Brett Shapiro is an American writer and the author of Late in the Day, a novel published by Atmosphere Press in 2022, and Those Around Him, a novel published in 2019. He is also the best-selling author of L’Intruso, a memoir published in Italy (Feltrinelli) that was later produced into an award-winning film and theatrical production. In addition, Brett is the author of two children’s books, one of which was the recipient of Austria’s National Book Award. Several of his short stories have been performed in theatres throughout Italy, where he lived for 25 years, and his essays and articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers in Italy and the United States.
While in Italy, Brett made many guest appearances on Italian television, including as commentator for 60 Minutes, and was a regular guest lecturer at the University of Siena. Brett is a veteran writer for the United Nations and currently lives by the beach in Florida.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
The title of my book came to me easily and quickly, as all of my book titles have done so far. (I’m lucky in that regard!) I find that once I’ve committed an idea to paper and have written a few paragraphs that seem plausible, the title appears, as if to say, “Yes, keep going. You’re on the right track.” The title then serves as my beacon of light, preventing me from getting lost. Well, most of the time anyway.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
My desire to write came from my passion for reading as a child and adolescent. For me, there was—and still is—nothing richer than a good book. By “good,” I mean a book made up of gorgeous sentences and which percolates in my mind and soul long after I’ve finished reading it. After devoting so many years to being on the receiving end of good books, I realized that I wanted and needed to give back. The book that gave me the final push was Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I read it over and over, trying to figure out the mechanics of it, how she pulled it off. I never did understand how, but I came to understand the music, the madness, and the touch of magic that was inherent in the art of writing. I was won over.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
My career has always had words at its center. Outside of writing books, the bulk of my career revolved around drafting and editing reports for the United Nations, as well as giving writing seminars all over the world for United Nations staff. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and never intend to stop. The issues are so compelling, and the people I meet and collaborate with around the planet are a fantastic bunch. There’s no better way to have a global and grounded perspective. (I did put in my writer’s dues, however. I spent two years as a dishwasher and eight as a server—we called them “waiters” and “waitresses” in my day.) Writing is front and center for me, but my two-hour sunrise beach walks with my dog are a must. I don’t miss a day, except if it’s pouring rain, and I always manage to get a couple of cartwheels in when no one is looking.
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
The most meaningful part of publishing a book for me is not the actual publishing of it. It’s when I first hold the book in my hands as a tangible object. Up until then, all of the time, energy, hope, and determination spent on writing the book is a private matter, like a giant secret that’s safe as long as it remains a secret stored in a computer file or notebook. When the book has a cover, binding, pages that can be leafed through and earmarked, the sensation is glorious, the satisfaction huge.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
My perfect reader is someone who isn’t in a hurry, someone who savors words and doesn’t zip along to find out what happens next. I imagine my readers being like scuba divers who leap into the depths and have no choice but to proceed with a slow, lilting rhythm and a keen focus as they happen upon things they’d never seen or noticed before. I like to think that my books deserve a similar approach and will have a similar effect. They aren’t plot-intensive or action-driven. They take up everyday matters and the little disturbances associated with them. I’m less concerned with what happens than with how people react to what happens to them.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I am putting the finishing touches on a new novel. This one is shorter—about 200 pages—and is quite different from my other two novels. The main differences are that it is written in the first person, and the period of the novel covers about 60 years. My other novels were much longer, written in the third person, and covered very short time periods. I’m not ready to disclose what the novel is about, but I will say that I believe it’s my best work to date—and my cohort of trustworthy (and feared) beta readers feel the same way. I’m very excited about it and hope to have it finished and ready for publication in about a year. But who knows? Maybe one of the characters will surprise me with an unexpected path to follow and it will take longer!
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
Working with Atmosphere Press has been nothing but a pleasure. Everyone I’ve worked with from Atmosphere has been incredibly responsive, resourceful, flexible, savvy, and unflinchingly positive. I couldn’t imagine that getting a book produced, published, and promoted could be stress-free. They are a remarkable group of people. Of course, you need to match—or exceed—their reach with your own, especially the way the publishing (and self-publishing) industry operates these days. So be prepared to don your sturdiest marketing & promotion helmet and shield!