Questions for Chuck Palahniuk on Tell-All
Q: A casual observer might be surprised at the depth of knowledge of 50’s-era movies that you display in Tell-All. Where does this come from?
A: That vast wealth of 50's film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard (who has a life-long crush on Gene Tierney, so feel free to tease him about it. He still carries her photo inside his wallet). Originally I'd written Tell-All chock-a-block with references to silent movie stars from the 'teens and 1920's, but Gerry thought they were too, too esoteric and forgotten. Ask me anything about silent movies--did you know that Lon Chaney was such a brilliant master of gesture because both his parents were deaf and mute--and I will bore you with trivia until you weep like a little girl.
Q: What is your favorite movie of that time, and why?
A: Anything by Douglas Sirk. All I have to do is hear the opening strains of Earl Grant singing the theme to Imitation of Life and I collapse into a quivering heap. Susan Kohner throwing herself across her dead mother's casket... that's movie magic!
Q: What is your favorite star of that time, and why?
A: Gloria Grahame, and I don't want to know anything intimate about her. In my mind she must remain a glorious, perfect object. In particular I do NOT want to know if she was dubbed when she sang in Oklahoma!.
Q: What is your favorite black and white movie, and why?
A: This question is nowhere near fair. Almost all of my favorite films are black-and-white: Wuthering Heights ("I am Heathcliff!"), Suddenly Last Summer ("So we went to Cabeza de Lobo...") and The Last Picture Show (Hank Williams is god) are all my favorite of the moment. No, wait, now my new favorite is Mildred Pierce. See...it changes by the minute.
Q: How do the films of that era differ from, say, the movie adaptations of Choke and Fight Club?
A: Back then, the studio system seemed dead-set on producing stories with happy endings. Now we're willing to accept something closer to real life, i.e. everyone gets divorced and dies.
Q: How has movie star celebrity changed since that time?
A: My guess is that the explosion of media outlets--the internet, cable television--have fragmented the world of celebrity into smaller and smaller fames. The growing monster of mass media needs so many new "reality stars" that the entire world has become a stool at the counter of Schwab's Drugstore. Hey, anytime I can work in a Lana Turner reference, I gotta go there.
Q: Speaking of Kitty Kelley, what do you think of the whole Oprah phenomenon?
A: I think Oprah should invite me on her show, then shower me with endorsements. She and I will become best-friends-forever and bad mouth about Jonathan Franzen. As her new BFF, I promise I will make her thin.
Q: What are some favorite recent movies?
A: Notes on a Scandal. The Hunger. Paper Moon. Wait, what year is this? Did George Cukor die?
Q: What did you think of Avatar?
A: I haven't seen it yet; I'm waiting for the Douglas Sirk remake with Lana Turner and Sandra Dee. Just imagine... Sandra Dee in 3-D. When Troy Donahue beats up the black girl, it will be like he's slapping me around.
Q: What are you reading these days?
A: Honestly, no lie, I'm reading Judy Blume books. Of course I'm reading her to study her style and "voice" but as an added bonus I now know how it feels to have my hymen broken by a high school boy who didn't really love me that much in the first place. Sigh.
Q: What are you listening to?
A: The internet machine is playing some thing-y called Pandora, and that's playing Blondie's Heart of Glass. Otherwise, Hank Williams is god. Because I somehow love both Country music and New Wave... that should qualify me for a handicapped parking permit.
Q: Any particular challenges/joys in writing this novel?
A: For me, anything involving keyboarding is a challenge. Oh, and spelling. The joy came mostly from reading 75+ Joan Crawford biographies and getting to tax deduct them all.
Q: You’ve been coming out with a book a year for some time now. Is that a pace that works for you for any specific reason? Any thoughts on producing more or less?
A: The moment I find something that's more fun than writing--and is NOT drugs--I will retire so fast it will make your head spin. I am addicted to the fantasy, research, the writing process. Seriously, I need an intervention.
My only other dream job would be to work as Oprah's butler.
Q: What would you like to say about your next novel?
A: My next novel, the one for 2011--argh, my life is so mapped out--is a novel called Damned about an eleven-year-old girl who finds herself in Hell and learns how to manipulate the corrupt system of demons and bodily fluids. Imagine if the Shawshank Redemption had a baby by The Lovely Bones and it was raised by Judy Blume, and you have my next new project. It's so frustrating when this girl, Madison, realizes that she'll never grow up and become an adult...and believe me, I know just how she feels. Each new day, I look at my chest in the bathroom mirror, sideways, and hope it's grown. Maybe if they could invent a 3-D mirror...
(Photo © Shawn Grant)
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Palahniuk's rude sendup of name-dropping and the culture of celebrity worship revolves around the fate of Katherine Kenton, a much-married star of stage, screen, and television, living in obscurity and searching for a comeback vehicle. Her story is told by Mazie Coogan—her Thelma Ritterish, straight-shooting confidant and protector—whose warning system sounds when Miss Kathie meets Webster Carlton Westward III, who quickly seduces his way into her Manhattan townhouse. It's soon revealed he's working on a memoir about his affair with Miss Kathie, the last chapter of which ends with her anticipated death, the details of which keep changing. The affair coincides with Miss Kathie's comeback in a bombastic Broadway extravaganza penned by Lillian Hellman (who receives inexplicably savage treatment). Throughout, Palahniuk drops names from the famous to the head-scratchingly obscure, peppers the narrative with neologisms supposedly coined by famous gossip columnists (ex-husbands are was-bands), and annoyingly styles the text so that nearly every name, brand name, and fabulous venue appears in bold. Unfortunately, this gossipy fantasia is a one-joke premise that, even at its modest length, wears out its welcome well before Miss Kathie's final fade-out. (May)
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