Bret Easton Ellis Reviews Your Novel, Part 1
Have you heard of The Canyons? Of course you have because you are a living, breathing human who uses the internet. In case you are the creep who gets his news off the iPad of the pretty lady sitting next to him on the subway, The Canyons is a “contemporary thriller” written by Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho, directed by Paul Schrader, and starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen. It was partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign, through which they ultimately raised about $200,000. The suckers, err, contributors who gave $5,000 got the chance to have Bret Easton Ellis review their novel. Here we have the first of Ellis’s Kickstarter reviews, of Pablo D’Stair’s novel Regard, which was published this year from (KUBOA) art house. —The VICE Reader
If I’m counting the number of titles correctly on the “Other Fiction by Pablo D’Stair” page then Regard falls among his 38 works of fiction. I’m noting this because D’Stair was born in 1981, and for someone in his early-30s this is a crazily prodigious accomplishment. Judging from Regard, I’m guessing that most of this fiction is experimental and, like Regard, carefully crafted enigmas that bury dramatic incident in reams of minutiae, which is part of a plan—the novel as puzzle. Here’s the description from its dust jacket:
“A 13-year-old girl moves through a world equal parts routine and randomness, tenderness and violence, tedium and excitement, intimacy and ambivalence, making no distinction between one state or another, her life rendered in minute physical description with only as much psychological insight offered as would be leveled at a stray cat or an insect.”
If that sounds like 275 pages of fun reading, then Regard is definitely for you. This approach might seem meek, almost a shy way of constructing a nove. As a writer who has used this device myself, I understand why another might be attracted to it, but the risk in doing so is that a reader might become too busy thinking,Why isn’t a narrative announcing itself? and then skimming through pages instead of concentrating on what’s happening. A reader might get distracted by asking, “Where is the, um, story?” There are, of course, stacks of uninteresting books with strong narratives and forceful characterizations, and a writer can be a complete hack and still write a terrific narrative. But someone needs to be a freaking genius to pull off a 300-pageexperimental novel. This all sounds like I’m going to complain about Regard, but I’m not because the book blithely manages to go its own way and the reader ultimately goes along with it, if not always eagerly.
James Franco Looks at American Psycho Ten Years Later/Twenty Years Later
I listened to the American Psycho audiobook recently. It was released in 2011 and is narrated by Pablo Schreiber, who performs his task quite well. He doesn’t clown it up, or put on too many funny voices for the different characters. It’s subtle, with just enough inflection to distinguish each bit of dialogue. He delivers everything with the cool factuality that Patrick Bateman demands.
If Bret Easton Ellis is, as many believe, literature’s enfant terrible of 1980s disenchanted youth, it’s only because he’s also secretly a warlock capable of conjuring multivalent spells of celebration and castigation that subvert the meanings and value of sex, money, consumerism, and entertainment. It only follows thatAmerican Psycho is (at least for now) the pinnacle of his art: the dark-hearted swansong of an era that sums up its subject matter with a perfect balance of breadth and incisiveness. Gross satire delivered with a hyperrealistic technique.
Living Inside ‘The Canyons’
For an unreleased, unseen film with a tiny budget,The Canyons has attracted an enormous amount of publicity. It’s reportedly a sex-filled noir-ish melodrama set in LA, but that’s about all we know, since it hasn’t come out yet—in fact, it hasn’t even been shown at any festivals. Sundance rejected it, and South by Southwest not only rejected it, a “festival insider” told the Hollywood Reporter that the film had “an ugliness and a deadness to it.” Ouch. I haven’t seen it. You haven’t seen it. So why has so much been written about it?
Well for one thing, The Canyons was directed by the legendary Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, co-wroteRaging Bull, and directed movies like American Gigolo and Affliciton, both of which he also wrote. The film also garnered headlines for being written by iconic American Psycho and Less than Zero author Bret Easton Ellis, known more recently as one of the most cantankerous bastards on Twitter. And Ellis took great pains to make sure the film featured pornographic movie star James Deen in his first “mainstream” (for lack of a better word) role.
VICE: Before working on The Canyons, you two had another project on deck, a shark thriller. I am a sucker for shark movies—even shitty ones—so a Bret Easton Ellis-penned shark flick sounds like a dream.
Braxton Pope: It was called Bait, and it was a revenge movie about a disaffected kid, a sociopath who endures a kind of humiliation on the beach and through a series of events, and in a very cunning way, he ends up on this charter boat with the kids who humiliated him. They’re in the open water and he pulls up the ladder and prevents them from coming back on the boat, and he chums the water. It was a Lionsgate movie and there was a Spanish financier. We were very close to shooting it, then the finances imploded at the last minute. It was an exercise in total frustration and wasted time. That’s what sparked the idea to create something that we could self-finance.
Bret Easton Ellis: Part of the reason we made The Canyons was the frustration of working for a studio like Lionsgate and trying to get the shark movie made and having that fall through. Everyone from Ed Burns to the Polish brothers are rethinking the model these days.
Is that what Paul Schrader meant when he said, in the Times article, “The American market is just tapped out”?
Pope: The types of movie Schrader was known for in the 70s and 80s wouldn’t get financed by the studios. Dramas or character pieces—those movies are nearly extinct at the studio level today. There’s been a transition toward spectacle movies with budgets of $100-million-plus, Michael Bay and superhero movies, heavy CG movies. Lionsgate is looking for big franchise properties that will generate huge revenue, mass-market films. And typically the movies I put together tend to be smaller, with filmmakers like Schrader, or Gaspar Noé.
Read the whole interview
Tao Lin Talks Taipei
The interview below was conducted in the wee hours of the morning (from 1 to 4 AM) on the bed of Tao Lin, in his apartment on the east side of Manhattan, with a small party going on in the other corner of the room. Tao and I later tightened a few things up through email. This is the first, definitive interview with the author after finishing his novel, Taipei, which will be released this spring from Vintage.
PART I: ANNE SEXTON
VICE: Were you happier before, during, or after writing Taipei?
Tao Lin: I think… after.
During… I got into a routine of doing like 80 to 120 milligrams of Adderall and not sleeping for like 36 hours. Then using Xanax or Klonopin and eating, then sleeping for like 12 hours, or not sleeping another night and using more Adderall. Which mostly felt bad, like a constant state of desperation, thinking the novel was incoherent. And I would have days without Adderall, so that it would still work, but it gradually worked less—and on those days I would just eat and use Percocet or whatever I had and be zombielike, then sleep. Wait, did you say you didn’t want drugs in this?
Well, I was saying maybe we won’t mention them since we’ve done that so much already but it doesn’t matter. What were you reading while writing Taipei?
I was rereading Fernando Pessoa and Schopenhauer. I had eBooks of different editions of their stuff on my iPhone. I mostly read eBooks off my iPhone. I remember reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, More, Now, Again, about her trying to write a book while using a lot of Ritalin and feeling interested because it was like what I was doing. Except she was writing a nonfiction book and rich enough to move to Florida to focus on her book. I was writing an autobiographical novel and borrowing from strangers on Twitter. When she described her worst times, like going into a shopping mall and feeling insane from Ritalin, I was like, “shit, that’s… normal, for me.”
When would you read? Before you wrote?
Mostly after. Like when I couldn’t work anymore and wanted to be asleep but my heart would be beating really fast. I remember thinking I was probably going to die of a heart attack… and [long pause] another book I read… it was a biography about… what’s that poet who killed herself?
The other one.
It’s a famous one? I don’t know.
Well, I read her biography and it was really depressing. She was committing suicide but not dying, and people were afraid to be genuine with her because anything might cause another suicide attempt. But people were afraid that she might sense them being not genuine… so it was just, like, impossible to be her friend. Then she finally killed herself. Reading was kind of my form of social interaction for like a year. I hung out like once a month, like I’d go to an event with you, but mostly had no IRL interactions.
Can you think of any books that directly affected the writing you did for Taipei?
For a while, because I felt like horrible about everything I was writing, whenever I read anything—even things by me, from my other books—I’d be like “that seems good, I should do it like that.” And desperately try to change the tone and prose style of my entire book, while viewing it as an unfixable piece of shit, compared to whatever I’d just read. I remember reading half a sentence of a Gore Vidal novel, like the first five words, and closing the book and feeling convinced that I must rewrite my novel in the tone and style of the five words I had just read… I was in a constant state of desperation about what choices to make in my book, except for like the two hours each day when I was peaking on Adderall. I used ecstasy a few times when I didn’t have Adderall, to get into a mental state where everything didn’t seem horrible.
Why write at all?
Well, I’ll talk about this book: why did I write this book. I was just barely making enough money… I don’t remember how. Oh, probably mostly off royalty checks every six months, and writing for Thought Catalog and other places, and selling art. The checks were getting smaller every time, and I think, at some point, Richard Yates and Bed became unavailable on Amazon and currently still are unavailable, except as eBooks, which I think means those books are out-of-print, so not in bookstores. So I was going to need to do something for money. I emailed Bill Clegg, who had reviewed Richard Yates positively for Amazon, and asked if he would be interested in trying to sell 20 pages and an outline of my next novel, and he was, and he did. So I got one-third of a $50,000 advance, and a timeframe, to write my third novel.
You know how certain writers are like, “I have to write. If I didn’t write, I’d die.” Do you feel that? That if you couldn’t write you’d die?
No, I never got that. I’ve never gotten the thing like “it’s a voice inside of me” or when writers say they start with an image, then try to figure out what it means, and like the image just “came to them,” so they really want to find out what it means… I’ve never related to that. And I think I view myself as always writing, like nonstop, because I view thinking and talking—because they use language, the same language as writing—as forms of writing.
Do you have another book contract?
How much money would it have to be for?
Not that much, I don’t think.
Like not as much as you were paid for this one?
If someone were offering $50,000 for another novel, I’d do it. I would like that.
PART II: BRET EASTON ELLIS
What movie is most like your book?
Shit… what’s a movie where they use drugs a lot but no one dies and there’s no violence, and it’s funny, but everyone is depressed?
I don’t know.
Maybe Husbands and Wives with drugs and younger characters. I can’t think of movies where people use a large variety of drugs. It’s usually like… focused on one drug. In movies, I don’t know, it’s like—
—it’s like somebody dies or there’s some kind of fucking moral to it. Bret Easton Ellis tweeted one day something like, “Why can’t somebody write a drug book where they just keep partying instead of going to rehab and getting clean?”