Category Archives: sex

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.

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al-kimiya

Of all the alchemists, I make the strongest pharmakon.  Sacrament remedy poison talisman cosmetic perfume intoxicant cure.  Cure for what ails you.  Drink it to die.  Drink it to live.  It will rip its way through the center of you like a column of fire.  There is no other who can brew one like mine.  Ask all the peasants and they will point to my hut while averting their faces.  They are afraid of me.  But at night they crawl to me like supplicants and offer me coin to give them what they need.

I don’t need your coin.  I am the alchemist.  I turn pain into coin, and there is plenty of that everywhere.  I don’t need your coin.  The way your eyes widen when you swallow what I have to give is payment enough.

Even if I were to give you a list of all the ingredients of my pharmakon and all their measures, you could not make it.  You would scream when the ball of fire rose from the cauldron.  Your blood is not strong enough for it.  Only I can stand there in the center of the flame.  Only I can burn and burn and burn and not be consumed.

You get the leavings, the ashen scrapings of the cataclysm, and you are grateful for that.  Tell me what you would risk for the tang of me on your tongue.  Tell me all of what you are and maybe I will devise a special concoction just for you, one that will destroy the whole world and birth it anew in your searing eyes. Pharmakeia pharmakon pharmakeus, can you tell me what is inside and what is outside?  Can you tell me what is body and what is soul?  Can you tell me what is present and what is absent?  Tell me, if you have the brain the spine the heart the stomach for it.  Tell me.  If you can speak through the burn you may be strong enough to study my discipline.

The Malebolge

It must have been I am here because I have asked to see this place.  When did I ask?  I cannot remember and my guide will not tell me.  What strikes me as I travel down the circles is how scarcely populated they seem to be.  I had expected more people.  Are they all in Heaven?  The virtuous pagans cluster around small fires in the vast emptiness where they dwell, a place that must have been constructed for a much larger population.  At the second circle where the wind picks up and flings those who could not deny their bodies’ need to give themselves up, my guide gestures at all the damned carried by cold gusts and says, “You.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say.  “I thought there would be more of us.”

On through the icy rain, past all the ones who could never have enough, those who push and pull weights against each other, past all the ones who gurgle in impotent fury in their mire, we come to the flaming tombs of the heretics.  “Hey,” I touch my guide on the shoulder, “there’s nobody here.  The tombs are burning nothing.”  “Well,” he says, “turns out God doesn’t care as much about heresy as He used to.  But here, there are more people in the three rings of the seventh circle, look at all the violent.”

Here they are all boiling in a river of blood, those who destroyed things and hurt others.  I look over the screaming multitudes, and note, “Yeah, there are a lot, but you know, for the whole history of the world, it seems like less than I would expect.”  My guide shrugs and leads me on through the forest of the suicides.  I look at the gnarled branches on the squat little trees.  I do not have the stomach to snap off a twig to listen to one of the shrubs sing its story in blood.  “Seems you do not have any quips or questions,” my guide observes.  “You were almost here.”  “I may be yet,” I answer.  “Well, try not to be,” my guide says.  It’s not pleasant.”

Past the trees is a flaming desert with flakes of fire wafting slowly down from the sky.  There is no one and nothing.  “Who used to be here?” I ask.  “Blasphemers and sodomites.”  “I’m guessing, God doesn’t care for them as he used to?”  “It is so.  He is very busy, you see–with them.  With Fraud,” he says, as he gestures to what comes beyond the narrow desert.  The eighth circle, the place for all the liars, built in stone ditches.  The Bolgie.  They are packed, so that the damned cannot move, so tightly are they pressed together–down as far as they eye can see, waning off into the blackness.  I cannot find the outer rim of the center circle, the place where Hell freezes over.  It looks as if this Malebolge goes on forever.  Nearly all the souls that I can see are covered in human waste, and sealed into lead cloaks gilded on the outside.  “Wait,” I say, “this is not what it’s supposed to look like.”  “It didn’t use to look like this,” my guide explained, “but due to the sheer number of the incoming, we did not have the resources to determine which is the liars were guilty more of hypocrisy, which more of flattery.  So we took them all and gave them the punishment for both.  More efficient, and apt, if you ask me.  You see this infinity of false humanity?  This is where almost all of you end up.  Packed here.   There is no one in Heaven.”

I watch in horrified silence.  Where is the end of this place?  It seems there is none.  “How far is the ninth circle?” I ask.  “It no longer exists,” explains my guide, “the heat from all Fraud’s bodies melted all the ice.  And Satan is dead.  Only us now.”

Among the shit-covered, lead-cowled penitent, a solitary woman stumbles backward, naked and groaning, her neck wrenched to that her head faces the back of her body, fat tears rolling off her face and onto her back.  “A false diviner?” I ask.  “Yes.  If you make yourself too much of what you already are, you could be one of those.  Which is a kind of honor, very few of the false are something else than plain flattering hypocrites.  Good luck finding a simoniac.  They’re in there somewhere.  If you would like to visit a few of your nation’s presidents, I could take you to the lake of pitch where the barrators still drown.”

I would answer my guide, except I am mute with distress–for here you are.  Yes, you.  I’d recognize your blank eyes and your pretty mouth no matter how much shit covered your face.  Can you see me, or are you too preoccupied by the weight of your leaden priestly robe?  Seeing you here with all the others, my flesh turns into pain, and I fear I will not be able to escape my own hand.  You, and everyone–liars.  Is that not enough to tear myself out of my body and turn myself into a tree?  Look up, darling, on the Day of Judgement, into the forest of those who have killed themselves, and you will see me, my corpse finally returned to me, its limbs tangled in my branches.  When you see me, I will know, and I will quake to make my body shiver for you as it used to when I was alive.  When I was in it.  When you were in it.  And maybe, if God is watching, He will laugh.

Is this about sex or is this about writing? Sometimes I can’t tell.

There are not many women out there in the wild country.  It is not particularly sane for me to go, but it seems I simply can’t help myself.  The ones I leave behind chide me for my restlessness but it only makes me laugh.  I can feel from the hum of the train that the furnace is full up on coal, the engine so hot that the metal swells against its fittings.  I sit looking out the window wondering where you are.  Are you having doubts?  Did you get held up on some last minute errand?  Did the horse pulling your carriage to the station have a heart attack in the middle of the street?

My heart thrums against the restriction of my corset, my legs sweltering in all their petticoats.  The bustle, the little black leather boots primly laced over the ankles, the white gloves buttoned over the wrists, the collar keeping my throat in its airless grip.  I am pretty good at wearing the garments of my civilization, but I am even better at being divested of them.  I will ride this train all the way to its terminus, all the way to where the Chinamen have not yet laid tracks.  Alone if I have to, but I’d much rather you came with me.  I very much hope the top hat I see moving swiftly through the crowd out on the platform is yours.  Catch this train; it’s going somewhere good.

A jolt shudders through the length of the entire machine–oh is there anything like the feel of imminent departure?  Is there any sound more stridently arousing than the steamy wail of that whistle?

All aboard.  Last call.

the most fantabulous review in the history of ever

I haven’t been posting lately because I am eyeball-deep in my Romanian collective unconscious document (I should have a complete draft in a few days which will be something like 18,000 words, or about 65 pages).  It’s a whole lot of dreamlike WTF, and after I am done I will have an underlying structure on top of which I will start overlaying the main plot of In the Red.  But–I had to briefly emerge from my blogging moratorium to share with you guys the most fantabulous review in the history of ever, courtesy of Simon Schama at The Financial Times.  I so, so hope that this review is blurbed on the softcover edition of my book.  Actually, here–please vote on which blurb should be prominently featured on the next edition of 13 rue Thérèse:

 

Dear Mr. Schama, I shake your hand.

a spider, a panther, a man

This here is a spider I came upon on a hike on Mount Diablo this weekend.  It’s mating season for the tarantulas, so they are out and about.  Despite the gigantic size of this arachnid, it somehow wasn’t that scary.  It did feel a little crawly when one of its legs grazed against my toe as it felt its way along the edge of my sandal, but it wasn’t as spooky as I thought it would be.  It was not my most unsettling spider experience.

My most unsettling spider experience was some years ago when we were living in an awful dump in Palo Alto.  That apartment was always crawling with bugs.  There were so many ants that we couldn’t even leave food out for the cat.  We generally liked the spiders, as they ate the other bugs.  But one time, my husband came upon a spider that made him scream like a little girl.  He shot out of the bathroom and entreated me to kill it.  I went in with a fistful of wadded paper towels to meet the enemy, and quite an enemy it was.  It wasn’t so much that it was enormous; it was that it looked so fucking evil.  I don’t know how else to describe it; it looked like something that would eat Frodo Baggins.  Something about its proportions.  It was arresting, sort of beautiful in a haunting way.  I did look it over for a while before I smushed it (and when I did so, it was truly vile–a gelatinous material exploded from its crushed abdomen).  It had been stark white, with a little red symbol on its underside.  I had never seen anything like it before, and haven’t since.

I just thought of that spider today, and it occurred to me for the first time that it may have been an albino black widow–the scarcity of such an animal explaining why I hadn’t seen one before or since.  Or–it may have just shed its exoskeleton at a pivotal stage of growth, which would explain its stark white color and why it was so, um, juicy when squished.  Yikes!  How rare, for an experience to be more thrilling in retrospect than in the moment.

I must have stood there for an hour, completely transfixed.  I had never seen anything move with such lethal grace.  Its fur was so black it that it did not shine; it was just pure oblivion.  How could its musculature be so fine, so rippling, when it lived a life that did not allow it to hunt?

Because of the pacing, the endless sinuous pacing around and around the cage–why, when it would go nowhere?  Did it hope with every circuit in its prison that this time there would be a breach?

How long did I stand there praying that it would look at me with those shifting yellow eyes?  Did I really think, you’re so beautiful, you can kill me if you want?

There must be a man like this for every woman, a man she thinks of with the aching melancholy of a former junkie remembering his needle.

Yes, you nearly destroyed my life, but oh, such times we had.

Once your body knows the feel of it, it can never unknow.  Never stop yearning.  Like an icy wind whistling in your hollow bones, as long as those bones exist to carry you.

Never, never get near you again–but if I did, could I say no?

Dude, this is what the inside of my head looks like.

While I was making the bed, Dragos Popescu, one of Andrei’s business associates, suddenly spoke to me.  He is even more unbelievably tactless than Andrei is; those bastards won’t lie to me, even when I may want them to.  Today Dragos came up behind me while I was noticing that some of the stains on the new sheets hadn’t come out in the wash, and snapped my garters (he is the kind of man who can snap your garters even when you’re not wearing any).  “That’s nice, the pink underthings,” he said, “did Andrei suggest them?”

“Why are you here?  You’re just a bit character.”

“You were asking why men like young women so much, I’m going to tell you.”

I don’t know where he got that from, I did no such thing.  I was going about my housewifely business.  But I let him go on anyway, it gave me something to do while I was trying to figure out which way the fitted sheet was supposed to go.  “It not so much the smooth skin and the taut flesh, though that is nice too.  What is so lovely about them is that they will take the shape of whatever you choose to put them in, like water.  A woman who has been around, who may have pushed people out of herself, who may have realized that the world does not end when there is no man in the house, that woman with lines on her face and hip bones that have been pushed apart by growing life will not go breathless with need to give me what I want.  The young ones are so good, my dear, because they will say: do you like me in this dress? Would you think me prettier blonde?  Shall I put bags of silicone in my breasts?  Shall I give you what little power I might have had?  Would this please you?  There is no limit to how much they will cut themselves to please you.  How grateful I am to all their papas for not loving them.”

“Dragos, seriously?  This is what the old come stains on the bed make you think of?”

“Yes, how soft they are, how much you can hurt them, those sweet girls.  You simply cannot hurt an older woman like that.  And yes, my dear, you ought to get a stain remover for those.”