Dennis Lehane didn’t grow up with a literary background. Born in a Boston suburb to working class Irish immigrant parents — when Lehane was young, he just liked to read. His passion for books and film is what led him to start writing his own stories. Considering this, Lehane’s career as an author and screenwriter is all the more impressive: he has penned 13 novels (number 14 is forthcoming), leading to four film adaptations of his books (a fifth is planned for 2017), has written for several TV shows, including HBO’s “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire”, and currently has numerous other projects in the works.
His prolific output attests to the fact that hard work can make a career in the arts. He claims that the world he comes from still doesn’t understand him, but such a background resulted in many characters, plot ideas, his work ethic, and intrinsically, storytelling. During Lehane’s lecture he focused on how his past has affected his career, and how he was raised around storytellers.
Several hours before the lecture I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Lehane in Collins Hall. He agreed to have an informal conversation with TU students interested in writing. The discussion was fast paced, and right away I could tell Lehane was no bullshitter. He was intimidating in a good way; talking about the distinction between the ego of the self and the ego of the work, advice directed towards those considering work in Hollywood, and offering some of the best writing advice I’ve ever heard; speaking on how to overcome “the fear” and on his cardinal rules for writers, 1) don’t get your PhD), and 2) writing on a schedule is imperative. But what really matters to Lehane is his family.
As a single father of two daughters he made it clear that they come before everything else. At both the private and public venues, Lehane exhibited a down-to-earth character and spoke candidly about himself. His life seems dedicated to his craft, truly inseparable from who he is as a person, which is a rare thing in famous authors — not to mention those working in Hollywood.
Lehane isn’t one of those people who are storytellers simply because they’re writers. He’s a storyteller because he tells damn good stories and always has. In the Boston suburb of Dorchester, his father used to take him to the pub where he would listen to the men talk. He said that at family gatherings the same stories would be told over-and-over, on rotation about every seven weeks, often with old details changed or new details added. The stories were about Ireland (the old land), and Lehane later realized were told to rekindle sentiments and feelings of a place his family had to leave behind. Lehane’s writing shares this characteristic; now living in Hollywood, Lehane still writes East Coast crime and mystery novels, as recent as last year’s “World Gone By”.
If you haven’t, go to a library or Amazon and get “Mystic River” (2001). If you’re lazy, watch the film. Chances are you’ve seen “Shutter Island” or “The Drop”, even if you hadn’t heard about Lehane until now. Something you can’t do is go back in time to Lehane’s lecture and hear him tell personal stories about his parents and daughters, or about growing up in Boston and eventually working with guys like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck. If these kind of events sound interesting to you, be sure to take advantage of them while you have the opportunity.