Christopher David DiCicco writes short fiction in his attic. But he also mumbles it to himself in grocery stores, so if you run into him in Pennsylvania, don't be alarmed. He is a proud member of the online literary community whose piece, "Life Where You Want It" brings an upside-down world to the pages of Agave Magazine's Summer 2014 issue. (He would probably not mind you thinking he wrote Amy Hempel's "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" as well: "I can read that story over and over and you know what, so could you.") This week we are proud to introduce to you the fascinating Christopher D. DiCicco.
Where did you come up with the idea of a short story about being upside-down on a roller coaster?
I think in stories, so it just kind of came to me like a lot of mine do, but then like a lot of my ideas, I married it to something more important that interests me or haunts me or hurts my damn soul. You know what I mean, one of those deeper themes that occur throughout most literature because we’re all so similar, I married it to one of those guys. I’d been talking to my writer friend Matthew Kabik and he’d been reiterating his hate for his cubicle life; every day he’d look at this awful inspirational poster of a mountain biker riding down a hill with the words “Go for it” at the bottom of it or something like that. He said it crushed his soul, the stupidity and corniness of his corporate job trying to inspire him, and I thought about it, how odd and scary it is that we get stuck in these daily loops where we end up doing the same thing over and over again that we’d rather not do, and how that’s probably as weird as the rain hitting the ground and drying it right up. So, I guess the piece is a reaction to that. It’s my way of trying to make the reader look at things in a different perspective, maybe notice how weird things already are.
What would your upside-down life be like?
Hanging there no longer right-side up, I feed strays, starving them until I can see their ribs.
And when I dance, I stand completely still, and when I’m sad and cry upside down, little words in the tune of a happy jingle come singing out my eyes letting everyone know what it’s like to be me.
You sometimes write by dictating into your iPhone – does that change the nature of your final draft compared to things that start on a screen/a sheet of paper? Do you use this method because your brain is bubbling over with ideas, or because your life as a father/husband/teacher means you have to make the most of every minute... or just because you like to?
No, not really because even if I start a piece on screen or paper, I like to hear it aloud. I’m very interested in how my writing sounds, the flow of it. If I’m typing the thing, I’m saying it aloud and if I’m recording it, then it’s only a matter of time before I’m typing it anyway, so I don’t see a real change in the nature of the writing, not really. But it’s terrible at Starbucks. People probably think I’m whispering to myself. Although it’s probably worse when I’m at the grocery store talking into my phone about life on an upside-down roller coaster. And it’s not like I voice it aloud because it has to sound beautiful or anything. It’s more of it sounding right, to fit what I’m trying to capture for the particular piece. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s my voice. I know how I sound or the narrator should sound, and if it’s not right, then I want to fix it. For me, dictating into my phone or reading it aloud as I write helps ensure that I’m writing it as it should be. I guess that kind of answers the second part of your question in a way, but not completely, so here goes...I think my style and my process are reciprocal in nature. My style is as much a product of my process as my process is a part of my style. And I’m overflowing with ideas, so I say into my phone, “New story idea” or “Continuation of…” and then I start listing the details, and then I’m like, the hell with this, because the details start taking form and then I just can’t help myself and I start telling the story, which is me writing. I think that makes sense because that’s the kind of the voice I have, some sort of weird casual storyteller. Isn’t that what writing fiction is anyway? Storytelling? I mean, the same way a singer or musician might emphasize a certain note, holding it out or cutting it nice and tight, that’s what the fiction writer does. He or she decides where to cut a word or splice in a phrase, where to emphasize a detail no one cares about until the storyteller decides it’s important, and in doing so the writer produces something of his/her own creation... and what the hell am I talking about, so yeah, being a father/husband/teacher reinforces my approach to writing. It’s old-fashioned storytelling, parenting and teaching—I’m always telling them a story—and if I tell it well enough they’ll listen.
Where does your (presumably irrepressible) urge to write come from?
Urge? It’s more like an anxiety. I have this need to write, and when I do, I feel good. At least, most of the time. It’s a part of me. And the more I know about it, the more writing becomes interesting to me—it becomes something I have to do because I love it. It’s really a narcotic thing, my urge to write. It comes from this intense appreciation of writing as an art, and a sort of obsession over style and experimentation. Those things complete me in a very corny way—who wouldn’t have the urge to feel completed?
Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, but I never call it that. I’m not sure why. I know what it is. It’s when I write and hate every word I think of. I get so down on myself that everything seems wrong and I wonder why I write at all. To get over it, I read my favorite stories and they remind me of how good writing is, then I read something I’ve written that I know is good or at least has a good part to it, and when I come to that word or line or paragraph that sounds like it should and I’m proud of it and feel good, then my faith has been restored in me, not just in the written word. Then I can write again.