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Simon & Schuster Pulls the Plug on Novel : Books: Publisher says it will not market ‘American Psycho.’ Author Bret Ellis calls the novel’s gore gruesome, but necessary.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bret Easton Ellis said the first “rumblings” he heard that Simon & Schuster might not release his new novel began last Friday.

By Wednesday, Simon & Schuster Chairman Richard E. Snyder had released a statement saying that “American Psycho” was “not a book that Simon & Schuster was going to publish.”

The book had been under fire in the media because of its lurid depiction of violence against women.

Ellis, 26, said he was flabbergasted. “I literally couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was sick, completely sick.

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“This might sound dopey, but I have been with Simon & Schuster since 1984,” Ellis said. “I thought I had a strong relationship with Simon & Schuster. I like that publisher. I thought I would always stay there.”

The best-selling author of “Less Than Zero” and “Rules of Attraction” said his manuscript for “American Psycho” was accepted for publication a year ago.

Amanda Urban, Ellis’ literary agent, said she knew of no other case in which a manuscript by a well-known author was accepted and legally vetted, was listed in the publisher’s catalogue and for which the advance was paid to the author--and then weeks before the book’s release, the publisher chose not to release it.

“There are two junctures at which a publisher can exercise choice,” Urban said. The first is when the publisher decides to accept a book proposal. “And later, when the manuscript is completed.”

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Noting that Simon & Schuster accepted Ellis’ manuscript for “American Psycho” last January, Urban added: “There is a moment when the publisher becomes the custodian of First Amendment rights. That moment has long passed for Simon & Schuster.”

Even before Simon & Schuster decided not to publish “American Psycho,” the book had been facing escalating controversy. It tells the story of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street yuppie who is also a serial killer. By Ellis’ own description, the book is full of graphic violence and gore.

Artist George Corsillo, who has designed the jackets for Ellis’ previous two novels, was so sickened by “American Psycho” that he “ripped up the contract” and refused to proceed with his design, Ellis said.

Some women at Simon & Schuster who read “American Psycho” were reportedly troubled by the painstaking descriptions of violence toward women. A paragraph excerpted in Time magazine several weeks ago described a woman being skinned alive. That was “sort of mild compared to the first four pages of the book,” a Simon & Schuster employee said.

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Ellis said he could understand this kind of response.

“I know that I had strong reactions while writing it,” he said. “It upset me to write certain passages.

“I would have to say, yes, I am appalled by what this character does.”

Ellis said he had conducted extensive research before writing “American Psycho.” He said he had read criminology textbooks as well as books about the psychology of serial killers.

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But even though “it was upsetting to write some of these chapters,” Ellis said he felt “at the same time that it was vital to the overall texture” of the novel.

“It would not make sense for me to edit (those sections),” Ellis said. “I would feel I was censoring myself.”

Bob Asahina, Ellis’ editor at Simon & Schuster, said “American Psycho” reflected Ellis’ increasing literary skill.

“Bret continues to grow as a writer,” said Asahina, now an editor at Summit Books.

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Barbara Reno, a corporate spokesman for Simon & Schuster, would not comment about when the decision not to publish “American Psycho” was made. Nor would she elaborate on the reasons for the decision.

Reno did say, however, that Snyder alone had chosen not to publish the book.

Ellis said he was particularly offended by the abrupt nature of the decision.

“Now, listen, if they had come up 11 months ago,” and said the book was unsuitable for publication, “well fine, maybe we would have gone to another publisher,” he said. But as it is, “American Psycho” “is in limbo,” Ellis said.

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Urban, Ellis’ agent, said she never discusses her authors’ advances. But she would not deny a reported figure of $300,000 for “American Psycho.” Because the book had been accepted for publication, Ellis had already been paid most of his advance.

Urban said Penguin Books had had a first option for paperback rights to “American Psycho.” But those rights now revert back to Ellis, Urban said.

She said the action by Simon & Schuster would not keep “American Psycho” from being published: “We will (pursue publication of this book) more vigorously than ever.”


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