Q&A: Dennis Lehane returns to Somerville

dennislehaneDennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, knows Dorchester … but what about Somerville? Armed with his latest epic, Prohibition-era Boston crime saga Live By Night, Lehane has been synonymous with the other side of the Charles. In fact, he was approached by journalists from all over the world when the double-bombing tragedy killed three people, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, BU’s Lu Lingzi and Medford native Krystle Campbell, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Lehane has fighting words for the attackers. “If you think you’re going to change the culture here, you really picked the wrong town,” he says. “We’re not going to change, we’re not going to suddenly give up our civil liberties. I’d be surprised if we drastically alter the marathon.”

Slotted to speak at The Book Shop, 694 Broadway in Ball Square, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, Lehane tells Scout that he used to live in Somerville. “I’ve popped in and out over the ensuing years but it just doesn’t occur to me to have my characters travel there much,” he says. “Nothing personal.”

In our chat, Lehane talks about the geographically-bound characters in his novels, his impressions of the ‘Ville back in the day and the latest news on Cambridge homeboy Ben Affleck’s plans to turn Live By Night into a movie.

I was digging for references to Somerville in your books and only found a few. Can you think of any Somerville-specific scenes in your books?
Not particularly. If you grew up in Dorchester, you’re a South Shore guy. Just like if you grow up in Chelsea you’re a North Shore guy. Gloucester is as foreign to a South Shore guy as I’m sure Wellfleet is to someone from Revere. So you might notice most of my books go as far north as Charlestown and then throw the brakes on.

Growing up, what was your impression of Somerville?
I used to visit relatives who lived there and I always thought it was charming. When I was a kid, though, they called it Slumerville (which is a step up, trust me, from Dirty Dot) and then at some point, in my mid-20s, it became Bitchin’ Somerville and picked up a hipster vibe. A lot of my friends lived there when I worked at the Ritz – I lived on the Somerville side of Inman and had tons of friends who lived in Davis.

With your upcoming appearance slotted at The Book Shop in Ball Square, do you have any favorite spots in Somerville?
I like Davis Square – great restaurants, great bars, a bit of a Brooklyn vibe. I dig it.

I was excited about your own publishing imprint with HarperCollins. What’s the latest?
We’re publishing our second title this July. It’s a wonderful novel called Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. You’ll be hearing a lot from her in the next few years, I bet.

So, Live By Night is your gangster book. What’s the latest on the film adaptation and do you see more Prohibition-era gangster novels in your horizon?
Ben Affleck’s working on the script and I’ll see it when he’s ready to show it, as it should be. No more Prohibition novels scheduled. My next novel is set in 1943. I work on Boardwalk Empire this season so I’ve had my fill of Prohibition.

I still see missing posters of your dog Tessa in Winter Hill. Any updates on her?
No, but thank you so much for asking.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got a lot of irons in a lot of fires – three TV projects, a movie that’s wrapping up in Brooklyn as we speak and my next novel. It’s a great time in my career. I’ve got no complaints.

Author Dennis Lehane will speak at The Book Shop, 694 Broadway in Somerville’s Ball Square at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15. Check out bookshopsomerville.com for details.