After David Fincher turned Fight Club into the cult classic starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, Chuck Palahniuk became the bad boy of American letters. To date, he's published more than a dozen novels, a fiction collection, two nonfiction collections, two graphic novels, two coloring books, and a writing guide. While his books regularly hit the bestseller list, they have also provoked many controversies. From reports of people passing out at his readings to the Texas prison system's decision to ban his work, Palahniuk has been called the most provocative writer of his generation.
On September 5, Simon & Schuster published Not Forever, But For Now. In the publisher's words, the novel is about "two brothers growing up privileged in the Welsh countryside. They enjoy watching nature shows, playing with their pet pony, impersonating their grandfather...and killing the help. Murder is the family business after all. Downton Abbey this is not."
Ahead of his September 26 appearance at Miami Dade College, Palahniuk and New Times sat down to talk about his new book, the time he made himself cringe in Miami, and what people can expect from his latest trip to the Magic City.
New Times: When turning on Netflix, it seems like everything is about serial killers or celebrity deaths. Your latest novel has both. Why are people so obsessed with this stuff?
Chuck Palahniuk: You missed the third component of Netflix. It's celebrity deaths, and it is serial killers, and what is number three? All Hitler, all the time. Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. Those things symbolize power. Serial killers are power, Hitler is power, and celebrities are power. Power doing what power does.
At the most superficial level, it was writing with British vernacular. On another level, which also totally allowed me to go to places in this book that I never would have gone, being a queer kid and realizing my father has kind of realized it. My father is getting himself out of the picture as fast as possible because he does not know how to be with this thing, and putting that on the page for the first time ever. So it's kind of inspired by my personal life, but you don't know it's inspired until you're halfway through the book. Doing it in British vernacular was one of the crutches that allowed me to do that. I didn't make it memoir, 'cause if it was memoir, I never could have written it. I have to turn it into something fictional and blown up and exaggerated to sort of lure myself to go there.
Your work explores taboo topics. Has a publisher ever asked you to censor yourself?
The only thing that comes to mind is Fight Club. My brother is an electrical engineer, and he and I were always like super chemistry-set kids. We came up with all these ways of inventing explosives out of very ordinary sort of MacGyver household things. I was very proud. I sat down with my brother, and we came up with five or six ways of making napalm and explosives. At the last minute, Norton made me change the ingredients on all of them so that they were completely useless. Norton said they couldn't be in Fight Club.
You're known for giving fans strange gifts. What's the strangest gift a fan has given you?
They're always giving me drugs. It's a little disturbing — like I'm Hunter S. Thompson or something. Also, tattoos and scarifications. When I've met somebody in previous years and made the mistake of signing my name on their leg or arm, and then the next time I see them, they have gotten somebody to use an X-Acto knife to carve my name into themselves. That's really disturbing. That's why I started giving out signed replicas of limbs at events.
Do you have any Miami stories?
I've shipped hundreds of severed legs, arms, and hands to events. Books & Books did an event at this fantastic waterfront open auditorium. It was sponsored by an organization called Shake-A-Leg. At the end, we threw all the severed arms and legs down to the audience. Everyone went crazy. After the fact, I found out that Shake-A-Leg was founded by a man who lost his leg in a car accident. It's a nonprofit that helps people who have lost limbs in boating accidents. That suddenly made me cringe, the idea that I'd brought all these severed limbs and thrown them out in front of these people who were about to lose limbs.
What can people expect from your event at Miami Dade College?
As people come in, they'll get these long foam batons that are filled with LED lights that are computerized so we can turn off the venue lights, and the whole audience will become this spectacular sea of flashing multicolored amazing colors. And then we'll play games using those batons, and people will win prizes that way. Then there will be a number of readings, and there will be just a whole variety, a bunch of different textures of things that will take place. And that will make the hour and a half just disappear so quickly.
An Evening with Chuck Palahniuk. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 26, at the Chapman Conference Center at Miami Dade College, 300 NE Second Ave. (Building 3, Second Floor, Room 3210), Miami; miamibookfair.com. Tickets cost $26.99 via eventbrite.com.