Fresh + awake from traveling through W. Europe + Morooco, I decided to write Junot Diaz. Here's the letter I sent him:
I know you're a busy man these days after the Pulitzer madness and everything, but I'm writing you because I'm stubborn like that + I'd appreciate your help. I'll work my ass for any kind of help by the way, so I'm not looking for a hand-out or a chippie from you, just whatever you feel is deserved. But here's my deal, and I hope you'll just take it as one emerging fiction writer reaching out to an established one, and nothing more.
I've got my MFA from a pretty good program + I'll be starting my PhD in literature + creative writing at USC in the Fall, so institutionally I'm getting some support, don't get me wrong. But it's the important little things I really need your help with. For one, I have a 460-page novel called BLANK that I think rocks the joint. Like all works of literary fiction, there are holes in it, moments of self-indulgence, hang-ups + other shit. I'm not gonna lie. But in a couple ways, it reminds me a bit of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (strong, contradictory, complex characters, multiple narratives, multicultural, moments of lyrcism, all that) and that's why I'm asking you + not just any fiction star for some guidance. But the thing is Junot, this novel is superambitious + despite all of its flaws + virtues, it's using voices (chinese-american, senegalese-american, moroccan-french, indian-american) + exploring subjects (parkour, culture jamming, porn piracy, emotional voids, nymphomania) that agents aren't willing to touch, at least from an unkown fiction writer with a name that sounds like a fake-ass nom de plume. I've received lots of praise for this novel, for the ambition + beauty of BLANK, but it's usually the same shit: Jackson, you need someone who is going to passionately defend your novel, and I'm not that person. . .
I know all of this sounds wack, like I'm whining about not getting a break. But, that's not it man. I've gotten more than 500 rejections (and a few acceptances too) in the past five years from both journals + agents, I've sent partials to almost every agent whose client list shows stylistic similarities to my own, and I've been writing seriously since I was an undergrad (and I'm 35 now). I mean, I'm doing my homework, revising my stories all the time, tweaking my novel + definitely putting in my time for sure. This shit is my life Junot, and I've had so many people tell me, or stop me from writing since I was young, but I have to write. That's why I'm on this earth: to write, to create + affect. At the same time, I feel like at some point, every writer with talent, conviction + a different voice, who can't (or won't) write the typical workshop novel with all of its emotional paralysis, white despair + Freudian histography inevitably needs help from someone with power, especially when he's writing something new, audacious, unapologetic, at least before there's a market or a readership for what he does. . .That's just where I am at right now.
So, maybe if you're feeling compassionate/impatient with me, you've already jumped to the how, and asked yourself how the hell you can help me. Well, in a million ways. I'll just list some things, and if you feel like doing any of them, I'll be eternally grateful. If not, I'll be disappointed because of the person you seem to be to me, but I'll get over my shit eventually + just take it as another bump on the road to my own career. Truthfully, I get it: why would you help me? You don't owe me shit, you don't know me at all + maybe I come off as a whiny, fiction poser who wants people to eat his food for him. But part of me feels like you have a soft spot for the hardworking underdog. Well, here he is Junot. So here's a few things that could help me out. Am I asking too much? Hell yeah. But I've got to try anyway. This is my life man. . .
SOME WAYS YOU CAN HELP (in descending order of time commitment)
1. Maybe this summer, when you had a weekend free, you could read BLANK + tell me if I'm fucked in the head.
2. If you're not up to that (+ I guess I don't blame you since you have no idea whether that would be worth your time), then, maybe you could just read a few chapters + if you felt like there was promise there, tell Nicole Aragi what's up. Trying to contact her directly is like trying to break into a federal maximum security prison with a shoespoon.
3. If you don't like any of those ideas, you could let me send you some short stories for the BR. I've already sent the Boston Review 8 short stories, all of them rejected. And to be honest, I thought the last three stories might be up your alley, but I'm not sure that they even made it to your desk. Almost all of my writing is character-based, but I don't know if your fiction readers like my stuff or not. So far it doesn't seem like it. . .
4. You could kick it with me at a bar for hour in Chicago this summer, or LA in the fall onward + just talk shop with me. It means a lot to me to be able to talk fiction with someone who knows what's up + it would be inspiring. I could learn a lot from you, your life, your dedication. Not only that, but it would make me feel like the big guns in the literary world aren't too big for their fame, and that some day, with the same love, dedication + stubborness, I'll make it too. That might stupid, but that's way important to me.
All right, that's it. This is a long, fucking message, and I'm like half-sorry. But it's all real + honest Junot. I'm just telling you where I'm at + hoping that you some part of this email resonates with you, even for a second. Like I said, you don't owe me shit, but I'd genuinely appreciate your help anyway + I hope you'll do the right thing cuz it matters to me. And I think it matters to you.
Con Amistad + Agradecimiento,
And here's his response:
thank you for your email but im entirely focused on my own work right now and
can barely get to do that given my teaching obligations, my community
obligations, my editing obligations, and my attempt to keep a social life
this is about the 97th email of this kind ive received in just these last two
months. good luck. it is not an easy road.
And my reply:
it's cool. i know you're crazy busy + I kinda figured you'd say this. but shit, i had to try, even against all odds because there's just too much at stake. i get it though: you can't help everyone. maybe you're not even supposed to.
when i've weighed up to my class, our paths will cross I hope someday. in the meantime, i'll keep fighting.