Dani Shapiro: The TNB Self-InterviewBy TNB Nonfiction
January 09, 2014
So what is it? A narcissistic disorder? Or do we need a new category for this in the DSM-IV? Memoirmania, maybe?
You don’t pull any punches, do you? Okay. So I wrote three novels. Then a memoir. Then another two novels. Then another memoir, which was a total surprise. That one—my memoir Devotion, nearly knocked me over. I literally almost fell down when I realized what I was doing. A spiritual memoir? Really? After that book, I thought I was done with the form. But now I’ve gone and written yet another memoir, sort of. I say sort of, because Still Writing, my new book, is about writing. But stories of what formed me as a writer found their way in there. So, yeah.
Do you think you’ll go back to fiction at some point?
God, I hope so. Memoir is exhausting.
Okay, so… Still Writing. What made you think you had anything to say about writing that hasn’t been said already?
Wow, that’s such an original question. Still Writing started out as a blog. I started a blog years ago, because writers are supposed to have, you know, platforms and be brands and all that fun stuff that comes so easily to introverted hermits, and the only thing I considered myself qualified to write about regularly was the creative habit. Meaning, what does it take to sit down and face the blank page every day? What complicated combination of courage, stupidity, perseverance, doggedness, mental illness, endurance and patience? Why do some people give up? Why do others find their way? I was interested in exploring that, and so I started blogging, and people—other writers—began sending notes to me almost every day, letting me know that my little blog posts were helping them.
So you wrote the blog planning to turn it into a book.
Oh, come on.
I swear, I didn’t. Almost everything I’ve ever done in my writing life has been an accident.
What about landing on Oprah? Was that an accident too?
Has anyone ever told you that you’re hostile? Do you think aggression is…I mean, just tactically speaking…the most effective interview style?
Sorry. You’re right. My bad. It’s just…
What? I mean, you come in here, all pissed off, on the attack…
I apologize. I think it’s because it’s so easy to hate you.
You know…people have been writing all sorts of stuff about you lately. Like, you live in a really nice house in the country, and your husband is a filmmaker who just made his first movie, and your kid is some sort of genius, and you’re a bestselling author…
Okay, first of all, that picture in The New York Times was totally misleading. The photographer must have used a wide angle lens or something. My house is falling apart. We need a paint job and a new roof. Can you do me a favor? Can you come over to my house at three o’clock in the morning when I’m worried about my husband’s career, my kid’s schooling, and how I’m going to pay for a paint job and a new roof? And just remind me of how easy to hate I am?
So who is Dani Shapiro, really?
Okay. Back to Oprah. You can’t tell me that ending up on her show “Super Soul Sunday” was an accident as well.
Well, it depends on what you mean by accident. I’ve been writing books for 20 years. One of them found its way to the Oprah folks, who called me. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I spent more than an hour being interviewed by her. Now she knows how to give a good interview.
Is there anything else you need to know? Because I kind of have to get going. Believe it or not, talking about myself isn’t my favorite pastime.
One last thing. But I’m a little embarrassed to ask.
You? Embarrassed? I don’t believe it.
Okay, well. Okay…so I have a manuscript, it’s only 80,000 words and my neighbor’s cousin, who is an agent, read the proposal and thinks it’s a masterwork—that was the word she used, if you can imagine!—and the problem is, well, it doesn’t really have a “hook” and books need to have hooks these days—
I’m going to stop you right there. Have you actually read Still Writing?
Um, no. I’m sorry to say. But it’s on my pile! I swear!
author photo by Kate Uhry
DANI SHAPIRO is the bestselling author of the memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, and has been widely anthologized. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, The New School and Wesleyan University, and she is co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. She is a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure. She lives with her family in Litchfield County, Connecticut. Her latest book is Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.
What a fun article to read. It just saddens me to read that people are being mean to you due to your success. How small their world must be to think there is not enough for both you and all of us to shine. I am looking forward to reading Still Writing. Devotion struck so many chords with me. Hope 2014 brings more success.
Well, yes, the person doing the interview does seem a bit hostile, doesn’t she? Most writers are accustomed to negative people and comments so you navigated that perfectly. Just avoid that person from now on. By the way, I also have a manuscript, a memoir, 120,000 words and my third cousin in Mississippi managed to read 27 pages and raved about it. I was thinking of sending it to your brilliant son for some advice on how to do a screenplay for your husband. My third cousin is going to send some money for postage as sort of a backer and I will send it on one day. Also, as hard as they are, please don’t stop writing memoirs.
for as much as you might offend, you inspire. thank you for, Still Writing!! I read it in two days. with two kids under three this was no small feat. and while i’m remiss to follow some of it basic tenants (i.e. disabling the internet when i sit down to work), i am more compelled than ever to get my story out of the knot inside and into some tangible form. you book (and now books; i’m reading Devotion now and have Slow Motion next to the bed waiting) have shifted something inside me. thank you!! thank you for the vulnerability, the honesty, the hours, and the work. and thank you for being that integral piece of inspiration i needed.