Lately I feel like a child forever pointing at things, asking, what’s that? My agent replies to an email I’d sent him regarding my next project, saying something to the effect of, good to know you’re working on something cheerful! To which I respond, when have you ever known me to be attracted to the sweet story, the happy ending? When will I ever be attracted to something not in a state of disrepair? I tend to fall in love with things (and people) that are a perpetual state of dressing their wounds.
I believe that all ideas are in the ether waiting to be snatched up, obsessed over, developed. And once you arrive at the thing that puts your heart on pause, you start to notice all the nearly phosphorescent signs pointing to it.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading a series of articles about touched houses. I’ve a predilection for the macabre; I’m the sort who will watch surgeries on television with considerable interest. I spend most of the early hours of the morning reading, and I paused on those two particular articles with more than a passing interest. I even thought–imagine if I wrote a novel about a house. A present day Shining. The Shining is the first movie I remember seeing as a child, and to say that it’s left an indelible mark would be an understatement. I’ve watched the film more times that I’d like to admit, and I’ll see a monsoon of blood spilling out of elevators, painting the walls claret. I’ll incant T.S. Eliot’s The Burial of the Dead from “The Wasteland” like prayer. I’ll see a man pretend to a boy bouncing a ball off the walls, feeling haunted by what’s come before, the massacre of American Indians who once inhabited the land.
A house is a home is a house, and this is a place to which one seeks refuge. But what if your home isn’t safe? What if your home is a man-made prison, a place where madness breeds? I’ve always been curious about that which is contained (or confined) within four walls and a roof.
I read those two articles, paused briefly, and moved on.
You write out your obsession, what takes hold of you, until you’ve exorcised the thing that threatens to put your heart on pause. I’m being dramatic for effect, but writers tend to be obsessed with the stories that find them, and it is through the act of writing, of transcribing experience to type, that one is free to part ways with that which has arrested them.
Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about writing as an act of continual failure. You have this brilliant idea–you can practically hear the music in your head–but when you sit down to translate it, what you have in your head never magically appears on paper. (I mean, unless you’re Nabokov) The work is in that realization and the perseverance that comes to revision, the hope that the idea that seized you will someday makes its way on paper as close to the way you’d seen it.
I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and loved it. I was dazed for days.
Living in Los Angeles forces you to learn an entirely new vocabulary. The tentacle arms of the cactus; mountain dandelions and lemon bottlebrush trees–species of flowers and trees previously unknown now an assault. The shape of houses and land feel unnavigable. I discovered that I’m interested in learning more about my adopted home. I bought a stack of books on Los Angeles architecture and history (including: Southern California: An Island on the Land, California: A History, Houses of Los Angeles, 1920-1935, Los Angeles Residential Architecture: Modernism Meets Eclecticism, Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook, among many others), and found myself drawn to novels where California is a character. I met up with an old friend, and he had a book about the making of The Shining on his desk. I gasped, and he was kind enough to lend me the book for as long as I need it. He told me about the You Must Remember This podcast, and then I found the No Sleep podcast.
I recognized this feeling, a seizing, an obsession mounting.
I found a new story. I wrote my first page, and then retreated.
Imagine two stories converging. A gruesome murder from the 1950s juxtaposed with the story of a man who specializes in appraising/selling disaster properties forced to live in one of the homes he tries to sell after having lost his job. He moves into this home and slowly begins to unravel. He becomes paranoid, irrational, convinced that he’s being spoken to. Instructed.
This idea excites me for a number of reasons:
1. A new landscape–I’ve a desire to learn as much as I can about Los Angeles (art, history, architecture) so I can cogently write about it. The feeling that Los Angeles is a terrain I’m obsessed to navigate.
2. Writing from the male point-of-view. Although I’ve a central male character in my second novel, women in my books tend to drive the story. However, writing as two disparate, brilliant mad men, thrills me.
3. Attempting to write a story that is fairly linear. Although I’ve dueling narratives (1959/Present), the novel will follow a linear time arc. And anyone who knows me or at least has had a conversation with me knows that it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE for me to follow a straight line. It’s as if I’m not able to understand the natural progression of time. The structure will likely pose the greatest challenge–one I’m anxious to meet.
4. Writing a ghost story. What I love about The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the like is the fact that the stories are extremely realistic in its rendering and the supernatural events could be construed as real or madness–one can never really tell. I like this ambiguity, a lot, and I love the idea of making people wonder if these events are truly rooted in the supernatural or in a man’s psychological unraveling.
Being here has thrown open all the windows and doors, and I can’t wait for what’s next.