Palahniuk at BookCon in June 2018
|Born||Charles Michael Palahniuk|
February 21, 1962
Pasco, Washington, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Oregon|
|Genre||Fiction, horror, satire|
|Notable works||Fight Club, Choke, Rant, Invisible Monsters|
Charles Michael Palahniuk (; 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 a popular film of the same name, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.
Palahniuk was born in Pasco, Washington, the son of Carol Adele (née Tallent) and Fred Palahniuk. He has French and Ukrainian ancestry. His paternal grandfather migrated from Ukraine to Canada and then to New York 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.
After his first novel, Invisible Monsters, was rejected by all publishers he submitted it to, he began work on his most famous novel, Fight Club. 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, a publisher accepted. 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 No. 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 No. 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.
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.
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 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.
Palahniuk helped write some of the video game Manhunt 2 in his freelance writing in 2007.
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.
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.
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 (whose weekly workshop Palahniuk attended 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 or phrases 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. Other concepts borrowed from Spanbauer include the avoidance of "received text" (clichéd phrases or wording) and use of "burnt tongue" (intentionally odd wording).
Palahniuk's rewriting process is also its own style. In an interview with Jason Tanamor, he said, "It's pathetic how much I rewrite. I'll rework every scene a hundred times before my agent sees it. Then rework it a dozen times before my editor sees it. Then rework it all - almost beyond recognition - before it goes to the copy editor. My first draft is almost a bare-bones outline, fleshed out with every subsequent pass through. I'll "test" the scenes in workshop and with friends, then revise them based on audience reaction and feedback. The only time a book is "done" is when the type is set. By then I'm in love with a new idea, so the old one is officially finished."
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 to further immerse the reader in his work.
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.
Palahniuk's writing often contains anti-consumerist themes. Writing about Fight Club, Paul Kennett argues that because the Narrator's fights with Tyler Durden are fights with himself, and because he fights himself in front of his boss at the hotel, the Narrator is using the fights as a way of asserting himself as his own boss. These fights are a representation of the struggle of the proletarian at the hands of a higher capitalist power; by asserting himself as capable of having the same power he thus becomes his own master. Later when fight club is formed, the participants are all dressed and groomed similarly, allowing them to symbolically fight themselves at the club and gain the same power. In an interview with HuffPost, Palahniuk says that "the central message of Fight Club was always about the empowerment of the individual through small, escalating challenges."
The content of Palahniuk's works has been described as nihilistic. Palahniuk has rejected this label, stating that he is a romantic, and that his works are mistakenly seen as nihilistic because they express ideas that others do not believe in.
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 and Donna Fontaine, a woman his father was dating, were murdered by Fontaine's ex-partner. Palahniuk was asked to help determine the sentence for the man who killed his father; he asked for the death penalty.
Palahniuk came out as gay after an interview with Karen Valby, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly. Believing that he would be "outed" by Valby after confidentially referring to his male partner, he openly declared his homosexuality on his website. 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 since the 1990s, 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:
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.