The title, borrowed from Nine Inch Nails, has nothing much to do with the novel itself. Throughout the writing process, I was listening to Depeche Mode. Even when I redraft now, I need their music to access my protagonist’s psyche, understand her habits, quirks, and actions.
It’s funny writing about someone you’ll never be, and after all, that’s all you are – your alter-ego.
I’ve been working on this novel since 2007, and after all these years, I’m still trying to track down the origin of this pursuit that made me venture into something bigger than I’d ever want a dream to be.
In 2007, Nick, my teacher in Prose Fiction class, tasked us with a writing exercise, illustrating a connection between character and object. He gave us a list of objects, which weren’t ordinary, but tainted objects with histories.
I chose the ‘blood-stained plaster’ to pursue a yet to evolve imagination. It was there in the back of my head, slowly bubbling outreaching my mind’s quixotic surface of genuine lies. Although those were only fragmentary images, I knew that the energy anticipated was highly influenced by Bret Easton Ellis’ grotesque and sex-induced madness, which would lead me towards my own version of a yet undiscovered territory of fragile insanity.
The result of that writing exercise involves an obsessive-compulsive doctor who is subject to taking blood samples of herself and her patients. When on a date with someone, she deliberately causes an accident that hospitalises him because examining his blood is essential for future decisions.
I received a full mark for that piece, and I had only received a full mark twice at BCUC. I have to admit that I was incredibly proud.
Nick had inspired me to that and supported me in pursuing my other novel Single, Fused & Separate, an undeveloped, science fiction piece that I had left untouched since September 2007 after the dissertation deadline. During the course, I was mostly reading science fiction literature: Asimov, Dick, Siodmak, Cook, Gibson, etc. Nonetheless, I struggled with that novel’s actual destined path and realised that I wasn’t ready for it. Despite the lack of identity and conscious progress of that novel, I received an acceptable mark for my final dissertation; I was 9 points away from the full mark. With that achievement, I still lacked the motivation to continue a piece that wasn’t about me but a labyrinthine future within a Freudian brain. I felt that I was, by no means, ready to sketch out such a deep and challenging maze with that delirious perception of mine at the time. Maybe I could have done it – walk that path, but there’s no point if the writer doesn’t know the story’s fundamental key. It’s never enough to write about what interests you, and if you aren’t ready to sacrifice a crucial piece of your mind’s marrow, you might as well take a step back and reconsider what you really want and prepare to answer all those questions.
The story or novel has to be a quintessence of you; otherwise, it has no value. This might make me the most selfish writer you’ve ever known. I mean, I’m sad that I never got to become an inventor destined to make the world a more comfortable place for people or a secret agent obsessing over others than myself. To become an assassin was another dream job because I empathised with Jean Reno in ‘Leon – The Professional.’
Then my mother bought me a Hello Kitty journal when I was eleven. That changed my life and outweighed all my preconceived ideas about what I really wanted.
After sixteen years of writing and rummaging about in the fragments of my existence, I still feel dumbfounded when looking at myself in the mirror, only recognising sheer detachment as if I was only a prototype of my own reality. It’s not interesting.
If I wasn’t made of cells but letters and numbers…
Yes, I believe I’m made of language. This approach simplifies dealing with feelings and thoughts that you can’t put in order because flesh and blood deliver no precise expression; heart and brain signal meaning, but they leave YOU to express them.
I was aware that if I did nothing, I would live a prolonged death.
So I had another look at ‘The blood-stained plaster.’ Something immediately clicked, especially when I remembered Nick saying that the story was worth developing.
Despite the anxiety of embarking on a new novel (after circa 20 unsuccessful attempts), I gave it a go. Three to four years later, I had a first finished draft. ‘The blood-stained plaster’ became chapter Nine in the novel.
The first draft felt like a sketch of Ellen Parker’s life as if she was still in the phase of a foetus in development. Now it’s all about putting up signposts pointing at where to go from here. I need to enhance Ellen’s motivation, work on my style and grammar, and figure out what she wants. No, ‘What do “I” want?’ (Francis would say).
Looking for eternal love and dreading it at the same time due to post-traumatic stress. Hmm.
So before messing it up again, you’d rather deal with it at all. Fear will shrink your self-belief and stop you from giving it a second chance since there are more creative ways to treat a desolate heart that still looks good on the outside (like Dorian Gray). You prefer fun (= no attachment) to love (= commitment). Fun and love are transitory things. The question is, ‘What’s easiest to obtain?’
People with narcissistic personality disorder lack empathy with others and thus are difficult to sympathise with.
No matter how often Palahniuk warns us about his despicable and repulsive protagonist in ‘Choke’ or how cynic and nihilistic all of Houellebecq’s characters are in his novels, the authors still manage to make us empathise with their protagonists.
It’s easy to make the reader empathise with Parker from page One onwards, but this might not happen.
I’m still in the middle of creating other useful empathy factors, forming explicit judgments, controlling emotions, and generate symbolic reflections to manoeuvre the reader into following the goddamn plot. The reader reminds me of what needs to be done.
Some (conventional) female readers find Parker entirely unlikeable due to her detachment and outrageous stance towards women. I would be lying if I said the novel wasn’t about sexual repression and female guilt, but more importantly, that piece of criticism means absolutely nothing to me. I’m not creating a bad relationship between Parker and the female reader. This is who she is. This is the direction the story chose to go. You will have to pay attention to see that Parker is flooded with emotions, but I decided to do it the Dexter Morgan way and added some sociopathic elements to her. If anything, I’m proving that women can control their feelings as well as men. They will look into her eyes when she is a child.
I know very well how certain people will perceive the end of the novel, and I’m not looking for ways to ease the effect. I knew my protagonist’s destiny from the start, but I wasn’t sure about the journey yet. I lacked some confidence in writing specific chapters.
It wasn’t until I had watched Lars von Trier’s movie ‘Antichrist’ that I started to regain my confidence in my attitudes and values.
I believe I know where I’m heading with Somewhat Damaged. There’ll be more focus on Parker’s relationship with objects and the city. About gender and feminism, I couldn’t give a damn.
Self-mutilation is common in both genders. The feeling of guilt is universal. If men write about the downfall of men, women will write about the downfall of women also.
UPDATE: This commentary relates to Heart Like A Hole during the period of 2010-2011 when it was in the redrafting process and held the former title: Somewhat Damaged