Look out, God--Here's Shalom Auslander's Writing Life interview

“Fuck,” said God. …That’s a line from one of the short-stories in Shalom Auslander’s “Beware of God.” I live in the Middle East, so I feel like I hear God saying “Fuck!” almost every day. (If He doesn’t, then He’s not reading the newspapers.) “Beware of God” nails faith and the faithful as only a genius of satire can do. A very angry genius of satire, I ought to point out. As you’ll discover with Auslander’s second book “The Foreskin’s Lament.” It’s a memoir of Auslander’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing in a family as scarred as a lamenting eight-day-old foreskin. Here’s my interview with America’s scourge of religion.

How long did it take you to get published?

Not as long as it took me to write. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer; it wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I realized how badly I wanted to burn the world to the ground, and writing was the most immediate way I could do that. Once I started writing, getting published came soon after.

Would you recommend any books on writing?

No, and I read them all. And what I realized is that no matter what advice might be found inside, there’s an admission in just looking for help that “I can’t do this.” Writing needs to come from a ludicrous sense of self-assurance (combined with a terrifying degree of insecurity).

What’s a typical writing day?

Wake. Ride to my office. Delay. Delay. Delay. Get angry at myself. Write.

Plug your latest book. What’s it about? Why’s it so great?

“Foreskin’s Lament” is a memoir of growing up in an emotionally dysfunctional and religiously stifling home. It may or not be great, but it’s honest, and full of rage, which is nice.

What’s your favorite sentence in all literature, and why?

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” Beckett, first sentence of ‘Murphy.’ Taking the most joyful part of the day and bending it, by perception, into something utterly bleak. Mazel tov.

How much research is involved in each of your books?

I research my books a lot, because research is easy and feels constructive while it really just kills time. “Wow,” I can say at the end of the day when I’ve written nothing, “That was a productive day!”

Do you have a pain from childhood that compels you to write? If not, what does?

A pain? You mean one? No.

What’s the best idea for marketing a book you can do yourself?

Have courage. Write a book that will shake up the world. Writing isn’t war, but at it’s best, it’s a bit like terrorism – take a small, 200-page bomb, plant it in the holiest place you can find, and kaboom. Candide was a bomb. Huck Finn was a bomb. Catch-22 was a bomb.

What’s your experience with being translated?

Mostly good. Translators who think of books as literature upset me, because they won’t translate “cocksucker” as “cocksucker.” They’ll try to soften it, try to “elevate” the book into something weak and mealy. “Cocksucker” is not the same as “homosexual.” Someone who is a motherfucker is a motherfucker, not a “jerk” or a “cad.”

Do you live entirely off your writing?

No. I work part-time for Satan in a Manhattan marketing firm.

How many books did you write before you were published?


What’s the strangest thing that happened to you on a book tour?

Angry Orthodox Jews accosted me, told me I was a heretic and a heathen and was finishing what Hitler started. “Did you read the book?” I asked. “No,” said God’s inexplicably chosen ones. “And we don’t want to.” Sigh.

What’s your weirdest idea for a book you’ll never get to publish?

I have this idea for a book that claims to be the Word of God and that tells the story of how the Earth came to be. But who the fuck is going to believe that?

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