Category Archives: writing

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.

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.

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?

hermitting

I have been remiss in updating this blog, and generally hermitting.  It’s been for good reason!  The baby is crowning.  If I haul a lot of ass, I will have a full draft of In the Red by the end of of July.  If I haul less ass, by the end of summer.  Pretty sweet, no?

Meanwhile, some neato news while I hermit:

13 rue Thérèse is finally coming out in France in August, from Michel Lafon.  Here is the link to pre-order from Fnac, which is like the French Barnes & Noble.  Squee!  Just thinking of a French edition of my book being in their big-ass store in the Forum des Halles right near where I grew up makes me all tingly!  Here is the cover, all tiny because I suck at technology:

I am wee.

• Also, whilst googling myself to see whether anyone on the internet has posted that I like to bathe in the blood of Christian babies, I found this lovely review of my story “Commuting” in Zyzzyva, on Ruelle Electrique, an online literary salon.  It’s their “unabashed favorite from the issue!”  “A rich story” teeming with “grit and beauty!”  How does randomly finding something like this make a writer feel?  Why, it fills said writer with hearts and butterflies!

is all I’m sayin’

The end of the beginning

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Thank you, Mr Churchill.  I think I just passed the mid-point of In the Red.  Phew.  I am at another stopping point where restructuring will have to take place.  This is pretty much the most inefficient way to write a book EVER.  It took me like a year for find a narrative voice–and there’s still no solid structure!  Basically I write in fragments until I get to a pausing place, then shuffle everything around to make it as cohesive as possible.  Then I keep generating the fragments until the whole thing is balanced all wrong and I can’t go any further, and I have to pause and reshuffle again before I can continue.  I feel like Sisyphus.  Hold me.

These days I spend a lot of time considering alternate careers.  Hey, speaking of alternate careers and Winston Churchill, I think I’m going to chuck this whole novelist thing and open a nautically-themed gay bar called The Traditions of the Royal Navy.  Who’s with me?  (Although apparently that quote was not actually uttered by Mr Churchill. Drat.)

In better news, I just went over the proofs of my story “Commuting” for Zyzzyva’s Spring issue.  It looks coooooooooool!  It will be out in April!  Brace yourself for the awesome.  There will be a sexy, sexy release party at Tosca’s in  San Francisco if you feel like coming by.  I’ll also have a couple of appearances around the March release of the paperback for 13 rue Thérèse.  Check out my events page if you’d like to swing by for any and all of these gatherings…  I’m sure you could get a bit of rum at Tosca’s!  You’re on your own for sodomy and the lash though, unless of course I get to open my bar.

the glass delusion

Happy 2012!

I started this blog two years ago, a year before 13 rue Thérèse came out.  It is still put-putting along to record some of the random firings that sometimes occur in my braincase.  Yay me!  Speaking of random firings, In the Red was horribly stuck for a long time.  Then I started spending all my time thinking about this weird religious ecstatic from late medieval France who’s occasionally made appearances in my head.  I was planning on making her my next book, but I was like, fuck it, since I’m not writing anything, I might as well work on this.  I wrote a few pages in her wigged-out voice.  Then I did a whole bunch of research about random late medieval stuff.  They had the most fascinating mental illnesses back then.  There was about a 200 year span from the 15th to the 17th century where it was fairly common for people who were probably schizophrenics to suffer from something called The Glass Delusion.  They believed they were literally made of glass, which made them terrified they would break, and also that people could see through them to their very souls.  A pretty awesome allegory for the human condition, if you ask me.  Apparently, King Charles VI of France suffered from this ailment and wore protective padded clothing during his psychotic breaks to keep from getting shattered.  (And then the English were like, hey, the French king is fucking nuts!  Let’s invade and take his country.  And thus began the Hundred Years War.)  For a completely fascinating take on the glass delusion, check out this article.

Speaking of madness and the Hundred Years War, did you know that Joan of Arc’s field marshal was a child-raping serial killer?  What.  The.  Fuck.  Well, um, at least it’s reassuring to know that murderous sexual predators are not an innovation of the modern world.

History is so fascinating when you begin to delve into the fucked up personalities of the seemingly sterile actors in your textbooks.  Anyway, this was an interesting little side trip that had the additional benefit of getting me unstuck: I wrote a few pages of In The Red today.  So maybe the answer is to toggle back and forth between two novels while working.  Either this will keep me from losing the rest of my fraying wits, or it will completely finish the job.  Stay tuned.

Let us close with a public service announcement for my fellow Americans: If you’ve been watching the electoral process lately and thinking, Jesus, I would vote for a ham sandwich over any of these dudes, I recommend googling some of the hunchbacked insane homicidal venereally-diseased kings that used to run things in Europe and reflecting that democracy is indeed the worst form of government, except for all the other ones.

Apparently, sending your kids to sleep over at his house was somewhat ill-advised.

The fallacy of authorial intent

I had three speaking engagements about my book in the past week!  The audiences were: (1) lovely elder book club afternoon tea ladies (2) rowdy night crowd in a dim bar, and (3) sleepy community college students at eight in the morning.  They were all completely huggable, in their extremely varied ways.  The community college students had some kind of test coming up about my book (still trying to wrap my brain around this concept!), and one of them quipped that I might be kind enough to give them the answers.  I laughed and asked the instructor, “Now, didn’t you tell them about the fallacy of authorial intent?”

The next day I had a chat with a fellow novelist about my time in academia.  He wanted to know how I could stomach it as an artist.  I said I loved the teaching.  “But the writing you have to do there!” he said, “what about the spiritually bankrupt rape of art that is literary theory?’

Oh yeah, that.  I said I viewed it as a game, a challenge to speak their language and pass as one of them.  I would try to be the author while also obliterating the author, there was a sort of fun in that.  Then I thought about it some more, and wrote him the following after I got home:

I was just thinking of our discussion re: academics on my ride home, whilst listening to angry Germans shout incomprehensibly over industrial guitars.  It was not only the game-like qualities of their tortured prose that allowed me to write it, but also the very pain it induced.  I did it with the same sort of wincing glee as a flagellant.  It’s always good to remind yourself that what you pour your soul into doesn’t actually mean anything.  Plus if you want to get the taste of God in your mouth, there’s no more efficient way than totally believing two contradictory things at the same time.  Ooooooh tasty paradox–fanning my toes out just thinking about it.

Back when I spent much time in journal archives (JSTOR, we were lovers once, you and I), sometimes I would come upon a very old article.  Some 1935 treatise about Baudelaire by some long-dead white dude whose pipe smoke I could smell right through the computer, written with such utter devotion to Literature that it was frankly a little embarrassing.  The doggish eagerness with which they used to lick us!  Now they cannot study us without also killing us.  Aren’t they so much sexier now that they hate us?  Don’t you just want to fuck them all?!  So adorable.

Eros and Thanatos, how inseparable are you?

a tiny nibble from the loving teeth of history

I went to San Francisco today, and wrote the following sitting at an outdoor table at a Market Street café.

It’s been a while, 20th century.  Have you forgotten me?  I guess the question should be–have I forgotten you?  It’s a plausible question, given how uncomfortable my hand feels holding a pen, how I stumble over myself without the aid of spell check or the glow of a screen which suggests a luminous sentience watching over me as I boil away in the crucible of my own head.  I know it’s been a while, 20th century, that I had to clumsily ask a lad at the coffee shop where one gets a pen and paper, these days.  How inexorably we move from the artifact to the aether.  The library at Alexandria has burned; now we have Akashic records, knowledge that only exists if we believe in it.  If we have the proper equipment to receive it.  Otherwise, there’s only air.

Barely a page and I am already getting painful twinges in my palm.  But you should not feel as obsolete as all that, 20th century.  Here you still are: a pen with a soft nib whose ink calls itself “amethyst” and a notebook with a red cover that asks, “Name?  Date?  Subject/title?”  I thought it would be clever to title you “Artifact.”  I’m sorry, darling.  I can’t help myself.  You know how I am.  It is a beautiful Fall day in San Francisco and I just had lunch with a lovely young Frenchman who, like me, learned to write with a fountain pen–and now he seldom writes by hand at all.  Talk about a direct leap from 19 to 21!  And yet you are far from a negligible century.  Your body count alone is impressive.

I had a vivid dream last night.  In the dream I purchased a small white stuffed dog, a poodle I think, about life-sized.  Of course life-sized, as it started to come to life.  In the eyes first: a glimmering awareness that flickered on and off.  Then in the whole head, movement in the face and neck, a hardness and definition within suggesting the formation of a skull.  Then slowly, from front to back: limbs, ribcage, ass, tail–all were fleshed and boned.  All the cotton batting inside the animal was turning into live, pulsing organic matter.  I knew the dog was finished, that he was finally a real dog, when he began to take real shits as opposed to stuffed shits–squelchy, warm, stinky feces instead of small, scentless, fuzzy logs.

“Here you are, you little fucker!” I said to my new dog with great joy.  He had teeth that he used to bite.  He barked viciously at other dogs.  He took an evil delight at tangling his leash on everything, binding my legs to trip me up whenever possible.  In short, he was a total asshole, but I loved him anyway because he was alive.

Where have I wandered to, 20th century?  Am I still talking about you?  I have lunched with your remnants occasionally, 20th century.  Gray-haired men in suits who keep themselves fit and never take a young woman to a fine restaurant without knowing the exact location of the nearest hotel.  They call me “doll” and ask me what is in my “pretty little head.”  I smile pleasantly and seldom answer.  It is so charming.  Like dating antiques.  One day soon they’ll be gone, and I will be gone soon after.  One day soon I’ll be gone, and this paper will have rotted away in some landfill somewhere.  But if I transcribe this on my computer and post it on the internet, I can make these words not really exist forever.

After writing this, I walked to the Embarcadero to check out Tom Morello’s appearance at Occupy San Francisco.  Given that he is the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, his presence was extremely apt.  He gave us a few rousing words and then handed out a hundred free concert tickets for his performance tonight.  I did not get a ticket because the ticket guy was immediately swallowed by the maw of the throng.  Whether I abstained from the tussle because of my belief in civic order, or simply because I felt protective of my broken rib (yes, folks, it’s broken), the world may never know.  I did a bit iphone photojournalism from the event, but wordpress is being an ass about letting me put together a slide show.  So, I created a public facebook album of my little adventure.  Check it out.

A poem about being really pissed. What a topic!

I am
one who walks down a long dark corridor
to a tiny room with blood on the walls
I am
behind myself
I have a gun
Unbeknownst to me I pull the gun out
and shoot myself in the back of the neck
Soviet-style
before I ever reach the small room.
This, my friend, is clemency.

I am
an earthquake
that rolls its way through country
where the ground never shakes.
Didn’t expect me did you?
You are so rattled
and yet
I didn’t even kill anything.

I am
a cold clear day
laughter in the night
a sigh
I am
open legs
a moan
all things lovely
if you’ll let me.

I am
a holocaust survivor
who when interviewed by a documentary maker
hisses at the camera
SHANDEH
I am ashamed to be human
SHANDEH
I am a frail old little gay man
yet you are afraid of me
because my anger
is correct.

I am
all woman
I am
ten times the man you are
I am
an enormous mind
beholding itself
and
judging

I am
the whole world,
maggot,
and you never thanked me
for my clemency.

Doggies found a home!

Developments!

13 rue Thérèse was published as a paperback in the UK this week, complete with a sexy quote from Simon Schama right on the front cover (“a flirty, dirty tease of a novel” ROWR!).  Plus a nice review came out in various British papers from Pam Norfolk.

• Remember the gothic dog story I was talking about on this blog sometime ago?  It found a home!  It will be published in The Farallon Review in February of 2012.  Pretty sweet, no?

• This afternoon, I blew some bubbles at my cat and it TOTALLY EXPLODED HER LITTLE WALNUT BRAIN.  Her world was thoroughly rocked.  She kept sniffing the ground where they popped to try to figure out where they went.

• I have been doing all sorts of awesome research for my novel that I can’t post about on this blog because it’s pretty raunchy.  But I thought I’d tease and tantalize you by mentioning what I’m not going to talk about.  Yes, my dears, you’re just going to have to wait to read my findings in book form Lord-knows-when…

• I took an awesome vacation in Barcelona with some friends.  If you ever make it there, I recommend five things:

  1. Eat lots of ham.  The Spanish rock at ham.
  2. Check out all the Gaudi architecture.  That guy was the best kind of nut.
  3. Do NOT check out the sex show at the Bagdad Club if you ever want to sleep again.
  4. Bring bug repellent, unless you’re into sporting gigantic mosquito bites that turn into humongous bruises all over your body when they heal.  I mean, you might be into it.  Like, when people ask what happened to you, you can tell them you got into a bar brawl.  Or you could wipe a tear from the side of your eye and say, “I guess I just don’t listen.”  Your choice.
  5. Look up when you hear squawks!  Barcelona has a very sweet and entertaining population of small green wild parrots.

• My stomach is currently growling.  This is indeed a fascinating development.  One that will unfortunately require me to sign off and forage for food…