‘House Of Leaves’ Author Talks Writing A Novel Like A TV Series

Danielewski Discusses His Latest Release, 'The Familiar: Vol. 1'

Flickr user mxmstryo

Mark Z. Danielewski burst on to the literary scene back in 2000 with his debut novel, “House of Leaves.” The book is full of multiple layers, strange typography, and footnotes within footnotes. One reviewer described it as “the most ingenious, profound and important novel published by an American so far this century.”

But with his new novel, “The Familiar,” Danielewski is pushing the envelope even further. The first installment follows Xanther, a 12-year-old epileptic girl who discovers a small kitten on a rainy morning. Volume 1, “One Rainy Day in May,” is out now but it’s only the first of the 27 volumes that make up “The Familiar.” Of course, there are other characters and other storylines and, this being a Danielewski novel, there are a variety of fonts to represent different characters; color-coded sections; text that wanders off in various directions like concrete poetry; and artwork.

Danielewski compares “The Familiar” to a television series. If all goes according to his plan, the 27th volume should be out by 2023, which would make for eight seasons, according to his TV series analogy.

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It’s an ambitious project, but one that’s buoyed by Danielewski’s faith in his readers.

“My adage has always been never underestimate the reader. And the readers actually have never let me down,” he said.

Although there’s a lot going on visually in “The Familiar,” Danielewski said it’s the words that matter most.

“I think what has always interested me is bringing forth not only what the book itself is capable of doing, the novel, the pages, the codex itself, but actually, the way language can tickle parts of our imagination and bring a new kind of vibrancy and awareness to our lives that goes beyond what can actually be displayed on any kind of screen,” he said.

Danielewski said that readers will find Xanther’s story easy to relate to.

“She’s the heart of the story, especially for me, because she is so brave in facing that deluge (heavy rainstorm) that she is in the midst of. And isn’t that where we all are right now? That we are dealing with this deluge of information, whether it’s Twitter or texts or phone cells or websites, or however we traffic information now. Frequently more and more impersonally, though it’s guised as this kind of personal interaction. And the big question that many of us are afraid to ask is how do I navigate this? ‘Do I just put on a pair of galoshes? Do I grab an umbrella? What are those things? Or, am I actually going to drown in that storm?’” he said.

Danielewski comes from a creative family. His sister is the singer-songwriter Poe and his father, Tad Danielewski, was a filmmaker. In the early 1990s, Danielewski learned that his father had cancer and was in a Los Angeles hospital. So, he took a Greyhound bus from New York City and wrote a story called “Redwood” for his father during the trip.

By the time that Danielewski made it to L.A., his father was home. He gave the story to his father.

“It was a gift. I wanted to present him with this thing that would be meaningful to him. And his response was, ‘Well, why don’t you go get a job at the post office?’ It was so brutal at that moment. For me, it was him saying I never want you to write again,” he said.

Devastated, Danielewski ripped up the story and threw it in a dumpster.

“And then about three days later, my sister took me out to dinner. And she said, ‘How are you doing?’ And I was really broken. It was a near-suicidal act. In some ways, it was a suicide. I was completely numb. And she took out of her bag this folder. And I looked inside. And she had taped that story back together. She had gone into the dumpster and found all those pieces and reassembled for my future,” he said.

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