Friday, 19 April 2013

Author Interview: Chandler Klang Smith

Novels: Goldenland Past Dark  
            - two ghostwritten YA novels


> What is Goldenland Past Dark about?

Goldenland Past Dark tells the story of a hunchbacked clown, Webern Bell, who survives unpleasant experiences by translating them into circus performances that come to him in dreams. When murder, heartbreak, and betrayal throw his life entirely off the rails, though, he loses his already frail grip on reality and falls into the vortex of his imagination. Other characters include a delusional ringmaster, a haughty Lizard Girl, an imaginary friend with a mind of his own, and a kindly, Scotch-swilling ape.

> What drew you to writing about a travelling circus?

Circuses are like misfit families, made up of people united by their difference from the norm – not necessarily their similarity or compatibility with each other. I was interested in the variety of characters a circus would allow me to use, and the colorful conflicts and personality clashes that would result. Also, as a writer in a culture that’s usually focused on celebrities and new media more than books, I wanted to explore an art form that was going out of fashion, as the circus was in the 1960’s, when my book is set.

> Were the various talents of the characters in your book drawn from real circus acts or did you create some of them yourself?  

It was really a combination. As part of my “research,” I attended a bunch of live circus, clown, and carnival shows: Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey, Cirque de Soleil, the New York Goofs, the Coney Island Sideshow, and most notably, Circus Contraption (an extraordinary vaudeville team from Seattle). I also watched many classic films, including Children of Paradise, Tod Browning’s Freaks, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, to get a sense of historical perspective. These all seeped into my imagination in various ways and informed the performances I describe in my book.

> You've ghostwritten two YA novels. How did that process differ from being published under your own name?

Ghostwriting taught me a lot about how to create a page-turning structure, and how to write quickly, even when I didn’t feel inspired or excited about it. But it’s not something I’d want to do again, unless the money was amazing. Writing is inherently an act of communication, and there’s something straining and false-feeling about speaking for that many pages in a voice that’s not your own.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I’m an only child, and, like many writers, grew up feeling lonely, awkward, and weird. Reading gave me a way of feeling connected not only with fictitious characters, but also with the authors who created them. My hope is that someday my books will reach readers the same way.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Probably not – a lot of terrible things happen to them! But I do greatly admire the way that clowns, stage magicians, and other performers can create their art on the spot, in front of a live audience. I wish I could do that.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

It’s ironic that I became a writer partly because of loneliness, because it’s one of the loneliest activities a person can undertake. So that’s the downside. The upside, though, is that it’s one of the few modes of creative expression where it’s possible to do practically anything you want. Unlike filmmaking or theater, you don’t have to consider the cost and logistics of special effects, costumes, or sets when you come up with fantastical imagery to use in your work. If you can find the words to describe it, then it’s there. To me, that’s magic.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had a lot of experience working in publishing prior to the publication of my first book, even successfully selling a nonfiction title by a client during a stint as an associate agent at a literary firm. So there weren’t a lot of surprises in the process for me… although I did learn that it feels very different when it’s your own work at stake!

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Don’t get too attached to your first draft of a novel – keep yourself open to reimagining even the major things, like structure and characterization.

> Any tips against writers block?

If you’re struggling to muster the enthusiasm and energy required to get through a scene or expository passage, take a second to pull back and consider what purpose you want the section to serve in the work. Why does it matter? Too often, I think writers (myself included) get it in their heads that certain events or ideas have to be included in the book when they’re actually just an unnecessary slog – for writer and reader both. Jonathan Lethem has a great quote about how to avoid this conundrum: "I learned to write fiction the way I learned to read fiction - by skipping the parts that bored me."

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