Chuck Palahniuk may be best-known for writing the stringent rules of Fight Club, but his novels have consistently delivered radical storytelling via bizarre plots, complex characters and taboo subjects. Yet he always claims that he’s just trying to “make you laugh, then break your heart.”
Palahniuk recently released Fight Club 2, a sequel, in graphic-novel form, to his 1996 debut novel (adapted by David Fincher into the cult classic starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton). Now he returns with Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color–eight short stories accompanied by elegant and unnerving line drawings. In other words, a coloring book for adults.
Playboy.com caught Palahniuk (whose last name is pronounced “Paula-nick,” per Chuckpalahniuk.net) in a pensive mood, often pausing to reflect before speaking on the importance of disclaimer warnings, his disdain for the New York lit scene, the effect of piracy on his career and more.
Where did you get the idea for a short-story collection as a coloring book?
A friend. A woman named Tammie Ison, who was originally hired to replace me [as a mechanic] when I left Freightliner to become a full-time creative writer, told me about adult coloring books. I couldn’t believe that adults do this, but it’s legitimate. It’s a gigantic trend.
You’ve had a long career, including 14 novels, a city guide, an essay collection, a short story collection, a graphic novel and a forthcoming screenplay. Did you ever think your bibliography would include a coloring book?
Oh no. It seems so ludicrous, but that ridiculousness instantly puts it over. Like the first time you heard the book title Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it just seemed so outlandish that you wanted to see the book. So the idea that I would be doing a coloring book for adults just sells itself.
You’re known for your intimate relationship with your fans, who refer to themselves as the Cult. Do you see Bait as a new way for you to interact with them? So many people I meet when I go on tour are artists, and they bring me examples of their work. This is kind of readymade for those people who want to express and be part of the story. If it works out, maybe we’ll do one every year.
Do you think that coloring is an underappreciated therapeutic activity for adults?
You know, it has its effect. According to a neurologist writing in The New York Times, it does put people’s minds in a trance-like creative state without the anxiety of whether or not the picture is going to turn out. It does create relaxation, and that’s great.
The book’s introduction mentions how people in your family can draw well. Are you also artistic?
No. I hate it when people at signing events ask me to draw a little picture because I can’t draw anything. This is why I really love collaborations. I can dream up the concept and the artist can tweak it and make it even more outlandish. And then I can review it, tweak it again and suggest something even more outlandish. So between the artist and myself, we can come up with a product that neither of us could have created by ourselves.
How did you recruit the illustrators?
All of them are people we worked with on Fight Club 2 except we wanted one rookie artist: Alise Gluškova. She’s starting out in her career and just needed a springboard to get more attention on her work. And we had one artist back out. He said he really wanted to do more children’s illustrations in the future and was afraid that by being a part of this project he would be blacklisted.
The book does come with a warning that says “Contents extremely hot. May cause blindness. Loss of sanity. Nocturnal emissions. Hairy palms. Or all of the preceding.”
I wrote that. Some booksellers were planning on putting it in the children’s section so we thought we better put a big disclaimer on the back.
Your short story “Guts” has famously made people faint when read in public. Are these your most grotesque stories ever?
Some of them are. There’s one that deals with excrement in such a provocative way that we’re going to hear a lot of pissing, moaning and bitching about it.
So the NC-17 rating is definitely justified?
The story “Dad All Over” was previously published in Playboy. Were the other stories written just for Bait?
A couple of them were stories that I’d already done. They were kind of experiments in voices. Different storytelling forms. Some I wrote specifically for the book.
Why did you choose these stories?
I wanted them to be stories that were either about parents and children or stories about people caring for something. But they’re all stories about people who are nurturing and caring for other living things—and their well-intentioned but disastrous results.
How are these stories different from everything else you’ve written?
For me, every book is an experiment. Each one is just a big risky “How can I tell a story differently this time?” This is just another experiment in storytelling. Every book, I hope to make enough money to create another experiment.
Why did you want to create another illustrated book?
There’s a lack of pretentiousness in the comic world as opposed to the New York literary fiction/publishing world. In the comic world, you can really do anything and people will encourage you. And it’s just a blast. In New York, there’s a sense of dignity and decorum and not taking things too far. I’ve always got in trouble for taking things too far in my books.
Is this your new favorite medium?
I think it would depend on the story. Certain stories it’s perfect for, but other stories that are less dynamic would make terrible graphic novels.
Do you plan on writing another novel?
I’m not really attracted to doing novels anymore. A novel is an enormous amount of solitude, work, concentration and time. Then the novel comes out and it’s instantly pirated. All that effort, all that work and time, and suddenly the thing is bit-streamed. So what’s the point in doing long-form prose anymore? My books aren’t read by nice old ladies who wouldn’t dream of pirating a copy. My books are read by intelligent, savvy and creative people around the world, and they’re more likely to download a pirated copy. So my publisher doesn’t see a profit and I’m not offered a new contract. So there are fewer opportunities for me now. I hate saying it, but it’s a reality.
So your next release will be a graphic novel?
I’d like to do the third Madison Spencer book [following Damned and Doomed] as a graphic novel. The first two are done and I’m not getting offered a new book contract to do the third, so why not do it as a graphic novel? I’ve got a great idea for it; very visual. It’s very art-based. I think that’s the best way to wrap up the series. It’s going to be called Delivered but that’s not set in stone. Also, most of Fight Club 3 is scripted but I really want to take some time away from it because I felt like I had to pull punches on Fight Club 2. I was learning a new form and I didn’t want to overload people. I didn’t want to wear them out or chase them away by going too far. But with Fight Club 3, I’ve kind of established my beachhead and proved I can do this thing. So now I really want to take things too far.
But why take things too far?
Because that’s the whole point.