The Scribblerati had an e-mail conversation going on recently about “how dark is too dark?” when it comes to writing. It seems like no coincidence then that this week I got to go see Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) read from his latest book, Damned about a 13 year old dead girl in Hell. If Chuck Palahniuk’s writing has a color, I know it’s dark.
Chuck Palahniuk, to me, seemed intelligent, thoughtful, and witty. His pauses between questions and answers were long, his mind working, as if searching for the best stories, the funniest punch lines. He spoke a lot about death, writing and Paris. Based on one of his stories I recommend that if you are ever in Paris at night you make the extra effort to get to the Eiffel Tower exactly two minutes to midnight and look up and keep looking up (I won’t tell you why, it’ll ruin the surprise).
Here are a few tidbits of wisdom on writing and life from Mr. Palahniuk (filtered through yours truly—so my apologies if I’ve botched any of the quotes):
• Don’t give the audience something to like, give them something they’ll remember.
• Listen. Go to parties and listen to other people’s stories.
• Ways to seize your reader’s attention: Make them laugh, shock them, give them something to remember. This is how you, the author, take control.
• On writing and music: “Every book has its own sound track. As a writer you give up so much of your life, sitting and writing instead of doing other things. So put on music. Make it seem like a party. Even if you’re only the only one who shows up.”
• He told a good Stephen King story (told to him by a friend, Kim Rickets, I believe), of how King at a book signing where 1,500 people showed up wanting his autograph, asked for bandages when his fingers started to bleed from all the signing. Some kid in the crowd heard this and shouted, “Don’t bandage him until he bleeds on my book!” Supposedly King good naturedly smeared blood on the pages of all the books he signed that day.
• “Really drunk people are honest people.”
• “The writer’s perception of their characters is just as erroneous as the reader’s.”
• “Writing is tricking yourself into looking at something inside you that no sane, happy person would look at. Trick yourself and you’ll trick others.”
• Theme is discovered only years after you’ve written your book(s).
• If you are knocked out, stripped naked and sewn into a dead horse, after that no matter how many puppies and kitties die on your shift, it’s still better than being inside that dead horse.
• He says he re-reads Jane Eyre every year, and almost as much, The Great Gatsby
• “Of course the dead miss the living.” (from his new book, Damned)
• “Don’t write until you are 33. Go out a lot before that. People living fun, story-generating lives are out.”
• In most great literature there are three main character types: The Martyr (dies by suicide), The Rebel (destroyed by someone else), and the Witness (who may learn something from the other two types and be better for it)
• Nietzsche is not his thing
• His inspiration for Hell in his latest book? The “Author’s Suite” in fancy hotels that cater to touring authors.
• Someone in the audience asked about his research methods for all the great clinical descriptions in some of his books. The answer? At age 13 he did 1,000 hours of service in a hospital as a candy striper. He described himself as being “Forever marked by the love of Percocet and blood.”
• Mr. Palahniuk says he writes only one short story per year… but then he writes it so that it’s got to hurt people. One such short story is “Guts.” It is a story that makes people throw up and pass out at some of his readings. I’ve included it here, but be forewarned. It’s NOT for the lighthearted (and NOT appropriate for the workplace) to say the least. Click at your own risk: Guts
I have read Fight Club and enjoyed it. Probably would have liked it more had I not seen the movie first (although I like the movie). I also read “Guts”—and although I did not pass out or vomit, and I tend to like my stories dark, this one was not my cup of tea. I will remember it, but I can't say I liked it. Afterwards I was craving a story about cute bunnies or unicorns—or anything else.
I do now have an autographed copy of Damned and am looking forward to reading it.