Erin Chandler’s memoir, June Bug Versus Hurricane, is very much like Erin herself: bold, charming, witty, self-effacing, honest and entirely captivating. She grew up in an old Kentucky family, a family of dynamic personalities who entertained politicians, actors and criminals alike. As the saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up. But there’s a darker side to her story, one full of pain, frustration, and yet, ultimately, hope.
Q: You grew up in a family that was considerably larger than life. Your grandfather was the governor of Kentucky for two terms who shared a meal with Robert Kennedy on occasion and socialized with actors Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis, among others; your mother was from a respected Kentucky family; your aunt was an actress; your father was a business man who lived in Miami, and eventually, Las Vegas, socializing with all sorts of famous people, some of whom had criminal backgrounds. How old were you when you realized most kids didn’t grow up with all these interesting people in their back yards?
Erin: I hardly noticed, it was such a smooth transition, smooth as in constantly jerking back and forth, from interesting celebrities and powerful figures to the people in Lubbock, Texas who I grew up with during the school years from fifth grade until I graduated high school living with my mother and stepfather. I was a popular summer vacation buddy because it was Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Caesar’s Palace limos, glamourous dinners and dinner companions and free room service which in high school often consisted of ten Mai Thai’s. It was the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, unsupervised and nobody was telling on anybody… except the occasional incarceration!
Q: You moved around a lot, between your parents’ houses after they divorced, and then later, across the country following job and career changes of your father and stepfather. You dealt with the bitter cold of Maine and the dusty barrenness of Texas. And later, you moved between California and Kentucky. Where did you feel most grounded as a child? As an adult?
Erin: It did seem I was always at an airport with a note safety pinned on me, showing someone which direction to head me toward. I grew to love the freedom and anonymity of airports but I never felt grounded after my parents split up. I remember feeling very grounded in Kentucky when I was a small child in our neighborhood and back yard, with friends and grandparents, but that comfort ended around the first grade. I was a pillar of strength until kindergarten! Ironically that was the only time in my life I was a cheerleader. I am just beginning to feel truly grounded at fifty-three, now that I am back in Kentucky and living a few blocks from my childhood home. I had decades of happiness in adulthood in Los Angeles and North Carolina but never this current peaceful feeling of being grounded.
Q: Reading your memoir, I got the impression that the males in your family didn’t take you seriously and yet, you didn’t appear to let those attitudes hold you back in any way. Why do you think that is?
Erin: I think when you grow up with a bunch of male chauvinists, on the border of being bullies, who were as my Aunt Mimi said, “men’s men and boys boys who didn’t give a diddly squat what any woman had to say.” With that theme going on you either get really tough or really insecure. I managed to excel at both.
Q: What is one of the craziest things you’ve witnessed growing up that didn’t make it into the book.
Erin: I have witnessed so many crazy things it would take an encyclopedia of footnotes from prostitutes to gangsters to misbehaving film and TV stars to the most backwoods hillbillies telling me unthinkable things, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Q: You write about the influence people who come from old Kentucky families have inherently, even if they have no money to speak of. Do you think that kind of influence remains?
Erin: I do believe it does. I have a bit of influence and I don’t have any money! My father always said that my grandfather gave him a head start, here in Kentucky and when he went out to Las Vegas. Pappy is so beloved that we grandchildren and children are recipients of that love. I think that is the case for a lot of families here whose relatives helped the horse industry or political history or just had a lot of money and lived in mansions and had parties. The climate here seems to have been set up in that old fashion southern way. Much like how in California, if you are born into the film industry you have inherent influence. Indian tribes have their own hierarchy as well. I personally think it’s all a façade. We are the same but born into different conditions in order to learn whatever lesson we are supposed to learn on earth.
Q: This is a book of forgiveness, for your father, your brother, your husband, and for all of life’s messy entanglements and obstacles. Was it cathartic in some way?
Erin: Absolutely it was cathartic. I was able to let go of the weight I was carrying from everything I experienced; I got it out of my body and down on paper. I inherited a big heart for forgiveness from both sides of my family, both grandmothers, especially. I learned from them to always pull yourself up and move forward. Life can be daunting and I have learned in telling my story very specifically that it is quite universal. Family dynamics are strikingly similar and we are all so much more alike than we acknowledge.
Q: What did you learn about yourself in writing this?
Erin: The most important thing in writing this was to share the lives of my father and brother. They were extraordinary people, complicated, kind and beyond generous. They lived life on the edge and had big giant lives and literally defined mine until the day they died. They were such huge figures in positive and negative ways for me and there was no room to truly become the woman I am today with them insisting in deafening terms who I was supposed to be.
Q: What would say to any of your readers who may be dealing with, or love someone, with alcoholism?
Erin: I would say the only thing I have found that works is therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, treatment centers and prayer. Most often none of those things work and it is a tragic circumstance to watch someone or be someone who is constantly dimming their light and true selves with drugs or alcohol, I wish God had left that part out.
Q: You’ve written this beautiful memoir and several plays. What’s next?
Erin: I am working on my next book, Nervous Blood, that I hope to finish by the end of this year. I have opened a bookstore in Versailles, Kentucky called Rabbit House Books & Notions. We sell used and new books and I love being there every day. I teach Creative Writing Workshops and Playwrighting Workshops at the store and at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. I also created Rabbit House Press, a small printing company where I hope to publish two books a year. I recently published a beautiful book of poetry by Rob Greene, another writer in residence at Weymouth. It is very exciting to share others’ work, there are so many special voices and stories.
Q: What was your driving desire as a kid? A teen? A young woman? Now?
Erin: I believe my driving desire as a kid was to create, I wrote and put up little plays and recitals. As a teen my desire was to have as much fun as possible. As a young woman my desire was to make some mark as an actress. My desire now is simply to have a home, to write and share what I have written. My desire now is to be calm and connect with my higher more spiritual self, to recognize lessons from nature and lessons I have learned from life so far, try to do better every day and when I don’t I want to forgive myself and appreciate the life I have been gifted to live. My desire is to meditate and do yoga daily. I truly believe the best tool we have to get through the human condition and everything we are faced with is the practice of being silent and listening, quieting our minds and using our powerful energy to emanate peace.
Read an interview with Erin here: http://www.kentucky.com/living/article160501449.html
Find out more about Erin’s acting here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0151359/
Enjoy this short youtube video in which you can see Erin acting in various roles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAqZbA3i05o