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.)
Whenever I’m feeling down, I like to remind myself I’m definitely going to die some day. This usually picks me up out of the doldrums and has me embracing life sooner than I can say “inevitable demise.”
Frequently reminding myself that I’m doomed inspires me to strive for greatness, to go beyond just writing a couple of pages a day and afterward binge-watching my favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu. Granted, those are noble endeavors, but I believe I can do more. More importantly, my wife DEMANDS I do.
To help guide me in my quest to accomplish big things and live the writing life to the fullest, I’ve created a bucket list fit for a serious author. Here is what I’m going to set my sights on going forward, before I die of plot complications or get murdered by a disgruntled reader:
Rejecting an agent. The only thing more baller than landing a big literary agent is telling one who offers you representation you’re not interested. It would be epic! It would be legendary! It would pretty much destroy my chances of hitting the big-time as an author! That last one may sound like a bad thing, but remember, hitting it big only leaves you with more to lose when you die. REAL writers fully embrace self-destruction and poverty.
Filling in for Ryan Gosling in a sex scene in a movie based on one of my novels. Now, I realize this one may seem far-fetched, but keep in mind my second novel – The Exit Man – was optioned by HBO, and the manuscript for my upcoming novel – Sick to Death – is already in the hands of a Hollywood producer. So it’s not too crazy to imagine one of my books getting made into a movie or show in the foreseeable future and me being allowed on the studio set. Nor is it too crazy to think that Ryan Gosling could be chosen to play the lead character. Or that he might suffer a minor injury (at the hands of a certain clumsy stranger on the set) just before a hot sex scene with Olivia Wilde or Jessica Alba. Or that the director, to keep the production rolling and on budget, might opt to replace Ryan with someone who is readily available and willing to do the scene for free. Shut up. This is MY bucket list.
Engaging in a fight club bout with Chuck Palahniuk. This would be like killing two bucket list items with one stone. I’ve always wanted to meet my favorite author, and I’ve always wanted to get punched in the face by my favorite author. It’s not that I like physical pain; it’s just that I’ve gotten a little too comfortable and complacent lately. As a Jew, I find such contentment unsettling. While there’s a fair amount of violence and pain in my novels, there isn’t quite enough in my life. Having my jaw broken and losing a few teeth could be really good for me, and could help to make my writing more authentic. And having my blood covering the skin and clothes of Chuck Palahniuk, the king of transgressive fiction, now that’s something I could tell my grandchildren about… assuming I survive the beating.
Writing a book that gets banned in The Netherlands. Having your book banned in some conservative-minded country is one of the best ways to hit the international bestseller list. Having your book banned in a liberal-minded country is one of the best ways to become a literary god – one who bestselling novelists bow down to. Few countries are as liberal as The Netherlands, where the national flower is the cannabis leaf. My challenge would be picking a subject and creating a plot controversial and repugnant enough to make even the citizens of Amsterdam recoil. I’m thinking I’d have to write a novel in which innocent women and children are killed by wealthy big game hunters for sport, or one in which Donald Trump becomes President of the United States. I think the one about the wealthy hunters would be easier and more believable.
Publishing a book without a single typo in it. I know, I know, I’ve got to be out of my mind to I think I could possibly achieve this one. But hey, a boy can dream.
If you’re an author, what’s on YOUR writing-related bucket list? Share it in the comments section below. And if you’re NOT an author, congratulations on making good life choices.
I spent the better part of 2015 writing a novel titled Sick to Death. I’ve spent much of 2016 editing it, having some pros edit it even more, and praying to the literary gods the damn thing sells.
Sick to Death is your average, everyday tale about a group of terminally ill individuals who become serial killers to make their city a safer place to live. And die.
Call it a beach read.
Following is the tagline and blurb that will appear on the back cover of the book:
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?
For those of you sick enough to want a bit more, here is the opening from Chapter 1:
Everyone in the subway car gasped when the man with the shaved head slid off his seat and crumpled to the floor.
Everyone except Gage. He just leaned back with his head resting against the window, tapping the ivory handle of his walnut walking cane. As the train rattled around a curve beneath the heart of Philly, Gage ignored the panic and commotion, keeping his eyes on the supine skinhead and on the woman who was now frantically administering CPR to bring him back into the world.
The woman’s rescue efforts were futile. Gage knew this. He knew there was no coming back from the two hundred milligrams of sodium cyanide coursing through the skinhead’s body. How the cyanide made its way into the body, well, Gage knew that, too. And if all went well, he’d remain the only one who knew. And all usually went well. Gage was quite good at cyanide.
Unfortunately, Gage was also quite adept at Gemcitabine.
Unless you’re an oncologist or the patient of one, you’ve probably never heard of those last three.
Over the previous six months, there was only one thing Gage had become more efficient at than killing… and that was dying.
But for now let’s keep things positive and focus on the former.
The skinhead was the second person Gage had murdered in three weeks.
It had been a slow month.
You’re just dying to know what day Sick to Death will be available, RIGHT? Me too! Publishing isn’t an exact science, but the book should be dropping early to mid-September. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to writing yet another twisted tale to draw the attention of the FBI.