Alumna recounts college experiences in debut novel
Everybody in Stalking Bret Easton Ellis is an emotional, heaping mess.
Taylor’s mom is in rehab in Laurel Canyon again. Foster is a frat boy from a poor family. Lanie has an eating disorder. Sarah wants a boob job. Chelsea steals weed from her dad. And Nico (formerly Nicole) is ditching class to fly out to L.A. for a coke-and-alcohol-fueled rendezvous with her sometimes boyfriend — a rich, party-obsessed, married 40-year-old.
Everybody listens to Radiohead, Coldplay and Elliott Smith. And everybody is “über-hip.”
With Stalking Bret Easton Ellis — a novel composed of vignettes detailing each character’s inner monologue — USC alumnus Caroline Weiss and her cross-country writing partner, Margaret Wallace, chase readers with a verbal chainsaw through the swirling, superficial lives of highly privileged college kids.
“I would say 40 to 50 percent is based on experiences that we actually went through and conversations that were had,” Weiss said. “We included a lot of details.”
Weiss was born in San Diego to a family as privileged as her characters’ — both her parents were Princeton graduates. Weiss’ propensity for writing began as soon as she could hold a pencil and before hitting her teens, she had already made hand-stapled books, published short stories and penned a feature-length screenplay. Though she and her familly moved constantly has a child, Weiss eventually ended up in Houston long enough to attend a private high school (where she met co-writer Wallace). And after a stint at St. Andrews in Scotland, Weiss transferred into USC’s political science program.
“Because of my travels, I have a strong interest in politics and international relations,” Weiss said. “I’ve never taken a writing class or been critiqued.”
Somewhere between Houston and Los Angeles, Weiss read Rules of Attraction by Brett Eason Ellis and immediately gravitated towards the “cool indifference” and detail-filled echoes that fill Ellis’ black hole characters. She devoured the rest of the famous author’s repertoire — which includes Less Than Zero and American Psycho, among others — and used his raw, introspective writing style as her muse for future prose.
“I’ve had depression my whole life, and [reading Brett Easton Ellis] lifted a burden about being in this dark place,” Weiss said.
So, when Weiss started hanging out with an eclectic group of elite Angelenos, she began to experience the drug-fueled, consequence-free city that Ellis wrote about in Less Than Zero. After a reconnecting with then Amherst College attendee — and fellow Ellis fan — Wallace, the two could not help but see their lives from the perspective of their favorite author.
The bi-coastal friends began writing down their respective escapades and forming characters based off people they knew in real life, while also collaborating on fictional tales in order to intertwine otherwise unconnected circumstances.
The majority of Weiss’ book contributions were written from her desk at a former fraternity house converted into dorms for transfer students. She would have moments where the ideas would overflow from her soul and the weight of a debacherous night would instantly release her inner darkness as she converted it into words.
Weiss lived a life of luxury and excess similar to her friends, yet she always felt like an outsider, and the conflicting emotions associated with that were oftentimes unable to be confined to traditional structure. Although Weiss would sometimes read over these frantic stream of conscious sessions and attempt to edit them, her parts of Stalking Bret Easton Ellis are mostly an assemblage of several years’ free-flowing writings.
“My darkness has been the impetus for a lot of creativity because I have so much inside of me that I need to figure out,” Weiss said. “I take solace in writing. It keeps me sane.”
After graduating from USC with a B.A. in political science and a minor in cinema television, Weiss and Wallace were finally ready to release their book. They wrote over 270 query letters to agents and publishing companies before taking an opportunity with Weiss’ father, who owns iUniverse, one of the largest companies for supporting self-publishing in North America.
Stalking Bret Easton Ellis was released this past April and the pair are working together on a screenplay, trying to figure out their next collaborative effort. Weiss is following her other passion, film and television, and works in development at Magical Elves, Inc., the reality show production company responsible for Top Chef, Project Runway and Last Comic Standing.
“I came to Los Angeles to be in the [film] business but writing is another passion of mine,” Weiss said. “I think I can do both.”