Monday, July 24, 2017

Come on, who doesn't want to read about NYC in the 1970s, when it was the most dangerous city in the world? Janet Capron is here to talk about it and her "mostly true" account of the downtown scene--and her place in it-- in the ever fabulous, Blue Money

photo by Maggie Berkvist

 I've always adored New York City, and I got here in the early 80s, when it was still dangerous to walk up 8th Avenue to my apartment (I had to ask couples to walk me home), when AIDS was claiming way too many lives, drugs were rampant, and it was scary. And exhilarating.  So, of course, I love Janet Capron's debut novel/memoir, BLUE MONEY. And I am so, so thrilled to have her here. Really, you want to buy six copies of this because every page is a memory that's startling, shocking and yeah--amazing, too.  Thank you so much, Janet, for being here!

And I'm not the only one who is going nuts for this book.
Blue Money came out on June 20 and was TheNational Book Review’s #1 pick of that week:

Playboy interviewed her on June 14 and excerpted a chapter of Blue Money:

Tell us about the “why now, why this book” moment when you started Blue Money:
Back when I was an undergrad at Columbia, having returned to college after a long hiatus in the street, the head of the Adult Creative Writing Program, J.R. Humphries, seized on a story I wrote for his workshop. It was about a post-doc physicist, a nerd, and the massage parlor hooker he falls for—a contemporary take on “Blue Angel”. I forget how Humphries knew it came out of my experience, but he did, and he said I should be mining that material. I was reluctant at first because I was enjoying my new-found respectability, but Humphreys said something else that stayed with me: “You’ll always remember your childhood, and of course, you’ll always be able to draw on your current life, but the twenties you’ll forget, so don’t put off writing about those years indefinitely, because they could get away from you.”
A few years and many short stories later, after attending the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia, I was finally ready to start writing a book. I remembered what Humphries told me and decided the hell with it, I was going to write a book about my twenties, which eventually became Blue Money.

New York City in the 70s and Avenue C—I got to Manhattan in 1980, but even then it was still dangerous, so I can imagine the allure—and the terror, both. What did it feel like to go back into those memories? What do you miss about that time?
Maybe we’re hardwired to forget fear in the same way we forget pain, but I don’t remember being scared very much at all. I do remember running wild through a much rougher Tompkins Square Park at 4:00 AM looking for my junky boyfriend, and it seems to me now that the muggers were the ones who were afraid. However, there is one big exception—an experience so traumatic that I didn’t want to go near it. My mother, God bless her, told me I had to include the climatic, explicit scene that comes at the end of Blue Money. I won’t divulge it here. She said, “If you’re going to write about your years in the street, don’t make it sound like it was all fun and games—tell the whole story, tell the truth. “ She shamed me into it. I couldn’t sleep while I was writing that scene.
 I miss the counter-culture just about every day. I miss the fighting in the streets. I miss that last clarion call—the music especially—before 1984 descended on all of us.

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline, stop and start?
I would love to write an open-ended novel in which the characters take me wherever they want to go. What a luxury! After I had finished the first 150 pages of Blue Money, Ed Burlingame, who had been the head of trade at Harper & Row and then gone on to have his own imprint at HarperCollins, made an offer based on those first 150 pages and an outline of the rest of the book, which he requested. My then agent thought there was going to be a bidding war and tried to stall him. I didn’t know what to think, but by the time I told her to take it, Burlingame had changed his mind. Nevertheless, I stuck pretty close to that original outline, although of course in later drafts it changed some. For instance, a smart writer friend suggested I move back the live sex show chapter, give the reader a little more time to ease into it, which I did.
 The book I’m currently working on, a novel called Harem, has an outline, which I’m following to the T so far. The third planned book, also a novel called The Hot Stove, already has a synopsis. (I’m writing now to beat the clock—got to make up for lost time—all the years spent in pharmaceutical advertising churning out bulleted copy and captions for charts and graphs.) Funny, until you asked, I never thought of myself as a writer who works with an outline, but I guess I am.

What's obsessing you now and why?
That’s such a great question to ask an obsessive.

Right now promoting Blue Money, which just came out a month ago. I’m not kidding—it’s bordering on obsession.

Before promoting Blue Money took over my every waking moment, one of the themes that run through the book continued to haunt me: Female sexuality, including genuine satisfaction (which is the subject of Harem, the book I’m working on now). I read The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer when it came out in the U.S. in 1970, and it has informed my thinking on the subject ever since. I just reread that book and its sequel, The Whole Woman, in preparation for an essay I recently wrote, “The Truth About Hooking”. The essay is about the rebellious politics of sex work in the 70s, but more about how little has changed and maybe even gotten worse in terms of our understanding of the true nature of female sexuality. Something is universally wrong.
Another subject that preoccupies me is the colonization of black people in this county—and around the world. I see our empire as being propped up by endless wars abroad and domestic terrorism here at home. During the past ten years, I’ve moved quite far to the left and no longer believe the system can be reformed. This has been a wrenching, even agonizing process. I was raised in the temple of liberalism—my grandfather, the newspaper publisher J. David Stern, was an advisor to Roosevelt and one of the authors of the New Deal. So breaking with what amounted to a religion growing up, that of progressive reform, has been difficult—not undertaken lightly.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
How does it feel to finally be able to call yourself a writer, a published writer?
Divine! Even better than I thought!

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