What was the first thing Erin Chandler did after she wrote THE END on her new memoir, June Bug vs. Hurricane? “Had a glass of wine and smoked a cigarette.”
Appropriately, Chandler’s new memoir takes its title from a Lucinda Williams lyric. Part of the song’s lyrics are inspired by graffiti scrawled on roadhouse a wall in Birney Imes’ photo book, Juke Joints.
Chandler says of the song, 2 Kool 2 Be 4Gotten “it’s about people that live their lives on the edge and it always has reminded me of my brother, the chorus has the line, June Bug Versus Hurricane in it. My brother is definitely too cool to be forgotten… and my dad too!”
Kentucky author Silas House provides the elevator pitch for the book on the back jacket, “June Bug Versus Hurricane is about family, addiction, tightly sealed society, the power and pain of art, and most of all this aching memoir is about unconditional love, particularly between a brother and sister.”
Some critics are more helpful than others, she admits, laughing. “My ex-boyfriend called a bookstore trying to help out but he had had a few and told the bookstore owner that I had a new book called ‘June Bug Versus the Hummingbird.’ That gave me days of laughter and I’m laughing right now thinking about it.”
The peripatetic author, who split her childhood between Kentucky, Vegas, and Texas, is the granddaughter of the late Happy Chandler (two-time Kentucky governor, senator, and baseball commissioner) and daughter of the late Dan Chandler. Her brother Chan died tragically at the age of 30 in 1993.
Home again, asked what Lexington stereotypes she’s found to be true, she says, “To be perfectly honest, I moved away from Versailles when I was eight and returned to Lexington for college then left again for 22 years so I don’t even know what the Lexington stereotype is. I consider myself from Versailles not Lexington, I spent a few crazy college years living there but live now a few miles away but worlds apart in Woodford County.”
As for what Lexington stereotype definitely IS true, she says, “That I know… that it is a city filled with artists and writers and musicians that are original and talented and community minded and inclusive of all people with something creative to say.”
Chandler describes her famous father’s spirit as “absolutely unconquerable,” relating in the book his laughing quotation of the line, “I was born at the top and clawed my way to the middle.” Later in the same chapter she writes, “Babe Ruth’s funeral and pitching ball with Ty Cobb in the front yard of the Cabin were experiences so essential to the way Daddy saw the world.”
She writes, of her parent’s divorce, “My father’s behavior, nowadays referred to as alcoholism, was another contributor to the dissolution of their union…Incarceration in the summer of 1971 didn’t help either. Daddy was audited by the IRS and found guilty of tax evasion. Actually, he was most guilty of massive disorganization and ignorance of tax laws. My father was a whirling dervish who didn’t question lawyers or accountants, assuming they would ‘handle it.’”
When he died in 2004, Las Vegas’s Casino City Times headline read, “Dan Chandler, Caesar’s Marketing Legend, dies.” He was famous for having been fired by Caesar’s six times, and re-hired another six.
For all the laughs and good times and good stories, the book doesn’t shy away from the famous family’s troubled times.
She includes a heartbreaking excerpt of one of her brother’s twelfth step/apologies, “Alcohol and drugs have caused me endless problems with all my family members. It is a wonder I still have them. They have been used, neglected, and hurt for far too long. I love them dearly, but when I’m drinking or have been drinking, I curse, verbally abusing them, saying things to hurt them, telling them I hate them and constantly taking advantage of them. On one occasion, I slapped my baby sister for getting excited and begging me to stop abusing myself!”
If there’s an audience she would advise to steer clear of the memoir, Chandler says, “Anyone who has no empathy for people going through hard times or who has a chip on their shoulder about people who supposedly come from a privileged background so therefore they shouldn’t have any problems… also people who cannot handle a bit of decadence!”
Chandler “plans on publishing two books a year with Rabbit House Press — it is a two person operation now with the help of Erica Chambers who is a photographer, designer (she designed my book cover) and media touch point so we are small but mighty! I will be looking for a great new author who will let me publish their work next year.”
Although she has written plays (June Bug got its start as a play), and made her way to LA to make it as an actress after finishing her UK Theatre degree, she primarily characterizes herself as a writer these days.
Asked if she had to choose between being the world’s most successful actress and the world’s most successful author or playwright, she says, “I believe I would have to choose to be the most successful author and playwright because as much of a thrill as it is to become another person and live their circumstances night after night, the excitement of creating the whole scene, what everyone says and does, having it become live on the page and eventually on the stage holds an even bigger thrill.”
Acknowledging the similarities in the two career paths, she says, “in both instances I am sharing all of myself, the joy and the despair, the sound and the fury, my insides, my heart from as Kurt Cobain once said, ‘the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach.’”
Chandler’s acting work is well known among Lexington theatre fans.
Vic Chaney, former artistic director at Actors Guild, returned to Lexington in 2012 to direct August: Osage County at UK Theatre, in which she played a lead role. On receiving his copy of the memoir, he wrote to her, “Your book was delivered by Amazon yesterday morning and I meant to just read the first chapter or two, but instead devoured it in one sitting. All the way through, I read it in your voice. It was as if it was listening to a book on tape. Please tell me there’s going to be a sequel!,” adding, “the book also gave me insight into your incredible performance in August: Osage County.”
In addition to her theatre degree at UK, she recently completed her writing MFA at Louisville’s Spalding University.
What will she be writing next?
She says, “I am going to finish a collection of Hollywood stories that I have been working on for quite some time. Most of them are written and I just need to construct them in a way that I am happy to let them go.”
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This story also appears in the July 1 print edition of Ace, on stands everywhere in Lexington.
BOOKS AND MOVIES CHAT WITH ERIN CHANDLER
Kentucky authors who have new works you’re excited about?
Silas House, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Gayle Hanratty
Top five favorite books you’ve read in the last year?
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – a really great story about three very different sisters coming home and coming to terms with who they have been and who they have become.
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill – a brilliant play, perfectly constructed you see this family’s whole life, each person’s deepest insecurities and ‘issues’ all set around a dinner table from morning to night… if I could ever write a play as perfect as this, I would die happy.
Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov – an incredible, colorful and depthful look at his childhood in Russia.
Blue Territory by Robin Lippincott- a fascinating look at the life and career of abstract painter Joan Mitchell told in the most poetic and original way, Robin’s ability to create is truly amazing.
The One Inside by Sam Shepard This seemingly autobiographical string of stories shows what is in the mind of this reclusive author, his demons and his obsessions, his personal pain and what drives him even if it is destructive is so honest and brave and tragic that it appears to be his swan song to the life he has lived.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Well I would say possibly Kate Hudson or Drew Barrymore because I keep hearing that I resemble these actresses in looks and manner, because they both have a sense of giddy joy and an understanding of depression and self-destruction with the caveat that they know they will survive… and they both have better hair than me!
What’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to you about one of your projects (play, book, etc.)?
One of the nicest things is when Herman Farrell, my playwriting professor from graduate school at UK said, “Erin is an amazingly talented writer, I was floored by her thoughtful and insightful depictions of souls in crisis.”
What is the meanest thing anyone has said (that you know of)?
One of the worst things is when Paul Kopasz read an early version of the manuscript, “It’s just a long diatribe about why you are so insecure.” Ha!
Fill in the blank: “I first felt like a real author when….____
I wrote my first play and had it read in public.
Rabbit House Press is….._____
A venue for powerful artistic voices and new ideas through works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry which otherwise may not have been heard.
Last movie you saw?
Wilson, starring Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern
Favorite character you’ve played?
“Probably Chrissie in David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room because she runs the gamut from naïve go go dancer dreaming of being a ‘real dancer’ to a devastating release of all that is beautiful to a dark world where there is no coming back from. All of this she does with her head up and dogged determination. I got to dance, laugh, cry, get married and split up, go through a maze of crazy people and relentless prying into the past abusive relationship with her parents and more ups and downs anyone should have to go through in two hours night after night but it was life changing… and I got a Dramalogue Award for best actress!”
BONUS Lightning ROUND
Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?
Name five things in your refrigerator right now:
Two salads from Trader Joe’s, Pizza Hut Pizza from yesterday, almond milk and sparkling water
Name five things in your car right now:
CDs to learn French, a cane, a bag of shoes headed for the goodwill, books we bought this weekend from Morris Book Shop’s big sale [the Chevy Chase store recently closed.]
Your favorite restaurant meal in Lexington is what:
Sushi from Tomo in Chevy Chase
The worst meal you had on the road between Lexington and LA?
McDonald’s one too many times.
Most treasured possession?
I’ve moved so much that my possessions have dwindled a little with each move even though I have beautiful boxes (usually from Pier One!) that contain letters and mementos and audio and video tapes of family… but I have grown to realize I can live without those possessions. In any case I would have to say my most treasured possessions are my two dogs, Charlemagne and Rabbit and my cat, HoneySuckle Rose… which are not possessions but I have them in my possession with the awesome duty to love and care for them for the rest of their lives.
What is on your nightstand right now?
A bag of Almonds, The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown that I have a few pages left, a journal, my cell phone and a glass of water with lemons in it.
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