Late last year, author Christopher D. DiCicco came out with his first collection, published by Hypertrophic Press. This small press, spending as much time pairing the beautiful writing it accepts alongside equally staggering imagery, found DiCicco’s work after requesting he submit a piece or two to their lit mag.
I have the good fortune to know Chris personally, though I’m quick to say that even if I didn’t know him, I’m quite sure I’d know him through his work, which is unapologetic in the liberties it takes as much as it is embracing and unforgettable in the feeling it brings about in the reader. Soon after the release of his collection, I asked Chris a few questions about it, the process of his work, and where he sees himself going in the future.
Matthew Kabik: While this is both a generic but difficult question, I’m curious what you think your style is–what atmosphere or emotion do you find you’re most typically going for?
Chris DiCicco: To describe my style is to paint a picture of a serious man sketching a sad child coloring a dragon. Though, without a doubt, the man will later eat a marshmallow and seem much less serious. What I mean is my style is a touch sad fantasy and a meta-brushstroke or two; probably most so when I’m using the first-person removed technique, but that’s not all the time, though I like it best. I like stories within stories, shadow stories casting their shade on the other more obvious elements. I like to develop my narrator through the story she/he tells. And I like a poetic minimalism where the lines are careful enough to show only so much, making the reader slow down. But man, you’re right, it’s a tough question. There’s so many layers to style, and I’m not always sure where they begin. I guess, at some level, my style is offbeat. I like realism, how honest it is, and how hard it can be to explain real everyday things, like a kiss or a traumatic death. Those things happen, and sometimes it feels impossible to say why they did. In the same vein, something fantastic can happen in a story with just as little explanation–and I like that–it’s part of my style. Boys become dogs, dead fathers wake up, and, just like real life, I’m not going to say why or explain. That’s part of my style I suppose, part of the tradition I subscribe to at least. Okay, next question.
MK: When writing these stories, did you find that they built off of each other? Do you think that they are all part of a single theme, or are they more separate than that?
CD: I used to have this fear that my collection was completely disjointed and random, and then I read it and developed a new fear—that my collection was only about one thing. And I’m still not completely sure which one is more true, but I’m almost satisfied that the stories in the collection have at their heart a single theme of coping with loss, disappointment, and the impossible. What’s kind of cool, I think, is that some of the stories are quite different from each other, but still the same. That’s either cool or awful, one or the other.
MK:What did you enjoy most in the process of getting the collection together?
CD:Honestly it’s been such a huge part of my life, these stories, writing them, revising them, pushing them out to journals, pulling them together for the collection. It’s just so much, the process. It’s not like one day I finished the last story and was like, well that’s it, time to put this thing together. It didn’t start with awesome Hypertrophic Press. It started on a road trip with my family, driving through Montana, with a story called “Leap of Hay” that never made it into the collection. So what did I enjoy most? That’s like explaining what I love most about my wife–there’s so much to her. There is so much to this. Years of small gestures. Months of edits. Days of dreaming in story ideas, sharing them with good friends who happen to be writers. Any writer worth a spit knows the process is you, you doggedly biting at words and spitting them out for some reason you stopped trying to understand. Okay, what did I enjoy most, let me try. I enjoyed learning who I am.
MK: What’s your favorite story in the collection, and why?
CD: Can’t really say I have one, but I’m happy with quite a few of them. I don’t know, actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel all of them are special. You see, it’s terrible, but I can appreciate a story for a single good line. That’s it. One line. One good turn of a phrase. My favoritism is askew, completely. “Life Where You Want It” and “In Your Father’s Backyard” and “Bloodhounds” and “Why the Wolves Take the Calves First” and “The Greater Migration” and “Pennsylvania is No Concern” and “My Son” I like those stories. But the others too. Those were the ones that first came to mind. The thing is, to me, all my stories have favorite moments, places where the writing clicked. And who am I to say one moment is better than the next? I have favorite lines, favorite words, favorite paragraphs, favorite dialogue, it’s terrible how much I fav the heck out of hell.
MK: What will you do differently for your next collection?
CD: I wish I knew. I mean, I tried my hand at writing a short poetry collection this past summer, and I played around with creating a bunch of hybrid stories. But in the end, I don’t think I’ll do a lot differently with the next collection, except hopefully write even better stories. Maybe I’ll experiment with form. Maybe I won’t. I do think there’s a good chance I’ll write even shorter pieces. That’s something I wouldn’t mind pulling off.
MK: What are you hoping readers will gain by reading?
CD: I’m a very selfish writer. I don’t hope the reader will gain anything. When I sit down and write, there’s very little concern for the reader. They will interpret it how they will. I have an idea of how the story should work, of what the technique should produce, but ultimately, the reader will make it their own, and thus, the writing itself. And yeah we could argue literary criticism until the cows come home, but in the end, when I write, I feel for my characters, for the story, but that’s it. I’m very happy to hear readers feel something from my stories, but, all in all, that’s not how I write. I probably ought to care, but it’s hard enough pretending to be concerned about good writing, let alone what the reader will gain from it. How about, I hope my readers gain long lives and peace and tranquil nights and a reflective nature that allows them to become more empathic to the world around them.
MK: You also have a background in poetry–how has that affected your writing (both in how you approach it, and what you produce)?
CD: I suppose it’s a challenge as much as a benefit, and even then, that’s only if you consider poetic prose a good thing. But, either way, I suppose it pushes me to test the boundaries of form. That can prove tiresome, though. There’s a lot of people who question that kind of stuff. They need exact reasons for why I might do something that vears from the standard. And the thing is, when you have to explain your work all the time, then that’s exactly what it feels like—work. Typically I love talking craft, but sometimes it feels like the other person just wants to prove that what you’re doing is dumb. And I don’t know, if that’s what they want, then they’ll probably find their reason. This question is depressing me. Probably because they’re right sometimes too. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t stop me from writing the way I sometimes do. Poetry cares about the rhythm of a line. I really enjoy writing a good line, but often it depends upon the lines before it. I end up reading my pieces aloud during the creation process–and then again at the finish. That’s how I revise. I don’t just read one line over again, I read it in context to what comes before and after. Each line gets revised in context to the whole. For each line, I start back at the beginning and read up to the next line I’m revising. I like to hear it. Aloud. It can be a long process, but luckily I write short pieces. What the hell did you ask me?
MK: What are you working on right now?
CD: A Yard’s Love Stout. You? Right now I’m just toying with one or two stories, and occasionally I come back to this poetry chapbook I wrote this past summer. It’s a pretty personal thing this chapbook. Whereas my stories meander around the things on my mind, the poetry I’ve been working on kind of jumps right into it without hesitating. It’s more or less a direct look at some things from my past that I’m able to process now. I’m kind of excited, though, to get back to writing stories. I have some ideas buzzing around, and I want to see what happens. All I know is that I don’t want to try anything hybrid anymore. That’s out of my system for the moment.