Rainy Day Books, a local indie bookstore (whom you might have heard about when they got plugged by Stephen Colbert) puts on phenomenal author events. Seriously, I’ve been to more talks and signings since moving to Kansas City than I did the whole time I was living in Los Angeles. On Friday night, they hosted Chuck Palahniuk (he of Fight Club fame) at the Uptown.
When we picked up our tickets, we were given our goodie bags: they had the promised copies of Fight Club 2 Issue #1 and Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, conveniently pre-autographed. But there was also a pair of glow sticks and a strange white package…
This turned out to be a beach ball, which we were instructed to inflate, insert the glow sticks into, and inscribe with our names. And that’s when I knew we were in for a good time.
It was, put simply, one of the most delightfully insane nights it has ever been my pleasure to experience. The glowing beach balls were a scheme where the auditorium was turned into a giant colorful bingo cage, and certain people whose balls made it up to the front were given handsome prizes. (I would have done unspeakable things for the leather-bound signed first edition of Fight Club. Like, I wouldn’t have been able to quite meet your eyes afterward, but it would totally have been worth it.) Bags of candy were hucked into the audience–not individual pieces, but the entire bags. An ambulance arrived for someone who passed out during the reading of “Guts”. He brought gifts for random people’s pets. We sang along to “The Star-Spangled Banner”. At the end of the night, dozens and dozens of dismembered hands–grisly foam props, realistically detailed and each one autographed–were thrown to the rapturous crowd.
Now make no mistake, the night also had the trappings you expect of an author event. “Guts” was flanked by “The Facts of Life” and “Zombies”, and the audience was by turns rolling with laughter and struck dumb with horror. He took questions from the audience and delivered thoughtful answers about following your passions, forcing a visceral connection with the story, and being honest with your work. And he gamely attempted to get through the massive line of people wanting to take pictures with him pre-show. (Pictures in which each fan had to wear bunny ears, because reasons.)
But it definitely made me rethink what these sorts of promotional events can be. Granted, it certainly helps to have a massive backlist, loads of critical acclaim, and a sizable crowd of enthusiastic and devoted fans. And I wouldn’t want to steal ideas wholesale, especially given that the atmosphere of anarchy and a hint of violence (my neighbor took a bag of Hershey Nuggets to the shoulder) seems to be rather uniquely suited to Palahniuk. But still, I think there are general takeaways that can be applied. Rather than doing one topic at a time, the night bounced rapidly around between Q&A, neon beach ball raves, readings, and high fructose projectiles; breaking things up kept the energy high and the audience engaged. Everyone walked away with something extra, even if it was just a bit of candy or a beach ball with someone else’s name on it. And best of all, there was the sense that he was there to do something special for his fans, beyond just gracing us with his presence.
“Author event” is a kind of generic term, but this really felt like an Event. It was something riotous and unique and far more memorable than all the other polite, congenial interviews and autograph sessions. It’s the sort of thing I think more authors should aspire to.