Whisper Down the Lane author reveals how childhood terrors inspired his horror novel
Clay McLeod Chapman's book is published April 6.
Clay McLeod Chapman's horror novel Whisper Down the Lane (out April 6) was inspired by the "Satanic Panic" of the mid-'80s, particularly the McMartin preschool trial in which a group of teachers was accused of ritual abuse based on what turned out to be unreliable testimony from their pupils.
"Whisper Down the Lane is told in these two timelines," says McLeod, whose previous books include 2019's The Remaking. "You have this five-year-old boy Sean, in the early '80s, who lives with his mother, and is caught up in the maelstrom of the Satanic Panic-era after telling a little white lie that reverberates out and consumes his community. Then you have, in 2013, Richard, who is a man in his '30s, who is newly married, now has a stepson, and certain things start to happen that echo back to Sean's storyline. You start to realize that the lives of both Sean and Richard are intertwined, and the lies that Sean told are now manifesting themselves in Richard's life years later, and somehow those lies are becoming true."
As a child of the '80s, McLeod was familiar with the real-life Satanic Panic saga but the author was also prompted to write the book by something which happened — or maybe didn't happen — in his personal history.
"A few years ago, I was having dinner with my mother," says McLeod. "I brought up this one period of my life where I vividly remember having night terrors, these crippling nightmares that kept me awake at night. I was like, 'Hey Mom, do you remember that time, at age six-to-nine, when I had night terrors?' And she was like, 'That never happened.' I was like, 'What are you talking about? Don't you remember? I was falling asleep in school. That happened, right?' And she was like, 'No. That never happened.' It was profoundly unnerving to me to have this memory but not have the corroboration of someone who was there as well. It scared me to death."
The book's April 6 publication will be marked by an online conversation between Chapman and Elijah Wood. The actor's production company SpectreVision produced the 2015 horror film The Boy, which was co-written by Chapman, but the author reveals that he also references Wood's appearance in 1993's The Good Son in Whisper Down the Lane.
"Elijah's going to kill me for saying this," says McLeod. "The whole book is populated with these Easter eggs. So, there's references to Rosemary's Baby, Exorcist, Michelle Remembers. The character of Richard's new stepson Elijah is a silly wink to The Good Son, which I am a huge fan of. In honor of The Good Son, I named the character of Richard's new stepson Elijah after Elijah Wood. I told Elijah and I think he's still talking to me — we'll see!"