It was 2003. I had finished a middle-grade novel, The World’s Most Disgusting Sandwich, and was trying to get it published.
“It has potential,” a potential agent told me. “I’d love to see other books you’ve written.”
Other books I’d written? I hadn’t written any other books. I had written an anonymous poetry column for a teachers’ newsletter. I had written a bunch of essays in college and graduate school. I had written some irreverent songs to play on my guitar. “This is my first book,” I confessed.
“Well,” she said, “we don’t typically represent books, we represent writers. Are you working on something else?”
I had started on a sequel and began to tell her about it.
“I mean something different,” she said. “I want to see what else you can do.”
Oh, crap. “I have a few other ideas,” I said.
She told me when I had something written she’d be happy to take a look.
So I came up with a new idea in a hurry and started writing the fictional memoir of Zeke Zagger, the world’s greatest super villain that nobody had ever heard of. It was supposed to be funny; instead it was depraved, disturbing, and utterly distasteful. Reading over the first 20 pages, I began to worry about the state of my subconscious.
So I decided to try again with a new character, and the first thing I wanted to do was give him a name. Shakespeare. Shakespeare Shapiro. Wow, I thought, imagine being that kid. So I did imagine it, and I started to vent on paper. It turned out Shakespeare Shapiro had a lot to say, not just about his name, but also about his crazy parents, his maddeningly popular younger brother, his social ineptitude, and the overall catastrophe of his life. Much of what he said was depraved, disturbing, and utterly distasteful; but it was also really funny to me. And I guess it was funny to other people, too, because Spanking Shakespeare is set to hit the bookstores on September 25, 2007.
As an eighth-grade teacher, it is both incredibly exciting and a little bit nerve wracking to have written a book that I know my students–and probably their parents–will read. I’m excited to become a minor celebrity for the first time in my life, at least within the walls of Manhattan’s Middle School 255. I’m excited that my students will see me as a real live writer, and I will be thrilled if more of them are inspired to carry on independent writing lives. But I wonder how they and their parents will react to the fact that the book deals so openly with the kinds of things teenage boys think about. Just imagine parent-teacher conferences, if you will:
PARENT #1: So, Jake, we read your book.
ME (smiling nervously): Oh, yeah? Well, let me tell you how Becky is doing in class. Her writing is–
PARENT #2 (holding up a copy): Masturbation. Drug use. Pornography. You seem quite well versed in these subjects . . .
You get the idea. So to the question of how much of Spanking Shakespeare is autobiographical, let me just say that nothing has ever been proven. And as to the rumors that I’m now working on a musical called Castration Celebration, I’ll have to plead the fifth.