The man who decides what makes Dexter tick

Jeff Lindsay, husband (of Hilary: niece of Ernest Hemingway), father of three and self-proclaimed mango paella addict is better known beyond his south Florida neighbourhood as “the guy that dreamt up Dexter” the world’s most popular fictional serial killer. The writer, who admits of being somewhat similar to his deadly protagonist, was in Grand Cayman’s Books & Books recently to promote his latest book: Dexter is Delicious in which cannibalism features. For fans of the blood splatter analyst by day and avenging serial killer by night, the fifth book in the series doesn’t disappoint and will have fans chuckling to themselves one moment and hating themselves for cheering him on the next.

An established author and playwright, Lindsay injects his latest book with a rich and dark vein drawing and repelling the reader in a way that toys with our concept of justice and humanity with deadly intent and a rapier-like wit. The writer, whose novels jump started the wildly popular TV and eminently watchable series and who scored a cameo appearance in episode 10 of season three, reveals what makes him and his creation tick and lays bare what he really thinks of the show.

Q: How did you come up with the concept of Dexter and is his personality a composite of real people or entirely made up?

A: There’s no “real” Dexter anywhere out there, as far as I know. I got the idea for a sympathetic serial killer from watching people on a kind of bad day. I thought, killing people isn’t always a bad idea – how can I put that across in a book? And I did the research, talked to people, and the character just grew until I felt like I had a handle on it – a lot like an actor figuring out a character. The experts tell me it rings true, and when I’m inside him, it feels true to me now.

Q: The genius of Dexter is that unlike other fictional murderers he has a very real spark of humanity in him, how does he reflect your views on the human condition?

A: Me and Dex are pretty close in a lot of ways. I’ve always felt a bit like an amused outsider looking in at a room full of monkeys. I think that describes the human condition for a lot of sentient people, especially writers. And we both feel very protective of kids, drink a lot of coffee, and like roast pork.

Q: Without giving the denouement of Dexter is Delicious away, what situations does he find himself in and what kind of choices does have to make in which fans can see some character growth?

A: In the opening of the book he’s looking down at his newborn child and swearing not to kill anymore – to devote the rest of his life to his new daughter, Lily Anne. And then, because it is a Dexter book, he gets mixed up in some stuff that makes that a very hard promise to keep.

Q: The novels are hugely popular do you intend continuing them indefinitely or can you see a time when you will kill off the character and move onto other subjects?

A: There have been a few times when I wanted to chunk Dexter on the head with a brick and throw him in the Bay – I was going to have Cody take over the family business. But I feel like I have the best job in the world, and I owe it to the people who like the books to keep writing them as long as I can. If I ever start to feel like I’m not doing a good job of it, I’ll quit, or if people don’t want to read them anymore. Otherwise, I keep working until I get fired.

Q; Dexter and his sister inhabit a very dark world, how do you mentally prepare to recreate the thought processes, sights sounds and smells of this nightmarish landscape and how difficult is it to switch off while working on each book?

A: When I sit down to write every day, it’s pretty much automatic by now; I just slip into character and I’m in that world. Switching off at the end of the day is the hard part. I have to sit down with a glass of wine, pet the cats, read Winnie the Pooh to the kids. It takes some strong counter measures.

Q: What if anything has writing this series taught you about humanity and yourself?

A: Not really anything I didn’t already suspect. Humanity? What does it say about us that we like this guy? And what does it say about me that I think it’s funny? Pretty grim stuff when you think about it. Unless you can keep the giggle going.

Q: Is Dexter a hero or an anti-hero in your opinion?

A: Neither one. At most he’s a protagonist, not a hero. To be an anti-hero you sort of have to be saying that your guy is doing something positive in unconventional ways, and Dexter does just the opposite.

Q: For those not well-versed in both the books and the TV series, how closely does the series mirror your books, have there been any major departures and if so how have you felt about that?

A; It’s pretty much parallel universes by now, like those Sci-Fi books where the Nazis won the War. It’s recognisably my world, my characters, but the stories are all different. It doesn’t bother me at all – the show is still at a really high level, and nobody else I know got this lucky with their adaptation.

Q: How close is Michael C. Hall’s acting to your vision of Dexter?

A: For the most part, he’s hitting the bulls’ eye. I get goose bumps. Every now and then, because it’s TV, they wander down some weird alleys that I wouldn’t go into, but I can’t imagine anybody else in the world playing the part. He’s terrific.

Q; Having Dexter do the job he does is a particularly ironic twist and adds an extra dimension to him, if he wasn’t working in a blood pattern analyst in a homicide department what do you think he’d be doing?

A; He’d work in the personnel department of an oil company – lots of kindred spirits!

Q: Are you, or have you ever been asked to be a consultant on the show and if so what did/does that involve?

A: No. I consulted a little on the pilot episode, mostly as a courtesy. Other than that, I visit, I keep in touch with a few of the people, and I watch the show at home.

Q: Dexter’s world is inhabited by many less than perfect people, including his sister Debra what is her primary role in the novels?

A: She’s a contrast to him; so much like him, but with the poles reversed. They really do make a perfect team in a lot of ways. She gives him something to focus him a bit.

Q: Who is the most important character in your novels apart from Dexter and why?

A: Rita, of course. Because she makes the roast pork, and the mango paella.

Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday). $25.95 at Books & Books, Camana Bay.