Peaks of Inspiration
– Essay by Lee Matthew Goldberg –
I was twelve when Twin Peaks debuted on network television, a show that in no way would ever be on network television now (hence the reboot on Showtime). And even though I was instantly transfixed, I had no idea how much I’d be influenced by the series and its creator David Lynch, and how much of my writing throughout the years would attempt to do what an unconventional masterpiece like Twin Peaks does best.
It began with a mystery: Who killed Laura Palmer? The image of a homecoming queen, wrapped in plastic and washed up on the shore, has forever been cemented in television history. And while the mystery hooked me, the show was far more than a who-done-it, blending the supernatural with small town folk, the balance between good and evil, FBI Agent Dale Cooper and his trusty sidekick Diane in the form of a cassette recorder, and damn fine coffee and cherry pie at the Double R Diner.
I waited every Saturday for a new episode and became so inspired that I decided to write my own version called Kapok Hills, a town based around a factory that produces the kapok lining in sleeping bags and a mystery revolving around a Laura Palmer-esque girl that winds up dead in a sleeping bag. I was a good student during junior high, especially in subjects I actually enjoyed like English, history and gym, but in math and science, I’d watch the clock waiting to be free. So I began Kapok Hills during those classes and three years later had about 1,500 pages and four seasons finished. I remember once in pre-algebra, the teacher called on me and I glared at her for interrupting my writing flow. I was about to reveal the killer, and when the hell would I ever use pre-algebra? It seemed like a no brainer which one was more important.
What I learned the most from Twin Peaks, and later on through David Lynch’s films, was the need for creating suspense and surprise. There’s an ominous foreboding that exists in all of his work, the notion that no one is safe and the plot could zag in a direction you never thought was possible. In Twin Peaks (spoiler-alert, but it’s been twenty-five years), Laura Palmer’s killer is not just her father Leiland, but her father possessed by the malevolent spirit BOB. Who would’ve ever seen that coming? The scene where BOB’s spirit gets revealed is so frightening and monstrous as he stalks Laura’s cousin Maddy that I had nightmares for weeks. But instead of being angry from my sleeplessness, I was thrilled to be so affected by a TV show. Twin Peaks is filled with many other stand-out scenes like a dream sequence involving Agent Cooper, Laura Palmer and The Man From the Other Place, a dwarf in a red suit in a blood-red room, who dances and speaks in a strange, slow language. Then there’s the Giant, a God-like creature who visits a recently shot Agent Cooper with clues about Laura Palmer’s murder. Or when the character Josie dies, only for her face to reemerge in a doorknob, struggling to break through the wood because she’s trapped in a sort of purgatory for the sins she committed. The season two finale has to be the biggest standout when our hero Agent Cooper becomes possessed by BOB too, turning him into Evil Cooper. It’s been interesting how the third season dealt with a war between Good Cooper and Evil Cooper once Good Cooper got over his amnesia.
The third season has been a wonderful surprise. Laura Palmer tells Agent Cooper at the end of season two that she’ll “see him in twenty-five years” and Lynch kept that promise, bringing us back to all of his characters that many years later. While the third season has not matched the brilliance of the show’s heights, there are connected threads that Lynch is starting to wrap up between the first seasons. For any die-hard fan who never dreamed of any answers, Lynch is actually delivering with satisfying results. We’ve learned what happened to Major Briggs after he supposedly died in a fire. Troubled lovebirds Shelly and Bobby are still troubled with an out-of-control daughter, except he’s a deputy now rather than a hooligan. Audrey Horne didn’t blow up in a bank. Sheriff Truman is sick, but his older brother has taken his place. And the Log Lady is there to still speak the words of wisdom her trusty log tells her (even though the actress Catherine E. Coulson has sadly passed). Twin Peaks still can delight and transfix.
It’s a testament to David Lynch’s ability to absorb viewers from his debut Eraserhead and its lady with the giant cheeks that exists in the radiator, to the current Twin Peaks where a tree has an actual brain. The uncanny and strange has always been a huge part of his oeuvre. Blue Velvet begins with a severed ear on a suburban lawn, a juxtaposition of evil lurking under an idyllic small-town-America sheen in the form of Dennis Hopper’s depraved psychopath Frank Booth. Mulholland Drive is a treasure box of puzzles within puzzles that reveals itself to be a different movie every time and whether it was all a dream. Like dreams, it defies explanation. Fire Walk With Me is a prequel to Twin Peaks that instead of offering answers to questions, brought up even more when a character disappears after picking up a ring. And Lost Highway is really a dark and jarring journey of two films merged into one with a punishing soundtrack full of dread. Halfway through the film one character is transported into the body of another, but he’s unable to stop his old life from mixing into his new one. Wild at Heart is one of Lynch’s most out there movies, which he has said is “a love story that barrels along down a strange highway through the twisted world” and features Nicolas Cage as an Elvis-obsessed guy with a snakeskin jacket. The Straight Story is about a widowed farmer who takes a trip on his lawnmower to visit his dying brother and make things right. The only connecting thread for Lynch’s work is that he challenges viewers without solid clarifications so each film becomes something singular to each person, and even more than that, impossible to predict from the start where it’s headed.
Keeping a reader guessing is an important part of crafting a novel and especially a thriller. With my first two novels Slow Down and The Mentor, I wanted to make sure the plot zags when you think it might zig. In Slow Down, the quest for fame causes Noah Spaeth to do unspeakable things he never thought his conscience would be capable of doing. Set against the backdrop of New York City, a war brews between a hotshot film director and his PA Noah over control of a film and the actress they both love. Reality becomes skewed when tattoos of yellow circles appear on actresses and may be controlling their emotions through a drug called Fast. In The Mentor, shortly after Kyle Broder achieves his lifelong dream of editing books for a major publishing house, he gets a visit from his college mentor—manuscript in hand—which leads to depraved past secrets surfacing, entangling their lives in a dangerous way. As the past begins to be exposed more and more, readers begin to wonder whether the hero of the story is actually the villain as well. Most importantly, I never want an ending to be telegraphed from the start. I like the rug to be pulled out from under again and again and that if anyone decides to reread my books, they’ll always notice something new. I enjoy when there’s an element of surreal, making you question what you always thought and what might be. Even the current reboot of Twin Peaks consistently did this. It existed in the world of the old show, but a slanted version of it. It’s not the Twin Peaks I expected after twenty-five years of waiting, but I wouldn’t imagine anything different from David Lynch. His ability to zag has only deepened with time, just like I hope I can be with my own writing years and years down the road.
Lee Matthew Goldberg’s novel THE MENTOR is out from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press and has been acquired by Macmillan Entertainment with the film in development. The French translation will be published by Editions Hugo, and in Slovak by Albatros Media. His debut novel SLOW DOWN is an acclaimed neo-noir thriller. His pilot JOIN US was a finalist in Script Pipeline’s TV Writing Competition. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in The Millions, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, Essays & Fictions, The New Plains Review, Verdad Magazine, BlazeVOX, and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series (guerrillalit.wordpress.com). He lives in New York City. Follow him at leematthewgoldberg.com and @LeeMatthewG