Sex and Fiction: Interview with Richard Schwarzenberger
Richard Schwarzenberger taught me how to do a handstand, so it didn’t surprise me to learn he makes his living, in part, as a swim instructor for people afraid in water. A native Kansan and resident of San Francisco, he also works as a gardener and longtime columnist for The Monthly. He is co-translator, along with Grace Martin Smith, of Listening to Istanbul, poems of Orhan Veli Kanik, and author of several books, including In Faro’s Garden: A Tour and Some Detours, Hapless Males, a collection of short stories, and now a novel published by Ithuriel's Spear: City of Disappearances.
City of Disappearances is the sort of novel where the setting is a character and you fall in love with the villain. Reading it is like unpacking a jewelry box full of irresistible, gem-like vignette chapters, each another doorway into new millenium San Francisco. It flipped my expectations at every turn, reminding me I was reading a story written by the gardener friend who taught me how to stand on my head. In this interview we discuss generation clashes, his pen collection, and happy endings.
Tell me a story about being a writer:
The ceiling in the room where I write is covered with pens, thousands of them that my father collected in the years of his retirement. In those days there were farm sales every weekend of spring and summer, and he’d buy cigar boxes full of them, thinking he might find some treasures buried amid the Co-op giveaways. He reserved in a special box the fountain pens and the ones with floaters, the liquid capsule with a trinket adrift. The rest, the chaff, he mounted in panels, and hung on the basement walls of the house in Kansas where I grew up. When he was old and had to move from that house, I brought approximately half of the panels here and attached them to the ceiling. I doubt there’s a single one that isn’t dry. So many times I walk around my house looking for a pen.
How would your parents like City of Disappearances?
My father, I am pretty sure, never read a novel in his life. My mother liked to read, though compared to work, reading had no status whatsoever. If they were alive they would be horrified by my novel, the sex in it especially but also the general laxness. Do we wait until our parents are dead to become who we are? Nah. We are always becoming something and we don’t know what. Some fictitious replica of who we think we are.
City of Disappearances wrestles with the differences between generations. What do you think are the greatest clashes between youth and middle age?
I am becoming more lax, for one thing, as the clock ticks. I walk down Mission Street thinking, there’s where Roxanne, one of the characters in my novel, flirted with the guy hosing the sidewalk, and her experience to me has more depth than whatever the techies and their disposable incomes have done lately to this city. Maybe I should have named my book City of Dissociations. I am of an age to wonder, do strangers still flirt in person? Are sex and fiction interchangeable? Alex, another of the novel’s central characters, lives with the shamelessness I wish I have/had. He gives me that experience, and I thank him for it. Finally there is Martin, the tragic romantic. The one acquainted with grief. I give him a happy ending. It’s believable.
I convince sexy writers like Richard to reveal their creative secrets and process to arouse you and your own writing projects. Read more inspiring writer interviews, and if you need more encouragement to buy the book, read my GoodReads review of City of Disappearances.