Tag Archives: sex

Strap in for September 16th…

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


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.


tiny worlds beneath our feet

What are *you* lookin' at?

On a trail walk, I stopped to look at a wheat-colored praying mantis resting in my path. I might have stepped on it had I not been looking down at the pavement while pacing, my thoughts grinding away.  I squatted to get a better look at it, then blew on it gently.  When it felt my breath, it shivered like a blade of grass in the wind. This camouflage must work well when ensconced in vegetation, but in the middle of bare asphalt–not so much, dude.

Inquiring minds want to know what tasty stuff you might have stored in *your* butt.

On another constitutional, a flurry of tiny but intense activity down below caught my eye, so once again I stopped and crouched to check out the happenings. It was a yellow jacket working its pincers quite hard to rip the abdomen off a dead honey bee. I watched it hack away until it succeeded. And then I watched it bury its face into the bee’s severed ass as if it were a feed bag, excitedly gobbling up the crumbly orange pollen harvested inside.

I am cannibal. Fear me.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I was out again.  At the very least I could be soothed by the freshness of night.  And there, in the dark at my feet, was yet another spectacle: a pile of snails in the middle of the sidewalk. I wondered, hey, is this how snails screw?  In a big love heap?  I shone my pocket flashlight to behold this event.  This was when I noticed there was a broken snail in the middle of the pile and they were all eating it. Well. That went from porno to horror real quick.

So, next time you step on tiny, negligible life, take a moment to reflect who are you are crushing.

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.”

a malcontent wearing new shoes

Today I wrote a flash of sex in my novel, just a bitty 200-word scene.  Yet I am completely drained, I think I may have to step away from the book for today.  I don’t know why this story–especially the sexy parts–is taking so much out of me, like my brain has to make this incandescent effort to extrude a mere paragraph and then it is done.  It needs a glass of warm milk and a nap.  And a hug.

The novel features a bad, bad man from Romania.  Why are evil Eastern European dudes so extremely hot?  I must have watched too much Cold War agitprop growing up.  Or maybe it’s the accent.  Nom nom nom that accent.  Anyway, I can tell this guy is going to be great fun to write because I find myself wondering aaaaaah why doesn’t he exist so that I can have sex with him?!  (Of course if he existed I would never have sex with him; I always wind up with soft-spoken intellectual types.)

So, like most of America I filed my taxes yesterday and I must say SELF-EMPLOYED TAXES = OW.  So much for all the bullshit about how our pioneer nation favors a spirit of independent entrepreneurship.  What pisses me off isn’t so much the amount, though the amount is substantial.  I wouldn’t be nearly this irritated if my money didn’t go towards bank bailouts and troup surges.  I wish I could earmark my tax contribution for our crumbling social safety net and educational systems.  And goddamn universal health care, but what kind of crack am I smoking?

Also: if I were some trust fund baby who’d “earned” that money from interest and dividends, I would have gotten to keep a lot more of it.  This gets my goat like nobody’s business: our nation likes to pretend that there’s no such thing as social class while ridiculously favoring the idle rich and blatantly screwing the working poor.  Seriously, I would walk around humming L’Internationale for a few days except my fury has been soothed by the arrival of the festive purple sneakers I ordered (even though with all the money I coughed up yesterday, I could have purchased about 250 pairs of those suckers).  I’m sure Marx would chide me about the weakness of my convictions, but I am no revolutionary.  Merely a malcontent wearing new shoes.


in the words of a girl who doesn’t exist

So, I am starting a new novel.  The hardest part at the beginning is finding a good voice, the voice in which the story needs to be told.  There will be starts and stops, lots of frustration.  Probably a good dose of gut-wrenching terror, especially since this book wants to be in the first person which I find incredibly uncomfortable.  But I don’t care if writing this whole damn thing feels like wearing an itchy sweater, as long as it works in the end.

Something else that is likely to be a challenge is that a lot of this book is going to be about scorching sexual chemistry.  There was a bit of that in the last book and there will be more in this one.  When sexy prose works, it is really really good.  When it doesn’t, it is positively disastrous.  Sex is possibly the hardest thing there is to write, one wrong word choice can render a steamy scene totally laughable.  While polishing up the last book I had a whole exchange with my editor about the word “cunt.”  She had concerns that it would be too jarring for some readers.  I wrote back the following:

I kind of avoided naming female genitalia with circumlocutions like “inside her” and stuff like that, but eventually you just have to name the thing you’re talking about.  “Vagina” is not hot, it’s too doctor’s office.  “Pussy” has the disadvantage of being both too cute and too porny.  I decided to go all out and use “cunt,” after all this is not a shy book.  But I didn’t just throw it around willy nilly, I saved it for one or two special occasions.

The argument boiled down to: dude, sorry, but this is just a cunt kind of book.  And the argument worked, because it was.

Now that I am back at square one with a new novel, I have to ask myself: is this one a cunt kind of book?  The narrator is a very stark person, oftentimes unflinching.  But she is also very young, and sex is in many ways her softest spot.  Figuring out what language she would use, what she would say and not say, is going to tax my skills.  Everything has to match up with who she is; the silences have to be just as telling as the graphic detail.  At this point I still don’t know what word she would use to talk about her ladyflower (probably not “ladyflower” though), and if I had to guess I would say she herself would have a devil of a time choosing a word that fits her.  Part of what I may have to portray with the text is her struggle to find words for an experience so powerful and puzzling, one that is both ineffable and thoroughly embodied.  (This is part of the reason why I think first person may kick my ass: having the language still flow while also trying to render its troubles attempting to find a flow…  Christ on a cracker, this is the sort of thing that may make me chicken back out into third person!)

One thing at a time though.  Before I find out what words she would use to talk about making love, I have to find out what words she would use to talk about her morning commute, her cat, the dreams that wake her up in the middle of the night.



You first came to me one morning long ago, while I was working at the bank.  Your voice simply announced, I am not a child of America, and suddenly I felt your presence in my body like a vaporous specter.  You were standing where I was standing and performing the same mechanical tasks I was performing but you were not me.  You were superimposed over me, like a drawing of a girl overlaying a drawing of a slightly different girl.  When I was granted my lunch break I went upstairs into an empty office where I knew there was an abandoned typewriter and spilled out a paragraph or two of your voice.

That year I was the same age as my students are now.  That year I fell disastrously in love for the first time.  You had a different name then.


You liked to let him paint your face.  You liked the feel of the plush brush against your skin; you liked the expectation in his eyes.  You laid out your lipsticks for him in a neat row and asked, “what color do you want my mouth?”  He picked a plum shade which would shortly be smeared all over him.  You didn’t know why it made him hard for you to do this, yet you felt the blood rise to your cheeks to meet the powder blush he was applying there.  Pink on pink, impossible to tell the real arousal apart from the cosmetic mimicking it.

When he lined your eyes, your lids didn’t even quiver.  Not because you trusted him not to hurt you with the pencil–his hand was, after all, trembling slightly–but because a hurt inflicted by his hand was the best hurt of all.


You came to me again some years later.  I wrote a whole novel about you that time.  Unfortunately, it was no good.  At least, you met him then, the man who liked to paint your face.  And you gave me your name, Irina.  When I saw how closely it mirrored my own, I laughed, and thought, all right, we’ll go with that then.


My last protagonist, Louise, made mischief with the impish glee one might expect.  You are strange; you make mischief with something like grim determination.  It must be some kind of Eastern European thing.  Whenever I ask you why you do anything, you say, why not?  What else is there to do? and I have, of course, nothing to answer.

You are a violinist playing chamber music on the sinking Titanic.  You are a thief who steals even when what he pockets has no value.  You are a man who still neatly parts his hair and cleans his fingernails on the morning he is to be executed.  You are a futile gesture of humanity in the face of oblivion.

Indeed quite lovely

I watched this rather fascinating documentary on the French channel in my cable package called Le Crazy s’enflamme about the Parisian cabaret Le Crazy Horse.  It featured the process of putting together one of their artsy nudey shows, from the auditions for new dancers to the finished product.  The rigors these girls went through were amazing, from the relentless rehearsals to the necessary sacrifice of personal relationships.  It made me wonder why these women dedicated themselves to their dancing to the detriment of all else, almost the way nuns marry Jesus.  Why go through all of this just to become a disposable piece of unrecognizable ass to be discarded at the first signs of aging?

There was a bit of background on the cabaret, how it came about during France’s mid 20th century explosion of love for all things American.  The founder was Alain Bernardin, and he was of course banging a great number of his dancers.  He looked a bit like the French Hugh Hefner.  If there is a single visual that thoroughly embodies the patriarchy, it would be a jolly-faced older man enjoying a parade of gorgeous young duplicate women, an undifferentiated mass of nubile female flesh without end.  The individual female can’t stay long in the spotlight; the moment a laugh line or ass dimple shows up on her, she disappears.  So why would an individual female subject herself to this treatment?

In the case of Hugh Hefner’s mansion show ponies, the answers present themselves easily: a shot at fame, a comfortable life, money.  For the girls at the Crazy Horse the motivation is less obvious.  They do not get paid much (following one home, we got to see her modest apartment in the banlieue), and they will not be famous.  The whole point of the show is the multitude of perfect identical bodies, these girls do not get individual faces.  Is it just that they want to be admired?  But the audience is not admiring them, it is admiring an idea.

Perhaps it is the idea, then, that draws them.  The mythos of the place, the artistry of the shows, what it means to be one of the bodies that form The Body.  At some point in their formative years they saw in the cabaret a picture they wanted to be in, like a boy who sees a line of upright men in tidy uniforms and wants to be in the army when he grows up.  The singular desire to embody an idea drives them through the strain of their daily grind.  Certainly, they are artists.  But the simile I used two sentences ago highlights the fluidity of what the word “artist” means–are soldiers, too, artists?

Some images, for they are indeed quite lovely: