BLACKBOOK EXCLUSIVE: Chuck Palahniuk at the BLACKBARN x One Grand Books Summer Reading Series at the BlackBarn Restaurant in Chelsea

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Since the release of Fight Club in 1996, Chuck Palahniuk has been one of America’s most celebrated (and subversive) authors. Now back with his first book in four years, last night, Palahniuk sat down with BlackBook Editor-in-Chief and One Grand Books founder, Aaron Hicklin, inside the BLACKBARN Restaurant in Chelsea Market, to read from and answer questions about his latest, Adjustment Day, as part of One Grand’s Summer Reading series in partnership with BLACKBARN.

For Palahniuk, Adjustment Day is the exaggerated outcome of our already extreme current political climate — nations based on identity politics, and fueled by fake news, conspiracy theories, and heightened emotion. In the book, he quotes John Adams: “Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself” — that seems to be the Adjustment Day anthem. Inspired by Ira Levin (the author behind Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, among others) Palahniuk wanted to illustrate our collective fears in the current environment. “Fascism, racism, separatism” — the author wanted to explore the violent conclusion of our social conscious. But he also sees the novel as just another “girl-meets-boy love story.”

 

 

Publishers didn’t agree. Palahniuk said he was almost ready to self-release the book after his longtime publisher said it was too dangerous to issue. That’s nothing new to the author who reminisced last night about the challenges of getting picked up at the beginning of his career. Then, he was shopping around an early draft of what would become his 1999 book, Invisible Monsters, and could not find a taker. Finally, he approached Jerry Howard, a publisher at W.W. Norton (the company that ended up releasing Adjustment Day), but only after Palahniuk forced a sit-down between the two by playing David Bowie’s “Young Americans” on heavy repeat on the jukebox, driving the others authors vying to speak with Howard out of the bar.

Palahniuk also read “The Facts of Life,” from his 2015 short story collection, Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread. Although it is basically a porno with a lot of dark comedy (that includes a mid-sex spontaneous combustion), the story showcases what the author does best in novels like Adjustment Day and Fight Club. Palahniuk has an uncanny ability to not just document, but exploit human anxiety in a way that’s both completely unnerving, but also cathartic. He tackles sex (definitely in the case of “The Facts of Life”), love, compulsion and politics, all in a way that doesn’t just satirize our humanity, but holds up a mirror to it. With Adjustment Day, he examines the nature of equally extreme and opposing ideologies, warning of a disastrous future if things continue the way they have been. But like he writes in the book’s millennial “Declaration of Interdependence,” “A smile is your best bulletproof vest. The joy of fiction is that it only needs to smell true.”

 

View photos from our sit-down with the author below, and buy Adjustment Day here.

 

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Photos by Daniel Jonhson

 

Chuck Palahniuk on the Reissue of ‘Invisible Monsters’

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ORIGINALLY RUN IN BLACKBOOK, JUNE 2012.

It was a miserable, muggy few days in New York last week, but in Portland, Oregon, it was a cool 80 degrees. “I’ve been gardening all day. I probably have a world-class sunburn,” says Chuck Palahniuk—not the first response you’d imagine when asking the cult-favorite author how he spent his day. But behind the twisted sense of humor and the violence that pulsates through his work, Palahniuk is simply a guy spilling it all out and giving our minds a place to play. Universally known for his testosterone-driven psychological odyssey Fight Club, Palahniuk shocked readers with his unique and vicious tales of self-mutating and self-mutilating characters in a bleak world, each searching for something worth living—or, hell, dying—for.

And although Palahniuk has been steadily releasing novels, his third, Invisible Monsters, still has fans raving. The novel was written in 1993 but spent time floating around publishing houses in New York waiting for a bite. However, it wasn’t until the success of Fight Club that the novel finally saw its paperback release in 1999. Since, fans have been petitioning for a hard cover edition and almost 13 years later, it’s finally here. “Norton came to me and asked if I could write an introduction for it,” says Palahniuk, who first wrote Invisible Monsters like a game of hide and seek. “I counter-proposed that I just restructure the whole book like I had originally done it.” Out on bookshelves now, Invisible Monsters Remix is essentially what would happen if you took the original text, sliced it up, threw the pieces in a hat, and plucked out the chapters one by one. The story strays from its original linear structure, jumping chapters and revealing secrets that managed to slip between the cracks in of the original. We stole a moment with Palahniuk to talk about experimenting with a narrative, stealing prescription drugs from open houses, and rebelling against culture.

Looking back on it now, do you wish you had released Invisible Monsters in this way from the start, or do you think people would have not been as receptive to it?
I think they wouldn’t have been as receptive to it. Boy, we’re talking 1999, and originally the book was first shopped around it was before Fight Club, so it would have been 1993 or 1994. At that point I think people were much more linear than they are now. The internet and cable television options have made people a little more into browsing or grazing as opposed to linearly going through a story.

Having it more experimental like this you have to put more faith in your readers. Was that something that you thought about when releasing it in this form? The reader has to weave their own way through it.
And most of them would have already read the book; they’re kind of re-buying the story they already know, so the more I could do at this point, the better for them.

I hadn’t read it in a very long time, and when reading it this way your brain sort of processes things differently because you’re driving through it in a new way. I really enjoyed that because everything was a surprise.
Isn’t it odd that almost sort of synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence, that people pull books off the shelf and just sort of open them to find the answer we’re looking for? And it’s kind of like that with the internet, but with algorithms it’s a little more manipulated. It doesn’t feel as spontaneous as it does with books or just opening a copy of Vogue.

Your job as a writer, I suppose, is to express what other people can’t. A lot of your work is about these people searching for something in their own way. Was that a big part in writing this book?
It’s kind of a quest book, like The Wizard of Oz. We’re taking a road trip, but it’s not towards a specific ending. I think that quality of directed randomness or searching randomness is echoed by the structure of the book—that aggressive searching without a pre-conceived idea of what the end is going to be.

In a lot of your work the characters are always on the run from something or themselves. In this one, they’re actually constantly moving and, on top of that, the form is constantly moving as well. It lends itself perfectly to this story.
I wish I could do something like that with every book. With Survivor it was so much fun to just number the pages backwards. Little things like that are just things I’ve never seen before in a book, and I wonder why people haven’t tried these experiments before.

It’s interesting because this is something that is unique to novels and literature. It’s intimate and you’re able to experiment and do more things. Is that something that attracts you to writing?
On so many different levels and subject matters. There is just so much that is possible in literature with its consensual nature of consumption–that the reader is intelligent and intimately consuming this thing so this thing can be just about anything! And I’m always shocked that writers don’t try to get away with more.

People say your work always has a nihilistic undertone to everything, but I find it’s not that the characters don’t care rather that they just don’t like the world they’re in and are forced to make a choice.
There’s a quality to it I never really point out—it’s the quality of play. The idea of kind of making a game out of these things and playing them in a different way, not just accepting the game that you’re given by the culture but inventing your own. Something I always said about Fight Club: it is basically a game that people have invented and it’s fun. It’s not any kind of personal quest; it’s just a fun thing to do for a couple hours a week. Invisible Monsters was a book I had written just to have a really good time and it’s that quality of play that I always want to be present in everything I write.

I think you get a sense of that play because even in the darkest moments there’s so much comedy and humor. But it’s not in a way that’s just there to alleviate something; it’s just looking at life from a different perspective.
So often when we generate comedy, we do it by presenting something very dramatic and to have one character not react appropriately—to react in a way that obscures the drama and that creates a laugh.

Did you think that the film adaptation of Fight Club was able to convey that sense of play?
Yes, very much. The film carried that sense of play. It’s always hard in the third act to switch from that comic sense and have a character suddenly engage with the drama and be upset that the game has gone a little too far. It’s that turn that’s always the trickiest to do.

What sort of research did you do for this? You seem to immerse yourself in these worlds when you write, but this one had a lot of knowledge and trivia.
When I was writing, one of the largest gender reassignment clinics was here in Portland. I spent a lot of time with people that were involved with gender reassignment and the different cranial, facial operations, just all of those kind of gruesome aspects that are kind of seen as freakish or glamorous but are actually really a punishing process. And phone sex hotlines were really big when I was writing this, so I went on phone sex hotlines and I would put out the kind of story I was interested in and then I would just take notes as people would come on and randomly hook up and tell their sexual experience or fantasy. I picked up a lot of stories that way…a lot of anecdotes.

What sparked your interest in this subject or the idea for this?
One part of it was traveling to Vancouver with friends in college—something I wrote in as kind of an extra in the new edition—and we would go up there and sell ecstasy in nightclubs. And then a different set of friends a few years after college showed me how to go to real estate open houses and what houses to go to for the best selection of prescription drugs to steal.

So you actually did all those things that were in the book?
Yeah. I was thrilled years later when I saw a piece in Newsweek about how realtors were having people come in and steal prescription drugs and it’s something they never anticipated. I just felt like we were so far ahead of the curve on that. In a way it was about documenting these aspects of my friends that were devious but also admirable. I was just amazed that they seemed like such nice people but they had this kind of evil side to them that I never dreamed of.

Since Fight Club, people always talk about the rest of your work being turned into films. Is that something you want to see realized, or are you happy with them as books?
I am completely happy with them as books. One option of having a movie is, in a way, it’s like having one more draft of the book, and if there’s anything you kind of recognize in the book or you wish you had done differently you have the chance to do it in a movie. I try to write books that depict things that typically a movie couldn’t so in a way I’m writing against adaptation.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think that you would be doing?
Boy, that’s a tough one. I think it would be something that was very physically exhausting because that’s the only other thing that would keep me sane—to be really tired out at the end of every day.

So do you write for your sanity?
Yes. The problem is that when I’m writing, at the end of the day my head is so jazzed up, I’m so full of energy, I typically have to drink. I think if I was tired out physically I wouldn’t have to have a glass of wine every night.

Is there something you’ve done that you think reflected your sensibility as a writer the most, or is there anything you look back on and sort of detest? Or is it that everything important because it represents yourself and your own psychological landscape?
It’s got to be the second one. I can’t slight myself for things I wrote in the past because that’s what attracted me; that’s what I was obsessed with at the time. But since my parents have both died, I find that my writing is changing enormously. Growing up, my folks were always telling me to be less sensitive and vulnerable, and now that they’re both gone, I find myself being much more sensitive and vulnerable and depicting things that are much more emotionally engaging and upsetting.

How much of your own voice makes it into your work?
Boy, I love to have a character say something really opinionated or really sort of soap-boxy because I’d rather have a character say something wrong than just be a bland, completely likable character. A character should risk spouting some kind of polemic. Even if I don’t agree with it. I have a lot more fun when the character is saying something that I find kind of despicable.

If you agreed with everything the character was doing, there would be no reason to stay engaged.
It’s amazing how much we’re drawn to things we already know that make us write about things that we already believe in. That’s kind of the problem with the internet: people are more likely to get fed what they already like and gravitate towards the news they already agree with and are less likely to shown a spectrum of things they do or don’t agree with.

It’s so easy to be comfortable and not have to venture outside your realm of knowledge and that can be pretty detrimental.
Everyone finds their little niche, and that’s where it kind of stops. Unless you’re dating. Dating is another way that you bring people into your life and see more view points, but boy, there’s not a lot of them beyond a certain point.

You’ve been known to say, “Write the book you want to read.” Have you stuck to that?
Oh definitely. The book is kind of a coded diary, and it’s always interesting to go back and look at your old diaries and realize what things you were worried about that never came to fruition and all these fears you had that didn’t amount to anything. When going back into Invisible Monsters, there were parts that made me laugh that I had completely forgotten about and I was shocked that I had written these particular lines.

There’s nothing about the book that isn’t just as interesting and relevant today as when you wrote it.
And I still haven’t seen anybody do a real reverse Cinderella story where the female protagonist especially realizes her access to power could be greater than it is through looks. All of my narratives still show the female character through power, and part of that process is through looking better and taking advantage of her physical attractiveness. Invisible Monsters has been embraced so much by beautiful women and gay men—especially young gay men. I think they recognize that physical attractiveness has a short-term access to power.

Did You Hear? An Audio Book Review of Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Doomed’

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Presented by Audible

Listen in on your own: Buy Doomed or get a free download here.

When I think about the 13-year-old narrator of Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel, Doomed, I think about this line from Pat Benatar’s Hell Is for Children: “Because hell/Hell is for children/And you know that their little lives can become such a mess.” Madison Spencer is our young guide through Doomed, the second novel in a planned trilogy that began with Damned, in which Madison arrived in Hell following her own demise. As she pieced together just what had happened to her, she gave us an unholy and graphic tour of the pit of the damned. Gruesome as it was, Palahniuk’s patented black humor ignites the story. And on full display in both novels is Palahniuk’s best skill as a writer: an irresistible and distinctive narrative voice. Tai Simmons narrates both novels, and her flawless elocution, immersive characterization, and compelling delivery do Palahniuk’s talent proper justice.

Following the events of Damned, (note: mild spoilers ahead) Madison finds herself back on Earth and stuck in purgatory. She was a “chunky,” unpopular teenager suffering through the hell of middle school before she died, and in Doomed, more details of her life story are fleshed out both figuratively and quite literally. Readers can take the details at face value—as bizarre as they are—or as slice-and-dice metaphor. There’s a dose of Glee, without all the shitty writing and singing, and a lot of Judy Blume—if Judy Blume went to hell. I’m not going to list any of these details or summarize the crazy scenes here because I truly believe stepping into this world blind is the best. Discover it for yourself.

There are moments of pure disgust so graphic that I felt I did not know how to react to them, except maybe to laugh or wince or both simultaneously. However, if you have a sick, twisted sense humor you’ll find the majority of it really funny. I sure did; I laughed in public while taking the long walk to work. To passersby I may have looked deranged, laughing to myself, since my headphones were not visible under my hood. But, really, who gives a shit about public displays of laughter when you’re enjoying a novel narrated by a unique character in an insane situation that works so well as an audiobook?

I’ve read Palahniuk when I was a late teenager—Choke and Fight Club come to mind—but it’s been over a decade since I encountered one of his novels. Yet, his trademark dark humor and ability to dish out kooky, wacky facts still entertain and enlighten. And considering the voices of all his narrators are so well written and consistent, once you start, you just can’t stop. I listened to this 9+-hour audiobook within a 24-hour period: not just on my commute, but also when I got home from work; while I worked out; while I ate; while I ran errands; while I just sat on my couch eating or lounging, no other distractions. The great thing about a strong narrative voice narrated by a strong audiobook narrator is that you don’t hit any bumps. The narrative drive already present as text just ignites and keeps on burning.

Many readers I talk to are unsure of audiobooks, wondering if as a reader they don’t receive the same intellectual stimulation from audiobooks as they do from reading the books. Many of those people also read very little, and I assume that’s because they can’t find time, can’t prioritize reading for pleasure over other tasks at hand; and maybe, with all the distractions available to us these days, just can’t sit still and concentrate on something for more than 20 minutes at a time. I’m guilty of that, too, sometimes. But I can claim that I lay on my couch and listened to almost four hours straight of this audiobook without doing anything else. My eyes were closed, unstrained and uncrossed.

If you’re like me and haven’t dipped into the dementedly hilarious worlds of Chuck Palahniuk for years, or if you are a regular reader of his novels and haven’t gotten to Doomed yet, I urge you, “Dear Gentle Tweeter” to download the audiobook this time.

Listen in on your own: Buy Doomed or get a free download here.

Chuck Palahniuk is Working on a Graphic Novel Sequel to ‘Fight Club’

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Since the release of Fight Club, cult author Chuck Palahniuk has been shocking and enticing readers with his idiosyncratic and vicious tales. His work varies from nihilistic and self-mutilating stories exist in a bleak world on the brink of personal destruction or inside the very particular kind of psychological unrest. And as someone who loves a good mutation to his work, last summer we had an in-depth chat with the iconic author about the re-issuing of one of his most beloved work, Invisible Monsters Remix. And this weekend, while speaking at Comic Con on a panel called “’Ode To Nerds,” Palahniuk announced his plans for a sequel to Fight Club—in the form of a graphic novel.

About the graphic novel, it’s true.  Chelsea Cain has been introducing me to artists and creators from Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, and they’re walking me through the process.  It will likely be a series of books that update the story ten years after the seeming end of Tyler Durden.   Nowadays, Tyler is telling the story, lurking inside Jack, and ready to launch a come-back.  Jack is oblivious.  Marla is bored.  Their marriage has run aground on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban boredom.  It’s only when their little boy disappears, kidnapped by Tyler, that Jack is dragged back into the world of Mayhem.  
 
 It will, of course, be dark and messy.  Due to contract obligations it can’t come to light for a while.  Next year is "Beautiful You," followed by the story collection.  But since the Fight Club sequel will appear serialized in graphic form, my book publisher might allow me to launch it earlier than 2015.   
 
Feel free to release any or all of this information.  We haven’t started to court a specific publisher, not until I hammer out the complete story.
“Something I always said about Fight Club: it is basically a game that people have invented and it’s fun. It’s not any kind of personal quest; it’s just a fun thing to do for a couple hours a week,” Palahniuk told us. “Invisible Monsters was a book I had written just to have a really good time and it’s that quality of play that I always want to be present in everything I write….[Fight Club] the film carried that sense of play."
 
It’s easy to see how fans of his work will be enthralled by the announcement while others will clearly brush this of but either way, stay tuned. I’ll keeping a close eye on this as solidfies from idea to the page.

Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Haunted’ Finally Gets Funding & Writer-Director

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Adapting the work of Chuck Palahniuk is no easy feat. With his violent and dark prose filled with twisted humor and a tortured playfulness pulsating through his work, it’s difficult to translate that to the screen. David Fincher managed to capture the fierce essence of the testosterone-driven psychological odyssey that is Fight Club but since, others have fallen short. Choke received mild reviews—nothing awful but a mere blip compared to the cult-phenomenon that was Fight Club. And other works like Surviror and Invisible Monsters have been rumored to be in the works for years, but Hollywood seems to be having a tough time making them come to fruition.

However, recently it appears funding has been secured for the adaptation of Haunted, Palahnuik’s 23-story anthology. The novel is made up of:

…twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writer’s retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight. This is one of the most disturbing and outrageous books you’ll ever read, one that could only come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk.

Brian Levy of New School Media has optioned the work, and it’s slated to be written and directed by Koen Mortier. This will be Mortier’s first English-language film, as well as NSM’s first big project in the works. When I spoke with Palahniuk last summer, we talked about adaptations of his work, to which he said:

I am completely happy with them as books. One option of having a movie is, in a way, it’s like having one more draft of the book, and if there’s anything you kind of recognize in the book or you wish you had done differently you have the chance to do it in a movie. I try to write books that depict things that typically a movie couldn’t so in a way I’m writing against adaptation.

Events Horizon: This Month’s Key Happenings

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May brings with it a new batch of cultural standouts. Cannes you dig?

May 6: The first rule of Chuck Palahniuk appearances is, you don’t talk about Chuck Palahniuk appearances. But just try convincing the Fight Club author of that, when he promotes his new novel Tell-All at Cooper Union in New York. May 7: Iron Man 2 invades theaters today. Terrence Howard sobs softly to himself.

May 9: Happy accident, indeed! Worship the womb that bore you on the 96th annual Mother’s Day. May 11: Revisit the crushing depression of your teenage years as Massive Attack trips and hops all over the stage at Terminal 5. May 12: Blue skies, white beaches and purple shades: Tim Burton braves the sunshine as head of the Cannes Film Festival jury. May 15: What do you get when you mix Jenny McCarthy with Cheryl Hines? Chuy Bravo. His boss, Chelsea Handler, performs tonight at Radio City Music Hall. May 16: The Veggie Pride Parade takes over Manhattan—a fruitless endeavor, if you ask us. May 20: Revisit the crushing depression of your teenage years as Eddie Vedder howls and growls into the rafters when Pearl Jam takes Madison Square Garden. May 23: Lost. That’s exactly how you’ll feel when ABC abandons the island after six seasons. May 25: Revisit the crushing depression of your teenage years (last time, we promise) when the reunited Stone Temple Pilots drop their first album in a decade. May 27: The ladies do Abu Dhabi—the city, not the cabbie—when Sex and the City 2 is released. May 28: The cast of Glee performs live at Radio City Music Hall. It’s like watching a performance of The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, only gayer. May 30: You can fi nally stop pretending to get it. The 75th Whitney Biennial ends today.

Chuck Palahniuk Weighs In on Sex Addiction

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The first two episodes of Californication are already online before the show’s September 29 season 2 premiere. I watched them both the other night through the gauze of David Duchovny’s recent entry into rehab for sex addiction. It was bizarre seeing him play a character who’s constantly turning down sex from attractive extras (because of his character’s current involvement in a monogamous relationship) and wondering when exactly he propositioned them on set — before or after they shot their scenes? I can’t help but think that when an actress suggestively licked a popsicle to seduce Hank Moody, the real Duchovny must have been all riled up. Duchovny’s admission has sparked a debate of sorts on the nature of sex addiction.

The New York Times just published an article about the “disease,” and in the first paragraph references the upcoming film Choke, an adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel that features a sex addict as its protagonist (played by Sam Rockwell). I had a chance to speak to the incendiary author about the nature of sexual addiction, so Mr. Duchovny, if you’re confused during these trying times, listen up.

Palahniuk had this to say: “In a way, it’s all about your own level of comfort. I went to support groups while researching Choke. There were people who would have these enormously sordid lives. Just constant, sordid, stranger sex. And then there were these other people who just had a wet dream, and that made them uncomfortable, and they were at the groups. It really depends on people’s own level of what they can accept about themselves.” Or maybe in Mr. Duchovny’s case, what his wife can accept about him.

The Times article also mentions the handout given to journalists during the Choke press day — a string of anal beads attached to a bookmark — and how it offended some. Said beads, which I received with glee, now hang proudly over a coworker’s desk.

F*ck and Ch*ck

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It’s about time Chuck Palahniuk did porn. The author—cult hero to millions—has scribbled his acid ink all over the grotesqueries of contemporary American society. But never has he twisted a tale around the adult entertainment industry. Maybe it just spoke for itself. Well, now that Palahniuk is finally doing porn, he’s not wearing any protection.

The author has launched a viral—that’s what happens when you don’ practice safe sex!—campaign to promote his new novel Snuff, out May 20th. The starlet of Palahniuk’s tale is Cassie Wright, a past-her-prime porno princess who is trying to reclaim her spot on top, and on bottom, and so on. A porno promo (5 times fast) video for the classic Cassie Wright film The Wizard of Ass, is available for viewing online, and while raunchy, doesn’t show us what Wright is truly capable of. In the video, Wright is a natural beauty, and it’s sad to see her feeding off the leftovers of her big Hollywood dreams. But if Cassie Wright classics like Chitty Chitty Gang Bang and The Twilight Bone are the leftovers, then her comeback film, World Whore 3: The Whore to End All Whores, is the scraps. Wright’s attempt at stunt-fucking will involve 600 men taking their shot at glory, with her as the target. The book will focus on Mr. 72, Mr. 137, and Mr. 600, and their real reasons for partaking in the world’ biggest gang bang. To see an interview between Mr. Palahniuk and his beloved brainwhore Ms. Wright, click here, here, and here.