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Shalom Auslander: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Shalom Auslander is the author of the short story collection Beware of God and the memoir Foreskin's Lament. His first novel, Hope: A Tragedy is out this month from Riverhead Books.

Which of these characters came to you first? Which was the most fun to create?

Kugel, the main character, came first; I liked the idea of a character whose tragic flaw was hope, the very thing we're supposed to never give up or go without. And yet here was a person, it seemed, whose hope was getting him hurt, who might be better off if he gave up and just accepted things as they are, i.e. crappy. Mother, though, was the most fun to create. She is eternally hopeless and finds glory in suffering and pain in joy; I was given birth to by people just like that. Also, she moans about being in the Holocaust, which she never was, and that makes me laugh.

Your main character, Kugel, frequently thinks about famous last words. Do you have a favorite example of last words? And if you could choose yours, today, what would they be?

The idea of last words is funny to me, because the whole notion of "last words" suggests they matter. Which they don't, of course, but this hope we carry that there will be some wisdom or some insight at the last moment, other than "Oh, fuck it, fuck this fucking shit" is so sadly human, I just love it. Personally, I like the idea of saying something, then wanting to change it, and dying before you can. For example, "This most important thing is love. No, wait, I mean..." Or "I leave it all to Stan. Not Stan Epstein, the other one, Stan..."

Is there a particular part of the novel-writing process that you found the most fun or rewarding? Or, on the flip side, was there a part that you really disliked?

It's all great, and it all sucks. I think most writers would agree with that.

Can you describe your writing process for us? Any quirky methods or habits?

Not really. I get some coffee, go to my office, take off my pants, put on my clown shoes and get to work. "Apply ass to seat," who said that?

What authors/books did you love as a child?

Exodus. Leviticus was a bore, and by Deuteronomy, it's like, "All right, enough. Just end it."

What's on your bookshelves now? What have you been reading lately?

I read anything ever written by or about Beckett, and I'm making my way through Barbara Bush's memoir, a little bit of brutal research I must suffer through for a new project I’m working on.

Can you tell us a little about your next project?

I'm not totally sure, it's still getting worked out, but it will involve words, mostly, arranged in sequence so as to relate a tale of some kind. Someone will probably die, too. They always do.

—interview by Jeremy Dibbell

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