Posted on August 17, 2012 - by MG
Eight questions for Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of new collection “This Is How You Lose Her”
If you’re one of the six people who regularly read this blog you may remember me turning to goo over my discovery a coupla years back of my new favourite living author, the winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, Junot Diaz. When my publisher asked me to nip down to the printers and sign 5000 books or so, I couldn’t help but be excited to see a pallet of Junot’s books all stacked up and ready to go. As well as horrified to find a few copies of Oscar Wao in the overs bin – of course, I rescued as many as I could carry.
I emailed Junot a photo of his book-stack and we’ve been in contact since. Recently, Goodreads asked me to suggest some interview questions for a forthcoming major feature on the Goodreads site, about Junot’s forthcoming collection of short stories, THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER.
If it’s anything like as good as Junot’s debut, DROWN then I will be one happy homegirl. (Dude’s narrative swagger is infectious. He’s got me outgunned with the metaphor and wordplay though, sin duda.)
It made me realise that I’d quite like Junot to answer all of my suggestions. Very kindly, he agreed to answer by email. So, here we go!
1. You must have been asked this one a zillion times but – here goes.
As a former sci-fi obsessive and Dungeon Master, I recognised Oscar, but Yunior, much less. As a fellow author, I have to recognise that most authors are writing something of themselves into every character. Either the person they think they really are, or the person they either would like to be, or fear they might become. Yunior and Oscar seem to me like they could be opposing aspects of your own character. Is there any truth to that? And if so, can you give us a percentage – how much Yunior, how much Oscar? Or could it be that you’ve concealed your true self within Lola?
Hard to parse oneself, especially when we’re talking about our fictional creations. Characters like Lola and Oscar took all my heart to write but does that mean they’re half of me? Hard to say. Though it’s true: what made Oscar and Yunior interesting is that they represent opposite sides of something that they’re each fascinated and tormented by. Yunior is incapable of dropping his social masks – he’s always putting on a persona, always passing for a male, always playing the role, never really letting anyone know who he is.
Throughout the novel we meet many of his various guises but we never truly meet the man himself. One cannot find love unless one drops all masks, all pretenses, unless one reveals oneself and makes oneself totally vulnerable to the person they seek to love. Love after all requires intimacy and intimacy is only possible when you expose yourself utterly. Like many boys of his time and place and upbringing Yunior wants to be able to find love but was raised to avoid vulnerability at all costs. He has many lifelike masks with which he tricks the women he’s with, so many masks in fact he has forgotten that he even has a real face. Oscar on the other hand is never anything but Oscar. He has no masks and therefor cannot adjust himself to a given social situation just to get a girl, which is what Yunior can do all the time. Oscar can play no ‘roles’
and Yunior can never show himself. They each have what the other wants and so they circle each other and this is why Yunior is drawn to Oscar. In him he can see what he’s missing though he’d never admit it openly.
But to answer your question most directly: Yunior is my alter ego and has been for a while. But Oscar is also my alter ego. I grew up with roleplaying games and comic books and scifi books and like Oscar I was tormented by apocalyptic nightmares. As for Lola she was inspired by the Dominican ex girlfriend of my dreams. The woman who completely changed my life. And that means she too is a part of me. How much–hard to say.
(Ooof, fascinating answers! Especially intrigued by the revelation about Lola.)
One trades the lustre of youth for the burden of wisdom, for the weight and power that comes from confronting oneself over a longer span of years, and in the process coming to terms with the consequences of all your choices. I mean, damn, if we’re lucky we all age. And what I’m discovering is that it takes a lot of courage to face the years once youth has faded. I never knew that when I was young. Me, I’m interested in making art about the human experience and this is one confrontation, with growing older, that clearly has never ceased to fascinate artists. And it certainly fascinates me. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing about young people. But as an artist one wants to be able to write productively about all the stages of life. Having insight in your work about what it means to be 44 is as important as having insight in your work about being 14.
3. Like many of your readers I am dying to read your sci-fi, post-apocalyptic novel. Is it going to be called Monstro? How is it coming along? YA readers are somewhat obsessed with this subject matter so feel free to tell us as much as you can…
Hard to say. Much mestizaje often leads people to dream strongly about purity. Just check the countries from which we hail where the obsession with all forms of purities, from racial to class, is overwhelming. I think I’m a hybridmonger, not only because of my upbringing and my Caribbean-ness, but also by inclination. It’s how I think. I would love to write a purely genre novel. But I also have to learn to write faster, since at this rate I’ll be lucky to finish MONSTRO before I turn 60.
You’re so much better at this game than I am. I don’t remember the names of any of the clubs I’ve gone to. There was a spot in Bogotá that I adored but whose name escapes me. There’s of course 809 in New York City which is simply fantastic. And in the Dominican Republic R there’s El Secreto Musical where they strictly dance Cuban son and in the days of my youth was about the most fun one could have in the DR.
6. Your favourite salsa band?
I’m a huge fan of Eddie Palmieri’s work and of course Hector Lavoe. When they’re on a track or an album I’m in heaven.
(Let’s take a minute to absorb the genius of Hector…)
7. Salsa, merengue or reggaeton?
I prefer the one you left out–bachata!
(OK – we need no more proof that Junot is in fact a marshmallow – bachata is verrry smoochy and romantic…)
8. Mario Vargas Llosa or Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
That’s easy. GGM all the way. There’s something cold about Vargas Llosa that has never sat well with me. But that’s just me, clearly.
(I wouldn’t agree quite with ‘cold’, but calculated, maybe.)
Thanks so much, Junot! I’m sure you’ll be doing lots of interviews now that we’re all about to read THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. Junot has promised to get a free (hopefully signed) copy of the book to one lucky reader – if you would like to enter the draw please leave a comment with the title of your favourite short story by Junot, by August 31st, and be sure to use your real name and email address so we can get that book to you.
Junot Diaz is appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday 18th, a ticket event, but also doing a free event in London at Foyles on 22nd August. Sadly I’ll miss both as I’ll be away in Devon *sadface*. If you haven’t yet read DROWN or THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO – I can’t recommend enough. Especially if you happen to be a comic book and sci-fi-obsessed Latin American immigrant, if that’s you then don’t miss out on the chance to meet Junot!