In 2017, CM Chapman (Fiction ’15) published his first chapbook of short fiction with Latham House Press, an independent publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry based in Buckhannon, West Virginia.
Music & Blood includes three riveting tales of Appalachia that take the reader on journeys through the wilderness of the West Virginia’s backcountry and woodland treasures. From side-splitting humor in “Clem, The Cabot County Cannibal” to unexpected turns in “Modest Mussorgsky’s Bluegrass Jug Band Blog”, these deftly crafted short stories are sure to please a wide range of readers.
A brief interview with Chapman follows, in which he discusses his work during the Wesleyan program, his influences, his writing process, and more.
The chapbook contains three short fiction pieces. Did you always imagine these three together, or did you link them together after having written them? What made you chose each piece for this collection?
All of the stories in Music & Blood were conceived and written separately during my time in the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. However, when I began working on putting together a manuscript for Latham House, I discovered that two of them were related. One seemed to be a response to another. This was a subconscious thing at the time, not planned at all, but nevertheless, they seemed to belong together. At that point, it became a matter of finding a story that complimented and yet offset the other two. The whole collection fell together fairly quickly, a happy accident in many ways.
Your writing is strikingly crisp, humorous with a deftly crafted heart, and, often, a tad on the experimental or mystical side. Where do you draw your stories from?
Well, first of all, I’m flattered you would describe my writing in this way. I think you describe what I hope for when I write. I enjoy exploration and experimentation in my writing and, for the last few years, have been trying to work in as many different styles as possible, depending upon the story, of course. As for where I draw from, just about anywhere.
I’m not what you’d call an autobiographical writer in the sense that I generally only pull peripheral details from my personal experience, not the meat of the story. A story can come from anywhere for me—a witnessed scene, an image, an off-hand comment, a random list of unrelated words, a dream. I like involving my subconscious in the process and I think that carries a certain sort of mysticism along with it.
As for the writing being crisp, I really do strive for readability and simplicity of language. I’ll stretch that at times, but I don’t want to be Mr. Fancy Pants, lost in his grasp of vocabulary. I want to challenge the reader in different ways.
What draws you to magical realism as a style or genre of fiction? How does magical realism lend itself to your fiction?
I do use magical realism often, sometimes even when I’m not intending to go that way. Sometimes, it just sneaks in. Marie Manilla once pointed out an instance of magical realism in a description from one of my stories that I hadn’t even realized was there. The decision to utilize magical realism, though, depends on the story. When you get down to it, I think I am drawn equally to the post-modern and the absurd. I’ll even resort to realism when required. It’s all about what the story needs to work.
What are you reading at the moment? What works do you come back to, or what authors do you continue to draw from? How have they informed your work? What has influenced this collection in particular.
I just finished Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. Kurt’s a formative influence. Also, a friend just introduced me to some work from Russian writer, Victor Pelevin, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. And though I write nothing like him, John Gardner continues to be a writer whose work and standards I admire enough to consider them a foundation. For the last few years, I’ve been into Italo Calvino. I really respect his ability to tell stories that seem impossible to tell, and even if I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence in terms of writing style, that attitude of his certainly suffuses Music & Blood.
What're you up to now? Any writing projects in the works?
I am attempting to market a larger collection called, Suicidal Gods. Eight of those eleven stories have been published in various places, but I’d really like to publish them as the novel-in-stories from which they came—my thesis at West Virginia Wesleyan, in fact. At present, I continue to work in the short story form as I acclimate to the teaching life. Oddly enough, I think I’ve found another chapbook idea in what I have produced lately. Still some work to do on that, though. There’s a novel of some sort that’s been bouncing around my brain for the last couple years, but I think it needs to bounce a little longer.
C.M. Chapman has appeared in Cheat River Review, Limestone, Still: The Journal, Dark Mountain in the U.K., and the anthology, So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He is the author of the chapbook, Music & Blood, from Latham House Press, and was a finalist in the 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award for fiction. In 2014, he won first place in the WV Writers competition, for humor, and in 2015, for short story. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he served as the McKinney Teaching Fellow for 2016-17. For more information, visit Chapman's website or find him on Facebook as C.M. Chapman.