Thursday, September 22, 2022

Interview: Clay McLeod Chapman on Writing, Horror, Ghost Eaters, and Wendell and Wilde



Halloween and the month of October is upon us! So, for ATB Writers, I figured, why not try to bring on a spooky-themed guest to talk about writing along with their work.

 

And wow, did I find someone pretty epic to interview… 

 

Author Clay McLeod Chapman has been writing some of the most terrifying stories for the past two decades. A horror aficionado by every measurable standard you can literarily (yes, that’s a word) think of, Clay’s longstanding career writing shorts, plays, comics, and novels, has made for one hell of a writing resume.

 

His live-action The Pumpkin Pie Show was once called a brilliant hypderliterary thriller by Timeout NY. He’s also been published at Marvel comics, with his most recent run in Devil’s Reign: Villains for Hire, having released just earlier this year. 

 

In October, Clay has a movie coming out on Netflix called Wendell and Wilde, an adaptation of an unreleased novel co-written by both Clay and legendary filmmaker, Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline). Early reviews of the movie rave about the reuniting of comedy duo Key and Peele, With Variety magazine, even calling the film a forerunner for best-animated picture

 

Just days ago, Clay also released his long-anticipated book Ghost Eaters. A story about loss, drugs, and… well, check out our interview below to learn more.

 

 

First, you have a tremendous body of work that you’ve released but the one thing I see that almost always resonates is horror. Can you tell us what it is you love about the horror genre and why it resonates so well in your writing?

Clay: Horror has always been there for me, you know? Ever since I was a frightened little child… I’ve always been afraid of the world and that has translated itself into the stories that I want to tell.



You’ve had an illustrious career having written screenplays, books, comics, short films,

and stage plays. How do you healthily balance so many writing projects?

“Healthy” is a bit subjective… I’d almost posit my writing habit is nearly the opposite.

I’m kidding, but still. The way that I maintain any sense of stability—mentally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise—is to rotate my writing. I work on something, obsess over it for a draft, then volley it out to the powers-that-be, whether that’s an editor or beta reader or whomever. From there, I rotate to the next project, obsess over it, then volley that one out.

Usually, by the time I’ve volleyed one project out, I’m ready to receive feedback on the previous project and the cycle continues anew.


Oh! No sleep… That’s another part of the process.



What were your major influences in your youth? Was there a specific moment that

pushed you to pursue writing? 

So many, but right off the top of my head…

I found Stephen King’s short stories in middle school. Night Shift and Skeleton Crew were pretty fundamental texts. The poet Ai. Her work was absolutely essential. Poe. Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. The Tin Drum. Eric Bogosian and Spalding Gray. The Story of the Eye. David Cronenberg. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.


What are your beliefs on the notion of having heroes versus being your own? Do you think your writing appeals to a specific reader of sorts, and if they could take away a message from your art, what do you think that would be? 

Ooof. That’s a toughie because I think I’m still struggling to seek out my readers. I may end up dead before I ever find out what might be appealing to my work for others… I wish I knew, because then perhaps I could focus on it. Harness it.

I used to be enamored with the idea of eliciting sympathy for the devil. That one could create empathy for monsters or monstrous people. I’m not certain I do that with my writing anymore, but that was a guiding principle in the beginning.

Now it’s just… I don’t know. Can I tell a story that resonates? That lingers? What’s the kind of story that I can write that someone will want to tell someone else?


Ghost stories often contain elements about something left behind. A past forgotten. An abandoned geography. Can you talk about how important locations, and specifically, history are to your work?


Well, I’m a southern boy. Born in the Blue Ridge and raised in Richmond, Virginia. Growing up, I was always intensely aware of the fact that I was always walking on history.


Somebody was buried below my feet at nearly every step. The South defines itself by its past and yet can’t seem to rectify it. Come to grips with itself. It’s a haunted corner of the country, you know?


That really sank into my psyche as a child and I think it still resonates. Ghost have always been the metaphor—the spoonful of sugar—to address those lingering faults in an engaging way.



You’ve been in the game for a long time. What do you think has changed over the years in the industry and do you have any words of wisdom for anyone starting out today? 


Survive. Survive any way you can. Protect yourself and your work. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how out there it may be, and learn how to do it as quickly as you can. The only real success I’ve had is longevity. I’m not a bestseller or an award-winner, but I get to tell the stories I want to tell.


The long haul is a hell of a lot different than what we constitute as success. You just put in the time. Your work might not be a million people’s favorite thing… but what if it’s a thousand people’s favorite thing? A hundred? Ten? Is it still worth it to you?


You’ve got to be honest with yourself in regards to what’s your personal definition of success because it might be different than what the industry dictates.



Alright, specific work questions! You’ve worked on Carnage, Edge of Spider-Verse, and Venomverse. These are some very beloved comic book titles. What’s it like working with Marvel and how’d you break into writing comics?


It’s absurd, but my origin story is this: I taught a playwriting workshop eons ago for high school students and Ellie Pyle was one of the writers in the class. She eventually when to college, graduated, got an internship at Marvel Comics, worked her way up the ranks until she herself became an editor… and then, like, ten years later, she reached out to me and asked if I wanted to write for Spider-Man.


It was an absolute dream come true. You just never know who you’re going to meet and at what point in your life you’re going to meet them, so just be nice to Everybody. Working with Marvel is wonderful because they invite you to play in their sandbox with all their toys. They have the coolest action figures. You wanna play with Deadpool? Here’s Deadpool… Scream? Here’s Scream.



It’s scary. It’s indie. And the New York horror scene really seems to love it. Can you describe what the “Pumpkin Pie Show” is to someone who has never seen it? How are you so good at these creepy live-reading performances?!


Ha! Oh, man… That’s my band. I was always that guy who wanted to be a musician but could never play an instrument or carry a tune to save his life, so I took the elements of a live punk rock concert and insinuated them into a theatrical-performance-storytelling-thingy and that became the Pumpkin Pie Show. It’s just a set list of Poe-infused diatribes. 


Imagine a roster of monologues where the performers directly address the audience and things get a little sweaty.



You just released a book called ‘Ghost Eaters’. Can you tell us what it’s about, its psychedelic angle, and most importantly, where people can find a copy? 


Ghost Eaters is about a haunted drug. Pop a pill, see the dead. It’s about grief and addiction and the past not being entirely through with us. It’s about losing someone we loved and not being able to let go of them. It’s about ghosts. Lots and lots of ghosts. So many ghosts.


If you’re going to write a book about a hallucinogenic that allows you to see spirits, you damn well better bring your psychedelic A-game… Things get pretty trippy. And gloopy. It’s a doozy. You can find Ghost Eaters wherever you buy your books from… Support your local bookstore!



Finally, early reviews from Toronto were absolutely raving this month. Can you tell us about the upcoming Netflix movie Wendell and Wilde? What was it like writing with Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline stop-motion savant, Henry Selick?


Henry’s a visionary. People are going to love this story. It’s bonkers. He really throws the kitchen sink into the mix. There’s going to be a limited theatrical release on October 21st , then it’ll hit Netflix for everyone on October 28th. A perfect way to usher in Halloween with the fam.



Seriously, it’s a project with both Henry Selick and comedy masterminds, Key and Peele. How are you not letting all of this get to your head? Have any advice on staying humble and working hard for any of us that’s awestruck, such as myself?


Work comes and goes. You just got to keep focusing on the next story, the next project.



You’re attending NYCC as well. Can you do a shout-out promoting the panel you’re participating in?


Yes! I’m so excited… I’ll be on the Spooks, Shivers and Shrieks horror panel alongside Princess Weekes (The MarySue), Rachel Harrison (Such Sharp Teeth), Eric LaRocca (Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke), Katrina Monroe (They Drown our Daughters), and Vincent Tirado (Burn Down, Rise Up)… Saturday, October 8 th at 2 PM. Hall 1B02. See you there!

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Thanks again to Clay McLeod Chapman for doing this! You can get a copy of Ghost Eaters wherever books are sold or check him out at NYCC.


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