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Posted by Dennis

Phoenix Unpacked: Part Three – Connecting the Dots

Note: This essay contains spoilers for the new Kindle Single, 'Phoenix' by Chuck Palahniuk. If you haven't yet read this wonderful story, remedy that right now.

'Phoenix,' a Kindle Single by Chuck Palahniuk

Read Part 2 of this essay series here.

by Chuck Palahniuk

Twenty years ago, my next-door neighbor got pregnant.  Her husband complained to me that he was now required to clean their cat’s box.  Because of toxoplasmosis, his wife explained.  She told me that toxo was a parasite in cat feces, and it could cause blindness in unborn children.  At the same time I was volunteering to care for AIDS patients.  Soon enough I was cleaning the patients’ cat boxes because of a similar threat to people with compromised immune systems.  Then came Trainspotting, and the character Tommy died from the infection transmitted by the book’s kitten.  That’s how far back I began to write Phoenix.  Back in 1992?  In 1993?

At the time, a lot of my friends were getting pregnant.  Most of them had cats that had been surrogate children -- beloved -- but now those pets occurred as menacing leftovers from a previous life.  It was always a tragic stalemate.  These couples loved their cats, but they didn’t want to risk the health of a new child.  Most of those cats were old, unappealing cats and that made them unadoptable.  Two friends, I’ll call them Glenda and Brad, decided that they would have to euthanize theirs.  On the day they’d planned to end the cat’s life Brad noticed that its bag of food was almost full.  It irked him to waste so much good cat food so he proposed keeping the cat until the bag was empty.  They were both miserable over the prospect of killing a member of their family, and the cat food seemed like a rational reason to postpone the inevitable.

I’ll keep this short.  I know I’ve told this story before.  In secret, Glenda and Brad each added new food to the bag.  Their child was born without defects.  And their cat eventually died of natural causes.  That was almost ten years ago.

This past July, I was in Los Angeles to promote the release of Invisible Monsters Remix.  As a local publicist drove me to the Skirball Cultural Center for my appearance I told her the story about the cat food.  In response, she told me about friends of hers who’d bought a house with a gas fireplace.  The house stunk every time they used the fireplace, and they quickly learned that the previous owners had owned a cat.  A few days later, in Seattle, I told the fireplace story, and a stranger told me about switching on a gas fireplace and inadvertently injuring – not killing – a cat that was using the fireplace as a toilet.

All of this demonstrates a movement from the specific to the universal.  The Phoenix story uses small, probable events – anecdotes I’ve collected -- to make the impossible seem inevitable.  But a good story is greater than the sum of its anecdotes.

Posted by Dennis

Chuck Answers Fan Questions For His Second 'Phoenix' Essay

'Phoenix' by Chuck PalahniukOn February 12th, Chuck Palahniuk released a new short story exclusively through Amazon's Kindle Single program called 'Phoenix.' At the time of my writing this, 'Phoenix' is #1 across the board on Amazon's Kindle Single rank. The story is burning it up!  (pun intended) 

So two weeks ago, Chuck decided to start a series of essays explaining the construction and backstory of this short story.  (You can read Essay 1 here and Essay 2 here.)  And he decided to let a small number of fans submit questions to him.  So without further ado, here is the second batch of Questions & Answers. And it goes without saying, but if you haven't yet read 'Phoenix,' there are spoilers below.

(Chuck's answers are italicizied within)

From Andrew Stanton:

What is the significance of the phone ringing so many times? What is Ted doing that it takes him 26 rings to answer? And why does Rachel wait?

Also, a bit more random, but did Chuck get the idea for naming the cat Belinda Carlisle after the book, Frank Sinatra in a Blender, where Frank Sinatra is the name of a chiwawa?

Chuck's Response:  Thank you, Andrew, for bringing this up.  The telephone ringing is Rachel’s particular way to measure time passing.  She’s so meticulous that it makes sense for her to count the rings as her impatience builds.  She’s thwarted with every unanswered ring, and it’s easy for her to imagine that Ted’s intentionally avoiding her calls.  By stating that she’s waited 27 rings I’m already creating tension in the scene and depicting Rachel’s anxious state of mind – as well as giving some idea of how much time is passing.  

Sorry, I haven’t read Frank Sinatra in a Blender.  It was Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir The Chronology of Water that introduced me to the idea of using celebrity names for characters.  She uses rock star names to represent each of her former lovers, and the technique works to establish the era as well as the person.  Yes, it’s a shortcut, but it’s unique and works especially well in a short story where I don’t want to burden the reader with pages of description.

Posted by Dennis

'Phoenix' Is Now The #1 Kindle Single On Amazon!

Chuck Palahniuk's newest creation is not a novel.  It's a short story called 'Phoenix' that he wrote for the Kindle Single program on Amazon.  And in a little over two weeks, it's already climbed into the #1 spot in these three categories:

Posted by Dennis

Phoenix Unpacked: Part Two – Playing with Time

Note: This essay contains spoilers for the new Kindle Single, 'Phoenix' by Chuck Palahniuk. If you haven't yet read this wonderful story, remedy that right now.

'Phoenix,' a Kindle Single by Chuck Palahniuk

Read Part 1 of this essay series here.

by Chuck Palahniuk

On its most-basic level the story Phoenix is about a week in a family’s life. It begins on a Monday and ends on a Sunday – not unlike the story of Genesis. Or the movie Se7en.

It’s always easier to pace the present moment in a story. Days or actions occur in a sequence that suggests actual time passing. Space breaks allow you, the writer, to imply a jump forward or backward. That’s simple to do.

But how do you keep the past and the future always present in the current moment?

In earlier books I used Tom Spanbauer’s device of reoccurring choruses. Each represents an earlier event in the story, and by distilling those events into a few words the author can revisit the past in a flash. Consider where your mind goes when you read the word “Rosebud” or “Nevermore.” Each word contains an entire story. Like a reoccurring object in a plot, a repeated chorus accrues power each time it’s used, but it also keeps history present for the reader.

I’ve always used choruses to present the past and future, so in Phoenix I wanted to use symbols. At the risk of spoiling the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, here they are:

In Phoenix, the past is ashes, filth and shit. Rachel’s long-dead passion for Ted is represented by the dirty talk that leaks through the motel room wall. Those obscene noises never stop, but she’s gone deaf to them. Ted still hears them, like echoes; actually, he’s so attuned to them that they’re all he hears when she talks. Rachel occasionally hears them, but she tries to hide them by covering the phone. When they catch her by surprise, she’s enraged. She beats at them with her fist and shouts back at them. For her, they’re synonymous with conceiving a child with Ted, an act she deeply regrets.

Posted by Dennis

Chuck Answers Fan Questions For His First 'Phoenix' Essay

'Phoenix' by Chuck PalahniukOn February 12th, Chuck Palahniuk released a new short story exclusively through Amazon's Kindle Single program.  Kindle Singles are eBooks of short and novella length. The story is called 'Phoenix,' and it's so damn good.  You also must agree too because, at the time of writing this, the story is ranked #2 overall in the Kindle Single's category and has a 4 star rating.

Last week, Chuck decided to start a series of essays explaining the construction and backstory of this short story.  You can read Essay 1 here.  And he decided to let a small number of fans submit questions to him.  So without further ado, here is the first batch of Questions & Answers:

(Chuck's answers are italicizied within)

From Lisa K:

Dear Chuck--

I couldn't help feel that there were parallels between Rachel and Belinda Carlisle.  Rachel and Belinda were both under the impression that they were the keepers to be indulged but in reality were the kept.  They each were the vehicles, albeit unwillingly, of their own demises.

Were Rachel and April both suffering effects from toxicoplasmosis?  Was Ted?

Do you remember the Shirley Jackson ghost story, "The Haunting of Hill House"?  It's never clearly established whether Eleanor is crazy or actually menaced by ghosts.  That unresolved dynamic gives the story a longer life.  And that's why I never wanted to walk Ted or Rachel through an aside where they get tested for Toxo. The writer, and my friend, Chelsea Cain, lobbied for a Toxo testing scene, but it -- to my mind -- would've slowed the story and explained too much.

There's a gaping hole of how Ted came to be part of Rachel's life.  Are they both loner brainiacs that fate brought together?

They met on a blind date.  Rachel instantly recognized someone she could dominate.  Any details beyond that would've slowed the forward momentum.  We already start with a long, long flashback. A second flashback would've dampened the escalating tension.

Posted by Dennis

'Survivor' T-shirts Are Now Taking Off - Pre-Order Period Over!

'Survivor' T-shirts Are Now Taking Off - Pre-Order Starts Today!

Update 3/1/13: The pre-order period has ended. The print order will now be made and shirts should begin shipping mid March.  For those who didn't pre-order, keep an eye out, as we will have a small amount of overage in select sizes. 

Our new T-shirt features Creedish death cult survivor Tender Branson, dressed to the nines in his evangelist, false prophet garb, strung up like a puppeted martyr over the image of a 747. Welcome to the wonderful and deranged world of one of Chuck Palahniuk's most celebrated novels, Survivor. The design is by Mondo artist Jay Shaw.

Here is a closer look at the shirt:

'Survivor' T-shirt

Click here for a close-up of the design

The inks on this shirt are water based, which means you won't feel like you're wearing a giant decal on your chest. The shirt color is 'New Silver,' which is almost like a soft grey. It's a unisex American Apparel 50/50 polycotton shirt. The fabric is very soft, very light and extremely comfortable.

Shipping Info

This is a pre-order.  It will run until Feb 28th. Then our design will be sent to the printer. Shirts will then begin shipping in mid March. So all in all, expect a 4-6 week wait for your shirt.  We ship Priority mail.  

Limited Ed. 'Survivor' Poster - Coming Soon!

Want A 'Survivor' Poster?

In a few weeks time, the artist Jay Shaw will be offering a poster of this design, seen in our gallery to the right or by clicking here.  There will be a limit of only 100 of these posters and they will cost $20.39 (same flight number Tender takes!).  So stay tuned and we will post a link on where to buy these posters once they become available. You might also try following Jay on Twitter to make sure you don't miss out!  

Dennis's picture Posted by Dennis

Phoenix Unpacked: Part One – Suddenly, Last Christmas

Note: This essay contains spoilers for the new Kindle Single, 'Phoenix' by Chuck Palahniuk. If you haven't yet read this wonderful story, remedy that right now.

'Phoenix,' a Kindle Single by Chuck Palahniukby Chuck Palahniuk

If you’ve had a chance to read Phoenix, thank you.  It consists of cat-related anecdotes I’ve heard over the past several years.  Chances are you’ve already heard me tell a small part of it on tour.  The best fiction rises – yes, like a phoenix – out of the ashes of people’s sad, true disasters.  We write in order to repeat the past.  As it says in the story, “…The people will always be humping next door.  The cat will always be screaming around every house they own...”

If you’re reading this be warned.  It will make very little sense unless you’re read Phoenix.  In this essay I’ll explore the mechanics of the story.  Everything I write is constructed like a truck on the Freightliner assembly line:  Smaller components of the vehicle are assembled by teams in far-flung locations.  Prior to the final draft, the whole project looks like a spread-out mess.  Then – flash – the truck is whole.  Then, amazingly, It Drives Away Under Its Own Power!

When I worked at Freightliner we built 26, sometimes 27 trucks in eight hours.  That seems impossible until you consider that the “assembly line” is less like a line than like a branched river system.  The parts of a story flow into it from every direction.  It would be too exhausting to look at them all – the plot, the themes, the authority, the original sources, the metaphors – so this essay will focus on the basic shape of the story.

In the past I’ve called these – stories of this shape -- “Postage Stamp” or “Thumbnail” stories because we’re told the entire story in miniature as it begins.  In the film Titanic we’re shown a rough computer model of how the ship will sink.  In Citizen Kane we’re shown the crude newsreel about the life and death of Charles Foster Kane.  In both cases, these little sneak-peeks hook us with the promise of big events to come.  They whet our appetite like a Shakespearean prologue.  This structure also dampens the melodrama of the plot points.  For example, we know most of the people will die on the Titanic.  We know Charles Foster Kane’s love affair will be exposed and ruin his political career.  By sacrificing the surprise of those events, the authors allow the audience to focus on the deeper emotions that are motivating the characters.

Posted by Dennis

'Phoenix,' An Amazon Kindle Single By Chuck Palahniuk

'Phoenix,' An Amazon Kindle Single By Chuck Palahniuk

Update: Since Friday, 'Phoenix' has shot up Amazon's sales rank from around #27,000 to #278. It's now #3 in the Kindle Single Fiction category.  Thank you all for reading! 

Update: You can also now purchase 'Phoenix' on Amazon CA and UK here.

In all the excitement last week- with the announcement of three new books in thee years- something just as cool got lost in the shuffle. Chuck Palahniuk has gone and written a Kindle Single!

Posted by Dennis

What's Next For Chuck Palahniuk? New Novels In 2013, 2014 and 2015 Announced!

What's Next For Chuck Palahniuk?

[Photo from the StarTribune]

Publishers Marketplace dropped the news earlier this month that Chuck Palahniuk sold the rights to his next two books, as well as signed a deal in the wake of the Haunted movie adaptation finally getting its greenlight. In other words, this is a very good time to be a fan of Chuck Palahniuk.

So I figured it was high time we do our own "State of the Union" here at The Cult with a summary of what's in the store for fans of Chuck.

Posted by Dennis

The Short Film Based On Chuck Palahniuk's 'Romance,' To Screen At Cinequest

The Short Film Based On Chuck Palahniuk's 'Romance,' To Screen At Cinequest

You may have heard the news this week that the financing for Haunted finally came through, and that we'll soon be getting our third Chuck Palahniuk film adaptation. But if you were being technical, Haunted could really be considered "three and a half."  Last year, director Andy Mingo premiered his adaptation of Chuck's hysterical short story 'Romance.'

'Romance' was read during one of Chuck's recent tours (I got to hear it at the Invisible Monsters Remix LA event).  And it appeared in the August 2011 issue of Playboy. You can even download it for free at here.  But if you live in or near California, you can do better: you can go see it in a theater!

Update 2/11/13: Downpour informed me that at the time of this post, it has an issue with its checkout process that prohibited about 20 people from downloading the short story of 'Romance.' They've since fixed the issue and the free download is now working. As part of the apology they've also created an exclusive discount code for you all, which you can use to get 25% off downloads of the Chuck novels on our website. Use Code: chuck2813. Expires: 2/13/13.

On March 2nd at the Cinequest film festival in San Jose, there will be a special event that will start off with the California premiere of the short film at 130pm. 

You can purchase tickets for the screening here!

Afterwards, Chuck Palahniuk will be awarded with a Maverick Spirit Award followed by an onstage Q & A.

Chuck Palahniuk at the 2013 Cinequest Film Festival

Chuck's going to be in good company receiving his Cinequest Maverick award.  Also getting awards this year will be Harrison Ford and Salman Rushdie.

Here is how you can purchase tickets to the event:

Here's what  the 'Films and Moving Pictures' blog had to say about 'Romance's' sold out Raindance screening in England last year:

‘Romance’ has laughs and genuine “Palahniuk” moments that make you squeal and shock you out of your seat... The film is like nothing seen before... Cinema experiences were made for moments like these.

For more information on how you can follow the short film, check out its official site at and its official Facebook at And of course, you should check out the film's trailer on YouTube!