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.

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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?