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE NAKED GUN, AIRPLANE, TOP SECRET, DUMB & DUMBER, and HOT SHOTS pretty much verbatim. People who don't know me expect me to be dark and uber-serious, like Trent Reznor with an MFA or something. People who know me, on the other hand, roll their eyes at my general doofusness.
In addition to writing, how do you express your creativity?
The most difficult thing about the life of a creative is …
Drawing blood from stone.
My three favorite Boston stories are:
COMMON GROUND by J. Anthony Lukas
THE LAST HURRAH by Edwin O'Connor
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins
When I teach, I hope my writing students learn this ...
When in doubt, just tell the fucking story.
If you haven't read Lehane, come see me. You just might walk away with a copy of MYSTIC RIVER in your hands. Or grab one of his Kenzie & Gennaro novels. When you read that series end to end -- from A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR to MOONLIGHT MILE -- you'll discover you're not only reading a first-rate mystery series, but also the literary portrait of a young couple's relationship in the line of fire. Irresistible.
For more about Dennis and his work, you can find him on Facebook and at dennislehane.com .