Happy birthday, Irina!

In the Red publishes today!

The Millions took note, and I got advance notice of a good review forthcoming in Booklist: “Shapiro (13 rue Thérèse, 2011) has written a deeply dark yet strangely uplifting second novel, about a woman beginning to find herself, discovering her own power and the tools to make use of it.”

lips

Meanwhile I have an excerpt of the book up at Nerve.com if you’d like to get a foretaste.  I didn’t know Irina was so into red lipstick (they took their cue from the saucy book cover I’m sure), but I like.  Classic and shamelessly sexy.

Lots of stuff in the hopper!  I have a story out in the new Zyzzyva and a column about fairy tales coming out on HuffPo on Friday and other stuff I hope gels…  The journey begins.

Strap in for September 16th…

Here is an advance copy of In the Red, just chillin’ out, existing:

ITRbook

Sexy blurb from the front:

In The Red is an absolutely dazzling book, a nuanced and haunting meditation on morality, love, crime, and belonging. In a word, this book is brilliant.”

Emily St. John Mandel

Sexy blurb from the back:

In the Red has all the elements that make for a down-the-rabbit-hole story: it’s exotic, dangerous, deviant, delicious.  But this is also essential reading about sex and identity–how trauma informs first loves and relationships open old wounds.  Shapiro understands the balance sheet of power between men and women better than any other writer out there.  In the Red deserves a place beside Colette and Anaïs Nin on every woman’s bookshelf.”

Koren Zailckas

Plus it already has a lovely thoughtful review on Goodreads!  Sweet.

Do not buy it from Amazon.  Amazon bad.  The cover image in the sidebar leads to the pre-order page from Barnes & Noble, which will feature the book on its New Arrivals table starting September 16.

Tulips in Holland

Tulips in Holland is the working title for this new novel I’m starting while I wait for In the Red to wend its way through the publishing process.  The title is from the following exchange between my protagonist and a Silicon Valley millionaire who pays her for sex:

I’m not complaining.  Overall, he is nicer to me than most men I’ve been with, even men who purportedly loved me.  One day I was sad and he did not insist on fucking me.  He took me to a museum to look at old paintings.  We talked about the rich patrons who financed all those paintings.  He did not mind that they were not very nice people.  He was comfortable with that.

The paintings were from the Dutch golden age, bought with tulip money.  While we were standing there looking at the Girl with a Pearl earring, he said a touch wistfully, “It’s really weird to wake up one morning to find out that your tulips are worth a whole lot of money.”

The dark-eyed girl gazed at me sadly over her shoulder, her red lips parted.  The paint was riddled in hairline cracks.

“It’s also really weird,” he said, “to wake up one morning and realize that they’re just tulips.”

My new protagonist is really fun.  She is acidly funny and gifted with a hot core of righteous female rage.  I love the rage: it is kinetic and purgative.  It is power.  But there’s another thing at the center of this novel: an intense, amorphous sadness, pervasive and inchoate.  I cannot yet pin down exactly what it’s about.  I think it has to do with knowing.  If you insist on not knowing, then you are wasting yourself.  If you insist on knowing, then you will suffer.  Being human inevitably entails being deluded or heartbroken.  There is no Eden, and you can scramble blindly all you want into the past looking for its ruin but–there never was.

I can feel what will one day be this novel inside me, stirring in amniotic darkness.

It has another title, a title I could never talk my publisher into because it is completely uncatchy: Ammit.  It comes from the trial of the soul in ancient Egypt.  In this trial, the dead man’s heart is weighed on a scale against a feather.  The feather is Maat, or Justice.  The heart must balance perfectly against it.  If the heart is heavier than the feather, weighed down by evil deeds, it is tossed to a monster who immediately devours it.  The Egyptians had no Hell.  Punishment for the wicked was oblivion; there was nothing worse than not existing.

Ammit is the name of the monster.

t_Monet - Tulips of Holland

On ne naît pas pute: on le devient.

Correspondence, 11/26/2013:

I would venture to guess that female sexuality is quite adaptable.  At least, when I was young I was quite convinced that sex went hand in hand with an intense relationship.  It did until just past [name redacted], then I started to date and discovered how quickly men could disappear once they fucked me.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on.  It’s not that men promise a future when they know there isn’t one, it’s that, when it comes to cunt, there literally isn’t a future past the part where they stick it in.  The world does not exist past this act.  It’s an act of zen mastery, really, this obliteration of the fourth dimension.  The idea fascinated me.  I was like, I need to start a long-term study of the dude species.  This is apparently what I’m doing here with my curious little quiverbox and my little notepad.  I am fucking the dude collective, the thing that rules the world.  The more men I sleep with, the more I understand why the world is so fucked up.
 
I am not discounting the idea that at some point I might love somebody.  That would be grand.  But I no longer expect it.  That is an adaptation on my part.  I used to be desperate to love.  It is a stark reality that most men cannot be loved; most men will make you pay dearly for loving them.  When a woman can fuck without needing to give herself away, she is left with one thing.  That thing is power.  I did not start out wanting power, but now that I have it I will admit that it is rather interesting.
 
To adapt a Beauvoir quote: whores are not born, they are made.

Literary Fiction–or–Wait, isn’t this supposed to be fun?

A new friend asked me over e-mail today, “What kind of novels do you write? Mystery? Romance? Sci-fi? All of the above?”

This is a question that makes me itchy all over.  The last book I wrote was set in Paris, 1928, so I guess that makes it historical fiction.  It’s got some lovin’ in it, so I guess it’s a romance.  With erotica thrown in.  But it’s also a war story with graphic battle scenes.  And there’s stuff about academia and translation and memory, and fuck, I don’t know.  It’s just a story, you know?  The book I just turned in to my editor has a lot of stuff about being foreign so I guess it’s an immigration narrative.  With crime.  And myth and folklore.  And a fair amount of sex.  And goddamn it, I hate this question.

The answer I gave my new friend was: “‘Literary fiction’ is what I’m categorized under.  Really, who knows what the fuck that means.  It means it takes forever for me to shit out one book but it has, like, substance.”

That’s the best explanation I could come up with, because “literary fiction” doesn’t mean anything.  It just means fiction.  But it’s a marketing category that’s meant to say, “this isn’t some Harlequin Romance or some space opera, this is a story for smart people. It’s written all pretty and has philosophical aspirations, unlike genre fiction.”  It’s a marketing category that pitches itself to its readers by trying to pretend it is not a marketing category.  It’s also the only answer I can give without launching into a long explanation of all the shit all my books are about.

One dude, after I told him I wrote literary fiction, said, “oh, so you write real books!”  I almost peed a little.  Clearly, my writing real books made me worth talking to.  This kind of snobbism is exhausting.  This kind of snobbism is a huge, major drawback to MFA programs.  The expectation was clearly that we were there to write “literary fiction.”  Never mind the fact that most of us couldn’t put a narrative arc together to save our lives, learning how to write something interesting to your average plebe was beneath us. This was especially stark when the poor unfortunates who were trying to write science fiction submitted their stuff in workshops.

When I was given a sci fi piece to review, I usually wrote a little disclosure at the top that stated that I don’t really read sci fi, so some of my feedback may be off-base.  I meant that since I wasn’t well-versed in sci fi, I might ask stupid questions or raise concerns that should be discarded, because I was not familiar with the conventions of the genre. One time, the teacher, a writer published in The New Yorker, the ultimate magazine for smart people, opened the workshop on a sci fi piece by saying he didn’t really read sci fi, so he didn’t know how to comment on the piece.  What he clearly meant was, this material is beneath me, why are you making me read this?

After that, I stopped putting in disclosures about my unfamiliarity with certain genres into my reviews because I realized that doing so made me sound like an asshole.  It doesn’t matter what marketing category a manuscript should be filed under.  The only question should be, is it a good story?  Is it–God forbid–fun to read?

I know!  FUN?!?!  Crazy.  Bring up the idea that a story is supposed to be fun in an MFA program and watch the practitioners of the writing craft present turn into writhing sacks full of angry badgers.  Fun is for children and the simple-minded.

The same writer who quite emphatically did not read sci fi, when confronted with a very early, very larval draft of In the Red, told me that I should take the crime part out.  I should just turn the whole thing into an immigration story, because that was a proper thing to write about.  Writing about guns and organized crime looked entirely too much like fun, it did not belong in a real book.

It must be I am a child.  It must be I am simple-minded.  I like it when stories are fun.

that weird time in between books

It’s been a while

since a man held onto me

as if I were a floating piece of shipwreck–

or am I the ocean?

Am I the solidity of life

or the gentle sway of oblivion?

It’s been a while

since I’ve seen a man’s hand tremble

as if what we were doing

meant something.

Ha!  Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything like poetry.  This next novel is going to be a hoot and a half.  The protagonist is named Karen Schreck and the blog post before this one is what I might call her Statement of Purpose.  Now that was a shot across the bow!  She’s got quite the man-intensive life.  You ride ‘em stallions, cowgirl!

Anyway, I just sent what I hope will be the final version of In the Red to my editor.  Or at least close to the final version…  My book contract is sitting on my desk waiting for me to decipher its legalese.  Then I will sign it and wait for my sweet, tasty advance.  I have been signing a shit-ton of papers lately because the husband and I just bought a condo.  This barely a few months after paying off the last of our student loans–I guess we felt bereft not being owned by some bank or other.  Now for the minor nightmare of American adulthood: the mortgage.

The condo comes with a bunch of pretty nice furniture because it was previously owned by a lone old lady who died in it.  So, we get her stuff.  I am essentially inheriting another iteration of Madame Brunet’s box in a much bigger version.  I am one favored by dead old ladies I never knew, apparently.  One of my new acquisitions is a player piano with scrolls!  Stay tuned for a ragtime housewarming party…

Notes for a book

Dear Men,

Quite possibly the dullest construct modern sex has come up with is “friends with benefits.”  Sporadic sexual encounters with no significant engagement in between?  It sounds like a relationship you could easily have with your hand.  Also, the word “friends” seems a little out of place here.  Do you only call up your friends when your ball sack is full?

If you’re going to fuck me like a whore, pay me like one.  In order to surrender this body, I need an investment.  Give me a place to live.  If you won’t shelter me with your love, then pay my rent.  I need a God.  If God is not Love, then God is Capitalism.  I want to get right up next to It, listen to Its thrumming center.

If I’m going to fuck you, I’m going to find you out.  Else what is sex for?  Whatever this in-between thing is that you seem to want bores the shit out of me.  Commit.  Romance or depravity.  My hand is out.  You choose what to put in it.  Your heart or crisp hundred dollar bills.  If you are not willing to yield something fungible, then what is my motivation for doing the same?

Dear Men–redeem me or degrade me.  Only do not bore me.

Sincerely,

Woman

Totaled

RIP, little Corolla.  1997-2012.

RIP, little Corolla. 1997-2012.

Written to my husband, May 1, 2006:

You and I are driving home, reminiscing about those days when we first flirted together.

I remember the first time I looked at you with desire was in the Fall of 1998. You were driving me somewhere then too, and you said something funny. I laughed. Not to be courteous: what you’d said was truly funny, and it was a real laugh, a laugh with surprise in it. In mid-laugh I felt a pang of sadness because I was going overseas and I thought that this was your last year of graduate study, so that when I came back to Stanford, you would be gone. I thought that I would never see you again. I was mistaken.

“Do you remember?” I say. “We were in the same car we’re in now, in the same seats. The car was new then.”

Do you remember? I was leaning against the hood of this car when you first kissed me, on the evening of July 8th 1999, just a couple of weeks after I got home from Europe. It was at Ocean Beach and it was so cold and windy. We had just walked together by the water and you’d held my hand. I’d showed you the scar on my knee from the surgery on my broken leg, and you’d laid your palm on the place where my tibia is still bumpy–where it mended into an unwell shape. You were so close and I was waiting for you to kiss me. There was a bus idling at its terminus near us in the parking lot–it waited with the lights on and the doors open for its turn-around time. You were waiting for the bus to leave because you didn’t want the driver to see us. Perhaps, the driver was waiting for us too.

The three of us there, late on a thursday night.

You body touched mine and we were tired of waiting then. It was then that you put your arms around me and gave me the first kiss of many–leaning right against this car–with the bus driver watching.

In this car, you drove me to the emergency room so many times that they cannot be possibly be counted–you so quiet and worried, me curled up in the passenger seat in blinding pain as always. Some nights, not in this car. Some nights, in an ambulance.

In this car, you drove me to the hospital to get cut open.
In this car, you drove alone to San Francisco to marry me on the morning of June 6th, 2004.
In this car, you drove us home the next day from the honeymoon suite of The Seal Rock Inn–the first place we’d made love all legal-like.

This car is old now. The latch on the glove compartment just had to be replaced–its random small parts are starting to fail. One day we will have to get a new car, maybe drive some kids around.

This car: a 1998 Toyota Corolla, white.
In this car, I first looked at you with desire.
In this car eight years later, you drive me home.

We bought a new car today, a Prius in a lovely ocean color. “Sea glass pearl,” the manufacturer calls this color. In some lights it looks blue, in some lights green, in some lights gray. The ride is smooth and very, very quiet. Accelerating in this car makes a whispering wind-up sound reminiscent of stately space vessels in cheesy sci fi movies. It sounds like the future.

telling the dream

How did we blow past Thanksgiving already?  Is the speeding of time a feature of getting older?  Am I going to be on my death bed soon wondering how the hell that happened?  The answer is, of course.  Sometimes I’m still in a state of dull shock when I realize it’s no longer 1998.  Then I look in the mirror at the little furrow between my eyebrows that used to only be there when I woke up in the mornings and my head explodes.

That furrow is a permanent resident on my face now, and will do nothing but deepen.  I named that furrow George W. Bush.  I have not yet decided which of my body’s signs of aging I will call Dick Cheney.  I may be saving that one for something chronic, painful, and insidious, like an ulcer.

But, let’s talk about something brighter than my inexorable decay.  Guess what?  13 rue Thérèse was nominated for an award!  The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, to be exact.  Pretty sweet, no?  It’s always lovely to be surprised by a bit recognition from the outside world as I toil in my writerly cave.  It gets pretty hermity in here.  (I just looked up the correct adjectival form of “hermit” and it’s “heremitic,” but I much prefer “hermity.”)

Speaking of the writerly cave, I did a revision of In the Red over the past couple of months.  I am going to give it another once-over, then send it along to my agent.  It’s always weird to have another human being read something that’s been simmering sealed away in my head for years.  It’s a real passage, and it always comes with a big dose of trepidation.  I was once asked by an interviewer about what my greatest fear is when I turn in a manuscript.  I said that turning in a manuscript is like trying to tell someone about an intense dream you had: it may just turn out to be incoherent hash and leave you looking like an idiot.  Scary, no, when you spend a couple of years and 80000 words telling the dream?

barfy stomach virus + delirious fever + vicodin = dreams starring Kate Beckinsale in a leather corset over a torn poet shirt

The way the world works is, every once in a while, a Good Angel and a Bad Angel fall to Earth from on high.  They are sent down to rule the planet.  One of them is male and one of them is female (it doesn’t matter which is which), so what usually happens is that they fuck and make Medium Angel, and that Angel rules the world as a compromise.  Except this time there’s a glitch at the angel factory so that Good Angel and Bad Angel are both female.  I am Good Angel, and Bad Angel is much stronger and more attractive than I am.  She says, “Since we can’t make Medium Angel, we should just go ahead and fight to the death and whoever wins gets to rule the world.”  I’m like, I got a bad feeling about this.

So, we fight for a while, Japanese-animé style, hurling balls of lightning at each other and leveling cities and such.  Bad Angel is clearly kicking my ass.  I am lying there in a pool of my own blood trying to gather the last shreds of my energy for a desperate suicidal onslaught when Bad Angel pities me and says, “Don’t bother, it’s useless.  You think that even if somehow you win, human beings will stop hating and killing each other just because they have a Good Angel to watch over them?  Just give up.  They’re all mine.  The world was made for me.”

I look up at the Bad Angel, absorb what she said, realize that she is right, and pass out.

When I wake up, I am covered in brambles and crap.  It’s fifty years later and the whole planet is a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Nobody remembers the battle I lost; nobody even remembers there was ever a Good Angel.  I am weak and miserable and I don’t know why I bother being alive, alive forever to wander the Earth and watch the human race degrade itself while the Bad Angel laughs, laughs, laughs.

Other suggestions welcome for the lead actress…  Who else does badass pathos?