Ioannis Pappos: “I am Always in Love with the Lives I Have Not Lived.”

Ioannis Pappos is a management consultant and writer from Pelio, Greece. He is a graduate of National Technical University of Athens, of Stanford University, of INSEAD Business School, and has worked in both the United States and Europe. When he is not consulting, Ioannis contributes to newspapers, magazines, and blogs. His first novel, Hotel Living (HarperCollins), was a finalist for two literary awards: Lambda, and Edmund White Debut Fiction. He lives and works in New York City.

Caterina Ploumidaki: How did it all start?
Ioannis Pappos: My writing activity started during the last recession, during its aftermath. The work I did as a management consultant had contracted, both in nature and scale, and since in New York we tend to “become” what we do, this lack of professional esteem triggered a mid-life crisis. Somehow I started an imaginary trialing. “Where would I be today had I not studied engineering? Had I gone to art school or had I studied, say, architecture? What if this? What if that…” In an effort to capture these parallel universe games, I started writing a diary. Soon enough I realized that I wanted to write how things should have happened, instead of how things did happen. That leap opened the door to fiction, and within six months, I had completed the first draft of my novel, Hotel Living.

TNH: What led you to your path?
IP: Ira Sachs. We all have role models. Ira, who is one of the most respected film directors today, perhaps the ultimate New York director in our post Woody Allen era, was the first to read a sample of my writing and the first to encourage me to keep writing and to actively seek an agent. Ira became a mentor. In some way, I caught myself tracing him. He didn’t go to film school; I never studied writing. He makes personal films; I wrote a personal novel. His films often pull from rough experiences, and yet he treats his characters with reverence. In Hotel Living I tried to do the same: I defended my characters no matter how dark they were.

TNH: What does writing bring to you – and to society?
IP: Writing is both satisfying and addictive. Reading is a meditation on relatedness, but it is also provoking and inspirational. Novels change our lives. We see ourselves in characters that made edgier calls. Characters who said: “enough is enough”, quit momentum to pursue uphill battles. Literature is dangerous.

TNH: What are your future goals?
IP: All I want in life is a good night’s sleep. When I sleep better everything falls into place: health, writing, work, love.

TNH: What would your advice be to someone following your path?

IP: “Let me give you a piece of advice,” we frequently say…Well, there is a reason why advice is often free: it does not work. If it did, trust me, we would have priced it. Having said that, I did give advice for a living as a management consultant for almost two decades – I still do. Thus, here is my motto: do what feels good, and that will end up being the right choice for you. You will be good at it, and thus you will be appreciated.

TNH: What are the pros and cons in your work?
IP: Silence versus loneliness. Writing novels is a hazardous test. Best to know yourself before you jump into it and, more important, best to like yourself cause that’s the only person you will teamwork with, and live with, for a long time. Now here is the tricky part: going down the rabbit-hole in an unreal world for an extended period of time is borderline psychotic. One can go mad.

TNH: Comparing to Greece, what are the differences in the New York working scene?
IP: New York and Greece complement each other in my life. I have never worked in Greece per se, although I have spent time in Pelion, where I am from, in order to write, even though I was writing for my New York publisher and U.S. outlets. As far as the writing process – and by that I mean the act of writing, not the literary circuit – Greece is a writer’s paradise. It allows one to disappear in this corner of the world, and yet to witness all the underdone and inflamed emotions at once. On the other hand, New York is riding a ridiculous real estate and lifestyle bubble. Recording human nature under this inflated climate can be fascinating too.

TNH: How do you deal with the tremendous competition in your field?
IP: I try not to think about that. You just can’t. Not because that makes you special, or independent, or a Hunter Thompson-type of rebel writer, but because I do not think that there are many spaces that are not fiercely competitive in our time. Hyper-competitiveness is a byproduct of the manic-efficient markets, and technology accelerates that. Everything is out: public, easy to reach and compare.

TNH: What distinguishes your writing?
IP: My scientific and business background. I studied electrical engineering, then engineering-economic systems, and finally business administration. For two decades, I built portfolio management programs for blue chip companies’ R&D investments in New York. My resume may sound dry, but it allowed me to write without emotional bias, as bias was frowned upon in my earlier professional days, both in science and in decision analysis-backed billion dollar investments. That detachment stayed with me when I started writing literature. I try not to judge my characters.

TNH: What does the reader derive from your writing?
IP: That even our darkest sides deserve some form of defending. Difficult corners of our personalities do not define us, but they are part of us, they are part of our puzzle. There are no black and whites.

TNH: What do you derive?
IP: Relief. Closure. A “child” that might, and sometimes, validation. Most of us need some sort of validation to go on. Do we ever really graduate high school?

TNH: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
IP: In Pelion, reading physics (which is my religion), writing, fishing (responsibly), and taking care of my father’s land. I would also love to teach decision sciences, one of the most interesting fields I have ever studied, too.

TNH: Which are the wisest words you were taught and from whom?
IP: “Anyone who attempts to generate random numbers by deterministic means is, of course, living in a state of sin.” – John von Neumann.

TNH: What is the biggest value your parents gave you?
IP: To be a dreamer; from my mother. To be content with the status quo; from my father.

TNH: What is your strongest trait?
IP: Loyalty. I have the same best friends since 1985.

TNH: If you could turn time back what would you change?
IP: Absolutely everything. I am always in love with the lives I have not lived.

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