Following the Same Characters, Novel After Novel

The author has "no idea" why characters from his previous novels reappear in his new ones. "It just feels right."
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Why do you use recurring characters?

Bret Easton Ellis:  I have no idea why that happens.  It's not any kind of system.  It just feels right.  There are certain times when I'm in the middle of an outline and I'm building the novel and I'm thinking about okay where it's going to go.  And then feeling my way through where it should go, or trying to track the journey of the narrator and where he's going to end up.  And along the way there will be characters where I think, "Oh this guy needs to come in. Well, who is this guy? Oh."

For example, in "Lunar Park" the Bret Easton Ellis character lives on Elsinore Lane in this big mansion and I wanted to give him neighbors, you know, I wanted someone to live by him.  And i thought about this, you know, minor character from the "Rules of Attraction" called I think Mitchell Allen and I thought oh that would be really funny because Bret in the novel went to college with Mitchell, who was a character in the "Rules of Attraction" and that will be fun to riff on, you know, a paragraph or two about their college days together.

And I don't know, that's just how it happens. But, you know, I'm asked this question a lot. There is no plan, it feels right and something that I like to do.

Question:
In your last book, "Lunar Park," you named the main character Bret Easton Ellis. Why?

Bret Easton Ellis:  Well for me it made the book a lot more exiting to write because I was kind of stuck on that book.  I was scratching my head a lot while I was outlining it and it really wasn't coming together in the way that I wanted it to come together.  It was very much about a fiction writer like myself but I had named him someone else and I erased some autobiographical information. And the book just wasn't coming together for me.  And I was like pacing around, scratching my head wondering why and then, you know, I had this voice in my head that's "the writer," I call him.  And he said, "Why don't you just make it Bret Easton Ellis?  Why don't you just try that and see what happens?"

And pretty much the novel was laid out the way it has been published.  It was pretty much laid out that way. But the minute that I put myself in it everything started to change in terms of the tone, the writing style.  It became much more personal and I became completely committed and more gripped by this novel than I previously was.  Look I was writing a very auto-biographical novel.  Forget the Stephen King shenanigans that are in the last third of the book but overall I was really writing about my dad and my feelings about my father, and how difficult our relationship was.  Wa-wa-wa I know, everyone has their daddy issues, their daddy stories but mine were weighing heavily on me at this time and I needed to get rid of them. 

And writing a book for me is often an exorcism and so with "Lunar Park" I needed to go to that place where it was actually Bret Easton Ellis and not Dale Fischer or whatever the name of character was at the time.  And because of that, the book became alive to me and it started breathing and seemed much more compelling.  And by the time I finished the book, you know, a lot of things lifted off me.  I think it was important to go there and to do that, at least for me.

Recorded June 23, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman