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Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape: An Interview with Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky interviewed by Chris Kelso.

For almost a decade, Joshua Chaplinsky has been something of a dormant phenomenon. Installed as Managing Editor of the prestigious online magazine, LitReactor, since its inception in 2011, Chaplinsky has spearheaded some of the most innovative interactive writing experiences around — but he didn’t start writing his own prose in earnest until 2015. It’s perhaps as the author of Kanye West—Reanimator and the story collection Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape that Chaplinsky really started making major ripples in the indie-lit scene, illuminating him as a singular voice in a vast ocean of try-hards. His short fiction has since been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Clash Books, Pantheon Magazine and Broken River Books. His first full-length novel is due out in 2020.

3:AM: At LitReactor there seems to be a huge focus on community — the sharing of ideas, workshopping, and frequent forum discussion — but how important are these values to you personally?

JC: Writing is a pretty solitary endeavour, but constructive peer feedback is critical. I actually workshopped a good portion of the stories that appear in Whispers… in the LitReactor online workshop. And I never would have made the contacts I did, or learned the ropes of querying and submitting, if it weren’t for the wider community LitReactor introduced me to. So for me, personally, it was hugely important.

3:AM: I know there was a big crossover between the staff at Chuck Palhniuk.net and LitReactor, but how did you come to be involved so deeply with the latter? It’s such a groundbreaking magazine.

JC: It’s funny. I’ve been good friends with Cult/LitReactor webmaster, Dennis Widmyer, for over 20 years now. And when he commits to something, he goes all in. In the early days of the internet, when he was like, “We should make a website for Chuck Palahniuk!”, my response was, “Eh… I love Chuck, but I’m not too into this internet thing.” I wound up being involved to a lesser degree, but I missed the boat, there. So when Dennis approached me about being a part of LitReactor, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

3:AM: Were you raised in New York? What impact has your home city had on your writing style?

JC: I was born and raised on Long Island, and have been living in Queens for the last decade or so. I don’t know if the geography affected me that much, but the middle-class suburban malaise definitely did. Although, there were points where we were hanging on to the “middle-class” part by our fingertips. How that affected me as a writer, specifically — that’s for my future biographer to say.

3:AM: Why did it take you so long to start writing your own stuff and taking it seriously?

JC: Laziness? I always dreamed of being a writer as a kid, but got really into film in my early 20s, so I focused all my efforts on screenwriting for a good decade or so. When I finally decided I wanted people to actually read what I’d written, I came back around to the short story. Even if it’s only a handful of people, I find it much more rewarding. I recently saw on social media that you were putting out your “final” novel so you could concentrate on screenwriting. That’s the opposite of what I did. I don’t want to discourage you, but… The “selling” of a script is a whole different ballgame. I wish you luck.

3:AM: Thank you, I’ll need it. I was lucky to get the first screenplay produced, but I know it probably won’t be so straightforward next time around. Do you still have aspirations to get a screenplay produced or have you given up on that notion entirely?

JC: Well, firstly, if your goal is to write and produce shorts and indie films, that does sound more fulfilling than what I was attempting, which was forcing weird, uncommercial scripts on people who didn’t want them. What you’re doing sounds more like what I’m trying to do with my writing. Start short, stay small, stay weird. Maybe that’s the route I should have went with my screenwriting. If someone drove a truck full of money up to my door to write a Marvel movie or something, I’d do it. Otherwise, I don’t want to write shit that basically no one will read. I want to write shit that tens of people will read, like I do now.

3:AM: Kanye West-Reanimator, to me at least, is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying bizarro books in recent memory — and I do believe its heart lies in the bizarro aesthetic. How do you feel about bizarro fiction and its place in the wider indie-lit family?

JC: Bizarro fiction is fiction too! Like anything else, it has its wheat and its chaff. I’m not the most well read in the genre, but when I came up with the idea for KW—Re, I knew that’s where the bulk of its appreciators would lie. If people want to categorize my writing as bizarro, I consider that a compliment. I like weird shit. And some of the most inventively weird shit has come out of the bizarro scene.

3:AM: Can you tell us anything about the novel you have coming out in 2020?

JC: No, but I will anyway. It’s called The Paradox Twins. It’s about twin brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral to discover they have aged differently. It’s an experimental sci-fi ghost story masquerading as a family drama. To the people who didn’t like the non-traditional stories in Whispers…, I apologize in advance.


Chris Kelso is an award-winning, multi-translated genre writer, editor, and illustrator from Scotland.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, December 21st, 2019.