The publishing world is often hesitant to use hyperbole when describing books and authors — calling someone a wunderkind, for example, can be tenuous. But there’s no question that Chandler Klang Smith is one of the brightest (and most well-spoken) young authors to come around in a long time. She is also a total whiz at creating fascinating imaginary worlds.
Her debut novel, The Sky Is Yours, hit shelves in January and it has been widely hailed as one of the most creative fantasy titles of late. The story takes place in the year 301970 (yes, you read that right), when the world is a very exaggerated version of what we know today: The wealthy live in houses the size of entire neighborhoods, pets are actually animal-species hybrids, and there just so happen to be dragons patrolling the skyline. The main character, Duncan, is attempting to navigate growing up as an heir to one of the wealthiest families when he winds up having to escape to the seediest part of town.
The whole thing is fabulously insane — our own critic described it as “a work of fiction beholden to no rules” — so it’s no question that the author behind the novel is immensely witty and creative. Below, she answers EW’s burning questions and lets us in on her process.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
CHANDLER KLANG SMITH: In the second grade, I wrote and illustrated a collection of stories with a title page screaming MY BIG BOOK, each letter outlined in a hot pink bubble. The first story was about a “bunny dragon” who meets a sad child. They, of course, become friends “emedeetly.” Clearly, I have never been afraid of ambitious, sprawling projects, or of straining the limits of my vocabulary. Plus, author trademark? Dragons.
What is the last book that made you cry?
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Without giving too much away, that novel centers on a character who irrevocably changed the course of his life with a single action. The whole book circles around and around why he did it. But instead of answering that question, the book ultimately dives into the center of the vortex it’s created, into the negative space of that question, and you’re left wondering as a reader if any of us really understand any of the things we do. It gutted me, honestly.
What is your favorite part of The Sky Is Yours?
My favorite chapter might be the one that ends Part II. No spoilers, but it involves sex, drugs, fireworks, and a one-eyed hooch-drinking ghost cat.
Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?
I’ve been wanting to check out Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties since before it was released, so I’m eager to finally dig into that. I heard her read her incredible story “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” (not in the collection, unfortunately!) at an event in Brooklyn in 2015 and was totally dazzled.
Where do you write?
Usually in my living room, either on my big red couch or my comfy purple velvet armchair. I don’t like to sit at a desk — that makes writing feel too much like work!
What was the hardest plot point or character to write in this book?
Also in Part II, one of my three protagonists — the playboy scion of the city’s wealthiest family (and an all-around toxic bro), who used to star in his own reality show — teams up with a mysterious, shadowy figure in a gas mask, introduced only as “Leather Lungs,” to fight fires in the city. It took me the longest time to hammer out Leather Lungs’ character arc and decide what secrets he was keeping. But in the end, some of the most intense action and imagery of the novel arose out of this section. There’s even an ax battle!
Which book made you a forever reader?
Probably Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Before I was old enough to read, my mom would read those to me. I still remember laughing so hard I was crying at her rendition of the Mock Turtle’s song: “Soo–oop of the e–e–evening, Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP!”
Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was a huge influence on The Sky Is Yours, but this image kind of captures my writing process too: the feeling of soaring, unfettered, through the realms of the imagination, only to be suddenly thwarted by an unexpected obstacle.
What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
I don’t snack a lot when I’m writing; I’m so into food that it would be distracting. But I do bake as a hobby, and I find that when I’m working on a recipe, it takes me out of my own head and into the physical world in a way that can free up my writing process. Then I get to reward myself with a homemade donut when I actually produce some words!
If you could change one thing about any of your books what would it be?
I’m constantly learning new things, but I don’t have a strong impulse to go back and tinker with something that’s already out in the world. Mostly I just wish I could write new stuff faster. I’m happiest when I’m flinging myself headlong into a story, but it takes me quite a while to get into that zone.
Write a movie poster tagline for your book.
If the title is still The Sky Is Yours, the tagline would have to be, “But the world is on fire.”