As part of our project to keep up with former Structo contributors, we recently spoke with issue 11 author Ethan Chapman.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I’m working on a few short stories that I’m submitting to magazines as well as sending off to competitions. I’m also trying to write a novel (of course!) from one of my short stories, after an agent read one of my published stories and wanted to see if I‘d be interested in turning it into a novel. I’m also taking acting lessons and I’ve also got ideas for a play as well as some short films that I’d like to write and act in. Trying to keep busy!
In issue 11 you mentioned a potential project influenced by your work at the Trainstation Gym. Anything in the works there?
The idea about the Trainstation Gym has been talked about a few times with my friend Mark who owns it. We’d love it to be a TV series in the vein of Clocking Off. We’ve thrown some ideas around but they’re just ideas at the moment, but hopefully we can get these ideas together and put them into some sort of order and go from there. It would be great if we could. So far we’ve got some rough ideas about characters as well as a few storylines about bodybuilding and powerlifting contests as well as a few extra marital affairs. We’re going for drama in every sense of the word!
Your short story ‘Long Distance’ seems to have one carefully-placed foot in magical realism. How do you feel about that categorization?
Yeah I think that’s a fair assessment. I just love the ordinary mixing with the extraordinary or the abnormal. I guess I’m quite interested in how easy you can become detached from the world as you know it and how your thoughts can then become warped and everything around becomes strange. Like The Doors song: “People are strange when you’re a stranger…” It manifests itself in so many ways. The way you can get caught up on someone you like, for instance, and every look they give and everything they say you obsess over. How quickly thoughts can turn obsessive and detach you from what you’ve thought as normal up to that point. I like authors such as Kafka, Julio Cortazar, Haruki Murakami, Nikolai Gogol, where they write about these strange things happening and it’s just accepted as part of life and not feeling the need to address it, to explain it. Though I do remember reading recently ‘The Invention of Morel’ by Adolfo Bioy Casares where the mystery is explained at the end, and it’s just brilliant!
[In ‘Long Distance’] I remember I didn’t explain why he was receiving phone calls in the story and a few good friends who read it asked me “Was he perhaps suffering from mental illness? Did it happen at all?” One of my good friends came to his own conclusion that he probably just wandered into a neighbour’s house! I didn’t give an answer one way or the other, and it’s really amazing as a writer to have your work discussed like that. My friends would ask me to tell them what was actually happening and I’d tell them whatever they thought was right, because I think whatever you take away from it is yours. Your interpretation is all that matters.
Does music influence the way you write?
Yes, music influences my writing quite a bit. Not as in I listen to music, because I like to write in silence, but I might hear some lyrics in a song and suddenly have an idea for a short story or a line for something that either starts off a story or fits into one, or that I’ll write down and save for something else down the line. I’ll hear some lyrics by Ryan Adams or The Doors or bands such as Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Big Star, Semisonic, The Lawrence Arms, Against Me!, and I’ll suddenly have an idea.
How did you find Structo?
I think I found Structo on a list of literary magazines that an article said were doing really good work and that I should submit to. I can’t remember where the article was now. I think it was a top five, possibly. But Structo was a magazine that I submitted exclusively to for a couple of years before I got accepted. I remember eventually getting an email saying one of my stories hadn’t been accepted but that it was getting closer to what Structo liked, which made my day even though it wasn’t accepted! Just that validation of progress, knowing that I was getting closer to something.
But back then I was writing short stories but not reading a lot of short stories, not enough anyway, and then I remember reading ‘Airships’ by Barry Hannah and just thinking wow. It was unlike anything I’d read before. I’ve always been into a lot of Southern literature, writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Joe Lansdale. I’ve always loved things set in the south, whether it be the UK or America. Maybe because I live in a rural area and I love the laid back atmosphere of it all. But ‘Airships’ really got me into writing short stories, just for the way he wrote; every sentence seemed to have something mischievous and electric humming through it, grotesque but also funny and literary and confusing. After that I began to read short story collections more and more, things like Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay, Welcome to the Monkeyhouse by Kurt Vonnegut, Werewolves in their Youth by Michael Chabon, Sixty Stories and Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme… I love them. I’m always searching on Amazon and clicking “Customers who bought this item also bought…” and getting sidetracked scrolling, getting lost down that rabbit hole of similarly bought books. You can spend a lot of time doing that, let me tell you.
What are you currently reading?
Currently I’m reading Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn. It’s a surfing noir, I guess you could say. He also wrote an amazing book called Tapping the Source, which apparently was the basis, at least initially, for Point Break. He’s a brilliant writer. I just devour his books. I’m also reading Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser, Omnibus Vol. 1 of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run on Daredevil, as well as David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, George Saunder’s Tenth of December and Rick Bass’s Lives of Rocks. I might be reading too many books, maybe.
But I also have a list of authors I repeatedly go back to. Haruki Murakami is one of these, and I remember a few years ago reading The Wind Up Chronicle and Norwegian Wood and looking up from reading both of these and starting to see the world a little differently. He does that to you. I think that’s why he’s so popular. I also love Richard Brautigan, who can be funny and weird, such as in Sombrero Fallout, The Abortion, and The Hawkline Monster, but who can also be heart breaking such as in So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away. James Crumley I like a lot—The Last Good Kiss is just perfection. Ray Bradbury, whose style is completely his own in Something Wicked This Way Comes, is just fantastic. I read a lot of Joe Lansdale. It doesn’t take me long to get through one of his books. His Hap and Leonard series is brilliant, but his other books such as Cold in July (which was recently made into a brilliant film), The Bottoms, and A Fine Dark Line are also fantastic. I go back to these writers again and again.
What’s one thing our readers may not have learned about you from issue 11?
Oh wow, what do people not know about me? Umm… Well, as you can see from me reading Daredevil at the moment, I’m a big comic book fan. Huge fan. Preacher and Y: The Last Man are two of my all-time favourites. I remember picking up an issue of Preacher in the newsagent when I was about seven or eight, I think, and reading it out of context because it was issue five or something, and then getting into comics again when I was about fourteen or fifteen and buying the first trade of Preacher and finding that issue in it! I remember thinking all the way through the issue “this feels familiar, that I’ve read this somewhere, I know I have”. Then it hit me. I also love Rachel Rising by Terry Moore and Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja. Anything by Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Scott Snyder… The list just goes on and on.
I’d also like to say that when you accepted my story ‘Long Distance’ in issue 11, it really gave me confidence in myself that what I was doing was worth reading. Up to that point I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was good or just okay or awful! I was finding it hard to look at it objectively. Then ‘Long Distance’ was published and I was ecstatic, and a couple months after that, with the confidence I now had and with writing every day, I entered the Frome Short Story Competition and had two stories make the longlist, of which one made the shortlist and came in runner up. The runner up story was called ‘Home Is Where We Are’ about a boy who watches his sister get abducted and was subsequently published in issue 11 of Popshot magazine, another brilliant and beautiful magazine! On top of this, I also had a flash fiction collection longlisted in the Bookimbo Flash Fiction Competition and had two poems published in Agenda magazine and Firewords Quarterly. That was all last year, so I have to say it was a good year! Without Structo I’d never have had the confidence to do it. You were the launching pad. So thank you all again!