In the Shadows With Lo
Taking with Lauren Sapala
Written by: J.L.Foster October 22, 2018
If you have been looking for a book to help you trudge into winter, look no further. I have found what you’re looking for. I snuggled up with Between the Shadow and Lo this month; an unapologetic tell all, about the decline of an alcoholic girl and the hilarity of her infelicities. I was not only thrilled to read every depraved minute of Lo’s story, but also moved by the immense attachment I felt to her struggle and her horrible self-induced misfortunes. This book is raw and gritty, it is funny and utterly transgressive. It makes the ugliest of things sound so astonishingly beautiful, at times I began to wonder if those things were really ever ugly at all.
So, naturally I felt the need to bother the author, Lauren Sapala about my absolute adoration and express my hopes for more. I stomped my feet and raved to her about how much I adored every moment I spent with Lo. Despite my lack of social skills, Lauren was not only grateful for my praise, but she even agreed to an interview:
J.L.Foster: When you first began writing [Between the Shadow and Lo], was your immediate goal to make it a very truthful and gritty memoir? Did you ever plan to fictionalize any of it for any reason?
Lauren Sapala: When I first began writing the book, I hadn’t written anything in over seven years. I had a professor in college who told me, basically, that my writing sucked and I should find something else to do with my life. So, I stopped writing, completely. And then I went off the rails for a little while and spent the next seven years drunk. When I came out of that black period and got sober, I started writing again and Between the Shadow and Lo is the book I wrote, all about that dark time.
I didn’t really plan anything. I just sat down once a week for one hour and wrote down everything that came pouring out of me. It seemed to be memoir, obviously, at first, but as time went on I wondered about that. It took me 11 years to revise the manuscript and during that time I began to see that the work would do much better as fiction, for a variety of reasons.
JLF: The more disgusting and hilarious scenes are the stars of your reviews, and among readers. How did you make such gross scenes not only hilarious, but quite beautifully written?
LS: Well, as any writer can tell you, novels are not really “written,” they’re “rewritten.” I rewrote Lo many times. The epic dump scene and the pop-up-period did not start out as beautifully written. I can definitely say that. During the first draft stage with the book I just wrote what actually happened in both scenes and then later I molded that raw material to make it work as an art piece. To draw the beauty out of both scenes I concentrated on working with the images and mental echoes that showed up in my mind as I was writing the rough draft. So, with the pop-up-period scene, for instance, at one point I described looking down at the bed the morning after a one-night and seeing the bed covered in blood and knowing the guy I’d hooked up with was about to come back upstairs and find his bed and all that blood. For some reason, that made me think of Charles Manson (who I’ve been totally obsessed with for years) and the descriptions I’ve read of the Tate-LaBianca murder crime scenes. So, I reworked the rough draft text to say:
The blood wasn’t just in patches, it was in great mad splashes, like something had been killed there and had tried to get away the entire time it was being killed.
And then I polished the image of blood clots on the sheets until it was transformed into:
The clots looked like nightmare shellfish, beached and dying. I thought I saw little heartbeats in each one.
I find that doing that type of imagery work and polishing can only be done through multiple revisions.
JLF: Your site and other books are packed with some great advice and guidance to help fellow writers, but do you plan on releasing any more fiction of the Transgressive kind?
LS: I do. It’s kind of a weird thing because I really don’t “plan” for a book to be Transgressive Fiction while I’m writing it. It either comes out that way or it doesn’t. I’m releasing the sequel to Between the Shadow and Lo this November and while it contains transgressive elements, I wouldn’t entirely call it pure Transgressive Fiction. However, I am currently working on a novel about a Vietnam War vet who also happens to be a necrophiliac and his teenage metalhead son in the 1980’s that IS pure fiction AND purely transgressive. That book will be out in 2020.
JLF: Do you think you have any advantages or disadvantages being a female writer in the Transgressive Fiction genre?
LS: If you had asked me this question in 2010 I would have said that I had a solid disadvantage. I tried like hell to find an agent who would represent Between the Shadow and Lo and met with absolutely no success. There are barely any agents out there to begin with who are even interested in representing Transgressive Fiction, but I managed to find, like, two who were open to taking it on, and again, this was back in 2010, so times were different even though not that much time has passed since then. Anyway, of the two who were interested in TF, one guy said he only wanted to look at male authors. He listed Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, and Cormac McCarthy as his big three favorites. He said he realized it was a very male list but that was all he wanted. I was crushed. Because, first of all, I love Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis and Cormac McCarthy, and second, I felt like I had been looking for a needle in a haystack and when I finally found that needle—against all odds—it got snatched away from me and I was told I couldn’t have the needle because I was a woman. It was totally crazy-making.
Now, it’s a different story. And like I said, I know 2010 wasn’t all that long ago, but in terms of the huge changes we’ve seen in the past few years, it feels like A LOT has changed across the board in the writing and publishing industry. When I decided to go indie and self-published Between the Shadow and Lo I was shocked how many men contacted me after reading the book to say they loved it and really connected with it. And most of the stellar reviews I got were from men too, so it kind of blew my mind. I had always been worried that maybe men wouldn’t be interested in the story because, even though it is gritty and raw and brutal, it also talks about things like a woman going through violent episodes of diarrhea and annihilating some random one-night stand’s bedsheets when she unexpectedly gets her period. I had no idea how guys would take that. It was a real relief when male readers contacted me and told me they thought those episodes in the book were hilarious.
JLF: You mention your struggles with finding an agent for Lo, do you think The current market would have been warmer to Lo or any future creations? Or are you married to the self pub world now?
LS: You know, it might be warmer, but for me personally…no, I would never go back to trying to find an agent. Once I started self-publishing and really getting into the business side of writing, and then also working with other writers who were traditionally published (I work as a writing coach as my side hustle), it just became so clear that the traditional publishing route is not for me. I want to be in charge of my own marketing, for one thing, and I want total artistic control for another. The cover artwork for Lo, for example, is weird and some people don’t like it because it’s garish and trashy. But I wanted it to be garish and trashy. I wanted it to have a 1980’s-hooker type of feel, and I just don’t think there’s any way I could finagle that kind of thing with a traditional publisher.
Also, Amazon pays 70% royalties. Traditional publishers pay 10-15%. That’s a big difference by anyone’s standards.
JLF: You have this unique voice that doesn’t have an obvious influence from one specific author. I know you mentioned a few of your literary heroes earlier, but did you have any specific influences while working on Lo?
LS: Definitely. Lo is the first installment of a trilogy (the second book is coming out in November 2018 and the third will be out fall 2019), and my two biggest influences by far have been Jack Kerouac and Marcel Proust. Most of Kerouac’s works are part of what he called his “Duluoz Legend,” which is the story of his life told as a dream. So, like Between the Shadow and Lo, much of Kerouac’s work is a mix of fiction and memoir that’s been put in a blender with mythology, archetype, and different levels of reality. Proust’s epic six-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past) is worked from a slightly more linear strategy, but the overall effect is the same: a life story told as a dream. Both Kerouac and Proust had what I think of as true vision—they were able to see beyond the labels and layers of the surface of life, down into the oceanic deeps, and they were able to tell the story of what they saw there, each in their own unique form of dream language. By using that kind of archetypal memoir/fiction blend I think they conveyed more of the reality of existence than most other writers could by writing straight nonfiction or pure memoir.
Jean Genet did this too, in his novels, and he’s also been a huge influence on me. Some of his novels are novels (Our Lady of the Flowers, Querelle) and some are more “memoir” (Miracle of the Rose, Prisoner of Love), but every one of them is a part of his life story, and the confusion and uncertainty about what is “real” and what is fiction is a key element that makes the whole of his writing just work so well. Genet is not in any way attached to what is real and what is not, and I love that. I get that. For me, that’s the only way to tell a story.
JLF: Did you get any advice or encouragement along the way that helped you create this paper work art?
LS: Honestly, I can credit where I am today back to one person, a good friend of mine who I met in my crazy drinking days and who agreed to read my very first manuscript of Between the Shadow and Lo. I’d given the book to several people who hated it and I was FULL of doubt about moving forward with it in any way. I took a chance and gave it to this friend of mine and she just loved it. She read the whole tattered, half-written, half-typed monstrosity that it was and made notes all over it in rainbow ink with illustrations. It was because of her energy and enthusiasm for the project that I was able to keep going with it. The best advice I can give any Transgressive Fiction writer is to find a beta reader like my friend—crazy, on fire for the world, totally non-judgmental and in love with art—to read your first attempts at a book. When you have someone like that on your side, it makes all the difference.
JLF: and finally, Do you have any favourite up-and-coming authors that you would recommend we consume while we await your next novel?
LS: I can’t say enough good things about Rami Shamir and his novel, Train to Pokipse. It’s a stunning piece of work, and it will hit especially hard with readers who love the imagery and style of Bill Burroughs’ later works like Cities of the Red Night and the brutal emotion of Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm.
I’m also currently in love with Joshua Mohr. His novel Damascus is a classic favorite of mine, as well as his more recent memoir, Sirens, which is part addiction/recovery memoir and part “writers on writing” memoir. Both are amazing.
Thanks again to Lauren Sapala for taking time out of her busy life to talk with me. Her books, including the one featured, can be purchased on Amazon. Photo Credits: John Price
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