Damon Lindelof Loves a Great, Sad Ending
by Ashley Morton
The creator of The Leftovers and the upcoming Watchmen series shares the titles that have inspired his work.
Showrunner Damon Lindelof is no stranger to dark, edgy stories. As a part of #ReadingIsLit, the creator behind HBO adaptation The Leftovers gets into the appeal of Tom Perrotta’s novel, and the books that influenced his own storytelling.
HBO: What about The Leftovers attracted you?
Damon Lindelof: I was already a fan of Tom Perrotta, and that was a big part of it. I respond to great writing that makes me feel something, and The Leftovers was an incredibly emotional experience for me to read.
One of the things that’s always interested me as a storyteller is grief. We have such a hard time talking about and synthesizing this emotion because it’s so raw and painful. It’s what makes us human: The idea of missing someone you’re never going to see or experience again, and how you process that. That taps into another thing I’m interested in as a storyteller — religion.
Religion, in many ways, is a cure for grief. If you have a system of faith that tells you the person you’re missing is in a better place, or there’s the potential to see them again, it makes the grief a lot more tolerable. And if you don’t have that system in place, it makes the grief unending. Tom’s book really dealt with all of that in an incredibly fascinating way.
HBO: Do you have a favorite moment from the book?
Damon Lindelof: The way the book ended. It completely and totally wrecked me. You know, the hardest part in a season of television is to know exactly where you’re going to land in the end. I immediately was like, “Well, at least we know where the Season 1 finale is going to end.” If you let that be your “true north” and always steer the ship towards that, you’ll be OK.
HBO: What books would you recommend for fans of The Leftovers?
Damon Lindelof: The Leftovers is a genre book, which kind of amazing considering Tom had never really dabbled into anything approaching the supernatural, but I love anything Perrotta has ever written. He wrote a great book called Little Children, which is my favorite of his, and The Abstinence Teacher is also amazing.
HBO: You’re working on a pilot of Watchmen right now — what books would you recommend for fans of the graphic novel?
Damon Lindelof: Watchmen was written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Moore has written a number of incredible pieces over the years, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Batman: The Killing Joke, and a Swamp Thing storyline for DC.
Some other incredible graphic novels are, Sweet Tooth, written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire; Planetary by Warren Ellis, which is in the same realm of Watchmen in terms of the depth of its world building, and its appreciation and love for the comic book stories that preceded it, and Brian K. Vaughn’s unbelievable Y: The Last Man. He’s also writing a new book called Saga. He’s just off the charts.
My ‘Old Standbys’
My favorite book: It’s an impossible question to ask, because there are so many. But the one I keep going back to is The Stand by Stephen King. I read it for the first time when I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and it informed so much of my storytelling. I think King is incorrectly pushed into this corner in fiction-writing that is popular, pulpy, horror; I consider The Stand to be a great piece of literature and groundbreaking in its own way.
My favorite literary character: I love Howard Rorke from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. He’s one of my favorite characters, because he’s unapologetic and stands for his values. Although, I think his idealism has been politicised in the grander scheme that Rand believes about the world.
He stands for the idea of exceptionalism, and is trying to make art unlike anything else that exists in the world. He is uncompromising and obsessive about it; he’s an architect who wants to make stand-out buildings that will ultimately be his legacy. His story vibrates with the frequencies of what drives a lot of writers in wanting to write something special and accessible that a lot of people love — But that’s distinctly them. He’s a complicated guy in a lot of ways, probably not a good guy, but from an artist’s perspective, he really stuck with me.
The first book to make a big impact on me as a child: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. My class got that in fifth grade, and it was the first book I read that made me cry. It has a sad, horrific ending, but exactly the right one. It was incredibly emotional, gritty and real, and it stayed with me all these years later. Over 30 years since I read it for the first time, and I still remember the vivid experience. I like sad endings.
The story that makes me laugh out loud: John Hodgman, who is famously known for being the PC in the MAC/PC commercials. He writes these ridiculous books where he just makes up facts about history. Whenever I read his stuff, I totally laugh.
The author who makes me think: Colson Whitehead. He wrote a book recently called Underground Railroad. I read it twice, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
The author, alive or dead, I’d most want to meet: I’ve met Stephen King, which would have been the number one. I would have loved to have met George Orwell. Animal Farm and 1984 were equally impactful as I was discovering reading and literature. And then Alan Moore.
In My Work
The book that inspired you to become a storyteller: The Stand was certainly one of them, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. There’s a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram between those two books. They have big ensembles, love stories and romance, good and evil, and tremendous amount of mystery surrounding in, in terms of how people relate to one another and what peoples’ true their agendas are.
Dickens sort of wrote high-class soap operas, the same plotlines we see in episodes of The Young and the Restless or General Hospital in terms of whose someone secret father was, or “Oh, you’ve been my sister all along.” These are being modeled in Great Expectations. And again, another great, sad ending. That definitely had a huge impact on me, especially the idea that I could relate to something that was written a century before it fell into my hands. It’s quite an accomplishment. Timeless.
Books that have inspired my creative process: To some degree, every single book I read inspires my creative process. Twain’s books certainly did, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I read them late in high school; there’s a sense of playfulness to his writing, but underneath that “cookie exterior” there’s some really tough stuff. I do think the idea of “Trojan horsing” real commentary on the world you are living in, at the time you are writing, under the veneer of play is definitely something that impacted me.
On My Nightstand
The book on my shelf I’ve been dying to get to: The Satanic Verses by Sahmid Rusdie. I’ve tried to penetrate it a couple times, but I haven’t gotten past the sixth or seventh page. It’s so much smarter than I, but I’m going to read it one of these days. It’s sitting there, taunting me.
What I’m reading right now: I’ve started reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. It’s kind of in the Margaret Atwood sci-fi genre; feminist alt history storytelling. I’m probably about 80 pages in and it’s pretty awesome.