Hey guys! On this week’s Podcast episode I followed up on a previous episode titled “How to Write a Horror Story.”
In that episode I talked about how I am planning on writing a fiction horror story for the first time! On this week’s episode I updated you guys on my outline for my horror story, I discussed a blog post that teaches you how to plan a fiction novel, and then I talked a lot about the Cecil Hotel since it has become an inspiration for this new book I want to write.
To keep it brief I’ve decided to write a novel about an eighteen-year old girl who lives somewhere in the U.S. The book takes place during the Summer before she will be starting college. The main character who I have temporarily named Annalise will be hitchhiking her way through the country as one final act of freedom before she enters the real world. The character has extremely overprotective parents so she told a couple of white lies to convince them to let her go. Little does the main character know that she has bipolar disorder which has never been formally diagnosed and during the middle of this trip, she gets thrown into a full-blown manic episode.
I talked a lot about the steps I will take to prevent exploiting people with bipolar disorder and to prevent myself from portraying this disorder inaccurately. I have decided that the character has bipolar disorder type 1, simply because a manic episode has different symptoms than a hypo-manic episode which is what’s associated with bipolar disorder type 2 (also known as bipolar depression). I personally have been diagnosed with bipolar depression and I understand just how important it is to accurately portray the symptoms without feeding into the harmful stereotypes that surround this disorder.
My intent with this story is to get people to understand how scary it can be to struggle with this disorder, especially for those who are undiagnosed and unmedicated. I have set some hard limits, the main character will not commit an act of violence throughout the story and she will not have a fatal ending. I don’t think either of these scenarios will contribute anything to the reader’s experience or my intention with this story. A common misconception about people with bipolar disorder is that they are violent, and I want to debunk several myths like this throughout the story.
Some other minor details I’ve come up with so far is that the main character is either a writer or photographer. She is going to college for a career either in the medical or engineering field but indulges in the arts as a hobby. She wants to launch a new blog and document her travels. Right now I am planning on using this minor detail to help deliver the ending of the story. I don’t know too much about the ending but I know ultimately I would like it to end with ethical medical intervention for the main character, where the reader will formally learn about her diagnosis.
In order to form this outline I followed the 10 steps that were mentioned in this article:
If you are planning on writing a novel soon or in the future, I would strongly recommend reading through the article linked above to help get your ideas on paper!
So…let’s talk about the Cecil Hotel. This obsession I have with this hotel started when I watched a Netflix Docuseries titled “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.” The series focused mostly on the tragic case of Elisa Lam. As I was planning my novel I realized subconsciously I was thinking about this case and the Cecil Hotel. I want to make it very clear that the novel I am planning in no way intends to copy the details of what happened to Elisa Lam but this case is simply a reference for major themes that will be discussed in my story. Actually the obsession I have is with the history of the Cecil Hotel itself because I find it absolutely bizarre. However, out of respect and full transparency I did briefly talk about who Elisa Lam is and what happened to her because after all she is a part of the history of the Cecil Hotel.
So, in February of 2013 Elisa Lam who was a Canadian tourist tragically passed away at the Cecil Hotel located in downtown Los Angeles. If you’re a true crime fan, you’ve probably seen the infamous elevator footage. Just minutes before her death, security footage at the Cecil shows Elisa Lam standing in one of the hotel’s elevators alone. She is acting extremely erratically in the footage. She is waving her arms and speaking seemingly to someone who is outside of the elevator, even though no one was caught on camera. She also pressed all of the elevator buttons and popped her head out of the elevator several times to look into the hallway. When I first saw this footage with no context I thought she was playing some sort of game with friends she had made but it later comes out, no one else was caught on video at this time. The elevator door stayed open for a concerning amount of time and the footage’s choppy nature all contributed to how poorly this video was received.
This footage was released to the internet by the detectives who were working the case of trying to find Elisa Lam, who was just thought to be missing at the time. However the internet erupted into chaos, forming several conspiracy theories and web sleuths began to have a field day with the footage. Here’s what actually was said to have happened.
Elisa Lam who wrote on her blog about the fact she had bipolar disorder and stopped taking her medication, had a manic episode. During manic episodes some people can experience visual and auditory hallucinations. This fact combined with the hotel’s lack of following safety guidelines, led to an extremely bizarre and tragic ending for Elisa. First of all, the hotel’s elevator door stayed open because Elisa had accidentally pressed the hold button in the elevator. Once the elevator door stayed open Elisa Lam exited the elevator and made her way to the roof. The hotel’s security cameras never actually showed Elisa leaving the hotel so after awhile detectives began to realize they needed to search the hotel itself to find her.
Guests and residents of the Cecil Hotel are obviously not supposed to have access to the roof because of the many safety guidelines that violates, however they did. The door to the roof was often left unlocked and would not set off alarms if opened, even though the hotel’s formal statement was that the door would set off an alarm if opened. Once Elisa made it to the roof, she is said to have climbed up the water tower and jumped in as a way to escape her hallucinations.
I genuinely understand why people without a solid understanding of what bipolar disorder is, are prone to believing the conspiracy theories. Elisa Lam’s body was eventually found naked, floating in the water tank and that seems like an extremely brutal ending for one bad mental health episode. So it makes sense why so many people feel like there has to be more to the story, but the reality is, that’s the whole story. Elisa Lam was unmedicated, experiencing a manic episode and she climbed into the water tower to escape the hallucinations. Once she was in the water tank she most likely quickly became overwhelmed by the water pressure and took off her clothes as her body’s natural response to experiencing hypothermia.
Elisa had actually been moved into a private room in the days before her death because the roommates she was originally staying with complained about her erratic behavior. As heartbreaking and brutal as her ending is, it isn’t a conspiracy. It’s a heartbreaking unfortunate tragedy.
I also want to quickly mention the fact that many people believe the Netflix Docuseries was exploitative of Elisa. The documentary was made to look like a documentary mostly about the Cecil Hotel but Elisa Lam was the main subject discussed in every single episode. There are also parts where they show her Tumblr username which was one of the platforms she blogged on and read her blog posts out loud which many viewers felt was an invasion of privacy. The docuseries experienced other criticisms as well including the fact they took on too many topics without giving a conclusion to all of them. I would definitely urge readers of this post to not rely solely on the docuseries for information about the Cecil Hotel.
So now, let’s actually talk about the Cecil Hotel. At some point I would love to replicate this hotel’s unique characteristics and find a way to implement them into a story of my own. The Cecil Hotel is located directly next to an area referred to as “Skid Row.” This name comes from the saying that people end up in this area when they’re “on the skids.” The area has an extremely large homeless population. Skid row covers 50 blocks in Downtown Los Angeles. The area has been known for its homeless population starting riots, selling drugs, and breaking the law in other various ways. This area is also known for frequent instances of police brutality. The Netflix docuseries briefly discusses the fact that officials made a plan to basically keep homeless people in Skid Row all together and keep them out of other areas of California.
The hotel was known for being a space where sex offenders, gangsters, prostitutes, and serial killers stayed when they had the money or wanted to hide out. This was a fact known to residents of Downtown Los Angeles but it was not a fact usually known by tourists from other countries. Many tourists who stayed at the Cecil experienced two major surprises. The first surprise was realizing where the hotel was located and having to walk through Skid Row to visit different attractions. The second surprise was entering the hotel’s stunning lobby, only to then see the rest of the hotel which paled in comparison. Since the Cecil is a budget hotel, the rooms are minimal and have historically looked extremely rundown.
The Cecil Hotel opened in 1927 and it was intended to be a spot for traveling businessmen and tourists. After two years of the hotel being opened, the Great Depression happened and this is when the hotel’s interior itself began to see a decline. In 1931 the hotel saw its first tragedy when a man staying at the hotel committed suicide and this seemed to mark the beginning of the hotel’s reputation for being a place people ended up at when they were down on their luck.
Several people have committed suicide in this hotel either in their rooms or by jumping off the building which has 19 floors and 700 guest rooms. Several other tragedies happened at this hotel including the case of a woman who was found raped, stabbed, and beaten which still remains unsolved today. Richard Ramirez known as the “Night Stalker” was fond of staying at the Cecil Hotel. He was able to leave at odd hours of the night and change his clothes in the alley without attracting attention since he blended in easily with the other residents.
In 2011 the hotel was split and half of the hotel was renamed to “Stay at Main.” The hotel was desperate to rebrand and get away from the Cecil’s reputation. Since the hotel’s demographic mainly consisted of longtime residents of Skid Row and tourists from other countries, Stay at Main was an attempt to attract more tourists. When potential hotel guests googled “stay at main” they most likely wouldn’t see the concerning search results that they would see when they googled “Cecil Hotel.” In the docuseries the hotel’s old manager who was hired despite having no previous managerial experience, discussed other attempts she made to change the hotel’s clientele. One more unethical approach she tried to take was evicting the hotel’s longtime residents but this attempt failed since there were laws protecting these residents as an attempt to get homeless people off the streets of Skid Row. This hotel desperately tried to rebrand and is still making attempts to rebrand themselves to this day.
In 2017 Los Angeles made the Cecil Hotel a landmark. There are currently renovations being done to the Cecil Hotel that are scheduled to be done in October of 2021.
I find the Cecil Hotel so interesting because it has a bunch of different elements contributing to its unique environment. This hotel targets two main demographics; well intentioned tourists from other countries who want to visit the version of Los Angeles they see on TV and long-time residents of Skid Row who are used to witnessing crime and police violence on a regular basis. Tourists at this hotel stay for short amounts of time and long-time residents think of this hotel as their home. Both of these demographics share elevators and common spaces but reside on opposite sides of the hotel.
I have never heard of any hotel quite like the Cecil and even if its a location that will only be briefly mentioned in my future story, I think this hotel is the perfect spot to implement into a Horror Story.
That is it for this week’s episode! Let me know down in the comments if you’ve already known about the Cecil Hotel and what intrigues you about it the most. See you guys in two weeks for the next episode where I will be discussing what’s new on the digital marketing side of the internet. See you next week!
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Elisa Lam’s blogs and social media sites are listed here –