My characters are not underachievers; they aspire to great things, but they are limited by the world around them.
My sister married an American and took his name, and my brother has shortened Sayrafiezadeh to Sayraf. So now he's Jacob Sayraf, or sometimes Jake Sayraf. He made the change when he was a teenager, prior to the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis. So I don't think it was motivated by any anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States.
My childhood was defined by my father's absence. His presence looms so large. Up until the age of 18, he was a superstar for me.
Stasis is something that has marked my life since I was a boy growing up in Pittsburgh with my mother. It was the natural state that we existed in. For one thing, she suffered from a debilitating depression throughout my childhood, and depression is nothing if not static.
Other families who are poor do what they can to get out of it. My mother did not. She did not utilise her resources. She had a degree. There was something she could have done, but she actively, purposely refused that so we could have this absolutely authentic experience of the worst of capitalism: 'See? Look how bad capitalism is.'
There's always been something a little pathetic for me at the work parties I've attended, especially thinking back to the restaurants I worked in. I remember a Christmas party in which we all got free T-shirts with the restaurant on the front and our names on the back.
We were poor, my mother and I, living in a world of doom and gloom, pessimism and bitterness, where storms raged and wolves scratched at the door.
The daily quota I've set for myself is 500 words or approximately a page and a half double-spaced. Which isn't much, except that I'm extremely slow, extremely meticulous. 'Le mot juste' haunts me. On a good day, I will finally secrete the 500th word at about 5 o'clock, and I'll reward myself by going to Housing Works Bookstore to read.
I wake when my wife wakes, at 7:30 A.M. I'd like to sleep longer, but she has to go off to work, and I'd be plagued with guilt.
I need to feel as if everything is clean and in its proper place before I can even attempt to write one word. At least, that's what I tell myself. I make the bed, I put away the dishes, maybe I dust, maybe I do the laundry, maybe I go to the post office.
More people work at Walmart than anywhere else in the United States, but you wouldn't know that from our literature. I'm trying to get at the reality of this country by portraying the lives of many of my friends who I left behind in Pittsburgh.
In many ways I'm similar to Barack Obama, who also has a strange name but was raised by a white American mother. His background is far more complicated than his name would suggest. Furthermore, the fact that I was a child during the hostage crisis has caused me to equate being Iranian with being alienated.
There was something so immensely redemptive and exciting for me to imagine that my unknown father was not just a man who had abandoned me but a noble man of adventure who had no choice.
I work in the most non-Communist job. I work for 'Martha Stewart Living.'
I have to expend an awful lot of energy actively undoing the impact of my name. Understandably, people assume that I have at least some connection to Iran. The truth is that I don't. I have very little knowledge about the culture, the language, the history. I've never been to Iran. I've never even been inside a mosque.
The difference between our family and other poor families was that my mother actively chose to be poor. She was highly literate, and she had a college degree, but after my father left, she took the first secretarial job she could find and never looked for other employment again.
I am haunted by what my life would have been had I not had the courage in my early twenties to leave Pittsburgh for New York City and really commit to being a writer. Pittsburgh is both post-industrial and provincial, and the opportunities there are limited. It would have been quite easy to simply drift through life.
It's very difficult for me to look at politics with clear eyes. I'll read a story in the paper and the first thing that pops into my head is, what would my dad say about that? Then I try to break out of that and think, 'What would Said say about that,' and then it gets complicated.
I suppose my Iranian identity is one of the driving forces for being a writer: I want to set the record straight about who I really am.
I take pride in taking care of all the housework so that my wife, who works as a designer for Martha Stewart, won't need to sacrifice any of her leisure time when she gets home.
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Pittsburgh. I've never been to Iran, I don't speak the language, and, probably most important of all, my Iranian father left home when I was nine months old. That's the extent of my connection to Iran.
I have no personal experience in the military. All I know about it is what I've seen in movies and read in books and watched on television. My knowledge is probably no more or no less than the average person's. 'A Brief Encounter with the Enemy' was created by taking bits and pieces from here and there, and then putting my own spin on them.
The year the bus drivers went on strike in Pittsburgh, I was twenty-three and living on the edge of the city in a neighborhood that was on the verge of becoming a ghetto. I had just been fired from a good job as a cartographer in a design studio where I had worked for about four months.
While writing my memoir, 'When Skateboards Will Be Free,' I would sometimes have to pore over hours of microfilm at the New York Public Library in order to try to get one obscure detail right. For instance, was the Socialist Workers Party originally called the American Workers Party or the Workers Party of the United States?