Books, Pandering, Fan-dom, and Chuck Pala-"how do you say his name?"
By Rob Brink
ChuckPalahniuk.net June 2002
Dennis, the webmeister of ChuckPalahniuk.net (official site of author Chuck Palahniuk) asked me to write this story once he found out I had attended Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby book signing at the 2002 Book Expo America in New York City. This is how it appeared on the site.
Chuck at the Book Expo in New York City
June 8th, 2002
Robert Brink, of Stance reports on the NY Book Expo
Book Expo America is an enormous convention for the publishing industry. Everyone and anyone in publishing—from all over the world—attends the show to showcase upcoming titles and sell them, network, buy titles, or keep themselves informed in the ever-changing world of books. The show was held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, from May 1-5. I was attending on behalf of one of my writing clients, Stance Magazine. Two of the magazine's editors and I were there to make some contacts and beef up the amount of interesting and appropriate-for-the-magazine books we have coming to us to review. Of course, we all love books and jump at the chance to get them free and in advance as well. Furthermore, a weekend in NYC is always interesting, to say the least. Being a die-hard Chuck fan, I had my own agendas as well.
A week prior to the event, I heard through the grapevine that Chuck would be signing galleys of Lullaby for Doubleday on Saturday at 11 a.m. I had met Chuck once before on the Choke tour in NYC, he was great—signed all my crap, took pictures with me, and chatted. But somehow this was different. I had become way more Chuck-obsessed than I was in the months leading to the release of Choke or Survivor. I had read his other novels to death, simply to hold me over until the release of another, and the thought of flipping through Lullaby, four months before the rest of the world would be, and reviewing it for Stance, was just making me more and more eager.
Friday, May 3, was the first day of the show that I attended. Thousands and thousands of people crowded hundreds of aisles and thousands of booths on two floors. Imagine the mall on Christmas Eve—but twice as bad. Because everyone is schmoozing, self-promoting, selling, buying, and browsing. And they all have briefcases, bags, or rolling suitcases that they wail into your hips, thighs, ankles, shins—whatever, as you walk by them. People who are walking at a completely normal pace will stop on a dime in front of you if something like Ground Zero photos catches their eye. More than once I felt like I was caught in a mosh.
Eventually, I learned how to navigate the floor, and spent plenty of time looking at a lot of really interesting books from interesting publishers—stuff I can't wait to read. Of course, for every cool book or publisher is 50 lame ones. Scientology, witchcraft, self-help, new age, the companies who have rushed to get out books on the latest trends, like 9/11, "heroes," skateboarding, punk rock coffee table books, Babar, Yoga, etc. And let's not forget the "washed up celebrity" books. Because most celebrities resort to writing books to survive, or at least keep getting attention, when their original career is over, Book Expo is a great place to see tons of people who you forgot existed. Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Reeve, Al and Tipper Gore, and "Blair" (who cares what her real name is) from The Facts of Life, to name a few, were all there signing and grinning their lives away.
I searched high and low for information on the supposed Saturday Chuck signing. There were no listings anywhere; he wasn't listed on the "appearance" board like James Patterson was, and nobody that worked for the show seemed to have any idea what I was talking about. Even Doubleday's booth, with the exception of a poster, showed no indication that Mr. Palahniuk would be there. I was nervous—to say the least. I went home and set my alarm for the next morning. If he was showing up, I wasn't going to miss him.
Eight in the morning is early for me. Getting ready and into the city (I live in NJ) by 11 is no simple task—but I managed 10:55 and rushed into the show to find Chuck. I circled the Doubleday booth a few times—to the point where the people from the company were looking at me funny. Yes, I could have just asked, but that would have been too easy and definitely pegged me as a Chuck freak—as if they couldn't already tell. I was worried. No Chuck, no Lullaby galley, no happiness.
Tom Sizemore totally catching me lurking
I hit the cafè for lunch and lurked around the show, picking up a few more catalogs, business cards, and visiting with some of my friends from other publishers. Despite more things to see than any person can manage in a day, my main goal was to kill time in between Doubleday booth "walk-bys." At about 2 p.m. I gave up hope and bid farewell to some friends. On my way out, I was surprised to see a pep rally like formation of humans around a booth that had hot chicks in gold spandex pants and tank tops passing out flyers all weekend. It all seemed to make sense when I saw Heidi Fleiss walk in with her man, Tom Sizemore. That's right—Jack Scagnetti, and I am a huge Natural Born Killers fan. Move over Heidi, who cares if you have a tell-all book coming out (Pandering) about your illegal Hollywood prostitution business?
It wasn't long before I was standing with Tom, having a gold-pants-wearing babe snapping a photo for me. I told him I was a big fan of Natural Born Killers and his reply was somewhat lackadaisical—maybe even sarcastic: "That's a cool movie, isn't it?" He looked hung over or strung out, or something. Definitely a movie star though, you can see it the second you look at him—his clothes, his eyes, the sweat on his forehead, and even the stains on his shirt that he tried to wipe off as he put his arm around me before the photo—they all scream "Natural Born Movie Star." Tom is The Man and I was psyched. And it was an unexpected twist that almost had me forgetting about the Chuck letdown. As I planned to depart the building (for real this time), I figured I might as well do one more "Chuck scan." As I approached the general area of the Doubleday booth, I saw lines of people accumulating. I rushed towards the front only to see stacks and stacks of Lullaby surrounding a table with the Chuckster happily signing books and greeting fans. YEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!
So I get my copy of the book from one of the lovely ladies passing them out and go to the back of the line, which was out of the Random House sector and down one of the main aisles. Now keep in mind that this convention is for industry people—not really the general public. So these are people that know books, and authors, and things about publishing. I must have heard the following questions about 50 times each while on line from people also on line with copies of Lullaby in their hands:
"Who is that signing these books?"
"How do you pronounce his name?"
Now I'd hate to get on that "I have been a real Chuck fan for a long time thing." It isn't the point I am trying to make. Surely I wasn't the first fan or whatever, but these people who are in the industry have never even heard of Chuck Palahniuk? But they are waiting on line to get his autograph? I wasn't quite getting it. I could almost understand them doing so for Spock or Superman or Blair for Christ's sake, but Chuck has never been on the big screen, TV, or in the tabloids. And I am not sure he is even such a celebrity yet that he would warrant people who don't know him wanting his autograph sight unseen, books unread. But what do I know? Maybe they were just people getting mass amounts of signed books all weekend to put them on Ebay. I have seen them selling lately for a few Benjamins. As far as pronunciation goes, Chuck's last name was annihilated by many waiting on line. Even some of the Doubleday people, when asked, couldn't get it right, or had to go whisper to another Doubleday person, who would whisper to a third Doubleday person to get the correct pronunciation. At which point, it would travel down to the back of the line like a game of telephone—except we are talking about grown, "professional" adults here.
I had the "pleasure" of being next to the "books on tape" guy while waiting on line. Evidently, he works for the company that has the rights to Lullaby for the audio version. So he talked my ear off about that and how "down" with Chuck he is or whatever—which is why he was waiting on line for a half-hour to get a galley right? Because he and Chuck are so tight. When I jokingly asked him if James Earl Jones was reading Lullaby for the audio version, he didn't seem amused.
As I got closer to the front of the line, being the fan boy that I am, I started getting a bit nervous. How was I going to make Chuck remember me from the last time we met in NYC? We spoke of a mutual acquaintance—Steve Berra, professional skateboarder extraordinaire, writer, and husband of actress Juliette Lewis, Chuck signed my Fight Club skateboard, which no one else there had. Surely he would remember me! I mentally rehearsed my attack and then asked the woman behind me if she could take pictures of Chuck and me. She gladly took my camera, "Candid or posing" she said. "Posing," I answered.
So the guy assisting Chuck grabs my galley and opens it to the appropriate page and hands it to Chuck as I reach out to shake his hand.
"Chuck, my name is Rob, I met you about a year ago. You signed my Fight Club Steve Berra skateboard. I know Steve, and I reviewed Choke for Stance magazine"
With a blank stare but friendly smile, "Oh, was that in Seattle?"
At this point, my camerawoman was trying to get our attention.
"No it was in New York—the Choke reading." Flustered and feeling really dumb at this point, I shifted gears. "Can I get a picture with you Chuck?"
Leaning towards me as I crouched down to obtain a head-to-head level, "Sure, he said."
Flash. (Check the first photo, Chuck purposely made a kooky face.)
"Rob, you said?"
As he began signing my book, "So how's Steve, where's he at?"
"Well I got an email from him not too long ago and he was on a skate tour in Australia, then he was doing some filming in the Northwest—Oregon maybe? I forget."
Knowing that I was a die hard Chuck fan my photographer friend steps in, I think she thought I would be really pissed at the outcome of the first photo. "He (Chuck) needs to smile for the picture, I think we need to take another one."
We lean together again.
Handing my book back to me, Chuck reached into his bag and pulled out a packet of Silver Bell Turnip seeds.
"Do you have a garden?"
"No" I said.
"Well start one."
"Ok, thanks a lot. "
We shook hands again. I was confused, stressed, embarrassed, let down, overwhelmed, and elated all at the same time. I scrambled to get my seeds, my Lullaby promo pins, my book, my camera, get out of everyone's way, and thank the camerawoman all at once.
Then I went home. Chuck has most likely forgotten about me already—again. But at least I am reading Lullaby and most of you have to wait a few more months.