Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writer to Writer: Look!

"My friend, my teacher, James Hall [author of Under Cover of Daylight and Body Language] said that all books are about writing, and to some extent, when you're sitting there trying to create this plot, you, in a way, are the mastermind. So my books become books about masterminds creating plots. That's a little postmodern, but I think there is a lot to it."

Dennis Lehane

I want to use that quote as I slide from my study of the fine writing of James W. Hall to the fine writing of Dennis Lehane. Seeing the end of Hall's oeuvre inching closer, I began looking for someone else to study. Both Hall and Lehane are grads of Eckerd University in St. Petersburg, FL, and Lehane was a student of Hall's at Florida International University in Miami.

Of course, I began with Lehane's detective series. Love mystery/thrillers. The Kenzie/Gennaro team is absolutely first-rate, but what won my heart forever was a foggy, midnight car chase on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge! And Bubba.

His writing is crisp and deep, with Lehane unafraid to tackle moral and ethical issues.

OK, I'm that weirdo who hasn't seen any of the three films made from Lehane stories, so it was easy to tackle his stand-alone titles without prejudice. Having knocked off GONE BABY GONE, I looked at that film first. Ben Affleck had to be crazy to cast that very Irish-looking woman as Angie Gennaro, and where was her spunk? And Cheese became a Haitian? Sorry, but the best I could do was fast forward through the film. So call me Book Spoiled.

Sitting on the TV now is Clint Eastwood's version of MYSTIC RIVER, one of the finest novels out there. The library has given me five days to watch it. Hmmm...

My Lehane bookmark (yes, I have markers for each book I read to make notes) is stuck in the middle of SHUTTER ISLAND right now. This is another difficult book to put down. I'm reminded of John D. MacDonald's NIGHTMARE IN PINK (Travis McGee series), both for the time period covered and the subject matter. And once again, I feel I am in safe hands with this writer. He will deliver more than a sound and entertaining tale, but one where the reader is allowed a self-examination of her own ethics and morals.

Which brings me to something Lehane said to the graduates at Eckerd University a few years ago:

"Since 9-11, something's happened to our empathy in this country. I don't know what exactly, but it ain't good. I wrote a novel in which all the characters have perfectly good and understandable reasons to be angry and they only commit acts of violence and vengeance once they're sure they're right. And yet…they're wrong. I think human beings are at their most dangerous when they lose their empathy, when they objectify other human beings, when they are so sure they are right they feel justified in a take-no-prisoners attitude. And I don't know when mercy and decency became signs of weakness in this country."

And then I have to remember each writer has something to teach. "All books are about writing." And reading.

I have to ask how far I've come since opening that first grade reader and staring in awe at the first real word I remember reading: "Look," it said on page one. Look.

I've finished HERITAGE and have submitted the first three chapters to an agent I'd like to represent me. If the answer is no, then I have another on my list. And an editor friend who has read HERITAGE has recommended I submit it to a particular editor, and I'm considering that if the agent passes on reading the entire manuscript.

Meanwhile, I'm hammering on EPIPHANY. As a writer friend reminds me: you can do only one one thing at a time. I do have a short story being considered for an anthology, so I have my fingers crossed for that.

And I'm awaiting the November 2 release of MOONLIGHT MILE, Dennis Lehane's follow-up to GONE BABY GONE, but the latest in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. I have a copy ordered from the bookstore my husband and elder daughter and I haunted when we visited Boston a few years ago. We stayed in Brookline and found a home at the Brookline Booksmith.

But back to what I love doing best: writing!

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