Transcript–Chat with Fight Club Author Chuck Palahniuk
November 22, 1999–9 P.M. EDT
Scott Hi Chuck, welcome to the chat room.
Chuck Palahniuk Hello from Portland, Oregon
Scott How is the weather out there tonight?
Helen Chuck, I was given your book for Christmas, last year. It was terrific.
Chuck Palahniuk Pouring rain, excellent writing weather.
Scott So are you gearing up for your trip to France?
Chuck Palahniuk France is cancelled–I’m up to my waist in writing a new book.
Helen I waited for the movie to come out, and was disappointed by the ending of the film. What were the producer’s notes or studio notes that led to the new ending?
tonyb Chuck, what type of fighting background did you have before you wrote the book?
Chuck Palahniuk My dad was a boxer in the Navy, but the only fighting I’ve ever done was in brawls.
Scott Did you get in a lot of them?
Chuck Palahniuk LOL. A dozen, maybe.
Helen Where did you grow up?
Baitsell Hey, you know your TLA’s, are you on the net a lot?
Chuck Palahniuk Burbank, Washington
Scott Fight Club was your first novel, you’ve written two in the interim between its publication and release as a major motion picture. Has it been strange for you, to sort of have to move back in time, and talk about your first novel?
tonyb Do you like the movie adaptation?
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, very much. Sometimes I can hardly remember what Fight Club was about.
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, I loved the movie adaptation. I think it’s terrific.
Scott Did you get to play any role in that? Did you want to?
Chuck Palahniuk David Fincher asked me if I wanted to, but I hated the idea–I didn’t want to be in the movie.
environment.guide I like Brad Pitt. Were you on the set as the movie was being shot?
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, I was. I like Brad Pitt, too. Brad’s very likeable.
Helen Did you work closely with David Fincher during any rewrites of the screenplay?
Chuck Palahniuk No, I didn’t. I met with the screenwriter before the first draft. But that was my only contribution.
Helen What was your primary concern as you translated the book to a screenplay during the first draft?
Chuck Palahniuk As the screenwriter translated the book to a screenplay, my primary concern was writing my next book. I know nothing about screenwriting.
Baitsell Have you had any offers to option Invisible Monsters?
Helen Does Marla represent a particular theme in your novel?
Chuck Palahniuk We’re still negotiating on that. But the option is still open.
Baitsell It would make a kick ass movie.
MarkHazen What was your initial reaction to your first view of the finished film?
Chuck Palahniuk Not denying if you’re screwed up, not trying to hide your faults.
Helen Oh, that’s good.
Chuck Palahniuk Shock.
tonyb So is Fight Club based more on a true story or more on a made up story?
MarkHazen Shock in a good sense, or shock as in ‘what the hell did they do with my plot?’
Chuck Palahniuk Instantly wanted to see it again, a second or third time.
MarkHazen ::grin:: I can relate to that kind of shock. =)
Helen I thought Marla was representing the chaos in the real world–the reason he shouldn’t have to create anarchy.
Chuck Palahniuk I was overwhelmed with how much was there.
Baitsell The movie’s had that kind of affect on a lot of people. . . .
Helen How did you start writing Fight Club?
Chuck Palahniuk Marla also represented the next step in his becoming an adult by committing to a relationship.
Chuck Palahniuk I started writing with a pen and a piece of paper at work, during a really boring day.
Baitsell Does that mean you see Tyler as the adult?
Helen But he committed to Marla first through Tyler
Helen And Tyler seems to be more of the Rocky Horror Show type.
Helen I mean, he seems to be the id.
Chuck Palahniuk No, but Tyler is the next step in Jack becoming an adult, Tyler is sort of the missing link.
Baitsell Will the Adult emerge in a sequel? (hint hint)
Helen Did you know the plot first, or did you know the character first?
tonyb so, is the book based more on a true story or a made up story?
Chuck Palahniuk Sequel? No, never. I don’t write sequels, but Fox has that right.
Baitsell Ewwww… you’re going to let someone else destroy your characters?
Chuck Palahniuk 80% true, 20% made up.
Chuck Palahniuk I sold that right. It’s out of my hands. LOL.
Helen Do you still have that first piece that started Fight Club? You can sell that, too!
Chuck Palahniuk Let’s hope the original makes enough money that they want to do a sequel.
Baitsell I was noticing that all of your books have been told in flashback. Are you working on a fourth (and is it in the same style?)
environment.guide hi Chuck, I’m down the street from you (in Oregon). It’s raining here, how about in Portland?
Chuck Palahniuk I still have it, it was published in an anthology in 1995 before Fight Club was a book. The anthology was called, The Pursuit of Happiness.
Helen Chuck, I graduated with an MFA in Film Producing from USC, so this is really a question for a new producer. Did the producer contact you after reading the book or did you know each other? At which stage did you get contacted by Hollywood execs?
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, I am working. No, it will be significantly different than the last three.
Helen I meant, for a new producer’s benefit.
MarkHazen How sick of the question “where do you get your ideas from” are you by now? =)
Chuck Palahniuk Fox optioned the book and signed it to an independent producer and he called me via my agent.
MarkHazen Just wondering, as your writing definitely broke the mold.
Scott Do you use your writing to process things you’re going through, as a kind of catharsis?
Chuck Palahniuk I use writing to process things I’m going through, but not always.
Helen So, Fox found it first. I always assumed the producer brought it to Fox.
tonyb What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book and has never done one?
Chuck Palahniuk Write one scene at a time.
Chuck Palahniuk And: try to suprise yourself.
Scott So what’ s your writing work routine like–do you have a set schedule?
Helen AAAGH. I will never be able to compete with the studio’s deep pockets.
Helen Sorry–non sequitur.
Chuck Palahniuk Not set schedules, but I never start writing until I have a huge amount of research and notes done and I know something about where the book will begin.
Baitsell Where did you get your inspiration for Brandy Alexander?
Chuck Palahniuk At a female bodybuilding contest where I was working as a security guard.
Helen Did you already know about how to make soap, bombs, and what the automobile industry does about recalls, or was that research for the book?
Helen Love that
Baitsell She was divine…
Helen Baitsell, you’re so cool!
tonyb Do you ever use a tape recorder to talk out portions of a book?
Helen Great question!
Chuck Palahniuk Everything is research. My freind Alice taought me how to make soap. My brother Matt taught me about the bombs. I learned about the recalls by watching 60 Minutes.
Scott Did you completely understand the metaphors you were using in Fight Club as you were writing it, or was a lot of that subconscious?
Chuck Palahniuk No, I hate to transcribe tape, I hate the sound of my own voice.
Chuck Palahniuk LOL. No I don’t completely understand anything in the world.
Helen haha, I’m still amused!
Scott So how did Matt learn about the bombs?
Baitsell Are you gay? And if not did you “research” the “community?”
tonyb Do you know if using a tape recorder to talk out a book is a commonly used practice by other authors?
Chuck Palahniuk Matt is an engineer for the Chevron Corp.–besides all that stuff is on the Internet.
Helen tonyb, if it works for you, you should do it. A lot of screenwriters do it, too.
Chuck Palahniuk None of the authors I know do it that way.
Chuck Palahniuk I do talk out my books with my housemates while I’m plotting them.
Scott So I was booted off for a lil bit so I’m not sure if this was asked yet–what other writers do you like/were influenced by?
Helen wasn’t asked yet, Scott
Chuck Palahniuk Amy Hempel and her collections of short stories, Brett Ellis’ collection The Informers, and the third book would be Denis Johnson his collection called Jesus’s Son.
environment.guide My apologies if this is too personal, you said housemates, what’s a famous writer like yourself doing living with a bunch of other people?
Chuck Palahniuk LOL. They are cheap and I am lonely.
Helen Have you ever read part of your work at Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley? I used to be a student there, and listening to authors speak their work and answer questions was so delightful.
Helen Would you do that in LA somewhere?
Chuck Palahniuk No, but I’ve always wanted to read at Cody’s. I did stop in there once and sign all of their stock. It’s a really cool store.
Scott Have you had any weird encounters since the movie came out–people making assumptions about you from seeing the film?
Helen Do a reading in LA!!!!
Helen That would be so much fun!
Baitsell The new thing you’re working on, is it still first person narrative?
Chuck Palahniuk No, pleasantly. No weird encounters yet. But I’m pretty unrecognizable.
Chuck Palahniuk Some of it is first person, but not necessarily all of it. It is the most comfortable voice for me. I feel the least like I’m playing God if I’m writing in first person. I hate writers who pretend to be God by writing in third person.
Helen Have you ever translated your friends into characters?
Baitsell Is that a more comfortable voice for you? It seems like it would be hard to get into some of your characters heads with that voice.
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, pretty much all of my characters are friends.
Helen Do they have a difficult time reading themselves? I was translated into a character for a play once, and I was surprisingly sensitive about it–it really made me nervous.
environment.guide that’s interesting, Helen, any play we might know?
Helen AAAGH, maybe, if you watch John Fisher plays.
Baitsell Have you thought of pulling a McInerney on all of us and force us to read something in second person. I think you could pull it off 😉
Chuck Palahniuk No, my friends love seeing themselves and the things that they say in print. They especially loved being quoted by movie stars in the movie.
Scott So was one of your buddies Brad Pitt?
Helen Say hi to your friend who is Marla, because she’s caustic and sharp and really cool!
Chuck Palahniuk I’d like to try, but second person feels a little hokey–if it goes too long.
Baitsell Are you still writing short stories?
Helen What about doing a site on the Internet?
Chuck Palahniuk Sorry, I am not buddies with Brad, but he was great to spend time with.
Chuck Palahniuk LOL! My friend Marla IS very cool. And she’s a fifth grade teacher now and she has head lice.
Scott So what’s it like reading reviews of the movie–a different feeling from reading reviews of your books?
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, right now I’m writing a lot of short stories.
Baitsell LOL that’s friggin awesome!
Helen Tell Marla not to spread it back and forth to the 5th graders. That would suck to be her on Parent Teacher night.
Baitsell Any in the pipe? I’ll mess up my ramen budget for some magazines if you have anything coming out soon 😉
Chuck Palahniuk I would say, it was frustrating because I really wanted people to understand and appreciate David Fincher’s movie. I don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of me, but I do get bent out of shape when people criticize people I admire or care about.
Scott Yeah some of the reviews seemed to simplify the film.
Baitsell Yeh, The Nation was especially caustic (bastards)
Chuck Palahniuk I would tend to agree, some people never saw past the surface of things.
Helen When my friend and I walked out of the theater, I heard a lot of comments that didn’t really seem to fit what the movie and book were about.
Helen They didn’t understand.
Baitsell Yeh, I heard guys wanting to buy Fight Club action figures (and assorted merchandise).
Helen Oh, Baitsell, that was the perfect illustration of what I meant!
Scott What about those that characterize it as a “guy” movie? Do you think that’s valid?
Chuck Palahniuk oh God. The studio put together a fake catalog of merchandise and made fun of the whole merchandizing side of things.
Baitsell I’d love to get some Fight Club soap though…
Helen ha, so would I.
Chuck Palahniuk I would refer you to www.tylerdurden.com
Helen Is there merchandise for sale there?
Scott The soap thing I’ve got to admit was the most disturbing element of the film.
Chuck Palahniuk Sorry to distrub you.
Scott in a good way.
Helen My favorite part of the book was the lye
Scott That’s one of the jobs of a writer, aint it?
Helen Not the lie, the lye kiss.
Baitsell Holy shit! You just took care of all of my XMas shopping for me.
Chuck Palahniuk The job of a good writer, a bad writer just holds your hand.
Helen Hey, Chuck–I run a charity. Do you do item donations for charity auctions? Sorry to solicit you directly–normally, we send letters to PR agents, but you’re here.
Scott Helen, can’t take you anywhere.
Helen You can’t even dress me up!
Chuck Palahniuk I’ve given away pretty much everything except a few things I really care about. So I have nothing left to give away at this point. In fact, my little nephew has most of it.
Helen Okay, thanks for not scolding me
Scott So the sort of Buddhist shedding of the material life in Fight Club comes straight from the heart?
Chuck Palahniuk LOL, it does?
Chuck Palahniuk I was trying to make fun of faux buddhists.
Helen What kinds of things did you care enough about to keep? Paper, blanket, socks, pen?
Helen As we can all tell, I’m freezing and my feet have turned to ice.
Baitsell . . . motorcycles, drugs, vinyl . . .
Chuck Palahniuk Things I use on a daily basis.
Helen Fight Club Soap?
Scott So would you say you were satarizing the sort of grunge Kurt Cobain nihilism attitude?
Chuck Palahniuk Like my Fight Club clock.
Scott Speaking of time, I think we’ve got about five minutes here. Any last questions for Chuck?
Baitsell Is it an alarm clock 😉
environment.guide Chuck, you seem like an ordinary guy, how did you stop fame from going to your head?
Helen This was so much fun! Thanks, Chuck. Please put up a website so we can read stuff by you on a regular basis!
Chuck Palahniuk No, I’m not satarizing that, but trying to take it a step further to say that if nothing matters, then why does it matter if we care about something? And doesn’t that give us the freedom to commit ourselves to anything?
Scott does it?
Chuck Palahniuk I live in Portland, Oregon. I don’t have tv.
Helen That’s exactly what you got across in the book!
Helen But even if you have that freedom, if nothing matters, why commit?
Chuck Palahniuk Yes, nihilism lets us determine what matters.
Helen Whoops, I’m lost.
Baitsell If it’s all shit, whatever doesn’t float matters.
Helen If we’re nihilistic, doesn’t NO THING matter?
Scott Nothing matters except what’s left after the head lice have had their way with you.
Helen LOL–5th grade matters
Helen Question–doesn’t comfort play into this?
Chuck Palahniuk Comfort sucks.
Helen I mean, all these things (and head lice) are really about being comfortable or uncomfortable.
Baitsell Spoken like a man with house mates!
Helen Or like a man who writes about people beating themselves up to feel alive?
Chuck Palahniuk I’m currently doing everyone’s laundry today.
Baitsell LOL, good to see this stuff hasn’t gone to your head.
environment.guide Do they pay you to do their laundry?
Helen Pour detergent on it Put it outside in the rain
Helen Bring it in to dry
Scott Thanks a lot for coming Chuck, and if you’re ever in Chicago, I’d love for you to buy me a beer.
Scott assuming you’d be comfortable with that.
Baitsell Hey, if you’re buying, come to Athens, GA too!
Helen And let me know if you read at Cody’s–I’ll fly up
Helen How you would remember to let me know (and how) is beyond me.
Chuck Palahniuk Next time I’m on tour, I will buy beers for everybody!
environment.guide I’ll make the drive up I5
Chuck Palahniuk If I read at Cody’s it will be advertised, I’m sure.
Helen Environment.guide and I are going to carpool, to save our natural resources!
Helen All the way down here?
Helen I’d better get myself on the mailing list.
environment.guide thanks Helen
Chuck Palahniuk Goodnight from Portland, Oregon.
Scott I’m sure Elizabeth (who’s typing) is getting tired. I’m buying Chuck’s other two books, and you should too.
Baitsell Thanks for your time
This is a transcript of a chat that took place on the Authors site at About.com.