Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Q&A with Author Johnny Diaz

Author, Boston Globe media writer, and Emerson College journalism professor, Johnny Diaz has carved out a niche in fiction based on his personal experiences as a professional, thirty-something, Cuban-American, gay man living in Boston ("one of the few but proud").  His books include Boston Boys Club, Miami Manhunt and BeanTown Cubans
Just recently, Johnny Diaz was awarded an Outstanding Alumni award for the Literary Arts from Miami Dade College.

Somewhere within the whirlwind of receiving awards, publishing, reporting and teaching, Johnny Diaz  recently found some time to answer a Q&A for Musings' readers.

Congratulations on all your success, Johnny, and welcome to Musings!


Can you tell us a little bit about your writing routine? 
Since I write several news stories a week for The Boston Globe (where I'm a Business reporter) I find that I am constantly writing in one form or another. For the creative writing, I squeeze time during the day, late at night or on the weekends. I usually try to write a chapter in one sitting and then spend that week revising it. Journalism has taught me to be a fast writer so that has helped my fiction writing. So my routine is to write when I can but not to force it either. Let it come gradually. But usually when I start, I can't stop for a good hour or so.

How do you manage your ideas? (do you keep a journal, take notes)
I constantly email myself ideas for scenes, nice phrases or if I don't have a pen handy, I call my work voicemail and leave a message. (This usually happens after a few drinks.) When I return to work after the weekend, I find that I have all these messages - from myself. Then I write down the ideas.  I also scribble some thoughts on a notepad I keep handy during my daily travels.  All the above methods work for me even though they are a bit quirky.

What sort of thoughts and feelings go through your mind when your books are released?
I smile outwardly and inwardly with pride. Whenever I go to a bookstore and see one of my books (or all three) in the fiction section, I find myself scratching my head and thinking "Did I really write these?"   It's a similar feeling that I get when I see one of my stories published in The Boston Globe. I think to myself, "Did I really write that?"  It can be surreal on both fronts.

Do you ever have a sense of fear/nervousness when you begin a new novel?
 Not at all. I look at the blank computer screen and immediately imagine another world. I don't know if it's a creative spirit but something guides me and helps me summon the words, the scenes, and the characters. I've never been able to explain this behind-the-scenes process well. I feel as if the universe sends me these little gifts that propel the writing. I also can't predict when this happens. It's completely spontaneous and whatever appears on the screen is inspired by what happened to me that day. I usually have a general mental outline for a novel but it changes as the writing flows.

Many writers, especially at first, hit a roadblock-how do you overcome the dreaded writer's block?
There is no short cut. You just do it. The same goes for working out and hiking. No one can do it for you. I just plow ahead and write with the same effort as I do when I hike outside of Boston or lift weights. I don't believe writer's block exists. If you're not feeling what you're writing, walk away or then come back to it or read one of your favorite authors and your creative juices will begin to flow again.

Besides writing fiction, you also work as a media reporter for The Boston Globe's Business section, and before that, in Miami as a reporter for The Miami Herald, were you shared in the 2000 Pulitzer award coverage of the federal seizure of Elian Gonzalez and covered some of the biggest breaking stories in South Florida, such as the Gianni Versace murder. Do you find that there is a common thread between journalism and fiction writing?

There was a common thread when I wrote more features stories because I could use my writer's voice (setting a scene, harnessing my eye for details and telling a story) and that complemented my fiction writing. But with my Business stories, I find I can't really use my senses because I am limited by space. The focus is news, the facts and getting to the point fast. It's more formulaic. I am finding that the fiction writing has become more of a creative outlet for me lately.
Do you read reviews of your work?
Never! (Just kidding)  I have Google alerts on each of my books so I know when a review is posted somewhere in cyberspace. I can't resist reading them but I've learned in recent years that reviews say more about the reviewer than the author so I have developed a thicker skin. I don't take the criticisms personally but I do try to find a common thread in all of them and strive to improve on that.

Who do you read? Who are your biggest influences?
I have been a loyal follower of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who wrote the NYTIMES bestseller The Dirty Girls Social Club and several novels after. (Alisa and I have similar backgrounds - we're both Cuban-American writers, we've both been features writers at The Boston Globe and we write about characters that are trying to find their place professionally and personally.) So she has been a big literary influence on me.  But I also enjoy reading Nicholas Sparks (I have all his books in my bookcase at home) as well as Danielle Steel. (My friends relentlessly tease me about this.)
I enjoy reading romance, love stories and books about the power of friendship. (I also enjoy the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.)   In the past two years, I've also become a reader of the late E. Lynn Harris.  I feel a literary kinship with him. Just as he has provided a mirror of gay and middle-class black America, I've tried to do the same with gay Latinos in the US.

Are there any words of advice or wisdom that you wish you had received when you first started out in your writing career?
Write what you want to write. If you're looking to get published, I would suggest looking at what genres sell and continue to grow because this is a business and books aren't published for charity. I wrote my first book purely for me (it was more therapeutic if anything.) I never thought it would be published until my friends encouraged me to send it out. I just felt good that I had finished a novel.  Having it published surpassed my wildest expectations. and then the others followed. But again, I wrote it for myself. 

Please tell us about your work.  What are you currently working on? 
I am almost done with my fourth novel, which follows a Boston college writing professor who has trouble dating because he feels like the old dog at the bars even though he's 35. He juggles his classes and looking for that special guy while his father grows sicker in Fort Lauderdale from Parkinson's. The father and son heal their old wounds as they take part in a special dance class for people with Parkinson's. Unlike my other novels, this book has one narrator so it's truly his story.

It's so wonderful to have met you, Johnny.  Thank you for your generosity.
De nada! :) Thank you for the interest in my writing.

To get a sense of Johnny's sense of humor and writing style, check out this post where he interviews his main character from Boston Boys Club and Beantown Cubans, Boston reporter Tommy Perez:
Check out this review for his second book, Miami Manhunt (not bad, Johnny!):
"The excellent Johnny Diaz has produced another hilarious arresting novel about that most impossible of all quests: finding love, true love, in Miami."--Juno Díaz, New York Times bestselling author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

1 comment:

  1. I love it when you have Q&A with authors! Great post!


Musings Feed