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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.

Does Ted kill April as retribution for Rachel killing Belinda?

No comment.  You've already imagined something far worse than what I had in mind.  You scare me.

There is something surreal about the story as it floats around, although from reading your essay it was very carefully constructed.  Maybe it's the head cold and these observances should have waited for another day.

My apologies if these observances and questions give unequivocal proof of my suspected idiocy!

lisakay on the cult 



From Christine Connallon:

Thanks so much for this opportunity for a Q&A about Phoenix.

Hi Chuck,

I so enjoyed Phoenix.  I loved the details,  like Ted's obvious enthusiasm for decorating with items that are black.  When you're fleshing out characters for a short story, rather than a novel, how do you approach packing in these nuances without jamming in too many details?

Hope you had a great birthday!

All the best,
Christine Connallon

Chuck's response:

Originally, the flashback depicted a very 1980's house, decorated in pink and teal, bold grids and acute angles.  It was too much static description and killed the story in its cradle.  To establish Ted as stuck in his past I just named the cat after his beloved Go-Go's lead singer.  A future essay will explore the "horses"or themes of the story, but one is "unresolved dirt and messes," and in retrospect so much of the all-black decorating of the 1980's represented a denial of accruing shit.  AIDS in particular.  In a short story, my impulse is to avoid description that doesn't involve action.  I had to fight to keep the robot vacuum cleaner, but I liked it because it depicted filth in an active way.  And because of the paradox inherent in a cleaning process that makes the mess worse.  As
always, avoid "is" and "has" verbs.  Thus, "..the fire raced across the black carpet, the black towels blazed..." Whatever.  Use description to further action.  Use action to describe setting.


We'll be posting Part 2 of Chuck's 'Phoenix' essays this week at which time Chuck will accept more fan questions.  For now, if you haven't yet read this great story...

Purchase 'Phoenix' for only 99 cents here!