Clay McLeod Chapman Interview

Ghost Eaters explores the haunted spaces in the mind and in the local landscape.

Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman. Quirk Books. pp.304. $21.99.

Konstantin Rega: So what inspired this book?

Clay McLeod Chapman: Well, you know, I’m a Virginia boy through and through; I was born and raised in Richmond. My kind of narrative default is always to return to Virginia. If I close my eyes, and I kind of imagine where I want to set a new story, 99.9% of the time it’s going to be here because this is where I grew up, and it just feels like home. 

I mean, it’s kinda funny because I had never written a story set in Richmond proper before.

And, when you ask the question of what does it actually mean to be haunted. I couldn’t think of a more haunted, haunted location than Richmond. Because I feel like, anywhere you step you’re kind of walking on history, and a lot of history comes with ghosts. 

So how does the narrator kind of go into the kind of haunted history of Richmond? 

You have this basic premise of a “haunted drug” or a pill to see the dead. It’s this idea of some sort of psychic trauma, that kind of roots yourself to a very specific location. We talk about haunted houses, and it’s because something happened in that house that spirit, that ghost can’t leave that locale.

I think that can go a step further. And it’s not just haunted houses or haunted, tennis shoes, it’s haunted. It’s like a haunted region, a haunted land: the soil itself is haunted.

So when I think if I were to pop a pill allowing me to see ghosts, and I happened to be in Richmond, I would see anything and everything that happened within that particular location. So the kind of trauma of Richmond rises to the surface.

Did you always want to be a writer, when did you kind of come to it?

It’s funny. I was a terrible student. But I was very fortunate to kind of intersect with this company in Richmond called Studio Theater of Richmond. And there was this one particular artistic director by the name of Randy Strowman. And he spearheaded a statewide playwriting competition that goes back until, like, 1990.

I was in middle school and I entered this competition (to score some extra credit with my English Teacher). And at the state level, one of my plays was selected. Then I was immersed in this artistic culture with all of these older and other young playwriters.

I basically discovered my love for writing through this competition, living spending the summer at Gladding Residence Center at GCU

How did you approach this idea of drug use? Because it’s a hard thing to handle.

Yeah, it is hard. And I feel like you want to write about the topic with an empathetic presence. The origin of the story came about when I had a friend, who was very important to me, and I lost him to his addiction. And it was always one of the circumstances, beyond the grief itself, where this sort of self-critical antagonism over what we could have done to help him. 

And I think that kind of internal debate over how do you help someone who has to come into their own addictions and struggling with addiction. So I think the book is its own kind of call and response, is a personal internal debate that I’ve been having with myself over what I could have done differently had I been there for him.

Well, on a more positive note, what did you find about writing this book that was fun, that you enjoyed?

I mean, I love to be scared. And I love telling spooky stories. It’s a book that kind of explores all of these somber topics like addiction, like grief, exploring the kind of outer parameters of death and loss. 

I love ghost stories, the oral tradition that you find down South. I feel like there’s just this great value to spinning yarns and kind of immersing your, your listener, your reader, your audience in this notion that they are kind of being pulled into a story around the campfire.

So with that, who were your inspirations, which authors helped you along?

I mean, I imbibed so many ghost stories while I was writing it. Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor. I feel like I will always be chasing after the kind of first-person narrative of Poe. I want to be in his shoes, I want to live in his shadow.

From a kid onward, I’ve just loved Poe and the way he kind of brings the reader into his stories by always rooting them in a first-person narrative. Not only does he map out the landscape, but I think he just sets out this perfect template, not only horror stories or ghost stories, for mystery stories.

I wanted this to feel like it was firmly entrenched in the kind of traditional Gothic texts, but with a sharper edge to the narrative style.

So do you have anything else in the works? 

I’m always working on the next book. There are also few film and TV projects in the works, but I have to be a bit closed-lipped about them as they’re just on the horizon. 

But in all, I mean, it’s amazing to think that Ghost Eaters is getting out into the world. I think the audience I’m most trepidatious about are the Richmonders. I feel like they’re gonna call me out for every geographical snafu or something. So I’m just afraid I’m gonna lose my bona fides once they start reading.

Buy a copy at The Bookshop.

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review,, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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