After penning more than a dozen psychological thrillers and crime-fiction novels, Dennis Lehane is enjoying a simpler moment writing screenplays.
Although the subjects of his words are still dark—Lehane is currently working on HBO’s horror miniseries, The Outsiders—the vast differences between writing novels versus screenplays is nearly too great to compare.
“They’re very different processes, and they use very different parts of my brain,” said Lehane, who will discuss his career as a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter in Aspen on Tuesday. The event, held at Paepcke Auditorium, is part of Aspen Words’ Winter Words series (see below for details).
The “Shutter Island” and “Gone, Baby, Gone” author pointed to a particular scene in one of his novels to illustrate this variation: “It was the opening of a hotel in 1927 [and] the main character was walking into that hotel during its opening night gala. It took me a week to write that — it was really hard.”
In screenwriting, however, that process would look more like: “It was opening night. You’re done,” he said.
Lehane, in a phone interview from his home in Southern California on Wednesday, said he can write screenplays anywhere at any time: “At night, at a party, at the 50-yard line of the Super Bowl.” Crafting fiction novels, however, demands a dark, quiet space—usually his at-home office—and can only happen in the morning. To the detriment of his wrists, Lehane prefers to write longhand. In fact, he considers himself addicted. “When I see that yellow pad, I must write,” Lehane said, despite a severe case of tendonitis.
“I haven’t written a novel in a while because [screenwriting] allows me to be a much more present father,” said the dad of two. “After 20 years of being alone in a room, I like the social aspect of writing for a scene … but my great love will always be novels, without a doubt. It’s a rough spot in the marriage.”
Lehane wrote his award-winning, debut novel, “A Drink Before the War,” about a pair of Boston private investigators, in 1994. The Dorchester, Mass. native has been engrossed by violence—a common incident in his hometown—since he was four years old.
“I was always fascinated by how messy and chaotic [violence] was, and how different it was than what you see on TV,” Lehane said. “And then I began to think about why it existed, and then as I matured, what is violence as a larger question ... and I think that’s something that I continually investigate.”
Lehane’s most recent book, “Since We Fell,” is a psychological thriller about a journalist who suffers an on-air mental breakdown and becomes involved with a man who isn’t what he seems.
Aspen Words executive director Adrienne Brodeur credited Lehane’s remarkable ability to tell stories—the key ingredient to the nonprofit’s Winter Words lineup.
“Whether its fiction, investigative journalism or poetry, the thing our Winter Words authors have in common is great storytelling,” Brodeur said. “Dennis Lehane is an exceptional storyteller whose writing has earned him legions of fans as well as critical acclaim.”
The 2020 Winter Words series will culminate on March 31 with investigative journalist Beth Macy, author of the bestselling book, "Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America.”
IF YOU GO
What: International best-selling author Dennis Lehane will discuss his career as a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter
When: Tuesday at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute
Cost: Tickets are $25 and can be purchased in advance at aspenshowtix.com or at the door of the event.
Visit aspenwords.org for more information.