Friday, September 7, 2007

The nicest, most personable author I've ever met.

The bad news: Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints played a terrible game, both offensively and defensively. This is bad news for me since I have both Brees and McAllister on my fantasy league (Brees was my #3 pick, man!) and I expected greatness. I mean, I get that in the face of the awesomeness that is Peyton Manning, it's a tough sell, but come on, Drew! 2 interceptions? 1 fumble? NO TOUCHDOWNS? Doesn't help that the guy I was playing opposite tonight had both Wayne and Addai. Sigh. First game of the season and I'm already getting downtrodden. It's okay. I have LT.

The good news: Junot Diaz's reading was not only wonderful, it was so, so, so much more.

Okay, so let's start from the beginning. After learning my lesson about the crazy crowds at Barnes for readings, I grabbed a seat at around 6:20, and thumbed through both Oscar Wao and Drown. I've been wanting to purchase my own copy of Drown for awhile, after I'd read a couple of the stories, and this was obviously the perfect opportunity. I also thumbed through Oscar Wao, and came across the chapter titled "Wildwood".

At this point, I skimmed, and felt abashed.

I stand corrected on my opinion of this piece. The reason being, when I read it in The New Yorker, I believed it to be a short story. And for a short story, I believe it to be way too sprawling and containing a severe lack of focus. It ambles. But, in light of the revelation that it's merely an excerpt (which perhaps some suspected, but I did not), I will concede defeat. An excerpt is judged very differently in my eyes from a complete short story. As I had mentioned before, it wasn't the plot or even style that I had problem was, it was the seeming lack of focus. But it's a chapter. And suddenly it all makes sense.

So there, in front of my eyes, was beloved Diaz redeemed from that one troublesome issue I had with him.

All right.

So Diaz comes on stage. And good god, he's a funny, funny guy. He's down to earth, he has a mouth that can't stop saying the word "fuck" even though two minutes prior, he called out the nine year old sitting in the front of the audience, he makes political jokes, he covers his mouth when he laughs. I love it. All of it. He's humorous, easygoing, and clearly comfortable up there. The lady introducing him makes some speech ribbing him about how it's taken forever for him to write this, and he takes it in a stride. I immediately fall in love with him. [Not in that way, but in the this-is-an-author-I-can-love-to-love]

He reads an excerpt from Lord of the Rings, which I think is hilarious. Then he does his reading. I am surprised, because he reads slowly, almost in a clipped, unnatural tone that has little of the ease of his regular speech. The dialogue comes out a little stilted, the words that he himself has written seem almost a little ill-at-ease on his tongue. And yet, it works for me. Somewhere in there, beneath his careful reading of lines, I catch his sincerity, his humor, and the fact that these words are his baby. It doesn't sound natural, but then it works. Almost like, maybe this is exactly how it should be read, all the time.

He takes some questions. He rambles sometimes in his answers, which I love. He says at one point something that strikes me: "Even though as writers we're imagining all of these characters and caught up in this world of our imagination, our imaginations can never surpass our humanity." Something about this rings very true to me. That at the end of the day, what sticks with us about our characters and stories is the truth in them, the humanity in them. Again, I must say it again, I believe the beauty of fiction is in the fact that it can portray truth in humanity.

And then the signings begin.

The clocks tick. Slowly. Very slowly. The line moves. Slowly.

Why? Because Diaz insists on making out each book personally. Because he stands and chats with every single person that has come to see him and is holding their book out to him. Because he asks all of them what they do for a living, and personalizes a phrase, a word, anything, in the books. He laughs easily.

You know, writers, as a group tend to be a little introverted. I noticed this. Especially the really bookish, intellectual, literary types. I mean, you have to be, in a way, right? To shut yourself up in a room with a computer and type away little conjurings in your head. Probably not the cheerleaders or the prom queens or anything. Probably escaped by burying their heads into a book. They tend to be a little more stiff, a little more formal, or maybe just a little bit unsocial. For instance, I LOVE JSF's books. But he was a very odd guy in person. He kinda looked at me like he had no idea what he was supposed to say or do when I gushed (in my jittery starstruck fashion) about how influential his books were to me. Us writers, I think sometimes we're better at words than at the verbal thing, because we have the time to sit and think of the perfect sentences to say what we mean, and we're allowed to use the backspace key.

So. My point is. Diaz blew me away with how personable he was, how engaging, and how respectful and truly NICE he was to all of his readers. I've never been to a more fun reading. And I liked finding out this about him. Not to say that I didn't appreciate his work before (because I actually turn to his short stories sometimes when I need to get myself into a male character mindset, because I think it strikes such a perfect chord), but somehow, knowing he's such laidback, fun guy makes it ALL THE BETTER.

Okay, so I'm taking a really long time to get to the kicker.

After two hours, I finally get up there, hand my books to him. And he asks me where I'm from, and I say Jersey (which is where he's from) and he asks where, and I tell him, and he knows the exact building I live in because apparently he has family there. He says, man, that place is crazy, someone should write a book about that place, and I go, hells yeah, it is. In fact, I'm trying to be a writer, and I'm going to write a story about my doorman. And he goes, yeah? Well, if you ever write a story about that place, or even if you have anything you think is pretty decent, shoot me an email and send it over. I'm fiction editor for this literary journal, and we take young writers all the fucking time. Just mention we had this convo in your cover letter. Yeah? I say. I might just take you up on that offer. You should, he says.

Well, okay, I try to take that with a grain of salt, because, you know, in the end, a submission to a literary journal is still just that - a submission. Regardless of if he had a convo with you or not. Okay. Big deal.

Well then he asks me a couple of other leading questions, and I mention to him that I found out recently that he and Edwidge Danticat are buddy buddy. And he's like, yeah she's my GIRL. And I'm like, dude, I LOVE her. She's probably one of the biggest influences on my writing. And he's like, you know what, you REALLY need to send me an email, because I can totally hook you up with her. She'd love to hear from you, really. Shoot me an email and I'll put her in contact with you, she'd be happy to help out. And I'm like, Are you serious??? And he's like, DEFINITELY.

I skip away, moments later.

Okay, if you've read my past few entries, you know that I LOVE EDWIDGE DANTICAT. I love her prose in ways I can't even begin to describe. I admire her endlessly, and I credit her work for continually inspiring me during times when I just can't seem to get anywhere. This is big. This is huge. If he truly puts me in touch with her, that's just. I don't even know.

I actually find it ironic, a little bit, actually. Thumbing through a couple of the stories in Drown I hadn't read yet, I realize that there's a character I've written about a few times experimentally (that I want to bring to life one day) that really has been influenced by the couple of pieces I'd read by Diaz. He helps me focus on the male-ness of my character. And yet, on the other hand, Danticat influences my prose tremendously. They're so different in style, and yet it's somehow clicking.

Um. And so that was my day. I lost in fantasy football, but who the hell cares. I met Diaz! He's a really nice guy! He might put me in touch with Danticat!

Now if only I could remove this silly grin pasted on my face....

3 drops:

moonrat said...

aww <3

Chainz said...

Sounds like you had a way better experience with Diaz than I had with Auster. It wasn't bad, it was just anticlimactic.

When I handed over my much worn copy of Book of Illusions, he signed it and passed it back without even looking at me. I didn't know what to do, and wasn't prepared to give any awkward gushing remarks, but I knew I wanted more. I wanted him to acknowledge me. So I blurted out a "Thank you" that was probably a bit too loud - you know, like someone who doesn't know how to control THE VOLUME OF THEIR VOICE. But I wanted to make sure he heard me, I wanted to resist mumbling at all costs. But because it was so awkward, Paul Auster's response was a very curious stare - and maybe a nod, but I can't be sure.

Anyway, it is a little funny because he wasn't rude, but I was so close to someone I respect so much and I craved some sort of interaction. When I got nothing I felt empty and cheated. Oh well. I'll probably still go see the Inner Life of Martin Frost, his movie that he was promoting last night.

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