On Wednesday, November 14th 2013, I finally learned the correct pronunciation of Chuck Palahniuk’s name. Sadly, in the excitement of an evening in his presence, and some of the ridiculous stories he told, I have already forgotten it.
Palahniuk is best known for penning the 1996 novel ‘Fight Club‘ which led to the 1999 Norton/Pitt blockbuster of the same name, (and which, for my money, wins the award for best book/movie adaptation combo of all time: any arguments?)
However, he has written more than a dozen novels and several works of non-fiction, many of them featuring similar themes and often written with a sparse, almost reportage style which lets the ideas lead the way.
On 13th November 2013 at Foyles Bookshop, London, to promote his latest novel ‘Doomed,’ I joined a small but eager crowd to hear him talk about his writing, his life, and gain an insight into his slightly twisted sense of humour. The audience learned, for example, that he actually enjoys his new-found fame as an author whose readings often make audience members pass out, partly for the thrill but also partly to see strangers come together in a tight space to aid one another. However, instead we were treated to a short story with a sweeter than usual ending, recently published in Playboy, (and available in full here), which is nevertheless still typically Chuck featuring his repeating themes of: youth, disillusionment, self-harm, happiness vs knowledge,…
In the subsequent Q&A, the most interesting revelation for me was when answering a fan’s question on when/whether there would be a sequel to an earlier novel, ‘Rant.’ The fascinating (and, apparently, world exclusive) answer was that there wouldn’t be, for the simple reason that it had sold so badly he couldn’t get a publisher to commission him to write a second part. Having read the book way back in August 2012, and enjoyed it immensely, what surprised me most was that even a wildly successful author doesn’t have control over what projects he wants to write.
Finally, I have to leave you with a hilarious story told involving a promotional tour to Germany. Asked to do a radio interview, Herr Palahniuk confidently turned down the offer of a translator since, in his own words, he had ‘taken two years of German’ and was sure he could get by. As a warning to all budding linguists, he made two trifling and entirely understandable errors: using ‘Deutsche‘ instead of ‘Deutsch,’ and thinking that the verb ‘vergessen‘ was irregular when in fact, a rarity for German verbs (ironically), it is regular.
Minor mistakes, you would imagine, until he revealed the horrific (and hilarious) punchline that instead of starting the interview by telling listeners that he was sorry he had forgotten so much German, his unintended:
“Es tut mir leid daß ich so viele Deutsche vergast habe”
actually apologised for having gassed so many Germans!
His German publicist wasn’t amused. We all were.