Things that intrigue me are my job. If something is problematic or beautiful, it is my job to discover why and write about it," author Chuck Klosterman told a crowd Tuesday at the Auraria campus, home to three colleges.
"Now I get to come and speak at colleges like this, and sometimes I even wonder why all of you are listening to me. It seems dreamlike. I have been in a twelve-year-long dream."
Klosterman's fans hope he doesn't wake up. Although the author didn't stick around to sign books after the speech, he did offer words of encouragement to students and dreamers alike, beginning with the story of how he came to publish his first novel, Fargo Rock City. He described himself as just a person "craving art and culture in a place where it was very slim pickings [North Dakota]," and reflected on his high school days by saying, "it doesn't matter what type of art you are interested in, what matters is engaging with something and thinking about it. "
After graduating from University of North Dakota in 1994, Klosterman worked at a newspaper. After working eight-hour days there, he'd go home and work on his novel for three hours. "You know, I had this young organic drive and a lot of ambition to be writing for twelve hours a day; I couldn't do that shit now" he confessed.
He said that most people's days are divided into three sections: eight hours to work, eight hours for yourself, and eight hours to sleep. His goal as an artist was to combine his "me" time with his work time, and he has done just that as a working writer.
"If you guys ever want to publish a book, go to a bookstore and find a similar book, in tone, and read the acknowledgements. Every author always thanks their editor on the first page and find that person's contact information. Call them during the evening or during lunch time, so they will miss the call and leave a voice mail. Tell them you are a writer for a newspaper or magazine, like I was, and that you want to cover the book. Once they return your phone call, you can pitch to them for about ninety seconds and they can't hang up on you because they called you," Klosterman joked.
But that's what Klosterman did. The editor he was talking to actually caved, though, and told Klosterman to send him his manuscript. "Once he read it he wanted to make it to an encyclopedia of hair metal, remove all the memoir parts, and add a lot more photos. They wanted to change it completely for a small advance," he said.
Klosterman opted not to have his book mutilated because according to him, "if you are an artistic person, it doesn't matter how many accolades you receive, no one will care fifty years from now. All that matters if you are comfortable and happy with it; if you can live with it and not hate yourself."
His second attempt at publishing his manuscript came with help from a friend at NYU who was working during the summer as a filing clerk at a literary agent's office. His friend placed the manuscript on his boss's desk along with all the other manuscripts. Klosterman received a phone call saying "I want to be your agent." to which he responded, "Are you an agent?" It was a real agent, and they waited until fall to sell the manuscript because "no one buys books during the summer" and it worked. Klosterman had finally sold his manuscript and all he had to sacrifice was the title, originally Appetite for Deconstruction, and changed to Fargo Rock City.
After that he was hired for Spin magazine and moved to New York City, where his career began to flourish.
"There is no period of culture that disappears entirely, it just goes away for twenty years and resurfaces again." Klosterman said. "There are no real superstars like there were in the 1990s and 1980s, well except Lady Gaga. But if you go up to any random person I bet that they will not even know three Lady Gaga track titles since she can be avoided if you want to avoid her."
He made his opinions on the music industry clear as he said " the music industry is dead and if the CEOs had made CDs less expensive than vinyl and cassettes, like they cost to produce, they might have still be in business.Once people can get something for free, as they do with MP3's on the Internet, they will never go back to paying."
As a result of this, it is growing increasingly harder to track what is popular in culture because there is no standard like there used to be with album sales, before the industry was more driven by promotional singles.
The author seemed very appreciative of what his life has evolved into saying "the goal is to be able to produce books for a living, and create art that is open to everyone's opinion. Most of the time, my own thoughts of my work differ from what people think but that is the case with all art, it is subjective."
Point being his latest novel,The Visible Man
, was a critical and commercial flop, but Klosterman views it as one of his finest works. He laughed saying thatSex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
will be mentioned in the first paragraph of his obituary because it was such a success that I will be remembered for that piece of work forever."
Near the end of the presentation, Klosterman emphasized how many young students normally ask him if they should follow their dreams or not. He presented thirty of the dreams he has heard, such as: "My dream is to learn prison culture inside and out, therefore I should become part of it. Should I follow my dream?"
He asked the audience to stand as he read the dreams and to sit down when they would tell the fifteen-year old student no, don't follow your dream. These hypothetical dreams were equally hilarious and alarming, ranging from striving to be a real life Yoda, to owning a Maseroti to being a cancer curing author of young-adult genre novels. Other dreams included forming a racist preschool, eliminating the incest taboo, building a house with furniture and burning it down and committing suicide in front of someone just to leave them with a psychological scar for eternity.
Many people sat down when he said, "I want to be the second most photographed man in the world," and others sat when he said, "I dream of murdering someone legally."
His point was that he receives all of these questions and who is to say what constitutes as a dream or not. He asked all eight students who were still standing at the end of the thirty dreams why they were remained standing. The students replied with answers like "why stop these dreams, at least the kid has a dream, some people don't even know what they want to be yet" to "it is their pursuit of happiness, everyone is entitled to dream, what matters is the journey, not the goal." Other students defended their stance by saying "it's no ones business to tell you what life path to take."
"We all harm living things just by living. I try not to harm anything consciously," Klosterman responded. "Students will do what they want to. I always wonder if they even listen to what I say, or any advice given to them or will they just do what they want to anyway? I think we should all try to be happy for the time being, in the moment."
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Klosterman added, "you are only truly yourself when you are alone, with no one else. Happiness is this non-visual feeling that exists to improve society. Single people can be happy, you do not need validation from anyone else to be happy."
While the presentation was sprinkled with Klosterman's trademark humor and animated gestures, his speech was quite serious and poignant, resonating with students as he left quickly to catch a plane out of town.