Chatting with Vegas Valley Book Festival closing keynote speaker Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane’s catalog includes Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island.
Photo: Diana Lucas Leavengood

What's your relationship with Vegas? We're not known for being the literary kind.

I'm not known for being literary 24/7, so Vegas definitely fits part of my personality. It's fun. ... It makes no pretensions to be anything else. I really respect that about it. It's really just sayin', "We want to take your money, but we'll give you all sorts of baubles and things to look at while we do."

You're a keynote speaker for the Vegas Valley Book Festival. What do you plan to talk about?

I'm a game-day decision guy. That's how I stay fresh. I never decide what I'm gonna discuss until 24 to 36 hours, at best, beforehand. And sometimes half an hour. I mean, I have a greatest hits collection; I know what works. It just depends upon how I'm gonna tweak that and when I'm gonna do it.

Tell me about your upcoming book, Moonlight Mile.

It's a return to a series I did between 1994 and 1999. [The characters] sort of retired for a while, and they came out of retirement to do this book. It's a 12-years-later sequel to the case they dealt with in Gone Baby Gone, which was the fourth book in the series.

Without giving away the plot, will this be your last book to focus on Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro?

I'll never say "never" again. I write each book organically; I don't consider how it's going to impact the series itself. [Moonlight Mile] went where it was supposed to go, and if that leaves people feeling like it's the last one, then maybe it is. And maybe it isn't.


Dennis Lehane keynote
November 7, 7 p.m., free.
Clark County Library Theater, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, 507-3400
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One of the hallmarks of your writing is the dialogue. How did you gain an ear for it?

I was very early on fascinated by the way people spoke and the way they italicized, and the words they dropped from a sentence. ... I remember having a eureka moment when I realized that where I grew up nobody said, "What the fuck are you talking about?" or "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" They said, "The fuck you talkin' about?" [and] "The fuck you think you're doin'?" It was dropping that "what."... Once you've turned the device on, you can't shut it off. But then almost every other aspect of my craft I really had to bust my ass at.

Did you consciously choose the crime genre so you could take it to new places?

No, I went to it because I didn't have the "young white boy goes to college" autobiographical novel. It just wasn't in me, and I wasn't sure I really knew how to plot too well, so I think I went to the crime genre initially because it gave me a spine to work off of. Something bad had to happen, and there had to be some sort of reckoning about that by the end. Then I found that it lent itself to certain things I was concerned about — violence ... why we do it. And then, social issues. Noir, which is what I believe I dabble in the most, is working-class tragedy. Noir is about the people we fly over, the people who live in those neighborhoods the expressway goes through, so it became a very good fit very quickly. ... And I could take it wherever I wanted to go. You look at Mystic River and there's a lot of things that are very "I'm not buying this; I'm not gonna follow this path anymore." Not the least of which is I hated the idea of the murderer explaining things to you. I was just so sick of it. So I have a book in which, when you finally find out who the murderer is, he doesn't tell you anything. And literally nobody in the book understands why he did what he did.

After Mystic River, what motivates you to continue writing?

I don't think there's one simple answer. I do it because I've always done it. I do it because it's how I make sense of chaos — through narrative. I do it because I certainly think I can write a better book. If I just thought Mystic River was it, I would have quit.

Would you still write even if your books weren't being published?

At the very least I would be writing just to impress chicks, who at this point is just my wife. But I have an innate need to always entertain women. It's very basic. You'll find that a lot of male authors have that issue. ... I still love to write things and show them to my wife. And whether they will be published or not is another issue. When I write something, my first thing is, "Oh, honey, you gotta look at this so you can tap me on the head and tell me how cool I am." That's my addiction.


John P. McDonnall

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