Writing, Art, and Fame: Chuck Palahniuk Discusses Life

Chuck Palahniuk, ring a bell? Choke, Lullaby, Fight Club? Described as a nihilist, an eccentric, and just plain odd, Chuck Palahniuk is probably one of the most famous and un-famous authors of the decade.

“I don’t have a TV, Radio, everything goes to storage, and I only socialize with people who I was friends with before this started.” Over the phone Palahniuk’s voice is soothing and easy to listen to, exactly like the narrators of his books. Author of bestsellers such as Choke, Lullaby, and the infamous Fight Club, Palahniuk himself is humble, avoiding fame and taking no concrete credit for his creatively consuming works.

Palahniuk, whose fans have been noted as obsessive, claims that he probably started his “cult” of fans. “I may have started that with a story that I used to tell, I was in the gym and next to me on a treadmill was a girl on the phone repeating, ‘Mom, mom, mom, listen, mom, no, don’t call, it’s not a church, it’s a cult, and I like it.'” With the publication of Palahniuk’s new novel-Diary-in paperback on Sept. 14, more fans are sure to soon be joining the ranks of the obsessed.

Although Palahniuk states that he tries to avoid the fame, he does show his fans some rather unconventional affection, through fan mail. “I hated answering mail, so I started responding in a big way, I would go out and find fetish objects, quilted boxes, silly and frilly things, making a party out of sending a response to the mail. I invite my friends over and we all sit around and decide who gets what, it’s so much fun, and so many people are totally touched, and surprisingly packages usually arrive on and around their birthdays. Really you can’t make it about them, it’s really rewarding the initiative.”

Relating to themes that are interwoven into his novels, Palahniuk shies away from any reference of his collective words as art. “I hate to call it art; it’s a skill, a diversion, I think to elevate it to that level and call it art is to kill the joy of it, the fun and the game. It’s like putting together a puzzle, being Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. You have to look at it as a piece of craft and skill.”

Craft and skill working in harmony, Palahniuk’s novels are in-depth tales of surreal realities and supernatural events, taking a raw edge to issues that exist in the ordinary and weaving them to fit the plot, subtly confronting readers with issues that many are afraid to actualize. Despite the predominantly whimsical aspect, Palahniuk gets his inspiration from everyday life. “Gosh, my experience is so limited, I’m always listening, making things up, bouncing ideas off of my friends, if I can take a simple idea and make them laugh then I know it’s a good idea, my regular friends are my beta testing group, a game we can play together.”

As for Diary, Palahniuk uses a woman’s voice as the narrator: Misty Marie Klienman. A struggling wife whose art develops out of her borderline inhumane suffering, Diary capitalizes on suffering, a theme that Palahniuk highlights directly. “Suffering was for Diary, I had a fun time writing it. I’m never as happy as I am when I’m writing a book, I had the best time with Fight Club.” As far as using a woman’s voice in Diary instead of a man’s like the majority, Palahniuk states it was an even break. “I wanted to write, (pause) it was a toss-up, it could have gone either way. I wanted to use three generations of women, a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter, I feel that women too are so trapped by their pregnancy…,” a role that played an intricate part to the plot of Diary.

Whether it is Diary, Choke, or Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk’s novels are confrontational, expressive, and edgy; unlike the characters in his novels, Palahniuk isn’t confrontational himself. “I’m expressive, what’s on my mind is on my tongue, but I try to be as non-threatening as possible. I think when your non-threatening you make space for people to be present themselves.”

Although Palahniuk’s non-confrontational attitude is juxtaposed to his stimulating novels, both are instigations for thought. Thought that keeps readers more intrigued with every piece of “craft and skill.”

Joanna Davila can be contacted at j.davila1@umiami.edu.