Welcome to SCRAWL SPACE, Greg’s blog. Here he waxes eloquent on all things relating to writing and the writing life. In other words, it’s where he loves to waste his time and that of his readers. He’s very happy you’ve stopped by. You, too, Dad.
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about my all-time favorite authors of dark comedic fiction. In twelve days, I’ll meet the man who’s number one on that list.
For those unfamiliar with Palahniuk, he wrote Fight Club (yes, it was an amazing novel before it was an amazing movie) as well as Survivor, Choke, Invisible Monsters and numerous other brilliant best-selling books. He’s not only my favorite author of dark humor; he’s my favorite author period. (Well, living author, anyway – it’s hard to compete with dead Russians.)
So, when I read that Chuck was going to be leading a ten-session writing workshop (something authors of his magnitude almost NEVER do), and that only a handful of applicants would be selected to participate, I did what any serious writer and Palahniuk fan would do: I screeched like a schoolgirl. Then I knocked over my wife and daughter en route to my writing nook to get started on my application.
A week later I received an email from the writing institute that’s sponsoring the workshop, letting me know I’d been accepted. The message even included a personal note of praise from Chuck himself about the writing sample I submitted. After reading the email and note six times, I did what any serious writer and Palahniuk fan would do: I soiled myself.
On Monday, February 27, I’ll be flying out to Portland (from my home in Austin) to join fifteen other extremely fortunate writers for the initial session of the Writing Wrong Workshop, where the master of modern trangressive fiction will encourage us to challenge conventional writing rules and, I think, fight each other in underground brawls.
As honored and as thrilled as I am, I do have some concerns. My biggest concern – aside from delayed or cancelled flights causing me to miss any of the workshop sessions – is meeting Chuck… and doing something that causes him to want to fight me in an underground brawl. Few things can ruin a writer’s confidence or career more than getting punched in the face by an author they idolize. Now, some of you may be thinking that blogging about how giddy I am about the workshop would be reason enough for Chuck to want to punch me, but that’s ludicrous. Chuck is never going to read my blog.
To help ensure I don’t do anything to annoy or irk my idol during the workshop, I’ve come up with eight Fight Club-style rules for me to follow:
1) The first rule of Write Club is you do not talk about Write Club. (Except when blogging, or chatting with family and friends, or standing next to a total stranger in the grocery store checkout line, or sitting next to one on a flight to Write Club.)
2) The second rule of Write Club is you do not try to make clever references or allusions to Fight Club (or any other of Chuck’s books) during Write Club. (I did, however, reference the workshop on Twitter two days ago and included in the tweet, “I am Jack’s unbridled anticipation.” Risky, I know, but Chuck himself re-tweeted it, so I think I’m good.)
3) The third rule of Write Club is you do not bring all your copies of Chuck’s books to Write Club for him to sign. (At least not until you see another Write Club participant try it without getting punched.)
4) The fourth rule of Write Club is you do not wear to Write Club any apparel featuring anything related to Chuck or his books. (Nobody likes a teacher’s pet, least of all the teacher – especially when the teacher’s Chuck. So, I’ve agreed to hand over both my Fight Club T-shirt (see image) and my Survivor hoodie to my wife before I head to the airport each week. It’s the only way.)
5) The fifth rule of Write Club is you must correctly pronounce Chuck’s surname every time you say it. (It’s PAULA-nick. NOT pa-LA-nick, which is how 99.9% of people outside of Chuck’s immediate family pronounce it – including me up until I heard him interviewed on NPR a little over a year ago. It was shocking; almost like finding out you’re adopted.)
6) The sixth rule of Write Club is, when Chuck enters the room for the first time, you don’t soil yourself. (I will do my absolute best to respect this rule, but will be wearing an adult diaper to the first session just in case.)
7) The seventh rule of Write Club is, when Chuck rips your writing to shreds, you do not openly sob. (I will do my absolute best to respect this rule, but will bring an extra adult diaper for my tears just in case.)
8) The eighth and final rule of Write Club is do not forget you belong in Write Club. You earned this. You've GOT this. (Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go change my underwear. Again.)
It being the holiday season, I wanted to write a piece that captured the joyous spirit of giving that awakens in everyone this time of year. And I figured what better way to do that than to talk about my favorite serial killer.
Gage Adder – the terminally ill main character in my novel Sick to Death – is likely to be remembered for all the people he assaults and poisons in the book. And that’s a shame because when he’s not busy maiming or killing, he’s somewhat of a saint, carrying out the types of random acts of kindness and generosity this world could use much more of. Take away the vengeful cane beatings and the cyanide, and Gage is pretty much Santa Claus.
The point is, you can learn a lot about kindness from a murderer. Following are a few excerpts from Sick to Death that scream “Christmas Spirit!”
Then it dawned on him. There were ways to be thoughtful and giving without actually having to interact with others. Gage was fully prepared to give niceness a shot, but he wasn’t yet ready to let go of Sartre’s infamous notion that hell is other people. Thus, he spent the remainder of the day being anonymously altruistic.
He used his debit card to add time to six expired parking meters.
He sent an arrangement of roses, hyacinth and ranunculus to Charlene – the receptionist at his office whose husband had recently left her.
He sent two dozen donuts to the staff at FutureBright – a local charity dedicated to empowering at-risk youth – and he donated three hundred dollars to the organization via their website.
He picked up the tab for not one but two tables at the diner where he had lunch, asking the waitress to be discreet about his actions and leaving the establishment before the patrons – five in all – were informed their meals had been paid for. He left the waitress a fifty-percent tip on the total of his and the other two bills.
And for his closing act, he called the pediatric cancer unit at Carrington Medical Center, asked a nurse how many children were currently inpatients, and then ordered forty-three stuffed animals to be delivered to the unit the following day.
Two broken ribs for the guy kicking the homeless man in a back alley and bombarding him with racial epithets.
A thousand dollars in a blank envelope for the neighbors whose five-year old daughter’s body was found in a river two states over.
A cracked cranium for the coke-addled brat who plowed his Beemer into six people on a sidewalk but walked due to daddy’s legendary lawyer.
A boatload of books, games and DVDs for everyone in the Pediatric Burn Unit at Pearson Medical Center.
Brutes and creeps kept showing up bleeding and battered at hospitals and urgent care clinics. Needy individuals, families and organizations continued getting pleasant surprises from an anonymous stranger.
When Gage wasn’t knocking a white supremacist’s nose to the side of his face with a cane, he was handing azaleas to an elderly woman in the park. It was as if he had some strange new kind of bipolar disorder, one that caused him to rapid-cycle between breaking bones and bestowing gifts.
His most notable act occurred the morning of the tenth day, when he saw a woman sobbing as she walked out of a veterinary clinic holding a dog leash. The look on her face – like her entire family had just been sent to a gas chamber.
Holding the door open for the woman as she exited was an employee of the clinic, a teenage girl who looked almost as despondent as the woman herself.
“Don’t worry about the bill right now, Miss Morris,” said the girl. “Take all the time you need.”
Gage and the girl watched as the woman staggered down the sidewalk, clutching the leash. After the girl closed the door and returned to work, Gage approached the woman. He gently rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Please,” he said, “allow me to get you a taxi, Miss.”
She gave Gage a confused look. “I drove here,” she said, continuing to cry.
“It’s okay. You’re in no condition to drive. I’d like to pay for your taxi home, and I’ll also give you money to get a taxi back to your car later.”
“Who are you?” asked the woman.
“Nobody you know, just somebody who’d like to help,” said Gage. “Is it okay if I hail you a cab now?”
“I live a good fifteen minutes away,” said the woman. “A taxi will cost about twenty-five or thirty dollars. I can’t let you pay all that.”
“Please, it’s no problem,” said Gage, who fished his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and took out three tens and two twenties. “This should cover your ride home and back,” he said as he presented the cash to her.
“You’re very kind, but I couldn’t possibly—”
“Yes, you could. You can.”
The woman smiled through the sobbing and gave Gage a hug.
“Now let’s get you a taxi,” said Gage. He guided the woman toward the curb by her elbow and raised his free hand high. When a taxi pulled up and stopped in front of them about ten seconds later, Gage opened the rear passenger side door for the woman and helped her into the yellow sedan.
“Please make sure this woman gets home safely,” Gage said to the driver. “She’ll tell you the address.” Before Gage closed the door, the woman grabbed the sleeve of his jacket.
“Thank you,” she said as she wiped her eyes. “Thank you so much.”
“You take care of yourself, Miss,” said Gage. “I’m sorry about your dog.”
Gage shut the door and waved to the sobbing woman as the taxi drove off. He then turned around and walked into the veterinary clinic.
“Good morning,” said the girl behind the front desk. It was the same girl who’d held the door for the woman earlier. “How can I help you?”
“That woman who left here crying a few minutes ago, I’m assuming her dog didn’t make it?”
“I’m sorry,” said the girl, “but who are you? A relative or friend of hers?”
“No, no,” said Gage. “I just saw how sad she was and would like to help in some way.”
“Well, there’s not much you can do,” the girl replied. “Her Golden Retriever is being euthanized as we speak.”
“That’s what I figured,” said Gage. “I overheard you say something about her bill before. I would like to pay it.”
This holiday season (and beyond), let’s each try to be a little more like Gage – minus all the, you know, homicide and stuff.
You’ve written a brilliant novel. It’s original and moving and thoroughly entertaining.
And nobody really cares.
And the reason nobody really cares is nobody really knows about it.
“But I’ve tweeted about it and blogged about it and told all my friends about it on Facebook.”
Good for you. You’ve done exactly what the 30,000 other authors who launched a book the same week as you did with their book. And most of them have more followers and friends than you do. And their book isn’t selling either.
It’s no longer enough to write a standout novel to have your novel stand out. These days, it’s how you market a book that matters – and the more original (read: outlandish) your marketing tactics, the better. The book itself is secondary.
I agree. But do you want to sell books or bitch and moan? True, both activities are satisfying, but you have to pick one. And if you pick the former, I may be able to help.
Below are five totally outside-the-box marketing tactics I (cannot) guarantee will dramatically boost your exposure and book sales, and earn you the level of recognition I feel only I deserve. (NOTE: You’ll need to employ these tactics soon, before all the other authors turn them into totally inside-the-box ideas. That said, there’s no need to rush TOO much; few people actually read my blog.)
1) Be your book. Convert your book cover into a wearable sandwich board and wear it out in public. All the time. Even at your job. Don’t worry if your coworkers ridicule you and your boss writes you up repeatedly for dress-code violations. You’ll be quitting that job in no time due to the almost guaranteed success of this brilliant book marketing approach. (Please keep in mind that, for some jobs, such as underwater welder and funeral director, wearing a sandwich board may not be feasible or practical.)
2) Video-bomb breaking news with your book in hand. You know how there’s always some idiot in the background waving at the camera while a TV reporter is covering a big breaking news story? Be that idiot. Only smarter. Waving your hand at tens or hundreds of thousands of captivated viewers watching news breaking is moronic. Waving your book at them is genius, assuming the book’s not upside down and you’re not waving it so vigorously the people can’t read the title. Otherwise you’re back to just being an idiot. The challenge with this tactic is being in the right place at the right time. You’ll need to hang out at or around places where horrible things happen on a regular basis, like an active fault line, a public school or a Walmart. It’ll take some patience and resolve, but the payoff is worth it. The only way to get more free exposure for your book is to murder a celebrity during your launch, and I simply can’t with good conscience recommend that.
3) Use racist, misogynistic, homophobic, uber-nationalistic language in your marketing. If this tactic can earn a bombastic orange man the presidency, surely it can generate some buzz around your book. Granted, many of the folks your vitriolic hate-speech will attract are likely to be illiterate, but they’ll still buy your book – you merely need to express how, if they do not, it must mean they are a sissy-girl terrorist who hates freedom.
4) Post a photo of a page of your book revealing a coffee stain that looks like Jesus. Nearly a third of the world’s population is wild about Jesus and will buy anything that contains an image that even remotely resembles him. This explains why Willie Nelson’s albums have sold so well all these years. Even if your book is about an S & M dominatrix who worships the devil, if a likeness of J.C. has been reported to appear somewhere inside even just a single copy of it, all your literary sins will be forgiven and you will soon be able to buy a mansion next to that of Stephen King.
5) Murder a celebrity during your launch. I know, I know, above in #2 I said I couldn’t with good conscience recommend this tactic, but we’re talking about marketing here and thus good conscience is moot. Still and all, this tactic should be considered only as a last resort – unless you have easy access to any reality TV stars, in which case you should bump this up to #1 on this list.
DISCLAIMER: I’m off my meds and refuse to be held responsible for any sage advice I may have provided in this post.
Oh, and by the way, my bestselling dark comedy ‘The Exit Man’ is currently available for just 99 cents on Amazon (as well as on most other major ebook retailer sites) for a limited time. To purchase it at this obscenely low price, choose your link below. (Note: The Amazon link is for US customers, but the discounted price is good across all Amazon sites.)
Fiction writers are weird. You needn’t read novels to figure that out. Just sneak into an author’s house and listen in. Or, if you’re not comfortable with breaking and entering, hire a private investigator to bug the place. Yes, I realize reading a book might seem easier than all that, but who has time to read these days? Besides, you could use a little more excitement in your life.
Following are just a few of the things you’re likely to overhear in a fiction writer’s home that you aren’t likely to hear anywhere else – on this or any other planet.
1) “Coming to bed in a moment, dear. First I have to hide a body.”
2) “I have some horrible news. It’s my protagonist – he’s refusing to talk to me.”
3) “I got paid today – let’s go split a beer!
4) “Fine, I’ll Google it. I just thought you might know what gets blood and brains out of cashmere.”
5) “How can all of you just sit there so calmly and watch TV when I just told you I’m having trouble with chapter seven!”
6) “Go ahead and eat without me. I need another hour to figure out the best poisoning method.”
7) “A reader just informed me of a typo on page 147 of my new novel. I’m going out for razorblades. Don’t wait up.”
8) “You invited THEM over for dinner? They haven’t even bought my book yet.”
9) “I am NOT growing more distant. I just find you harder to talk to than my characters.”
10) “When I find out who gave me that two-star review on Amazon, I’m putting them in my next novel.”
11) “Can’t you get your mother to rush you to the hospital? I’m really in the groove right now.”
12) “Honey, have you seen my pajamas? You know I can’t go to work tomorrow without them.”
13) “Sorry for giggling. It’s just one of my main characters said the funniest thing today.”
14) “What do you MEAN we won an all expenses-paid vacation to Hawaii? Damn it! I’ll NEVER finish this book!"
15) "A divorce? Fine. But you get the kids; I get the printer and all the ink cartridges."
If you are a writer, what kinds of crazy sh*t might be overheard in your home? If you LIVE with a writer, contact my wife to commiserate.
I recently interviewed Gage Adder – the main character from my new novel, Sick to Death. Some of you may think interviewing a fictional person is crazy. It’s not. What’s crazy is writing an entire book about one. But since it’s too late for me to do anything about the latter, I figured I might as well proceed with the former.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gage (and based on book sales, that’s most of you), let me get you up to speed by sharing the blurb from the back cover of the novel he stars in:
Knowing you're dying can be murder.
When Gage Adder finds out he has inoperable pancreatic cancer, things really start to look up for him. He leaves his soul-crushing job, joins a nice terminal illness support group, and takes up an exciting new hobby: Beating the hell out of bad guys.
Gage’s support group friends Jenna and Ellison don’t approve of his vigilante activities. Jenna says fighting never solves anything. Poison, on the other hand… When the three decide to team up and hit the streets, suddenly no rapist, pedophile or other odious criminal in the city is safe.
They are the sickest of superheroes. Their superpower is nothing left to lose. But what happens when one of them takes this power too far and puts at risk the lives of hundreds of innocent people? Where does one draw the line when dying to kill?
Now don’t go judging a guy by his back cover. Gage may be a serial killer, but his heart is in the right place.
Here’s the transcript from my interview with him so you can see for yourself:
Me: Hello, Gage… may I call you Gage?
Gage: Seeing as how you did throughout the entire novel, it would be strange if you didn’t now.
Me: Right. Sorry. It’s just I didn’t want to risk being too casual and rub you the wrong way. I’ve seen what you do to people who rub you the wrong way.
Gage: Relax. You’re okay in my book. Mainly because I’m okay in yours. Besides, it’s not like I’m some psychopath who goes after everyone I dislike. You have to have done some really bad things to end up on my list.
Me: Well, I mean, I did sort of give you advanced pancreatic cancer.
Gage: That’s true, but I can let that slide.
Me: I appreciate that. But why?
Gage: In giving me a fatal disease, you gave me something to live for.
Me: Care to elaborate?
Gage: Sure. Before I got sick, I was complacent, apathetic, stuck in a rut. I felt trapped in a job I despised, but I kept at it because the job paid too well to leave. Then came my fatal diagnosis, and I was free. Having forty or fifty years removed from your timeline can really open you up to new and exciting opportunities. Imminent death is very liberating.
Me: For many in your situation, “new and exciting opportunities” would mean using what limited time you had left to travel the world, experience new cultures, that sort of thing. You went a rather different route, though.
Gage: Yeah. I’m as surprised as anyone about the path I ended up taking. If you had told me two years ago that I’d get diagnosed with terminal cancer and become a vigilante serial killer, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
Me: Crazy how things turn out sometimes. Especially when you’re fictional.
Gage: Who are you calling fictional?
Me: Well, um, you do know you are a, uh…
Gage: I am a what?
Me: Never mind. My mistake. Let’s move on.
Gage: Good idea.
Me: So tell us, how does it feel to, you know, kill someone?
Gage: I have to be careful how I answer that. I don’t want anyone to read this and think it’s okay to commit murder whenever they feel like it.
Me: Don’t worry, nobody reads my blog. Please, proceed.
Gage: I also want to point out that I show a lot of altruism in the book. For every miscreant I dispose of, I carry out several random acts of kindness for good people down on their luck.
Me: Yeah, yeah, you’re a regular Albert Schweitzer. Now kindly answer the question.
Gage: All I can say is killing someone who truly deserves it, well, it feels… right. It feels like you’re doing your community and your city and the world a service.
Me: You’re leaving a lot open to interpretation. Who “truly deserves” to be killed?
Gage: Jeez, I thought you’d give me at least a few “softball” questions. You really know how to put a guy at ease.
Me: I’m simply asking what’s probably on most people’s minds. You can’t make it your life’s calling to kill people when you’re dying and expect everyone to just accept it.
Gage: Okay, well, rather than me making a list of the types of people I feel have no business walking this planet, I’ll just invite everyone to read Sick to Death and make up their own minds. I’ll bet the vast majority of readers end up rooting for my colleagues and me upon seeing whom we go after – and when they discover why I couldn’t really stop even if I wanted to.
Me: Now it just sounds like you’re trying to sell books.
Gage: I thought that was the whole point of this interview?
Me: Excuse me, Gage, but I am an artist – not a salesman. If my intention was merely to sell books, I wouldn’t have taken the time to conduct this interview. I would have simply pointed out that Sick to Death is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form, and that Craig Clevenger – the fantastic author of The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria – says, “Sick to Death is a tour de force dark comedy.”