Monday, November 8, 2010

Meeting Chuck Palahniuk (redux)

The written content of this blog post first "aired" on May 3, 2010. I am reposting because I have had to link to the original post four times this week for various reasons, and honestly, the URL for that version is too long, and I'm sick of doing the shortening thing. Plus, dammit, this was an AWESOME experience, and I will retell it as long as anyone is willing to listen. Sorry if it's a rerun for some of you. For the rest? ENJOY.

A little background: 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. I attended. We met. Fabulosity ensued.

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.*

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'm sure others have said this 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. In short, you don't see him coming.

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!

Let me repeat: I managed to come up with something that raised Chuck Palahnuik's eyebrows. And that made him write an appreciative DUDE! in my husband's book.

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, go check out the video. 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. (Side note: when Chuck talks to you, he looks at you. He didn't direct his answer to this question across the audience. He answered me. I am so doing this when I become a famous author.)

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. ( And my husband's cool with you knowing.)

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...

* 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.

** 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.


  1. I've been lucky enough to hear Chuck speak twice. And I almost had the chance to talk to him, but totally missed out. I was at a confrence that he also attened, and I sat right next to him without knowing. Before the speaker got up to talk I chatted for a while with the person to my right. Chuck was the person to my left, but I didn't realize that until he got up to speak an hour later. Talk about missing an opportunity.

    But I'm glad you were smart enough to know what Chuck looked like and talk to him when you had the chance.

  2. So cool! Lucky you. I once was able to meet my idol author and it was such an incredible experience.

  3. That does sound like good times. Thanks for re-posting, I hadn't been around for the 1st time.

  4. Oh don't be such a tease... I think we all need to know what you and your husband did.

  5. Nothing doing, Sarah! My parents read this blog.