Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Image by Cox & Forkum

I highly recommend this post by Janet Reid: 91 Minutes.

To those who have served, and are serving, thank you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What keeps you going?

Where are you in the writing process? Drafting your first novel? Finished with one or more, and trying to write the next one? Querying and unagented? Agented but on submission? Got one book deal, hoping to get another? Got a book deal that's still ongoing and trying to meet your deadlines? I know each of these stages is exciting yet filled with anxiety, doubt, and stress. So.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Belated Harvey Milk Day!

I'm five days late. The message, however, ain't outdated yet.

ETA: House voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell! A good way to end the day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Writer's Brain: there is no cure

On Monday, Kari Lynn Dell blogged about writer's brain: you know, when your brain is so busy thinking about characters and story arcs that it shuts down all other non-essential functions (like the ones that would help you not mail random un-stamped, un-addressed pieces of paper just because you happen to be in front of a mailbox). Well, here's my writer's brain story.

A while ago, I boiled a batch of eggs for a recipe, and also to have on hand in the fridge for snacking. In order to save space, I put the hard-boiled eggs back in the egg carton, but I cleverly labeled each shell "HB" with a permanent marker to avoid confusion.

Yesterday I was running late for my evening writing class. I was thinking about the story I'd just revised that I was going to hand in, and also was pondering some related story themes. I was also hungry. So I reached into my fridge, opened the egg carton, carefully removed a non-markered egg (I wanted the cooked ones, after all), cracked it against a stool next to the garbage can in the kitchen, and was genuinely surprised when it collapsed dramatically upon cracking and then started to leak a clear liquid.

Right. "HB" for hard-boiled. Those were the eggs to take, not to avoid.

On the bright side, at least I didn't decide to just toss the egg in my purse to eat in class, like I did (with a fully-cooked one) last week!

Let's hope my condition doesn't become life-threatening.


Monday, May 24, 2010

James Cameron makes mistakes so you don't have to

Mistake #1: False exposition, or the "as you know, our mother died last week" problem.

Avatar example: (Big bad corporate guy, speaking slowly to hard-boiled scientist woman) "This is why we’re here. Unobtanium. Because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo. No other reason. This is what pays for the party. And it’s what pays for your science."

Viewer reaction: REALLY? You've told me that there are teams and teams of people who have painstakingly grown genetically-specific Avatars, learned a whole new language, and had "years" of troublesome relations with the indigenous people, and the head scientist doesn't know about the MINERAL?

Solution: Do not have your characters tell each other things they already should know. If you have to get this information out in dialogue, use a character who has the same lack-of-knowledge as your reader.

Mistake #2: Painfully obvious stereotypes.

Avatar examples: (Bad corporate guy) "Killing the indigenous looks bad, but there’s one thing shareholders hate more than bad press -- and that’s a bad quarterly statement."

Viewer reaction: SERIOUSLY? You spent all this money on Avatars and all that other crap, but NOW it's cheaper to blow it all up? Then why not blow it up before you got involved with them? And, really, not even the big tobacco guys talk like this. Finally, for those of us who used to handle legal matters, do you know what often makes for a bad quarterly statement? BAD PRESS. People will boycott products -- even ones they love and thought they needed -- if the company is horrible enough.

Solution: Okay, stereotypes sometimes exist for a reason: some corporate guys ARE greedy. But please don't use stereotypes as a shortcut to establish plot or character. The character of Jake plays with some of the "dumb jock" stereotypes quite nicely, after all. (And while we're at it, don't name the unobtainable mineral unobtanium, or the selfish corporate guy Selfridge. Don't even get me started on the "noble savage" thing Cameron did with the Na'vi.)

Mistake #3: False tension.

Avatar example: (Military squad leader who is once again imitating the Full Metal Jacket speech) "You are on Pandora, ladies and gentlemen. Respect that fact every second of every day. Out beyond that fence every living thing that crawls, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubees."

Viewer reaction (as the show progresses): That's really pretty. Wasn't this planet supposed to be horrifyingly deadly? Was the military guy supposed to be lying? No, doesn't seem that way, because there's another reference to the deadly planet. Hey, our hero's leaving his body behind a lot. No danger to it, apparently...

Solution: Don't over-sell. Or explain why your hero is so special that none of the rules apply.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The answers you've been waiting for...

Eighteen questions from Wednesday & Thursday to be answered! You guys rock, thank you.

Kari Lynn Dell asked: What genre do you write?

Hmm. Well, when I first started writing my first novel in November 2005 (inspired by National Novel Writing Month), I hung out in NaNoWriMo's literary fiction chat rooms. When I started querying the novel, I called it women's fiction, because I got the feeling that literary fiction was a label other people had to give you, you couldn't give it to yourself. ( I "literary" enough?)

Then I had a number of agents tell me that my book was in fact chick lit because it had a first-person POV 20-something urban female narrator with a slightly confidential and humorous tone, despite the total lack of shopping, shoes, or other traditional chick lit content. So I tried to embrace the chick lit label (there are some posts in the early days of this blog on that subject), but... hell. I didn't write chick lit.

I wrote a coming-of-age novel. My narrator is female, and 26. My current WIP, a long short story, is about the devil (who is also female, though obviously much older). The only fiction I've ever been paid for is sci fi/fantasy. I've given up trying to categorize my writing beyond "fiction" (for now, at least), and I think that's made me much happier.

Patty asked: "How you do you get yourself um... you know, in the mood ... when you'd rather subject yourself to root canal that deal with a story that just won't come?"

You knew I was going to quote that whole thing verbatim, right? That's the most fabulously-phrased writing question ever.

If the story won't come, I write a different story. I've tried to force it, but that never seems to work for me. Sometimes I can write a different scene, or some backstory for a lesser-known character, or something else in the same vein to keep the work going on a single project, but if it's really not working, I have to walk away. I write something else that needs more badly to be written. This is the luxury of the unpublished: I'm not on deadline, so it doesn't matter if I just switch gears.

Also, I'm an extrovert, so I've learned that (even though writers are supposed to be these solitary creatures) if my writing is stagnating, it's probably because I'm too isolated. And I go online to chat with my writer friends, or I go for a walk, and I just get out of my own head for a while. I get energy from the outside world, so I will probably always need a class or a writer's group or something else outside myself and my home office to help my creative process along.

Bryan Russell (Ink) asked: If you had decided to make an acting comeback, and could have chosen any movie and role in the last ten years to do so, what would it be? and why?

Hey, cool question. Umm... can I just be Anne Hathaway for a while? Some fun stuff like Ella Enchanted and Devil Wears Prada (with Meryl-freaking-Streep) and then that knockout supporting role in Brokeback Mountain? If I was younger, I'd want Dakota Fanning's career; she was taken so seriously from such a young age, it's wonderful. I think child actors get more respect now than ever before, and I think that these young actors are able to create better performances than ever before as a result.

I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that made me think, damn, I wish I was still in the business, that role would be perfect for me. I'm sad that I'll never be on an episode of Law & Order.

Okay, here's my answer. I want someone to write a script for me, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Fred Koehler, because they are both spectacular talents and wonderful people and not nearly enough people know them. That will be my comeback.

Or, you know, anything with Daniel Craig or Christian Bale or Jennifer Connelly or Angelina Jolie.

Caroline Starr Rose asked: Where you are in the query process?

Stiiiiiill waitin'. Five or so agents have fulls. And maybe someday they will have time to read them.

Harley May asked: Will you hold my hand?

Only if it's while watching the director's cut LOTR with the commentary on. Oh, who am I kidding, yes, you can hold my hand any time you're near enough to do so. :-)

maine character asked: If you could have an hour's talk with any author ever, who would it be, why, and what would you ask?

Ooh, another good one... Hunter S. Thompson, because he had the ability (and willingness) to use language like a weapon. He articulated concepts and truths that you didn't know existed until he wrote them down, and then you'd read his words and realize you knew it all along, and your chest would hurt from that awakening. I wish he had written more fiction (actual fiction, not gonzo nonfiction).

I'd want to ask what scared him. I'd want to ask him about being a dad and a husband. I'd want to ask him about dying. I'd want to ask him what he regretted. I'd want to ask him what he loved. And what I would do instead to get him talking is hand him a drink and ask him to teach me how to shoot.

Simon C. Larter asked: Were there pierogies served with the sauerkraut and kielbasa [at the wedding reception you recently attended]? Also, would you ever consider vlogging a reenactment of your favorite acting moments from childhood?

Sadly, there were no pierogis as part of the buffet! But we stocked up on everything at Swiacki's before heading home.

No reenactments. Ever. I'm old now, the originals are already on film, it would be wrong.

jjdebenedictis asked: Would you like to know how superconductors work?

I'm a little intimidated by this question. Is this knowledge going to be important for me later?

Adam Heine asked: Batman v. Ironman. Go.
Jetlag + 3-year-old, better or worse than being forced to watch a Seventh Heaven marathon?

Batman. The original Dark Knight comic books cannot be topped by a man in a metal suit.

That second question is so horrible that it gives me chills. I'm going to pick the jetlagged parenting of a jetlagged 3yo, because I'm choosing to go on an international flight with my daughter next month, whereas I would never in a million years choose to watch a Seventh Heaven marathon.

KLM asked: As regards your writing goals: If you had to choose between critical acclaim and icon status posthumously or fabulous wealth and fame during your lifetime but then no one ever read anything you wrote ever again, which would you choose?

I assume that the fabulous wealth and fame during my lifetime are because people love my writing now, right, it's just that for whatever reason it ends up not standing the test of time? This isn't a trick question where I get fame and wealth for being horrible? Okay, then I would choose the fame now, because I think I have something to say, well, right now. If my words end up being timeless, that's fantastic, but I wrote it now, and I hope people will want to read it now.

Tabitha Bird asked: How goes the book? Is the universe cooperating with you? :)

Novel number two and I have been on the outs for a while, so I've been ignoring it in favor of several short stories. I think it's finally starting to get jealous and miss me, but I'm not going to give it any attention until it apologizes properly and agrees to behave. You have to be firm or these books will just walk all over you, really.

Sandy asked: Team Aniston or Team Jolie?

Um... yeah.

Journaling Woman asked: Is there a Pippi Longstocking inside you?

Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking. Always and forever.

Lucy Woodhull asked: If you could be any person who ever lived, what person would that be and how would you, as that person, defeat the alien-unicorn-wolf-bear hybrids who are, even as I type, flying in from the planet Mentos to enslave us all and make sex toys of our goats?

I would be Charles Darwin, because he's the one who stopped the alien-unicorn-wolf-bear hybrids the last time they tried to enslave us all, using finch-power and the secrets known only to the Galapagos turtles.

Audrey Beth Stein asked: If you didn't have writing (or acting) for a creative outlet, how do you think your creativity would be expressed?

Dance. Lots and lots more dance.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Another Round of Ask Me Anything!

I'm having one of those days. Save me from having to think of a meaningful blog post. Ask me anything you like in the comments, and I'll answer in the blog on Friday. Warning: if I don't know the answer or don't like the question, I will rewrite your question until it suits me, and THEN I'll answer it. Actually, you might like those answers better anyway.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday extra: Me 'n' Chuck

Photo taken by awesome author Jennifer 8. Lee
(who incidentally went to my high school)

This was the second signature I got from Chuck Palahniuk at the Muse & the Marketplace literary conference, after the lunchtime keynote speech and Q&A session. To read about the first signature, see my May 3 blog post here: A minute of perfection was worth the effort.

The video of Chuck's keynote speech is now available at the Grub Street website, or courtesy of Grub St. on Vimeo, or embedded below (if my html works). Watch it. Make your friends watch it. I promise that, unlike his notorious short story Guts, it will not make you pass out. I would be surprised, however, to hear that it didn't move you.

There's about half an hour of speech, then the Q&A. At 33:00, you can hear him talk about being denied representation for his first novel (an 800-900 page "reeking waste of trees"). My question shows up at 40:58, and his answer lasts for nearly three minutes.

(You can also see me in the audience at the very beginning when the camera pans around the audience. Yep. About 42 seconds in, at the second table from the podium, dead center, blue sweater and a ponytail. That's me.)

So, it's long. It's also worth it. You don't even have to have read his books. Bookmark it, come back later to watch when you have time. At least the speech itself, if not the Q&A after.

Please. You won't regret it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

To Somebody, You Are Somebody

Image found on Salvation Army website

First, I'd like to apologize for not blogging on schedule on Friday: packing the toddler for a 6-hr train ride to Philly was more time-consuming than expected. What's that? You say you don't care, you spent your Friday blog-reading time just staring at Wednesday's eye candy? Oh. Well, in that case, you're welcome.

So, today I wanted to talk about connections. As Jackson Pearce says about 3 minutes into her lovely video Everybody's Free (To Buy A Laser Printer), in which 28 YA Authors give you advice on writing, publishing, and everything in-between... in song:

Reach out. Find people who want to help you, and people who you want to help.

Mostly, I wanted to remind the beginning/unagented/unpublished writers out there that, even if you feel like a newbie, I promise you have something wonderful to offer someone else. I know people who don't give back, not because they're selfish, but because they don't think they have anything to offer. YOU DO. Don't ever think that you're not experienced enough to help or connect with others.

Maybe you're the perfect crit partner for someone more experienced because you "get" what they're trying to achieve with their current WIP, and so your first-reader impressions are exactly what they need to hear.

Maybe you found some really cool online resources for newbies that other newbies need to know about.

Heck, maybe your day job is postal worker, and there's a writer out there who desperately needs to know what those extra four digits in the zip codes are all about.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting up with some people to chat about one of the jobs I used to do. And then on Wednesday, I'm hoping to meet with a much more experienced writer and teacher to pick his brain about the kind of writing I hope to do in the future. One day, I'll be the "expert." The other, I'll be the newbie, and I plan to have an absolute blast both days.

And here's the thing: I kind of forgot that people might want to hear about the things I used to do until I got an email from the students I'm meeting tomorrow. I'm glad they wrote to me. I'm glad they reminded me that I have experience and stories to share that might have value to other people. So, now I'm reminding you. Go out and be generous with what you know.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Music & Writing (and some eye candy)

Here's your eye candy. I can explain.

Steve Almond's latest book has a soundtrack. Joe Hill's latest book has a soundtrack. A friend just sent me the soundtrack for one of his WIPs (which is currently and temporarily in my possession). Why the heck don't my stories have soundtracks?

Except they sort of do. I am, as my friend Lisa would say, a "binge listener." She and I both have a tendency towards "binge reading," in which we discover (or re-discover) an author we love and then devour everything that person has ever written. Or we fall in love with a certain type of book and then obsessively hunt down other books that are its match in some way. I am also a compulsive re-reader, so for big swatches of time I will read nothing but short stories from post WW2, or nothing but intellectual chick lit, or nothing but Stephen King/John Irving... you get the idea.

I take this to a greater extreme with music. I have trouble listening to music while writing because other (less literary) parts of my brain start yammering at me to pay attention to the lyrics or -- even more likely -- to step away from the computer and start dancing. But when I do listen to music while writing, I am very likely to put a single track on repeat. You'd think I'd get very sick of these songs, or perhaps go mad, but I don't. When something works, it works. And I stick with it.

Often, these songs are from movie soundtracks. (Ah, finally we explain the eye candy.) My current song is by Crawl, End Crawl by Four Tet, and you'll hear it as the end credits are rolling on Quantum of Solace. Another favorite end credits song of mine is Drive Away from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Other soundtracks in my possession include but are not limited to: American Beauty, Strange Days, The Frighteners, Center Stage and Coyote Ugly.

Yes, Coyote Ugly is a terrible movie. Don't judge me. Sometimes you have to look beyond something bad in order to see something good. I used to choreograph to this music. Now I write to it. (And I still choreograph when I have the time.)

What are YOU listening to?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do The Write Thing For Nashville

Okay, does everyone know about the Do The Write Thing For Nashville auction yet? I really should have blogged about it earlier, but it's still going on so... better late than never!

Click on the link for details, but the basics are that new items go up each day, and items are available for bidding for THREE DAYS, with auctions closing at midnight central time on the third day. Day Three/May 8 items are still up for bid until midnight tonight, Day Four/May 9 items are good until tomorrow midnight, and new items are going up today (indeed, I think I read something about TEN DAYS of auction items, but I'm not totally sure).

Items include signed books and author swag, jewelry, phone calls with agents, critiques of queries and/or pages... but I have been most impressed by the FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUES up for bid. Full MS. Take a moment. This is such a rare and magical thing.

For Young Adult writers:
From Lauren MacLeod, agent at The Strothman Agency: One full young adult manuscript critique, no more that 100k words. Day 3, Item 7 (ending tonight)

For speculative fiction writers:
Russell Davis, author, editor, packager, and President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, will read (1) complete novel manuscript and reply with a detailed editorial letter in response. In addition, Russell will do a detailed line edit on the first three (3) chapters. Lastly, he will do a phone call with the person, after they've had a chance to look everything over, to answer any questions. Day 4, Item 13.

For writers of YA and adult fiction: fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and romance (the auction listing didn't specify any genre, but I looked the agent up online and so should you):
From agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary, who kicked off her career with a bang when she sold her first book in an auction, a thirty minute phone call... If bidding reaches $600 [it has!], she will critique AND write an editorial letter for a FULL manuscript. Day 3, Item 13 (ending tonight)

For the fearless:
From super agent Janet Reid, a thirty-minute manuscript consultation via telephone. The auction winner will send a completed MS by email for Ms. Reid to read before consultation. Day 4, Item 9

Now, keep in mind that there are many other hot items, including 50-page crits with other agents/editors (who might be better fits for your writing, do your homework), or perhaps a 5-DAY VACATION at the ranch of awesome author Kari Lynn Dell (that listing should go up today, in the meantime I'm linking to her blog), or perhaps an ARC of my nemesis' forthcoming first novel, NUMB (yes, buy the book on auction, that won't help his BookScan numbers one bit, BWAhahahahaha!!!)...

Go bid on something. Or just donate. It's awesome either way.

ETA: a new auction item is up for another FULL MS crit from former slush-reader and soon-to-be-published author Jodi Meadows! And an agent who is closed to submissions will accept queries from anyone who bids (win or lose) on her 50-page crit auction item! Amazing stuff, people. Please check it out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Thanks

Thank you to my daughter for taking a nap RIGHT NOW (and most days around this time) so I can blog, write, make calls, and maybe even rest myself.

Thank you to my husband for being on toddler-duty ALL LAST WEEKEND so I could spend 9 hours per day at the Muse & the Marketplace conference.

Thank you to my mom. You know when agents say, "we don't care if your mom likes your book, she's your MOM and has to like it?" Yeah. That's not my mom. My mom doesn't have to like anything she doesn't want to. She was a brutal critic of mine when I was growing up, which is why no authority figures (teachers, employers, etc.) have ever held any fear for me. BRING IT, rejection letters. My mom was giving me solid critiques on my writing when I was SIX.

Thank you to the other writer-moms on the internet who blog about it (Jody Hedlund and Sandy Raymond are just two of many who spring to mind) and struggle with the balance openly so that the rest of us don't feel so alone.

Thank you. And HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Muse and the Marketplace

THINGS I LEARNED at the Grub Street literary conference last weekend:
  1. Writers, as a whole, are not the snappiest dressers. We try. But most of us fall a bit short. (Surely there must be equally-comfortable-yet-less-ugly shoes out there for us.) It's okay, though, because we ooze enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity.
  2. I will need to pay for a VIP table or pitch session next year if I want to chat with agents or editors. I just don't have enough chutzpah to randomly approach people with the "special guest" badges and start chatting them up. I didn't even really want to pitch any of these people, but I would have liked to ask a few questions about genre trends and the market, and I didn't see a single agent or editor all weekend unless they were on a panel.
INSPIRING WRITERS I MET other than Chuck Palahniuk:
  1. Thomas Mallon, who spoke about "Faking the Real": basing fictional characters on real people. (Turns out he taught English at my college for 12 years, but left the year I got there. Argh!) He argued that every novel is a roman à clef, because all characters are composites, refractions, or appropriations of the people we meet in real life. He also said that there tend to be very few situations in which we need be concerned with the legal repercussions of using real people in our work, and instead we should consider the moral implications (who might be hurt) on a case-by-case basis.
  2. Pablo Medina (faculty bio above, poetry & an interview linked here), who talked about WILDNESS in fiction. My husband tried to get me to articulate what I found so inspiring and affecting about this lecture, and I was at a bit of a loss. He spoke about writing like dancing: too little form, and you're stepping on your partner's feet, bouncing off the walls and ceiling -- too much form, and you approach the machine. The key is to keep the wildness without losing the structure of the dance. He said that the only story worth writing is the necessary one, where the demonic impulse of the writer can be transformed into a sense of urgency in the reader. He said that the word perfect comes from the Latin perfectus, meaning finished, and that only dead things are truly finished. Hence, there is no perfection in writing, there is only the pursuit of literature. I've been struggling to make my writing less "safe", so this all resonated very deeply with me. (Also, Pablo has the stage presence of Mikhail Baryshnikov mixed with Anthony Hopkins, only Cuban. It works. Just sayin'.)
THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT WRITING from a panel of contest judges:
  1. Make your story bigger than the narrator
  2. Make the reader fall in love on the first page
  3. It's a bad sign if your reader starts checking what page number they're on ("how much more do I have to read?") or has to check the flyleaf of the novel to remind him/herself what the story is about
  4. The story should have passionate urgency
  5. Things need to happen ("...even if it's just the protagonist standing up in that café and saying I'M BORED AND FILLED WITH EXISTENTIAL ENNUI, then at least he'd be moving and talking...")
  6. The story should have ease of writing: let the reader become so engrossed that s/he forgets the language
  7. The story should have elements of surprise instead of telling the readers all the things they could just as easily assume/infer
  8. "Just cut out the boring bits"
  9. Humor is good
  10. Emotional resonance is great
  11. The judges on the panel vastly preferred contests where pages are submitted anonymously
  12. The judges on the panel said their job was not to figure out "what do I like" but rather "how well did the writer accomplish what s/he set out to do?"
  13. Don't resubmit the same work to the same judges for the same prize
  14. Contest entries are down this year, perhaps because of the economy
  15. It's better to apply to contests with more than one award (you have a better shot at winning something if there are 2nd and 3rd places, honorable mentions, etc.)
CONCLUSION: It was a blast, and I will absolutely return next year, and I may look into attending other conferences hosted by other groups.

Have you been to a writing conference? What were the best parts? What did you learn there?

Monday, May 3, 2010

A minute of perfection was worth the effort.

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.