Today, author Chandler Klang Smith is here to talk about her recent release, Goldenland Past Dark, published by ChiZine publications. Chandler grew up in Springfield, Illinois, before dropping out of high school early and running away to join the circus, or rather, the most circus-like educational environment she could find, namely, Bennington College. After four years of costume parties, lonely mountains, brilliant professors, passionate 3 a.m. aesthetic arguments, and dark nights of the soul, she graduated in 2005 with a concentration in literature and philosophy and journeyed on to the MFA Creative Writing Program at Columbia University, from which she graduated in 2007. At Columbia, she began the project that would develop into Goldenland Past Dark and discovered the joys and terrors of a city grown large beyond all reason, a mutant place nourished by history and money and the redemptive elixir of art. In New York City, she has enmeshed herself variously in the great machine of publishing: as the ghostwriter of two young adult novels for Alloy Entertainment Group, as a reader for the Paris Review, as an assistant/associate agent for a boutique literary agency, and currently, as the Events Coordinator for the KGB Bar. She still loves books.
You can learn more about Chandler at her website.
About Goldenland Past Dark: 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 stunted hunchback 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.
And now, let’s hear from Chandler…
Give us the “elevator pitch” for your book. First I push the “door close” button. Then I turn to the person, really slowly, and whisper, “I’m obsessed with clowns.”
Seriously, my novel is a coming-of-age story set in the 1960s about a young man named Webern Bell, who stunted his growth and became a hunchback due to a childhood accident. He joins the circus and deals with his problems through the art of clowning, and sometimes by enlisting the help of an imaginary friend named Wags. But when Webern’s life seriously starts to fall apart, the already-tenuous line between reality and fantasy blurs, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Describe your favorite scene from the new book–and why is it your favorite? My favorite scene was also the hardest to write; I think I started it over from scratch at least half a dozen times. It’s when Webern returns to the circus after attending his grandmother’s funeral, only to discover that his girlfriend, the Lizard Girl, has, with the help of a dermatological wonder-drug, shed her scales and become a beautiful young woman. In this scene, I wanted to convey her joy and excitement, and his sinking feelings of doom and insecurity: it’s great news for her, but terrible news for their relationship. It was incredibly satisfying when I finally felt like I hit the right note with it.
What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile? The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington – it looks wonderfully weird.
Favorite book when you were a child. I always loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
Book you’ve faked reading (Moby Dick is leading the votes on this question!): I have a lot of bizarre gaps in my reading history, partly since I went to a college with no required courses and partly because I don’t usually read a book just because I feel like I should – it appeals to me about as much as dating someone out of pity. But lying makes me even more uncomfortable than owning up to my ignorance, so “faking it” isn’t really my style
Book you’re an evangelist for: For awhile, I actually described myself as an evangelist for Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem – I still recommend it constantly. It captures the lived experience of a close friendship better than anything else I’ve read, as well as the jarring contradictions of a creative life in New York City. Plus, not a lot of other novels have made me both laugh and cry by the end.
Book you’ve bought for the cover: I love Shaun Tan’s gorgeous picture books: The Arrival, The Red Tree, Tales from Outer Suburbia. Maybe they’re intended for children, but I don’t care.
Book that changed your life: The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright. A few years ago, I was working in publishing and going through a very difficult time with my writing; it seemed useless and meaningless, as did pretty much everything else. I wasn’t even reading much for pleasure at that point, but for some reason I brought a copy of this novel with me on a bus trip during a rainstorm. The sky was full of thunder and electricity, and so was the book. By the time I arrived at my destination, I felt like the ghost of America had punched me in the soul.
Favorite line from a book: In The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, there’s a moment when Oedipa, the protagonist, asks her insane psychiatrist Dr. Hilarius to talk her out of a fantasy. I love his response: “ ‘Cherish it!’ cried Hilarius, fiercely. ‘What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don’t let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.’ ”
Book you most want to read again for the first time: Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser. The first time I read this novel, I re-experienced childhood – with all its scents, tastes, sensations, and thought processes – with almost surreal clarity. I’d love to have that shock of recognition again.
Favorite book about books or writing: Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter. He’s so articulate, it’s like a superpower.
The giveaway: commenters get an entry to win your choice of any book in the ChiZine Publications catalog. Now…go!