Dennis Lehane

Saturday at the Miami Book Fair: Dennis Lehane, James W. Hall, John Dufresne, Sam Sarkar

On its 25th anniversary, the Miami Book Fair International is just that -- drawing authors from around the world as varied and well respected as Salman Rushdie and Frank McCourt.

Saturday morning's marquee session, however, felt more like a hometown celebration, bringing together three of the most successful products of Florida International University's creative writing program.

Dennis Lehane -- author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone -- was the biggest star of the bunch, but FIU professors James W. Hall and John Dufresne are hardly slouches. Hall just published his fifteenth thriller -- Hell's Bay -- and Dufresne is promoting the roundly acclaimed Requiem, Mass.

Read on through the jump for more about their session and an interview with Sam Sarkar, author of the graphic novel -- and soon to be John Woo film -- "Caliber: First Canon of Justice."

-- Tim Elfrink

Affably moderated by FIU's creative writing department chairman Les Standiford, Hall recalled teaching Lehane in the early 90s.

"Think of teaching like being a driver, heading down the highway, and picking up these complete strangers hitch-hiking, your students, because you're both sort of heading the same direction and you can maybe help each other along the way," Hall said. "They probably would have gotten where they were going anyway, in the case of someone like Dennis who is so driven and talented. But this way I can claim some credit for his success."

"I still haven't forgotten all the strange stuff you made me do on that ride," Lehane retorted later.

Dufresne read from his touching novel, a mock memoir of a man very much like himself who teaches creative writing and grew up Catholic in Massachusetts.

"I went to a Catholic school, like Dennis, which is a scab you pick at pretty much for the rest of your life," Dufresne said.

Hall, before reading from his latest thriller, argued against the idea that writers can "transcend" their genres.

"That phrase still irritates me when I hear it," he said. "We all try to write great books and I don't see why you get pinned into this genre thing that you have to transcend just because there are murders in the plot."

Lehane agreed, citing authors including Hall and James Ellroy as his influences in writing literary works starring detectives and centering on murder investigations.

"Those guys taught us that you can shake this idea of 'genre' if you rattle the walls enough," he said.


Inside the shaded, air-conditioned Comic Galaxy tent -- the nicest place to be on the unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon -- Sam Sarkar talked about his graphic novel, "Caliber: First Canon of Justice."

Sarkar, a former actor and full-time producer and developer for Johnny Depp's production company in L.A., wrote "Caliber" after noticing the similarities between two disparate seeming eras: Arthurian England and the Wild West. The story centers on a sheriff who earns the right to use an Excalibur-esque magic pistol from a Merlin-esque Indian shaman.

"Both eras, really, get to the root of our modern idea of justice and law," Sarkar said. "I just felt this natural cohesion between the two the more I read up on the history."

The graphic-novel-into-feature-film boom is hardly new thanks to the cash raked in by the X-Men, Superman and Batman lately, but Sarkar is in a unique position to bring his work to the silver screen, with a full-time gig as a producer and developer.

"Yeah, but I have less time to devote to it as well," Sarkar laughed. "I actually envisioned this story first as a movie, then wrote my idea into graphic novel form. It's been a lot harder than I expected to turn it back into a screenplay."

John Woo has signed on to direct the film, which Sarkar hopes to have moved into production by late 2009.

-- Tim Elfrink

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