If words could kill, people might read more. Chuck Palahniuk knows this, and he's spent the better part of his career learning how to reduce language to its most lethal. “No matter how much you think you love somebody, you'll step back when the pool of their blood edges up too close,” is one such weapon, taken from the scene of 1999's Invisible Monsters. Not simply content with murder by mouth, though, 16 novels in finds the American author finishing his first screenplay, Lullaby, the film adaptation of his fifth book—and perhaps his most deadly.
"My day so far today: I went into town and I mailed some big boxes of severed arms to an event I’m gonna do in late July. I mailed a package to a young woman who recognized me at a Petco, where I was buying pet toys to mail to an event. I did my grocery shopping. Boy, what else?" Palahniuk tells me over the phone. We're discussing Fight Club 2, now a hardcover graphic novel, the Lullaby Kickstarter campaign, started by director Andy Mingo, which has now reached well over its $250,000 goal, and that one time he incidentally tossed severed limbs, a trademark of his signing tours, out at an event held by a foundation that supports individuals with physical disabilities, including amputees.
"I felt like an asshole," he confesses. "That was hideous!" The Creators Project spoke to Chuck Palahniuk about Lullaby, Fight Club 2, and, amongst other things, what shocks the notoriously shocking scribe.
The Creators Project: You started Lullaby right after Fight Club the film came out. I’ve always thought that you wrote it to be an anti-film, something that really couldn’t translate cinematically, and just had to take place in your head. Did this make it a challenge to adapt for the screen?
Chuck Palahniuk: Funny thing is, I write them all to be kind of anti-film. I think if I’m gonna write books, I’m gonna take advantage of what only books can do, so that I’m always kind of sticking it to movies, trying to something that they can’t. But in the interim, I’ve written comics for Dark Horse, and that really threw me up against so many gutsy artists. My editor, Scott Allie at Dark Horse, pretty much said, If you can conceive of it, we will do it. Don’t hold back; just give us the most outrageous stuff. And so Dark Horse has really built my courage for making visual things and, at this point, putting them into a movie.
Can you tell me a bit about how the structure of the screenplay retains or changes structural elements of the book?
I kept the flash-forwards, because I’ve never really used those before. Kind of unexplained witnessing of what the world has become. And so, most of the story takes place in these kinds of flashbacks, building towards the present day. But I have cut out most of the talking, or static scenes, like the Wiccan potluck party. Anything where things are standing around being clever, I got rid of it, so that we would be constantly moving.
Is it still in first-person voiceover?
It is, yes. But probably a lot less.
Let’s talk Fight Club 2. First comics, now as a graphic novel. How do you feel about your books now existing in alternative-book form?
At first, years ago, Marvel and DC asked me to write a series, and this is going back to the late 90s. I didn’t want to take all the time off to learn a whole new storytelling form, and I didn’t want to be learning it from people who lived 3,000 miles away. So the stars kind of aligned that I could do it (and learn it) from people here in Portland, like Brian Bendis and Matt Fraction—that I could do it with Dark Horse and an editor I could have lunch with any day I wanted. So I kind of had the hand-holding I needed, and they taught me this whole new storytelling skill, and it made my screenwriting much better.
Is Fight Club 2 something you’d ever turn back into a novel?
Boy, I’m not sure. I really am not sure. I loved writing it, and I loved working with Cameron Stewart. If he would agree to do it again, and I know it was really brutal for him, having to lead me through the process—he really had to fix all the things I did wrong, so this was a tough job for Cameron—but if he would agree to do it again, then we would do a Fight Club 3.
What shocks you?
See, there’s different kinds of shock. There is the kind of shock that puts you off forever: that is typically when I see an animal killed gratuitously in a narrative. I can’t watch Single White Female because I know that puppy is gonna get thrown out the window. Yeah. But I love watching The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, because I love watching Julianne Moore cut to shreds by a collapsing greenhouse. Always makes me laugh. The animals being hurt I can’t deal with. That’s a bad shock.
A good shock is when a narrative tricks me. The reveal at the end of Drag Me to Hell is so well put together that I wanted to kill myself for not realizing what was going to happen. I was so caught off-guard, I was furious with myself, and that’s a good shock.