The idea to begin a new novel started sometime in January while I was stuck in traffic on the 1-10 merging into Hollywood after I’d spent a week in Palm Springs with the 26-year-old and a friend I’d gone to college with who was now losing her mind. (She had broken down in front of us several times during that week in the house on Azure Court before leaving earlier than anticipated to attend a Deepak Chopra retreat in San Diego.) In Palm Springs I was alternately crippled by waves of fear that kept me in bed for hours while also going through the last round of notes on a pilot I was writing for the CW network. Between the bouts of fear and the phone calls from the production company and the rewrites, the thought that I might never write a novel again began to announce itself more loudly than it had in years (the last novel I wrote had been finished in 2009).
Why this began announcing itself at this particular time I can’t tell you. The desire to write prose had kept pulsing for years, but not within what I saw as the fake enclave of the novel. I had been wrestling away with the “idea” of the novel in the last two novels I published—one was a mock memoir, and the other was a condensed autobiographical noir I limped through, about my first three years back in Los Angeles from New York working on movies. For the past five years I didn’t want to write a novel. I didn’t want to be constrained by the form. I had convinced myself it didn’t interest me anymore, and I had said this firmly in interviews during the world tour for that last novel I’d written, during press junkets in Spain, in Copenhagen, in Melbourne. But out in the desert last January that feeling began to evaporate, and between the notes calls and the fear and the desert surrounding the house darkening beneath the late afternoon skies, the first sentences of a novel began to take shape. It started with an image revolving around the blood-red Emser tile sign situated on a rooftop at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Holloway Drive: the view from behind the windshield, an accident, the mystery unfolding, something about the past, about that last year in high school, intimations of a murder disguised as a suicide.
I have never forced a novel, something my agent, my publisher, and readers might think is part of an overall problem with me as a writer. I could go five or seven or eight years between novels, when most people expect a novelist to publish a novel every other year like clockwork. I never worked that way. But that didn’t mean the books weren’t being written. It just meant that I was careful with them in a way that worked best for me. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else when writing a book: I made sure deadlines (if any) were flexible (and they were), and in return I would agree to publicize the books as much as the publishing house required me to. I never succumbed to the pressure of what an audience wanted—I was the audience, and I was writing to please myself. I rarely gave interviews between books because there was still part of the process that was mysterious to readers, a kind of secret glamour about the writing of novels that added to the excitement with which they were received (both negatively and positively).
But novels don’t really engage with the public on that level anymore—hence the overall lack of enthusiasm for the big American literary novels of last fall—and that’s nothing to worry about. It’s a fact, just like, to a lesser degree, the idea of the great American movie has gotten smaller, that idea narrower, degraded by the sensory overload and the freedom of choice technology wrought. I started feeling the need to work my way through that transition—the world in which I used to write and publish novels, and the world we live in now. I never thought there was a correlation between the two, but after that week in the desert with the friend from college driven mad by her life and the endless rewrites of a science fiction pilot that was never going to happen, something in me finally cracked. I began making notes for a new novel in the last week of January.