Chuck Palahniuk’s First Published Story

Chuck Palahniuk was first published in Modern Short Stories, August, 1990.  He was 28 years old.

The story is called Negative Reinforcement, and it’s got the trademark Palahniuk voice, if a little rough in places.  It shows that Chuck was refining his work, over six years before his first novel, Fight Club was published in 1996.  It takes a while.

To quote Ira Glass:

“The most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


Picture by Murdo Macleod


Note: Modern Short Stories is a defunct publication, now.

Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk follows Madison Spencer, the liveliest, snarkiest dead girl in the universe, who continues the adventures in the afterlife begun in Damned. Having somewhat reluctantly escaped from Hell, she now wanders the Purgatory that is Earth as a ghostly spirit, seeking her do-gooding celebrity parents, fighting the malign control of Satan, recounting the disgracefully funny (to us, anyway) encounter with her grandfather in a fetid highway rest stop in upstate New York when she…oh, never mind, and climaxing in a rendezvous with destiny on the new, totally plastic continent in the Pacific called, not at all accidentally, Madlantis.

DoomedI have read every novel Chuck has written, and this is – by far – his most ambitious and apocalyptic. It also is the second book in his first series. Still, I’m not new to Chuck and have grown to expect something that challenges the norms and pushes so far beyond good taste, it bypasses bad taste and gets deep into downright revolting.

Doomed does not disappoint in this regard. The story unfolds in a number of blog posts by dead, 12-year old Madison Spencer, who is now wandering the earth as a ghost, and it repeatedly rewards readers of Damned (the first book in the series) by the events that occur, but reading Damned is not a prerequisite to enjoying Doomed. It is encouraged, though.

The story is quite good in a  vulgar way. I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed the outline of this novel more than the novel itself, because it’s the details that Doomed gets wonky.


   Warning!  Spoilers Ahead





My problems with the book are the same as in Damned, and that is the voice of Madison does not sound like anything close to a twelve year-old.  It sounds like an adult who is trying to sound like a twelve year-old. Sadly, there were scenes in Doomed that completely failed for me because of this, and one of them was a key scene in the highway rest stop. For a girl who came across so worldly and knowing in the things she says, to not be able to tell an erect penis from a dog poop (and yes, she lost her glasses and it was blurry to her but, c’mon) left me completely unable to buy-in on the events that transpired.

The silly, middle-school-speak attempts like, “CTRL+ALT+Surprised” and “Fatty-Miss-Fat-Fat” and “Pervy Mr. Perv” slang – that is far too prevalent throughout the book – only accentuated this failure more. It was weak and ineffective, and I know Chuck has been challenged on this point before in reviews for Damned. Other times, Madison spoke in far more educated and worldly terms. I think Chuck is trying to address that by having Madison sentiently comment about her comment, but it did not work for me.

That might sound like a foundational failing of the novel but really, it isn’t at all. It does make Doomed less than perfect, but there were some fantastic moments, like the chapter about the adopting the cat or the parts about the Boorish Religion that absolutely floored me. These had me laughing out loud.  So few authors can actually solicit a true laugh from me, it is worth noting and should matter for something.

With such a mixed bag, I have trouble rating this one, but Chuck really defies pigeon-holes, don’t you think? Still, I have to go thumbs up or down.

Recommended, but only if you read Damned and liked it enough to want more. For new readers of Chuck – consider Fight Club, Choked or Survivor, which are early Chuck P. primers.

Am I a Writer or Not?


It’s rare, but once in a while, life decides to sharpen the focus for you – to shift the perspective and provide a fresh outlook, and suddenly, you see things differently. You notice things you did not notice before. Sometimes, this causes you change. Sometimes, you reconsider how you live. And sometimes, you just go about your business, unchanged.

It’s really up to you as to how you deal with defining moments. If the moment seems to occur organically, your response, change or alteration is also natural and smooth. Other times, it is abrupt, and any change it provokes is equally jolting. Still, other times, you might disregard it outright.

But I’m talking about the moments that invoke change. That is what is interesting, to me, anyway.


A few months ago, I watched Postcards from the Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary on Youtube. Chuck Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club, Choke, Invisible Monsters, Damned, and others.  While I do not always enjoy the stories he tells, I admire his brazen disregard in pushing forward with what he wants, and I love the way he makes me think, though I do not always love what he makes me think about.

There was a point in this documentary where Chuck does a Q&A with the college audience and someone asked a question about writing, and Chuck answered it. It was simple, funny, and positively received by the audience.

It made me sit back in my chair. I think I gasped aloud. Not loud, but aloud. It shocked me because it flew in the face of my own approach to writing, and more than that – it made sense.

I was going to paraphrase the whole thing, but someone made a clip of exactly that part and posted it to YouTube, so just watch it. It’s less than minute long.


For the record, I am an absolute Nazi when it comes to forcing myself to write. If I don’t feel like it, that doesn’t matter. If I’m not sure how to proceed with the scene I’m working on, I push on or sometimes start a new scene with the plan to come back to this one later. I goal myself on words written. At one time, it was 5000 words a week, but I dropped it to 2000. Lately, I’ve been averaging around 1500 words a week. Blog posts DO NOT count.

What Chuck Palahniuk said was, essentially: Don’t force it.

Chuck’s approach makes me afraid – and afraid is the right word, here – I’m afraid that I won’t write at all if I don’t push myself. I won’t close the gap between my good taste and what I am creating, as Ira Glass put it.  I’ll continue to be a subpar author. A wannabe. A hack.  Maybe not a writer at all.

Still, what Chuck said made sense to me. I can’t disregard it. So, I’m backing off and cutting myself some slack. I’m going to stop flogging the muse and instead, allow him to come out on his own.

And yes, I imagine my muse is guy. He’s unshaven, wears a Hustler t-shirt that doesn’t cover his huge beer-gut, smokes Marlboro Reds and spits on the carpet. He swears around children and yells suggestive and profane things at attractive women as they pass. Mostly, he just sits quietly while playing Halo 4, passing gas once in a while.  And, in between death matches of Halo, he may reach out his chubby fingers, the fingernails stained by decades of smoking cigarettes, and touch my head. It is then that I have an epiphany.

Or maybe a seizure, but it works out, because I get inspired. I write.

Until then…

Eat something. Live my life. What happens, happens.

If I don’t write without forcing myself to write, maybe I am not a writer after all?

Thanks for reading this self-indulgent write.

Updates to follow.

Languishing in Obsurity…

I read a recent chat interview with Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, Survivor, Choke and a handful of other novels (Fight Club and Choke have been made into movies). 

I admire Chuck Palahniuk for many reasons, but the main one is that he takes incredible risks in this stories.  This is the man who wrote Guts, which caused some people to vomit and\or pass-out when listening to it at a live reading by Chuck himself.  If the author’s goal is to make people feel something through something he\she wrote, then well done, Chuck.  He not only made them cry or laugh; he made them puke and pass out.  Amazing.

My admiration for The Chuck aside, the guy writes in a way that appeals to modern youth.  It even appeals to sub-modern aged youths that are sort of old, like me.

So it was interesting to read this comment  from Chuck on Reddit:

Chuck-PalahniukTimMitchell asked: It’s rare for a writer’s first book to be as successful as Fight Club was. Were you surprised by the success of the book? How did the success of Fight Club affect your life generally?

Chuck: Please let me address a misperception. ‘Fight Club’ was a huge failure. Most of the hardcovers were going to be pulped. They were unsold when the movie opened… and then the movie was a flop. It has taken years (decades) for the story to build an audience. What’s amazing is that it still resonates for young readers; it’s never become dated. (he shakes his head in disbelief)

Then comes a ton of ass-kissing comments.

Chuck: For further comfort, please read "And So It Goes," a biography about Kurt Vonnegut. It feels great to see how his first books were lackluster non-successes.

Well, as unbelievable as it sounds, Fight Club was not a big hit in the beginning.  I read it years before it was made into a movie, and it changed my perspective.  It was demonstrable that writing did not have to be polite.  It could get hostile and angry and up in your face, making you cringe.  If done well, it is grotesquely beautiful.

As for the book Chuck referenced, I have read some Kurt V., but I have never read And So It Goes, and it has now moved to the top of my list.

There is hope for us, out here on the fringe.  It’s sparse and possibly misplaced, but there is hope.  And hope makes shit happen.

Or not.  Maybe it just makes shit.

Still, you’ve got to put your work out there to know.  Is your MS molding in a drawer, waiting for… what?  You to grow a backbone?

It’s Go-Time, Brothers and Sisters.  Waiting ages things, and unless it’s a wine or Amazing Spiderman #1 in mint condition, that’s not good.



  Continue reading

Chuck Palahniuk on Writing

If you’ve been even a semi-regular reader of the Life64 blog, you know that I’m a fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing.  He’s put out some of my favorite books, including Survivor, Haunted and Choke.  One thing about Chuck that’s different from so many other authors is how accessible he makes himself to the public.  More than that, he is willing to share his experience with struggling writers. 

Granted, Chuck is not everyone’s cup of tea – he takes huge risks in some of his stories that cost him readers, but the ones that stick around are a loyal lot.  If you have never read Chuck and want to give it a go, I’d recommend Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, or Fight Club.  I would never recommend Snuff or Pygmy to anyone, ever. 


In this post, I just want to share some of that Chucky experience I’ve gleaned from the corners of the internet.   Some of this advice is common sense and some is opinion, but it’s coming directly from Chuck and I think it is worth considering.


Chuck on forcing yourself write


Chuck on the value of belonging to a writer’s workshop (via LitReactor)

A warning about the following clip:  Chuck discusses research for his novel, Snuff, which is a gross story.

The value in this for me (starting around 1:35) was his insight on the social model and characters, with reference to Fight Club, and fiction that resolves itself by killing a character.

Chuck on how to research gangbangs for Snuffed (via TWRpodcast)

And though I expect no one except hardcore Chuck fans to be interested in this, the following video is Postcards from the Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary, an 89 minute film made in 2003.  It’s about Chuck, his books and what people think of Chuck.  It is full of Chuck and all sorts of Chucky goodness. 

If you want a highlight moment, click in around 17 minutes and catch Chuck talking about transgressional fiction.


Chuck Palahniuk Reads His Short Story, ‘Romance’


Clocking in at 28:43, this is Chuck reading the entire story, Romance, previously published in Playboy Magazine.  I wish I was brave enough to write with such abandon.

The Pitch: From Fight Club author, Chuck Palahniuk comes a love story for our time: After his girlfriend dies from cancer John finds himself overweight and thrust back into a hopeless world. When a girl who claims to be Britney Spears hits on him, he can’t believe his luck. She looks like a supermodel and parties like Hollywood. The only reason she doesn’t dump him for someone more attractive is he keeps the party rolling… or at least that’s the story he’s sticking with.

I dig it when an author reads his own work and this was like a rare scotch to me  – or like a zucchini canoe filled with Iroquois.   However you want to look at it.


Chuck Palahniuk reads his short story, Romance to a live audience (location\date unknown)


Puppet show!  Magic trick!

Note that Romance has been made into a short film by Andy Mingo.  Check it out, here.

Vacation and… Did You know About



I’m taking a break from the blog while I’m on vacation the rest of November.  We’ll be spending a week at a beach-house outside of San Diego, Ca. and I plan to recharge and just enjoy my wonderful family.  I’ll resume the weekly updates on December 1st.

If you haven’t checked out LITREACTOR.COM, you should head over there now and poke around. It’s a destination for writers to improve their craft, a haven for readers to geek-out about books, and a platform to kick-start your writing goals.

In short, if you’re a writer or a reader, LitReactor is for you.

See you in December.

– Mitch

Review of Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk isn’t an author who languishes in the comfort zone. If you asked Chuck to play catch with you, he would set the ground rules as:

1. First, we set the ball on fire.

2. Then, we set each other on fire.

3. Then, we play in a minefield located on the edge of a precarious cliff.

4. We set the cliff and minefield on fire as well.

5. And just to make things interesting, let’s cut ourselves open, remove our livers and sew them together to use as the ball.

If you decline his rules, he’s out.

I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since Fight Club. His insistence on playing in the dark areas of the mind is fascinating and anytime a new Palahniuk novel comes out, I buy it immediately. Whatever it may be about, it takes me to places that I would not dare to think of on my own.

So, when Pygmy came out in 2009, I bought it the week it released and greedily read 30 pages before putting it away. I picked it up as an audio book this week and struggled through more of it. I still haven’t finished. I probably won’t.

Pygmy follows the secret agent from the Asian country of [redacted] as he infiltrates American society as a foreign exchange student staying with an “average” American family with the intent of carrying out Operation Havoc. It is through his eyes that the story unfolds in first-person, and the broken English (Engrish) of the narrator makes this a difficult and sometimes unintelligible read.

Example: “Location former chew gum, chocolate snack, salted chips of potato, current now occupy with cylinder white paraffin encase burning string, many tiny single fire.”

What? So much work saying so little and doing so in a way that is almost incomprehensible.

The entire book is written in epistolary style, as “Operative Me” takes us through the events that follow his infiltration of America. Now, I like the story and the concept. I admire Chuck for choosing this unique prose, but I can’t enjoy it. I could force myself through it, but why?

Had the story been written in 3rd person, grammatically correct English, I would have devoured this book. As it is, I don’t think I will even finish it. I will add that I did finish his previous disappointment, Snuff, but Pygmy just went too far out there.

So Chuck, when your next novel, Damned releases, I will buy it, knowing you will rebel against all the rules and relishing it. When writing, the rules of English and grammar really are important and well, some rules just shouldn’t be broken.

© 2011, Mitch Lavender