Author Jeff Lindsay found inspiration for a novel about a “good” serial killer in the fake smiles and insincere handshakes of people at a civic group meeting who, he thought, might want to kill each other. What began as a dark idea for a novel has become a hit Showtime cable television drama called “Dexter” and a series of bestselling books about a forensics expert moonlighting as a serial killer. The fourth, “Dexter by Design,” published by Random House, hits bookshelves this Tuesday.
In the late 1990s, Lindsay was at a Kiwanis Club meeting, a community service organization with chapters in many countries, giving a talk about writing, when he felt what could be described as fear and loathing, or at least loathing. Attendees shared handshakes and compliments — commonplace activity at a Kiwanis Club — but Lindsay thought they were all insincere and jealous, and really wanted to do away with each other. “The idea just popped into my head that serial murder isn’t always necessarily a bad thing,” said Lindsay, who lives in Florida.
He wrote notes on napkins and got home with the idea for a novel, what would be his first major success as a writer. But it took until 2004 to get “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” written and published, as Lindsay worked four odd jobs to pay the bills. From the success of that first book sprang the hit cable TV show “Dexter,” which first aired on the CBS Corp’s Showtime network in 2006 with Michael C. Hall as the murderous antihero.
The essential bare bones elements of Dexter on TV and in book form are the same. He works for the Miami police as an expert in blood-splatter patterns at crime scenes, and he follows his own moral code by targeting depraved criminals whom the broken arm of the law can’t reach. In “Dexter by Design,” the main character is himself targeted by a homicidal artist, who threatens to expose Dexter’s secret life of murder. Dexter must hunt down his foe, while also protecting his own family from the man.
These days, Lindsay is a full-time novelist who works from home, downstairs from his wife, Hilary, who is also a writer and is the niece of the late American author Ernest Hemingway. In his leaner years financially, Lindsay worked as a theater actor, a technical writer, a teacher, a newspaper columnist and as the host of a public television show.
Now that “Dexter” is successful, he said his wife won’t let him quit writing about the character — not that he would. He said that in the years since he has become a successful novelist, he has learned to keep his hands on the keyboard and keep churning out words. “One of the things they (people in the business) hammered into you is that if you’re lucky enough to get work and people like it … you have an obligation to keep doing it, as long as they’re willing to pay you for it,” he said.
But it’s not all work. Lindsay has fun with Dexter, too. The author said sometimes he creates a victim who reminds him of a person he would like to see done away with. “I’m not saying I’m different from anybody else, I think we all have a list” of enemies, he said. “One of the reasons people like Dexter is that he does something about it.”