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Chuck Klosterman talks about his first book of short stories, ‘Raised in Captivity’

Books 11/23 - 23KLOSTERMAN - Chuck Klosterman (handout)
Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman realizes you may be confused by the title of his new book.

The tales that make up the best-selling author’s first book of short stories, “Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction,” are weird, funny, absurd — but they’re not nonfiction.

They are, in fact, completely from Klosterman’s imagination.

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They read like “Black Mirror” episodes directed, perhaps, by a deadpan Christopher Guest, or Larry David.

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Vignettes include: A guy discovers a puma in an airplane bathroom. A prisoner reflects on his old high school football coach, who taught the team to play every game with one play. A man ponders a whale struck by lightning.

On Wednesday at the Cambridge Public Library, Klosterman, 47, author of “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” will discuss “Captivity” with Tom Perrotta, the Belmont novelist behind “The Leftovers,” “Little Children,” and “Mrs. Fletcher.”

Q. So how did this event with Tom Perrotta come together?

A. The publicist asked me, “Do you want to read, or do you want to have someone interview you on stage?” I said, “Whatever you think.” I met Tom Perrotta once — I ran into him at South by Southwest. We hung out and, like, drank Cokes in the middle of the day. He’s a real nice guy.

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Q. How did the idea for this book come to you?

A. This is probably a hard thing to get into an article, but my original idea for this book was particularly idiotic. I’ve been saving up ideas for stories for like five years. Every time I’d have an idea for a story, or like a weird piece of dialogue, or a premise, I’d put it into my phone in the notes section. And I have hundreds and hundreds of these. So then I had this idea to write a book of 100 stories and each story would be 1,000 words long. I thought that would be cool or whatever.

Q. OK . . .

A. So I’m working on this, but the problem, of course, is every story either had to be stretched out to get to 1,000 or cut down to fit. Then I was like, “Why am I doing this?” So I said, “I’ll do the stories the length they should be.”

Q. And why fiction?

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A. I know I’m perceived as a nonfiction writer and an essayist, and obviously started as a journalist, but I really enjoy writing fiction. I just did it because it’s what I wanted to do.

Q. Do you have a favorite story in the book?

A. The book ended up being called “Raised in Captivity,” and that’s the first story. I liked it because it seemed like a “Twilight Zone” episode, and if someone asked me what these stories are like, that’s what I’d say.

Q. Are there any stories you really liked that didn’t make the cut?

A. Two stories I cut because they were too tied to current events. If a story is too dependent on the knowledge of the current pop culture, that’s it’s own kind of problem.

Q. Did you always want to be a writer?

A. My dad wanted me to be a lawyer — well, first they wanted me to be a priest, then it was a lawyer. I went to college and I assumed I’d end up an English teacher or history teacher, and I fell into journalism. And I was extremely lucky that this thing I kind of loved immediately came unusually naturally to me.

And at the time, this was like 1994, there were clear entries into the field. Every town had a newspaper, and there was some publication at some level to enter the job market. I went to a state college, had to pay loans, and needed a job in six months, so the idea of being a journalist was a practical thing. Luckily, I liked it.

Q. How did that branch into what you do now?

A. I worked in Fargo [N.D.], at the newspaper there from 1994 to ’98, then I got a job at the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio, which was a big jump up. But I don’t know anybody in Akron; I don’t know one person. But I now have enough money to buy a computer. So what do you do if you have a computer and no friends? You write a book. I started writing “Fargo Rock City” really just to see if I could write a book that would be book-length.

It [was published] by a collision of weird events — I mean, chance is the biggest reason anyone succeeds or fails, to be totally honest. And the book didn’t do that great. But it seemed like every rock critic in America read it. And suddenly I was able to get a job at Spin magazine. I moved to New York. And then “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” came out, and did very well. And I went from being a journalist who does books, to a book writer who occasionally does journalism.

Chuck Klosterman, in conversation with Tom Perrotta, Wednesday at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge. Doors at 6:30 p.m., talk at 7 p.m. Free.

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. She tweets @laurendaley1.