When I constructed my literary stalker, Nick Chatterton, I tried to make him unlike myself in many ways – ‘…so people won’t think he’s me’ – as Nick says about his own fictional creation, Jago Farrar. I made Nick thirty-eight, gay, unemployed, with a full head of long hair, borderline personality disorder and a criminal record – none of which apply to myself. I also gave him a different profile as a writer to my own, though there are some similarities (we both wrote horror short stories for small press magazines). But in one particular area I fashioned Nick very much in my own image – I gave him my taste in movies and made him a movie buff.
My own background is art college, film school, and work in broadcast TV and video production as an editor and director; and later I added film and DVD reviewing and feature writing to the skill set. I’ve loved ‘the movies’ since childhood, when I saw films such as Jason and the Argonauts and The Wizard of Oz on the big screen, way back in the early 1960s. Since then my tastes have developed along certain lines, and I’m known as an aficionado of the weird, surreal and offbeat in cinema, a tendency which touches upon art movies, horror and crime, science fiction and metafiction. I also love film noir and intelligent gangster and dark transgressive movies generally. So I bequeathed these interests to Nick, and thus I was able to add another layer to Literary Stalker, where the films Nick uses in his plots and references in his daily life become adjuncts to the storytelling, bouncing the ideas around the text as though in a hall of mirrors.
The subject first and foremost on Nick’s mind is revenge, and he models his revenge novel, The Facebook Murders, on the 1973 Vincent Price movie Theatre of Blood. Nick re-watches the DVD with great relish, working out how he can parachute his hero, Jago Farrar, into the Vincent Price role, and his enemies into the roles of the critics, who are murdered according to the plots of Shakespeare’s plays. Nick uses the plots of renowned horror and crime films instead, and so he delves into the realms of serial revenge in cinema.
He loves The Godfather movies, where the intricate and convoluted plots resolve themselves into precision, operatically stylised catalogues of revenge. In the first film, after Michael Corleone assumes the role of Don on the death of his father, he wipes out all his enemies and insiders who’ve betrayed the family in an extended bloodbath. In Part II, Michael suffers an assassination attempt, undoubtedly at the hands of his partners in crime. Progressively he rounds on those implicated – Hyman Roth, Johnny Ola, Frank Pentangeli and his own brother, Fredo – and dispatches them in ways that Nick finds most satisfactory.
What Nick is looking for is elaboration in murder rather than the quick hit – because it has to count for something as a dramatic scene. The Shakespeare-based murders in Theatre of Blood fulfil that brief excellently: one critic is speared and his corpse dragged behind a horse; another is drowned in a butt of wine at a tasting; yet another is tricked into eating his treasured pet poodles baked in a pie, before being force-fed to death.
Nick sights this stagy stylisation of murder in the work of another favourite filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, and he refers to the Kill Bill films, also about serial revenge. But it is Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs that wins and gets chosen for one of Nick’s own themed murders in his novel. The warehouse torture scene where Mr Blonde dances to ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ brandishing a cutthroat razor, before cutting off the cop’s ear and later shooting him, proves irresistible to Nick.
Fancying himself as a critic, Nick reviews and discusses various stalker films, seizing naturally upon Misery and Fatal Attraction as the kingpins, and mentioning Play Misty for Me, The Crush, The Fan, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female in passing, which he thinks somewhat formulaic. For depth and resonance he much prefers Michael Powell’s shocker Peeping Tom and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which manifests the condition of obsessive love beautifully, he thinks. When it comes to psychos in cinema, Nick pays homage to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and also the deadpan assassin Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire, played by John Malkovich.
An important aspect of Literary Stalker is the metafictional playing, where there are novels-within-novels and deliberate confusion and ambiguity between the levels, and also between the ‘real’ and the ‘fictional’. Right from the start I tried to enhance this effect, in a nudge-wink way, by weaving in films that do something similar – so-called ‘reality benders’. They include the David Lynch Möbius strip movies Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, but the most prominently used is the cyberpunk masterwork The Matrix, and Nick makes many allusions to this favoured movie. Half way through Literary Stalker there is a key chapter, entitled ‘The Red Pill’, where Nick starts to fall through the mirror, so to speak, and act out his own fictional ideation. It is a kind of backwards transition from Neo’s in The Matrix, but similarly involves two ontological levels. In the chapter Nick has a comedic sexual fantasy about Agent Smith – complete with bullet-time visual effects! – which is another big nudge-wink moment.
In the early stages of his hopeless love for famed writer Hugh Canford-Eversleigh, Nick has another fantasy or daydream where he pastiches Laura’s flight of fancy about Alec from Brief Encounter, projecting the couple off into impossible far flung romantic adventures. Again this is deliberately comical and tongue-in-cheek, and offered as a silly, slushy counterpoint to the harder-edged obsessional and violent sentiments of Nick’s character generally. But, as he is a gay man ‘in love’, I wanted to show his more vulnerable, soft and feminine side. Which brings me back full circle to The Wizard of Oz, a beloved film of childhood – and of course an important one in LGBT culture. Judy Garland (Dorothy) is a famous gay icon, and Nick uses the euphemism ‘friend of Dorothy’ and gives other nods toward the film as the novel nears its end.
The Wizard of Oz is a fantasy ‘portal’ movie, involving two worlds, just like The Matrix, and indeed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, from which both derive. And as worlds collide and interface in Literary Stalker, Nick’s final unhinged escape into delusional heaven is supported by references to Oz – the yellow brick road and the Emerald City. The ending also pays homage to another favourite movie, not mentioned in the text: Sunset Boulevard. In seeking his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame, Nick feels he’s finally got there, and now appropriately, like the madcap Norma Desmond, he’s ready for his close up.
Roger Keen was born in London and attended art colleges in Plymouth and Bournemouth before pursuing a career in television. He began publishing fiction and non-fiction in the 1990s, specializing in noir short stories and articles and reviews concerning genre film and literature. He has a particular interest in the Surrealists, the Beat writers, 1960s psychedelia, cyberpunk and weird cinema.
Roger’s short stories have appeared in magazines such as Psychotrope, Threads, Sierra Heaven and Flickers ’n’ Frames; and his non-fiction has appeared in anthologies and magazines including Out of the Shadows, the PsypressUK Journal, Critical Wave, Writer’s Monthly and The Third Alternative. He also contributes to websites such as Reality Sandwich, The Digital Fix, The Oak Tree Review, Infinity Plus and The Zone.
Roger’s counterculture memoir The Mad Artist: Psychonautic Adventures in the 1970s was published in 2010. It is both an odyssey of druggy excess, in the tradition of Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, and a piece of experimental ‘reality fiction’, exploring the interface between autobiography, fiction and metafiction. The recently published Literary Stalker takes these elements further within the framework of a psychological horror/crime novel. Roger is currently doing research for a book on weird cinema, and when not writing he makes short films and likes mountain walking and skiing.
Try some of your own stalking here, I’m sure Roger will be nice about it.