3:30 p.m. – Chuck Palahniuk. Table 2. At 2:40 p.m., I made my way to the Random House booth at BEA so I could meet one of my favorite authors and get a signed copy of his book, Damned. After battling a small mob and evading some cranky line-makers, I found myself number 30 or 40 in line. It was great, I was guaranteed a book. But then I started eavesdropping.
“So what are you going to say to him?” the young woman in front me asked her friend.
“I don’t know, I was thinking of telling him how after I read his book I wanted to purposely crash my car.”
“I think he’d appreciate that.”
What? What have I read of his? I’ve only seen Fight Club. Truth is, he had me at Stranger than Fiction, his collection of non-fiction essays. I had to read it for my first creative non-fiction writing class at UCSB, and I have had mad respect for him ever since. I thought about it while in line. Bits of stories came back to me…dressing up in dog costumes in Seattle, monster truck rally…but I couldn’t think of how to bring any of this up. I was feeling shy, my hands began to sweat. I didn’t have any trouble yesterday talking to authors, asking them questions. But now I was star-struck. Years of battling my shyness melted away when I approached Chuck Palahniuk.
“So what brings you here?” He smiled.
“My love of books.” Crap, that was definitely not original. I wanted to tell him he inspired me, that I wished my writing could bear some semblance to his. But this was the best I could come up with?
“Um, I also blog. And I’m an NYU student in the publishing program.” Lame. How many writers would really care about that?
But, he looks exactly like his author photos, and he talks the way he writes, at least what he wrote about in Stranger Than Fiction.
I watched him write in my book. “Sorry, I’m nervous and don’t know what to say.” Argh.
“I get nervous all the time.” He closed the book. “I don’t always know what to say, so letting you talk takes the pressure off of me.”
He put his arm around me and we posed for a picture. “Well, we both made it.”
I think I can relate to him. I can’t talk the way I can write. I often mumble, slur, or end my sentences halfway with an “uhhhh.” At least when I write, I have time to think about what I’m saying. I can go back and edit, or even while typing I have a longer time to think about my words. There’s this image that all writers, and aspiring writers, have a way with words. I completely disagree. Sure, many writers are gifted, eloquent speakers as well, but personally I think the reason most of us get into writing is because it’s the only way we can effectively communicate our thoughts. I can’t give speeches for shit. Some days I can barely have a conversation.
And from what I know about Chuck Palahniuk, maybe he’s the same way too. Or at least I’d like to think so, so I can believe he understood by my sweaty hands and twisted tongue and lack of words was, I really admire you. You are one of my favorite writers, and I can’t believe I was lucky enough to meet you one day. Maybe someday I’ll be an established editor and we will meet again, have a real conversation. In the meantime, I’ll sit back and enjoy my signed copy of Damned.