Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz doesn't think about the critics when he's writing. "I'm still waiting to figure out how to write for a critic. That's never going to happen, I don't think," he tells us laughing. "A book has no real, identifiable audience in the end. The only audience is whoever picks up the book and reads it. And that's not a uniform group of people.
"But to write a book, you sometimes have to guide yourself with a phantom audience. My phantom audience is a small group of guys that I grew up with. I keep them in my mind when I write. That's why I don't, for example, explain what New Jersey is. To a large part of the world, New Jersey doesn't mean anything to them. But I picked this group of guys and I don't have to explain what New Jersey is to them."
Diaz's latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, has just been released. He'll be in Houston reading and discussing it as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series on Monday, September 24. The book chronicles the loves and losses of a young man named Yunior as he bounces from one relationship to another, leaving a string of messy breakups and broken hearts -- including his own -- in his wake. Along the way, he learns that "love, when it hits us for real, has a half-life of forever."
While he doesn't worry about what the critics might say about Lose Her, Diaz says he's anxious to get feedback from his female readers, which is told from Yunior's point of view. "I'm waiting to see what the woman on the street will have to say about it."
Advance reviews have been favorable, but the book just hit the shelves on September 11 so Diaz hasn't heard much from readers yet. "To be honest, I'm always happy to get good feedback, but I'm happiest of all that the damn thing is done! This was a book that had been long in the making. It was a stew that I had been cooking for 16 or so years. I'm just glad it's done."
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Lose Her is somewhere between a collection of connected short stories and a novel. "I enjoy the hybrid structure of this book," Diaz says. "There's something about the game which a book like this plays with its reader...and by game I don't mean a game as a manipulation, but a game as something they participate in. This book asks readers to cope with the fact that the book is partially a novel, partially a short story collection and partially something else altogether."
Diaz says he's looking forward to visiting Houston. "I really love it. I mean I love it as a visitor," he laughs. "It's so hot and crazy. It's sort of the ground zero for a lot of our cultural and political battles, so I'm, of course, going to enjoy a place like that."
Diaz appears as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series September 24 at 7:30 p.m., Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit the Inprint website or call 713-521-2026. $5.
To find out how you can win a signed copy of This Is How You Lose Her and two passes to the Junot Diaz reading, courtesy of Inprint and the Houston Press, visit the Inprint contest website to enter. Winners will be selected on September 21 and notified by e-mail. You must be able to pick up the book at the reading.