JOHN C. PICARDI, Author of the book NINCOMPOOP
Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the oﬃcial author’s bio?
I am a painter, chef, playwright and an adjunct professor. I had two plays produced oﬀ-broadway by Urban Stages. Both have been produced throughout the USA and are published. One of my plays, The Sweepers, is in the Billy Rose collection at Lincoln Center. I have won numerous grants from the National Italian American Foundation for my plays. I earned an AS in Culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University. I worked as a chef for two years then I became a Flight Attendant for three years, and
traveled the world. When I left that job I went to The University of Massachusetts/Boston and earned a BA in English/Creative Writing. A year after graduation I was oﬀ to Carnegie Mellon University where I earned my MFA. I have been painting for the last five years and happy to say that I sell my work. I am grateful I can fulfill all my passions.
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
I was a Freshman in College and wrote a story about a man who worked in a dog food factory because he loved to eat dog food. It was a silly, fun story and when my professor read it to my classmates I was absolutely thrilled. I started writing other stories and my professor read them all to the class; he said I wrote like James Thurber and of course my ego went into high drive. I thought I was just amazing. I was a ridiculous, naive young man. However, that experience unleashed the writer in me. I loved the
feeling of creating my own world and characters. It was huge turn on. I became lost in my writing and couldn’t stop. It was all I wanted to do. I feel the same way about painting.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
The title of my last novel is, “Nincompoop” the story was inspired by my friends and my experiences while living in NYC. My friends and I were fresh out of graduate school and new to New York. We were all artists, actors, writers, and we had odd jobs and worked for nightmare bosses. I was also intrigued by the many people I knew who were pursuing careers in show business. Their ambition and my own dire need to “make it” always seemed unhealthy to me. Through diﬀerent experiences I discovered it was about ego, pleasing people, a desperate need to be loved and to fit-in and to make bundles of money. It had zero to do with art or being an artist. All that foolishness and desperation clouded my art work and who I was as a person.
Many year ago a Professor had said to me that you have to do your art work for yourself. I never understood what he meant, but now I do. For me it means to express yourself authentically without interference. The more you create from your heart, the more it will resonate with your audience. The truth will always touch people. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t listen to constructive criticism. I mean this in terms of creating art without the idea of how sellable the finished piece will be or how loved and admire you will be for creating it. Maybe it’s possible to create with that all in mind, but that mind-set never worked for me. Every time I created for myself and kept it pure and honest, my best work was created. It’s always a good idea to be authentically you. For example years ago when I was shopping around “Nincompoop” I was told by agents and some publishers that a gay protagonist was not sellable and it limited audiences. They wanted me to change my protagonist into a heterosexual man. Times have changed, thank goodness, but I’m glad I stuck to my vision and waited for the right time to publish it. My
protagonist may be gay, but he is a human being first and is identifiable to all. I am proud of that fact.
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
I wrote Nincompoop tens years ago and put it away. Two years ago I took it out of hiding and slowly started working on it.
When I start something I write a first draft rather quickly, we call this the vomit draft. By the time I am done with edits, that first draft is gone into cyber heaven. I don’t know how many words I write, I can hardly count to ten.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I can write anywhere; libraries, coﬀee shops, my sofa and in bed. I just do it, no routine, not rituals, no specials times and no special food that I need to eat while writing. I am not that quirky or unusual or special. I am a regular guy who loves to write, paint and cook. I let my passion dictate where it’s going to take me.
Yet, I do believe there is something spiritual and invigorating about creating, for me it feels personal, scared and mysterious and a part of me fears sounding pretentious so I will stop here.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I cook, and also paint. Painting is now my first love, I don’t care if I am good or bad at it. I can do it all day and night. I get totally lost in it and love being in my own world of colors and imagination. Painting is similar to writing, but painting is
immediate. I see results quickly, I show people and get a reaction, there is no waiting months for people to read your work. It’s truly fantastic to have found a new passion at my age. It makes me completely blissful and I feel absolutely connected to myself while I do it.
As far as cooking goes; I love it too. When I was young and in Culinary School it was like being heaven day in and day out. I love food, I love talking about it, making it and sharing it. I lived in Italy for six months a few years ago. I spent some time in the Emilia-Romagna region with a family and they taught me how to create a positively delicious Lasagna Bolognese and homemade Tortelloni. There were many other simple dishes I learned to cook there as well; many of them using only a few fresh ingredients. One dish I’ll always remember is mushrooms sautéed in butter, fresh black pepper, fresh thyme, Parmesan and all tossed with Bucatini. It was perfection and so simple. I spent five weeks in Rome and I ate spaghetti Carbonara, and I am not
kidding, at least three times a week at a restaurant near the Trastevere Train Station. I now make the best Carbonara in all of Boston and I dare anyone to challenge me. I am also passionate about the classic French dishes too. I make an outstanding Country Pate, and my souﬄés are pretty darn good. I like complicated, long recipes that take days to make; things that need to be marinated or aged are a real turn on for me too. I don’t feel like an artist when I cook, I feel more like a scientist if that makes any sense.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
Since I was a boy John Steinbeck has always intrigued me. When I first read East Of Eden I was very young and became lost in it and because school was tough for me both academically and socially, it provided escape into a whole new world. That book ignited the reader in me. I savored every word of it even
though I didn’t fully understand a lot of it, but I felt something that I was not quite sure of, but I liked the fact I was placed into another world by words and that alone fascinated me. The complexity of the characters made me curious and I wanted to know more about human nature. After reading East of Eden I wanted to be an adult and just get on with my life. I believed at thirteen years old I was ready for the world even though I was the worst student imaginable. I thought those characters actually existed and I wanted to runway to Northern California and be with them. But there I was stuck in school for years to come and my dreams of working on farms, hanging around tortured characters and rolling down grassy hills would have to wait.
I read all of Steinbeck’s novels after that experience with East of Eden. I thought I was brilliant and above all my boring and dopey classmates who were reading Lord of the Flies. I love Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums” to me it was one of his most sensitive stories and it made me love him even more. And I will never forget the beautiful ending of, “The Grapes of
Wrath” it is something that has always stayed with me and it said to me that no matter how bad life can be, there is goodness, love and hope in the world.
As a playwright, I adore, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller. I admire their sensitivity and compassion for their well-rounded and at times, desperate, tragic characters. I wholly love the work of these three playwrights. They had a great influence on me not just as a writer, but as a person. When I read or saw these plays performed, I didn’t feel so alone. When a writer can make you connect or identify with a character, it’s pure magical brilliance.
The writer I admire most is Toni Morrison. I don’t think I have read a writer who has changed me as a person or as writer like Morrison has. Her exploration of characters are beyond magnificent. She made me aware of racism, my own racism, the plight of black women and men and freedom in America. She
writes masterfully about human connection and survival. She writes about the diﬃculties of life so vividly you can almost smell and taste her words. Her writing is alive; it’s more than words on paper, her words dance inside your head and embed themselves deep in your mind. I feel she is the best there is, period. My dream was to meet her one and I was devastated when she passed. Morrison made me a better teacher and I hope a better person. Her incredible ability to write well-rounded characters is awe-inspiring. For example, “The Bluest Eye” was such a diﬃcult book to read, and so extraordinarily well-done, that at the end of the book, I couldn’t believe I was actually feeling badly for a character who does the most despicable of thing to another human being. I pitted him with all my heart and it confused me at first, but then I understood how we are all victims of our situations, good or bad, we are born innocent until life happens to us. I looked at people diﬀerently after that book, it woke me, brought me to conciseness, and it made me an even more
compassionate person. This is one of the things that good books should do for people.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I am looking over some unpublished novels I had written years ago; they are pretty good, but need some work. I don’t talk about novels or plays in progress or show paintings to people before I feel they are ready. For many reasons it can really mess-up my process.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
Well, of course my crazy ego wants the entire universe to read my book so I can become super wealthy and control the world and fly to the moon in a penis shaped spaceship and then paint and write for the rest of my life. However, logically, I want a person to pick up my book and say to themselves, “This is not for me” Then I want them to give it a chance and read it. I want my novel to challenge people, change minds, help them find a deeper meaning to their own compassion and to understand the importance of it. I would like my novel to somehow make them a better person because that’s what good novels have done for me. I am also confident that my novel will appeal to those who are on a quest to grow intellectually and emotionally.
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
You must read and read and read some more. Don’t write to make money or to be famous or for your book to be made in to a movie because more than likely none of that will happen, but let’s
hope it does. The only thing that is truly your business is to make absolutely certain that you are writing for yourself. All that other stuﬀ is a major distraction and clouds your visions from being truly your authentic creative self.
Every time I wrote for myself I have had success. Whenever I wrote or painted with wanting to please others or to sell, I always made a mess. It’s never good. Ignore what’s selling and what’s topical, all that stuﬀ comes t later. Don’t let the market dictate what you write, let your writing dictate the market.
Don’t be a boring cliche. Make sure you work so you can pay your mortgage or rent. You do not need to “suﬀer for your art” to be a good artist, there are millions of other ways to build your character and to experience life’s challenges. You do not have to be a booze-bag or take drugs or any of those yawn induced, embarrassing stereotypes. It is absolutely possible to write and paint and hold a job. You can have a drink or two, and be
mentally stable and be a successful artist as long as you know what “successful” means. If you are producing work and it resinates with people you are successful. Period. If you have a drinking and drug issue, if you are struggling, hungry and tortured, seek therapy and food stamps, but continue with your art work. I detest cliches and that image of the “starving, struggling artist” is a thing of the past. Make it work, it is possible.
As far as writing and coming up with ideas. I talk to a lot of people, ask questions, listen to their stories, and I am always observing my surroundings. When something bothers me or I see or hear about something that is unjust, I start asking myself questions; why do I care so much about this? Why has this triggered me? How can I tell a story using this situation, what needs to be said? How can I say it? For me whether I am writing, painting or cooking it is all a big puzzle to figure out.
Other random advice; being an artist you are rejected a lot and it can be depressing and diﬃcult. You have to maintain a constant state of truly believing that something new and exciting is around the corner waiting for you. Otherwise, you will be doomed because the constant rejection can be intense and discouraging. Go back to what I said earlier; just do your art for yourself so that one day it can be for everyone. Work, pay your bills, eat delicious food, be kind to yourself, stay positive. Being able to express yourself is amazing and brave. It’s a gift.
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Write for yourself. The rest will fall into place. Don’t compare, be you. Don’t show your work until you’re done and feel ready to show. When I was in college I disliked reading my work while it was still in process. It didn’t work for me and it ruined my vision for the piece. It rarely helped me. When I had a complete draft
and went into workshop, it was amazing. I love feedback and it always helped.
How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I read about 6 books a year, that’s not enough. I am pretty busy. I am always painting or writing or cooking or correcting my student’s papers. I guess need to take my own advice and read more.
I like books about the human experience, how people survive, character driven stories.
I recently finished reading, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, it was very good. I found it emotional, powerful and at times disturbing. One of the interesting things in the book was that at times it felt repetitive, but instead of feeling annoyed it somehow
helped me feel completely immersed in the character’s lives, it was like I was a part of their everyday life. I also felt that the love that certain character had for one another was real, I believed it. That is what stood out the most for me. Not an easy thing for a writer to do.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing?
What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
I hope my readers leave my novel feeling like they went on a journey and have an emotional connection to the characters. This is how I feel when finishing a good novel. I loved the feeling of being in another world, learning something new, longing for more, and changing how I feel about things. I always hope that my readers find my characters well-rounded and that they understand their motivations. I want my readers to love my characters and feel compassion for them; even the not so nice
ones; it’s about personal growth and helping make the world a better place.
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
Let’s skip this question.