Bret Easton Ellis took the time to talk to me last week. I sat down with a set of questions that seemed interesting but once we started talking, they didn’t seem to matter. Twenty years ago his seminal novel American Psycho was released.

JR: I talked to Gary Fisketjon, and he was thrilled to hear that I was interviewing you. Gary is a legend, and it took me forever to meet him, but now I’m glad I’ve gotten to know him a little.

BEE: The man who hated American Psycho. I just got an email from Gary saying, “Congratulations, man, who would have thought…” which is really ironic! Gary and I are great friends, I don’t think Gary liked that book, and doesn’t really understand it, and Sonny made him acquire it, and he had to edit it again. When I was sitting down with Gary, and we were editing the book, he wanted to re-edit the book entirely. I thought it had been finished when I submitted it to Simon & Schuster and there was no editing. I told them this is the book; this is what I want to do. I told them I was writing about a serial killer in Manhattan, and they liked the idea fine. Well, they didn’t like the book, so…. Because of my relationship with Sonny – he published me in Europe – because I was very good friends with Gary, he thought that he should oversee the Vintage paperback publication. Another mistake is that they should have gone all out and published it in hardcover, but that was a long time ago. The publishing schedule was very tight, and Simon & Schuster dropped me in December of 1990, and the book was slated to be published that spring in 1991. Vintage had their work cut out for them.

This was very much in the Empire days of publishing, where an editor would fly out to Los Angeles business class, stay at the Bel-Air hotel and you would edit a book in a large suite, have nice dinners in expensive restaurants and drink very expensive alcohol and expense it all. I was twenty five at the time, and Gary had never edited me before. Gary and I were just social friends. It’s not like we talked about how great my books were, we just had a lot of fun. I think it was an opportunity for Gary to make my book better. It seemed to him that it was a rather difficult book – it was an almost experimental novel – which at the time I didn’t think it was, and he wanted to turn it into something more conventional. That is what, to my horror, he was doing. Because we were editing in the same room; he would edit thirty pages, and I would go over them and see the edits and put stet, stet, stet, stet, stet, stet, and it got heated and we got into arguments about it. And it’s the only time that Gary and I got into a fight, where he got angry and I was angry at him. We haven’t fought like that since.

There is a lot of irony around the 20th anniversary, and I don’t want to talk about it, but I think you are going to be the last person I talk to about this book. I did the PW thing and it turned out so boring, there was this girl who didn’t have a clue what to talk about, so I was thinking about it, and I’m watching the Republican debates, and I knew you were going to call, and I was just thinking, this is going to be the last one. I don’t know what else I can say about the book. It’s so weird, from 1991, to now, and I’ve said many, many different things about it. My feelings about it have changed, and what I was afraid to admit about it, in the early 90’s, during the controversy, changed, when I had the confidence to admit, during my last book tour for Imperial Bedrooms, that American Psycho was very autobiographical. It was much more about pain and alienation than it was about my re-imagining what it was like to be a psychopath, work on Wall Street, or yuppie culture.

JR: I think it sounds like it can be compared to a marriage and your feelings for each other have changed. You’ve gone a certain direction, and the book has become something else. You’re not the person you were when you wrote it. If Patrick Bateman walked up to you now, it wouldn’t be the same. I remember when I listened to the audio of the book, and listened to your interview at the end. It is very compelling to listen to, and the things that happen in that book were amazing. When the movie came out, how could this movie ever tackle this book?

BEE: It didn’t.

JR: I remember going to the movie, and by the end of it, it was clear that this was not real. It wasn’t happening. Hollywood never gets it right, unless you’re the Coen brothers, with No Country for Old Men. (Bret makes a weird noise here, like he doesn’t quite agree with me), The Road was also great, so I guess they got that right.

BEE: The Road, the movie, is a bad movie, a really bad movie, really bad. Everything that was great about the book was literalized, and the prose poem-like mantra of reading The Road is a much different experience. It was turned into an action adventure movie with cannibals. It was in the book, but it is the language of the book that carries the book. Stories never matter. Every story has been told a thousand times. It doesn’t matter. This is what I always tell young fiction writers: Write whatever you want to write about, but write about it really well. Style is everything. It is everything story is not, and story doesn’t matter at all. The power of The Road and the power of Cormac McCarthy, the power from any of the great American writers comes from their style. Not their storytelling. That’s my overly strident opinion on why literary novels should never be filmed. I didn’t create American Psycho to be a movie. I created it to be a literary experience. I thought it was interesting that it had no plot, and had nothing in it that would interest Hollywood. There are a lot of murders in it.

JR: Let’s go back to the autobiographical aspect. In the audio interview you said you were writing down a lot of things that were happening to you in your life. Then you made them fiction, which makes your writing very relevant and urgent. I think a lot of fiction writers probably do that too and don’t say anything about, or do and actually say, “this is from my life”. It really is a confession, and nice to hear that books that made your career, they came from you, from your life. When you look back on them, do you look back on them like Bruce Springsteen does his youth? Do your books really mean something to you, as part of your life?

BEE: The Empire part of me is wondering what it’s going to sound like when I say…no they don’t. There were certain moments throughout 25 years — using the novel as a way to convey content as a way to express myself, as a way to deal with my pain. I don’t look back on the novels fondly. Or, yeah, you really hit it out of the park with Less Than Zero, or Glamorama. Other people do that, I don’t. I can’t put the books up against each other. They all come from a very personal place. As I’m writing them, they are really a reflection of where I am at certain points in my life, especially my pain. Especially the issues I have with the world and where I am in it, which is what Glamorama is about — celebrities and globe hopping — and Less Than Zero is about an alienated kid in LA. Each book charts and is narrated by a man that is roughly my age at the time I wrote the book. Each book, no matter how outlandish, in terms of plot, stories, incidents, they are a reflection of who I was at that time. And that is what they are to me.

Imperial Bedrooms is such a washout compared to Lunar Park, but dude, that’s where I was at the time I wrote them. I was at the lowest place in my life when I was writing Imperial Bedrooms, working in Hollywood and dealing with various nightmarish situations. I was dead, and I began to become reflected in the prose and the story. I was in a really good mood when I finished Lunar Park. It lifted a kind of gloom that had settled in on me during the nine months before I wrote it. It was sort of an exorcism. The last 40 pages of it, I felt weightless. I can’t explain it, I had a physical sensation — this darkness and depression lifted off of me. Then there was a tour that lasted about a year internationally, and it was really successful, and I was in a really good mood. I told everyone I was going to be writing a sequel to Less Than Zero, because I was re-reading all of my novels while writing Lunar Park to familiarize myself with them. This thing about Less Than Zero haunted me and I wanted to know where Clay was, and I actually planned a middle aged love story between Blair and Clay, and at one point, it was even going to narrated by Clay, and it was going to be funny, and he was going to come back to LA, it was going to he something that I’d never written before. It retrospect it could have been a really horrible novel. Then I moved out here in 2006 and to produce a terrible movie called The Informers that was based on one of my books. It took three years to make. During those months I wrote Imperial Bedrooms.

JR: I really liked The Informers. I thought it was a good movie.

BEE: The problem is, you don’t know what was lost. It is easier for you to watch that film, and not know that it was a much bigger vision than you saw. Much funnier, satirical. The finished film, no one is happy with. Maybe the director, I haven’t spoken to him. None of the actors are. It’s not what any of the actors signed on for. It got ruined in production and post-production. So Imperial Bedrooms changed, and began to reflect what was going on in my life, became the most autobiographical novel I’ve ever written. When I look at it, it’s almost a memoir of those years compressed into four weeks. The genesis of changing Imperial Bedrooms started with when I betrayed a friend of mine, who I wrote The Informers script with. He was going to direct it, and we got a great cast, and twenty million dollars, and everything was rolling along, and the producers said we don’t want this guy to direct it. Then we said, we don’t want you to make the movie, and they said they were and contractually it was up to me — I could say were done — and I went behind my friend’s back. We were best friends, and I said, “Do it, cut him out.”

JR: Wow.

BEE: And that’s when Julian began to reappear in Imperial Bedrooms, and that’s when I thought about bringing him back. In my mind I wasn’t going to bring him back, and I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. So that changed things. It goes back to, I don’t look at the books wistfully. I look at Rules of Attraction and go, oh yeah, and that’s what happened to me in college. But of course, I wanted to create a novel, and not memoirs. Dramatic incident is interesting. Novels are interesting. My memoirs certainly won’t be interesting. I was exploring whatever I was going through in a fictional way in the books I was writing. I just don’t look at them that way.

If I go online and read about myself, which I often do, I don’t rate my books. There are favorites, and books that people are divisive over and I find it very, very strange that of all my books on Amazon that the only one that gets 4 stars is Rules of Attraction. The other books get three stars. I was reading Joyce at the time, and yes, it reflected a lot of my ennui at the time, and yes, a lot of it was true. It’s not the best written of my books, and if you are a fan of mine….Robert J, Lennon wrote a really good piece about Imperial Bedrooms in the London Review of books, saying that he was a huge fan, for 50% the time. There is the great Ellis, and the Ellis you give up on after 50 pages. He says Rules of Attraction belongs in that latter camp. I get that. I stayed to true to the youthful problems of those characters. But I will say this, out of all the books, it is the most humane. Maybe that’s why when I go to readings I am shocked that the book is still in print. It got a lot of bad reviews.

JR: Glamorama got a lot of bad reviews too.

BEE: You know what, people say that, and everyone references the Kakutani review. I saw all the reviews and I saw a lot of great reviews, maybe not a lot, it had its ardent supporters. By far, the most divisive of my books. People love it or hate it, and they think Imperial Bedrooms is Ellis at his most mystifying. That’s what it seems like when I Google myself. That’s the consensus.

JR: Don’t take Kakutani seriously, ever.

BEE: No I’m not.

JR: I read her, and some of her cynicism is just palpable, like walking into a room that someone just farted in, and you know, well, this stinks. You know what it is. It’s too dreary. She gets more press for what she doesn’t like, than what she likes.

BEE: She does have a lot of power. And she’s also smart. But she has no grasp of pop culture; she really doesn’t know that stuff. She had solid middle class traditional taste. She’s interesting to read, she is a powerful book critic.

JR: She doesn’t matter as much as she did 20 years ago.

BEE: Oh no, definitely not.

JR: Dwight Garner holds more power for me, especially when she took Annie Proulx to the woodshed after she published that book about buying her dream home out in the woods, and bullying all those townspeople.

Check back tomorrow morning for The Bret Easton Ellis Interview Part 2