Sunday, March 24, 2013

Interview with Chandler Klang Smith

Chandler and I met in the Lit classes of Bennington College. She's been furiously pursuing fiction ever since, and her debut novel has just come out with Chizine Publications. It's unusual take on circuses called Goldenland Past Dark. I'll let her tell you what it's about.

John: For newcomers, what is the plot of Goldenland Past Dark? 
Chandler: Goldenland Past Dark starts out as a coming-of-age story of sorts, about a sixteen-year-old hunchbacked clown named Webern Bell who runs away to join a ramshackle circus lead by his friend and mentor, the ringmaster Dr. Show. Despite his successful escape from home, though, Webern is still haunted by memories of his dark family history, which become creative fuel for the surreal clown acts that come to him in dreams. But when heartbreak, grief, and the reappearance of his sinister sisters send his life into a downward spiral, the already thin line between fantasy and reality blurs, and the world of his imagination threatens to consume him completely.

John: What attracted you to a traveling circus for this novel? Did it start with them, or with a character idea who wound up fitting in one, or something else entirely? 

Chandler: It was a bit of a combination.  Originally, I started out writing stories about Webern Bell's childhood (some of which you can read on my website here), but I always knew I eventually wanted him to become a clown; I just didn't know that part of his life would become the subject of an entire book.

Circuses appeal to me as the subject for fiction because they're families of misfits -- people held together more because of their shared status as outsiders than because of any real commonality with each other. Writing about one gave me a great license to create a variety of characters, and to put them in conflict. I also wanted to explore the practice of a dying art form -- in the 1960's, when the novel is set, the circus was no longer as important to a culture increasingly gravitating toward television and the movies for entertainment.  As a writer, I suppose there's something I identify with about that.

John: There’s a deal of fiction about circuses. Are there any tropes or traditional representations you wanted to explore or subvert? 

Chandler: The big thing I wanted to get away from was the cliche of the creepy clown. John Wayne Gacy and It by Stephen King have created an indeliable impression in people's minds, and that's understandable, but clowning/mime is a form of artistic expression that dates back to the earliest forms of live entertainment, and when you look at performances by greats like Emmett Kelly, Marcel Marceau, and Charlie Chaplin (just to name a few who are easy to find on YouTube), you see that they're able to convey a whole world of expressive emotion within its time-honored constraints.  It strikes me as so dismissive and wrong to look at all that and just say, flatly, "Clowns scare me."

What I do think is spooky about clowning is the same thing that's spooky about any imaginative endeavor: the way it offers escape into an alternative persona and an unreal realm that may seem seductively more appealing than the artist's real life.

What is your favorite thing about the book? 

Chandler: I like Webern's clowning dream sequences; I feel like some of my strongest prose is in there.  I also like his romance with Nepenthe the Lizard Girl, and where it ends up going, but I'll stop there for fear of spoilers.

John: That's fair! So how did you come to work with ChiZine? They’re fantastic. 

Chandler: They are fantastic!  I actually discovered them on the Poets & Writers small press database, and as soon as I started looking at their website, I realized that their aesthetic was right up my alley.  It was a real eureka moment.  For folks reading this at home, I highly recommend checking out any of their other titles, especially Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall, The Inner City by Karen Heuler, Chasing the Dragon by Nick Kaufmann, and Sarah Court by Craig Davidson, just to name a few of my favorites.

John: How is ChiZine helping you promote the novel?

Chandler: I've been doing a bit of a blog tour, and they've been great about getting advance copies to reviewers.  So far I've been reviewed in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, so I'm pleased about that.

John: Were there any key influences on you in writing Goldenland Past Dark?

Chandler: The most important was easily Steven Millhauser; I'm consistently blown away by his ability to translate visual images into luminous, breathtaking prose.  And not just static images either; he can show you a magic trick, a knife-throwing act, a Saturday morning cartoon, all with a grace and eloquence that feels just effortless. 

I was also definitely influenced by Angela Carter, particularly her stupendous novels The Magic Toyshop and Nights at the Circus.  And I owe a debt to The Tin Drum, with its similarly stunted protagonist.

This is your debut novel. I'd love to wrap up asking: do you know what’s next for you?

Chandler: Another novel, about an alternative reality version of New York City under constant attack by dragons.  You can read a short excerpt from it here.

In addition to bringing an excerpt of her next novel, Chandler is also running a giveaway for Goldenland Past Dark. You can enter for free right here.


  1. Thank you John for bringing us an interview with an author whose work looks FASCINATING (drat you again).
    And thank you Chandler for the sneak peak into your work - I wish you every success, both for this book and the future.

  2. Chandler's book is indeed FASCINATING. But it is also moving, and even taking on such a huge topic as circuses and dysfunctional families and love, the writing is sound, clear, mellifluous and full of surprises. I appreciated learning more about the author's study of circuses, which must have been extensive, and her understanding of the art of great clowns, who we rarely see. Weber's dreams are indeed a feast for the imagination, but the whole novel is such. I will be reading this again soon, just to catch ideas I may have missed.

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