Let it be known that I have twice previously used a Fight Club reference as my blog title, so I am not merely pandering because Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced with the same inflection and first syllable as pollinate: POL-ah-nik) was the keynote speaker at this year's Muse and the Marketplace literary conference hosted by Grub Street. No, sir. I am pandering because I want to.
On Wednesday I'll tell you about the rest of the conference: the enthusiastic writers, the elusive agents and editors, the bland food, and the inspiring seminar with Pablo Medina. But for now... Chuck.
I'm quite sure others have made this comparison before, but Chuck is unambiguously reminiscent of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He is tall, skinny, clean-cut, tidily-dressed, and has an impressively gentle manner. (And then there are the books.)
When he talks to you, he looks at you. Even when I asked him a question during the Q&A session after his speech, he didn't direct his answer across the audience. He answered me.
I first saw Chuck signing a stack of his books in the conference's welcome area on the mezzanine of the hotel where the event was held, right around the time the first session of the day was starting. (First rule of literary conferences: consider going to some of your lecture-sessions late, or leaving some early. The awesome keynote speaker is not in the sessions. I know other people who had their best conference interactions in similar circumstances: going for a much-needed coffee at the same time as the dream editor, or sitting with a group of agents relaxing after all the pitch session attendees had scattered to their seminars.)
Even knowing Chuck's author photo, I would not have recognized him; indeed, I leaned forward to make absolutely sure that he was signing a copy of Pygmy before approaching him with my book.
I asked him to sign a copy of Fight Club for my husband. He asked me to tell him something embarrassing about my husband to work into the inscription: he tells a story, I tell a story, and the circle is complete... plus the book-as-gift has additional resonance.
I blanked. (Okay, I thought of one thing, but it was mean-embarrassing, not funny-embarrassing.) Chuck told me to take a minute. I did. I said that there was nothing I could say about my husband that didn't also incriminate me. He asked if my husband had any scars. He asked about vacations. I accepted these writer-prompts and began free-associating. And then we landed on something.
Chuck's eyebrows raised, and he asked for clarification. I gave it. Smiling, he signed the book, with detailed references, ending it with the single word, Dude!
And then, having thoroughly incriminated both myself and my husband, I collected the book, and asked someone to take our photo. The expression of laughter on Chuck's face is pretty much the one he had through my entire confession. I look good because I'm vaguely flushed with embarrassment instead of my usual shade of pasty white.
(Sadly, that is as big as the photo gets, for inexplicable reasons only understood by my cell phone. It swears it took the photo at the largest resolution, and yet the image is practically thumbnail-sized. Sigh.)
His keynote speech was f---ing brilliant, and I will post a link as soon as Grub Street puts the recording on their website. At Q&A time, I asked What is on your bedside table right now? He thought for a while, laughed again, and answered, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Apparently he'll have a book coming out next year, called DAMNED, about an 11-year-old girl who wakes up in Hell, isn't quite sure why she's there, but is determined to make the most of it.
I eventually got a signature for myself on a copy of Haunted (since he'd gotten a 2-for-1 embarrassing story, I figured I ought to get a second book signed... my inscription is tame, and references the fact that I'm at this moment also trying to write a story set in Hell). He said he hoped I wouldn't get in trouble over the other book. I said that I was sure I would, and thanked him for his time.
Mr. Palahniuk, it was an absolute delight meeting you.
No, blog readers, you can't know what I told him, or what the rest of the inscription says. Sometimes, what you tell the author of Fight Club stays with the author of Fight Club.
Unless he decides to write about it. Oh, crap...
ETA: Let me clarify that (1) no one and nothing was harmed in the events described to Chuck Palahniuk, and (2) it was not "I would never do that again" embarrassing, it was "I would almost certainly do that again, but I don't usually tell people about it" embarrassing.