SF I Eric Shapiro Interview

Editor’s Foreword

Thanks to Eric Shapiro for doing this interview back in August. My apologies to him and our readers for the delay in getting this interview online.

We appreciate your finding the time to give us this interview. You have been extremely busy! This year you have contributed to a multitude of works, such as The Elastic Book of Numbers, The Undead, Corpse Blossoms, Fedora IV, and Daikaiju! The year 2002 saw the publication of your brilliant collection, Short of a Picnic. Now Permuted Press has published your apocalyptic novella It’s Only Temporary. I have read the first chapter at http://www.rockcrown.com/iot/chapter1.php; it’s spellbinding. If one chapter can turn a routine question into the question of a life (or death) time, I can only imagine what the story as a whole can do!

1. It’s Only Temporary made its debut at the 2005 Horror Writer’s Association Conference in Burbank, California. How was the experience?

It was fantastic. We wanted to give the book a good launch and create some word of mouth, so we distributed a bunch of copies in people’s goodie bags. I went up to the HWA suite to help stuff the bags, and met the owners of Dark Delicacies, a famous LA horror bookstore. They invited me to attend the weekend’s mass signing, among twenty-some horror authors. I got a chance to meet Chuck Palahniuk and tell him how much he influenced my writing, and I still can’t wrap my mind around the encounter. The guy was standing right in front of me, and his skull is four inches wide, just like everybody else’s, yet it houses more genius than I can comprehend.

2. I was not surprised when I read all the reviews lauding It’s Only Temporary at http://www.rockcrown.com/iot/reviews.php. Would you elaborate on the reception your work has received thus far?

Knock on wood, the book seems to have good energy around it. When we were searching for back-of-the-book blurbs, we connected with 15 authors who were willing to give it a read, and all but one of them contributed a generous comment. That was a little surreal. When it started getting reviews, the first couple were poor, and Permuted Press and I were worried the fun was ending, but fortunately most critics are getting it. Some people are saying the book’s too short, but others are getting that it’s supposed to be like a kick in the stomach, like literature inside a pill. One reading, one dose, like an acid trip minus the health risk.

3. Your novella focuses on how diverse people react to severe stress. Do you think your knowledge about mental disorders (about which you wrote in Short of a Picnic) gave you insight to how people might react under end-of-the-world circumstances?

I think so. I found myself sketching in mental health details everywhere. You could actually read the book as a 100-page panic attack, and as anyone who’s panicked can tell you, an acute attack can make you feel like the world is ending. On the other hand, though, as someone who’s had my share of attacks, once you learn that it’s just a bunch of chemicals stirring around, attacks become less scary and–this sounds strange–even fun sometimes. So that’s why the book has a strong thread of humor; it’s like a mad slapstick comedy on some level. Another subtle element is that lots of people in the book, including the narrator, are suffering symptoms of schizophrenia. You have to figure if something as extreme as the apocalypse was occurring, schizophrenia would become prominent, because it’s the most severe form of mental illness there is. Then, naturally, addiction comes into play throughout: the narrator is smoking opium, his mom tried ecstasy, and the misogynists he runs into are drunk.

4. How much do you and your protagonist Sean have in common? Would you make the same decisions he does?

He’s more or less like I was in my late teens: kind of self-absorbed, smoking too much pot, not knowing who he is. His voice definitely overlaps with my own, though I find him kind of bratty and syrupy at points. He also kind of surprised me by being such a pacifist. I don’t think I’d be as likely to stop and consider peaceful alternatives as he is. That’s the fun part of creating characters; you think you’re going to lead them this way, and then they pull you that way.

5. Many of us have wondered how and when the world might end. When you created It’s Only Temporary you obviously went well past the wondering stage. Before crafting this work, though, did the apocalypse hold a special interest for you?

Not really in the literal sense, but after Short of a Picnic, I was looking for an atmosphere in which I could attempt extreme emotional heat, so emotionally the apocalypse was appealing. Also, I think the age we’re living in has potent apocalyptic energy. Our culture is anxious about terrorism, there’s visceral violence in the air, it’s the start of a new century, and we have a long road ahead. So all that energy is in the book. I think Sean’s obsession about being robbed of the chance to grow up is a common sentiment among Americans in their 20s after 9/11. Our generation got handed some tough set of circumstances to grow up in, and Sean’s position allegorizes the emotions that come with that. Another thing is, I’m interested in the 21st century’s acceleration of thought. I think the Internet and digital technology are making life more visceral and speedy, so I was trying to capture those currents in IOT. That’s another reason its length is short; it’s like a book you can download into your head.

6. I read that It’s Only Temporary led to the formation of another creative work. The artist Bilvox, inspired by your work, recorded Now a Days, which I heard at http://www.bilvox.com/bilvox_demos.htm. I think it’s a haunting, exquisite song. How do you feel about your tale having such influence?

It feels tremendous, but I should say that Bilvox, also known as Bill Neidlinger, is one of my best friends, and was the best man at my wedding. (laughs) Better for me to say it before someone else did. Nonetheless, I was shocked that the book brought that song out of him; it’s another sign of good energy. Another friend, Ian Jarvis, did the cover art, so the book has managed to call up various muses.

7. Is there anything else you’d care to tell us?

I’ve done a couple interviews about the book, but I haven’t had a chance to praise Permuted Press for contracting the novella. The owner, Jacob Kier, is someone any author should want to work with. Unlike most people on Earth, he always does what he says he will, and he’s very easygoing and supportive. So minus Jacob, we’d have no show, and I’m thrilled he took it on.

Thank you very much for speaking with us!

Thanks for having me!


About the Interviewer

Anne Verville is a New Hampshire freelance writer who enjoys reading a variety of novels, but the fantasy genre may quickly become her favorite.


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