About the Book
A Q&A with Rich Shapero

Q: Rin, Tongue and Dorner imagines a future in which humans are driven by the encroaching glaciers of a new ice age to live in a weather dome, "Clemency," where citizens are encouraged to regulate "temp"—both temperament and temperature—for the sake of the colony’s survival. By the standards of our contemporary Western society, the strictures they follow are repressive.

RS: The people of Clemency have a difficult time adhering to them.

We would all prefer to believe that an enlightened outlook on desire will make it compatible with our social, familial and global objectives. That’s a pleasing idea. Unfortunately desire is fueled by thoughts of violence and transgression; by fantasies of domination and surrender; by a host of socially inappropriate thoughts.

It’s easy to look down from 30,000 feet and see the biological source of the problem. We’re designed, as a social species, to get along, to collaborate—to be colonial and tribal. But as individuals, we are designed to reproduce, and the machinery of desire is often antisocial by nature.

You wonder what it was like for our prehistoric ancestors. They must have struggled with that. They lived a tribal existence, and they probably had less sophisticated controls over their impulses than we do. Survival-wise, they were much more challenged than we are. Like the people who founded Clemency, they had to migrate due to the weather.

Q: Dorner seems to personify this conflict. His private fantasies become increasingly difficult to tamp down, especially once he meets Rin.

RS: Yes. I’ve pushed things to a ridiculous extreme to depict it, but I think we all feel the clash. Dorner has a thing about fire. Maybe this is the magic that will bring Rin to him.

Q: Rin and Dorner are modern. Is that what you’re saying?

RS: They accept the modern view, which is: fuck it, we’re going for the ride. I enjoy that, I respect them for that. But they pay a price.

Q: The source of Dorner’s fantasies is "Tongue," a weaving chorus of beckoning, provocative voices inside Dorner’s head. With Rin’s help, these voices are revealed to be a singular volatile goddess of desire—Dorner’s desire.

RS: Yes. Initially, he thinks that this is something that’s happening to him. It’s hard for him to accept that Tongue is a part of himself.

Q: But he’s not insane. He might be described as a reluctant mystic.

RS: He might be. St. Anthony heard voices. I suppose he was a reluctant listener, like Dorner. By making the interior voices strong, by hyperventilating them, we get to see all of the interior conflicts.

Q: Rin, Tongue and Dorner is a meditation on desire.

RS: And its opposite, the forces that oppose desire. That was a lot of what motivated me: trying to understand the impulses and their opposites. Dorner doesn’t really understand what the opposites are.

Q: Rin and her world make the opposites more vivid for him, and the conflict that much worse. Rin seems to stimulate the worst aspects of Tongue.

RS: Tongue really doesn’t like Rin, doesn’t like what she stands for, doesn’t like her world and her take on life.

Q: But Rin helps Dorner to visualize Tongue and get in touch with her.

RS: Yes, Rin is the instigator. We see her interior turmoil early in the story. She’s drawn to Tongue. Of all the characters in the story, Rin changes the most. She encourages Dorner to know himself, but she’s on the same journey.

Q: We figure out pretty early on that she has ulterior motives.

RS: She isn’t just trying to fix Dorner. She threatens his inner equilibrium. And her own equilibrium is threatened by Tongue.