(insert pithy rejoinder here)

Chuck Palahniuk: Spirit Animal or Cock-blocker?

imagesH6UEV3ET“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison.”

This is the opening to Chuck Palahniuk’s novel DAMNED, a story about an angsty teen dead girl and her journey through Hell. Or more accurately, the story I’d have written if I’d been, you know, a better writer.

My new years resolution to make my writing a priority ended the moment I finished the book DAMNED, and was forced to face the reality that my writing sucks balls compared to Chuck Palahniuk’s.

I’d like to tell you this revelation prompted me to get busy on a book of my own, working with all the drive and ambition of a writer inspired by Palahniuk’s genius to, as Neil Gaiman put it, “Make good art.” But it didn’t. Instead I curled up in a ball and cried like the giant hack baby that I am. I also haven’t written a word since.

That’s because I have my own personal cock-blocker, and his name is Chuck Palahniuk.

So why all the literary flacidity, you ask? Well I’ll tell you why.

[I’m going to give you my answer at the end of this next passage because it builds suspense. It’s a technique good writers use, or so I’ve heard]

The book world is filled with writers whose work makes me feel like I’ve been junk-punched in the literary genitals. One of them is James Ellroy. Take for example the opening of his pulp-fiction inspired novel, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL:

“An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border—right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.”

Only Ellroy can write a 78-word sentence about grizzly murder and police brutality and craft it to read as high poetry. In lesser hands this opening would have been a disaster. I am sure if I were tasked with the challenge of writing this novel I’d have Bucknered all over it (for all you non-New Englanders out there scratching your collective heads at the word BUCKNER, click HERE and feel my pain).

Another dream-crusher is Chuck Bukowski. Take for example his poem SOME PEOPLE: 

some people never go crazy.
me, sometimes I’ll lie down behind the couch
for 3 or 4 days.
they’ll find me there.
it’s Cherub, they’ll say, and
they pour wine down my throat
rub my chest
sprinkle me with oils.
then, I’ll rise with a roar,
rant, rage -
curse them and the universe
as I send them scattering over the
lawn.
I’ll feel much better,
sit down to toast and eggs,
hum a little tune,
suddenly become as lovable as a
pink
overfed whale.
some people never go crazy.
what truly horrible lives
they must lead.

I doubt Nicholas Sparks ever wrote a poem like that, the epic tool. Now I’ll admit that Bukowski is not for everyone, but personally, I cannot get enough of him. Seriously people, I hear Roberta Flack’s voice inside my head whenever I read his work. Whenever I read my stuff all I hear is Bobcat Goldthwait.

I admire Stephen King for his mastery of characterization and worship Neil Gaiman for, well, everything, but Chuck Palahniuk is the only writer who ever made me WANT to write. His literary voice and story lines are so eerily similar to mine that I have to wonder if we are related somehow. For me, reading one of his novels is like reliving painful childhood memories spent with a better-looking, ultra-talented sibling, feeling the push-pull of striving to be like him only to hate him when I fail in comparison. Now I truly know how it feels to be an Oakland Raiders fan.

So at the end of the day what does all this self-contemplation/flagellation mean? Why it means I am an insipid douche-bag writer, that’s what it means. It means that instead of wasting my time lamenting why I will never be as successful as my heroes, I need to get busy, you know, writing. It means it’s time to get my head out of my ass and get my ass to my desk.

Yeah. Easier said than done.

38 responses

  1. The Elite of Just Alright

    Chuck is neither a cock-block or a spirit animal. He is God and God is him. Which makes Neil Gaiman either the Holy Ghost or Jesus Christ, take your pick.

    As for your self-flagellation, I imagine you beating yourself in the forehead as the monks from Monty Python and the Holy Grail do…I also run into this problem after reading Tolkien, Gaiman, or Chuck (because Fight Club is my all-time favorite film).

    Authors only get better by consistently reading and writing prolifically. It’s like riding a bike, or wearing high heels.

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    • Monty Python! Ha! Awesome and appropriate visual.

      I like the bike/heels reference and you’re right, I need to be more consistent with my efforts. How did you get so smart so young?

      Oh yeah, and Fight Club ROCKS! (I’m old, so I say stuff like ROCKS).

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      • The Elite of Just Alright

        Smart does not equal cynical. The former remains to be seen. The latter, well, there’s no debating THAT.

        Fight Club (both the film and the book) remains the most accurate comment on society I have ever seen in entertainment and it has of yet to be equaled, at least in my mind.

        Like

        January 12, 2014 at 12:50 am

    • Damn, kid. Not bad for someone as under-seasoned as you are.

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      • The Elite of Just Alright

        Some dishes are the most delicious when under-seasoned… :)

        I had to come up with something, all right?

        Like

        January 12, 2014 at 12:52 am

        • Cooking reference, sudden pressure… yeah, ya done good, bud.

          Like

          January 12, 2014 at 1:20 am

          • The Elite of Just Alright

            Coming from the Mythical and Epic Rants, I consider that nothing but the highest praise…seriously.

            Like

            January 12, 2014 at 2:05 am

  2. Thanks, I needed that. We have to go through life not caring if we’ll ever be as good as, Dickens, Lee, Twain, Wiesel (insert your favorites here), or Hellis for that matter, because then we’ll lie down, curled up in a ball on the couch in self-loathing. I’m not sure why you’d need to be behind the couch; I prefer to be comfy when I’m in the middle of self-loathing.

    Yeah, it’s nice to feel like one has some ability, would be nice to see it in sales figures or rave reviews from the New York Times, rather than in just self-confidence, enjoyment of your own writing, compliments from blog-buddies, etc, but the fact that you’re not yet as well-known as your heroes Picoult and Sparks (he he he ha ha ha) can’t stop you.

    And I LMAO’ed throughout this. I used to be a huge Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders fan in the 70s. I mean, c’mon, who was cooler than Kenny (The Snake) Stabler? The Raiders were great at one time. But one has to give up believing in Santa Claus after the fat bastard stops finding the chimney, doesn’t one?

    As a very, very good writer I know once told me: “Keep Writing”.

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    • Picoult and Sparks? Ugh…such a pissah. Are you sure you’re not from New England?

      You’re right, of course, I need to not let my insecurities as a writer stand in my way. This post was actually a lot harder for me to write than you might think. I am normally a very positive and upbeat person (not quite a peppy cheerleader, but you get what I mean), so I don’t handle “down” moments well. Like a drunk Mormon who can’t hold his liquor, I’m an overindulgent pessimist when I allow myself to go there.

      I like your advice to “Keep Writing.” It sounds inspired. ;)

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      • Am picturing you and HR and kids and friends doing a cheerleading video now, for some reason.

        Like

        January 11, 2014 at 6:41 pm

  3. Get to it ! I’ll be over here shoveling and trying to keep the fire lit for warmth…carry on.

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    • Thanks, Kayjai! I’ll hop on my snowmobile and bring you up some Boones Farm. Now that’s some classy shit!

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

  4. First off, I’ve read your stuff and you’re a good writer. Second, you need a muse… they help. Last, holy fuck-chunks, Batman, you are ranty today! Where did you learn to rant like that?

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    • 1). Thank you. That means a lot.

      2). A Muse, huh? Well I’m not falling for that one again. I left Florida for New Hampshire on account-a them sayin’ there was Muses everywhere. I been here ten years and I’ll be damned if I can figure out how a cow with antlers can set folks to writin’.

      3). I know a guy who knows a guy. I’ll hook ya’ up.

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 6:05 pm

  5. If we let better writers intimidate us, there would only be one person qualified to write books… hey… you know what would be fun? To try to figure out who that ‘best writer in history’ is… I sense a blog post coming up… no… I will incorporate this into my crazy questions series… somehow…

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    • You’re right, PMAO. The next time Maya Angelou steps to me, I’m gonna punch her right in the throat.

      Like

      January 11, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      • That’s the spirit… If I ever get a Tardis, first stops are to kick Mark Twain and Shakespeare in the nuts!

        Like

        January 11, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        • Or even better, we can sell grudge match tickets to a bout where Shakespeare kicks Sparks’s ass for saying that no one, not even Shakespeare, writes romance as good as he does. I bet Caesar’s Palace would want a piece of that action.

          Like

          January 11, 2014 at 6:26 pm

          • Have you ever seen the TV show Celebrity Death Match? It is done in Claymation. I think Shakespeare was in one.

            Like

            January 11, 2014 at 6:29 pm

            • How about, in Family Guy where Peter teaches sex ed by having a bust of Shakespeare get after Rainbow Brite, but Rainbow Brite gives Shakespeare some Chuck Norris roundhouses instead?

              Like

              January 11, 2014 at 6:47 pm

              • That guy shows up everywhere.

                Like

                January 11, 2014 at 6:50 pm

              • Rainbow Brite? Really?

                To Hell with Tom Brady; Seth MacFarlane makes me proud to be a New Englander.

                Like

                January 11, 2014 at 6:56 pm

                • Tom Brady’s gay. Seth admittedly is The Man.

                  Like

                  January 11, 2014 at 8:24 pm

            • No, but now I have to!

              Off to the Google…

              Like

              January 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      • I want videotape of that shit.

        Like

        January 11, 2014 at 6:16 pm

  6. WSW

    IMHO if you are smart enough and discerning enough to know somebody’s better than you, all it means is you have the talent and potential to be as good as they are. We can’t all be James Joyce but more than a few of us can be James Patterson (who, I am told, sells lots of books, mostly to my mother).

    Like

    January 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    • OMG…James Patterson. That bit cracked me up!

      Like

      January 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

  7. I feel your pain. No, really, I feel it. So please stop. Your getting us both depressed.

    Try going someplace different to write. Different vibes, happy scribes.

    Like

    January 12, 2014 at 12:38 am

    • I think you’re right about trying someplace different/ Maybe someplace noisy with lots of commotion where I can get out of my head. I’m considering Faneuil Hall or even just riding the T all day with a pad of paper and a pen. I think that just might do the trick. Thanks!

      Like

      January 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

  8. I read my first Neil Gaiman book a month or so ago – The Ocean At The End of The Lane and was blown away by it. It was hard to put down and stayed with me for days after I finished it. And I just finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. An incredible read that had me thinking about what it means to be human.

    The great writers didn’t get there overnight. It is a process and they do it every day. You do have a gift for writing. I’ve read your book and was impressed. Your characters were multidimensional and the dialogue and plot lines were believable. Keep at it, my friend. You will only get better!

    Like

    January 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    • You are always so kind!

      I love to think about something I once heard Neil Gaiman say. When asked in an interview how he felt about being admired by so many aspiring writers, he said something to the effect of, “Don’t admire me, all I did was write. Tolkien created a language.” Even he admitted to feeling less than talented when he compared himself to his favorite author.

      Things like school or sports or work have always come easily to me, but writing was the first thing I ever did that was hard. I guess I just want to be good at it.

      Like

      January 13, 2014 at 9:37 pm

  9. To quote Mr. Vonnegut: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” That, darlin’, is reason enough. He also said, “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.”

    Like

    January 13, 2014 at 10:14 am

    • Wow…that last one’s really a thinker.

      I see what you mean. I love writing and feel compelled to do it everyday. I guess if I want to be a writer, then I’ll just have to write.

      Thanks for the pep talk, John :)

      Like

      January 13, 2014 at 9:40 pm

  10. Happy Birthday, H.E. Hope you’re having a spectacular day!

    Like

    January 15, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    • Thanks, Sandy!

      I am having a GREAT day. Work was hectic as usual, but my kids made it awesome. Junior left me a Happy Birthday sign on my door so it would be the first thing I saw when I woke up, and then my oldest came to work with me and bought me lunch. My daughter volunteers on Wednesdays so we spent last night together doing our hair and nails. I introduced her to Kate Bush. It was a good night.

      Now I am taking a break from making Italian pastries for a birthday party at work tomorrow (we celebrate all January birthdays on one day) and then I’ll get busy cleaning because my man is coming to spend the weekend with me.

      Twenty year-olds can suck it. Forty-two ROCKS!

      Like

      January 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

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