Sunday, August 5, 2012

I'm in love with Dennis Lehane. And I know he loves me back.

As a reader, I’ve been around the block many, many times. Kind of the Wilt Chamberlain of reading relationships, if you get my drift. I’ve been in love, out of love. Done a lot of one-nighters.
Sometimes you want to love them, but you just can’t. Sometimes you don’t even like them, but endure because you paid the $25 for the book, or the overdue fees are piling up at the library.
Sometimes you think you’re in love, but when the honeymoon is over it’s U-G-L-Y.
I recently ended a relationship because she kept using purposefully when she meant purposely. Drove me nuts. Sure, the relationship was already on the rocks. All the annoyances were piling up the way they do when it's not true love. Bad subject-verb agreement, inconsistent characters, hitting me in the face with descriptions every time someone new walked onto a page (Ouch! Hurts every time).
Being too obvious, too trite, too bland. She did this thing – oh, I know it’s a little thing and my friends said I was being too picky – where all the names in her book were run-of-the-mill WASP-type names. Think of everyone you know -- how many of them have generic names? I know, I know. A little thing, but it was hard to take, even when I was still in like.
And she over-explained, like I’m stupid. If she really cared about me, she’d know I wasn’t, right?
But she is very popular, and it’s so hard to leave them when they’re popular. You keep going back, even though they hurt you over and over again, because you want to be part of the popular crowd.
The purposefully-purposely thing finally made me see our relationship through clear eyes, though. It finally made me realize how little she cared.
And that’s why I love Dennis. You know him, right? Dennis Lehane. I fell in love a decade ago – goofy, head-over-heels, stay-up-all-night love -- and have never fallen out.
It took a little while to remember. I’ve been too pissed off, too jaded lately. You get hurt too many times and you almost want to stop trying, right? Even when there’s love, it just seems so hard. It’s just so much work. Especially when they don’t love you back.
Then I remembered Dennis. Remembered how our love doesn’t get stale, just better with each year.
First of all, he does all those little things that mean so much --  dialogue that rings true, sentences that flow so easily you forget they’re there, descriptions that are feather-light.
He does the big things, too. He’s funny without resorting to that action-movie faux-cool dialogue that so many writers mistake for funny. His plots make sense without being too easy to figure out. And his characters – few do it like Dennis does. He’s got insight and heart. He even gets the women right without making them a bunch of clichés the way most male writers do. (Sorry guys, I know we’re hard to understand, wink wink.)
Dennis loves me back. All those things tell me he does. He cares enough to make his books not just good enough – good enough to be published, good enough for people to buy, good enough to be popular – but better. I’m not talking about super flowery literary writing, the English major stuff. I’m talking about the kind of writing where I forget I’m reading. I’m just there.
Anyone who tries to write knows it’s not easy. It’s hard work. And that’s one of the really beautiful things about Dennis. He’s probably a natural talent. Just like Larry Bird. Only like Larry, he doesn’t fall back on that. You know he works at it, works to make it right. Shooting foul shot after foul shot, even after the janitors have turned off the lights. Too many writers make me feel like they’re just not working hard enough. They’ve got me already, why work at it? I’ll keep coming back.
But the really good ones – like Dennis – you know they care enough about the relationship to shoot those foul shots, no matter how good they are. They want to get it right. They care about our love.
I know I’m not his only reader. Guy like him? He has millions. And, let’s face it, I’ve got a few writers in my stable. Sometimes I go months and months without even thinking of him. But when we get together, it’s even better than before and I wonder why I stayed away so long.
I was reminded of that this weekend when – pissed off, remember? -- I finally read the copy of Moonlight Mile that’s been on my shelf for a while. No surprise, Dennis, you kept me up all night.
If it wasn’t special enough, one thing made it really special. Really, really special. Special enough to finally go public with our love.
He had something in there just for me.
I’ve read five books in a row this summer where the media were “vultures.” Among all the other things that are pissing me off, that really pissed me off. As though those of us in the news biz haven't taken enough hits lately, once again we’re the trite plot device. Those writers didn’t reach down and figure out how they felt about journalists, they just needed an easy cliché to make their characters feel more pitiful and victimized.  I know they didn’t mean it, but yeah, I took it personally. That’s how it is when a relationship is on the rocks and you want to know they care. It wasn't even so much the negative portrayal -- it was the obviousness of it all, the fact they didn't even try to be fresh.
Not Dennis. In Moonlight Mile he had a character, a newspaper reporter, who was funny, smart and did his job. The protagonist, Patrick, even liked the guy. Sure, it was only a tiny part of the book – one page I think -- but I knew Dennis was thinking of me.
Later in the book, someone asked Patrick where he got his news. “I read it,” he said. Oh my love.
That would have been enough, but he didn't stop there. During a crucial scene, Patrick gets annoyed that he can’t find a newspaper at a small town diner. Why did he want a newspaper? It's the best way to get the local layout. 
Oh my love, my love. To those of us in newspaper journalism -- pulling the gravel out of our torn knees as we stumble down the road away from the smoldering wreck that’s been our business the past few years -- that was a love letter.
Dennis gets me. He really gets me.
This year, Dennis and I celebrate our 10th anniversary – I picked up Mystic River in 2002 and it was love at first page. I know the traditional gift is tin or aluminum, but Dennis and I, we don’t bow to tradition.
He’s given me a paper gift every year – usually around 300 pieces. And I can’t wait to get it.