In Just Watch Me (Dutton, Dec.), Dexter creator Lindsay introduces a new antihero: master thief Riley Wolfe.
Where did this new series come from?
I had this loop running in my head for a long time, of a con man who assumes a false personality, and uses it to get into a relationship with a rich woman and eventually steal her money. Finally, the idea began to develop. I thought of using my theater background to throw in disguises, some different accents. But I always come back to character, what makes people tick. I thought about what kind of damage would make somebody act like that, and that’s when Riley Wolfe started to develop. When he took on some dimension, I thought he was a character I could hang a series on, and Dutton agreed.
Was having Riley afflicted by “the Darkness,” which manifests itself when he takes a life, part of your original concept?
No. It came to me about halfway through, when the body count started to go up. I didn’t want Riley to be a sociopath like Dexter—he needs to have the empathy bump, even if it’s underdeveloped. He needed to have an excuse or justification. So I gave him “the Darkness” as kind of an excuse for doing things he knows are wrong.
Was starting it easier or harder than starting Dexter?
Tragically, it was about the same. Darkly Dreaming Dexter took four or five years. I have tremendous difficulty believing in myself and what I’m writing, so I keep getting bogged down. It’s not “writer’s block,” it’s more like “daily meltdown.” Hilary, my wife, has to talk me into continuing. So it was the same process with Just Watch Me. I’d write a few pages and then think, “What’s the use? It’s awful!”
What appeals to you about anti-heroes?
I’m not really sure. It might be because I grew up believing in rules, in “the system.” Both of my parents were in the Marine Corps, so I learned early to just automatically do what I was “supposed” to do. Life experience chipped away at the illusion that everybody did that, until the point where I began to feel like everybody else was winking at the rules. I felt kind of betrayed. I began to believe in more of a W.C. Fields–flavored philosophy: rules are for suckers. I became a devotee of “question authority.” That pushes you right into antihero territory: an antihero is somebody who breaks rules, violates the norms, and does things we should condemn—but for some reason we like them anyway.