Commentary on Somewhat Damaged

300x300-2The 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 and even now, during redrafting, I need that music in order to access my protagonist’s habits, quirks and entire psychology, such as motivation, self-contradiction and unreliability.
It’s funny writing about someone who 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 am still trying to track down the origin of this pursuit that made me venture into something so big – bigger than I’d ever want a dream to be.

In 2007, Nick, my tutor in Prose Fiction, asked us to do a writing exercise illustrating a connection between character and object. He gave us a list of objects, which weren’t ordinary objects, but tainted objects with a history.
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 as well as all her patients. When on a date with a non-patient, she deliberately causes an accident that hospitalises him just because an examination of 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 and I have to admit that I was incredibly proud.

Nick had not only inspired me to that but had also supported me in pursuing my other novel Single, Fused & Separate, which is an undeveloped, science fiction-based novel 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 was struggling with the actual destined path of that novel and realised that I was not yet ready to walk 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 was not about me but about a labyrinthine future within a Freudian brain. I felt that I was, by no means, ready to sketch out such a deep and difficult maze with that delirious perception of mine at the time. Maybe I could have done it – walk that path, but there is no point if the writer does not yet know the fundamental key of the story. It’s never enough to merely 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 question your ability.
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 am sad that I never got to become an inventor destined to make the world a more comfortable place for people, or a secret agent – be obsessed with others rather 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 marrows 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 is not interesting.
If I wasn’t made of cells but letters and numbers…
Yes, I believe I am merely made of language. This approach simplifies the dealing with feelings and thoughts that you cannot 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’ and 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 anyway. 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, still in development. Now it is all about putting up signposts pointing at where to go from here. Enhancement of motivation and revitalisation of style and grammar need serious focus, as well as the question: ‘What does she want?’ – No, ‘What do I want?’ (Francis would say).

Looking for eternal love and dreading it at the same time due to post-traumatic stress. So before messing it up again, you’d rather not have it at all. The fear shrinks your belief in it and hinders you from giving it a second chance since there are far more creative ways to deal with a desolate heart that still looks good on the outside like Dorian Gray. You prefer fun (= no attachment) to love (= commitment). The obvious thing is that both are transitory, but this is neither the problem nor the question. The major 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 feel sorry for their fictional characters.
It is so easy to make the reader empathise with Parker from page One onwards, but this is not going to happen.
I am still in the middle of creating other useful empathy factors, forming clear judgements, 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 am 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. The readers will see for themselves that Parker is flooded with emotions, but chose to do it the Dexter Morgan-way. If anything, I’m proving that women can control their feelings as well as men.
Despite it all, I know very well how the end of the novel will be perceived by certain people and I am not looking for ways to ease out the effect. I knew my protagonist’s destiny from the start of the writing process.
It wasn’t until I had watched Lars von Trier’s movie ‘Antichrist’ that I started to regain confidence for my attitudes and values.

I believe I know where I am 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 man, women will write about the downfall of the woman also.

The opening of Somewhat Damaged (unrevised)

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