Chuck Palahniuk: You Ask The Questions
Are you proud that your novel 'Fight Club' has inspired real-life violence? And would you consider writing a self-help book?
Thursday 25 March 2004
The American novelist Chuck Palahniuk was born in 1962 and brought up in a trailer in Pasco, Washington. After high school, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he studied journalism before a getting a job on a local newspaper. Six months later, he left for financial reasons to work in a diesel factory. His first novel,
Fight Club, was published in 1996 and adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt. In 1999, Palahniuk's father was murdered: killed by the ex-husband of a woman he had met through a lonely-hearts ad. He has since written five novels and lives in Portland.
The American novelist Chuck Palahniuk was born in 1962 and brought up in a trailer in Pasco, Washington. After high school, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he studied journalism before a getting a job on a local newspaper. Six months later, he left for financial reasons to work in a diesel factory. His first novel, Fight Club, was published in 1996 and adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt. In 1999, Palahniuk's father was murdered: killed by the ex-husband of a woman he had met through a lonely-hearts ad. He has since written five novels and lives in Portland.
Your novel, Fight Club, inspired many real fighting clubs. How do you feel about that?
Sarah Hayes, Hove
Oh, such a sensitive question. I don't "feel" anything about it. But I "am" proud. Vastly, hugely proud. Not because I've invented anything, no. Hundreds of men have written to me, claiming that they invented fight clubs decades ago, in the army or work camps or school. I'm proud, like any reporter, for recognising the value in an event, and depicting it in a way that conveys that value to others. If more people, men and women, exhausted their rage in consensual physical combat, we'd have fewer school shootings and wars. The key word is: consensual.
When the story of your father's life is told in the press, it often sounds like a plot from a novel. How do you make sense of it?
Ben Judge, Baldock
I make sense out of life by just trying to document it. None of my siblings could bear attending the trial or reviewing the coroner's photos. I worried that someday they'd want to know all the details; the last moments of his life; what he felt, what evidence supports that. I just had to know, but I made my quest about serving them. So, I went and watched and recorded it all, playing reporter, obsessed with the smallest details - all so I could avoid being with the big picture. Like every other big issue in my life, I crafted it into a story. I exhausted my emotional reaction by soaking in every gory photo and word of testimony.
You have stopped writing subversive novels, reportedly because of US hostility towards dissent following September 11. Why have you sold out? Doesn't America need your criticism now more than ever?
Harry Legesse, London
Why have I sold out? You think I'm supposed to grow old, beating some trite old protest drum that people don't hear anymore? Please; protest is now just a backdrop for a Diesel clothing ad in a slick fashion magazine. My goal is to create a metaphor that changes our reality by charming people into considering their world in a different way. It's time - for me, at least - to be clever and seduce people by entertaining them. I'll never be heard if I'm always ranting and griping.
How will you vote in the Presidential election later this year?
Rob Palmer, Kelso
I'll vote the way I voted in the last election: For George W Bush. Hey? Do you hear all my friends moaning? Well, they are. It's just my personal theory that change is sudden and fast, not slow and compromising. Our steady parade of meek, liberal candidates (Al Gore, groan!) makes me determined to vote for the devil again and again, until we get a real candidate with a unified vision, not just a smiling, compromising robot who's trying to please every special interest. My second choice would be Ralph Nader.
Is there anything about the diesel factory where you worked for 13 years that you miss?
Becky Wright, London
I miss all the people I worked with, even when they were stoned and wouldn't share. And I miss getting to wear the same pants and shirt to work for seven days. I did one wash each week. I don't miss the carpal tunnel injuries, because they're still with me. Half the time, I can't feel my hands. But I do miss the strange herds of wild cats and rabbits that roamed in the parts racks and along the assembly line because it was warm in the winter. And I miss the practical jokes involving axle grease hidden in people's lunch.
How would you pursue the war on terror?
Bill Johnson, Darlington
Every time you board a flight, the cabin crew will forcibly inject you with enough Demerol to knock you out until the plane has landed. This would mean an end to long security lines at the airport and to "air rage" incidents. Millions more would choose to travel, thus reviving the old Cunard slogan: "Getting There is Half the Fun!"
Who is the most interesting person you've met while researching a book?
Des Roberts, by e-mail
Marilyn Manson: a Mid-West kid whose parents dragged him to live in Florida, despite the fact that he hates the water, can't swim and found no social life outside of the sunny ocean beaches. So he became the poet and musician we know. He's dedicated to his family and to his different arts: music, writing, painting. He'll be around, surprising our culture, for a long, long time.
How do you deal with unfavourable reviews?
Karen Oliveira, London
My policy is to not read any reviews. Either they get you high. Or they piss you off. Either way, you have to write another book. All the reviews go into a big box - now many big boxes - and that's it. After my body is dead, you can burn it on the pyre of these reviews.
I understand that you live in a two-bedroom house in Portland. Why don't you move somewhere grander?
Nora McCoig, by e-mail
Well. Hah! You'd be wrong! I've moved to a one-bedroom apartment - still with no television or radio - that overlooks a construction site. It's terrible. Noisy. Smoky. Awful. But I'll stay here until the new book is done, next year. Besides, I'm getting so much work accomplished here. Property and possessions always distract me from being around people, listening and collecting their stories. And writing those into a new book.
Instead of highlighting America's problems, why not solve them? Would you consider bringing out a self-help book: 'Chuck Palahniuk's Guide to a Happy Life'? What would be your major recommendations if you did?
Jack Mitchell, Manchester
That is my next book. Of course it's not the only solution, but that's the joy of writing. You get to build a social model. And model a social behaviour. Then run your little experiment and watch where it breaks down. So far, I have a nifty new experiment that keeps working. Of course, for dramatic conventions, I'll probably have to wreck it to end the book. Nothing is as boring as: "Happily ever after..."
You say that in many circumstances, death is the least bad option. Do you believe in life after death? Or just that death can be preferable to life?
Fran Whitten, Margate
How sweet! You still believe in death... that's just so... quaint. Well, sorry to pop your death bubble, but there's no such thing. So make the best of things. Any real belief in death is just wishful thinking. Don't waste good drugs on killing yourself. Share them with friends and have a party. Or send them to me.
'Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon' is published by Random House (£6.99)
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