Ask the Author: Clay McLeod Chapman

By Steve Herman
May 8, 2015
Stapleton Library
Homeroom Headhunters Cover

Clay McLeod Chapman author of The Tribe Book 1: Homeroom Headhuntersis coming to KidsLIVE! May 13 at the Stapleton Library. We asked him a few questions about himself as a reader.

When and where do you like to read?

The subways are my favorite reading time. I live deep in the armpit of Brooklyn, so if I ever have to travel into Manhattan, I bring along a good book… Sometimes I’ll miss my stop because I’ve lost myself within whatever I’m reading!

What were your favorite books as a child?

I loved loved loved Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Stephen Gammell’s original illustrations kept me awake for countless nights. When I first started reading on my own, I plowed through the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol. Also, The Valley of the Far Side by Gary Larson. I was amazed at the stories he could tell within a single panel comic—absurd and nerdy and hilarious! By 7th grade, I stumbled upon Stephen King and uh-oh… That was the end of everything. I think I spent the next couple years of my life reading all of his books!

How have libraries impacted your life?

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up—and one of my benchmark memories as a kid was my grandma taking me to the library every week. She’d let me check out two books at a time. It didn’t matter what the books were—as long as I read them. Once I was done with those two, she’d take me back to the library and check out two more for me. It was this glorious race to read through whatever pair of books I had in order to return to the library and get more. I became an avid reader because my grandmother gave me the freedom to choose whatever I wanted… Novels, picture books, comics. The sky truly was the limit on those shelves.

Would you like to name a few writers out there you think deserve a wider audience?

Yeesh. That’s a tough one. Coming from a writer who wishes he had a wider audience himself, I think I’d have to say… How about this? Some of my favorite books over the last couple of years have been The Wrenchiesby Farel Dalrymple, I Hate You, Kelly Donahue by Mark Svartz and The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. I don’t necessarily think these gentlemen are living in obscurity per se. But in a weird way, when I find a book that I really love, I imagine they’ve written it just for me and I turn into Gollum trying to keep my lovely little precious to myself. 

What was the last book you read? Tell me what you liked about it!

I just finished reading Deadly Class, Vol. 2: Kids of the Black Hole by Rick Remender, Wesley Craig and Lee Loughridge. I’m a semi-big comics fan and this is all about a group of high school kids who go to an elite prep school for assassins. It’s pretty crazy stuff. It gets the feel of what it’s like to be a teenager navigating all the cliques and bullies and societal pressures of high school while tossing in a lot of ninja skills. Basically just like my high school experience.

Middle school is a jungle in Homeroom Headhunters. We can definitely see inspiration from Lord of the Flies here. As a pre-teen, did you see your own school as this jungle type atmosphere? Which character do you identify with most, and why?

This is a total true story… The original idea for Homeroom Headhunters came about one day when I was sitting in 6th grade English. I wasn’t paying attention to my teacher as much as I should have been, daydreaming about something-or-other, when—all of sudden, just above my head, I heard this shuffling sound. Like a ffft ffft fft sound. It could’ve been a squirrel or an air conditioner kicking in, but for the rest of the day, all I could think about was—There’s somebody up there! I started to imagine what it would be like to crawl from class to class above everyone’s head, just on the other side of those ceiling tiles. So—fast forward 20 years later, when I’m sitting down with a book editor. She asked if I had any ideas for a new book—and that’s when the memory of that day in 6th came back to me.

I had a hard time finding my place in middle school. It was tough to fit in. I had friends, but we were always on the periphery. The cool kids were over here and the tough kids were over there and the athletic kids were over there—and me, I was just kinda over here. With Homeroom Headhunters, you have a group of kids who never felt like they found a place to belong in school—so they go ahead and create a secret society that’s solely there own. They feel ostracized from the rest of the cliques at school, so they’ve made an even more exclusive clique. Membership into this club is pretty steep. Too steep.

Another true story… When I was in the 6th grade (again—what’s up with 6th grade?!), I mustered up the courage to enter our middle school’s talent show. I performed an awful stand up comedy routine in front of hundreds of my fellow students. Nobody laughed. But guess who won? Me! For bravery, I was told. Well, needless to say, this didn’t make the 8th grade dance squad for happy. For the rest of the school year, these dancers made it their mission to make my life miserable. If I ever passed them in the hallways, they’d call me names… So—if I had to say which character I identify with the most, I might, might say Yardstick. I used my talent show experience and reworked it into Homeroom Headhunters.  But sssh. Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want those 8th grade dance squadders to come after me!