About Paint It Black

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Paint It Black
(Little, Brown, September 2006)

The aftermath of a suicide, set in 1980 punk rock LA. Josie Tyrell, art model, teen runaway, actress in student films, thinks she’s found her chance at real love and entre to a greater world in Michael Faraday—artist and Harvard dropout, son of a renowned concert pianist and grandson of a legendary film composer–until the day she receives a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner, asking her to identify her lover’s body. “What happens to a dream when the dreamer is gone?” is the central question of Paint It Black, the story of the aftermath of Michael’s death, and Josie’s struggle to hold on to the true world he had shared with her. Compounding her grief and rage is Michael’s pianist mother, Meredith Loewy, who returns to her native city with the news of her only son’s death. Despite a fierce mutual enmity, the two women find themselves drawn into an eerie relationship reflecting equal parts distrust and blind need.

From Janet: Here are the works that informed Paint It Black (ran in September 2006 issue of Poets and Writers)

We live in the creative products of our civilization no less than we live in a house on a street in a city in a country at a certain time in history.  This is just some of the music that plays constantly inside my head, the colors of my internal palette, that bleeds through all my work, and specifically, informed Paint It Black.
Poems:

Love in the Asylum,” “Altarwise by Owl-Light,” “Over Sir John’s Hill,” and “In Country Sleep,” by Dylan Thomas. There’s a whole Dylan Thomas theme in Paint It Black.  “Love in the Asylum” was actually the title of the short story.

Riding the Elevator into the Sky,” by Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Towards God.  Sexton and my protagonist have many fears and yearnings in common.  I can’t get her language out of my ears.

Burnt Norton” from Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, also The Wasteland. The end of time theme. Eliot’s poetry is a constant song.

The Prose of the Transsiberian and Little Jeanne of Montmartre, by Blaise Cendrars. There’s a whole Transsiberian theme in the book, and I think Cendrars captures the restlessness and extremes of youth so  beautifully.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde.  Each man kills the thing he loves.

Other books:
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. I return to this for a certain aristocratic clarity.

The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber. The Dark Castle and the Duke who stops time with his cold cold hand.

Poe, especially The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe was my first love.

Faulkner. The existential, familial doom of The Sound and The Fury.

A history of the LA punk scene, We’ve got the Neutron Bomb by Mark Spitz and Brendan Mullen, totally evocative of time and place.

Music:
Punk music, circa 1980, with special emphasis on LA.  X, Germs, Cramps.  I have a character who is a cross between Nina Hagen and Lena Lovich.

Patti Smith, who inspires me always.
Nico, and Velvet Underground with Nico.  Nico to me embodies absolutely the dark poignancy of this book, songs like “These Days” and “Fairest of the Seasons,” which so evoked the boy’s mindset in my book.

Classical piano repertoire.  Late Brahms piano music, really spoke to me, the Romances and Intermezzos.  The musical voice of one of the book’s major elements.

Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire, both for the modernism and the fact that Schoenberg was an exile from Nazi dominated Europe, like the grandfather in the book,
Debussy, for that out-of-time sense of a house in mourning.

1920’s music—The ‘golden age’ music of the book, so to speak. Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Sevens, Lucille Bogan, Big Bill Broonzy, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith.

Films:
Ciao Manhattan and Chelsea Girls, just to see Edie Sedgwick, an icon of this period, and evocative of my protagonist in certain ways.

Last Tango in Paris. One forgets, this is really the story of a suicide survivor.
Sunset Boulevard. For Goth feel. Billy Wilder was another exile from Nazi Europe.

Visual arts:
Egon Schiele, the boy’s favorite artist—a somehow desperate, highly eroticized, painter of the Viennese Secession. I love this period, but it took me a while to warm to Schiele.

Paul Tchelitchew—disturbed, metamorphic drawings–highly inspirational.

Eric Fischl—I craved his eerie eroticised domestic scenes.

Sophie Calle–the mystery of human life as viewed from outside.

44 Responses to “About Paint It Black”

  1. Melinda Says:

    I just wanted to let you know how much I loved this book! It took me much longer than any book I have ever read, because I could only take small bits of it at a time. My husband, who’s name is also Michael, would look over at me and see my face and say, ‘You’re not reading THAT book again, are you?!’ The answer is always yes, because I just had to know how she would make it through. I’m looking forward to the new book and I hope it is a great success for you!

  2. Amandah Says:

    Wow.. I just read the first chapter of this book for Class and Im hooked! Now i gotta out and find it and finish it.
    See you next month in Glendale.

  3. When I started reading Paint it Black, it captured me completely. I savored each word, languishing over each page. I didn’t want it to end. I kept stopping after each page, each chapter, hoping it would last, only allowing myself to read it when I could really enjoy it. God, it’s beautiful, really. FInally, at the end, as they ride away into the uncertain future, I wiped away the last tears, got on Amazon and ordered a copy for my best friend in San Francisco. You’re the kind of writer that should be shared.

  4. Anna Costello Says:

    Does the author have eperience dealing with people with narcissistic personality disorder? From Meredith to Michael then it all rains down on unsuspecting Josie… My heart ached for her, and for my younger self.

    What warm blooded empathetic person can understand the paranoid mind of the pathological narcissist who is compelled to kill the thing they love? All the while vowing they are the only one who truly loves you as the tear your soul to shreds.

    Been there. Done that. Books …White Oleander mom classic npd… helped me see and understand. Art penetrates where self help books gather dust

    thank you for lighting a path
    Anna

  5. Sarah Says:

    Thank you for such an inspiring novel. A debating writer, I have found a novel that I adore the style, the words, the poetic touch to each page. One day, I hope to have a novel a fraction of this greatness.
    Thank you for all of this.
    You are truly talented and inspirational.

  6. There’s evidently a lot for me to be taught outside of my books. Thanks for the great read,Good post. Thanks. You’ve gotten introduced some readability to one thing I have been attempting to figure out.

  7. Leslie Says:

    Janet, I love Paint it Black and have been checking the internet for news on the movie….do you have any update on this….Hollywood takes forever and I am so hyper for this to be made into a film with all the right players. I am also looking forward to a new novel….take care and best wishes. Leslie

    • Yes there’s something in the works but not quite finalized… can’t talk about it until its in the bag. Glad you asked!

      • Janet,

        Paint It Black is truly a masterpiece. Not only did it teach me more about the human mind than I have ever learned jn any classroom; it changed how I look at life and more importantly how I look at relationships. Reading it for my fourth time now, I have been dreaming about seeing this film come to light. Any news… at all? At the risk of sounding impatient, it’s been over 3 years since you made the announcement!! I’m dying to know.

      • Amber Tamblyn just optioned it–she’s going to write the screenplay. She’s been part of the spoken word poetry movement, so I’m very excited about the whole thing. Fingers crossed.

  8. Awesome information! Now I dont have to blog about it xD

  9. I was instantly reminded of Nina Hagen the moment that the character Lola Lola made an appearance in the story. There are respectful nods to so many lovely, fabulous artists in Paint It Black. Your love of the arts shines through the characters and gives the story wonderful texture. Thanks for the amazing read!

  10. shelbz Says:

    Just wanted to say this is absolutely my favorite book. My copy is warped and abused, and I’ve read it so many times I can recite portions of it from memory. Thank you, because really…if this book didn’t exist my life would be quite different.

  11. Melina Says:

    Hi ! I’m a french canadian from Quebec City and I wanted to thank you for your incredible novels. Being a student in litterature and cinema, I love the way your prose always evokes a certain imagery. I don’t know if it makes sense, if I translated right, but what I want to say is that when I read yours books I can always picture the scenes, in its very details, and I think this is absolutely mind-blowing. Love your words, your poetry. You create images that are so powerful, beautiful and unique.

  12. darrah deyoung Says:

    I just had to let you know that, although I first read Paint It Black about five years ago, I have yet to read another book that has meant more to me. I received the book the first Christmas after my step-father passed away, and I can remember reading about Josie discovering Michael and died, and her experience of the funeral made my stomach drop. So many things that Josie did, or said or thought were so similar to my own feelings that I couldn’t help but feel an instant connection to this character. I don’t think I can thank you enough for creating Josie, as she often felt like a companion who “said” things I was thinking. So again, thank you.

  13. Leslie Says:

    Please let us know of any further details on the film…..wish it didn’t take so long to get things moving…can’t wait to see the film and to hear about casting…thanks, Leslie

  14. Leslie P-S Says:

    I am so happy Wilma got in the car.

  15. thank you for writing this helped me cry during a painful part of my life, would love to see the film

  16. Emily McCall Says:

    Such a strong, emotional novel. Devastatingly beautiful. I want you to know that when I’m at my worst and I feel like my insides are caving out, I have the urge to paint buildings on my apartment walls and create a world just for me and my lover for when he comes home. It may not be montmarte, but it always means something now doesn’t it?

  17. Jan Henry Says:

    I also loved Paint it Black and just read it for the second time, slowly and with relish. The prose of it – that in itself makes it a gorgeous read, plus Josie is such a developed character I felt like I knew her.

  18. sophia meza Says:

    I heard a rumor on a Paint it Black Movie! i saw it on your myspace and wanted to know if its true. On the post it asked for suggestions on characters and I would love to see Kelly Bishop play Meredith and Adrian Grenier or someone who looks like him to play Michael. i’m probably getting ahead of myself. But WOW i hope this rumor is true!

    • HI Sophia,
      It’s getting closer. Amber Tamblyn has optioned the book for a film, she has written the script and it’s pretty darn good! She has just signed Courtney Hunt, the director who made Frozen River, to shoot it… so it’s looking more and more like a real deal. Fingers crossed. Amber will be playing Josie, and she has great connections with other actors, already putting out feelers for the other roles.So stay tuned and thanks for your enthusiasm!
      best, Janet

  19. Cassie Says:

    my english teacher gave us a list of books to chose from for a reading assignment. this book just happened to catch my eye. and i am so glad it did! i am utterly in love with it. every aspect of this book excites me and i really hope that this book turns into a movie because i would really like to see if my imagination matches all the characters (: thank you so much for writing such a brilliant book!

    • Thanks–fingers crossed, the movie prospects keep looking good–option just renewed, they’ve got the script, the director, and Josie. Though a long way to go.

  20. Dylan Says:

    Hey Janet,

    I’ve read this book at least a dozen times, so it goes without saying that not only do I love this book but it’s been such a reflection of my personal experiences and inner thoughts.

    I would like to say a lot about what it’s meant to me and ask a million questions but perhaps it’s just better left on another forum another day.

    For now I’d like to know if there are still plans to possibly make a movie adaptation?

    • Dylan Says:

      Please delete my previous statement, I didn’t read above

      my sincere apologies.

      Dylan Pattyn

      • Hi Dylan,
        Hey, don’t apologize! I appreciate your feelings about this book, it’s a certain kind of experience that people either connect with or they don’t at all. Happy to answer any and all questions about it.
        all my best,
        Janet

  21. Has anyone tried to recreate (or create) Michael’s paintings n drawings as described in Paint it Black? Bacon-Freud-Schiele-esque? How intriguing ( ;

  22. I read this book at 18. I felt like Josie was me in another place and time. It felt so good to know that someone even fictional thought and felt the way I did, being able to identify with her was so powerful for me. I would even say that book saved my life, at that time I was careening down the road of depression and total self destruction. Through her I was able to dig into my own wounds and begin a process of healing right along side her. This book really touched me and sticks with me to this day. My favorite book of all time!

  23. I picked this book up at a thrift store…. I could not put it down. Loved it. Heat wrenching but so accurate. Is there a sequel?

  24. […] she wrote White Oleander the book, which has been made into White Oleander the film, and also  Paint It Black, which I have just started.  The class is reportedly much work, so while I am not anxious about it […]

  25. Bree Thrasher Says:

    Paint It Black has been one of the best books I’ve had a chance to read; for days once I finished it, I could not get out of a deeply remorseful state. I love when books grab ahold of me, and suck me right into the story, and Paint It Black did an amazing job at it!

  26. Dear Janet Fitch,

    I LOVED your novel “Paint it Black.” I read it the first time on audiobook about 4 years ago. At that time many of the places in the story were unfamiliar. I knew nothing of Los Angeles or punk scene in the 80s. But I LOVEd this story, the way it was written, the rawness of the pain, the incredible visual quality of the writing. I could really picture every glance, every ache, and feel it in my own self.

    I loved this book so much that I went and listened to White Oleander on audibook. I also liked it, but I still liked Paint it Black more. And now, 4 years later, I am re-listneing to Paint it Black. However, this time, I HAVE been to Los Angeles. I loved this city and am planning on going back, possibly to move there. This time around listening to all these places have a lot more meaning. I know where most of them are, more or less what they mean, what type of people are located where, etc etc.

    If I could make a list of places from the story to visit in person, where would you recommend? Are any of them still today like they were in the book? Where would Josie or Michael hang out today?
    Thank you and good luck.

    PS… are you going to make a movie of Paint it Black? Are you writing any more books?

    Thank you again!

    • Go to Echo Park lake, and drive up Observatory drive up to the observatory, you’ll get an idea of Meredith’s neighborhood. you can take a hike to Dante’s view, it’s east of the observatory. Lemoyne street above Sunset is their old neighborhood on sunset and you can even eat at the Pacific Dining CAr, where meredith and Josie ate. MacArthur Park is sort of seedy, but at the southwest corner is where old Otis used to be–the building’s still there. If you go up Sunset Plaza above the Strip, you’ll see the neighborhood of the 60s house where she shot the film with Jeremy, also El Conquistador on Sunset in Silverlake is the place they went for the ‘night of the sombreros.’ Thanks for the interest!

  27. hi Janet, is the paint it black movie still in the running to be made?

    • It is! It’s been optioned, the script has been written, the actors are being rounded up, the location settled, the money wrangled, and I’ve been told chances are good that it will shoot this April. Keep your fingers crossed!!!!!

      • My fingers are crossed! Paint it Black is one of my favorite books ever. Very excited to see this flurry of comments on your blog today, Janet! It is so inspiring. Next time I’m in LA, I will take the Josie walking tour. Thank you for sharing the inside details that inform the mystery of your art.

      • What wonderful news. I’m so excited! Thank you for the update. :)

  28. meg fowler Says:

    i’m am currently listening to Paint it Black on audiobooks. the swearing and language is getting to me !

    • I know the audio version of many books alters the reading experience–I recently had to stop listening to Blindness by Saramago on CD because it’s so terrifying, I could’nt bear it in real time. Same thing may be the case with listening to people swear (which is a lot like someone actually swearing at you!) vs. reading on the page. I find sex scenes are the same way–different on the page than say, watching it in a movie in real time. On the page I imagine it the way I want to, different to have it forced on me blow by blow!

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