Exclusive Interview: King Of Joy Author Richard Chiem

Just like films are often influenced by books, many writers of novels also take cues from the movies. Though usually not as strongly as Richard Chiem, who — in the following email interview — talks about how he was prompted to write his new novel King Of Joy (paperback, Kindle) after watching the movie Spring Breakers.

Richard Chiem King Of Joy

Photo Credit: Brooks Calison


To start, what is King Of Joy about?

King Of Joy is about a woman named Corvus who experiences a great loss. Her grief leads her to Tim, a pornographer with unconventional methods, and his studios in the deep woods. The novel ends in a hippo attack.

Where did you get the idea for King Of Joy and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?

I was actually watching the movie Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine, and I was so stimulated by the film, I started writing the first scene of King Of Joy — where Corvus watches Amber burn down a tree — almost right after the first viewing. I think what struck me most about the film was how, despite how stylized it was, there was still a compelling emotional narrative that pushed everything forward. The film made me see how style could transcend form to become content or story. Since I am very much a sentence level writer, and I very much obsess over each and every sentence while I’m working on a new project, focusing on atmosphere and tone, watching the film gave me permission to focus on my strengths. Instead of worrying about plot, I paid more sincere attention to my characters. Once I had a sense of who Corvus was, I knew I had a novel I could spend some time with.

When I was originally working on these questions, I was under the impression that King Of Joy was a science fiction story, or maybe a fable-like fantasy tale. But it doesn’t sound like that now.

I don’t really think King Of Joy fits neatly as either a science fiction story nor a fantasy tale, although there are surreal elements in the novel that leans into those genres. Already, I am finding it hard to compare King Of Joy to anything else.

In King Of Joy, Corvus imagining herself in fantasy novels, pop songs, and action/adventure films. In the book, did you have her escape into real books, songs, and movies, or did you make them up?

Real pop songs. Robyn. Josephine Foster. Ciara.

Corvus escapes into these songs because I do too, since Corvus is essentially me.

Given that, were you at all concerned that people might compare this story to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One?

No concern at all.

While King Of Joy is your first novel, it’s not your first book. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on King Of Joy but not on anything else you’ve written?

I always think about Dennis Cooper and his work when I am working on something new, but for King Of Joy, Joy Williams was actually more of an inspiration. Her novel Breaking & Entering was a huge guiding light for King Of Joy.

How about non-literary influences, like movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have an influence on King Of Joy? Aside from Spring Breakers, of course.

For movies, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Harmony Korine, and Wong Kar-wai are pretty steady influences. Also the films Drive and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days.

Watching my ex-wife play the game Life Is Strange also had an effect on the writing of King Of Joy.

So has there been any interest in adapting King Of Joy into a movie? Maybe one that could inspire someone else to write a novel?

I would love for King Of Joy to be adapted in any form, but I think I would be most excited if it were made into a movie or a season long TV show. A video game would be dope too, but I am not sure how that game would look like, or if that would be an entertaining game for anyone to play.

If King Of Joy was being made into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?

I would have no idea about the casting. I would be grateful for any cast, any director.

Richard Chiem King Of Joy

Finally, if someone enjoys King Of Joy, what book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

I’d say Breaking & Entering or The Quick & The Dead by Joy Williams, Chelsea Hodson’s Tonight I’m Someone Else, Quartet by Jean Rhys, Dennis Cooper’s Try, There Is No Year by Blake Butler, Amina Cain’s Creature, Made For Love by Alissa Nutting, or Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things.


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