Meeting Mark Z. Danielewski

My friend called House of Leaves “a winter book.” I was in college when my friend, Andrew, introduced me to Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel. The labyrinthine novel is about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside. House of Leaves is a long, dense book with unconventional typography and layout.

House of Leaves

Creative Commons License
House of Leaves by Alan Trotter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I couldn’t finish House of Leaves the first time I started it. I tried again a year or so later and finally finished it. It was like nothing I had ever read before.

Mark Z. Danielewski (MZD) likes to compare his individual books to specific art forms: House of Leaves is about film, The Fifty Year Sword is about campfire stories, and Only Revolutions is about music.

In 2010, Danielewski organized a stage performance of The Fifty Year Sword at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater). Five actors read their lines while a puppeteer cast shadows on a screen. Around this time, MZD created Atelier Z which is a collective of researchers, artists, and others who work with him.

I was thrilled when I heard Danielewski was writing a series inspired by modern TV shows such as Breaking Bad and The Wire. The Familiar is about a 12-year-old girl and her cat. (MZD loves cats. I love cats too.) Danielewski has acknowledged that sometimes TV shows are cancelled, and I cringe at the thought of The Familiar being cut like Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

I started reading The Familiar, Volume 1 the night before my wedding so for me the series marks the beginning of my married life.

My wife and I met Danielewski at his book signing for The Familiar, Volume 2 in Toledo, Ohio.


Strong T-shirt game

He read pages 77-79 from House of Leaves which I thought was appropriate because it mentions Ohio.

… I am tripping — overcast in tones December gray, recalling names, — I have tripped — swept in Ohio sleet and rain, ruled by a man with a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horn …

It was amazing meeting MZD and hearing him talk about his work. I’m immensely excited for his next book, Honeysuckle & Pain, (isn’t that a great title?).


The Long Sentence

Long, well-crafted sentences are beautiful. One of the longest printed sentences is a four thousand plus word behemoth from James Joyce’s Ulysses, but it is not the longest by far.

The long sentence is a way for writers to flex their literary muscles. They can be used to develop an idea, provide detailed descriptions, and create tension. But a lengthy sentence can also be confusing and annoying.

The long sentence has a similar film technique: the long take.

A great example is the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective. In the fourth episode, the director uses a long take to amplify the tension as Rust Cohle helps a biker gang perform a dangerous plan.

I want to share a long sentence from House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

It’s too dark and difficult and without whim, and if you didn’t notice I’m in a whimsical (inconsequential) frame of mind right now, talking (scribbling) aimlessly and strangely about cats, enjoying all the rules in this School of Whim, the play of it,—Where Have I Moved? What Have I Muttered? Who Have I Met?—the frolic and the drift, as I go thinking now, tripping really, over the notion of eighty or more of Zampano’s dusty cats …

The entire quote is about 700 words long. To me, the passage evokes a playfulness almost like a cat playing with yarn. I love House of Leaves, and I encourage you to try that labyrinthine novel.

What do you think about long sentences? Please leave a comment using a single long sentence or post a six-minute video response because this post is about long form (so meta!), and I promise I won’t critique your grammar.