Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Inspired by an exile from life life"/ "The genius as Jersey boy"

Dec. 23, 2015 "Inspired by an exile from life life": I cut out this article by John Barber in the Globe and Mail on Apr. 28, 2012:Inline image

Writers are made, not born, and the process is never easy. For proof, consider the case of Peter Hobbs, a healthy young Oxford graduate on the brink of a promising diplomatic career when a mysterious virus shattered his health, condemning him to a decade’s painful convalescence as multiple other disorders – “parasites, infections” – overran his damaged immune system.

“And it was because of that,” Hobbs says while visiting Toronto to launch the Canadian edition of his new book, “I became a writer.”

Slight and reserved, seeming both eager and embarrassed to be talking about himself, Hobbs is still fragile, dealing with continuing repercussions from the ordeal. “It took a lot from me,” he says. “It took the career I really wanted. It took my health.”

What the ordeal gave him in return was scant recompense. “I’d give anything not to have gone through that,” Hobbs says. “I would happily sacrifice my writing career if I could choose again.”

Happily for readers, he can’t.

Although it is hardly necessary to know Hobbs’s personal story to appreciate his latest novel, In the Orchard, the Swallows, the book would have been inconceivable without it.

Set in Pakistan, where Hobbs contracted his initial disease, the short, fable-like novel is narrated by a contemporary Pakistani villager thrown without trial into the worst imaginable prison for a victimless crime of passion and left to rot for more than a decade while periodically undergoing the most hideous tortures. Somehow he survives, the love that led him into darkness ultimately delivering him out of it.

Published earlier this year in Britain, In the Orchard, the Swallows was described by reviewers as “achingly moving,” “beautifully told” and “a perfectly cut jewel of a book.”

The story is not his, Hobbs insists. “However,” he adds, “I knew something about extended periods of suffering, of confinements and enclosure of a different kind than prison, and what happens to the mind when you have the normal habits of life taken away from you.

“I needed to use that in order to be able to write about a character who had been in prison,” he adds. “But I didn’t write about it as an allegory of my life.”

The effect of his own prison – what turned him into a writer – was the new ability to imagine lives as different from his own as that of his nameless villager. “The illness really forced me to look at the world in a different way, and everything looked new to me,” he says. “It was the first time I got the shock of being jolted out of my world and seeing things a different way. It was the first time I really understood that the world is real, but our lives are imaginary.”

The one part of his experience that remains beyond reach, according to Hobbs, was the depression it caused – “quite a rational depression” in view of the circumstances, he notes, “but no more pleasant for that.” It is there where the author’s unbidden ability to imagine other lives fails.

“Depression is one of those things that escapes imagination,” Hobbs says. “It’s inconceivable if you haven’t experienced what it is and what it does to you – the way you think and see things.”

As his health gradually improved, Hobbs suffered from a creative flurry, producing more than 40 short stories over two years and then a first novel in 2005, The Short Day Dying. “It was weird,” he says. “It was a tremendously inventive time.”

But as he recovered, the inspiration abated. “I felt like I didn’t need to write any more,” he says, explaining the long gap between his first novel and the second.

“For a very foolish second I regretted getting well,” he says. “I got over that fairly quickly.”

Made a writer in a furnace of suffering, Hobbs at first hesitated to embrace his fate. “It was the first time in years I had been able to choose,” he says. “It was the first time I had options. I could choose whether I wanted to write or not, and it took me a little while to work out that I probably did.”

Whether or not it really was his own decision, the world of letters is richer for it.

Inline image"The genius as Jersey boy": I cut out this article by Marsha Lederman in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 18, 2012:

Even if he speaks freely (and eloquently) of his own shortcomings – and his mother’s diappointment in his career choice – Junot Diaz, it can be said, is a genius. Not only is this apparent from reading his work – most recently, the National Book Award-nominated short-story collection This Is How You Lose Her – but it is an official bestowal with the awarding this month of a MacArthur Fellowship – the so-called Genius Grant – worth $500,000 (U.S.).

It is also evident in conversation. Diaz is captivating with his casual, expletive-laced brilliance, whether at a writers festival event, or over an early-morning coffee.

“The same way that one must scale buildings, one must scale the emotional dimensions of your make-believe characters, and you do so by taking soundings of your internal self,” Diaz said Wednesday in Vancouver, a city he is visiting for the first time but to which he has a connection: His girlfriend’s grandparents lived here, and she used to visit regularly.

The building-scaling answer follows a brief conversation about architecture, and comes in response to a query about how he mines his own experiences in the creation of his characters, in particular his alter-ego Yunior, the irrepressible Jersey boy who populates most of the stories of love and loss in the new collection.

“You know my own experience with pain, with heartbreak or rejection, with cowardice, my own betraying other people with my own desire for things that are not exactly good for you … all of those things help us to understand our characters when we decide to build them up.”

There is a casual abundance of intellect, as Diaz makes a lie of the common belief that using the f-word (or worse) in conversation makes you sound dumb. Granted, he also drops words such as “teleological” and “quotidian” into his arguments and anecdotes with ease. Yet he sees himself as a forever immigrant, and claims that speech remains a challenge.

“Every word I say in English, my mind is running fact checks on. I hear there are people who speak unconsciously; for me it is like this wonderful rumour,” he says, standing with his coffee (sitting is painful, due to back problems). “Every English word that comes out of my mouth is being scanned for errors.”

Diaz, 43, was born in Santo Domingo and moved with his family to New Jersey as a child. He is a self-described inveterate reader who became obsessive about it from the age of 7. He currently has three books on the go: Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists (“a scholarly book which shows you how … nerdy I am”); Ruth Ozeki’s upcoming novel A Tale for the Time Being – read from the galley; and, on his iPhone for whenever he has a spare moment, Moby-Dick. He began writing in university (he completed his undergrad at Rutgers and his MFA at Cornell), publishing his first short-story collection, Drown, in 1996. His debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named Time’s No. 1 Fiction Book of 2007. Diaz, the immigrant, had arrived.

“It’s extraordinary how prizes are able to alter someone’s sort of artistic economy. Which is to say … regardless of my abilities, I was considered a writer who was playing small ball. I was writing about New Jersey, and I was writing about the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t until I got the [Pulitzer] Prize where I suddenly became a national writer,” he says. “That the majority of us are worthy of Pulitzers and are significant as artists is indisputable, but it’s only at moments like the granting of a prize that you suddenly see how much talent is out there that’s not being recognized. I think the only thing that’s interesting about me is how … through a bunch of random events, you’re given an award, you’re pulled out of the crowd. But the reality is, the crowd without question is just as worthy, if not more.”

Diaz was pulled out of the crowd again this year when he was named a MacArthur Fellow, which gives the recipient full freedom to do what they want with the money. Working out to about $62,000 a year after taxes for five years, Diaz calculates that it isn’t enough for him to give up his job teaching creative writing at MIT. But it does give him some creative freedom and lifts the financial pressure of life as an artist. It may mean he can buy a home, and still continue to pay his mother’s rent.

Diaz peppers his conversation with anecdotes (at least one unprintable) about his mother, an almost mythical maternal creature – again the result of confusion between Yunior and Diaz. But the lore of the reality can be just as delightful as the literary: how she stopped speaking to him for two years because he messed up his engagement to an ideal candidate for daughter-in-law; how his literary achievements do not register on her American Dream radar.

“It doesn’t mean anything to her, because it doesn’t translate. ‘Cultural acclaim’ doesn’t translate. Which is to say, my mom looks at something called the Pulitzer and she’s like, ‘[What’s] that?’ And then she hears that it was $10,000. She’s like, ‘$6,000 after taxes and it took you 11 years to write the book?’ She’s like, ‘You earned more on your paper route,’” he says. “In her mind, my sister’s a big lawyer, with a big car and a nice house, and that makes a lot of sense to my mom. I’m 43 and my mom is like, ‘You were so smart.’ It’s her lament.”

While it took Diaz 11 years to write his novel, it took him 16 to complete the new collection. He writes a lot (beginning in longhand and moving to computer) and he throws away a lot. He says it can take him 1,000 drafts before he’s satisfied. Not that there’s any valour or superiority in that, he stresses.

“Part of why I’m re-reading Moby-Dick is Moby-Dick was written in six months,” he says. “So anybody who [says] it takes longer to write good work, f--- that. There’s no relationship between how fast or how slow we work…. I have to remind people of that all the time. For me to say it took 16 years is not a badge of honour. It’s just the process.”

On U.S. politics
In January, 2010, Junot Diaz wrote in The New Yorker (he is a regular contributor) that he was an Obama man all the way; that he had voted for him in 2008 and would again in 2012, albeit with “far less enthusiasm.”

When asked about this on Wednesday, the morning after the second U.S. presidential debate (which Diaz did not see because he was reading at the Vancouver Writers Fest), Diaz said that sentiment stands. He says it’s obviously hard to be President, but he believes Barack Obama has made many “questionable” decisions.

“Obama’s a great disappointment. I mean, it’s funny, because it’s a great disappointment versus the devil, so it’s not as if the choices aren’t clear,” said Diaz.

“Our country is so ... deranged that it’s between a nightmare and a pain in the ass. That’s how limited our options have become.”


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home