| Deeply Entertaining Dexter.
Chris High chats with Jeff Lindsay.
As everybody who writes knows, it is a very isolated and – at times – lonely occupation that needs to be loved. So, what happens when your “baby is born”, and then goes on to reach its own level of stardom by being whisked away to TV land, where it receives so much acclaim everybody’s head is spinning?
Well, in a nutshell, that’s precisely what’s happened to Jeff Lindsay, author of the hit Dexter crime novels, the third of which, Dexter In The Dark (Orion), has recently been published, and creator of the show’s star character in the Dexter series that has recently ended its first series on cable TV here in the UK. What does Jeff think of the TV adaptation and how much input did he have in its writing? ‘For the most part I like the TV show, but I haven’t had much input at all,’ Jeff explained. ‘I talk to some of them and if they did something I thought was totally off-base I feel like they would listen to me. They always treat me like a rock star when I visit the set, which is awfully nice. The TV series has been a huge advantage in terms of sales of the book. I’m very grateful that it’s gone this way and that Showtime has done such a good job in getting people to watch it by adapting the book in a way people like. As for Michael C. Hall who plays Dexter Morgan, he was not at all what I envisaged – until the first time I saw him as Dexter, and then it was sort of a jaw-dropping experience. He really nailed it. He’s a terrific actor, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing the part now.’
For those who don’t know, Dexter Morgan is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami PD, who also has a penchant for exacting his own retribution on the ones who fall below the radar of the police service. Dexter is serial killer with a heart. ‘He’s not based on anybody but, for all I know, I’ve already met him. Remember that the most important thing about Dex is how hard he works at fitting in. And we all tend to accept people at face value anyhow, right? So it’s quite possible that somewhere along the way we’ve all met a Dexter and just don’t know about it. That said, I wouldn’t know what to do if I met him and knew it though I would just hope not to be his target.’
The most important character – outside of Dexter, himself – is his girfriend, Rita. She is Dexter’s rock, the place in which he feels "emotionally tied" to the way people behave, although Dexter denies having emotions. Debs, Dexter’s foster sister, on the other hand, is his link to their father, Harry, in a lot of ways. Were the "psychologically damaged" elements of Rita’s and Deborah’s characters / personalities difficult to build? ‘No, not at all. Everybody is damaged in some way. As Brendan Behan said so eloquently, "Every cripple has his own way of walking." I could easily claim to have been damaged by my childhood – and yet, I had great parents, mostly good teachers, a very comfortable upbringing. But we moved around a lot, and so every couple of years I would lose all my friends and so on, and have to start all over. It was hard, but a lot easier than things were for a lot of people. So my point is that at a certain point you need to throw away the crap and concentrate on the fact that life isn’t perfect, but it is life, and you probably only get one, so get on with it.
Rita’s children, Astor & Cody are two very "special" children. Is their development something you have always planned on exploring? ‘Yes, I’ve always planned to go into it. I think it’s a good way to punish myself as a writer – people let me get away with a nice serial killer and that isn’t right, so now I need to paint myself into a corner and teach the “Harry Way” to a couple of cute kids. I also think it’s a great way to explore the central problems of Dexter’s world – strip away all the paint and ribbons and we’re talking about people killing people, and we’re talking about some adult teaching children how to get away with it. It makes sense in this context – but is it right?’
Sergeant Doakes, our hero’s nemesis in the department, is Dexter’s reminder that he’s not really getting away with anything … Dexter’s alter-Dark Passenger, if you will. An assessment the author, to an extent, agrees with. ‘I think Doakes may be the threat that he’s not getting away with it – but one of the things that makes Doakes so dangerous is that he is, of all the characters, the most like Dexter himself. He’s a cold killer, and that’s why he knows what Dexter is. Doakes found a different way to channel it – through military service, and so on, and maybe the need isn’t as strong as it is in Dexter, but yeah. they are pretty similar.’
Jeff is more than well aware of the dedication it takes to succeed to be a writer. ‘My writing day is, getting up about 4:30 AM, writing for an hour or so, do some correspondence and so on until time to get the kids up and off to school. Then I go to the gym and then write some more. Dexter In The Dark took much too long to write, over a year, because I was trying some different things and they didn’t all work. The manuscript ended up about 250 pages longer after the first draft than it was when published, so a lot of work went into getting it right. Being a novelist is a very tough business to break into, so I suggest anybody who wants to do it Learn arc-welding. It’s something you can do on your own terms so it doesn’t interfere with writing, and it pays well enough to keep you eating. Somebody once said it’s better to be lucky than good. I say it’s better to be good long enough to get lucky. Persistence is key to getting published. The first half-million words don’t count, so don’t love your own stuff so much that you can’t tell when it stinks. The biggest obstacle is that the market is making reading obsolete. It’s tough to write stuff if nobody’s going to read it and the market now is for “content” not just writing. I’d love to say that there will always be a place for good writing and writers that do it, but I’d also love to turn invisible or fly, and wishing hasn’t made either of those things happen, either.’
And just reassure fans of the series, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight yet. ‘I like to joke about killing off Dexter and turning the franchise over to his stepson, Cody,’ Jeff laughed. ‘Maybe it’ll happen some day, who knows, but I’m writing the fourth Dexter novel now, and hanging out with my family, playing with my band, and going fishing when I can. As to visiting the UK, anytime I’m invited I’ll be glad to come. I’m not wealthy enough to pop over on my own, but I’d like to come for a visit, see a football match, go to some theatre in London or at the Fringe Festival, that kind of thing. Stuff we don’t have here.’
Read Chris High's review of 'Dexter In The Dark'.
of this interview have, or will, appear in other publications and in other