you’re Chuck Palahniuk, the first rule of "Fight
Club" is that you never escape "Fight
Club." And maybe, almost 20 years later, you don’t
the thing you dream of, being co-opted by the
culture," says the Portland, Ore., novelist, who’s
famous for raucous, wildly interactive readings of
stories so grotesque they have been known to make
audience members keel over (more on that later).
the long term, it becomes your calling card, proof you
can produce something that has a lasting effect,"
he says. "The disadvantage is that things that have
a lasting effect on culture tend to be things that were
dismissed or rejected at the beginning. The book and the
movie were failures for years. ... ‘Fight Club’ the
movie lost a lot of people their jobs. The book sold
fewer than 10,000 copies in hardcover. It was a big
in 1996, Palahniuk’s first novel is no longer
considered a disaster. It’s a cultural touchstone that
rages against complacency and consumerism via its
iconic, anarchic master of mayhem Tyler Durden (played
with unhinged grace by Brad Pitt in David Fincher’s
Club" continues to be an inspiration for Palahniuk.
He has just launched the first issue of his new comic
"Fight Club 2" (Dark Horse, $3.99), part of a
10-issue series with artist Cameron Stewart that extends
and deepens the mythology. There’s even a "Fight
Club"-related story, "Expedition," in his
new collection, "Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t
Unread" (Doubleday, $26.95).
summer, I was in Madrid, and I made it a point not to
learn Spanish so I could write and not be distracted by
conversation," says Palahniuk, 53 and the author of
14 other books, including "Choke,"
"Doomed," "Damned" and
"Beautiful You." "I set myself a goal of
reading all of Lovecraft and then writing a story using
as many of his tics as I could. That story became ‘Expedition.’
I like the idea of approaching ‘Fight Club’ from
different perspectives. ... I write what you’d call
dirty realism. To write ‘Expedition’ in that
over-the-top, fake Gothic way was really
stories in "Make Something Up" are equally
challenging — for readers. They’re twisted, funny,
disturbing. In "Red Sultan’s Big Boy," a man
discovers the horse he bought for his daughter has a
startling sordid past. In "Romance," a woman
whips out her tampon and smacks a guy in the face with
it. In "Cannibal" — well, I can’t even
tell you what happens in "Cannibal." You’ll
have to read it for yourself, so buckle up.
in "Zombies" — about a new teenage craze in
which kids are attaching cardiac defibrillators to their
heads and scrambling their brains to avoid the
inevitable burden of adulthood — he actually writes a
happy ending (of sorts).
was a muscle I wasn’t using," he explains.
"I was lazy. I hadn’t written enough happy
endings. I was just determined to end at least one story
on an upbeat note."
maybe, coming from the writer famous for tossing severed
arms or inflatable hearts into a crowd. But talking on
the phone, Palahniuk doesn’t sound like a wild and
crazy guy at all. He’s pleasant, thoughtful and
image the world might have of him as an anarchic spirit,
well, they’re right in terms of his imagination, but
that doesn’t reflect Chuck as a person," says
Doubleday executive editor Gerry Howard, who has worked
with Palahniuk on all of his books except
"Invisible Monsters." "I never know what
he’s going to come up with, and I’m always delighted
he comes up with it. He’s a very careful writer, very
easy to work with."
not afraid to say the thing that everyone else dreads
and yet longs to hear," says Miami novelist and
memoirist Diana Abu-Jaber, a friend of Palahniuk’s.
"But he might just toy with his readers a bit, like
a cat with its prey, before he lets you hear it."
may enjoy shocking his readers, but he also rewards
them. His appearances bear no resemblance to the usual
polite book reading, with only the shuffle of the
audience shifting in their seats as a soundtrack.
Palahniuk throws candy bars and bounces balls around the
room. He hit on this style after growing weary of
touring and knowing he needed a change. Before an
appearance in Boulder, Colo., he went to a Claire’s
with his publicist and bought every rhinestone tiara in
the store. Later at the reading, he told anyone who
wanted to ask a question at the reading that they’d
have to wear a tiara.
result was bracing. "People were so tickled, it
broke my unexpressed resentment for that part of the
job," he says.
tiaras led to other hijinks — and, eventually, the
passing out, which often occurs when Palahniuk reads his
infamous story "Guts" (not in "Make
Something Up," but you can find it online at
chuckpalahniuk.net — just ... prepare yourself).
According to the Miami New Times, two audience members
swooned during a reading of "Guts" at Miami
Book Fair International in 2011. The story opens with:
"Inhale. Take in as much air as you can."
Apparently they didn’t.
confirms the phenomenon.
200 people have passed out at readings," he says.
"Originally, when I took the story to workshop, I
thought it was a funny story. Nobody passed out or
reacted that strongly. It wasn’t till I started
reading it in public that people started to faint."
Palahniuk ever write another story that sets the
audience swooning? Maybe. He loves testing himself.
After working hard to master the comic form for
"Fight Club 2" — "I had to really prune
back on dialogue, and I’m already a guy who hates
dialogue" — he thinks he’ll learn to rely more
on gesture and nonverbal communication in his writing,
"which is so much more effective emotionally."
he’ll be touring around with a rough draft of the
screenplay for "Lullaby," and he’s just
signed on with James Franco for a film version of
"Rant." All these new experiences might sound
intimidating, but Palahniuk thrives on the challenge.
be this stupid person learning from these experts on ‘Fight
Club 2,’ these artists and colorists, and me being at
the bottom of the class, it was fantastic," he
says. "It makes me feel like a young person