Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Clay McLeod Chapman

Clay McLeod Chapman writes novels, comic books, and children’s books, as well as for film and TV. He is the author of the horror novels The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Quite a lot, I think... Whisper Down the Lane, or Telephone, is a game of rumors. A group of children sit in a circle. One child whispers a sentence -- I like to eat Lucky Charms in my pajamas -- into their neighbor's ear, then that child whispers the sentence into their neighbor's ear, going around the circle until the whispered statement returns to its originator. But when it goes around the circle, the phrase tends to mutate. Words are forgotten and replaced. Even the original intent behind the sentence alters itself. When it comes full circle and the originator gets to hear the sentence returned to them, they say it out loud (usually to laughter): Eyes do harm to unlucky lamas.

My novel, Whisper Down the Lane, is about the adult version of this childhood game... The rumors that spread and pervert themselves from one neighbor to the next. How something relatively harmless that someone says can take on a life of its own and become dangerous. How lives can be destroyed by lies.

What's in a name?

I was a bit cheeky with my character names... I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but if you look at the names of a lot of supporting characters in the book, you'll find my reading list on full display. I wanted to pay my respects to the masterworks that influenced my novel. Consider them satanic panic Easter eggs.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

If anything, I think he'd be relieved to see that he was still writing as an adult... and grateful that he was getting published. As far as surprises go, I'd personally be curious if my teenage self would be aware of how his writing style has -- hopefully -- evolved over the years. Would he still hear his voice in my writing? It's an interesting question. The DNA was there, all those years ago, for sure, but it's definitely evolved and refined itself since then.

Starting back in high school, I became completely enamored with first person narrative. That root is still there, plunging into my writing and growing over the subsequent decades. Now -- finally! -- it's starting to bear wondrous fruit.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Well, the ending certainly changed the most for Whisper Down the Lane. Chapters were rearranged up until the very end of the editing process, as well as adjusting how much was said vs. how much we cut in order to leave certain mysteries unsolved. The conversation between my editor and myself always revolved around how much do we want to trust our narrator. Does Richard, our protagonist -- or perhaps antagonist -- even know the truth? How much is he hiding the truth from himself? This meant a lot of dial adjusting. And trimming. Lots of trimming. Less is more, but until you've written it all down on the page, you just won't know what needs to be taken away. I tend to overwrite, which I find is better for those first drafts, because then you just compress and cut.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

For most of my work, I'd say no... but with Whisper Down the Lane in particular, I'd say yes. Maybe even for the first time. For better or for worse, I 'cast' myself in the dual roles of both protagonists from the novel: five year old Sean and thirty year old Richard. Since the book times place in both the 80s and 2013, which conveniently follows my own personal timeline as a human being, so I essentially got to write about my own childhood and then my own adult life. It's completely fictionalized, though. This isn't autobiography. I took the tone and terrors of the times -- being a kid and then a parent -- and got to explore them both.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For this book, it was the early films of Roman Polanski. I think we should all do a movie night of Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant. Who's with me?
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Remaking.

The Page 69 Test: The Remaking.

My Book, The Movie: Whisper Down the Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue