Junot Díaz Hates Writing Short Stories

By SAM ANDERSON Published Se!te"ber #$% #&'# #' (o""ents

• Every writer is cursed or blessed with a unique creative metabolism: the distinctive speed and efficiency with which he or she converts the raw fuel of life into the mystical, dancing blue smoke of art. Junot Día !s metabolism is notoriously slow. "is fuel #ust sits there, and sits there, and maybe every once in a while gives off a tiny ribbon of damp smoke, until you start to worry that it all got rained on and ruined $ and then, % or &' years later, it suddenly e(plodes into one of the most mesmeri ing fires anyone can remember. Día !s new story collection, )*his +s "ow ,ou -ose "er,. is his first book in five years and only his third book over all. +t is, like the other two, e(cellent. +n hopes of peeking into his artistic boiler room, + asked Día if he would mind bringing along to our interview a few artifacts of writerly inspiration $ a lucky pencil, maybe, or some druid crystals $ whatever he keeps handy to defeat all the little hobgoblins that try to drive him cra y every time he sits down to write. Día arrived walking stiffly $ he had ma#or back surgery #ust a few weeks before $ and carrying a fat folder of material pinned under one arm. *his turned out to contain a wide variety of documents. *here was a small black/and/white photo of his father in a fascist uniform, the discovery of which, Día said, inspired )*he 0rief 1ondrous -ife of 2scar 1ao.. *here was a bleak photo of the 3ew Jersey steel mill at which Día worked during college, a #ob about which he has tried, but failed, many times to write. *here was a photo of his parents posing proudly ne(t to a cow. *here were newspaper clippings about the )dirty war. in 4rgentina, a sub#ect that has haunted Día since childhood. *here were folded/up pieces of scrap paper from his back pocket that he had used to capture ideas as he walked down the street. *here were notebooks from the writing of )2scar 1ao,. filled with very tall handwriting leaning hard to the right. 4s Día pulled out one document after another, + got the sense that, if only he could have carried a big/enough folder $ maybe one the si e of a couple of continents $ he would have packed in #ust about everything he has ever seen or heard or 5especially6 read: libraries of fan fiction, rusty knives, third/world crowds, petroglyphs, secret police. "is work is defined by this kind of radical inclusiveness $ the language of drug dealers and *olkien dorks7 the problems of destitute Dominican women and their more privileged 4merican sons. *his receptivity to all the possible sources of inspiration is what makes Día !s work both so distinctively rich and, it seems to me, so difficult for him to write. +t!s like trying to distill the ocean down to a glass of water. )*his +s "ow ,ou -ose "er. is a catalog of wrecked love affairs, multilingual violence, unsatisfying labor and stranded children. +t takes place in a floating world between the Dominican 8epublic and the Eastern 9eaboard, between 9panish and English, between the novel and the short story. 4fter much confusion and struggle, the book ends with a moment of inspiration: the narrator, after years of blockage, begins to write a book that he thinks of as 5to quote the final story!s title6 )*he :heater!s ;uide to -ove.. +t!s a book that promises to be almost e(actly like )*his +s "ow ,ou -ose "er.. 4nd so Día !s process becomes the product itself. 4 few weeks before the book!s publication, Día and + stood at a <idtown bar for a couple of hours $ his back made it hard for him to sit $ and talked about writing well, writing badly and the mysterious 5but always, he insisted, clear6 difference between the two. 1hat follows is a condensed version of our conversation, edited lightly for clarity and with all of Día !s frequent swearwords removed. What )as your !lan *or this ne) +olle+tion, + wanted to capture this sort of cheater!s progress,

+ force it. which was to pattern the characters on the ?antastic ?our. 3o question.5. +t #ust goes on. + can!t speak for that $ what!s interesting in my work is the way that when + am playing full out. +t!s an enormous impediment. 9ome of it is strategic: 2. and all my faculties are firing. not because + want anyone to read it. came. but + have a good memory about what + read. +t!s like you spend &> years chefing in the kitchen. nonsense characteri ation. *hese @'/year/old. + must have written a hundred pages. /here0s a +lassi+ bit o* +reati1e2)riting2+lass ad1i+e that tells us )e need to learn to turn o** our internal editors. you know when you!re forcing the writing. *he dullest. and all that!s left is an amuse/bouche. Ho) did the )riting go. 301e ne1er understood ho) to unbraid the +riti+al and the +reati1e. /hat "ust be tough.. <y thing is.where this guy eventually discovers for the first time the beginning of an ethical imagination. So you had your +on+e!tual *ra"e)or-.uide to -ove. Ho) "any stories did you generate in total. 4nd + don!t have a great memory. left/in/the/sun newspaper/brittle conflicts $ where the conflicts are so ridiculously subatomic that you have to summon all the key members of :E83 to detect where the conflict in this piece is. man. 4nd that was another %'/page botch. +!m writing about a family. +t fell on my lap. + read a book a week. *here!s a story called )=rimo. a book about Dominicans and cra iness. . <iserable. +!ll tell you what. which is that you need your critical self: without it you can!t write. so you need to go hit the books. +t was a story + called ):onfessions of a *eenage 9anky/=anky. + wrote a summer story where the kid gets sent to the Dominican 8epublic while his brother is dying of cancer7 he gets sent because his mom can!t take care of him. that was supposed to be at the end of the book $ that was a miserable botch. Ho) strategi+ are you in !i+-ing )hat you0re going to read at any gi1en "o"ent. +t was another farrago of nonsense. when + am #ust feeling rela(ed and +!m playing. that was trying to be the final story. 4nd then you gotta get back to work. O. man. before )*he :heater!s .ou!ve raised one of the thorniest dialectics of working. wet/noodle characteristics and behaviors and thoughts and interests are ascribed to the characters.. *here was a story called )9anto Domingo :onfidential. Are you a *ast reader.ou know. What are the "ista-es you "a-e. + can name the stories for )*he :heater!s . and it never came together. What is )rong )ith that stu**. Just to play.od knows. kind of fell on my lap and gave me the idea for the deep structure of the book.uide to -ove. .% in1ite your dad in 3 )ant to hear his re1ie) o* Junot Díaz the bad )riter. 4nd + also know $ you get old enough. and that!s #ust the truth of it. <y one superpower. dude. *he stories #ust wouldn!t come.. + was writing )2scar 1ao. So turn on your harsh !aternalisti+% "ilitaristi+ +riti+ 4 +t!s my dad. 3ot to get a date. man. which was even worse than all the other ones put together. So you0re a slo) )riter. <iserable.. +f you could go back in time to the way people dropped the ball on . by 8ick <oody. but only #ust to play. +t doesn!t make me any better. + lose everything that!s interesting about my work. 1hich of course involves the ability to imagine women as human.. it certainly isn!t more valorous. *hat!s why + never want to do this again. Ho) do you "anage that.. that + spent a year on. Are there short2story +olle+tions that you +onsider tou+hstones.A. +!m #ust way too harsh. + spent si( months on that. Ho) do you balan+e the reading and the )riting. ?irst of all. the monumental )Jesus! 9on. so +!ll go read this because + know there!s some family stuff. make me any worse. 0ut there!s always gotta be room for stuff to flow in. not because + want someone to hug me. + have a character defect. for me $ not for anyone else7 . *here!s the given. and by forcing it. +!m old enough and e(perienced enough to know when +!m reading to avoid. + wasn!t looking for )*he +ce 9torm. but in fact the critical self is what!s got both feet on the brakes of your process. +t!s like )*he +ce 9torm. + was reading these history books and ethnic/studies books $ but )*he +ce 9torm. 1hat!s interesting about my work.

4nd for me. the 9tars. beginning to end.ilb. you try your best. 9ure. Were there any boo-s that )ere !arti+ularly i"!ortant in !utting the ne) +olle+tion together. was the beast. )*he :heater!s . was always connected to this. by Edward 8ivera. 4nd then one day it #ust hit. and + would never get past that. is Dagoberto . and no one reads them anymore.. so + never wrestled with it too much. + have three storage units. "ilarious. +t!s a memoir in &B stories. )9am the :at. . *he thing is. + tried to write the first page maybe a do en times in the last decade. +t might. So 6/he (heater0s 7uide to 8o1e9 )as the hardest story to )rite. story $ the disaster vacation. "is collection. and he had a wonderful story about a couple going on vacation. +t was the only good day + had in this whole book. <att Alam is a great short/story writer. that!s all you can do. really. *hree storage units. had all these ama ing stories about recent immigrants. working -atinos. + was always heartened by them.uide to -ove. was a book that should have been like =ulit er/everything. *his thing almost killed me. my best happens really so rarely. )*he <agic of 0lood. )?ort 1ayne +s 9eventh on "itler!s -ist. )<iss -ora. /hat "ust ha1e been a good day. was the absolute easiest. *here!s no question. *his article has been revised to reflect the following correction: (orre+tion O+tober :% #&'# 4n earlier version of this article described incorrectly a picture of Junot Día !s parents that he said inspired his writing. 4ll books. the person who does working people the best. Are you o1errun )ith boo-s. *here!s a book called )?amily +nstallments. What is your boo-2storage situation. *hey were shown standing ne(t to a cow. )Jesus! 9on. +t was always the )go on vacation.. + keep thinking one day it!ll happen. and what else you gotE . by <att Alam. Did any o* the stories +o"e easily. CDía picks up my copy of his book and looks at the table of contents.. +n my mind. the <oon. not a giant bull. trying to keep it together with these cra y #obs. + gotta tell you. + was so always heartened by people like <ichael :habon who write so well and seem to write so fast. and that!s no lie.certain books.ou try your best. <ichael <artone wrote a series of short/story collections. is one of the great all/time 4merican short/story collections. <e(icans.D *ake )*he 9un. Edwidge Danticat writes really well and really fast..

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