Fiction That Originates in Pain

Question: How do you come up with an idea for a new novel?

\r\nBret\r\n Easton Ellis:  From pain, from an emotional place.  I mean, writing\r\n a novel isn't a practical, logical thing to do at all.  I mean, at \r\nleast not in my case.  What happens with me is that something is \r\nbothering me or I'm feeling alienated, or isolated, or I have questions \r\nabout things that are bothering me and those feelings begin to form an \r\nidea for a novel.  And I guess that's because that's the only way I can,\r\n or that's the way I like to express myself in an artistic way.
\r\n
\r\nAnd\r\n so what happens, like for example with "Imperial Bedrooms," I had \r\nreread "Less than Zero" and I was thinking about where Clay was now.  \r\nAnd I was also going through a lot of other stuff in my life that was \r\nkind of painful and confusing.  And these two things came together—the \r\nidea of where this character was now that I'd written about 20 years \r\nago, and what was going on in my life at that point.  And then I started\r\n to have a lot of questions about that character.
\r\n
\r\nAnd this went \r\non for a year, so the process begins without writing anything for about \r\n year where I'm just walking around, asking questions about this \r\ncharacter and what's going on in his life.  And then I start to make \r\nnotes and then I start to answer some of those questions, then those \r\nnotes form into an outline.  And then that outline turns into a novel.  \r\nAnd that has been my process for... just about every book that I've \r\nwritten.
\r\n
Question:
When you start a new book, do\r\n you know where it's going to end?

\r\nBret Easton Ellis: \r\n I know the last line of the book before I actually begin the book.  \r\nYes: I know the first line, I know the last line. And, you know, the \r\nidea—I've talked about an outline a lot throughout my career and I've \r\ntalked about how the outlines are often very massive and twice as long \r\nas the texts themselves.  And I guess I should just be calling those, \r\nyou know, "first drafts" in a way because a lot of the novel is in there\r\n but there's also a lot of other things in there. There are questions \r\nthat are written in the margins and I answer those questions.  And then \r\nthere are examples of how a paragraph should look, and then a note of \r\nall the things that this narrator wouldn't notice, that I might notice \r\nor you might notice if we were in that scene.  But for example, someone \r\nlike Clay in "Imperial Bedrooms," who's this kind of entitled raging \r\nnarcissist... would never notice.  He wouldn't notice that detail in the\r\n corner.  He wouldn't say that thing.  He wouldn't overhear that line of\r\n dialogue.  And so all of that the reader doesn't need to see.  What the\r\n reader needs to see more or less is this very pared down version of \r\nthat outline.
\r\n
\r\nAnd so that's kind of... a big part of the process \r\nis taking this very emotion-based outline and then I come in as the cool\r\n technician and in a very neutral way try to take this outline and shape\r\n it into the context of a novel.
\r\n
Question:
Do you write\r\n every day?

\r\nBret Easton Ellis:  It depends on my \r\nmood.  It depends on where I'm at in the novel.  It depends on how well \r\nI'm feeling that day.  It depends on a lot of things.  As the novel gets\r\n closer to completion the days get longer and I get more revved up, and \r\nI'm more excited.  But the whole process I find very intriguing and very\r\n fun and I look forward to working on a novel because it takes me out \r\nof, you know, my mundane real life.  And it takes me away from the pain \r\nof the everyday, in a way.
\r\n
\r\nAnd I don't understand, you know, the \r\nidea of a writer sitting at his desk moaning about the fact how hard it \r\nis to write a novel.  Yeah, it can be a tricky and difficult thing to do\r\n buy it should always be interesting to you and something that you are \r\nexcited about.  It shouldn't be something you complain about at all, \r\nwhich a lot of writers tend to do.
\r\n
Question:
When \r\nyou're writing a novel, how much do the characters get in your head?

\r\nBret\r\n Easton Ellis: It's not like method acting.  It's not like you \r\nbecome these characters while you're writing them.  I mean, to a degree \r\nyou do.  I mean, I told people for example, when I wrote American Psycho\r\n that I became Patrick Bateman while I was working on the book, but \r\nthat's true to a degree because Patrick Bateman was based on me.  And \r\nPatrick Bateman was based on my frustration and my loneliness and the \r\nisolation that I was going through at that time in my life.
\r\n
\r\nAnd \r\nthat's how that character was based.  And so I did—yeah sure, I lived \r\nPatrick Bateman for the four years or so. And I mean, I guess the same \r\ngoes for Clay in "Imperial Bedrooms. " Yeah, it's a situation—the plot \r\nin Imperial Bedrooms—it's a situation and a milieu that I was part of to\r\n a degree.  Of course, in the book it's heightened and the book is also a\r\n bit of a Ramond Chandler, neo-noir.  But yeah a lot of what Clay was \r\nfeeling I was empathic about.  So yes I had empathy for these dark \r\ncharacters and they become darker because it's fiction.  It's a made-up \r\nsituation.
\r\n
\r\nThey're made-up characters but they do come from a \r\nplace of pain and they do come from a place of darkness.  That does not \r\nmean, however, that I am an extremely dark dude who was walking around \r\nwhile I'm working on this book, you know, with a set of fangs and a cape\r\n and a really angry face, and I'm like, you know, "I want to kill \r\npeople."  So no, it's easy to slip in and out of it.
\r\n
Question:
\r\n Do you show your work to anyone while you're writing?

\r\nBret\r\n Easton Ellis: I show my work to no one.  The only person who sees \r\nmy work after all the time I spend on it is my agent.  She's the first \r\nperson who reads the manuscript.  I've never shown any manuscript to \r\nanybody except for "Less than Zero" which was being worked on while I \r\nwas at college and my professor at the time, Joe McGinnis, read a couple\r\n drafts of that book.  But since then no. And the reason is because, \r\nagain, it's a person thing .  I mean, I'm not writing a novel to be \r\naccepted and I'm not writing a novel for a consortium. You know, I'm not\r\n writing a novel for an audience and I'm not writing a novel for a \r\nreader.
\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\nSo this idea that you need to show your work to people and you need to \r\nget feedback, and "Oh is this section working?  I mean, I really want \r\nyou to... Paula tell me... Hey Joe what do you think about this?"  It \r\njust doesn't play a part in the process because to me it's my emotional \r\njourney in a way and it's a very personal thing.  There's... it doesn't \r\neven cross my mind to show the book to anybody.
\r\n
\r\nRecorded June 23, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by David Hirschman

\r\n

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