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2138 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

An Interview with Author Jeff Lindsay, The Man Behind Showtime’s #1 Series, Dexter

Marla E. Schwartz

The 2009 Miami Book Fair International celebrated its twenty-sixth year, and it most certainly didn’t disappoint with 350 currently published authors making appearances. Miami Dade College was the location of this thought-provoking event in downtown Miami.

During this inspirational celebration of authors and books, it was a joy watching Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the book fair and owner of Books & Books, take great care to make sure every writer felt comfortable and cared about, whether a celebrity or a first-time novelist. And it was a special treat to have Jeff Lindsay, author of his current novel Dexter by Design, in the house. This new book in the series has its anti-hero chasing a killer who prides himself on mutilation art.

Jeff Lindsay with his book, Dexter by Design; Image: Property of Palley Promotes, Miami Book Fair International 2009 (used by permission)

Jeff Lindsay with his novel, Dexter by Design
Image: Property of Palley Promotes, Miami Book Fair International 2009
(Used by permission)

Lindsay’s first book in the Dexter series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, is the basis for Showtime’s number-one rated series, Dexter. This first novel bestowed upon him the Macavity Award, which is named for the Mystery Cat in T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. He was also the recipient of a 2005 Dilys Award, presented by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. The award is named after Dilys Winn, who founded the very first specialty bookstore in the U.S. dealing only with mystery books [New York’s Murder Ink bookshop].

Dexter by Design, the fourth book in the highly successful series, debuted at #8 on The New York Times Bestseller List in September 2009.

First of all, Jeff isn’t a serial killer, he doesn’t befriend serial killers, and he’s not related to any serial killers. So what’s he like? He’s unpretentious, endearing, disciplined, and a dearly-devoted, happily-married, family man.

This Miami native, a graduate of Ransom Everglades, was known as Jeffrey P. Freundlich in his youth, writing prior novels under the name of Jeffrey P. Lindsay. Many of his early books were co-written with his wife, Hilary Hemingway. An esteemed author in her own right, she happens to be the niece of Ernest Hemingway. Jeff attended Middlebury College in Vermont and graduated in 1975 with a B.A. in Literature & Writing. He finalized his educational pursuits with a double M.F.A. in Theater Direction & Playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. He currently resides in Cape Coral, Florida with his wife and their three children.

During the book fair, Jeff shared a stage with Paul Levine, author of Illegal: A Novel, and they were introduced by the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel’s former Book Editor, Chauncey Mabe, who now has his own blog on literature and publishing for the renowned Florida Center for the Literary Arts.

Paul spoke first and talked about how he’s such a fan of Jeff’s work, had read all the books, watched Dexter every Sunday, and now that he had the complete attention of the audience, blurted out, “And I think I speak for everyone here today when I say you are a sick puppy.”

After Paul’s presentation, Chauncey took back the stage to announce Jeff. In his former job, Chauncey had to make snap judgments on what was going to be reviewed. When he found out that Darkly Dreaming Dexter was a book about a serial killer that kills killers, he said, “That’s the dumbest idea I’d ever heard. I should’ve known better because Ernest Hemingway famously once said, and this is not an exact quote, ‘There’s no new’s all in the execution’ and of course with Jeff Lindsay the word execution takes on new meaning.”

It turns out that Chauncey’s youngest daughter is hoping to become a cop and “fell in love with the TV show,” and then she read all of the books. She then discovered that the books and the TV show were quite a bit different, but decided that she loves them both equally.

Jeff Lindsay took the stage and the air was filled with rapt anticipation.

“Actually, there’s something I want to say and it goes back to what Chauncey said about his daughter wanting to become a cop. I want to thank the Miami-Dade police department for your support, your good work and your service,” Jeff proclaimed. “It’s odd to me the communities of people that Dexter seems to speak to, but one of them is definitely law enforcement. And every event I’ve ever done there have been a couple of guys in the back standing there and I know my back is covered. And considering some of the other folks who like Dexter, I think this is a good thing.”

This day, one audience member asked, “We all know that Dexter lives inside his head. If you had to choose a best friend for him, someone he could relate to, who would it be?”

“Well, he doesn’t really relate to anyone at all so if it’s going to be anybody...then it would be my friend Julio, a retired Seal who’s much larger than me, who looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want you to swear that Dexter isn’t based on me.’”

Briton Alonso, 23, who stood in line waiting for Jeff’s autograph, said, “I’ve read the first two books so far. I think Dexter is one of the most fascinating and interesting characters I’ve ever come across. I feel he is evil, but he has such redeeming qualities and I never go for the villains. But Jeff has found a way to make you root for the bad guy.”

Dexter has become iconic and so has his creator. The TV show opens with haunting music that’s flawlessly juxtaposed with ordinary things made menacing. “I’ve waited my whole life for this,” Jeff exclaimed. “I finally have a theme song.”

Jeff Lindsay signs a copy of his novel; Image: Property of Palley Promotes, Miami Book Fair International 2009 (used by permission)

Jeff Lindsay signs a copy of Dexter by Design.
Image: Property of Palley Promotes, Miami Book Fair International 2009
(Used by permission)

Showtime just wrapped up its third season of Dexter, and the fourth and fifth seasons have been ordered. More information is available at The shows can be seen Sundays at 9 p.m. EST.

The marvelous actor who brings Dexter to life is the mesmerizing Michael C. Hall, who portrayed David Fisher on the hit HBO drama, Six Feet Under. Regular cast members include: Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, C. S. Lee, Lauren Vélez, David Zayas, and James Remar. Also making appearances have been Keith Carradine, Jimmy Smits, and the Academy Award-nominated, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe award-winner John Lithgow as a suburban father living a dual life as “Trinity,” one of America’s deadliest serial killers.

Die-hard fans recognized Jeff when he had a cameo role in the tenth episode of the third season. Here’s hoping this becomes a tradition!


Jeff Lindsay kindly answered a few questions for us.

Around Wellington Magazine: What’s one difference between the books and the show?

Jeff Lindsay: The second season opens with divers finding forty of Dexter’s bodies where he dumped them in sixty feet of water. And for TV it’s a great dramatic twist, but in reality, I grew up in Miami and to find sixty feet of water you have to work. And once you find it, you go a hundred yards further and you find three-thousand feet of water—so why would he do that?

AWM: That’s a clue that the show isn’t shot in Miami.

JL: Right—and another clue is that all of the Cubans look somehow like Mexicans or Puerto Ricans and all my Cuban friends are outraged.

AWM: Why isn’t it shot here?

JL: The first episode was shot during the summer when we had four hurricanes—so now the insurance company wants such a huge bond for hurricane insurance that it’s not worth it.

AWM: When did you begin writing?

JL: I was first published when I was five or six years old. I had a couple of poems published in a national anthology of children’s poetry. Then there was this girl—she’s the daughter of an old family friend and they lived in Michigan and I was in love with her—so I wrote her a serial novel, sending her a new chapter every week as a way of impressing her. It didn’t work.

AWM: How did you become involved with Showtime?

JL: The producer who originated the project read a review in The New Yorker, I think, and another one in The New York Times. She liked the reviews, read the book, took it to Showtime, and they decided to do it. They got behind it, it rolled, and it was like magic.

AWM: When did you find out that Michael C. Hall was going to be cast as Dexter?

JL: They called and told me and I said, ‘That’s the worst thing I ever heard in my life.’ Then I was told, ‘Well, we really like his work—you have to trust us on this.’ The first time I walked on the set I said, ‘Where is he’? I walked right past him a couple of times. It didn’t look like the guy from Six Feet Under at all; he was taller, thinner, his face had changed—everything was different. The first line I saw him say on camera I thought, ‘That’s him!’”

AWM: How did you come up with the ‘Code of Harry’?

JL: I have friends who are cops, and you can’t have this job for more than two weeks and not realize that there’s a great big hole between justice and law. You get into it because you want to uphold justice and you end up doing law instead. You watch the bad guys you bring in walk out the door. Given the shot, if you imagine Harry as a career police officer, and he sees young Dexter and knows that this kid is going to become a killer no matter what— it can’t be changed. That’s what the research says. So why not do some good with that? It makes a lot of sense.

AWM: Your fans told me that they were fascinated with the idea that there’s a character who’s a serial killer that they can get behind.

JL: Shame on them. There was a youth minister here who said ‘This is my guilty pleasure and I like it.’

AWM: I think that’s a great compliment to your writing.

JL: I think so, too.

AWM: Have you finished your next book yet?

JL: I’m finishing it now. I don’t know if it’s any good yet. I have to do some revisions.

AWM: Does your wife proofread it for you?

JL: Well, not proof it because she’s dyslexic. But maybe because of that she’s absolutely awesome with plots and structure and she’s always the first one to read it. And there comes a point in every book, which I reached three weeks ago, but when I go, ‘I’m lost, help me.’ And she reads it. We have different strengths and weaknesses and together we’re one complete writer.

AWM: Do you have any advice for young writers?

JL: This isn’t a joke: Learn art welding. The fact is that most people who write don’t make a full living at it. And if it happens, it’s going to take awhile. But art welding is a great example of something you can do on your own schedule, and it pays enough that if you can only do it twenty hours a week, that’s enough to pay the rent.

AWM: Do you have a particular writing schedule?

JL: I wake up between three and four a.m. and work until it’s time to get the kids up. I’m the cook in the family so I cook the breakfasts and make the lunches. Then they go off to school and I go to the gym, come back, and usually get another hour or two of mostly re-writing done.

AWM: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers about the future of Dexter?

JL: Well, the book I’m finishing now is about cannibalism, called Dexter is Delicious. That’s one of my favorite titles. I was recently in Australia {Dexter by Design was released in Australia in February 2009} and they’re crazy about him and want him to visit Australia. So I thought that Dexter Down Under would be a good title.

AWM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JL: Yes, every time I think of Carl Hiaasen, and I know he’d be flattered to hear this, I think of frozen shit. Because of the story he tells about a giant lump of frozen airplane sewage falling from the sky and coming into somebody’s house—I always think of that. I always say, you never know, God forbid, if a piano should fall on you. You just never know—bonk.

AWM: Well, if you die by music, as long as Beethoven or somebody is playing, that would be a good way to go.

JL: (He belts out a famous segment of Beethoven’s 5th.) Boom, boom, boom, boom!

AWM: Thank you very, very much.

JL: It’s been a pleasure.

—Previously published in [formerly Around Wellington Magazine], AW Stories of the Month (January 2010)

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury