Chuck Palahniuk's Damned Tour

Tonight, I was in Minneapolis for Chuck Palahniuk's second to last stop on his tour promoting his newest novel, Damned. Damned is about a 13 year old girl, named Madison, who dies. And she must accept the fact that she's dead, and goes through the grieving process. Damned is the first book in a triology. The following 2 books are still in process and titled Doomed and Delivered. Apparently she goes from hell (Damned) to purgatory (Doomed) to heaven (Delivered).

I haven't had a chance to read Damned just yet, but it seems that Chuck and Double Day are promoting Damned much more than his other recent novels. Perhaps that's because it's a series of books and they need to start strong. Chuck has done interviews in many of the popular and niche magazines out there. Including in an article for Minneapolis' own premiere newspaper, The Star Tribune.

My Mom was kind enough to clip the whole 2 page spread out of The Star Tribune for me. Thanks Mom. :)

The article was printed on Sunday November 6th, and was written by Star Tribune's art editor, Claude Peck. You can probably find it on The Star Tribune dot com. (edit: Here it is).

Tonight's event for Chuck Palahniuk wasn't just another stop on the tour, but was part of a series of interviews with high-profile authors of our time. The Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio collaborated on this series entitled Talking Volumes.

Talking Volumes

Talking Volumes is held in downtown St. Paul at the historic Fitzgerald Theater, which is apparently the oldest theater in the Twin Cities (citation needed). We got there around 5:30pm, and stood outside in line for a little while. Upon entering the theater, we were given a program was reprinting the entire Star Tribune article in a much more focused format.

To start off the evening, a woman came up on stage and gave an introduction to the events for the evening. She give a quick rundown of MPR, and asked for donations (of course). She brought Claude Peck to the stage, and asked him a few quick questions about the Star Tribune article. Peck had flown out to Chuck's home in Portland, Oregon several weeks ago to do this "exclusive" interview, and were able to get some nice, current photos of Chuck in the process.

And with that the woman introduced Kerri Miller. Miller is the host of Talking Volumes, and a few other programs on MPR. She's been in broadcasting since 1981, and used to be on KARE-11 news in Minneapolis before joining MPR in 2004. She started off with a short introduction, and welcomed Chuck to the stage.


The interview was rather interesting and a little unorthodox. Miller had a series of prepared questions, but would not disclose them with Chuck. I'm guessing this is because they didn't want some prepared statement, or marketing answer for each question, but wanted the interview to be an actual interview. This didn't really go over so well with Chuck.

For the first few questions, he had to pause for a moment to form the answer in his head. I don't think that's because he didn't have an answer, but because he wanted to form the answer into something entertaining, funny, or memorable. After a few answers like this, Miller asks why he felt the need to do this. Chuck took no time in answering this one.

It was to put on a show, obviously. When trying to be funny, or shocking, or memorable, the audience reaction is a clear sign that things are either going right, or wrong. And having the chance to prepare, gives the opportunity to make the answers pop and excite. Having to think up entertaining answers on the fly is difficult for anyone. And most of his answers came in the form of a story, or anecdote. Some stories of which I had heard before.

She did ask some good questions though, and some of them got down to the fundamental themes brought forth in Damned.

Death and Damned

Leading into the Summer of 2008, Chuck had just released Snuff, and was on tour promoting it. I caught him in Minneapolis that time too! Check it out = May 27th, 2008.

He mentioned that Snuff was the first of faux "trilogy" he had written during the previous year while his mother laid in the hospital. He visited her constantly, and while in her hospital room, he would write. And what came out of that was Snuff, Pygmy, and Tell-All. Each of these books were very research focused, and seemed like flushed out short stories.

In the Fall of 2008, the film based on his novel Choke was released in theaters, and he was up and about again with promoting the film. Chuck mentioned that he had this very odd juxtaposition of promoting a movie about a Son visiting his dying mother in the hospital, while doing this exact same thing with his own mother in his personal life. He kept all this somewhat private, at the time. Shortly after the Choke was release, his mother passed away.

Damned is a trilogy for him strictly dealing with the death of his mother, and the death of his father from 12 years ago. He mentioned that writing a novel about a 49 year old man, dealing with the death of his parents is way too sad. So he completely switched the situation to be a young girl dealing with her own death, and missing her parents, her friends, her life. She's mourning herself, in the same way others would mourn the loss of her. And she mourns the loss of her parents, because she's dead.

Damned sounds much more down to earth than his previous couple of novels.

Being Clever

The night was split up into 3 segments, with each one broken up by a musical break by surf rock band, The Bombay Sweets. The first two segments were strictly for the interview, and each segment ended with Chuck reading an excerpt from Damned. For the third segment, Miller opened the floor to questions from the audience.

I think Chuck responded to the audience questions with much more enthusiasm than he did with any of the questions by Miller.

One question was about the scene in the Fight Club film, when Brad Pitt first meets Edward Norton on the airplane. They have a little conversation, and Norton explains his whole single serving theory of travel. Brat Pitt replies, "That's clever." Norton returns, "Thank You." Pitt continues, "How's that working out for?" Norton , "What?" Pitt, "Being clever."

The question was how did he come up with that dialogue, and was there a story behind it. Chuck professed that it was actually Brad Pitt that came up with that line during filming, and he had nothing to do with it. But Chuck added to the answer by saying that being witty and clever can really only get you so far. Witty and Clever are good ways of getting in the door, but you need something more to really hook your audience.

You need to create something memorable. Not necessarily something that audience will like, but something that will make an impact. If something impactful happens to you, whether you like it or not, several months or years down the road, it will still be with you. And at that time, you'll respond to it favorably. You'll like it then.

The Obedient, The Rebel, The Witness

Another question that was asked had Chuck talking about a very common literary and story telling/writing pattern that emerged in the 20th century. The idea of the Obedient, the Rebel, and the Witness.

The Obedient is a person who follows the rules perfectly.  Society has told them that if you follow these rules, all of your desires will come true. Get good grades in School. Listen to their teachers. Graduate. Go to college. Get a degree. Get a job. Get married.  Have kids. Et cetera.

Everyone my age was subliminally told this as a child. And that is how I've followed my life for the most part. And it's worked out pretty well for me. It doesn't really work out this way for everyone, though.

Following this pattern will eventually lead to self-destruction. In many of these stories, this person is seen as the Martyr. They do everything in their life "perfectly", but it's not true. It's not perfect. And then they fall. In real life, they fall into the next archetype.

The Rebel is the complete opposite. They reject everything society has taught them, and follow their own rules. They feel that society has failed them, or that society has nothing to offer them, or that society is a fraud. In stories, this person is eventually killed by society. It's impossible (not really) to live outside of the system, and that system will eventually roll over them, and reject them.

Most Obedient people will turn rebel when their hopes and dreams are dashed by following the rules. "The system lied to me." In our lives, we usually glide back and forth between the two extremes. We don't like to live in the system, but the system is there for a reason, and it's comfortable. But FUCK the system.

The point directly between the Obedient and the Rebel is the Witness. They are the person who has seen both ends of the spectrum. They take this knowledge with them. They are wise because of it, and can guide others through their life.

Chuck gave some examples of this story telling pattern being used. Stories such as Gone with the Wind, and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. In One Flew, Billy Bibbit is the Obedient, McMurphy is the Rebel, and Big Chief is the Witness.

Chuck mentioned that he incorporated this pattern in Fight Club, but put all these roles in a single character. The Narrator is the Obedient. Tyler Durden is the Rebel. And both of characters types are eventually killed, leaving the Narrator as the Witness. Marla is possibly the Witness, too.

End of Interview

At the end of the Interview, Chuck had a little contest to see who could blow up Inflatable pumpkins the fastest and knock them into the sky. So, the whole theater inflated these things, and started punching them around the place.

The interview was recorded, and will air on MPR sometime in the next week, I'm guessing. It was video recorded too, so be sure to check out MPR's Youtube channel for updates on that.

I came away from the night with a pre-signed copy of Damned, which included several "Postcards from hell" stuffed in the pages, and one of those inflatable pumpkins, too.

It was a pretty damn spiffy night. I learned a couple of things, and had a good time. I brought along my little sister, and her husband to enjoy the night with me, and they had a great time too. :)