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Chuck Palahniuk

Charles Michael Palahniuk (born February 21 1961), commonly known as Chuck Palahniuk, is a satire novelist and freelance journalist living in Portland, Oregon. He is best known for the award-winning novel Fight Club, which was later made into a film directed by David Fincher. He has one of the largest centralized followings of any author on the internet, based around his official web site. His writings, similar in style to those of such peers as Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, and Douglas Coupland, have made him one of the most popular novelists of Generation X.



Palahniuk was born in Pasco, Washington to Carol and Fred Palahniuk. He grew up living in a trailer in Burbank, Washington with his family. His parents would later on separate and divorce, often leaving him and his three siblings to live with their grandparents at their cattle ranch in eastern Washington.

In his twenties, Palahniuk attended the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and graduated in 1986. He moved to Portland, Oregon soon afterwards. After writing for the local newspaper for a short while, he began working for Freightliner as a diesel mechanic, which he worked for until his writing career took off. Wanting to do more with his life than just his job, Palahniuk did volunteer work for a hospice as an escort; he provided transportation for terminally-ill people and brought them to support group meetings. He would later on quit this volunteer job when a patient who he had grown attached to died.

Palahniuk would also become a member of the Cacophony Society (a network of free spirits united to pursue experiences outside of mainstream society) in his adulthood. He is a regular participant in their events, including the annual Santa Rampage (a distinctly anti-commercial public Christmas party involving pranksterism and public drunkenness) in Portland. His participation in the Society would later on inspire some of the events in his writings, both fictional and non-fictional.

Palahniuk began writing fiction in his mid-thirties. According to Palahniuk, he started writing after attending writer's workshops hosted by Tom Spanbauer , which he had attended to meet new friends. Spanbauer would become Palahniuk's inspiration for his minimalistic writing style. He first wrote a book called Insomnia: If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Already, but never published it due to his disappointment with the story (though a small part of it would be salvaged for use in Fight Club). When he attempted to publish his next novel, Invisible Monsters, publishers rejected it for being too disturbing. 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 between working while on the job for Freightliner. After initially publishing it as a short story in the compilation Pursuit of Happiness (which would become chapter 6 of the novel), Palahniuk expanded it into a full novel, which, contrary to what he expected, the publisher was willing to publish. While the original, hardcover edition of the book recieved positive reviews and some awards, it had a short shelf life. Nevertheless, the book had made its way to Hollywood, where interest in adapting it to film was growing. It was eventually adapted in 1999 by director David Fincher. 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. Two paperback rereleases of the novel, one in 1999 and the other in 2004, were later made (the latter of which contains a new introduction by the author about the success of the film adaptation).

While not all fans of the film realized that it was based on a novel, many fans did, and a fanbase for the author's work soon began to form. A revised version of Invisible Monsters, as well as his fourth novel, Survivor, were also published that year, allowing Palahniuk to become a cult figure himself. A few years later Palahniuk managed to make his first New York Times bestseller, the novel Choke. From then on, Palahniuk's later books would often meet with similar success. Such success has allowed him to go on book tours to promote his books, where he reads from both new and upcoming works.

However, 1999 was not an entirely positive year for Palahniuk. Fred Palahniuk, Chuck's father, had started dating a woman named Donna Fontaine that year. Fontaine had recently put her ex-boyfriend, Dale Shackleford, in prison for sexual abuse. Shackleford had vowed to kill Fontaine as soon as he was released from prison. After his release, Shackleford followed the two of them to Fontaine's home in Kendrick, Idaho after they had gone out for a date. Shackleford then shot them both and dragged their bodies into Fontaine's cabin home, which he set fire to immediately afterwards. In the spring of 2001, Shackleford was found guilty for two counts of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. In the wake of this event, Palahniuk began working on the novel Lullaby. According to him, he wrote the novel to help him cope with having helped decide to have Shackleford get the death sentence.

In September of 2003, Palahniuk was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby. During the interview, Palahniuk had confidentially mentioned to her information pertaining to his spouse. While it had been previously believed by many that he was married to a woman (some members of the press had claimed he had a wife), Palahniuk had in fact been living with his boyfriend. Some time later, Palahniuk believed that Valby was going to print this information in her article on him without his consent. In response he put an angry audio recording of himself on his web site, not only revealing that he is a homosexual but also making negative comments about Valby and a member of her family. However, Palahniuk's fears turned out to be ungrounded, and Valby's article did not reveal anything about his personal life outside of the fact that he is unmarried. The recording was later removed from the web site, making some fans believe that Palahniuk is embarrassed of his homosexuality. According to Dennis Widmyer, the site's webmaster, the recording was not removed because of the statements regarding his sexuality, but because of the statements about Valby. Palahniuk would later post a new recording to his site, asking his fans not to overreact to these events. He also apologized for his behavior, claiming that he wished he had not recorded the message.

While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel Diary, Palahniuk read a short story titled "Guts", a tale of accidents involving masturbation (which is slated to appear in his upcoming book Haunted ), to audiences. It was reported that over 35 people fainted while listening to the readings (although it is possible that many of these were simulated by Palahniuk fans for humorous effect). Playboy would later publish it in their March 2004 issue; Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found it too disturbing. On his tour to promote Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories in the summer of 2004 he read the story to audiences again, bringing the total amount of fainters up to 53, and later up to 60 while on tour to promote the softcover edition of Diary. The last fainting occurred on 25 September 2004, in Ann Arbor Michigan. Palahniuk is apparently not bothered by these incidents, which have not stopped fans from reading "Guts" or other works.

Writing style

Palahniuk's books prior to Lullaby have distinct similarities. The characters are people who have been marginalised in one form or another by society, and who react with often self-destructive aggressiveness (a form of story that the author likes to describe as transgressional fiction). Through these tales, he attempts to comment on the current problems of society, such as materialism. However, with controversy surrounding written works that have such themes to them after the events of September 11, 2001, Palahniuk chose to start writing with a more subtle approach to getting the same messages across. Starting with Lullaby, his novels have been satirical horror stories. Though different in plot from previous books, they still contained many similarities to earlier works.

The narrative of Palahniuk's books often start at the temporal end, with the protagonist recounting the events that led up to the point which forms the beginning of the book. Lullaby used a variation of this, alternating between the normal, linear narrative and the temporal end every other chapter. However, exceptions to this narrative include Choke and Diary (which were more linear). There is often a major plot twist 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, while not starting the same, would also include similar plot twists.

Palahniuk's writing style takes much of its inspiration from such writers as Gordon Lisch and Amy Hempel . In what the author refers to as a minimalistic approach, his writings use a limited vocabulary and short sentences to mimic the way that an average person telling a story would talk. Repetitions of certain lines in the stories' narratives (what Palahniuk refers to as "choruses") are one of the most common aspects of his writing style, found dispersed within most chapters of his novels. However, Palahniuk is best known for the cynical and ironic black humor that appears throughout his work. It is the mix of this sense of humor and the bizarre events which these stories revolve around (considered discomforting by some readers) that has resulted in Palahniuk being sometimes labeled as a "shock writer" by members of the media.

When not writing fiction, Palahniuk tends to write short non-fiction works. Working as a freelance journalist in between books, he writes essays and reports on a variety of subjects; he sometimes participates in the events of these writings, which are heavy in field research. He has also written interviews with celebrities, such as 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. Outside of his non-fiction work, Palahniuk also includes some non-fiction factoids within his fictional works. According to the author, these are included in order to further immerse the reader in his work.


As noted above, Palahniuk has met with some negative labelling from the media. Some members of the media have labeled him as a "shock writer" because of the abnormality of the situations in his writing, which are treated humorously rather than with criticism for the actions of the characters. There is also some questioning of whether or not the non-fiction factoids that appear in his novels are actually needed, and this is only further used to make the "shock writer" argument.

Still, there are even more serious accusations made against Palahniuk's work. Critics have claimed that they see elements of sexism in his writing. Much of this has fallen on the film adaptation of Fight Club, though it is worth noting that the screenplay was not written by Palahniuk himself. Still, there are those who claim his novels also contain sexist statements. Most famous amongst these critics is Laura Miller of, who wrote a scathing review of Diary.

Counter-arguments have been made against these accusations by fans, noting that characters who hold these opinions at one point in the novel will change for the better over the course of the story. In particular, some fans (as well as Palahniuk himself) have retorted to Miller's accusations of sexism [1]. Many have argued that Miller and similar critics ignore the existence of Palahniuk's female fans; in fact, some of those who criticized Miller's review are female fans themselves. However, this may or may not disprove his supposed sexist overtones.


Fight Club DVD
Fight Club DVD

Following the success of the movie of Fight Club, interest began to build in adapting Survivor to film. The film rights to Survivor were first sold in early 2001, but no movie studio had committed itself to cinematizing the novel. After the attacks on The Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 the movie studios apparently deemed the novel too controversial to film. This was due to the fact that the protagonist of Survivor kills himself by crashing a civil airplane into the Australian outback. However, in mid 2004 a studio decided to commit itself to adapting Palahniuk's novel. In the meantime, the film rights to Invisible Monsters, Choke, and Diary were also sold. While little is known about these projects, it is known that Jessica Biel will be playing the roles of both Shannon and Brandy in Invisible Monsters, which will begin filming in 2004. Palahniuk has also mentioned that the film adaptation for Choke will be filmed by Darren Aronofsky, director of Requiem for a Dream, and his usual crew.

Other than the film, Fight Club will soon have two more adaptations. Palahniuk has mentioned at book readings that he is working on a musical based on Fight Club with David Fincher. Brad Pitt, who played the role of Tyler Durden in the film, has expressed interest in also being involved. A video game based on the film version is also planned to be released in October of 2004.


In 2003, a documentary film on his life called [2] was made by members of his official web site. The official fan site, "The Cult" as the members call themselves, has initiated a writer's workshop where Chuck Palahniuk himself teaches the tricks of the trade. Every month Palahniuk puts up an essay on one of his writing methods, and answers questions about them later in the month. Palahniuk plans to compile all of these essays into a book on minimalist writing. The web site is also host to a 54 page comic book adaptation of Invisible Monsters, drawn by an artist named Gabor.

Palahniuk also tries to answer every piece of fan mail sent to him. He enjoys sending odd gifts (such as plastic severed hands, prom tiaras, and masks) back with his responses. He also often gives these to fans at his book readings, sometimes as prizes for asking him questions. Along with signing fans' books at these readings, he also marks them with humorous rubber stamps that relate to the books (for instance, a stamp of "Property of Dr. B. Alexander Sex Reassignment Clinic" in a copy of Invisible Monsters).


Palahniuk has won the following awards:

  • the 1997 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award (for Fight Club)
  • the 1997 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel (for Fight Club)
  • the 1999 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel (for Survivor)
  • the 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award (for Lullaby)

He was also nominated for the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel for Lullaby.




See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about:
Chuck Palahniuk

External links

Last updated: 11-07-2004 01:06:49