Murder, mayhem in job description

Posted March 27, 2009, at 5:54 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:42 a.m.

Jeff Lindsay was the first to admit it. Lindsay, after all, writes the hilarious “Dexter” books, which have sparked the Showtime series of the same name. The character is a sympathetic serial killer.

Honest to God.

Lindsay was part of the all-star cast at the 10th annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival in Fort Myers. When baseball-bored Red Sox fans look for alternatives, the annual authors’ event is always tops on their list.

“There is something wrong with all of us,” Lindsay said referring to mystery and murder novelists. “We have that outsider syndrome.” Most authors never come to terms with their success, Lindsay said. “There is always a little voice telling us that we don’t deserve this.”

Something wrong?

Take Camden’s Tess Gerritsen, who told the Florida crowd that “Maine is like a small town. Everyone knows each other.” Gerritsen said she got one story idea like “ a hit in the solar plexus” from reading a story in the Boston Globe about a woman who was found “dead” in a bathtub but revived a few hours later in a morgue. She did a Nexus search on “mistaken for dead” and got the background for her book.

Gerritsen (“Harvest,” “Gravity,” “The Surgeon,” et al.) confessed an unholy interest in mummies. “I was in love with Indiana Jones before he was created,” she said. A mummy found in a Wiscasset antiques shop inspired her to conduct research into mummification, including an “autopsy” of a mummy in Niagara Falls, N.Y. One fascinating detail she revealed was that the process includes pulling the brain out of the cranium through the nose.

If your appetite is whetted, as Gerritsen’s is, you can check out her Web site, www.tessgerritsen.com, which includes “creepy biological facts.”

Answering questions, Gerritsen said she never took a writing class, or needed one. Most authors know by age 7 that they will be writers and storytellers and don’t need any instruction, she said. The best training for writing is “reading, reading, reading.”

Take the glamorous Lisa Black (“Takeover,” et al.), an author and authentic forensic pathologist from Cape Coral, Fla. “The happiest five years I ever spent were in a morgue. My work is murder.”

Black said she uses police files for general background, but not for actual details. “People would never believe it,” she said. All of the “CSI” television shows have made the profession unrealistically glamorous. “But we never get that quick-and-easy solution. And we don’t wear high heels and tight sweaters,” she said. She wears baggy jumpsuits and boots to murder scenes.

Take Boston author Dennis Lehane (“Darkness, Take My Hand,” “Sacred,” “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island,” “The Given Day,” et al.), who learned the language when his father propped him up on a Dorchester, Mass., bar stool, at 8 years of age. It was there that he learned the rhythm, poetry and grim humor of Dorchester, which sparked his “love affair with the urban village,” he said. If a father did that today, he would be arrested.

“The worst thing we do for our kids today is protect them too much. We used to get thrown out of the house at 3 p.m. and told to come home when you are called. We were the last generation that ran through the streets,” he said.

Lehane read a chapter from his Boston novel “The Given Day” about the Boston police strike of 1919. He said he has been “extremely lucky” in having his novels made into movies, including “Shutter Island,” which is in production now in the capable hands of director Martin Scorsese.

Lehane said he has stayed away from adapting his novels to the screen. “That would be like being a doctor and operating on your own child. I had enough trouble compressing the story to 400 pages. How could I drop it to 130 pages?”

His first draft might take four weeks or four years, but Lehane knows every plot change before he writes one word.

Take phenomenally successful Florida author Tim Dorsey (“Florida Roadkill,” “Orange Crush,” “Nuclear Jellyfish,” et al.), who prides himself on his comic style during these book discussions. One day when the audience was roaring at his tales, one quartet sat quietly. No matter what he did or said, Dorsey could not get a grin out of the group, let alone a laugh. Surprisingly, the quartet bought his books and lined up to have them signed. He just had to ask. The answer: “We are all psychiatrists. We are here to observe you.”

Take Lindsay. The idea for Lindsay’s mass murderer came from the author’s visit to a Cape Coral Kiwanis Club meeting, where he witnessed the bad jokes, forced bonhomie and grown men singing at noon, cold sober. “It occurred to me that serial murder was not always a bad thing,” he said. He admitted that he is now struggling with a plot development which will make a 7-year-old a serial killer.

Something wrong?

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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