After 11 years, seven national best-selling books and a hit television series that became something of a pop culture phenomenon, author and Dexter series creator Jeff Lindsay closes out the series with his eighth and aptly titled final novel, Dexter Is Dead.
Unlike the star of the iconic television series for Showtime and later CBS, which was loosely based on the first two novels, the literary version of Dexter has far less redeeming qualities than the likable character portrayed by actor Michael C. Hall. In this suspenseful final installment, Dexter has lost everything and faces a murder charge—ironically, for a slaying he’s not responsible for.
Lindsay talks candidly about Dexter’s surprising success, his decade-long relationship with the iconic character and his uncertain future as a novelist and playwright.
It’s been more than a decade since you wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Did you have any idea then that you were just beginning to explore a character and storylines that would still be here eight books later?
No, and it’s kind of weird. All my life I’d wanted to write a series. I’d started one (Tropical Depression and Red Tide, coming soon as eBooks from Diversion Books), and the publisher, Don Fine, promised me he was going to build it up and make it work. But he died, and nobody else jumped out to grab it. I started to wonder if it was going to happen for me, and in kind of a dark, angry place, I thought, “I’ll show them. . .” And I wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I never in a million years thought it would be a series, nor intended it to be one. I mean, I told the story, it ended—how could it go on?
"I thought it would be easier. But when I was done, my wife pointed out to me that my behavior was showing all the classic signs of grieving."
After living with this ongoing series of stories for so long, how do you go about bringing it to a close?
Well, I hope I go about it the right way. It took a lot of thought and a lot of work, and you can never be sure, but I think I did it in a way that won’t let my readers down. You know, that’s what I live for—at heart, I’m an entertainer, and I want people to leave the theater satisfied.
Because it’s been eight books and more than a decade, is it easy to finally say, “I’m done with it”? Or does that investment make it harder to and, perhaps, scarier to close that chapter of your creative life?
You know, I thought it would be easier. But when I was done, my wife pointed out to me that my behavior was showing all the classic signs of grieving. I didn’t even know. So I guess I miss him. But I had always promised that, if I ever started phoning it in, I would quit. I wasn’t there yet, but I could feel it around the corner, so—is it scary? Hell, yes. I’m terrified. I secretly believe that nobody really likes me—they like him—and without him I’m scared that nobody will want to read me anymore.
The title Dexter Is Dead is fairly definitive, but there’s a previous interview where you noted there being a little ambiguity. Could you bring the series back? Would you want to?
I hope there’s always ambiguity. They taught me in college that ambiguity is good. It’s very powerful and moving—I saw Gone Girl recently, and the ambiguous ending was fantastic. It keeps you thinking about it; what’s going to happen? Who will do what to whom? I love that. I always try for that quality. But the series, the character Himself—I have no plans to bring it back.
What would it take to revisit this series?
It would take three things to bring the series, and the character, back. First, there would have to a groundswell of support for the idea. I would have to feel the love. Second, I would have to feel that I could do it justice—as I said before, I don’t ever want to phone it in. And third, it would have to be worth my while, and not just financially, although, you know, this is how I make my living.
You had incredible success with Dexter as a series. Will you look to create another series or look to write some stories that are independent of one another?
I think I would very happily launch another series—but I’d also like to try some one-shot stuff. I mean, Dexter was never intended as a series. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanted to read even ONE book about a lovable serial killer. But a new series would be fun, now that I practiced. And I want to get back to some theater, too—I’ve been working on a few new plays, dusting off some old ones. I have a little time right now, and there’s a giddy sense of freedom, of unlimited possibility. But it’s also like jumping off a cliff. On the one hand, it’s “Damn! I’m flying!” And on the other, I know the ground is coming up at me fast. But I think I’ll let people know pretty soon what happens next. I just hope they care.
Author photo credit Hilary Hemingway.