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Interview: Local Author Joseph Colicchio

I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Colicchio, who recently published his fourth novel, All Strings Attached. He is also the author of the novels As Told by Monk, High Gate Health and Beauty, and The Trouble with Mental Wellness. His novels feature relatable characters who are Hudson County residents.
Colicchio is a native of Jersey City, and grew up in the Heights. He worked full-time at Hudson County Community College for 33 years as a professor. He still teaches at HCCC part-time after his retirement.

When did you decide to become a writer? Who inspired you to become a writer?
A tough one. I don’t think it’d be honest for me to use the word “inspired.” I think the idea of being a writer just kind of grew in me. I think that as a kid I had an artistic temperament—observant, sensitive, curious and pensive. The thought of being a writer, though, didn’t enter my mind until I was seventeen or so and about to leave the cozy but uncomfortable confines of Jersey City for Paris on the Turnpike — that is, New Brunswick, NJ and Rutgers. There, growing intellectual maturity and exposure to what were, to me, new ideas and people, led me to want to make sense of and communicate my experiences. For me, the natural route to this was through writing.
Who are your favorite writers?
Another toughie. But I’ll go with an answer that ties in with the previous one and the transition years from Jersey City to Rutgers. (Yeah, college was really important in shaping me.) The first author would have to be Fyodor Dostoevsky. My high school English teacher assigned the class Crime and Punishment in the spring of senior year. A crazy decision on his part, but one that paid off with me. I finished the thick novel mid-summer, came face to face with Dostoevsky’s intensity and lunatic insight, and registered for Introduction to Russian Literature that first semester of college. That same summer, summer of 1970, I picked up a novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. at a newsstand on Central Avenue, JC. I read three novels in four or five days and was hooked. If reading Dostoevsky, despite its rewards, was hard work, reading Vonnegut was straight-on play. What seventeen-year-old, tired of and skeptical of the world’s seriousness, wouldn’t be hooked by Vonnegut’s irreverence?
What advice would you give young writers?
It depends on what the young writer wants. Do they want to write, or do they want to be a writer? If they simply want to write, I’d say, I get it, I love it too. I’d say enjoy it (just as you might enjoy playing the piano or enjoy dancing), share your work with others, and most of all enjoy your time at the keyboard. If you’re not enjoying it, stop doing it. Do it to the extent that you love it.
Being a writer, as opposed to someone who simply likes to write, obviously requires a real commitment. I’d make sure they understand the commitment part. If you’re not willing to make that commitment—if you’re not willing to commit your time, to sacrifice monetarily, to expose your vulnerability—then you’re not going to be a writer. By this, I don’t mean a great writer, or even good writer. I mean a writer, plain and simple. Earning the right to call yourself a writer requires commitment, sacrifice, and courage. It means skipping that party, it means not working those double-pay overtime work hours, it requires you to show your work to someone else—to many someone elses. It’ll mean that you’re willing to say: this is very important to me and it is the absolute best I can do.
Your characters are very unique, but are still everyday people. Why do you choose to write about characters from Hudson County?
Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that my characters are both unique and everyday people. At least, that’s the way I like to think of them. It is pretty much my M.O. to bring out the uniqueness or individuality of everyday people. In terms of the Hudson County connection, that’s very important to me. As Told by Monk, High Gate Health and Beauty, and The Trouble with Mental Wellness just had to be set in Jersey City. All the characters have been formed by the Jersey City air they breathe, and the books’ settings really are essential to the telling of the tales. I feel differently towards All Strings Attached. In it, there are certainly plenty of touchstones which will resonate with anyone from the area, but the Hudson County setting doesn’t really infuse the novel as it does with the other three.

What inspired you to come up with the title All Strings Attached?
I worked on the novel for a really long time and didn’t settle on the title until I reached the publication phase. Before that, the title had been True Tales from a Single Summer. When I got to the end of the writing process, my wife and a couple of friends were praising everything about the book except the title. I kind of agreed. We jumped on the “all strings attached theory” that the character Tommy Moore describes to Mr. Collins in one of his weekly reports. There’s a notion underlying the novel that all things are attached—that all of life is a sort of unified field—and that, well, if all events, individuals, experiences, psychological states aren’t specifically attached, then they certainly are, at the very least, connected by way of association, echo, correspondence. It’s something I believe and I wanted to get at in the novel.
Thank you to Joseph Colicchio for answering my questions!

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