Friday, September 11, 2009

A Conversation with Susan Shapiro

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In Susan Shapiro’s debut comedic novel, Speed Shrinking, Julia, the book’s main character, is a self-help author about to come out with her new book on sugar addiction when she gains her cupcake weight. Now, the goal is to find a new therapist to help her “speed shrink” her body in time for the pub date.

• When and why did you begin writing?
Reading and writing were the only thing I ever did well in school. Apparently I memorized the Robert Louis Stevenson poem "I have a little shadow" before I was two and went around the house reciting it. My parents made the mistake of applauding and tell me how smart I was so I've been hooked ever since.

• What inspired you to write your first book? How long did it take from your first book's inception to its publication?
Well I started a novel "Overexposed" in 1996 that I just sold and it's coming out next year. I joke that it's so old instead of a book launch it's getting a bat mitzvah. My husband's calling it a book mitzvah. When people ask how long it took to write my memoir "Five Men Who Broke My Heart," I say "I banged my head against the wall for 23 years, then it took six months."

• Tell us something about addiction, therapy, and cupcakes.
In my memoir "Lighting Up," I chronicled how I quit cigarettes, alcohol, dope, gum and bread with a brilliant addiction specialist. At the end the only thing left to quit was him. Then he quit me by moving away. I didn't relapse on smoking or drugs but I got into sugar and became a cupcake icing addict which is where "Speed Shrinking" starts.

• Tell us your latest news? Can you share a little of your future work with us?
"Speed Shrinking" just got rave reviews in People magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle and I'm on my way to L.A. to do a bunch of book events there. "Overexposed" comes out next September 2010. I'm also working on the screenplay version of "Five Men Who Broke My Heart" with a great producer.

• How did you come up with the title?
After my shrink moved away and I started blimping out on sugar, I wanted to find a replacement addiction specialist fast. My shrink cost $200 a session but guys on my new insurance were $25 co-pay. So I realized for the price of one "Dr. Ness" I could see 8 shrinks in 8 days, instead of speed dating, speed shrinking.

• Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
My favorite line my shrink's advice "Lead the least secretive life you can."

• How much of the book is realistic? Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
It's autobiographical but exaggerated. I only gained 12 pounds and my character gains 35 pounds.

• What books have most influenced your life most?
I'd say the fantasy parents of "Speed Shrinking" are Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" and Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" - brilliant books about shrinks that I adored.

• If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
My last book "Only As good as Your Word" was about my favorite mentors. I have several students with upcoming books I'm excited about - Abby Sher's Amen, David Goodwillie's upcoming novel.

• Do you see writing as a career? Is it a dream come true or something you just fell into? 
Dream come true!

• If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? 
I forgot to thank a few friends in the acknowledgments. Luckily I'll amend that in the paperback version next year.

• Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
After five nonfiction books, fiction is new to me, I have no idea what I'm doing.

• How much influence did your editor have on your book? 
My St. Martin's editor Katie Gilligan made fantastic suggestions for my rewrite. I took every single one of them.

• Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? 
Yes! I just got back from Chicago and Michigan and I'm on my way to L.A.

• Who designed the cover? Did you have any input in that decision? 
The St. Martin's artists did the cover which is beautiful. The first version was pink and I flipped out - I am definitely not a pink person. So they changed it to blue which is gorgeous.

• What was the hardest part of writing your book? 
It started as a memoir - which didn't sell - so turning it into a comic novel was new.

• Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? 
I have to get an imagination!

• Do you have any advice for other writers? 
Take a writing class with an author you admire. Start a writing workshop. Read my mentor book and figure out how to get a great mentor of your own. Email writers you admire, say "I just bought your book and loved it" and then ask them a question that might help you. My address is and I'm now addicted to email.

• Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy "Speed Shrinking." And again my favorite line is "Lead the least secretive life you can."

Thank you for answering my questions, Susan. I look forward to reading your book! As I'm sure my readers do as well. Discover more about Susan and her books at her website, You can buy Speed Shrinking here.

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  1. Joemama,

    You follow me. I'm tea from "Reading Play." My blog addy is

    Please come to my blog and pick up your Flower bear. Just leave a note saying you have gotten it. Enjoy!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This was a great post and I'll try to implement the advice she gives. I hadn't thought to write the authors that I admire most to tell them that I'd bought their books and loved it and then ask a question. But after reading her suggestion, it makes so much sense.

    Thanks - I always seem to find interesting books and authors on your site!

    gaby317nyc at gmail dot com