Sam Anderson interviewed Junot Diaz in yesterday’s Times Magazine about Diaz’s new collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her:
How many stories did you generate in total?
I’ll tell you what, I can name the stories for “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” before “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” came. There’s a story called “Primo” that was supposed to be at the end of the book — that was a miserable botch. I spent six months on that, and it never came together. There was a story called “Santo Domingo Confidential” that was trying to be the final story, that I spent a year on. I must have written a hundred pages. It was another farrago of nonsense. I wrote a summer story where the kid gets sent to the Dominican Republic while his brother is dying of cancer; he gets sent because his mom can’t take care of him. It was a story I called “Confessions of a Teenage Sanky-Panky,” which was even worse than all the other ones put together. And that was another 50-page botch.
That must be tough.
That’s why I never want to do this again. It’s like you spend 16 years chefing in the kitchen, and all that’s left is an amuse-bouche.
There’s a classic bit of creative-writing-class advice that tells us we need to learn to turn off our internal editors. I’ve never understood how to unbraid the critical and the creative. How do you manage that?
You’ve raised one of the thorniest dialectics of working, which is that you need your critical self: without it you can’t write, but in fact the critical self is what’s got both feet on the brakes of your process. My thing is, I’m just way too harsh. It’s an enormous impediment, and that’s just the truth of it. It doesn’t make me any better, make me any worse, it certainly isn’t more valorous. I have a character defect, man.
So turn on your harsh paternalistic, militaristic critic —
It’s my dad.
O.K., invite your dad in: I want to hear his review of Junot Díaz the bad writer. What is wrong with that stuff? What are the mistakes you make?
First of all, nonsense characterization. The dullest, wet-noodle characteristics and behaviors and thoughts and interests are ascribed to the characters. These 80-year-old, left-in-the-sun newspaper-brittle conflicts — where the conflicts are so ridiculously subatomic that you have to summon all the key members of CERN to detect where the conflict in this piece is. It just goes on, man. You know, I force it, and by forcing it, I lose everything that’s interesting about my work. What’s interesting about my work, for me — not for anyone else; God knows, I can’t speak for that — what’s interesting in my work is the way that when I am playing full out, when I am just feeling relaxed and I’m playing, and all my faculties are firing, but only just to play. Not to get a date, not because I want someone to hug me, not because I want anyone to read it. Just to play.
[Photo Credit: Fornication]