Andrew Shaffer (aka Fanny Merkin) (The Bat Segundo Show)

Andrew Shaffer is most recently the author of Fifty Shames of Earl Grey.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Being seduced through parody.

Author: Andrew Shaffer

Subjects Discussed: Pen names and impostors, romance novel writing aspirations, having multiple identities on Twitter (EvilWylie, EmperorFranzen, et al), dressing up to tweet, the advantages of kilts, compiling indices for books, delaying the first six scene in Fifty Shames of Earl Grey to match Fifty Shades of Grey, people who count the number of phrases in Fifty Shades, when copy editors don’t understand cultural references, battling editors over dinosaurs, the number of pescatarians in New York, when pescatarians cause confusion in communal dining environments, eating meat, copulating with parts of the face, the joys of using euphemisms, naming private parts after Katy Perry and James Franco, combing through the original Fifty Shades, the thematic obsessions of E.L. James, needless shame attached to BDSM, Star Trek, geek culture, Twilight, fan fiction, 69-sided dice, designing a T-shirt promoting for a book before writing a book, Roger Corman’s marketing techniques, book merchandise, appropriate gestures for world domination, trying to be a Philip Roth-like novelist in your twenties, trying to challenge youthful angst from a 60-year-old man’s vantage point, Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, reading the collected works of Andrew Shaffer in the bathroom, departing from Twitter on the weekend, the side effects of working at home, finding positive aspects about Fifty Shades, fibbing to agents, the escalating commercial success of Fifty Shades of Grey during the writing of Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, when fun turns into an unexpcted high-pressure business decision, intense birthing scenes, emulating E.L. James to the point of anticipating what she would write about, pulling a string of handkerchiefs from an unexpected part of the body, being fixated on Tom Cruise, Cocktail, watching every Tom Cruise movie for research purposes, jumping on couches, the literal and metaphorical qualities of “jumping the shark,” Eyes Wide Shut, attending unsuccessful orgies, the parallels between orgy and literary cocktail parties, the importance of organization when planning a sex party, how narrative depictions of sex ruin sex in the real, reticence to depict a realistic female orgasm in fiction, reviewing romance novels, Literary Rogues, self-destructive writers, whether or not personal foibles of great people matter, why terrible moments in life are funny, viewing great people as human beings, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, being funny in the bedroom, understanding the dominatrix, commonalities between BDSM and therapy, Tiffany Reisz, doing anything you want in college, lying to a girl about the need to make NASCAR noises in intimate situations, David Foster Wallace, truth telling, “The Depressed Person,” Infinite Jest, Elizabeth Wurtzel, retreating to the comic mode, audience reaction, having fun while writing, exhibitionism, reading Less Than Zero at the age of twelve, music vs. reading as a formative experience, drugs, lost time in college, bad behavior, being drawn to other people’s personal history, writing a parody vs. expressing the real.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Shaffer: I’ve been toying with doing a romance novel for a couple of years. And I always was wondering, “Am I going to do this under my own name? Or am I going to do this under a pen name?” And it just turned out that under my own name, I was just a guy mocking this thing.

Correspondent: You’re a man of many identities on Twitter as well.

Shaffer: Yes. Yes. So it really felt natural to write under a different voice and just assume a different role. So it came pretty naturally.

Correspondent: So do you require multiple identities to go about your life? Do you require self-deception and various disorders in order to function as a creative artist? An emerging voice of our times?

Shaffer: (laughs) It’s interesting. I never had before I got online.

Correspondent: Oh.

Shaffer: I never did experiments with pen names or alternative identities or anything. I was pretty sure I knew exactly who I was.

Correspondent: And then the Internet came along and had you constantly questioning yourself.

Shaffer: The Internet came along and I became one person online on Twitter. And then I became another person for my friends and another person at work and another person for my family.

Correspondent: You turned into Lon Chaney.

Shaffer: Yes. I just portrayed this different face to everybody.

Correspondent: Except it was through words and text. I mean, there were avatars involved.

Shaffer: Yes. And sometimes dressing up. But not too much.

Correspondent: Oh. You dress up sometimes when you tweet or when you write? You pull like one of those Tom Wolfe things where “Well, I wear the white suits in public, but when I sit down for the typewriter, it’s all jeans all the way”?

Shaffer: Well, I do wear kilts a lot when I write. But not to assume a different identity. Just because, well, they let my balls hang out.

Correspondent: Oh, I see. Well, we were talking before we were rolling, or before I insisted that we roll because I want to get this very important info on tape, that there actually is an index. It’s not in the galley I have. But there is an “Index TK.” So I’m wondering: why did you feel that this hefty narrative required subjects and topics to guide the reader through the life of Anna Steal here? What is this index?

Shaffer: Oh my gosh.

Correspondent: What are some of the samplings?

Shaffer: So it’s not common for a work of fiction to have an index. But that was actually something that my editor at Da Capo suggested. You know, they have that form where they fill out for every book. Are we going to have an index? Are we going to have a table of contents? She’s like, “You know what? What if we did have an index?” And it lists on there where particular sex scenes are at in the book.

Correspondent: Oh, I see. That would have helped me. Because it does take quite a while for the first sex scene to happen.

Shaffer: Yes. Yes. The first sex scene.

Correspondent: But I had patience for you.

Shaffer: Delayed.

Correspondent: I was willing to wait for you.

Shaffer: Oh, thank you. Thank you. In the original book [Fifty SHades of Grey], people would say, “Oh my gosh.” They would go through and count up how many “Oh my Gods” there were or whatever.

Correspondent: There are websites for this?

Shaffer: Yeah. People have counted up. “I came across 1987 ‘Oh mys.'”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Shaffer: It’s just one sentence. “Oh my! Oh my!” And so people have actually counted up how many. Because it’s repetitive. And I think if there had been a traditional editor on the original books, they would have cut that out. So people have gone through this. So I said, “You know what? I’m going to have that in my book.”

Correspondent: So you did that with “the” and all that?

Shaffer: Some of the stuff. So at the end of the book, the index actually says like “Oh my!” and then “parentheses overuse of.” And then I list every time I’ve overused that phrase in the book.

Correspondent: And it’s a great way of expanding the page count. So you do less work. Or do you? Do you have some sub-editor go ahead and deal with the index? Assign someone else to do it? And meanwhile, you sit back and collect your hefty advance, living like the lord of the manor.

Shaffer: The funny thing about that is that every time they compile, they ask you if you want an index compiled. And who does that? It’s the copy editor usually. Or your editor or something. And they ask, “So what are some things you would like to have in your index?” And so I gave them a couple of ideas. But then the copy editor just sort of fell in love with the book and just created this whole list. “I hope it’s okay that I inserted my own stuff in here.”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Shaffer: And so she put her own different things in there.

Correspondent: The copy editor fell in love with your book. Didn’t go ahead and get out the ruler and rap you across the wrists, like they usually do.

Shaffer: No. I had an instance with — I was just talking with one of my other editors at Harper Perennial today. I had an editor on my first book — a copy editor that didn’t seem to get all of my references. And so it was very awkward when I got back this copyedited manuscript. And I think I had a chapter titled something like — it was a book on philosophy, but I had a chapter. Something like “Ain’t Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang Baby.” Or something along those lines. And I got this back from the copy editor. It had been crossed out. It said “It is Not Any Thing Except for a G Thing.”

Correspondent: (laughs) They’re a little stingy there at Harper.

Shaffer: Well, I just think it was clear that she didn’t get the reference.

Correspondent: So you have to forward YouTube links to copy editors in order for them to actually understand what you’re talking about.

Shaffer: I think sometimes. I think it’s coming from a good place. And I’m glad — it makes my book look a lot better when it’s copyedited and edited and everything. But there were some times I had to stet stuff with that book. And for this one. There was one joke in Fifty Shames where Earl Grey says, “I’m part of the .00001%.” He says, “I have certain perks for being part of that.” And so it’s written out “.00001%.” And in the copy editing, I got it changed. Actually written out “I’m part of the one millionth percentile.” And it kills the joke.

Correspondent: So is there an Andrew Shaffer style guide that you have for Harper and for Da Capo? (laughs) For Fifty Shames?

Shaffer: For Da Capo, they created a style guide actually that had everything listed out. It was just the most bizarre list of stuff. And it’s actually mostly what appears in the index. There were dinosaur names. The Kosmoceratops was a dinosaur. And I actually got into a great back and forth with my copy editor.

Correspondent: Dinosaur wars.

Shaffer: On the correct ways to capitalize and italicize dinosaur names. So I think, yeah, the copy editor was great on this book. She totally got it. But I think we learn stuff from each other. It was a good working relationship.

Correspondent: Were there any, shall we say, belligerent conference calls at all? Any David Foster Wallace style longass emails about “If you cut this particular phrase” and there’s a six page explanation. Anything along those lines?

Shaffer: Oh my. Well, you know, I really rely on the editors, like I said, to make me look good. I think that a good editor is just invaluable. At least for me. I think maybe there are other writers who can turn out a great first draft. But I’m not one of them. So I’m thankful for all the help I get. And so therefore, when I usually get stuff back from them, I usually go with everything. I stet very few things on a manuscript. Because I think, “Okay, they’ve really got a great idea of where this should go.” Probably better than I do sometimes. But I was a little concerned because when I sold this book, I did not know the editor who bought the book. And when I looked her up on Publishers Marketplace, everything else that she had done was, for the most part, like vegetarian or vegan cookbooks.

Correspondent: I see.

Shaffer: And I was like, “Did she think that Earl Grey was some sort of food book or something?” Oh no. This is not a book about tea.

Correspondent: You could have made Anna Steal a vegan.

Shaffer: Oh, I could have.

Correspondent: Sorry to have only proposed that idea.

Shaffer: Maybe the next book.

Correspondent: If only I had been there during the creative process.

Shaffer: And I’m actually a vegetarian. I was like, “Did you sign this book because I’m a vegetarian? Is there some kind of club I belong to now?”

Correspondent: Really? They can smell it on you.

Shaffer: I didn’t know.

Correspondent: I didn’t know you were a vegetarian. Is it fairly recent?

Shaffer: About six months. Yeah.

Correspondent: Okay. Have you had any dark meat cravings? Climbing up the walls at night? Screaming like The Lost Weekend or something?

Shaffer: No. Because I’m actually a pescatarian.

Correspondent: Oh, you’re one of those.

Shaffer: So I can eat fish. But I always explain it as vegetarian. Because I have a very hard time. Because if I explain pescatarian, it will lead to other questions like “My mother likes pork. Can you eat pork?” I’m like, “Okay. Let’s just go with vegetarian and just assume I can’t eat any meat.”

Correspondent: Well, we’re in New York here. We have plenty of pescatarians. In fact, everybody I know is a pescatarian. I’m one of the last guys who eats red meat around here. I had a burger for lunch.

Shaffer: (laughs)

Correspondent: Without guilt. Though I did dine with a pescatarian.

Shaffer: Well, I ate meat for many years. And it was for cholesterol reasons, actually, that I switched over. But the editing of the book. One of the interesting things. So I sent the draft in to the editor. And she sent it back to me over

The Bat Segundo Show #472: Andrew Shaffer (aka Fanny Merkin) (Download MP3)

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BEA 2012: IDPF Publishers Roundtable

They were gathered young and old around round tables at the International Digital Publishing Forum. They sipped hot coffee and cold Frappucinos and didn’t really touch their breakfast remains. But they hoped to snatch a foolproof map outlining the proposed routes on a misty Monday morning.

There were a few long-haired lads in suits, mimicking Steve Jobs in look if not in attitude, and some veterans who had fled from other industries. One man had witnessed the rise of digital photography and the closing of 4,500 Fotomats and he wanted to know if something like that was happening on the books front. He didn’t really get an answer, but these things happen in cycles.

How much could anybody spill while the Department of Justice ebook collusion suit played on? It was tough for the top dogs to talk. These settled professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs were informed at the head that there would be no questions on agency model or pricing. But there was steady banter about “consumers.”

“Most consumers won’t know who is publishing the book,” said Open Road’s Jane Friedman with the calculated swagger of a recent digital convert. She would be corrected later with some subtlety by Richard Charkin, who pointed to the prominent Bloomsbury found on his front covers (that ten word name, associated with the Harry Potter books, had been one of the fine ingredients that had moved the fish and chips across the pond). Random House’s Madeline McIntosh said that her work was “less about establishing a brand name and much more about serving the author’s relationship with the consumer.”

Why didn’t these capable titans refer to readers by their rightful name? Perhaps talking about readers in human terms interfered with business operations. Freidman said, “We want to get to them quicker, more efficiently.” This would be done by “marketing extensively.” I didn’t know whether to be more alarmed by Friedman’s crude reliance on adverbs or her suggestion that passionate readers are malleable cyborgs.

Perhaps because booksellers still factored into her business plan, McIntosh expressed a more inclusive perspective. “I don’t think we add value to the author or the reader by competing with the booksellers,” she said. “They have a hard enough job making a fantastic customer service environment. Trying to compete with them is not productive.” She mentioned how booksellers were asking publishers to help them retain customer data and how passing this onto the retailers represented a “lost asset.”

Hours after McIntosh uttered these words, I got into a near violent altercation with a pushy clerk blocks away from Javits at B&H Photo Video, because he insisted on my name, my phone number, and my address if I wanted to purchase a $20 lithium ion battery charger. This was after I had stood in line for ten minutes. I thought collecting my personal information on such a trifling item was both unreasonable and time-consuming. But the bastard was uncompromising. I snapped, “Hey, buddy, do you want a sale?” He didn’t and repeated his request for customer data. So I left, and B&H lost a customer for life.

* * *

There was the suggestion that McIntosh had her authors poll her customers, getting a sense of what they liked on the cover. But was this really the case? Is every conversation between an author and a reader transactional? Or is that merely the viewpoint you see when you’re sitting top of the world, ma?

Charkin was an old school gentleman dressed in white. He was British. All he needed was a sword and John Boorman’s direction. Perhaps some of this explained why he brought up a Cricketers’ Almanack to make a point.

“I don’t think we should draw conclusions,” said Charkin. “We publish something called Wisden, which is the annual thing. It’s been going for 149 years. It comes out with statistics.” It was this annual cricket “almanack” which sells 40,000 copies in hardback and costs about $80 a pop every year. 35,000 of these books are sold to the same loyal souls. But the book trade doesn’t keep tabs.

“They don’t keep a record of who’s buying them,” said Charkin. “Essentially it’s the same people.”

It was this community of cricket enthusiasts which permitted Bloomsbury an influx of loyal regulars. Charkin made the point so eloquently that he didn’t even need to use the word “consumers.”

“But that is very promotional,” rejoined Friedman, who identified passionate communities as “people who very specifically want to look for a specific topic.” The important issue was to have passionate communities “see what they want” even if “they don’t even know they want it.”

* * *

It is an irrefutable fact that one cannot attend a publishing conference in 2012 without someone mentioning the success of Fifty Shades of Grey on a panel. It took only ten minutes for the erotic trilogy, which has sold ten million copies, to pop out of the pants.

“For those who rise up to a certain level,” said McIntosh in relation to self-published wunderkinds bumped up by the undoubtedly selfless motivations of publishers, “that’s where a scale publisher such as ourselves jumps in and makes it available in print and digital.” Five million copies of Grey had been sold through print. The other half had been purchased through digital. Print copies flooded into the market and had a positive effect on digital sales.

But there was talk about an elusive cash register effect that wasn’t available online. Again, I had to wonder why these savvy business leaders avoided mentioning the very human booksellers that, in fact, make such a “cash register effect” possible.

Unsurprisingly, Friedman disagreed with this assessment. “Discoverability comes from marketability,” said Friedman. I looked up from my note taking to see if there was an accompanying Powerpoint slide that Friedman was reading from. There wasn’t. She pointed to the success of Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember and seemed to take credit for helping Henry Holt sell its paperback version and pushing a 55-year-old book to the New York Time‘s bestseller list. There was no mention of the obvious possibility that the recent 3D reworking of James Cameron’s 194 minute tribute to spectacle and cheesy dialogue, to say nothing of the Titanic’s 100th anniversary, may have factored into the increased sales.

Charkin had a more reliable example. He pointed to a book called The Twitter Diaries. Some literary agent had persuaded Bloomsbury to publish it. It was published in ebook format. He decided to publish a print version. Piers Morgan and others spread the word on Twitter. And the book climbed up on Amazon – conveniently enough, on the very day Bloomsbury was announcing its financial returns. By 11:00 AM, it had hit #1,000. By lunchtime, it was #100. By the end of the day, it was #4. Word of mouth through the right people had made it a hit.

* * *

“Anyone who isn’t acting like a startup has a serious problem,” said Charkin in response to another question. “Actually, our industry is about nickeling and diming. We have to pay what we have to pay.”

Unfortunately, this means that Charkin, despite being a fairly charming guy on stage, is all about the bottom line. He pointed to a time in the early 1990s when the scientific publishing community was challenged by the Internet. At the time, print copies were sold to university libraries at high prices. But the industry, after investing hundreds of millions dollars into digital platforms, found ways to make scientific publishing work online. It worked. The industry’s profitability has held. “It is absolutely possible to be a publisher in the digital world and hold gross sales and digital profits.” Alas, the price of the scientific article has fallen tenfold, perhaps a hundredfold, since the halcyon days. And while a publisher can remain confident about finding new ways to keep the coffers full, it wasn’t immediately apparent how this translated into steady labor for the very scientific writers who had produced the work in the first place.

Despite the panel’s prohibition on certain strains of shop talk, this didn’t stop McIntosh from calling digital rights management a “red herring.” In her experience, DRM did not lead to an increase in piracy, but was neither pro nor con on the issue. “I don’t think our people are buying onto the Kindle because handcuffs are on them,” she said.

Friedman said that “there was more piracy on the p side than the e side in my experience.” But she didn’t cite any specific figures. Perhaps she had been recently burglarized. Expanding further, she said, “You know what? You can always put it back if you make a mistake. And if it doesn’t work, you can always put it back on.” It is my understanding that some especially pious hymns to hymenorrhaphy have a similar line of reasoning.

I figured the talk had cleared up all thoughts on DRM, but a libertarian-minded fellow paraphrased Howard Zinn during the Q&A, mentioning something about how hard it was to be indifferent on a moving train. McIntosh, to her great credit, tried to explained to the young man that most regular people (i.e., 99% of readers) were too busy mastering one device to care about how well a format transfers onto another device. If the young man didn’t have his question answered, then I’m sure the young man will probably express his concerns with similar nuance on a Slashdot comment thread sometime soon.

“I’m willing to grab any format of media that will work to expand an author’s audience, but I do need to stay pragmatic,” said McIntosh.

Friedman begged to differ. She pointed to an enhanced book of James Gleick’s Chaos. “When you talk about pendulum theory, you want to see something going like this.” From my angle, Friedman’s accompanying gesture looked very much like the beast riding the two backs. And for reasons I could not discern, any lingering desire I had to learn about pendulum theory, much less purchase a book written by James Gleick, instantly evaporated. Who needed a book, either straight or enhanced, when you could see something going like this?

The Bat Segundo Show: Samuel R. Delany

Sameul R. Delany appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #459. He is most recently the author of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Growing a beard to make up for lost time.

Author: Samuel R. Delany

Subjects Discussed: Literary beards, spending the same amount of money on books as food, how many books Delany has read, developing a cataract, Jason Rohrer’s Passage, the structure of Spiders, time moving faster as you get older, Delany’s academic career, the amount of sex contained within Spiders, the male climacteric, how the body changes, About Writing, including a short story in a novel, the original version of Spiders in Black Clock, seven years contained within the first 400 pages, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and fleshing out the idea of “writing what you know,” Lear and “runcible,” Times Square Red Times Square Blue, the Dump vs. the Deuce, the pre-1995 porn theaters in Times Square, transplanting New York subcultures to Georgia, the importance of institutional support to a community, gay conservatives, inventing the Kyle Foundation, Goethe’s Elective Affinities, Steven Shaviro’s thoughts on Delany’s intensities, transgressive behavior, connections between The Mad Man and Spiders, pornutopic fantasies, Hogg, when pornotopia sometimes happens in reality, Fifty Shades of Grey, balancing the real and the fantastical in sexual fiction, Delany’s usage of “ass” and “butt,” how dogs have orgasms, making a phone call in the middle of dinner to find out about sexual deviancy, why Shit does a lot of grinning, Freu and infantile sexuality, the paternal thrust to Shit and Eric’s relationship in Spiders, the difficulty of reading Spinoza’s Ethica, whether a philosophical volume can replace the Bible, living a life driven by one book, Hegel, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, movies vs. books, interclass conflict, Peter Jackson’s films, how mainstream culture relates to subcultures, Jackson’s original notion of the King Kong remake as Wagnerian ambition, Tristran and Isolde, turning up the idealism dial, whether art can live up to pure ambition, the myth of the wonder decade, living through the 50s and 60s, Freedom Rides, people who are diaphanous to the forces of history, the Beatles, peasant indifference during the Dreyfus affair, the impact of not knowing the cultural canon, nanotechnology, John Dos Passos, fiction which responds to present events, life within California, living in San Francisco, how Market Street has changed, assaults on the homeless in San Francisco, the Matrix I and II programs, the gentrification of the Tenderloin, novels of ideas, whether or not genre labels hold conceptual novels hostage, market conditions that hold ambitious fiction back, Delany’s nine apprentice novels, trunk novels, and editorial compromise.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: There’s this video game art project called Passage by Jason Rohrer. Have you heard of this?

Delany: No.

Correspondent: Okay. Because your book reminded me very much of this.

Delany: Really?

Correspondent: I’ll have to forward you the link. Basically, it’s this sidescroller. It’s in a 100 pixel by, I think, 13 pixel window. And you control this person who goes from left to right. From beginning to end of life. And you pick up a partner. In fact, you grow a beard.

Delany: (laughs)

Correspondent: And you die at the end. And it takes the 8-bit sidescroller and it turns it into this unexpectedly poignant moment. If you play it enough times, you can move the cursor down and actually have the figure go into this mire and collect stars, but maybe not have a partner or maybe meet an early demise there. And it absolutely reflects what life is. And I read your book, and I was extremely aware of the physicality. Not just because it was an 800 page book, but because the first 400 pages is basically these escapades of lots of sex, youthful brio, and so forth. And then, suddenly, decades flash by often when we read this. And I’m curious, just to start off here, where did the design of this structure come from? I know you’re very keen on structures. You’ve written about this many times. But how did this come about in Spiders?

Delany: Well, it came from being a person who’s gotten older. I just had my 70th birthday.

Correspondent: Yes. Happy birthday.

Delany: Thank you very much. And one of the things that does happen, and it’s a really interesting phenomena, is that time seems to go a lot faster as you get older. When you were young, time takes forever. You go to the doctor. You wait around for two hours in the doctor’s office. It seems like three months. Whereas I went to the doctor’s office this morning. I went in. And the next thing I knew, I was on my way here. And I’d been there about two and a half hours. And it didn’t seem that any time had passed at all. And I was at the University of Massachusetts between 1988 and 1999, for eleven years. And that seemed much longer than the last twelve years, thirteen years, that I’d been at Temple University, where I’ve been there from 1999 to this year, 2012. And that seems much shorter than the eleven years that I was at UMass. And there’s no way to avoid this. As you get older and older, time just begins to rush by. And I wanted to get this. So actually, the time goes faster and faster through the book. But at a certain point, you realize, “Oh wait a minute! It’s rushing along.” As one of the reviewers said, decades drop out between paragraphs. Well, that’s what happens. That’s how your life kind of goes. So in that sense, the structure of the book is based on the structure of my own experience.

Correspondent: What’s very strange though — I read the book and, actually, I started missing the sex after that 400 page mark. I mean, all of a sudden, wait a minute, they’re not having so much sex anymore. There isn’t all the snot stuff and the pissing and the corprophiia and, of course, the father-son stuff. All of a sudden, we don’t have a lot of that at all. And then you drop some, quite literally, serious bombs later on in the book. And this leads me to ask…

Delany: Well, the sex doesn’t vanish.

Correspondent: Well, of course. It’s there. It keeps going on.

Delany: I mean, the sex is there. But it’s the sex that someone older has. And one of the things that they have to deal with is the fact that your body changes as you get older. And somewhere between 50 and 60, you go through the equivalent of the male climacteric. Which is a very strange thing to go through. Quite as odd…

Correspondent: Oh god. Thanks for warning me.

Delany: Quite as odd as, what is the term for women?

Correspondent: Menopause.

Delany: Menopause, yes. It’s very much like the menopause. And somehow you’re not warned. You aren’t warned how it’s going to change. Everybody notices the body changing. From ten to twenty, there are going to be a lot of changes. But there are going to be just as many changes from twenty to thirty, from thirty to forty, forty to fifty, fifty to sixty. You konw, I’ve been with my partner now, Dennis, for almost twenty-four years. And we still have a sex life. And we’re very fond of one another and very close. But it’s different. Things do change. And that’s one of the things that it’s about. I wanted to explore what the relationship of two men who were notably older was. And so I tried to do that.

Correspondent: You have said also in About Writing, which I’m probably going to be cribbing a lot from for this conversation, that a short story’s not exactly the best thing to include in a novel. And yet this book arose out of a short story that was published in Black Clock. Which leads me back to the original query. How did this thing become structured? How did this take on a life of its own?

Delany: Well, I had to throw away the whole second half of the original short story and rewrite something that flowed into the novel. If you actually compared it, the opening couple of scenes are very similar, although not identical by any means. There were lots of changes all through it. From the very first paragraph. But I wanted to use that as a kind of jumping off point.

Correspondent: Well, that’s one hell of a jumping off point. 800 pages. I mean, why do you think that you were interested in exploring such an expansive format? Why did Eric and Shit demand this sort of attention?

Delany: Well, because I wanted to talk about a lasting relationship between two men. And a very committed relationship. They’re very close to each other. They’re absolutely fixated on one another. I mean, neither one of them could really make it without the other. Which is the tragedy that Eric is faced with at the end. So I just wanted to explore that and see what happened, and deal with all these things. The time speeds up in the first half of the book too. The first 400 pages basically take, what, about seven years. So that’s even years. That’s a good Dickens novel. (laughs) But this is a book that goes on for basically sixty or seventy years.

Correspondent: Yeah. I wanted to also talk about the location. Since my name is Ed, I have to bring up another Ed. E.M. Forster. You have often quoted the advice given in Aspects of the Novel.

Delany: “Write what you know.”

Correspondent: “Write what you know.” But your idea here is to build upon that and say, in addition to writing what you know, it’s very good to keep the writing alive and energetic if you write about something that you’ve only experienced a few times.

Delany: Right. Exactly.

Correspondent: And in this, it’s interesting because it should be evident by your Lear-like use — another Ed — of “runcible” that this Georgia is a fantasy of sorts.

Delany: Yes. It’s a fairytale. The whole book is an 800 page fairytale.

Correspondent: Exactly.

Delany: By which I mean things like Don Quixote. (laughs)

Correspondent: Of course. But my question is: You’re almost writing what you know and you’re writing what you don’t know, or only know a little bit of. Because we have to go to Times Square Red Times Square Blue, which I also read. You write about a man in that named Tommy. He wears a sleeveless denim jacket. Well, there’s a guy with a sleeveless shirt here. And he collected scrap metal. Not unlike this. You look at The Dump. It could also be The Deuce. The Opera House. It could also be the Metropolitan Opera House.

Delany: Easily. Well, it wouldn’t be the Metropolitan. But it could be one of the old porn theaters before ’95. Before New York closed them down.

Correspondent: I guess my question though is: by putting much of these viewpoints that you have raised both in your fiction and your nonfiction to Georgia, to the edge of the earth quite literally, I mean, what does this allow you to do as a fiction writer? How does this allow you to explore a subculture that, say, keeping everything in New York would not?

Delany: Well, one of the things that I wanted to show is that the kind of life that Eric and Morgan — his nickname is Shit.

Correspondent: You can say “Shit” here.

Delany: That Eric and Shit lead — as I said, besides being a fairytale, is also — well, I’m trying to figure out a good way to put this. In some ways, it’s kind of didactic. It’s almost like a Bildungsroman. They have to learn how to live their life. And it can’t be done — and this is, I really feel — and this is one of the reasons why it had to be a fairytale — it needs institutional support. Which is why there has to be the Kyle Foundation and why there has to be a certain support, a certain community support for what they’re doing. And at the same time, they’re very much on the margin of this community. They’re not in the center of this community. So that people like Mr. Potts, for instance. A very conservative man who just doesn’t want his nephew, who has come down to spend the winter with him, associating with these riffraff who use the gay-friendly restroom. Because he doesn’t like the idea of gay men using the restrooms at all.

Correspondent: Where did the Kyle Foundation come from?

Delany: It was purely out of my head.

Correspondent: Really. Because there’s a specific phrasing in their mantra: “an institution dedicated to the betterment of the lives of black gay men and of those of all races and creeds connected to them by elective and non-elective affinities.” And that phrasing recalls any number of Islamic foundations and the like.

Delany: And also the Goethe novel.

Correspondent: Yes!

Delany: Elective Affinities.

Correspondent: So that was really more where it came from?

Delany: It came more from Goethe than it did from Islam.

Correspondent: Sure. Steven Shaviro. He has pointed out that the intensities of your pornography are never presented as transgressive. Now in a disclaimer…

Delany: Although this is pretty transgressive.

Correspondent: Well, of course. I want to talk about this. Because in a disclaimer to The Mad Man, of which we see statues of something that crops up in there appearing in this, you called The Mad Man “a pornotopic fantasy: a set of people, incidents, places, and relations among them that never happened and could not happen for any number of surely self-evident reasons.” Well, there is no such disclaimer for Spiders and we see much of the same stuff, as I said. Piss-drinking, shit-eating, you name it. I’m wondering. How does a pornotopic fantasy — how does one of these, whether it be The Mad Man or Spiders or even the infamous Hogg, how does this help us to understand or come to terms with the realities of sex and what the present limits are? What some people might call deviancy today or perhaps yesterday.

Delany: Well, literature is divided into genres like that. You have the world of comedy, the world of tragedy. And you have the world of pornography. And each of them is a kind of subgenre. And sometimes they can be mixed. You can go from one to the other. And I think pornotopia is the place, as I’ve written about, where the major qualities — the major aspect of pornotopia, it’s a place where any relation, if you put enough pressure on it, can suddenly become sexual. You walk into the reception area of the office and you look at the secretary and the secretary looks at you and the next minute you’re screwing on the desk. That’s pornotopia. Which, every once in a while, actually happens. But it doesn’t happen at the density.

Correspondent: Frequency.

Delany: At the frequency that it happens in pornotopia. In pornotopia, it happens nonstop. And yet some people are able to write about that sort of thing relatively realistically. And some people aren’t. Something like Fifty Shades of Grey is not a very realistic account.

Correspondent: I’m sure you’ve read that by now.

Delany: I’ve read about five pages.

Correspondent: And it was enough for you to throw against the wall?

Delany: No. I didn’t throw it. I just thought it was hysterically funny. But because the writer doesn’t use it to make any real observations on the world that is the case, you know, it’s ho-hum.

Correspondent: How do we hook those moms who were so driven to Fifty Shades of Grey on, say, something like this?

Delany: I don’t think you’re going to. I think the realistic — and there’s a lot that’s relatively realistic about it and there’s also a lot that isn’t. Probably less so in this book than in, let’s say, The Mad Man, which probably has a higher proportion of realism to fantasy.

Correspondent: I also wanted to ask you — what’s interesting is that there is almost a limit to the level of pornography in this. There’s one funeral scene where something is going to happen and they say, “Nuh-uh. You’re not allowed to do that. Show some respect.” And roughly around the 300 page mark, I was very conscious of the fact that you didn’t actually use the word “ass.” And you were always using “butt.” (laughs)

Delany: I didn’t even notice.

Correspondent: And so when “ass” showed up, I was actually shocked by that. So I’m wondering. Does any exploration of sexual behavior, outlandish sexual behavior or sexual behavior that’s outside the norms of what could possibly happen, whether it be frequency or density or what not — does it require limits with which to look at it? With which to see it in purely fantastical terms?

Delany: Well, I think one of the things that you need to write a book, especially a book this long, is you need a certain amount of variety. And I think that this is perhaps a failing. There are only so many things that you can do. I think I give a good sampling of them. But every once in a while, I’m sure it probably gets somewhat repetitious.

Correspondent: Well, it’s a good variety pack. But it’s also: “Okay, reader, you have to get beyond these first 350 pages and then, by then, you are actually able to get into totally unanticipated territory and I’ve already locked you in.” How did you work that out?

Delany: One of the things is that you try and keep telling interesting things about the sex. I mean, things that can be observed about the world that is the case. I mean, I tried to talk about the sex in terms of — I don’t think most people know how a dog has an orgasm.

Correspondent: How do we find this out? (laughs)

Delany: Uh, there’s a wonderful website. (laughs)

Correspondent: (laughs)

(Image: Ed Gaillard)

The Bat Segundo Show #459: Samuel R. Delany (Download MP3)

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