Bret Easton Ellis Is Not a Disaffected Pessimist

Novelist Bret Easton Ellis is used to people asking him about the numb, disconnectedness of his characters—and whether that's a reflection of his own worldview. Not so much, he says: "If I was a truly pessimistic person I don't think I'd be writing novels and I don't think I'd be excited by the idea of writing novels. ... I'm not an optimistic person by any means, but I'm not a super pessimistic person and I'm not, you know, that numb."

In his Big Think interview, the author of the major cultural landmarks "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho" (among several others) also spoke about the place of graphic (and, some might say, gratuitous violence in his fiction, saying that he could see both sides of the issue. "There's an argument to be made, sure, that the violence in 'American Psycho' is gratuitous and I can understand that argument," he says. "I can get both sides.  I can get the side that 'Okay, look, the book is in it's own way a kind of performance art piece and the violence needs to be there so it comments on everything and it's all part of a puzzle.'  And I can also see the other side where it just seems gross. ... I think both arguments are right."

Ellis talked about the "emotional" places where he gets the inspiration for his novels, how he outlines a new book, and how he structures his writing time while working on a novel. Despite all of the time he spends with his characters, he says they don't get into his head as much as you'd think: "It's not like method acting," he says. "It's not like you become these characters while you're writing them.  I mean, to a degree you do. ... They're made-up characters but they do come from a place of pain and they do come from a place of darkness. That does not mean, however, that I am an extremely dark dude who was walking around while I'm working on this book, you know, with a set of fangs and a cape and a really angry face, and I'm like, you know, 'I want to kill people.'"

Over the course of his seven novels, there are a number of characters that keep popping up again and again, but Ellis says he doesn't intentionally bring his older characters back in the new books—they just seem to fit in specific scenes. He also talked about how his screenwriting work has affected the way he writes novels, noting that screenwriting is "a collaborative process" while a novel is not.

Ellis also talks about how the rise of e-books and iPads may change the future of fiction writing, saying that digitized books with graphical and videos elements could take fiction writing to "someplace very cool." "We now live in a society where we want ... more of an interactive experience.  We want to see images.  We want to see a lot more of a lights show or something.  That makes sense to me and I think that can be incredibly exciting.  So once that really does start happening I don't know, that could even possibly re-energize my faith in fiction." He calls this era the "post-Empire" age of publishing, and while he accepts that social media and online marketing are part of a modern book launch, he thinks bringing out a book today is much less "fun" than it used to be.

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