5 QUESTIONS

WITH CHUCK PALAHNIUK

Our bookseller Mike got the chance to ask one of his favorite authors five questions. Of course he couldn't stop at just five...
To find out more about Chuck Palahniuk and to see a list of his books, click here.  

1. As the release of your new book, Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread  hits the store shelves, do you have a personal preference of writing short stories versus novels?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteShort stories rule. Each one can be a little experiment in voice and structure, and if the premise engages readers that's the assurance I need to expand the story into something longer. Each of my novels began life as a series of stories, like sketches or studies a painter might make to clarify her ideas before embarking on the full mural. As a child of short story television -- Night Gallery, Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker -- and the 1980's music video culture, I get bored by continuing narratives that spool along like soap operas.
 

2. Severed arms, candy, glow sticks, and balloons were all a part of your Beautiful You  book tour here in Albuquerque. Is there a memorable book tour experience you can share with us?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteThis spring I did my book show in a space arranged by a bookseller in Washington, D.C.. A historic synagogue. My first story contained, by coincidence, some dark jokes about male circumcision as genital mutilation, a detail that only struck me once I was standing in front of the Torah and blabbing away. Awkward. My second act was to read the now-classic story "Guts," famous for making people faint. Soon enough, I could hear sirens approaching, and red emergency lights were washing across the stained-glass windows. Five people had collapsed and needed medical attention. At another event, hosted by the Shake a Leg Foundation in Miami, I threw out hundreds of fake severed limbs without knowing that the foundation works to help people who lose limbs in boating accidents. It's never my intention to screw up hugely, but those are the events I'll always remember.
 

3. What was a favorite childhood book, and if so, how did it influence your future of writing?


My childhood was saved by, first, Encyclopedia Brown mysteries and, later, Ellery Queen. Both series made my high scores on the autism spectrum look A-okay.
 

4. Graphic nature and controversial subject matter are often within the pages of your books. How do you handle criticism that stems from the content you choose?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteHunt down the first reviews of stories like Harold and Maude and The Great Gatsby and Night of the Living Dead. So many things that were too much for the culture to accept initially lingered for years to become classics. The critics die. If a story is remembered -- and I write to be remembered, not liked -- that story becomes a classic. The liking comes later.


 

5. How important are workshops, book signings, tours, and the helping hand you provide evolving readers into writers to you and your career?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteWorkshops and tours are chances to "road test" your evolving work and see if it engages people. The best reaction is when the audience immediately begins to give accounts from their own lives similar to the work you've presented. That helps you flesh out the theme in ways you'd never invent out of your own limited experience. Likewise, teaching is like spending time in support and recovery groups where people tell stories in a natural, intuitive way. I always learn more from beginning writers than I could ever teach them.
 

6. Can you share an unforgettable moment or experience during one of your extensive researching processes for a past novel?


Where to begin? The Cacophony Society provided me with the years of silly, scary, absurd adventures that inspired Project Mayhem in Fight Club.
 

7. Has there ever been a time when scripting a novel, you felt you had crossed the line and second guessed including it?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteCall me a bad dog. When I see a line I feel driven to cross it. So much of life is screwed-down and buttoned-up, fiction is one of the few places where anything is possible. That said, there is a form of exhibitionism in which people neglect to flush the toilet so strangers will be confronted by the exhibitionist's lingering doo-doo. The very idea makes me laugh so I wrote a story in which Reece Witherspoon's media team has to inform her that an off-shore group is hosting a website called "Reece's Feces," claiming their pictures are the real celebrity deal. The story made Reece Witherspoon look vulnerable and smart and sympathetic, but my workshop didn't warm up to it. Poop is a hard sell.
 

8. Wrapping up, I would like to include a fun question. Living or dead, if you could choose one person to write a blurb for the front cover of your next novel, who would you choose and why?


Chuck Palahniuk quoteYears ago Shirley Jackson's daughter sent me her dead mother's cremains. What an honor! I opened them at the kitchen table, during breakfast, while my husband screamed obscenities at me. Here, me, a nobody kid from nowhere, was holding the ashes of the author who'd written "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House. I've enjoyed her stories so much I can only hope she would've enjoyed mine.
 
To find out more about Chuck Palahniuk and to see a list of his books, click here.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 11:00am