Charles Michael "Chuck" Palahniuk (/ˈpɔːlənɪk/) (born February 21, 1962) is an American novelist and freelance journalist, who describes his work as "transgressional" fiction. He is the author of the award-winning novel Fight Club, which also was made into an acclaimed film of the same name.
Palahniuk was born in Pasco, Washington, the son of Carol Adele (née Tallent) and Fred Palahniuk. He has French, Russian, and Ukrainian ancestry. His paternal grandfather was Ukrainian and migrated to New York from Canada in 1907. Palahniuk grew up living in a mobile home in Burbank, Washington. His parents separated when he was 14 and subsequently divorced, often leaving him and his three siblings to live with their maternal grandparents at their cattle ranch in Eastern Washington. Palahniuk acknowledged in a 2007 interview that he is a distant nephew of actor Jack Palance, and that his family had talked of distant relations with Palance.
In his 20s, Palahniuk attended the University of Oregon 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, Oregon soon after. He wrote for the local newspaper for a short while, and then began working for Freightliner as a diesel mechanic, continuing until his writing career took off. During that time, he wrote manuals on fixing trucks and had a stint as a journalist, a job to which he did not return until after he became a successful novelist. After casually attending a seminar held by an organization called Landmark Education, Palahniuk quit his job as a journalist in 1988. He performed volunteer work for a homeless shelter and volunteered at a hospice as an escort, providing transportation for terminally ill people and bringing them to support group meetings. He ceased volunteering upon the death of a patient to whom he had grown attached.
Palahniuk began writing fiction in his mid-30s. By his account, he started writing while attending workshops for writers that were hosted by Tom Spanbauer, which he attended to meet new friends. Spanbauer largely inspired Palahniuk's minimalistic writing style.
When he attempted to publish his novel, Invisible Monsters, publishers rejected it. 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 became 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 actor and literary agent, Edward Hibbert, 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 became popular upon release. Three editions of the novel have been published 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).
Palahniuk was cajoled to continue Fight Club in comics form by fellow novelist Chelsea Cain and comic writers Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick. A teaser was released by Dark Horse Comics for Free Comic Book Day 2015, with Fight Club 2 #1 following in late May of that year. The series explores Joseph Campbell's concept of the 'second father' as being vital to the hero's journey, which is something that has always fascinated Palahniuk.
On the Orbital In Conversation podcast, Palahniuk stated that he is already working on Fight Club 3, which will also be in comic form. He also confirmed that he is working on a series of original short stories for comics which will appear as one-shots before eventually being collected into a single book.
Invisible Monsters, Survivor, and Choke
A revised version of Invisible Monsters, as well as his fourth novel, Survivor, were published in 1999. A few years later Palahniuk managed to make his first New York Times bestseller, the novel Choke, which later was made into a movie.
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". Her former boyfriend, Dale Shackelford, had previously been imprisoned for sexual abuse, and had vowed to kill Fontaine as soon as he was released from prison. Palahniuk believes that using a personal ad, Fontaine was looking for "the biggest man she could find" to protect her from Shackelford, and Palahniuk's father qualified. After his release, Shackelford followed Fontaine and the senior Palahniuk to Fontaine's home in Kendrick, Idaho after they had gone out for a date. Shackelford then shot them both and dragged their bodies into Fontaine's cabin home, which he then set afire. In the spring of 2001, Shackelford 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. He has stated that he wrote the novel to help him cope with having participated in the decision to have Shackelford receive the death sentence.
"Guts" and Haunted
While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel, Diary, Palahniuk read to his audiences a short story entitled, "Guts," a sensational tale of accidents involving masturbation, which appears in his book, Haunted. The story begins with the author telling his listeners to inhale deeply and that "this story should last about as long as you can hold your breath." It was reported that forty people had fainted listening to the readings while holding their breath. Playboy magazine later published the story in their March 2004 issue and Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found the second work too disturbing to publish. On his tour to promote Stranger than Fiction: True Stories during the summer of 2004, he read "Guts" 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". In June 2005, Palahniuk noted that his number of fainters was up to 67. The last fainting occurred on May 28, 2007, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where 5 people fainted, one of whom fell and hit his head on the door while trying to leave the auditorium. Since then audio recordings of his readings of the story have been circulated on the Internet. In the afterword of the latest edition of "Haunted", Palahniuk reported that "Guts" had been responsible for 73 fainting events.
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 "science fiction trilogy".
In 2008, Palahniuk spent a week at the Clarion West Writers Workshop, instructing eighteen students about his writing methods and theory of fiction .
In addition to the film, Fight Club was adapted into a fighting video game loosely based on the film, which was released in October 2004, receiving poor reviews universally. 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 in a 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 about adapting Survivor to film. The film rights to Survivor were sold in early 2001, but no movie studio had committed to filming the novel. After the attacks on The Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, movie studios apparently deemed the novel too controversial to film because it includes the hijacking and crashing of a civilian airplane. In mid-2004, however, 20th Century Fox committed to adapting Palahniuk's novel. Palahniuk has said that the same people who made the film, Constantine, will be working on this film.
Following that, the film rights to Invisible Monsters and Diary also were 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 as of 2010 is still in development.
On January 14, 2008, the film version of Choke premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, starring Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald and Anjelica Huston with Clark Gregg directing. David Fincher has expressed interest in filming Diary as an HBO miniseries.
On September 11, 2014, the film version of Rant was announced, starring James Franco, with Pamela Romanowsky writing and directing.
Beside his various promotional outings, Palahniuk has made several television appearances to discuss cultural issues, including Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations exploring his beloved Pacific Northwest in 2007 and the BBC's Hardtalk Extra in 2004.
Palahniuk's books prior to Lullaby have distinct similarities. The characters are people who have been marginalized in one way or another by society, and often react with self-destructive aggressiveness. He labels these stories as transgressional fiction. Beginning with Lullaby, the style of his novels changed to mostly satirical horror stories.
The narratives of Palahniuk's books often are 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. Exceptions to this narrative form, however, include the more linear Choke and Diary. Often a major plot twist exists 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 says that his 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, Bret Easton Ellis and philosophers Michel Foucault and Albert Camus. In what the author refers to as a minimalistic approach, his writings include a limited vocabulary and short sentences to mimic the way that an average person telling a story would speak. In an interview, he said that he "prefers to write in verbs instead of adjectives". Repetitions of certain lines in the story narrative (what Palahniuk refers to as "choruses") are one of the most common characteristics of his writing style, being dispersed within most chapters of his novels. Palahniuk has said that there also are some choruses between novels, noting that 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 such as death, morality, childhood, parenthood, sexuality, and a deity.
When not writing fiction, Palahniuk tends to write short non-fiction works. Working as a freelance journalist, he writes essays and reports on a variety of subjects. He sometimes participates in the events about which he writes, which are heavy in field research. He also has written interviews with celebrities, namely, 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 and 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.
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, Palahniuk (who had never responded to a review before) sent an angry e-mail 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."
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."
As an adult, Palahniuk became a member of the rebellious Cacophony Society. He is a regular participant in their events, including the annual Santa Rampage (a public Christmas party involving pranks and drunkenness) in Portland, Oregon. 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.
In May 1999, Palahniuk's father was murdered, together with a woman he was dating, by the woman's ex-partner. Palahniuk was later asked to help determine the sentence for the man who killed his father; he asked for the death penalty.
In September 2003, Palahniuk was interviewed by Karen Valby, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly. During the interview, in confidence, Palahniuk mentioned information pertaining to his partner. It previously had been assumed by many that he was married to a woman (some members of the press had claimed he had a wife), but in fact, Palahniuk had been living with a boyfriend. Some time later, Palahniuk came to believe that Valby would reveal this information in her article, without his consent. In anticipation, he made an angry audio recording and put it on his website, not only revealing his homosexuality, but also attacking Valby and a member of her family ad hominem.
Palahniuk's fears proved unfounded, however, as Valby's article revealed nothing of his personal life outside of the fact that he was unmarried. The recording was later removed from the web site, giving rise to suspicions that Palahniuk was ashamed of his sexual orientation. According to the site's webmaster, the recording was not removed because of the statements regarding his sexuality, but because of the unwarranted attacks on Valby. Palahniuk later posted a new recording to his site, asking readers not to overreact to these events, and apologized for his behavior, saying he regretted recording the message.
Palahniuk is now openly gay and, according to an interview with The Advocate in May 2008, he and his unnamed male partner live in a former church compound outside Vancouver, Washington. He and his partner have been together for over 20 years, having met while Palahniuk was working at Freightliner. He told one interviewer, "We both had these very blue-collar lives, and now our lives are completely different."
Palahniuk has won the following awards:
- 1997 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award (for Fight Club)
- 1997 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel (for Fight Club)
- 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award (for Lullaby)
He was nominated for the 1999 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel for Survivor and for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel for Lullaby in 2002 and for Haunted in 2005.