Q and A with Gregg Shapiro, LINCOLN AVENUE
Tell us a little about your new book.
Lincoln Avenue is my first short story collection. The twelve stories were culled from a much larger manuscript. My publisher, Raymond Luczak, wanted the book to have a more cohesive theme. Because the focus of Squares and Rebels Press is Midwestern LGBT writers, we chose a dozen stories set in the region. There were others set in and around Chicago, as well as Boston and Washington, DC, that didn’t make the cut. I hope to put them together to create a new manuscript.
Chicago and some of its closest suburbs, Skokie and Evanston, for example, are very much a part of your stories. Would you consider yourself, like Stuart Dybek, a writer of place, as much as of character?
Wow, Stuart Dybek! Yes, place has always found, well, a place in my work, both prose and poetry. I love reading writers who write about places where I have been as much as I love reading about new places. I hope that people who read Lincoln Avenue, those who have been to the Chicago area as well as those who haven’t, feel as though I have taken them someplace familiar or new.
One of your characters, Craig, appears in several of the stories in Lincoln Avenue; do you consider these linked stories to form a novella, of a kind? Would you say too that he's a fictional double for you? (I suppose tangentially I'm wondering if you've ever written personal essays or a book-length memoir.)
Other than the Chicago theme, I actually don’t consider the stories to be linked. Even the beginning and ending stories, “Your Father’s Car” and “Your Mother’s Car,” are intended to be unrelated, separate. Yes, the main characters in the stories all have elements of my personality, but they are all fiction. That’s my (short) story and I’m sticking with it.
No personal essays or memoirs in the works for me. All of my non-fiction writing energy is tied up in my career as an entertainment journalist.
The story "Family Life" is quite a bit different tonally and thematically than the other stories in that it deals with child abuse. You write with such restraint about this topic, which makes the story even more powerful. What was behind your decision to include this story in this collection and place it more or less in the middle of the book?
“Like Family” began its life as two different poems – “One of the boys” and “Dancing With My Father.” I always knew that I wanted to expand the first poem and when I combined it with the second one I had a brand new story. It might sound strange if I said that the poems were true, but the story is fiction, but that’s the best way I can explain it. What I mean is that the expansion of the story, not only allowed me to add new details, while expanding on old ones, but it gave the story a fresh perspective (I hope this makes sense!). “Like Family” is definitely the most serious story in the collection, but it’s not the only one. “The Tracks,” for example, is another story I would consider to be serious. I think the intention was to vary the voice of the stories.
You're a poet as a well as a prose writer, and I'm curious about how you balance the two genres; i.e. how do you decide when something you've started to write should be a poem instead of a story, and vice-versa?
This is such a great question, coming as it does right after the one about “Like Family,” which, as I said, began as two separate poems. I’ve been a published poet (beginning when I was still an undergrad at Emerson College in Boston) longer than I have been a published writer of fiction. I have published a full-length poetry collection, a chapbook and my poetry has also been published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.
In recent years, I have been transforming poems (most of which have been published) into short stories. I really love the experience which feels as much like editing and revision as it does creating something totally new. One such poem, now a short story titled “A Different Debra,” has recently been accepted for publication in Jonathan: A Journal of Gay Fiction.
However, I’m not sure I can describe how I know when something will be a poem or a short story. It sounds corny, but I let the piece tell me as I write it.
If you don't mind telling us, what are you working on now?
My dream project, emphasis on dream, would be to publish a collection (or collections) of my interviews. I have been interviewing authors, playwrights, actors, actresses, filmmakers, singer/songwriters, musicians and others for 20 years and I have amassed enough interviews for at least two or three books. I also have at least two more poetry manuscripts as well as at least one more short story collection ready to go.