Bret Easton Ellis on Harnessing a ‘Pervasive Sense of Dread’ for His Semi-Autobiographical Serial Killer Novel, ‘The Shards’

After a 13-year break from the form, Bret Easton Ellis wrote his new horror novel, “The Shards,” to exorcise some demons. 

“I often write a novel because I’m stuck at a certain point in my life,” he said to Variety. “I’m confused, I’m scared, I’m having anxiety and I can’t quite figure out how to move forward. I’m kind of trapped someplace, and the writing flows from that.” 

Ellis, known for influential works such as 1985’s “Less than Zero” and 1991’s “American Psycho,” has spent the time since his 2010 novel “Imperial Bedrooms” focusing on other creative works: Hosting his chatty “Bret Easton Ellis Podcast,” scripting films such as 2013’s “The Canyons” and 2020’s “Smiley Face Killers,” and releasing a book of nonfiction essays in 2019 titled “White.” 

“The Shards,” out Jan. 17 via Knopf, is a slab of dread-filled autofiction. The plot follows a version of Ellis during his senior year in high school in a 1981 Los Angeles, on the lookout for a serial killer who might be closer to Bret and his friends than they think. The novel merges some of the true-to-life details of his work, like in 2005’s “Lunar Park,” with the darkness that crept in the shadows of 2010’s “Imperial Bedrooms.”

Ellis described why a lot of his writing, including “The Shards,” conjures such darkness. 

“I’m not motivated to write a novel without feeling it, and that might be why a lot of my novels have that pervasive sense of dread, elements of horror, can often be horrifically violent,” he said. “I think it just stems from where the books come from, and it’s a reflection of that. Conversely, if I’d been a happier guy would I have been writing books? Would I be using the novel as a way to express this or communicate it? I don’t know. But that could have something to do with why I’ve been attracted to horror and used elements of it in my work.” 

That said, Ellis also revealed how the process of writing itself brings him joy. 

“When I start writing the book, I’m at my happiest and it’s very blissful,” he said. “And I’m very happy. This has always been true. Writing the novel is one of the greatest experiences, one of the happiest experiences. I do not look at it as a painful exercise, looking at a whiteboard every day. No, writing is sheer bliss.”

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