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Horror Master Goes Multimedia 

Richmond native breaks into another realm as part of Jordan Peele’s high-profile podcast venture.

click to enlarge Author Clay McLeod Chapman, who graced the print cover of Style Weekly many years ago, is experiencing a "sliver of a moment," he says. Not only is he promoting his new book, "Ghost Eaters," but last week it was announced by Variety that he is a co-writer for the first podcast from horror icon, Jordan Peele ("Get Out").

Author Clay McLeod Chapman, who graced the print cover of Style Weekly many years ago, is experiencing a "sliver of a moment," he says. Not only is he promoting his new book, "Ghost Eaters," but last week it was announced by Variety that he is a co-writer for the first podcast from horror icon, Jordan Peele ("Get Out").

I initially reached out to former Richmonder Clay McLeod Chapman to talk about his work on Starr Foster’s upcoming “Page to Stage” dance production, but found out he was on the road promoting his new book, “Ghost Eaters.” He was getting a bump in recognition thanks to the September release of the movie, “Wendell and Wild,” based on an unpublished novel he co-wrote with the movie’s director, Henry Selick.

Then, just a couple days after I talked to Chapman, Variety magazine trumpeted the release of the podcast, “Quiet Part Loud,” the first venture into podcasting by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions and also co-written by Chapman. Another phone call was clearly in order.

In the midst of this flurry of projects premiering in a variety of different formats, Chapman was particularly excited about the podcast. “The sheer scope of this podcast is just so massive,” he says. “I mean, it feels like 'Godzilla' boiled down to a radio play.”

The 12-episode series features the vocal talents of stars like Tracy Letts and Christina Hendricks in a story of a right-wing radio host (Letts) who loses his platform after spreading xenophobic rumors and then tries to regain it by making a deal with a demonic entity. In a statement announcing the podcast, Peele said, “I wanted us to make the scariest podcast of all time.“

Chapman has rightfully earned his place as a scare master after more than 25 years of mining his Southern Gothic imagination for inventively creepy ideas. He first gained recognition as a teenager for a rollicking storytelling performance series called “The Pumpkin Pie Show” that he produced over many years in venues around Richmond. The show featured Chapman dramatically performing his dark and haunting short stories backed by the band One Ring Zero.

He left town for Sarah Lawrence College in 1996 where he first crossed paths with Jordan Peele years before the sketch comedy series, “Key & Peele,” would thrust the comedian into the public eye. After graduating, Chapman’s first collection of short stories, “Rest Area,” was released in 2002, followed by his first novel, “Miss Corpus,” in 2003. He now lives in Brooklyn but remains rooted in Richmond, where “Ghost Eaters” and most of his books have been set.

“I can't leave Richmond, it's in my mind all the damn time,” Chapman says. “If I close my eyes and think, ‘Where am I gonna set this story,’ my narrative default is still my hometown, even though I haven't lived there in over 20 years.”

“Ghost Eaters” explores the premise that a new designer drug has been developed that allows users to commune with the dead. When the character Erin learns her ex-boyfriend has died of an overdose in Richmond, she investigates and falls down a spiral of grief-induced addiction. Vulture pegged the book as one of the best horror novels of 2022 (so far).

click to enlarge Clay McLeod Chapman on the Feb. 23, 2005 cover of Style Weekly.
  • Clay McLeod Chapman on the Feb. 23, 2005 cover of Style Weekly.

Chapman has been thankful that the loosening of pandemic restrictions has allowed him to travel to promote the book. “The best kind of response I’ve gotten is that people will feel compelled to share their own stories,” says Chapman. “Not their ghost stories, but their own stories of addiction or of losing family or loved ones to addiction.”

“Grief acts like this kind of connective tissue that yolks readers to each other and even to me,” he continues. “There’s something really compelling about that.”

Chapman’s work on “Wendell and Wild,” a stop-motion animated film, was completed back in 2016 after Peele introduced him to “Nightmare Before Christmas” auteur Henry Selick.

“I had crossed paths with Jordan at Sarah Lawrence and then we intersected again in 2015 after ‘Key & Peele’ ended and before ‘Get Out” came out,” remembers Chapman. “‘Wendell and Wild’ was just starting to be talked about and Jordan said, ‘we should bring this guy on board to help.’”

“The process has been phenomenal,” he says. “What I love about stop motion is that you’re intensely aware of the hands that were behind it. The craftsmanship that went into it is all up there on the screen.”

In addition to the podcast, book and movie, Chapman has a potential TV series in development with Amazon and regularly writes the stories for graphic novels, like Marvel’s “Devil’s Reign: Villains for Hire” series.

“I just want to hold on to everything,” he says. “It feels like I’m having just a sliver of a moment and I want to saturate and soak and marinate because, lord knows, December’s going to roll around and it’s going to be, ‘OK, time to move on to the next book.’”

“Quiet Part Loud” premiers on Nov. 15 on all popular podcast platforms.

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