Earlier this month, BookCon came to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Midtown, Manhattan, where the floors were adorned with publishers, authors, vendors, readers of all ages, and even cosplayers! Like Comic-Con for the literature geeks, New York’s BookCon offered autograph signings, panel discussions, and Q&As all weekend long. Amongst the distinguished guests was acclaimed novelist Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk helped define a generation with his 1996 novel Fight Club, which then became a seminal film from director David Fincher in 1999 starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. He has authored countless other novels, short stories, and other works of both fiction and non-fiction literature, notably Choke, Survivor, Lullaby, Haunted, Fight Club 2, and Invisible Monsters. His style tends to cross the borders of the extreme and decent and his work is often considered “transgressional.” During the Con’s Saturday line-up, the author took to the stage to discuss his techniques, where he gets his crazy ideas, and his new book, Adjustment Day.
Moderated by Jason Diamond, the author of Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed Know About Life I Learned From Watching 80s Movies, the panel saw Palahniuk receive a raucous applause from the NYC crowd. Diamond asked about misconceptions people have about his books. As expected, if you’ve read any of Palahniuk’s works, he said that critics view his work on a superficial level as if he is trying to offend or “injure” them. He went into how he came up with the idea for his latest book, Adjustment Day, while living in Spain and exploring alt-right websites and realizing how so many Americans crave to live in a “____ only” environment.
Palahniuk drew lots of influences from Ira Levin, who he called his favorite author, describing how Levin took social issues no one could speak of at the time and crafted fiction around them using the worst possible scenarios. He discussed Rosemary’s Baby as a response to the abortion debate in the 1960s asking, “What happens if Satan raped you?” The Stepford Wives was Levin’s response to the fear of women’s liberation, and so Palahniuk framed Adjustment Day as the natural response to today’s toxic political climate.
When asked about his process for stimulating his mind for ideas, he described going to parties and telling stories, but not to invoke reactions, but rather to similar stories in peoples’ lives. This leads to people inevitably tying seemingly ordinary events in one person’s life to themselves. He told a story about his first job on a freight plant where he was sent by a boss to a get “squeegee sharpener.” Bosses all over spit on him and mocked him and he finally figured out, there was no such thing. This immediately resonated with me from my first day working in a movie theater at age 16 when rookies were sent to the stockroom to find “left-handed straws” and “wooden sponges.” He said he likes to find those little stories that are both amusing and disturbing at the same time, those that toe the line between comical and horrifying. He credits his background in journalism with helping him with this style of writing.
Diamond asked what was next and Palahniuk gave a not-so-cryptic, “they don’t want me to talk about Fight Club 3” before mentioning a passion to return to short-story writing. The floor was opened to Q&A and the first question was if he’d ever be open to a writing retreat like the one in Haunted.
He said that he had a big place in the Pacific Northwest that would be great as a retreat, but that the sellers didn’t realize “what kind of author I was.” A young woman asked specifically about Fight Club and if there was one incident that stimulated that process and he relayed a story from a camping trip where he got into a fight and had his face all bruised up, but no one would look him in the face when he went back to work. The final question was about how he felt about the current state of the U.S. He gave a really interesting answer that I found fascinating. He doesn’t want to provide social messages or social engineering, but rather he feels it’s up to the young people and intellectuals to offer better alternatives. He compared this to the decline and then flourishing of the beaver population out west. It wasn’t that people felt bad for beavers, they simply started buying different kinds of hats.
Chuck Palahniuk’s BookCon panel was fantastic, a real treat for anyone who is a fan of his work and really for anyone interested in writing and process. His new book Adjustment Day is available now in stores and on Amazon.
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