Peeling an apple, drinking while urinating, coupon frenzy, lap dances, the steam rising from scrambled eggs—all are given equal weight and care in the collections of Greenpoint author Jillian Ciaccia, who goes by the simple title “The Fictionist.”
Ciaccia, a Brooklyn native and Hunter graduate, has been writing and self-publishing her work since 2005. Her collections, Absurdities, Peculiarities, Monstrosities, and Curiosities, are filled with short, out-of-the-box pieces of fiction, which carefully and thoroughly navigate between the mundane details of life, from the detailed fabric of a couch, to the 785 textile options which accompanied it, to the fragile relationship of the people sitting on it.
“My work is very mechanical- I call the pieces them literary portraits,” Ciaccia explained “I try to revolve the story around the five senses. I try to create a scene that they reader can experience, so it’s more than just a character and a beginning, middle, and end. It’s about the reader being involved in the story.”
Ciacca’s stories range from memos to instructions to short fragments, and are supplemented with footnotes, charts, tables, and illustrations, which often serve to shift the narration of the story elsewhere—the manufacturing plant where an object was made, medical statistics, product disclaimers, as well as intimate details of human emotion and visual wonder. The effect is a kaleidoscopic zooming between the mundane and domestic and then a larger global context and cultural criticism, all tied together through the thoroughness of her details. The result is a style which is both mechanical and tender.
“I put people on the level of objects and objects on the level of people,” Ciaccia said. “There is some social context and political context that sneaks in. There’s a social context that leads back to a sub context that people can either read into or enjoy the story for its surface value. My goal is re-reading. That’s why I say it’s for invested readers. It’s a short story, but there are layers there.”
The tone and style of Ciaccia’s work is often reminiscent of Joyce’s Ulysses, which she cites as a major influence, along with Nabokov and T.S. Eliot.
“I like Eliot’s sense of humor. I try to put that wit into my work as well. It’s hard to be profound. Laughter and subtle humor go a long way.”
Ciaccia mentioned a love of research—she has a first edition Gray’s Anatomy, and the human body often serves as inspiration for her pieces, along with office life and food preparation. From there, though, the stories take on a life of their own.
“It can be overwhelming to try to tackle everything at once. With a short story, I start out at a point and go word by word. I don’t really plan where the story is going to go- I just start with that opening sentence and it evolves, almost like a plant. Eventually, it will unravel on its own.”
Ciaccia self-publishes her work, doing everything from the binding to the press. To promote herself, she does readings and goes to book fairs, cutting out publishers and going directly to her audience.
“The public loves it,” Ciaccia said. “They don’t expect the author to actually be out there interacting with readers. I do the printing, I do the writing, I do the binding—it’s like a one-man band. A lot of readers love the interaction.”
In another non-traditional route, Ciaccia has also been creating street art with her work for the past two years, pasting pages and excerpts from her work on found objects on the street.
“I love it. I do it every week. I wander, very much like my stories, it happens organically. I’ll find something abandoned like a couch or a tire. Then I’ll take an excerpt that I think fits the object and the environment or a sentence that I’ll think works with it and spray paint it, leaving it as an art piece. I guess it’s like literary graffiti.”
Ciaccia is currently working on a fifth collection. The other four can be found online, completely free of charge.
“I embrace the digital—that’s where it’s going,” Ciaccia said. “If you want your work to survive, you have to adapt. If there’s a new iPhone out tomorrow, make sure your work is on it. That’s the advice I gave [at the Brooklyn Book Festival]. Don’t be afraid of the digital world. There will always be books, people love books. Find out how to get your work out there.”
Interested readers can visit thefictionistonline.com.