Jackson, Miss. Everybody just knew Chuck Palahniuk was a murderer — maybe something worse.
The author spent some time working in a soup kitchen years ago, but didn’t bother to tell anyone who he was. It wasn’t long before the theories started floating back to the author of “Fight Club,” giving him the germ that would become his latest best-seller, “Pygmy.”
“All the other people in this homeless soup kitchen thought that I was some sort of murderer who’d gotten out of prison and was having to do community service work,” he says. “And the things that people were kind of projecting on me said more about them than they said about me. So that was kind of the birth of ‘Pygmy.”’
“Pygmy” is the story of a group of undercover teen operatives from an unnamed totalitarian country who pose as foreign exchange students to pull off a clandestine attack dubbed “Operation Havoc.”
The unsparing novel centers on an agent quickly dubbed “Pygmy” because of his slight frame and is written in broken English.
The Portland, Ore.-based Palahniuk (PAUL’-a-nick) spoke by phone with The Associated Press from Toronto, where he was making a book tour appearance.
Q: Was “Pygmy” as challenging to write as it is to read?
A: I think the further you get into it, it will be like me writing it — it will get easier and easier. Your mind will start to recognize the logic and the patterns of what seems to be a kind of scrambled language but has its own very definite rules and consistencies.
Q: What did you do before you wrote full-time?
A: I worked three years on the assembly line in Portland building Freightliner trucks and I got a job after that writing recall instructions, and then traveling around teaching recall procedures for Freightliner.
Q: Do you get tired of talking about “Fight Club or having all your books compared to it?
A: “Fight Club” kind of got me out of Freightliner, so I will always be happy for “Fight Club.” I have no problems with that. It’s gravy after that.
Q: Your books seem to be a commentary on what life has become in 21st century America. Is that the case?
A: More often than not I see something that I’m doing and, in a way, I want to process and talk myself out of it. And that’s what the story has to serve first because there was no guarantee that my work was ever going to sell to a publisher. So I wanted to make sure my work served me, that it was fun to do and that it dealt with a kind of personal issue. I found myself with that Ikea catalog at my work station, and I thought to myself, ’If I could just buy this sofa, if I could just buy this, then I’m going to feel grown up and I’m going to have a good life.’ And I had to find some way to make fun of that and talk myself out of doing it. So that became that portion of “Fight Club.”
Q: What are you working on now? Is that something you talk about?
A: There’s a book for next year that’s close to done called “Tell-All.” I’d gone to these publishing dinners last summer in New York and these sort of old publishing dinosaurs were complaining about how when they’d been really young, they’d been asked to do all this seemingly useless research about what time a train would arrive in Berlin in the 1930s, and they later found that everything they had researched was used by Lillian Hellman in her biography. ... She was the James Frey of her generation. And so I thought it would just be a blast to write an entire 20th century history in which Lillian Hellman was the pivotal historical figure in every major historical event. She stowed away on the ride to the moon and she rescued John Glenn, and she raised the flag over Iwo Jima, and I make Lillian Hellman a bigger historical figure than she ever would’ve made herself.