Warning: Contents extremely hot. May cause blindness, loss of sanity, nocturnal emissions, hairy palms, or all of the preceding.
Of course Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, Bait, would boast a warning label on the back cover. The bestselling author of Fight Club and Make Something Up is famous for penning macabre tales that haunt readers, and his latest does not disappoint. Bait pairs eight disturbing short stories with gorgeous (and twisted) illustrations from eight artists, forming a short story/coloring book hybrid created solely for adults.
Paste caught up with Palahniuk to discuss how a real conversation influenced a horrifying short story, how Bait gave him time to brainstorm for Fight Club 3, and how he now has something in common with both Charles Dickens and Stephen King. Check out the interview below, and browse the gallery to view some of the tamer illustrations from the book.
Paste: Why did you want to make a coloring book that was also a short story collection?
Chuck Palahniuk: A hundred reasons. Number one: I wanted to maintain a working relationship with the artists, because almost all of those artists did variant covers and worked for the Fight Club 2 comic. I enjoyed working with all of them so much. Alise [Gluškova] is the only one who did not, and that’s because we thought it really important to hire one new artist and showcase their emerging talent. Number two: I love doing short stories, and I thought that a short story collection with illustrations would be interesting. Number three: I thought doing it in a children’s medium, in a coloring book, would be delightfully perverse. Number four: Because it’s hard to take a project like this seriously, and I needed a break from literary fiction. I’m not ready to go back to writing novels yet. Also, I wanted to show that coloring books don’t have to be these flimsy, trade paperback things that are designed to self-destruct. A coloring book can be like an art book, and it would be worth the time people would put into it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Paste: Why did you want these particular stories to be illustrated?
Palahniuk: The theme that emerged is that they’re all stories about people who are nurturing other people—aring for someone that they see subjugated to them, below them, weaker than them. But their caring ends up having a detrimental effect. It’s about nurturing gone wrong.
Paste: Do you have a favorite story in Bait?
Palahniuk: The “Dad All Over” story. When my mother died of cancer, we had a memorial service for her. Her best friend took me aside and said, just by way of conversation, that it was a blessing that my mother had died in her sleep before she had really suffered the pain. My mother’s worst fear was that if she was on very strong painkillers, and this is how her best friend worded it, she said that, “You’re mother was really afraid that she’d be on so many drugs that she’d actually tell you children what she actually thought of you.”
Palahniuk: The moment she said that, the best friend, I was thinking, “Please, I hope to God you misphrased that. I don’t think you even realize how horrible that sounded.” But I just let it go, because I didn’t want confirmation one way or the other. It’s always been an unresolved anxiety from that moment, so I wanted to write a story about it.
Paste: Goodness, I’m sorry.
Palahniuk: Maybe she said it wrong. We were under stress, and we were grieving. I hope to God she just said it wrong.
If you can’t have closure in real life, you create closure in fiction.
Paste: What was the collaborative process like for this collection?
Palahniuk: As I did each story, I’d create a list of images that might make good illustrations. Then I’d submit the story with the list to my editor, Scott Allie, and he would add a few more images to the list. That’s what we would submit to the artist. The artist would either choose from that list, or the artist would propose new ideas.
Then the artist would create a rough in pencil for each one, and we’d propose more and more scandalous things to see if the artist would actually execute those things. And then the artist would suggest things even more scandalous than what we had suggested. For instance, the poop story [“Mud Slinger”] was a race to the bottom. Everyone wanted to be as over the top as they could.
We had a couple of artists back out of the project, because they were wanting to do more children’s illustrations and were afraid they’d get blacklisted if they were a part of this project.
Paste: The back of the book has a disclaimer: “Stories rated NC-17.” Was this to separate it from kid’s books?
Palahniuk: I wrote that at the very last minute, because bookstores were proposing shelving it in the children’s section. And we had to make it really clear on the book that it was not for kids.
Mashable had done Fight Club for Kids that was enormously popular, so I think people were expecting that I’d do a book for kids.
Paste: What are you working on next? You mentioned earlier that you’re not ready to write another novel.
Palahniuk: All of this is also to postpone finishing Fight Club 3 as a graphic novel, because I want to have as much time to include as many ideas as possible. I felt like I really had to pull my punches with Fight Club 2, because I was in a new medium. And I was introducing a lot of my readers to this medium as well. I didn’t want to come out screaming and yelling, I wanted to hold the more extreme stuff for Fight Club 3.
Paste: Do you want to publish more short story coloring books?
Palahniuk: I would love to do one of these every year and bring it out before Thanksgiving. Writers have a tradition, an old Victorian tradition, of producing a Christmas book every year. A Christmas Carol was a novella that Charles Dickens originally produced as a Christmas book. I would love to do a coloring book every year as my Christmas book. Stephen King privately publishes a small novel every year as a Christmas book.
Paste: Have you received one?
Palahniuk: Oh dear God, no. I just know that he does it. I’m not close enough to get one.
Paste: Is there anything you’d like to add about Bait?
Palahniuk: It’s a stupid point, but we even made sure the book had a special, lay-flat spine. The printer suggested that to make it easier for coloring. All of these things had to be thought through.
Paste: It seems like it was really a labor of love.
Palahniuk: It was a labor of fun. It came together so quickly. I came up with the concept in February, and we had the stories done by the time I left on tour in June. Scott had the stories out to artists at that point, and we had the last art in by the end of July as my tour finished. We went to press in August; it was the fastest project ever.
Short stories are kind of the redheaded stepchild in publishing. People love them, but they don’t tend to be profit-makers. This seemed like a creative way of getting short stories out there in a form where they’d be more attractive.
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From the title page to the endpapers, everything in Bait provides an opportunity for coloring. So rather than include an author photo, David Mack illustrated a headshot of Palahniuk for readers to color.
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Illustration by Kirbi Fagan for a short story titled "Conspiracy."
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Illustration by Lee Bermejo for a short story titled "Dad All Over."
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Illustration by Steve Morris for a short story titled "Mud Slinger."
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Another illustration by Steve Morris for "Mud Slinger."
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Illustration by Duncan Fegredo for a short story titled "Let's See What Happens." Fegredo also illustrated Bait's cover.
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Illustration by Joëlle Jones for a short story titled "Salvation."