Author Dossier 6: Richard Chiem

Richard Chiem joins us for a dreary day dossier about solitude, forgotten things, headlessness, and Paris in the rain (always).

Richard is the author of two e-books WHAT IF, WENDY and OH NO EVERYTHING IS WET NOW (with Ana C.) He is a Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, elimae, and Everyday Genius. His first collection of short stories YOU PRIVATE PERSON is forthcoming from Scrambler Books (2012). Find his piece no school five // for stephen tully dierks in Artifice 4.


1. Preferred type of apocalypse (plague, nuclear holocaust, ice age, etc.):

Maybe an apocalypse where everyone is poor. Everyone has been poor for quite some time, ten or twenty years or more, to a point where they have forgotten the use for cars. There are people who bike through the cities and people who walk alone. There are still a few buses up and running during the apocalypse, organized by a group of lonely men who just love to drive buses. But they would be more like big taxis and filthy inside.

2. Preferred post-apocalyptic city:

I am new to Seattle and already I have can imagine myself surviving here. It gets pretty cold and going from place to place is almost inherently passionate here, enduring the freezing cold from point A to B. Downtown Seattle is also particularly gorgeous and gray, with high-reaching and creative architecture (The Columbia Building) near large bodies of water (the Puget Sound). I want to stand on 5th Ave. and look up at the Columbia Building and its rows of black and broken windows, holding hands with the one I love.

In the apocalypse, taking time to look at the architecture of buildings will be a bigger thing. Clouds are important, too.

3. Preferred anti-zombie weapon:

 I don’t like to talk about weapons. I want to talk about quick thinking. Your environment is at your service, if you’re thinking quickly on your feet. Getting over being scared is how you should try to have fun. You must first learn how to love someone, and then you learn how to do things, like not die. Many scenarios will boil down to quick thinking and how you emotionally react to things coming at you.

Getting home is my ‘anti-zombie’ way of thinking.

4. Top five necessities to bring to the fallout shelter:

1 miscellaneous

2 miscellaneous

3 miscellaneous

4 miscellaneous

5 miscellaneous

5. Describe said fallout shelter:

We would have to be able to take our homes with us. After a while, all the fallout shelters will vary less from neighborhood to neighborhood and begin to look the same. In an ideal world, I want to be able to say I can make my home come alive with a few portraits and wall decorations, or a small plant I take with me everywhere I go. But in an ideal world, the scenery and way of life will have changed: everyone is happy. In an ideal world, people somehow communicate successfully, food is served from the air, and no one is looking to leave the room, or imagine being elsewhere. I don’t think everyone is happy here, but I want to say going from fallout shelter to fallout shelter with the one I love is what makes me understand most things from day to day.

She knows to bring knives places.

6. Who would be in your post-apocalyptic gang?

Frances. With guest appearances.

7. You’re the new charismatic leader of a cult of your choosing. What do you wear to your first meeting?

I always choose what I wear before I leave the house. I can’t imagine that ever changing.

8. Spirit guide?

Your dearest friend should always be your spirit guide.

9. If you had to eat another author (in Artifice 4 or otherwise) who would it be and why?

Under no circumstance will I eat anyone.

10. A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off. What does this mean to you?

There were months where I have done the same things, for months at a time. Meals were interchangeable, my outfits moved on and off me, and there were days I had no opinion, walking home following palm trees. I remember looking around during different parts of the day: leaving the apartment complex, cruising around The Whole Foods near work, reading at a bar after work, having a smoke. Everyone was having a different conversation than I was; all the strangers, everyone was moving quickly in and out of the rooms we were in together, anxious to be somewhere in the future. I was watching and imagining I was away from here: I was gone, walking around with Frances, somewhere in Paris, going somewhere to be with friends. I don’t know why it was always Paris in the rain.

There were months I felt as though I had no head, or I did the same things for long stretches of time, and it became surreal. Days were less responsive, meaning people often refused eye contact or looked spaced out. I pretended I was indestructible to pass the time, serving customer after customer, and slept alone in bed when I was exhausted. I was watching wall clocks and digital timers. Sometimes, I would change positions in bed to have fun. My foot would be where my head was, and my head where my foot was. I slept every way I could in my twin bed, creating solitude.

I would walk in the daylight without wincing my eyes, thinking about Frances. It was my favorite activity, repeating the cycles, in uniform, until I would be closer to her. When we reunited, it felt so good it was as though I survived some sort of natural disaster, becoming a person. I remembered watching zombie movies as a way to make fun of myself, in the situation, in how alone and quiet everything was, away from her.

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