Huge crowds of people filled the entrance to Palác knih Luxor (Luxor Palace of Books) on Wenceslas Square on Monday, Oct. 10. Long queues, enthusiastic voices, hands holding armful of books and posters were all signs that something interesting was happening in the bookstore. And how! Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the famous “Fight Club,” was having an autograph session on the second floor.
The closer to the arranged starting time, the more people were rushing into the bookstore and the noisier it became. 15:28. 15:29. 15:30, and Palahniuk finally appeared, coming through the bookshelves to the table. With a smile on his face, he listened to the opening speech and then began signing books. Here, the real fight club began. People were trying to slip through the crowd, while organizers were trying to push them back. Everyone wanted to get Palahniukʼs autograph, and at the end, everyone did. Despite the battles in the queue and all the noise, Palahniuk stood calmly next to the table, signing books with a kind smile and shaking hands. More than a thousand people attended the event, and Palahniuk patiently made sure everyone received a signature to remember.
Having a journalism degree, Palahniuk began writing stories in his mid-30s. His first novel, Invisible Monsters, was rejected by the publisher, so Palahniuk started writing Fight Club in his spare time while working at a trucking company. In 1996, the novel was published but it was not a huge success. However, after the movie version was released three years later, both the book and the movie became a cult favorite. “Fight Club” was one of the most controversial and discussed movies of the 1990s, and it undoubtedly had a huge cultural impact. After that, Palahniuk decided to continue “Fight Club” in comics form, and has written several other novels, such as “Snuff,” “Diary,” “Lullaby” and “Choke,” the latter two of which have also become films.
Two hours after the book signing ended, Palahniuk was at the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of Czech Republic for an “Author’s Evening” in the Prague Writersʼ Festival. He was in a good mood, constantly joking and making the audience laugh. Then he did a reading from his humorous story “The Facts of Life,” full of jokes, satirical phrases and humor peculiar to Palahniuk.
After he finished reading, the laughter subsided and Palahniuk answered some questions about his life and writing career. He mentioned his Ukrainian roots, and talked about American culture and literature. On the subject of literary fiction, he sounded enthusiastic and inspired. When he was describing its three basic forms (techno/modernism, “dirty” realism and high multicultural pluralism), the audience understood that there was a real literature expert in front of them.
Along with talking about literary forms, Palahniuk shared his own experience of becoming a writer. “When I started to write, I read books by Stephen King and Jim Hall, and I wrote exactly like them,” he admitted. However, he soon realized there was already a Stephen King and a Jim Hall, and he had to find his own way. He told the audience how 25 years ago, he paid a writer 20 dollars a week to sit at his kitchen table and teach him and four other writers the basics of minimalism.
“You would not believe how many rules there are in minimalism,” said Palahniuk to laughter. “For example, in minimalism you may not say a ʻhundred-degree day.ʼ You canʼt even say ʻa hot day,ʼ and you canʼt say ʻa pretty dress.ʼ” Furrowing his brows, Palahniuk admitted he was desperate for such rules and discipline.
But he certainly knew what he should do, and he knows what he wants to accomplish in writing. In Palahniukʼs opinion, writers should master the technique of not telling the reader when to be sad, not insisting on a certain emotion, but just creating circumstances that force the emotion to occur within the reader. “You read the story, and itʼs never sentimental, it never says this is a sad thing,” he said. “But when you get to the end of that story, you start crying so hard and you donʼt know why you are crying. Thatʼs the power I wanted.”
Palahniuk also emphasized that writing is a constant process of learning. “My training is as a journalist, so basically, I cannot keep secrets,” he said, causing a wave of laughter to sweep through the room. “And as soon as any writer teaches me a skill that I recognize is valuable, I have to pass it to other people. Itʼs important to share these things, because when you are sharing them, you are teaching them, and developing greater understanding of them, and of course developing other skills.”
However, serious topics were not the only things Palahniuk spoke about. Jokes filled every pause in his speech, and the audience didnʼt have time to take a breath after the laughter before a new joke from Palahniuk was making them laugh again. Speaking about American culture with a grin on his face, Palahniuk said, “People complain that in Disney movies the mother is usually dead: in ‘Dandy’ the mother is dead, in ‘Finding Nemo’ the mother is dead, in ‘The Little Mermaid’ the mother is dead. In American culture, if you want to make a comedy, start out with either one or two dead parents.” The audience burst into laughter, and Palahniuk, pleased with his humor, was laughing as well.
Finally, when asked where he derives his ideas from, Palahniuk turned to his journalistic background. He made an example of three absolutely different stories, which at first glance had no connection with each other. “As a journalist, I turned three very small stories into a much larger story where each anecdote becomes kind of a chapter in the story, and it became ‘Phoenix,’ which sold enormously online and was huge success for me.” he said. “But itʼs really just a piece of journalism.”
At the end of the evening, with both the audience and the author clearly satisfied, Palahniuk gave everyone some precious advice: “If you want to be a productive creative person, be ready for constant listening.” With that he finished his speech, adjusted his glasses, and started applauding along with everyone.
Photo courtesy of Svetlana Kirichenko