This Man Has Created A Monster
Back at the station, Nelson showed me the forensics-processing lab. On television, these labs are sleek, hushed and dimly lit, with glowing instruments lifted straight from Minority Report and technicians dressed like they’re in a nightclub. The Miami CSI’s lab is an old gas station, where evidence is kept in gym lockers, and DNA evidence gets sent to the county lab for processing—the backlog is weeks long. But Dexter is a rogue, not a working stiff, and lab work is tedious. He avoids the lab like he owes it money. His only ally on the force is his adoptive sister, Deborah, a vice squad cop looking to make detective. As the only soul to whom Dexter is loyal, it’s her predictable fate to be kidnapped and held hostage. You can imagine the carnage that ensues.
Nelson has a slightly better work-life balance and just before 11 pm we headed out on our final call of the night, a domestic assault case involving a machete. Leaving the office, I passed a veteran technician’s desk. Above it were tacked photos of grisly shooting scenes along with a kind of note-to-self: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Dexter might have approved.
One afternoon, Lindsay took me to the Cuban restaurant whose dessert case serves as the inspiration for all the elaborate sweets described in his books. Dexter’s favorite drink is an icy batido de mamey, a nice heat-killer served in Miami’s corner cafés, and Lindsay ordered one for each of us. “The best description I’ve come up with is that it tastes like a good combination of peach and watermelon,” he said. The wonderful abandon of Cuban cooking was on full display, and our plates arrived piled high with fried plantains and shredded flank steak.
Not long ago, Lindsay and Hemingway were in Cuba, filming a PBS documentary about Ernest and researching her next script, Hemingway and Fuentes. The feature film, currently in production, is about Ernest’s 21 years in Cuba and the decades-long friendship between the writer and a boat captain, Gregorio Fuentes, that inspired The Old Man and the Sea. Andy Garcia is directing, serving as the project’s lead writer, and co-starring as Fuentes. Anthony Hopkins plays Papa.
“I used to hate the bastard,” Lindsay says of Ernest, between bites of his steak. “Everyone assumed I was some kind of leech, locked onto the Hemingway name, sucking Hilary’s talent out. And everywhere we went for 20 years, I was Mr. Hemingway, or the guy who carries her bag, the gigolo.”
Dexter changed all that. And Hemingway and Fuentes is no small victory for Hilary. Years after leaving Hollywood, they’ve both finally made it, thanks very much.
“When I started seriously writing, I had a 1938 Olivetti Underwood portable, and I couldn’t conceive of anyone writing anything serious on anything but this typewriter. It was a lot of whiteout, a lot of crossing out, and a lot of scribbling in.” He rises at 3 am each day with ascetic discipline, makes coffee, and drags himself into the writing chair. Three to 5:30 are his best, if not clearest, writing hours—he likes to work from behind a scrim of sleepiness, before his inner critic wakes up. By 7:30 the girls are fed and at school, and the house is quiet again, save the whir of the air conditioner. When he needs vacuous silence, or to cut the digital tether, Lindsay takes his small fishing trawler—the Dexter-Us—and anchors it in a nearby bird sanctuary.
Lindsay’s personal creation myth is a sober reminder that to write fiction is to condemn oneself to a life of making it up as one goes along. “I’ve done every job you can imagine, even into my thirties. Waiting tables, cutting grass, doing plumbing, handymaning at a hotel. People always ask for advice on being a writer, and I say, ‘Learn arc welding.’” He recalled receiving a letter from his father about the time he graduated from college and was thinking about writing as a profession. “He basically said go for it.”
When asked at what age his own daughters are allowed to read the Dexter novels, Lindsay sighed. While there’s virtually no gore or graphic bloodletting in the stories, Lindsay uses language like a scalpel to lay bare the erotic—near pornographic—quality of serial violence. Scenic description is all buildup and no climax, a narrative sleight of hand that leaves the reader’s imagination to fill in the ugliest bits. Your brain conjures up nastier images than his pen could ever capture. “In my head, it’s 16,” he said. The eldest read it in high school for the purpose of writing a book report, horrifying her teacher in the process. (She received an A.) “The middle one, she’s already writing stuff that creeps me out.”
Driving home in his gold Mercedes, singing along to a radio’s Motown hit parade, Lindsay pointed out his suburb’s small independent bookstore. He stopped in not long ago to discover that his books weren’t on the prominent “Local Authors” display—no one has any clue he lives nearby. Double Dexter, the series’ sixth and final installment, is due out this fall, and then he’ll be back to casting for ideas. Selling millions of books in dozens of countries and 38 languages has changed nothing about the act of writing itself. It’s still lonely. It’s still maddening. It still requires three-olive martinis. And that’s on the better days.
“Can I tell you my piece of mysticism? It’s serious advice. God—or insert whichever term makes you comfortable here—will tell you if you’re doing the right thing. Doors will stay open just long enough for you to squeak through.” He continued, “But if that’s what you’re supposed to be doing, it will work.
And if you end up sitting in the end of a dark alley with another man’s blood on your shirt, putting a needle in your arm, it’s the wrong path.”
Kevin Charles Redmon ’09 is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Middlebury Magazine.