Thursday, April 11, 2013

Guest Blog by Chandler Klang Smith, author of Goldenland Past Dark - April 11, 2013

Please welcome Chandler Klang Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Goldenland Past Dark was published in March by ChiZine Publications. You may read in interview with Chandler here.

Stolen Faces: A Guest Post by Chandler Klang Smith

“To be a clown, a person had to lose himself in the reality of the act—he had to be perfectly serious, focused completely on the smallest details of his task. He had to move with the disastrous conviction of a sleepwalker or the self-deluded. People always thought the clown and the straight man were two separate roles, but the opposite was true. The clown was the straight man, the only one onstage who couldn’t see the absurdity of what he did. The clown was a comedy to everyone else but a tragedy to himself.” – from Goldenland Past Dark

People love to say that they’re afraid of clowns. I’m sure some of them actually are, but for most people, it’s become one of those knee-jerk statements, delivered half in jest, the conversational equivalent of an Internet meme. Like ventriloquism, the accordion, and taxidermy, clowning is, to many, less a mode of legitimate creative expression than the punchline to a joke – an ironically appropriate fate for an art form designed with the primary purpose of making people laugh.

I knew this was a common perception in the culture even when I took on the possibly ill-advised challenge of writing my first novel as a Künstlerroman of sorts about a clown’s coming of age as a person and a performer. The popular idea of clowns’ “creepiness” even informed my own perspective on the subject. Aspects of the clown’s art do border on the uncanny: I remember being fascinated to learn that disputes frequently arose between clowns when one would accuse another of stealing his face – imitating the unique style of makeup that gives a particular clown character his distinct physiognomy. And the notion of such makeup as a mask to disguise a wanted, guilty, or even dangerous individual pre-dates John Wayne Gacy’s arrest by at least two decades – in possibly his spookiest role this side of Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart plays a secretive clown who never reveals his true face in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, and who is eventually hauled off by police for the mercy killing of his wife.

Still, it strikes me as obvious that dismissive coulrophobia overlooks a lot about a mode of performance that dates back to the earliest forms of human entertainment. Clowns, fools, and jesters have always been able to reveal facets of human nature and society that audiences wouldn’t accept in any other form. And pantomime, slapstick, and the absurd reach viewers on a gut level even deeper than words, with or without a red nose attached. Like it or not, contemporary comedy carries on the traditions of clowning in ways both subtle and obvious: Seinfeld’s Kramer may be afraid of clowns, but he is one too.

What I find eerie about clowning is the same thing I find eerie about any imaginative endeavor – the way the realm of fantasies can intersect with our reality, and become incarnate in it – the way an artist can enchant us, bring us under a spell that makes us accept the impossible, and feel something, whether it’s laughter or tears, about an illusion. But writers bring the same thing about when they write stories, and so far, I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s scared of me.

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

Chandler Klang Smith is a graduate of Bennington College and the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, where she received a Writing Fellowship. She lives in New York City. Goldenland Past Dark (ChiZine Publications, March 2013) is her first novel.

Learn more about her at,
or find her on Goodreads at


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