Friday, March 29, 2013

Interview with Chandler Klang Smith, author of Goldenland Past Dark - March 29, 2013

Please welcome Chandler Klang Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Goldenland Past Dark was published earlier this month by Chizine Publications.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

Chandler:  Thanks so much for having me!

TQ:  When and why did you start writing?

Chandler:  I've been making up stories almost as long as I can remember; as a child, I remember spending hours lying in bed at night constructing epic adventures in my mind, trying to make them play across my shut eyelids like a movie. I got serious about writing these down around sixth grade, when I started making my first attempts at "novels" -- ranging from a historical romance set in the Middle Ages (I vividly remember a swordfight on top of a half-built cathedral) to a pretentious road novel about middle-schoolers who steal a car and take off across the country, talking philosophy en route.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Chandler:  Hmm -- although the subject matter in my work is often quirky in the extreme, I'm not sure there's anything quirky about my process per se. When writing longhand, I do always use a spiral bound notebook and a blue Pilot roller ball pen. (I ordinarily write in longhand before typing it up, then go on to do revisions and additions on the computer.)

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Chandler:  A bit of both. At the beginning of working on a novel, I write a 6-8 page document mapping out the overall direction of the book in broad terms, and I use this as a guide moving forward -- it usually takes me in the general direction I want to go. But as soon as I start putting words on paper, new questions and problems and images invariably present themselves. It's important to listen to what the book is trying to tell me, since in my opinion, the richest material is usually the stuff that starts bubbling up from the subconscious.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Chandler:  I work very slowly, and the hardest part for me is always getting started, whether it's with a project or even just a scene or chapter. As Donald Barthelme writes in his brilliant short story The Dolt, "Endings are elusive, middles are nowhere to be found, but worst of all is to begin, to begin, to begin."

TQ:  Describe Goldenland Past Dark in 140 characters or less. /like a tweet/

Chandler:  Hunchbacked clown runs away to join the circus; after heartbreak & murder, he runs away from the circus into the darkness of his fantasies.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Goldenland Past Dark?

Chandler:  Hmm -- a lot of factors! I love circuses; they're misfit families, composed of people who often have little in common except for their status as outsiders, so getting to explore the dynamics of such an odd group kept my imagination fueled. But the very first image that I ever came up with from the world of this story related to Webern's sisters, Willow and Billow, who don't appear in the present action till the very end of the novel. There's a curious symmetry to that, which I like.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Goldenland Past Dark?

Chandler:  Basically, I let my curiosity be my guide. I read a bunch of terrific books, both fiction (I highly recommend Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus for anyone looking for another big top-related read) and nonfiction (Joe Nickell's Secrets of the Sideshow might be the most entertaining). And a former professor of mine, Edward Hoagland, actually traveled with the circus in the early 1950's, tending to the big cats, so I was lucky enough to read his book Cat Man and hear first-hand accounts of his adventures. But I also watched a ton of films, including Tod Browning's Freaks, Marcel Carne's Children of Paradise, Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, and Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (where my novel's epigraph comes from), for inspiration. And I checked out as many live circus and clown shows as I could, including Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, the New York Goofs, Cirque de Soleil, the Coney Island Sideshow, and Circus Contraption (an extraordinary performance troupe from Seattle, whose lyrics I quote in a late chapter of the book).

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Chandler:  The easiest was the protagonist, Webern Bell, probably because I wrote a bunch of short stories about his childhood (a few of which you can read on my website here) before beginning this novel, so I knew exactly where he was coming from. I guess the hardest was Mars Boulder, the menacing figure pursuing Dr. Show the ringmaster during the first half of the book. It took me awhile before I figured out what his motivation was.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Goldenland Past Dark?

Chandler:  I really like the clowning dream sequences; it was a goal of mine to convey visual imagery in crystal clear prose, and I feel like I occasionally achieve that in those sections.

TQ:  What's next?

Chandler:  I'm working on another novel about a futuristic, parallel universe New York City under constant attack by dragons. You can read a short excerpt from it here.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Chandler:  It was my pleasure.

About Goldenland Past Dark

Goldenland Past Dark
ChiZine Publications, March 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages

A hostile stranger is hunting Dr. Show’s ramshackle travelling circus across 1960s America. His target: the ringmaster himself. Struggling to elude the menace, Dr. Show scraps his ambitious itinerary; ticket sales plummet, and nothing but disaster looms. The troupe’s unravelling hopes fall on their latest and most promising recruit, Webern Bell, a sixteen-year- old hunchbacked midget devoted obsessively to perfecting the surreal clown performances that come to him in his dreams. But as they travel through a landscape of abandoned amusement parks and rural ghost towns, Webern’s bizarre past starts to pursue him, as well.

Along the way, we meet Nepenthe, the seductive Lizard Girl; Brunhilde, a shell-shocked bearded lady; Marzipan, a world-weary chimp; a cabal of drunken, backstabbing clowns; Webern’s uncanny sisters, witchy dogcatchers who speak only in rhymes; and his childhood friend, Wags, who may or may not be imaginary, and whose motives are far more sinister than they seem.

About Chandler
(bio from Author's website)

Chandler Klang Smith grew up in Springfield, Illinois, before dropping out of high school early and running away to join the circus – or rather, the most circus-like educational environment she could find, namely, Bennington College. After four years of costume parties, lonely mountains, brilliant professors, passionate 3 a.m. aesthetic arguments, and dark nights of the soul, she graduated in 2005 with a concentration in literature and philosophy and journeyed on to the MFA Creative Writing Program at Columbia University, from which she graduated in 2007. At Columbia, she began the project that would develop into Goldenland Past Dark and discovered the joys and terrors of a city grown large beyond all reason, a mutant place nourished by history and money and the redemptive elixir of art.

In New York City, she has enmeshed herself variously in the great machine of publishing: as the ghostwriter of two young adult novels for Alloy Entertainment Group, as a reader for the Paris Review, as an assistant/associate agent for a boutique literary agency, and currently, as the Events Coordinator for the KGB Bar. She still loves books.

Website ~ Goldenland Past Dark FB Page

1 comment:

  1. Delightful interview! The author writes as clearly as she speaks, not wasting time with anything but the heart of the query. I have read this book and adored Webern's dream sequences myself. I also enjoyed his attempts to bring some to reality. The book approaches clowning as the art form originating in antiquity and again in Europe. Best new book of the year!