Smoke and Mirrors—An Interview with Chad Simpson

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story September 21, 2015

Your story begins with Pac-Man reminiscing about his days as a pellet-eater, implying that’s the past. What’s he been up to since then?

That’s a really good question. I’ve been writing a series of stories about Pac-Man and Elvis Presley. They’re roommates, aging hipsters, maybe lovers. A lot of Pac-Man’s “human” memories are my own, but I’ve been working intuitively; I haven’t thought all that much about what happened between his eating pellets and becoming “human.” The way I kind of imagine it, Pac’s video-game life and this other life are wholly separate, though he holds both of them inside him, the way we all hold the various lives we’ve lived inside us, even after we leave them in our wake as we age.

Speaking of ghosts, I once heard a theory of ghosts, that when someone sees a ghost, they’re seeing a rip in the time continuum, that the ghost is whoever or whatever is occupying that same space, just on another day, in a different year, maybe a different century. Could Pac-Man, the ghosts, the fruit, just be traveling through time?

For sure, in a way. We are all, right? Yeah? I don’t want to be the kind of person who quotes himself, but it’s relevant here, I think. In the first Pac-Man/Elvis story I published, in Newfound Journal, there’s a line: “This was West Central Illinois, late April, 2014, though both of them had a kind of complicated relationship with time and place.” I think we all have a pretty complicated relationship with time and place. Maybe we’re all just ghosts, occupying spaces, looking for those rips in the continuum.

No mention of Ms. Pac-Man here. Maybe this has something to do with his constant longing? Explain.

As I implied above, Pac-Man is kind of my alter-ego. And I chose him—or he chose me—because both of us are always hungry, always wanting more. Both of us are forever worried about and haunted by ghosts.

I also get an existential vibe here, a real Camus feeling, Sisyphus, that sort of thing. Logically, then, what would Camus Pac-Man have to say about Donald Trump?

I submitted a newer Pac-Man story to my writing group last week, and one of the members said something about Pac-Man and Elvis being these tremendous icons. It was odd, in that I hadn’t explicitly thought of them as icons. For me, from the moment I started writing the first story about the two of them, they were characters, thinking and feeling beings. I had what might be called their iconography in my head, of course, but that was beside the point; these lives they were leading were a different thing entirely.

All of which is to say: Somewhere inside the two of them, those icons exist. And the human parts of them are aware of their icons, and I think the two of them might lament how easily people become celebrities/icons in 2015. Elvis could sing. He had personality. Pac-Man was one of the first “characters” to enter the video game realm, as far as I know. What I mean is, they did things. They became icons for a reason.

I think Pac would liken Trump to a Kardashian, in that he kind of inherited the world, was an icon from birth. In that he’s a little brainless, a sound byte, the zeitgeist topped off with terrible hair. Pac-Man would definitely never vote for the guy, but he might kind of hope Trump gets the Republican nomination, if only so things go all the more smoothly for Hillary or Bernie.

What are you, Chad Simpson, doing to help the bees?

I water the flowers. I don’t eat meat.

About the Author:

Chad Simpson is the author of Tell Everyone I Said Hi, which won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press. His work has appeared in many print and online publications, including McSweeney's Quarterly, Esquire, American Short Fiction, and The Sun. He lives in Monmouth, Illinois, and is an associate professor of English at Knox College.

About the Interviewer:

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three books of short fiction, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside  Splendor, 2012) and he serves as the interviews co-editor of SLQ.

About the Artist:

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.