Dennis Lehane drops into St. Petersburg for a riveting reading
Dennis Lehane is a guy who can laugh at himself.
The bestselling author (Mystic River, Shutter Island, World Gone By) and screenwriter (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg on Saturday to appear in the final night of the reading series presented by Writers in Paradise. The 12th annual writers conference is, Lehane said, his "baby" -- an Eckerd alum, he co-founded Writers in Paradise with now-retired writing program director Sterling Watson.
Andre Dubus III (Dirty Love), another Writers in Paradise faculty member (and Massachusetts native), took the stage first to tell the packed audience that they were in for a treat. "This is actually kind of top secret," Dubus said. "It's a trailer for a new Dennis Lehane film that's been kept totally under wraps."
The punch line was Late Night host Seth Meyers' hilarious fake movie trailer for Boston Accent, a spoof of the kind of gritty crime thriller set in Boston that's practically become a genre unto itself in recent years -- and about half of them, from Mystic River to The Drop, have been based on books written by Lehane.
Then Lehane himself took the stage, grinning, and announced, "I'm going to read from a book about Boston in which a lot of people get shot...."
The work in progress that he read from is a switch for him, though. It is indeed set in Boston, but a more upscale side of the city than he's generally written about before. As he said to me after the reading, "Yeah, I'm going full Back Bay in this one."
"Nobody knows anything about this book," he told the audience. He mentioned no title, no publication date -- but the prologue and first chapter he read were irresistible.
He was working on another book, he said, that wasn't going well. "Then I got this weird line in my head: Your marriage is only as strong as your next fight. And I thought, I've got to write that book."
It's the first book with a contemporary setting that he's written in about 15 years, except for Moonlight Mile in 2010, he said. During those years he wrote a trilogy of historical novels, The Given Day, Live by Night and World Gone By, the last two set mostly in Tampa.
"It's really exciting to write a book set in the present," Lehane said. "I keep going, ooh, cell phones, ooh!"
"I've also had a lifelong crush on Alfred Hitchcock. This is my Hitchcock."
The book might have a posher setting, but bullets still fly -- indeed, there's a murder in the very first sentence.
Lehane, who lived in St. Petersburg for a while, moved with his wife and two daughters a couple of years ago to the Los Angeles area because he was doing so much film and TV work. Among other things, he's working on an adaptation of the Irish television series Love/Hate that will be set in Hawaii instead of Dublin, and developing an HBO series with Martin Scorsese called Ashcliffe and based on his novel Shutter Island.
I just hope he'll get that novel finished soon. I can't wait to read the rest of it.