Meet the Author
Dennis Lehane burst on the literary scene in 1994 with the Shamus Award-winning A Drink Before the War, the atmospheric and evocative debut that kicked off the wildly popular Boston-based series. Now Lehane's fifth novel, Prayers for Rain (June 1999, 0-688-15333-X, $25.00, William Morrow), confirms that Lehane stands out time and again as the real thing. The New England Reader asked Dennis Lehane to talk about his work.
Reader: Tell me about Prayers for Rain, your new book coming in June.
Lehane: Prayers for Rain is about a sociopath who psychologically dismantles and destroys his victims, preferring to leave them wishing they were dead rather than actually killing them himself. When a woman who had hired Patrick Kenzie six months before for a simple case, kills herself, he begins looking into the last few months of her life and starts to suspect that all the traumatic things that happened to her weren't merely accidental. As the book progresses, the sociopath begins to toy with Patrick, his ex-partner Angie, and their friend, Bubba. They attempt to turn the tables on him, and a psychological cat-and-mouse game begins. I usually start books with a single, overriding question and this one wasn't any different. The question this time was "What are the things upon which you build your life and your happiness, and what would you do if someone chose to remove them one by one?"
Reader: Why do you write mystery novels?
Lehane: I read a lot of mysteries when I was very young-- from when I was eight years old until fourteen or fifteen, I guess. I read all of Hammett and Chandler, Agatha Christie, a British espionage writer named Alistair McLean, just about everything that was out there back then. And then I stopped. I'm not sure if I'd "read through" the genre, but I've read very few mysteries in the last fifteen or sixteen years. In high school I discovered Fitzgerald and Joyce, Conrad and Tillie Olsen. By college I was reading a lot of William Kennedy, Garcia Marquez, Walker Percy, Raymond Carver and Graham Greene. I didn't exactly plan on writing mysteries-- it's something I fell into. I started doing it as a release from writing the kind of esoteric, dark short stories I was writing in my mid-twenties, yet it's the mysteries that have found an audience.
Reader: How did you first get published?
Lehane: I'd written a first draft of A Drink Before The War in the summer of 1990 over the space of three weeks. And then I threw it into a box with a bunch of other things I'd written that year. A friend and former professor of mine, Sterling Watson, came across it and read it and thought I could land an agent with it if I polished it up a great deal. So I did, and he remembered a former student of his, Ann Rittenberg, who was with Julian Bach in Chicago at the time. So I sent the manuscript to Ann and she agreed to represent it. I first got published when Claire Wachtel, my editor at Morrow, accepted it.
Reader: What's your background?
Lehane: I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. My father was a foreman for Sears & Roebuck; my mother worked in a Boston public school cafeteria. I have one sister and three brothers, all older. I graduated from Boston College High School, went one year to Emerson College, one year to UMass, Boston, then transferred to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg where I got a BA. After college, I worked a variety of jobs: in bookstores, as a therapeutic counselor first with the mentally handicapped, then with physically and sexually abused children. Then I received a fellowship to the Graduate Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami. There I studied under John Dufresne (Louisiana Power & Light, Love Warps The Mind A Little), James Hall (Undercover Of Daylight, Buzz Cut), Lynne Barrett (The Land Of Go) and Les Standiford (Done Deal). After grad school, I returned to Boston, and instead of teaching I took odd jobs again-- parking cars, driving limos-- because I find it easier to write when I'm supporting myself with jobs that I don't bring home with me at the end of the day.
Reader: When you are working on a novel, what do you read? (or what have you read recently that has affected you?)
Lehane: I hardly ever read fiction while I'm writing it. In the last year, I've managed to read six novels: Charming Billy by Alice McDermott, Richard Price's Freedomland, Night Dogs by Kent Anderson, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos, and just last week, Four Corners of Night by Craig Holden. The only positive thing about this is that because I can rarely afford to read, I'm a few hundred times as choosy as I used to be and all the books mentioned above were outstanding. Now that I have a break, I've got about fifteen books stacked up and waiting to be read. I'm quite jazzed about that.
Dennis Lehane currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts.