When reading C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, a number of things stood out in high relief. One of them was his statement that the early years of autobiographies are often the most interesting. Now, many people may have difficulty drawing a straight line between Lewis and William Peter Blatty, but the overlaps are there. I’ll Tell Them I Remember You is a young man’s autobiography, so mostly it deals with early years. Even more than that, it deals with Blatty’s mother. Those of us who write often find a kind of inspiration in the life stories of other writers. To hear Blatty tell it, or rather, to read him tell it, it was his mother who made him the man he became. It’s a nice tribute.
Blatty is probably best remembered as the author of The Exorcist, but his background as a comic screenwriter comes through in his account. (He also wrote, for example, the Pink Panther screenplay A Shot in the Dark.) But more to the point currently, with a spoiled child wanting to try to force a wall that America doesn’t want on it, Blatty’s parents were immigrants. From Lebanon. It may be that since I’m writing a book about demons in movies that The Exorcist seems like an important national achievement to me, but it also seems an apt parable for the situation in which we find ourselves. It worth thinking about—the invasion of evil and how to expel it. Metaphorical writing is often the best.
Perhaps writers are naturally obstreperous people. If my novels ever get published you’ll see that characters don’t do what you want them to. And yet we like what happens when they don’t. I would have found a bit more information about Blatty’s life an asset. His mother certainly makes an impression, even if its third-hand. Writers, if my own experience is anything to go by, often feel they are conduits. Receivers. It’s like listening to the radio when driving a car through the mountains. Suddenly a station comes in clear, but just for a moment. Ideas for stories are like that—they often arrive when you can’t do anything about them. Writers carry notebooks for a reason. I used to have a waterproof one in our shower. You never know when the signal’s going to come in loud and clear. And you never know when the people you’re trying to block out might be adding more value than you’d ever imagined. You might be surprised.