Joan Didion talks about gaining confidence, and about her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne. Next week, the entire interview will be published on The Believer website. Excerpt 1, and Excerpt 2 are here. We spoke over the phone, she from her hotel in Washington, on book tour for Blue Nights.
— Sheila Heti
BLVR: I imagine it’s difficult to write non-fiction because you have to have such authority to say, This is what the world is. How can you really have the authority to say, I know enough and I’ve seen enough to be able to conclude things about the world?
JD: Well, you have to just gain that confidence, which is part of what you do over the course of your whole career. I mean, you become confident that you have—this sounds ridiculous, but you become confident that you have the answer.
BLVR: Do you remember the point—
JD: —at which you get that confidence?
BLVR: Well, for you.
JD: For me it probably occurred fairly late, when I started getting feedback from the audience. Feedback in terms of a response. Well, it wasn’t fairly late. It was fairly early [laughs] when I started getting a response from the audience, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the nerve to continue.
BLVR: Where would you situate that? Around which book?
JD: I would say it happened at Play It As It Lays. Which was, when? My third book. I remember my husband saying, when Play It As It Lays was about to come out, he said, This isn’t going to—you’re never going to—you’re never going to—this book isn’t going to make it.
BLVR: Did it hurt your feelings when he said that?
JD: No, it didn’t hurt my feelings. It was, I thought, a realistic assessment, which I certainly agreed with.
BLVR: Why did you both feel like it wasn’t going to make it?
JD: Because it was my third book and I had not made it until then. And you don’t see—I mean, you don’t think in terms of suddenly making it. You think you have some stable talent which will show no matter what you’re writing, and if it doesn’t seem to be getting across to the audience once, you can’t imagine that moment when it suddenly will.