A haunted mansion, a murderous toy, missing children, a ghostly father, and plenty of slime. These are just some elements appearing in the new novel Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis, who’s not exactly known for this brand of terror. The sex, drugs, and rich-kid decadence that characterized Ellis’s 1985 début book, Less Than Zero, both astonished and appalled readers, while anointing the then 21-year-old author as a voice for Generation X. Ellis followed up with four more books, including the notoriously violent American Psycho in 1991, which led to boycotts, hate mail, and death threats. All of this is painstakingly detailed in the pages of Lunar Park, which masquerades as a memoir with a twist. Is this Ellis’s own life . . . or not? Compare for yourself at the author’s Web site, www.2brets.com. Victoria Lautman chatted with Ellis, who spoke by phone from Los Angeles, his hometown.
Q: It took you eight weeks to write Less Than Zero and seven years to write Glamorama. How long for Lunar Park?
A: Sixteen years. Actually, I got the idea in 1989 but didn’t feel like I had the chops to pull it off, so I went with Glamorama instead. But let me clarify something: Less Than Zero took me eight weeks to produce a massive draft of something horrible, and then two years to make it publishable-it wasn’t just an eight-week process. I finally started writing Lunar Park in 2000 and finished it last fall.
Q: And the notion of faux-memoir-meets-Ghost-busters? What drew you to that?
A: The idea was to write a book that was an homage to Stephen King novels and all the horror comic books I loved as a kid. That genre was the inspiration. But then, from 1989 to 2000, a lot of things happened that changed the outline for this haunted house book, like the publication of American Psycho, and also my father died. So what was going to be a basic “family in distress” story involving a writer (who wasn’t me) became more personal.
Q: Was writing about yourself as a fictional character very different, or harder than writing about other characters?
A: No, and that’s scary, isn’t it? What I was really worried about before I began writing was that I couldn’t find a way into this voluminous pile of notebooks I’d filled over the years, and when I sat down to extract a book from the notes, I was stymied. I’d lived with the material for so long that I just felt lost when it was time to write it. But at that moment, when I thought “Make the guy you,” it all fell into place.
Q: Do you still get hate mail and death threats?
A: No; honestly, all that ended once American Psycho was published. It was all part of the prepublication controversy, before anyone had even seen the book. I got a tremendous amount of negative press and everyone was assuming the worst, and it made me look so crazy, so of course I was attacked. But it’s funny-once the book was out in the stores everything stopped.
Q: By the way, what ever happened to your very first book, Harry the Flat Pancake? You were what, nine or ten years old when you wrote it?
A: I’d forgotten about that! Yeah, I wrote a couple books as a child, and I bet my mom still has them.