In this post, I had the honor to interview Lauren Sapalam the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, a transgressive novel based on her experiences as an alcoholic battling her alter ego in Seattle in the early 2000s, and its sequel, West Is San Francisco. She also teaches classes and online courses for introverted, intuitive writers and blogs regularly on creativity, writing, and transgressive fiction at laurensapala.com.
I'm always fascinated by finding other female authors in the genre of Transgressive Fiction. I was searching transgressivefiction.info and I found Lauren, searched her book, and bought it to read. As it was the type of book I adore, I decided to email her and see if she would accept to have an interview with me, and voila! She accepted. Let's see what we have discussed.
Hi Lauren. It's such a pleasure to be able to talk to you. To start with the questions, may I know when did you decide to become a writer in the Transgressive Genre as I see this is normally a genre mainly male dominant.
I didn’t actually decide to become a transgressive fiction writer, it just happened. I wrote my first novel, Between the Shadow and Lo, in a silent writing program (we met once a week and wrote for one hour together, silently), and I didn’t plan the novel at all. I just wrote down the experiences I had gone through as an alcoholic over the past few years. As I was revising the manuscript I began looking around at agents and publishers and as part of that process, I looked at other books that were similar to mine. I realized that all of them were transgressive fiction.
I understand. I have the same experience. What about Transgressive Genre attracts you?
I like the darkness of transgressive fiction, and the absurd humor, but most of all I like the way it breaks through boundaries. In fact, that’s how I define transgressive fiction, as not just “boundary-pushing” but “boundary-breaking,” because a lot of good literature pushes boundaries, but the mark of true transgressive fiction, in my opinion, is that it explores actual societal taboos. And those boundaries and taboos change over time, which is another aspect of transgressive fiction that I find compelling. Some of the transgressive fiction of the 1950s feels tame by today’s standards, in regards to discussion around gender, sexuality, drugs, spirituality, etc. But then there are other concepts and stereotypes that were normalized during that time (how people of color were portrayed by white authors, for example) that are now considered taboo. I love that dynamic of the ever-changing boundary.
What do you think makes a good story?
Honesty. And this holds true for any piece of writing, whether it’s the Great American Novel or a blog post on a better way to clean your kitchen. There are so many writers out there who are afraid to truly express themselves, or they haven’t discovered their true feelings, and so they’re writing things that unthinkingly express the opinion they believe will be accepted by the mainstream population (i.e., the blog post that gets the most clicks). While this might be a great strategy if you’re an advertising copywriter, it will ruin any piece of writing that you actually care about.
I define transgressive fiction, as not just “boundary-pushing” but “boundary-breaking,” because a lot of good literature pushes boundaries, but the mark of true transgressive fiction, in my opinion, is that it explores actual societal taboos.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And as a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was six years old I wanted to be a poet. I went through a few more career aspirations after that time, but I ended up at 15 or 16 years old having no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but a very clear idea of what I DIDN’T want to do. I didn’t want to have a normal job. I didn’t want to work for the government or a corporation. I didn’t want to work somewhere boring, or where I was bored. I didn’t want to feel like I was a slave to someone just because they paid me a lot of money. So, I settled on working in a bookstore in my early 20s and this felt right for a time. Then I went to work for a private detective and a few different tech startups between Seattle and San Francisco. That felt right too. The entire time, I still wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t dead set on it bringing me any sort of income or being a “career.” I just wanted to write books because it sounded like it would deeply fulfill me.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I write nonfiction and fiction, and each takes me a different length of time. I spend about six to eight months writing the first draft of a nonfiction book. For fiction, it takes me on average two years to three years to write the first draft, although I have completed a first draft of a novel in six months, and another one took me four years, so there are outliers to that rule. But generally speaking, I write fiction very slowly. And I revise slowly as well.
Do you have any writing routines? What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I’m self-employed as a writing coach and I also teach online classes, sell video courses, have a bunch of marketing stuff I have to get done and also have a six-year-old son who is home 24-7 due to the pandemic, so I kind of have to laugh when people ask me if I have a writing routine. If trying to sit down for 30 minutes of privacy while being constantly interrupted and yelling at my family that I’m trying to work and to please leave me alone, then finally having a fit of anger and putting my son on YouTube videos to get some peace, counts as a writing routine, then that’s my writing routine. While answering these questions my son has literally interrupted me five times because he wants to show me what he just built in Minecraft. That’s my daily life.
Because of my own personal experience juggling writing and family life, I do tend to think that writers put way too much focus on having the perfect writing routine. I work with clients and students who are convinced they need a private room all to themselves, with at least three hours of time where they will be completely uninterrupted, the right pens, the right tea, the right music, etc. I’ve been seriously writing for 15 years now and I can tell you that if I waited for those kinds of circumstances, I would NEVER get anything done. The secret is that you have to make do with what’s available, especially if you’re a parent and a writer. You have to take the unexpected 30 minutes you get when your kid decides to finally entertain themselves with Legos, or the Sunday morning when you actually don’t have to check your work email. You can’t wait for everything to be just right, you have to work with what you have, right now.
I totally understand. I personally don't have a clear-cut plan. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
For my nonfiction, I draw primarily from the experiences and stories of my clients and students. For my fiction, I open a connection with some sort of portal into other planes of existence and download the fragments of the story from that portal. And I absolutely know how weird that sounds, but that’s truthfully what I do. I don’t “come up” with ideas. I try to live as an intuitive receiving board in the world, kind of like a human radio antenna, and then I sift through the signals that come through. If a character wants to work with me, I’ll start picking up on their signal a year or two before it’s time to start the first draft. Once I pick up on the signal, it’s my job to listen as openly and deeply as I can to it, and then the downloads will start coming.
How beautifully you put the words to gether to answer each question. May I know, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote the first draft of my first book, Between the Shadow and Lo, from 2006-2008. I was 28 years old when I started and 30 when I finished, although I spent many more years revising the novel and didn’t publish it until 2017, when I was 39.
What does your family think of your writing?
This is an interesting question for me because I’m not super close with my extended family, or rather, my family is not super involved in my life. My parents were divorced and are now dead, and my siblings live all over the country and are more than a decade younger than me, so we don’t talk a whole lot, but we are supportive of each other. One of my brothers is an artist in NYC and another brother is also obsessed with literature so we’re on the same wavelength. My husband is extremely supportive of my writing, although he doesn’t read it and I don’t expect him to. He’s an artist and a heavy metal musician, and while I’m supportive of his creative work, I don’t care for heavy metal, so I get it. Overall, I come from an unconventional family, and this pertains to both my immediate family now (husband and son) and extended family, so the fact that I write transgressive fiction has never been an issue.
That's understandable. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Ha, I would have to say the most surprising—and humbling—thing I’ve learned is that I’m not in control and it’s not about me. I work with so many writers who are fighting and struggling and in so much conflict about writing and it’s because they have this belief system in place that they’re in control, they’re in charge of “creating” the book, and the book is an extension of themselves and will exist to reflect praise (or ridicule) back on them. I tried this approach myself and it ended in disaster. The characters shut down, the ideas dried up, and the story fell apart, every single time. Once I realized that I was trying to use the process of writing to “achieve something” rather than a process of exploration and discovery, and I shifted to a different mindset where I saw myself in an actual relationship with the story, everything got better.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve written nine books and published five of them. I currently have four novels that are still in the revisions stage that I plan to release in the next few years. My favorite one is a novel I have not yet published about a magician. I have a thing for magicians.
Can't wait to read it. Do you have any suggestions to help others to become better writers? If so, what are they?
Let go. Just let go. Stop trying to control everything and trying to decide what people would like and what will sell and if you’ll fail and if it’s a good idea and all of that garbage. These are just anxiety thought loops taking up your valuable brain space. When you start writing a book or a story, it’s impossible to know any of these things. Commit yourself to being okay with not knowing. Resolve to accept that the book will come out of you on its own schedule and it will be whatever it’s supposed to be, and that might match up to the picture in your head, or it might not. If you get too attached to it looking like you think it should look, then you’re going to end up strangled by your own expectations and writing won’t be very much fun anymore.
That’s another thing I see among writers, everyone takes it so incredibly seriously, like it’s this life-or-death thing. So many writers believe that writing is THE thing that will once-and-for-all prove their worth to the world. Writing can’t do that for you, you have to do that for you, and you have to do it on the inside. Writing is actually supposed to be a fun thing that makes you feel good and that you get to play around with and that nourishes you and brings joy into your life. If it’s not doing that for you, at least some of the time, then something needs to shift.
Thanks for the advice and your time Lauren. Hope we can collaborate on other projects.
If you would like to know more about Lauren please check the links below: