Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A brief break in transmission

Hello ... just a quick post to say I'm eating and drinking my way across Italy at the moment, so the next post is still a few weeks' away.

(I've just finished reading Craig Silvey's excellent Jasper Jones, so that's next on the list...)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jeff Lindsay and Darkly Dreaming Dexter

One of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the weekend was a packed session featuring Jeff Lindsay, author of the books that have spawned the Dexter TV series.

The crowd was a mix of fans of his four books and fans of the TV series, and – obviously – those of us who appreciate both.

The man who has created one of the most morally ambiguous characters of recent times spoke about Dexter’s genesis and how important it is for readers (and viewers) to still question the nature of good and bad.

Lindsay claims the idea for Dexter came during a business group gathering of estate agents, lawyers and brokers many years ago. Sitting around listening to them network and promote themselves, he decided “serial murder is not always a bad thing” (and was possibly only half joking).

It gave him the idea of a serial killer who was sympathetic, not because of what he does, but because of who he is and the fact he acts from a position of amorality. Of course, it helps that Dexter only kills those who kill others (thanks to the foresight of his foster father Harry, a cop who saw the darkness in Dexter as a child and devised a way to channel it).

But Lindsay is very quick to point out Dexter is not a vigilante.

“A vigilante is someone who kills because someone has fallen through the cracks of the justice system and they are outraged personally and justice must be served. Dexter just likes to kill. He just happens to kill bad people because that’s the way his foster father set it up, and it works.”

Ironically, while the need for guilt is only a technicality for Dexter, it is imperative for Lindsay. “That line is important to me,” he told the weekend audience.

Lindsay has a very strong sense of justice. When talking about a young girl in his street who was raped and murdered, he momentarily dropped the wisecracks and was visibly emotional. He admitted he supported the death penalty, but only if there was no doubt of guilt - something he knew was next to impossible ... except for the fictitious Dexter.

As a reader or viewer, you can’t help but be a little unsettled at finding a serial killer likable, and Lindsay delights in shocking us with the reality of what Dexter does when he has his prey alone. While the series hints that Dexter may be more human than he believes, the books emphasise that Dexter’s humanity is a well constructed facade.

Lindsay thinks one of the reasons Dexter is so appealing is the fact he doesn’t see himself as human – only a monster good at pretending to be one. He is the voice of an outsider, allowing readers to see themselves in a different way, logically, without emotion.

The author says Dexter takes to the extreme something what we all do: fake in a relationship.

During his session on Saturday, Lindsay asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they were 100 per cent authentic with 100 per cent of the people they interacted with, 100 per cent of the time. Of course, no-one raised their hand.

“Dexter fakes all the time – but he knows he’s faking. He is very well aware of the fact he’s not a human.”

Interestingly, Lindsay hated title of the first Dexter novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, devised by his publisher’s marketing team. His original title was The Left of God, which was ruled out for fear it would create confusion for fans of the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name.

Lindsay’s young daughter – who hadn’t read the book but had heard enough conversations to get the gist – suggested “Pinocchio bleeds”. But while remarkably apt, it didn’t lend itself to serialisation...

While the TV series still takes its inspiration and some plot lines from the books, the two offer quite different stories and can stand alone without the other.

I’ve been a fan of the series since it started, and – now I’m reading the books – I’m enjoying the deeper (and often darker) perspective of the novels, along with Lindsay’s trademark wit and unique narrative voice.

If you enjoy the series but haven’t read the novels, give them a try.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Q&A with Sang Pak - Wait Until Twilight

This week's post marks the first author Q&A for Great Stories. Our guest is Sang Pak, whose excellent debut novel Wait Until Twilight was the focus of last week's post.

Here, he sheds some light on the inspiration for the story and its dark themes.

Was the idea for the book something that grew over time, or did you have a clear story outline from the start?
The idea was born from a set of dreams I had over a 2 week period a few summers back. I took the dreams, fleshed them out and added parts until I formed a story arc I could work with. Then revisions galore.

How much have your studies in psychology influenced this story?
You know, I think most of my psychological insights come from personal experience. Observing not only how I react to situations but other people as well. I've learned more from watching my thoughts and classmates during class than from the textbooks or lectures themselves. The only thing I gained from my studies were scientific terms to go along with those observations.

How did you decide on the idea of deformed babies to be the “freaks” that drive the change in Samuel? (And why three of them?)
Actually I dreamt of the three deformed babies. After I put it down on paper and was working on the revisions I started understanding what they meant. I'm not sure about the signifigance of three but I see it as a magical number not unlike the holy trinity: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost, which does play a role in the book. The deformed babies are a metaphor for a wounded twisted aspect of Samuel that seeks nurturance and protection from an absent mother.

Did you have resistance from publishers on the theme?
My publishers loved the theme. They supported me from the get to. Very few revisions were asked for and they consisted mainly of a little more description in certain parts of the book.

What would like readers to take away from this story?
On a deeper level, it would be great if they recognized on some level, the struggle between chaos/nihilism/darkness versus order/belief/light. And how one can choose between the two...and how that choice can effect the rest of one's life.

Who/what do you like to read?
Hermnn Hesse, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'connor, Tolstoy, Yukio Mishima, Kurt Vonnegut

What’s next for you as a writer?
I'm working on another project but I don't talk about works in progress. It's bad luck!

(Thanks Sang for your time. Much appreciated.)