Sunday, May 4, 2014

Raising Hackles With Jeff Chapman

I accidentally stumbled across author, Jeff Chapman, purely by accident. We discovered we were both Jayhawkers (graduates of the University of Kansas. Yay!), and had a mutual interest in horror fiction. Jeff's a terrific writer, able to raise the hackles on the back of your neck with smooth and beautiful prose. Give it up for Jeff!

*So, Jeff, everything you've written has been very macabre. Why the morbidity?

Morbidity seems to be in my blood. A tale dark and dreary always excites my interest. Fall and winter are my favorite times of the year. I don't know. That's just how I'm wired. Maybe I read too much Poe and Greek mythology in my youth.

*I also detect an old-fashioned voice at work here. I'm almost hesitant to classify your tales as "horror." I don't mean this in a bad way, quite the contrary. Your tales bring me back to a time when horror wasn't overwhelmed by stabbers, sadism and grue. Instead the reader is treated to poetic prose and subtle chills. How do you categorize your writing? (I know, I know, I'm asking you to put a label on it.)

One of the reviewers of Last Request described it as soft-horror. That's such an apt term, particularly for Last Request, that I started using it in my descriptions. I usually aim for conflicted characters, often suffering from guilt. Entrapment is another favorite and, having grown up on the plains, I think you can be just as trapped in a wide open windy space as in a small box. My favorite horror story is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, a vampire story and precursor to Dracula. Maybe the 19th-century is where that "old-fashioned voice" comes from.

*I feel your pain, brother, being trapped in Kansas!

The horror's definitely of a psychological slant in your tales. In my favorite work of yours, you like to put the characters through the traumatic turn-styles of terror-filled situations. (So, maybe there's a bit of sadism in your work, after all!). But I love how, as a reader, I'm suffering alongside your characters. Do these scenarios work so well, because they scare Jeff Chapman?

In Highway 24 the protagonist meets terror and guilt on a lonely highway in the middle of the night. I've been alone on those highways before, and if you let yourself drift into the right mood, they can be very frightening. I'm also a bit claustrophobic. I've lain awake at night worrying about being buried alive. Thank God for embalming.

*Never thought I'd read somebody blessing embalming.

Your last two stories have had hair-raising scenes set in crypts. What's the deal and what are you not telling us?

Crypts are deliciously creepy. Humans generally separate the living from the dead and limit their contact with corpses. Placing a character in a dwellling reserved for the dead immediately ups the creep factor. My favorite character from Last Request is the Sexton, whose spent decades talking to the "ghosties" down in the crypt. I find his eccentricities hilarious. The inspiration for the Sexton comes from Dicken's Stony Durdles, the odd gravedigger in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The caretaker of the cemetary in Highway 24 is rather strange as well.

*I'm a fan of everything of yours I've read. But with your newest work, Last Request: A Victorian Gothic, I really think you've hit your stride. Your prose, almost Victorian at heart, matches up perfectly with the period setting. Some of the scenes, particularly amongst the servants, reminded me of "Downton Abbey (Okay, I'm a closet fan)." What inspired this macabre tale about a night in the crypt?

I saw a reference once to a crypt in which the future occupant had placed a bell that could be wrung from inside in case of a premature burial. Premature burials are also a frequent theme in Poe's work. I thought about what someone might do to make certain they were dead and cutting off the head came to mind. The story wouldn't work as well now with most people being embalmed so I chose a nineteenth century setting. The rest of the story flowed from the initial problem and the setting. And yes, I love those Victorian and Edwardian costume dramas.

*What came first in Last Request? Your awesome hook (I'll let you explain it, if you'd like, but you won't get spoilers from me), the setting, or the plot?

The hook came first, the idea of an aging claustrophobe asking his relatives to cut off his head postmortem, just to make sure he's dead.

*Highway 24 is a great ghost story. You and I both share Kansas upbringings (gasp!) to a certain extent. And I can't recall if you actually stated this took place in Kansas, but I'm sure it did. Absolutely know it did! Give everyone a little background about Highway 24. And, putting you on the spot here...any truth to the protagonist's tale about his traveling salesman father?

I grew up in Beloit, a small Kansas town in the north central part of the state. U.S. 24 passes to the north of town. Yes, the story is set in Kansas and the town the protagonist visits is a conglomeration of Beloit and neighboring towns. The setting is rooted in reality but the ghostly (and angry) girl on the highway as well as the story about the father and son are pure fiction. Roads in rural Kansas can be lonely and spooky at night.

*The Crooked House of Coins was the first work of yours I read. And it still gives me the creeps thinking about it. Your mission, should you accept it? Scare everyone into reading it!

I wrote "The Crooked House of Coins" for an anthology of stories featuring crooked houses. I had wanted to do a "Fall of the House of Usher" kind of story but I didn't have the ingredients for a plot until I heard a news story about the 1933 Double Eagles. These gold coins are illegal to possess and were never officially circulated as the United States was going off the gold standard, but an enterprising treasury employee stole a few from the mint before the coins were destroyed. Needless to say, they are very valuable and highly prized among collectors. The story centers on two cousins racing against time to find a collection of the Double Eagle coins hidden in the house's structure. Their great grandfather left cryptic clues to the coins' whereabouts. He also hung himself in the third-story ballroom, a victim of financial ruin during the Great Depression. The cousins may be the only people in the house, but they're not the only beings in the house. Some ghosts are greedy beyond the grave.

*I keep bugging you about writing a full-length novel. Now get on it, you'll create a great one. What's next off your sick keyboard?

I'm working on a couple novellas. In "The Masque," a young artist is asked to create a mask to cover the scarring on a young woman's face. The woman's brother implies that the mask will help her to find a suitable husband, but as the protagonist falls in love with the disfigured sister, he learns that the relationships in the house aren't what they seem. "The Masque" pushes some of the subtle suggestions in "The Fall of the House of Usher" to their logical extreme. "The Quick and the Damned Damned Dead" is a frontier adventure story set during the American Revolution. Think Daniel Boone versus British soldiers as zombies. When those are done, I have a short fantasy novel to write based on my story "Esme's Amulet," about a young girl's dealings with a very nasty witch. I'm also collaborating with a friend on a werewolf novel set among the Pilgrims. 

*Sounds great, Jeff, and I can't wait to read them. There you go, folks! For some chilling late-night reads, seek out Jeff's works. You can thank (or hate) me later for the sleepless nights! Here's where you can find his tales:

Last Request:
Highway 24:
The Crooked House of Coins:


  1. Thanks for interviewing me on your blog today, Stuart. Great questions.

    1. No problem, Jeffro! Anything I can do to help get your name and awesome writing out there.

  2. Excellent interview! Let's see... soft-horror meets Downton Abbey? Sounds like my cup of tea. Welcome to my TBR list, Mr. Chapman.

    1. Do it, Heather! You won't be sorry. Jeff's a pretty great writer.

    2. Thanks, Heather. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed the questions and answers. Like Heather says, you are on my TBR list now, what with the soft-horror and Downton Abbey connection. All the best of luck to you.

    1. Hey, Matthew, thanks for dropping in. Jeff, I would recommend you start dropping Downton Abbey into your promotion. Seems to be a very, very, British drawing card.And everyone knows everything sounds better with a British accent.

    2. Thanks, Matthew. Honored to be on your TBR.

  4. Oh, now you've done it, Stuart! I have to go and buy some more of his stories. However, the thing I like about his stories, is the fact that they're short. They're something about reading a short story that makes me feel like I've accomplished something.

    1. Oh no, I've been aiming to write longer stories. : ) Thanks for reading, Suzanne.