Taking a break from cultural criticism, Chuck Klosterman released his first novel this year, Downtown Owl. Set in the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota, in the year 1983, it's a tale of small-town mishaps, philosophical quandaries, and life-threatening blizzards. While driving up the West Coast, Klosterman took a moment to chat with City Pages.
City Pages: You've made a name with your writing on pop culture, music, and sports. Why write a novel? Is this something that you have always wanted to do?
Chuck Klosterman: Yes and no. I think that if you had asked me at 16 what I wanted to do with my life, I would have said that I had no idea; maybe I would like to write a novel someday. Then I just fell into journalism. I got used to writing nonfiction partially because it was my job, and because I enjoyed the process. I'm always impressed by musicians and athletes who can do lots of things well. With journalism, I had done long-form nonfiction. So I wanted to try long-form fiction. I thought it sounded like something that would be fun to do.
CP: So much of what you write is grounded in very detailed observations of reality. Was it difficult to create an entirely new world filled with made-up characters?
CK: It was incredibly difficult, way more difficult than I anticipated. The process was much slower. I guess I was a little cavalier about it going in. I knew it would be different, but I didn't quite realize how hard it would be. It seems obvious now; I sound like an idiot for saying that. But I was surprised at how difficult it was. I could probably write 5,000 words of nonfiction in the time it would take me to write 500 words of fiction. You have to make up everything. If I am writing a profile on someone, I just basically look at them and react. Nonfiction is a reactive art form, where fiction is a creative art form. The process is much more exhaustive creatively.
CP: Your characters in Downtown Owl all have nicknames. Did everyone in your hometown have nicknames? What was yours?
CK: Most people did. Most people in small towns do. The town of Owl in the book is not exactly based on my hometown—my town was smaller and didn't have a movie theater or bowling alley—but that town is sort of a composite of towns around the area. The one unifying element seems to be that most people were defined by these nicknames that the rest of the community decided they would be called, and it wasn't even a reflection of their personality. It was mostly based on some random event that had nothing to do with their day-to-day life. In movies, characters have nicknames that signify who they are or what they are like in their lives, but in small towns that's not the case. Nicknames are given arbitrarily. I didn't have one, though. I guess Chuck is an easy word to say and people like saying it. Even people who have met me for the first time, and you think they would call me Mr. Klosterman, they never do. They immediately call me Chuck.
See Chuck Klosterman read tonight at the Triple Rock Social Club. With music by E.L.No.
Thu., Oct. 2, 8 p.m., 2008