B.A. Shapiro is the New York Times bestselling author of The Muralist, The Art Forger, The Safe Room, Blind Spot, See No Evil, Blameless and Shattered Echoes. She has also written four screenplays and the non-fiction book, The Big Squeeze. Her books have been on many bestseller lists (NY Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Amazon, Kindle, NPR) won many awards including the 2013 New England Book Award for Fiction and been translated into a dozen languages. Shapiro holds a PhD in sociology and has directed research projects for a residential substance abuse facility, worked as a systems analyst/statistician, headed the Boston office of a software development firm, and served as an adjunct professor teaching sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. She lives in Boston with her husband and dog, Sagan.
Taylor Larsen: I was so impressed hearing you speak at the Schenectady Public Library the other day. You discussed your long path to becoming the success you are now, and how it involved years of rejections, multiple manuscripts, and multiple agents. Can you briefly describe the process leading up to your first published book and do you have any inspirational words for aspiring writers who have yet to get their figurative foot in the door?
B.A. Shapiro: As is common, I was unable to find a publisher for my first novel (agent #1). Then my next four novels were published by HarperCollins and Avon Books (agent #2) but weren’t promoted and didn’t sell well. My fifth novel struggled to find a publisher (agent #3) and was finally put out by Five Star Books, which only sells to libraries. The next three novels never found a home (agents #4, #5 and #6), but after 25 years of writing, my ninth novel, The Art Forger, was published by Algonquin Books (agent #7) and hit the NY Times bestseller list. My advice to aspiring writers is to get your butt in the chair, stay there and let yourself write it wrong – then rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.
Larsen: You said you love to revise more than you love creating the first draft–can you explain further?
Shapiro: The first draft is pulling from nothing to make something, which is painful. The next drafts are pulling from something to create something better, which is much more fun.
Larsen: What are the unexpected things that came along with becoming a bestseller, both the great things and aspects that were offputting?
Shapiro: Everything about being a bestseller is fabulous. Not only does it legitimize you to yourself, but it legitimizes you to the world. To a writer who struggled for twenty-five years for confirmation that what I was doing was worthwhile, there’s nothing off-putting about it.
Larsen: How have you channeled the frustration you felt for so many years into new work? You seem like a very high energy productive person–how do you keep that going?
Shapiro: I don’t think my past frustrations have anything to do with my current work, except to make me aware of how precious the opportunity to keep writing is. I was on the verge of quitting before The Art Forger hit – after five novels with few readers and four that couldn’t find a publisher it seemed like the logical thing to do. So now I see being able to write novels as a gift. And because this happened to me so late in my career, I recognize the capriciousness and fleetingness of the acclaim. Which makes it even more of a gift, and makes me work even harder to try and keep it.
Larsen: Which of your characters has stuck with you long after writing the book and why? Do you still think about them or feel their presence?
Shapiro: They’re all there, but as I’m always working on the next novel, they’re more like old friends whom I’ve lost touch with but think of fondly.
Larsen: You have a book coming out a year from now. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Shapiro: The Collector’s Apprentice will be out Fall 2018. It’s my third novel, following The Art Forger and The Muralist, that combines history, mystery, art and a touch of romance. Set in the 1920s in Paris and Philadelphia, it intermingles the lives of historical characters – Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, etc. – with fictional ones, including some based on actual people. It’s a story about post-Impressionism, con men, murder and the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want: art, money, fame, love or revenge.