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Interview With an Author: Clay McLeod Chapman

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Clay McLeod Chapman and his latest novel, The Remaking

Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show and the author of Rest Area, Nothing Untoward, and the Tribe trilogy. In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse, among others. He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005). His latest novel is The Remaking and he recently agreed to talk about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Remaking?

So many. Too many. But the initial seed planted itself back in 2003 when I first saw the remake of The Ring…I loved the original and quite enjoyed the American adaptation, but I was struck by the subtle cultural adjustments between them. It made me ask myself: Can a ghost story cross continents with its ghost intact? Can a ghost haunt an audience across the ocean, unmoored from its own home? It made me wonder about the transferal of a haunting if the phantasmal trappings of one culture can extend to another…That, and how the evolving technologies of storytelling—from campfires to film to podcasts and everything in between—can aid and abet in the transmission of these spirits, essentially extending their reach.

Are Amber Pendleton, or any of the other characters, inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Amber is a bit of an amalgamation of individuals. I was writing the novel in-and-around the time the most current revival of Halloween was en route to theaters, which made me think a lot about Jamie Lee Curtis and how she has reprised her role of Laurie Strode over decades, returning to this character over and over again…First in her teens, then as she got older, and then older still. Not to mention how rabid the Halloween fanbase is for her to return. Given the fact that we encounter Amber in the various stages of her life, I couldn’t help but think of Curtis returning—and returning—to her first role that made her famous.

Also, it was fortuitous timing to be introduced to Milly Shapiro while I was writing. Our conversation, along with the fact that I was struck by her performance in Hereditary, was totally, utterly inspirational. I’m not saying Amber is based on her, but I was floored by the questions actors are confronted with: What does a performer do when the world at large primarily identifies them as a character they played? How do you step out of the shadow of your most recognizable role?

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

There was one dream sequence that was sadly left on the cutting room floor…Amber, in essence, is transported into the shoes of Ella Louise Ford just as she’s burnt at the stake, experiencing what she experienced…until she wakes up. It all felt so real. I miss that nightmare.

Are you a fan of the Horror genre? What are some of your favorite authors, novels, films and/or filmmakers?

I am, first and foremost, a fan. To this day, I feel more like a fan than a participant. I’ve had the good fortune to meet some of my heroes in peer-like environments, and I have to try hard to keep from completely making a fool out of myself and geeking out.

Poe needs a nod. I’ve been cribbing from him since the get-go. Shirley Jackson, too. I can’t let go of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I recently had a winner’s streak of reading The Laws of the Skies by Gregoire Courtois, Wilder Girls by Rory Power and Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy back-to-back. Utter hog heaven.

I bow down before Cronenberg and Carpenter. Dead Ringers remains a favorite. I must acknowledge my obsession with John D. Hancock’s 1971 classic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It’s a primary source of inspiration for The Remaking. I truly adore this film.

What do you think it is about Horror that draws you, as an author, and/or readers to these types of stories?

I love how subjective horror is. What you may be afraid of might not scare me, and vice versa. There are certainly universals, but there’s such a wide and vast expanse of fears to tap into…So many things to be scared of!

When I find a film or novel that inspires fear within me, I get to absorb that fear and take it with me. It’s mine now. I get to process that fear. Come to grips with it. A book asks the reader to meet it halfway. It’s such a personal experience, reading. A movie exists in time, it’s two hours long—but the pace of a book is set by the reader, where you can come and go and imbibe however much you can stomach. It’s yours. You do it alone, on your own. Your imagination takes the raw data of the story and it becomes the movie in your mind. When a book makes that kind of an impact on a reader—on me—it never leaves. I’ll keep playing that film in my imagination for years to come.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

I can’t say I believe in ghosts…but that doesn’t stop me from seeing them everywhere. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and that makes it very difficult for me to crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

My TBR pile is a tower right now. Let’s see, there’s…The Cabin at the End of the World and Growing Things by Paul Tremblay, The Return by Rachel Harrison, Five Midnights by Ann Davila Cardinal, If You See Her by Ania Ahlborn, Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin, Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson and The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

There are a few…That Terrible Halloween Night by James Stevenson, The Far Side by Gary Larson, Monsters of North America by William Wise, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

I started reading Stephen King in the 7th grade. His short story collections Night Shift and Skeleton Crew were pretty pivotal in my literary upbringing, but his namesake struck terror in my mother’s heart…I had to hide them at night.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Ai, Katherine Dunn, Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Lee Masters, and Stephen King.

What is a book you've faked reading?

I’m not naming any names. I try to finish every book I start. I may skim now and then, but god help me, I see it through. Most of the times.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I remember the rotating paperback rack at the local grocery store when I was a kid, filled with pulpy horror novels and bodice rippers. There was some forbidden fruit on that rack…but the one book I bought, scrounging my allowance, was Pin by Andrew Neiderman. That cover terrified me as a child…It had one of those cutaway covers! The kind where the image changes when you open it. Flip the page and there’s another, even creepier cover hiding underneath. I had to have it.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I cannot begin to express the impact the poet Ai had on my life. Her first few collections—Cruelty, Killing Floor and Vice—were pivotal to my learning how an author can capture first-person narrative. Really distill a voice on the page. I can even tell you the exact poem that did it—“The Kid.” Changed my life forever.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

I’ve bought more copies of Geek Love for friends’ Christmas presents than any other book. A close second is The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

This year, I reread a lot of favorites—Black Hole, Blood Meridian, Geek Love, Rosemary’s Baby. I’d give anything to read those books for the first time again.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Maybe it’s just the holiday season, but I’ve got two boys and we’ve been on a tear through the Halloween bests. It would be impossible for the fam to cram it all in one day, but I’d say—The corn maze at Queens Farm, the Jack O’ Lantern Blaze in Sleepy Hollow and apple picking at Apple Dave’s Orchards. That would be a good day.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Oh…Man. That’s a really good question. There’s no way I’ll be able to answer this. Very few people have read my earlier books. The question I’d hope to be asked would be about them. Preferably by someone who’s flipped through one or two of them. My answer would begin with a bear hug.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to find a home at Quirk for a couple more books…I’m knee-deep in my next novel right now, titled Whisper Down the Lane, which we’re aiming to have on shelves around Fall 2020.

I’m also writing a new ongoing comic series for Marvel titled Scream: Curse of Carnage. Issue #1 comes out on November 27. Just in time for Thanksgiving!

Chapman, Clay McLeod

In The Remaking, Clay McLeod Chapman illustrates both how powerful stories can be and how we fuel stories with the power of re-telling. He begins with a horrific story, based on the real events from a small town in Kentucky, and shows how this single occurrence becomes the subject of two feature films and a subject for endless speculation by a worldwide audience. The plot is infinitely plausible because everything that happens seems likely and even, at times, predictable, which makes the horror aspects of the story that much more affecting and terrifying. Chapman also chronicles the changes in how we hear and tell stories over the last half-century, moving from stories told around a campfire to the grindhouse films of the 70s, to the big-budget films of the 90s and on to the podcasts of today. This is a chilling and thoughtful read.