This is not my first rodeo.
Not theirs either.
Mollie Pride and Juffie Kane were bestsellers written by me (under a different name, but that’s a whole n’other story) before e-books were a gleam in the eye of either Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs. They’re now in second editions in my E-book Encore Collection. I’m very excited about that collection; not least because by long literary convention, a second edition means the author can make changes.
As I prepared these two novels for their encores I found myself cutting things that seemed to make the stories too leisurely for modern sensibilities, things that in 2013 felt too wordy or too much like padding… I deleted like mad and loved it.
Leading to the question: What else can I take out? Well, there’s sex.
Which probably should be written SEX.
Generally I’m all for it. If you write stories about adults who are intimately involved, that involvement has to be discussed because it impacts all else. (Even in the sense of mattering not a great deal if both partners are happy with how it’s going, and mattering hugely otherwise.) Certainly characters in the first flush of romance are driven by their hormones. In Mollie Pride, for instance, Mollie elopes when she’s sixteen and it’s okay for about ten minutes, then it’s a disaster. Soon her husband is cheating on her and she’s devastated. It’s hard to avoid the bedroom when that’s so much a part of what’s happening. Still, that book never had what I think of as explicit sex scenes, so the issue wasn’t joined.
Juffie Kane, on the other hand… “Steamily sexy,” according to Kirkus. “Sensual,” was a key word in the reviews of both The Chicago Tribune and Publishers Weekly. And these were raves, I should point out. The New York Times Book Review liked Juffie a lot, and didn’t even feel it necessary to mention that there was a good bit of fairly graphic sex.
But that was then. Back in the 20th century, when readers and writers and reviewers inhabited a book world where there yet lingered the faint echo of bestselling novels by Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann. Reading Juffie Kane now, with my editor’s pencil in hand, those “steamy” scenes felt passé.
I know that may sound odd in this age of 50 Shades of Grey, but I’ve come to realize that’s precisely the point. Twenty-plus years ago it was daring and sophisticated to write explicit sex in a mainstream novel. Today we’ve legitimized a category of women’s fiction called erotica, and it’s right out there on the public bookshelves. I don’t believe in censorship, so in my opinion that’s a good thing. But it also means anything not claiming to be erotic fiction needs to avoid blurring the edges. Readers should not be blindsided. They need and deserve clarity and knowing what to expect. So I toned the sex way down for these two second editions.
It wasn’t hard to do. The sex was always the icing, never the cake.
Both Juffie Kane and Mollie Pride are set in the first half of the turbulent 20th century. In each a young woman is called on to find her way against very tough odds. Both are stories about gutsy, strong females who want love, but also want to be valued for themselves. Women who decide not to be pushed around. In Mollie’s case she has to stand up to the Nazi terror, and do it in London during the blitz. Juffie conquers Broadway—if you love the theater, I promise you will love this book—but the mob has an unbreakable hold on her, and they’re standing in the wings pointing a gun at her head. Until she decides to take it away.
Nothing is lost if I close the bedroom doors a few paragraphs sooner.
So, all right, Mr. DeMille (Mr. Bezos? Mr. Jobs?), they’re ready for their e-close-ups now…