"The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open." -- Chuck Palahniuk
Charles Michael "Chuck" Palahniuk (; born February 21, 1962) is an American transgressional fiction novelist and freelance journalist. He is best known for the award-winning novel Fight Club, which was later made into a film directed by David Fincher. He lives near Vancouver, Washington.
"A minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.""All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.""Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?""Every woman is just a different kind of problem.""Everyone smiles with that invisible gun to their head.""Find out what you're afraid of and go live there.""Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.""Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.""I don't care what they do with my book so long as the flippin check clears.""I just don't want to die without a few scars.""I used to work in a funeral home to feel good about myself, just the fact that I was breathing.""I wanted to write about the moment when your addictions no longer hide the truth from you. When your whole life breaks down. That's the moment when you have to somehow choose what your life is going to be about.""If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character, would you slow down? Or speed up?""If I can't be beautiful, I want to be invisible.""If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?""If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.""It's funny how you never think about the women you've had. It's always the ones who get away that you can't forget.""Masochism is a valuable job skill.""Maybe humans are just the pet alligators that God flushed down the toilet.""Maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.""More and more, it feels like I'm doing a really bad impersonation of myself.""No matter how much you think you love somebody, you'll step back when the pool of their blood edges up too close.""Only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.""Our Generation has had no Great war, no Great Depression. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.""People don't want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved. Their dramas. Their distractions. Their stories resolved. Their messed cleaned up. Because what would they have left? Just the big scary unknown.""People have to really suffer before they can risk doing what they love.""People used what they called a telephone because they hated being close together and they were scared of being alone.""Reality means you live until you die. The real truth is nobody wants reality.""Since change is constant, you wonder if people crave death because it's the only way they can get anything really finished.""Sometimes the past seems too big for the present to hold.""Sometimes you do something, and you get screwed. Sometimes it's the things you don't do, and you get screwed.""Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.""That saying, about how you always kill the thing you love, well, it works both ways.""The answer is there is no answer.""The lower you fall, the higher you'll fly.""The only difference between suicide and martyrdom is press coverage.""The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up.""We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.""We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.""What we don't understand we can make mean anything.""When did the future switch from being a promise to a threat?""Where would Jesus be if no one had written the gospels?""Why is it you feel like a dope if you laugh alone, but that's usually how you end up crying?""You are not a beautiful, unique snowflake... This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.""You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be.""You must realize that one day you will die. Until then you are worthless.""Your birth is a mistake you'll spend your whole life trying to correct."
Palahniuk was born in Pasco, Washington. He is the son of Carol and Fred Palahniuk, and grew up living in a mobile home in nearby Burbank, Washington with his family. His parents later separated and divorced, often leaving him and his three siblings to live with their grandparents at their cattle ranch in Eastern Washington. His paternal grandfather was Ukrainian and immigrated to New York from Canada in 1907..
In his twenties, Palahniuk attended the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, graduating in 1986. While attending college he worked as an intern for National Public Radio member station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon. He moved to Portland soon afterwards. After writing for the local newspaper for a short while, he began working for Freightliner as a diesel mechanic, continuing in that job until his writing career took off. During that time, he also wrote manuals on fixing trucks and had a stint as a journalist (a job he did not return to until after he became a successful novelist). After casually attending a free, introductory seminar held by an organization called Landmark Education, Palahniuk quit his job as a journalist in 1988. Palahniuk did volunteer work for a homeless shelter; later, he also volunteered at a hospice as an escort; he provided transportation for terminally ill people and brought them to support group meetings. He ceased volunteering upon the death of a patient to whom he had grown attached.
Palahniuk would also become a member of the rebellious Cacophony Society in his adulthood. He is a regular participant in their events, including the annual Santa Rampage (a public Christmas party involving pranks and drunkenness) in Portland. His participation in the Society inspired some of the events in his writings, both fictional and non-fictional. Most notably, he used the Cacophony Society as the basis for Project Mayhem in Fight Club.
Palahniuk began writing fiction in his mid-thirties. By his account, he started writing while attending writer's workshops, hosted by Tom Spanbauer, which he attended to meet new friends. Spanbauer largely inspired Palahniuk's minimalistic writing style. His first book, Insomnia: If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Already, never was adapted due to his disappointment with the story (though a small part of it was later salvaged for use in Fight Club). When he attempted to publish his next novel, Invisible Monsters, publishers rejected it for its disturbing content. This led him to work on his most famous novel, Fight Club, which he wrote as an attempt to disturb the publisher even more for rejecting him. Palahniuk wrote this story in his spare time while working for Freightliner. After initially publishing it as a short story (which would become chapter 6 of the novel) in the 1995 compilation Pursuit of Happiness, Palahniuk expanded it into a full novel, which...contrary to his expectations...the publisher was willing to publish. While the original hardcover edition of the book received positive reviews and some awards, it had a short shelf life.
Initially, Palahniuk struggled to find a literary agent and went without one until after the publication of Fight Club. After he began receiving attention from 20th Century Fox, Palahniuk was signed by Edward Hibbert, who is most famously known as the actor who played Gil Chesterton on Frasier. Hibbert eventually guided and brokered the deal that took Fight Club to the big screen. In 1999, three years after the novel's publication, the film adaptation by director David Fincher was released. The film was a box office disappointment (although it was #1 at the U.S. box office in its first weekend) and critical reaction was mixed but a cult following soon emerged as the DVD of the film was popular upon release. The novel has been re-released three times in paperback, in 1999, in 2004 (with a new introduction by the author about the success of the film adaptation), and in 2005 (with an afterword by Palahniuk).
A revised version of Invisible Monsters, as well as his fourth novel, Survivor, were also published that year, allowing Palahniuk to become a cult figure himself. A few years later Palahniuk managed to make his first New York Times bestseller, the novel Choke. From then on, Palahniuk's later books would often meet with similar success. Such success has allowed him to go on book tours to promote his books, where he reads from both new and upcoming works.
The year 1999 brought a series of great personal tragedies to Palahniuk's life. At that time, his father, Fred Palahniuk, had started dating a woman named Donna Fontaine, whom he had met through a personal ad under the title "Kismet". Fontaine's ex-boyfriend Dale Shackleford had recently been imprisoned for sexual abuse. Shackleford had vowed to kill Fontaine as soon as he was released from prison. Palahniuk believes that through her personal ad, Fontaine was looking for "the biggest man she could find" to protect her from Shackleford and Palahniuk's father fit this description. After his release, Shackleford followed Fontaine and the senior Palahniuk to Fontaine's home in Kendrick, Idaho, after they had gone out for a date. Shackleford then shot them both and dragged their bodies into Fontaine's cabin home, which he set on fire immediately afterwards. In the spring of 2001, Shackleford was found guilty for two counts of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. In the wake of these events, Palahniuk began working on the novel Lullaby. According to him, he wrote the novel to help him cope with having helped decide to have Shackleford get the death sentence.
In September 2003, Palahniuk was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby. During the interview, Palahniuk in confidence mentioned information pertaining to his partner. While it had been previously believed by many that he was married to a woman (some members of the press had claimed he had a wife), Palahniuk had in fact been living with his boyfriend. Some time later, Palahniuk believed that Valby was going to print this information in her article, without his consent. In response, he put an angry audio recording of himself on his web site, not only revealing that he is gay, but also making negative comments about Valby and a member of her family. However, Palahniuk's fears turned out to be ungrounded, and Valby's article did not reveal anything about his personal life outside of the fact that he is unmarried. The recording was later removed from the website, making some fans believe that Palahniuk is embarrassed by his homosexuality. According to Dennis Widmyer, the site's webmaster, the recording was not removed because of the statements regarding his sexuality, but because of the statements about Valby. Palahniuk would later post a new recording to his site, asking his fans not to overreact to these events. He also apologized for his behavior, claiming that he wished he had not recorded the message. Palahniuk is now openly gay, and he and his unnamed male partner, according to a profile and interview in The Advocate in May 2008, live in "a former church compound outside Vancouver, Wash."
While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel Diary, Palahniuk read to his audiences a short story titled "Guts", a tale of accidents involving masturbation, which appears in his book Haunted. It was reported that to that point, 40 people had fainted while listening to the readings. Playboy magazine would later publish the story in their March 2004 issue; Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found the second work too disturbing. On his tour to promote True Stories in the summer of 2004, he read the story to audiences again, bringing the total number of fainters up to 53, and later up to 60, while on tour to promote the softcover edition of Diary. In the fall of that year, he began promoting "Haunted", and continued to read "Guts". At his October 4, 2004 reading in Boulder, Colorado, Palahniuk noted that, after that day, his number of fainters was up to 68. The last fainting occurred on May 28, 2007, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where 5 people fainted, one of which occurred when a man was trying to leave the auditorium, which resulted in him falling and hitting his head on the door. Palahniuk is apparently not bothered by these incidents, which have not stopped fans from reading "Guts" or his other works. Audio recordings of his readings of the story have since circulated on the Internet. In the afterword of the latest edition of "Haunted", Palahniuk reports that "Guts" is now responsible for 73 faintings.
At a 2005 appearance in Miami, Florida, during the Haunted tour, Palahniuk commented that Haunted represented the last of a "horror trilogy" (including Lullaby and Diary). He also indicated that his then-forthcoming novel Rant would be the first of a "sci—fi trilogy".
In 2008 Palahniuk took a role as an instructor for the Clarion West Writers Workshop, spending a week teaching his writing methods and theory of fiction to eighteen students.
Palahniuk's books prior to Lullaby have distinct similarities. The characters are people who have been marginalized in one form or another by society, and who react with often self-destructive aggressiveness (a form of story that the author likes to describe as transgressive fiction). Starting with Lullaby, his novels have been satirical horror stories.
The narratives of Palahniuk's books are often structured in medias res, starting at the temporal end, with the protagonist recounting the events that led up to the point at which the book begins. Lullaby used a variation of this, alternating between the normal, linear narrative and the temporal end after every few chapters. However, exceptions to this narrative form include the more linear Choke and Diary. There is often a major plot twist that is revealed near the end of the book which relates in some way to this temporal end (what Palahniuk refers to as "the hidden gun"). His more linear works also include similar plot twists.
Palahniuk's writing style has been influenced by authors such as the minimalist Tom Spanbauer (who taught Palahniuk in Portland from 1991 to 1996), Amy Hempel, Mark Richard, Denis Johnson, Thom Jones, and Bret Easton Ellis. In what the author refers to as a minimalistic approach, his writings use a limited vocabulary and short sentences to mimic the way that an average person telling a story would talk. In an interview, he said that he prefers to write in verbs instead of adjectives. Repetitions of certain lines in the stories' narratives (what Palahniuk refers to as "choruses") are one of the most common aspects of his writing style, found dispersed within most chapters of his novels. Palahniuk has said that there are also some choruses between novels; the color cornflower blue and the city of Missoula, Montana appear in many of his novels. The characters in Palahniuk's stories often break into philosophical asides (either by the narrator to the reader, or spoken to the narrator through dialogue), offering numerous odd theories and opinions, often misanthropic or darkly absurdist in nature, on complex issues of death, morality, childhood, parenthood, sexuality, and God.
Many of the ideas in his novels are traced to Continental thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Albert Camus.
When not writing fiction, Palahniuk tends to write short non-fiction works. Working as a freelance journalist in between books, he writes essays and reports on a variety of subjects; he sometimes participates in the events of these writings, which are heavy in field research. He has also written interviews with celebrities, such as Juliette Lewis and Marilyn Manson. These works appear in various magazines and newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times and Gear magazine. Some of these writings have shown up in his book Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories. Palahniuk also includes some non-fiction factoids within his fictional works. According to the author, these are included in order to further immerse the reader in his work.
The content of Palahniuk's works has earned him a reputation as a nihilist. Palahniuk however rejects this label, claiming he is a romantic, and that his works are mistakenly seen as nihilistic because they express ideas that others do not believe in.
Palahniuk represents a distinct voice for an interim generation. "Coming to consciousness during the Vietnam War, watching Watergate destroy trust in public office, and raised by parents among whom divorce was popular but not well managed" this group, born between 1957 and 1965, grew up disassociated from and dissatisfied with institutions (L. E. Andrews, The Daily Cougar). Palahniuk channels this spirit, its ache to build and its inability to follow through. As they have aged, this half-generation has not developed a strong sense of group identity and are well known to alumni offices across America as the Lost Generation, regularly donating less to their colleges and universities than any other age group. From Project Mayhem in 'Fight Club' to Carl's building and destroying of model buildings in 'Lullaby', Palahniuk catheterizes his generation’s anger, failure, and disheartening desire to destroy whatever they build. “Chuck’s nihilism, small ‘n’, is a reflection of his age. The foundational act of his generation is the actual destruction of the global financial system in 2008” (A. Broussard, The Oswego Review).
Laura Miller of Salon.com wrote a scathing review of Diary, saying that Palahniuk's books "traffic in the half-baked nihilism of a stoned high school student who has just discovered Nietzsche and Nine Inch Nails" and that "everything even remotely clever in them has been done before and better by someone else".
In response, fans as well as Palahniuk himself (who had never responded to a review before) sent angry e-mails to Salon's Letters section. Palahniuk observed "Until you can create something that captivates people, I'd invite you to just shut up. It's easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It's a lot more difficult to perform one."
As Palahniuk's career continues, some critics have also accused him of using lurid subject matters simply because it is expected of him. In Tasha Robinson's review of Haunted in The A.V. Club, Robinson wrote that gruesome scenes are "piled up to such extremes that it seems like Palahniuk is just double-daring himself to top each new vile degradation with something worse."
Other than the film, Fight Club was also adapted into a fighting video game loosely based on the film, which was released in October 2004 to universally poor reviews. Palahniuk has mentioned at book readings that he is working on a musical based on Fight Club with David Fincher and Trent Reznor. Edward Norton has said that he thinks it is unlikely that he and Brad Pitt, who "can't sing", would reprise their film roles for the musical.
Graphic novel adaptations of Invisible Monsters and Lullaby, drawn by comic artist Kissgz, aka Gabor, are available online.
Following the success of the movie of Fight Club, interest began to build in adapting Survivor to film. The film rights to Survivor were first sold in early 2001, but no movie studio had committed itself to filming the novel. After the attacks on The Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the movie studios apparently deemed the novel too controversial to film because it includes the hijacking and crashing of a civilian airplane. However, in mid-2004 20th Century Fox decided to commit itself to adapting Palahniuk's novel. Palahniuk has said that the people who made the film Constantine will be working on this film.
In the meantime, the film rights to Invisible Monsters and Diary were also sold. While little is known about some of these projects, it is known that Jessica Biel was signed on to play the roles of both Shannon and Brandy in Invisible Monsters, which was supposed to begin filming in 2004 but is still in development.
On January 14, 2008, the film version of Choke premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, starring Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston with Clark Gregg directing. David Fincher has expressed interest in filming Diary as an HBO miniseries.
In 1999, a fan by the name of Dennis Widmyer introduced himself to Palahniuk at a reading for Invisible Monsters. He pitched the idea of a website devoted to Palahniuk, as he felt at the time that there was not enough information available online for the author. Palahniuk was flattered and accepted the offer, unsure if Widmyer would actually follow through with his plan. A few weeks later, he received an email from Widmyer informing him that ChuckPalahniuk.net was now up and running and already growing a dedicated fan base. Approving of the site, Palahniuk soon gave Widmyer permission to call it official.
Over the course of the next ten years, the website (which calls itself The Cult) grew to become the largest of its kind. With over 700,000 page views a month and 30,000 registered users on its forums alone, it expanded to include sections on Palahniuk's books, movies, media appearances, tour dates, and more. But perhaps its most important feature remains the Writers' Workshop. In 2004 Palahniuk and Widmyer conceived of a section on the site where up and coming writers could submit their original work to a database and have it read, rated, and reviewed by their peers. The section accepted everything from short stories and poems to screenplays and novel excerpts. Palahniuk would then pen a monthly "How To" essay on writing that his readers could benefit from and apply to their own craft. This process continued for three years.
In February 2009, Palahniuk began accepting six stories every month from his fans that would be narrowed down through a nominations process every month. The stories are read and reviewed by Palahniuk and helpful feedback is provided for the writer. It is Palahniuk's intention in 2010 to select the best stories from the year and publish them in an anthology for which he will be writing the introduction.
Besides contributing thoroughly to his fans through the Writers Workshop on the site, Palahniuk also tries to answer every piece of fan mail sent to him. He sometimes sends odd gifts (such as plastic severed hands, prom tiaras, and masks) back with his responses. He also often gives these to fans at his book readings, sometimes as prizes for asking him questions. Along with signing fans' books at these readings, he also marks them with humorous rubber stamps that relate to the books (for instance, a stamp of "Property of Dr. B. Alexander Sex Reassignment Clinic" in a copy of Invisible Monsters).
Besides his various promotional outings, Palahniuk has also made several notable television appearances to discuss cultural issues,including No Reservations exploring his beloved Pacific Northwest in 2007 "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" Pacific NW (2007) and the BBC's Hardtalk Extra in 2004. "HARDtalk Extra" Chuck Palahniuk (2006)