The Road to Hell


I interviewed the novelist and screenwriter Jerry Stahl after the release of his 2009 novel Pain Killers. Stahl’s career really took off after he published his memoir Permanent Midnight, which chronicled his heroine addiction and homelessness. By the time I interviewed him, in addition to having published several novels he had been a regular contributor to the hit series CSI and would soon write a HBO movie about Ernest Hemingway.

We spent a lot more time talking about his heroine addiction and homelessness than CSI – or Pain Killers, for that matter. I’m always interested to hear about how a person’s lowest moment becomes the fuel for his greatest successes. Jerry didn’t seem to mind that we weren’t talking about his novel. In fact, in the middle of the conversation he declared, “Man, I love talking you to about this stuff. You sound like you’ve really been through it, like you’ve been through hell too.”

“Oh, I have,” I said. “Not heroine addiction, but hell just the same.”

“Yeah, I can tell, man. I can tell.”

I never described my hell to him, which was me sitting on my little blue couch, in my clean and comfortable living room, thinking, “Death is better than feeling this way.” At that moment I was married to a woman I adored, raising two boys I loved, but working as a waiter, not a writer. I was not addicted to anything except a craving for success I had not found. But that was enough to twist my heart such that I could hardly breathe at that moment; that was enough that I would look for anyway out of my nameless, formless, boundless suffering.

Jerry talked about how he had romanticized heroine: the edginess of it, the pain of it, the fantastic ugliness of it. He said he had secretly held onto the notion that somehow, no matter how bad it got, at some point Keith Richards would save him. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but these are the fantasies of which the mind is capable. It made sense to me also. The Road to Hell is paved less with good intentions and more with a glorification of suffering, holding onto ours as if it’s what makes us who we are. No one cares about your special suffering, they care about you, the one who’s suffering, the one we all keep caged and frightened within the fantasy that we were born less than we needed to be.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.m

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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