Island angles from stellar films, beach sand wars
The film "Mystic River" is receiving rave reviews by critics and moviegoers. Directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon, it is the story of three friends who grew up together in Boston, then get together again as adults after a woman is murdered.
"Mystic River" the book was written by Dennis Lehane, who was decompressing from the novel and working on his next one in Holmes Beach when I had a chance to chat over stone crab claws with him in December 2001.
"I seem to work well when I'm near the water," Lehane, usually Boston-based, said of his time at a beachfront home he shared with wife Sheila and their two English bulldogs. "It works as some kind of trigger."
He's no stranger to the Island, having spent vacations here as a student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg before his graduation in 1988. He left Southwest Florida for the East Coast while he attended Florida International University, graduating with a master's degree in creative writing.
"Then it was back to Boston," he said with a grin. "I missed the change in seasons."
Lehane was working on his seventh novel, which had a working title of "Missing Dolores." When published, the new book was titled "Shutter Island," and it is one of the most astounding mysteries I've ever read. When I finished it, I stared out in space for a while, then turned to the front and started to read it again to pick up the obvious clues that were far from obvious when I was first going through the pages.
Lehane wouldn't talk about the work-in-progress eventually titled "Shutter Island" back then: "I'm superstitious about that," he said, and I'm sorry he felt that way because I would have really liked to have his take on what really happened with the characters.
His first book, "A Drink Before the War," won him the prestigious Shamus Award for Best First Novel presented by the Private Eye Writers of America. The novel introduced readers to Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, and was followed by four more books featuring the characters.
"Sacred," his third novel, was the only story in that series that ventured away from Boston, as the pair track down a suspect in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, a pivotal scene takes place on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
"The bridge had two spans," Lehane wrote in "Sacred," "which seemed to be modeled after dorsal fins. From a distance, as the sun dipped toward the sea and the sky turned purple, the dorsal fins appeared to have been painted a smoky gold, but as we rode over the bridge itself, we saw that the fins were made up of several yellow beams that converged in ever-smaller triangles. At the base of the beams were lights that when turned on and combined with the setting sun, gave the fins a golden hue.
"Christ, they love their colors down in these parts."
"I spent three years looking at the bridge out my window," Lehane said of his Eckerd days and the Skyway.
Lehane said "Mystic River" was a departure from the Boston P.I. duo and a departure from his usual writing style.
"I had never written in the first person before the first book," Lehane said, "and I was chaffing to get back into offering multiple points of view. Usually, when I'm finishing a book I've always got an idea for the next book. I had an empty void after book five."
"Mystic River" had its genesis as a thesis completed during graduate school, he said, "and I decided to give it a whirl."
Lehane said he has a loose outline from which he works when he's writing. "I'll pretty much know what A and B are, and I'll have a pretty good idea of what M is, and I might know X," he said. The rest of the novel gets filled in as he writes.
And the writing is somewhat forced at the beginning. He said at the start he has to force himself to sit down each morning and write for a few hours. As the manuscript proceeds, it goes faster. "Once I get going, I'll do 12 or 16 hour days and not notice it."
Natural comparisons have been made between Lehane and another Boston-based crime fiction writer, Robert B. Parker, whose character Spencer has appeared in 30-odd books. Lehane said he believed the only similarities are in a shared sense of humor.
"The first chapter in ‘Drink' was like Parker," Lehane admits, but the similarities ended at the start of the second chapter and never re-appeared in his other novels.
Lehane is a fan of many contemporary authors, although he forces himself not to read mysteries while he's writing. "Most writers don't," he said. "You don't want another style to bleed into yours. We're all born mimics, anyway."
Lehane loaded praise on fellow novelist and mystery writer Carl Hiaasen, especially for "Stormy Weather," the story of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew hitting south of Miami. "I read that and thought, ‘OK, Andrew has been done," he said, although it didn't stop him from throwing a hurricane into the mix in "Shutter Island."
For those who are leery of seeing the movie of a book they love because it never seems to be quite the same, Lehane said to relax regarding "Mystic River." He lauded screenwriter Brian Helgeland for what he called an "astonishingly faithful" adaptation, according to a article by Steve Persall in the St. Petersburg Times.
Helgeland had done three drafts on the screenplay before he sent a copy to Lehane. He said he liked the script, but suggested the addition of one scene, which he called the "Lady Macbeth" part.
"That was one I said just has to be in there," Lehane said in the Times. "Within, like, three seconds, Clint said, ‘You're right.' Brian added the scene and he kicked its ass."
The film rights to "Shutter Island" have also been sold, and the movie is in production now. There's even an Island angle to that story: director of the film is Wolfgang Peterson, who also directed "Palmetto," starring Woody Harrelson, which used the Anna Maria City Pier as a backdrop for a pivotal scene.
Anna Maria Island: Writer's retreat, and perhaps the next Hollywood?
Beach smoking thoughts
There has been a bit of a buzz of late about establishing no-smoking rules on public beaches. A couple of communities around the country are toying with the idea as a means to get the cigarette butts off the sand, since it seems that smokers aren't all that tidy when it comes to cleaning up after themselves.
If any elected officials start to consider such a similar ban, here's a thought:
I would like to think that law enforcement officers on Anna Maria Island would have more pressing business to attend to than busting people for putting butts on the beach. No, I certainly don't like to see cigarette detritus along the Island's shores, but butt cops? Jeez.
Never let it be said that our neighbors to the south on Siesta Key ever forget anything. And never forget that almost all things seem to have an Island angle.
About 10 years ago, a proposal was made to take sand from the northern tip of Siesta off Big Pass and barge it down to renourish badly eroded beaches in Venice. Experts said that the sand from the shoal could be "feathered" off without any harm to the beaches on the key. Siesta residents went nuts, despite the minuscule amount of sand that would be taken from an enormous stockpile in the inlet, and county commissioners eventually relented and canceled the sand transfer.
Fast forward to today. The channel leading into the bay has become so filled with sand that the U.S. Coast Guard has removed all channel markers along the cut, and it appears more than likely that before too much longer there will be one big sandy attachment to the north end of the key.
County commissioners agreed last July to hire a coastal engineer to determine if the inlet is indeed destined to close, if some of the sand there could be used for beach renourishment, if any dredging would threaten nearby beaches, and if any dredging would make the inlet even more unstable.
Siesta residents have stalled the study because of one thing: The guy the county wants to hire. He is Dr. Bob Dean of the University of Florida, the same guy who drew the ire of Siesta 10 years ago when he said there would be no problem with moving sand from north Siesta to Venice.
And the Island angle? Dr. Dean is studying the northern tip of Anna Maria to see what can be done with the eroded beaches there.