Inadvertent love letter in the middle of a writing exercise

Uh oh but why not.

That is quite possibly my modus operandi for life. The answer to the question “why not” is already contained in the “uh oh,” but it ought to tell you something about me that I did not bother to put a question mark after the “why not.” It’s not even a question. It’s an affirmation. If I want to I will do it. Somehow I have lived this way and managed not to destroy my life.

I said this to myself on my second date with my husband. I had liked him ever since I’d met him a couple of years earlier on the selection committee of the university literary journal. He was acerbic and dependable, so I knew immediately he was not from California like the others. On the first date we went minigolfing. I wasn’t even sure if it was a date or if we were just becoming friends because he didn’t even try to touch me despite my sending him a yes signal by briefly resting my hand on his forearm. On the second date it was a go: we were on ocean beach at night and it was very cold. He said “let me warm your hands” and then we made out in his car like teenagers for hours. It got all steamy in there so he took off his glasses to squeegee them on his shirt and I got a good real look at his eyes for the first time. I have never seen eyes like that before or since.

Uh oh but why not. Somehow even though I was ridiculously young I knew from those eyes that I was looking at an outstanding person, and I knew that I had just fallen in love—just now—just like that. I was not one of those girls looking for “the one” so my first thought rather than “I’m going to marry him,” was “some day when we break up it is really going to suck.”

Uh oh but why not.

It was a crazy gamble and yet fifteen years later he has never failed what I saw in his eyes that night.

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…