On the plane from Austin to Phoenix, I finish my advance copy of Rant, the new Chuck Palahniuk novel. Somehow I have ended up reading incredibly explicit books on every flight. I flew from Melbourne to LA with Past Mortem, by Ben Elton, and unexpectedly found myself in the middle of the filthiest sex scene I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, it was very educational. Only a Brit could could produce a book that’s essentially a comedy of manners, but with felching. I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a mother traveling with her two young children, and had to tilt the book away from her during these passages. The danger then was that the man across the aisle would think I was trying to show it to him. It was a delicate balance.
Next up was Craig Clevenger’s Dermaphoria, and a sex scene involving a dripping tap. By the time I got to Palahniuk, I decided that if people didn’t want to know about olfactory cunnilingus, they shouldn’t be reading over my shoulder.
All three were great books, by the way. I’m now going to get myself a copy of Clevenger’s first, The Contortionist’s Handbook. And Rant is brilliant; nobody messes with my head as delightfully as Chuck. Definitely one of my favorites.
It’s my first visit to Phoenix, and the city has a great feel. Although maybe part of that is my joy at seeing the sun again, which I last sighted in Denver. My cab driver is an effortlessly cool Jamaican man who jabbers into his cellphone and gestures wildly with his free hand, controlling the steering wheel with, as far as I can tell, sheer willpower.
Phoenix has palm trees, mountains popping unexpectedly out of endless plains, and cacti. The latter strike me as jokes, as if somebody put them there to be funny. I’m not really sure why. But they are very amusing.
I settle into my hotel, pausing only to note that the doormen wear shorts, and then it’s off to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. I’m supposed to do a 2-hour writing workshop ahead of my reading, and not really sure what that means. I’m imagining maybe five or six people and an interactive session where I set them a writing task and then we discuss their work. While they’re writing, maybe I’ll go out for pizza.
But 20 or 30 people have turned up, and the questions fly. I end up doing the entire session as Q&A. I think most people are relieved at not having to write something and talk in public about it, although a few were clearly looking forward to that part. I guess my next workshop should be longer.
Some people leave, others arrive, and then I do my reading. Halfway through, I realize that a young girl in the audience, maybe eight years old, is staring at me stonily. At first her gaze is startling, and then I find it funny, and have to deliberately avoid looking at her to keep it together. Really, you try reading something in public while a little girl with eyes the size of dinner plates stares at you unblinkingly. It’s not easy.
Afterward, her mother brings her up to have a book signed, and I learn that her name is Kaia. Kaia has a question: “Have you met The Wiggles?” She thought that seeing as we’re all Australian, maybe I occasionally bump into them. But, sadly, no.
In line, Lisa gives me a home-made rabbit. It’s extremely cute, with long, dangling arms and legs, and wearing a sweater. She tells me not to give it to Fin, though, because the hands and feet might pop off and choke her to death. But I can put it on her bedroom shelf, where it can smile down at her temptingly.
As I’m leaving the store, a young, muscular man rushes out the darkness at me. “Max! Max!” This turns out to be Kale, who wants some books signed but I guess didn’t want to wait in line. It’s just as well for Kale that I’m not very famous. If I was Jimmy Carter, my bodyguards would have put five slugs into him. Maybe one day I will have armed bodyguards. One day.