Author Janet Fitch on Paint it Black
By CARA LORELLO
Here’s acclaimed author Janet Fitch’s latest novel Paint it Black in a nutshell: Young girl finds her love, lover kills himself, girl nearly loses herself, girl comes back from the edge and emerges stronger.
The story is fiction, sure, but its psychological themes—love, loss, grief, and recovery—are relatable.
It all unfolds against the riveting backdrop of the Los Angeles punk scene in 1980. As the title suggests, music is referenced throughout the book, which, according to the author, reflects a lot of the emotion and characterizations central to the story.
What made you choose the setting of L.A., 1980, the week after the suicide of Germ’s lead singer Darby Crash and John Lennon’s murder?
That time just seemed like everyone was dying, everything was going to shit, Ronald Reagan was about to be president, and Greed is Good was just taking over. When I wrote the book, I was in a pretty dark place, the death of Michael just seemed the third death. Also, I was a young writer in Los Angeles at that time, it was my coming of age in a lot of ways. So many streams coming together.
Main female characters’ overcoming major life hardships seems a recurring theme in your work. What’s your inspiration?
I think that one of the fundamental truths of human life is that loss is unavoidable. How do we cope with loss, or don't, fascinates me. You can deny it, and just go charging on ahead like nothing really happened, so that it doesn't touch you, you think--and you leave your deep feeling behind too, you just keep moving like a shark, racing ahead of guilt, regret, sorrow, and the rest. You can' get bogged down in it, and let it completely take your life hostage, so that you have no present or future, but only the past, only the loss. You can let it so thoroughly embitter you that you armor up against life forever--"I'll never care about anything again, so I won't be hurt."
Or you can move through it, allow it to touch you to the very core, deepen your humanity and your compassion for others, who suffer similarly, you can allow it to help you understand the nature of life more deeply, and yet, you have to fight to continue to find the place where you can love life and look forward to more—where you can accept that loss is part of it all, noble and unavoidable, the dark shadows that give depth to a painting, let's the light stand out more brightly, what the artists call chiaroscuro.
Your heroine Josie Tyrell’s boyfriend, Michael, is an artist who battles depression, and the intensity of his struggles your writing seems to grasp very well. Does this ability come from personal experience, or research?
Personal experience. The struggle between perfectionism and permission. The struggle between who we are and who we want to be or expect ourselves to be. The secrets that we carry around with us, the shame that poisons us.
You’ve revealed in interviews you spent some time in L.A. around the time of the book’s setting. Did you draw inspiration from this period in your life in writing Paint it Black?
Absolutely. I'm from here, and was living here in the early eighties during the punk era. It was the time I was struggling to be a young writer—also attended film school for 2.5 seconds. It was very much the time I was coming of age as a young writer.
Your last two books have become national bestsellers. What projects are you currently working on?
I'm writing a new novel, set in the 1920's, and working on a little writing book for non-writers, how to make writing, just regular essay writing, easier. I'm also teaching in the University of Southern California's Masters of Professional Writing program.
Paint it Black is currently available in paperback by Back Bay Books. Fitch is the author of the New York Times bestseller, White Oleander.