by Cyrus Nuval
Photography by Zoe Dehmer
I had the privilege of interviewing one of Poictesme’s notable writers, Richard DiCicco. Richard is a senior majoring in art history and minoring in creative writing at VCU. For Poictesme’s chapbook, Cobblestone(s), Richard wrote “Magnum Opus,” a bleak and somber psychological short suspense story set in the late sixties. Despite his fondness for the gloomy and eerie, Richard was very cheerful and lighthearted during our talk. More of Richard’s work can be found on his blog.
When and why did you start writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I remember as far back as elementary school, I would write short stories and poetry. I actually started with really long work. When I was little, I would do fantasy novels and stuff like that and just keep writing. They would be about a hundred pages or so but they were in large type fonts. That was when, I think, I first had a love for writing. It’s because I had a teacher in third or fifth grade who really encouraged me and pushed me to keep going and challenge myself. Early on, writing was a private little activity that I would do. It kind of blossomed into what it is now.
In what particular genres do you like writing?
I started writing long-form fiction and then I shrunk that down to short stories. Then I abandoned that during middle and high school when poetry really appealed to me because of music. I would listen to all these lyrics of musicians that I really liked. I would try to write lyrics when suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t writing any music with it, so they slowly transitioned to poetry. You could say that I got into poetry through a back door. I wrote poetry for a long, long time but because of creative writing classes, I went back into fiction writing and short stories. I do a lot of nonfiction too, mostly because I’m an art history major and I love to write on blogs and do a lot of culture articles and stuff like that.
To what tones or styles are you attracted?
As far as tone or style, something really appeals to me about aspects of surrealism and fantasy. There’s a word for it, the kind of fantasy where I go for in my modern stuff where it’s an all around realistic world, but there’s something kind of off about it, and something that slowly infects the world. I think it’s called magical realism.
From where do you usually get inspiration or ideas for your writing?
I usually get a lot of inspiration from events in my own life, as well as elements of cultural history. I almost always try to set my pieces in a specific time period. Even “Magnum Opus” is set in the late 1960s, which it didn’t need to be but is. To me, that gives it context. I definitely get a lot of my ideas from my life, so there’s a lot of personal elements in my work. Ironically, I’m not a huge reader. I get a lot of inspiration from visual art, film and television. I’m very much influenced by the way stories are told in interactive media such as video games. From a lot of dynamic postmodern media is where I get a lot of my ideas and inspiration. My form and the way I write definitely comes from novelists, poets and short story writers, but what I write about is from a variety of different sources.
Any particular writers or artists inspire you?
I’m particularly taken by Raymond Carver who did a lot of short stories in the 80s. Maybe it’s a little cliche but one of the reasons I started writing was because of J. K. Rowling. She had the kind of thing that started with a lower reading level and that was adaptable to young readers. She showed me that even someone like a single parent can create something otherworldly, magical and captivating. She was a really big inspiration for me as far as motivation is concerned. I like a lot of Kerouac poetry. I’m very much influenced by music. I’m inspired by hard edge and noisier stuff by punk artists, noise artists and modern psychedelia. They usually create the influences I feel I go for because I listen to a lot of music when I write. So you could say artists like Thurston Moore, John Lennon and others like them shape the tone that I go for or the emotions that I try to create when I write.
In the stories and poetry you write, what kind of interaction are you trying achieve with the reader?
I hope to have them go, by the end, “What the hell was that?”, shock them out of their senses but not in a gross or transgressive way. I noticed that when I write, I tend to stop at the climax or the highest point in a lot of my short stories. I like to leave my audience with that feeling of bewilderment and a sense of deliriousness. In my art, I strive for visceral reactions. The first time I really got interested in art history was when I went up to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for my eighteenth birthday. A performance artist named Marina Abramovic was there. It was a retrospective of all of her work, all the way to her past work from the 60s and 70s. It was in this black room where they had all these pieces, videos and artifacts from her performances over the years. They had bones that she had bleached dry, all these videos of her screaming on her back and convulsing until she passed out, and all these things she was doing with all sorts of naked people everywhere. I remembered that I went in there, and this was my first encounter with this kind of work and I was so upset by it that I almost ran out because it was so jarring, new and different to me. It was this part of art and culture that I have never experienced before. It was this really raw and gritty work. After that, I was obsessed with her. I really look for my work, in any form, to have that reaction. That has always stuck in my mind as the best possible reaction I could get from my readers, like a literary Stockholm syndrome. You feel like you’re trapped but you want to learn more about it–terrified but fascinated at the same time.
In your writing, what kind of themes and motifs do you usually use or are fond of using?
I really like the ideas or themes of people confronting themselves or who they think they are and being surprised, upset or disturbed by it–people confronting their past and their ideas of nostalgia and realizing that they are useless, some dark element of themselves that they need to face. That is a lot of what my work is really about it, characters that are repressing some part of themselves or finally looking back and understanding some part of themselves. That is a big theme I put in there, a dark and melancholy form of enlightenment or self-realization. I also like to have stories where people have to make hard decisions. I wrote a story once, set in World War I during Christmas when there was this truce where soldiers from both sides suddenly stopped and started singing Christmas carols in the trenches in 1914. I had one character who was Jewish who was discriminated against by the Christian soldiers that wanted to go out of the trenches. I wanted him to kind of redeem himself, because he was an officer and he wanted to shoot the soldiers for insubordination. However, it felt more right for him to shoot them because that obeys the military’s law. I want to have main characters that are unlikeable but you can kind of sympathize with them or with their bad ideas. I like villains or antagonists that you understand their motivations even when you realize that what they’re doing is wrong. Moral relativism is a big thing for me in my works. The worst person in the world started on a road of good intentions.
What are you working on now?
I’ve had little bits of stories bouncing around in my head. But the one that keeps irking me, because I like the idea so much, is a novel. The only thing is that, I don’t think that there is an audience for it. I’ve had an idea for a story about a young girl, nineteen, who’s out of high school and thinks she is clairvoyant. The main point of the story is that she’s convinced, or is being convinced, that she has supernatural powers and extrasensory perceptions. In the entire book, her and the reader are unsure whether the powers are real or not. I originally wanted to call it Moths to the Flame, because like moths to the flame we can be driven by our self-destructive desires and delusions, or something like that–in a sense, that we can be driven by something that isn’t good for us. I’ve experienced that so much in my life. Last year, during a tumultuous and emotional time of my life, I was attracted to all these different art forms that I thought I had talent in. I started thinking that I could do anything. I started writing screenplays. I tried to get into acting or music and this and that. I wasn’t particularly good at any of them but my pride got in the way of my reason. It was at the end of the school year I realized, I’m not that bad of a writer. Why don’t I just stick with what I was fine with in the beginning?