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Dexter In My Head

Posted: 08/27/10 08:15 AM ET

It would be very cool to say that I walk around all day and look at people's necks while I mentally stroke the handle of a very sharp knife. After all, I created Dexter. He lives in my head, and so some small piece of him must bleed over into my daily life, right? Maybe just the way I think about people -- like they are all very stupid sheep and I am the hungriest wolf in town. It wouldn't be hard to see me that way; a careful predator watching you with wicked focus, mocking your weak bleating and waiting for you to realize that you are my prey, watching as your awareness grows and turns into fear -- the kind of fear that slowly takes over your whole mind, your whole body, and makes your heart pound in your ears and turns your mouth dry and changes each breath into a trembling laborious thing that brings no comfort, no extra minute of life, only a small prolongation of the fear.

I could ask you to imagine me like that, a sharp awareness hiding in a nearby shadow, blending in with the darkness and staring intently at your back as you pass by; waiting for the perfect moment to spring out at you and slash you into a heap of mewling spare parts and then coldly writing it all down --

But really and truly? It's not like that. I don't claim to be normal -- no writer can claim that with any real conviction - but I don't fantasize about performing human vivisection. Not ever; I write Dexter for a couple of hours each day, and during that time I am inside his head, exactly the way an actor gets inside a character. But I'm acting, not being; I don't actually become him, and when the day's work is done, I stop thinking like him and turn back into everyday, banal me, married guy with kids, mortgage, dogs that need to be walked. I think about what to cook for dinner, or what to say at the parent-teacher conference next week, or where I left my car keys.

Dull stuff -- and I think that's a good thing. Dexter-Land is a dark and scary place and I couldn't live there permanently. To be honest, I don't think I even want to visit. I have friends who do crime scene work, and I could certainly go along with them to see as many dead hacked-up bodies as I wanted to see - but I don't want to. I think I would throw up, faint, and have nightmares for a month.

Of course, it's never possible to make anyone believe that. Most people stare at me when introduced, shake their heads, and mutter, "You're a sick bastard." I really hate to disappoint you, but I'm not. Deeply neurotic, yes, but not actually sick, sociopathic, wicked and unfeeling. If anything, I lean too far the other way; I empathize so strongly with news stories about children suffering or dying that I have to turn the page, change the channel, listen to something else. I can't stand to think about it -- not when I'm being Me. For the short time each day that I write, I am Dexter and everything is different -- but otherwise, that stuff creeps me out. I don't actually like murder and gore, and if I didn't write Dexter I probably wouldn't read it, either.

Of course, this squeamishness makes me hyper-sensitive to a question I get frequently, one that I think is pretty stupid. There have been two murderers that I know of who claim they were inspired by Dexter -- in both cases, the TV show and not the books, but maybe that's a quibble. And some reporters love to ask, "How does it feel to write something that inspired murder?"

Do I really need to respond to that? Seriously? Because the answer should be obvious to anybody with enough intelligence to tie their own shoes. Reading Harry Potter did not give you magical powers, and reading Dexter will not make you a killer. If you are not already capable of killing another human being in a cold, cruel, deliberate way, no book ever written will make you capable of doing so. There are no magic words that will turn you into a psychopath. No TV show in history, no movie ever made -- nothing you can imagine as being written or filmed or performed can turn a normal human being into a Dexter. It's entertainment, not voodoo; if it's not your kind of fun, I'm okay with that -- but don't try to make it into some kind of Satanic incantation that creeps into your subconscious and transforms you into an avatar of evil. It just can't happen, and pretending that you think it might and I am therefore somehow guilty of conspiring to turn us all into killers is completely brainless and it makes me so angry I could just --

Well. Anyway, my new book, "Dexter Is Delicious," is in stores the first week of September, and you might like it. I mean, it can't hurt you. Not really.