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30 May 2008 @ 12:07 am
Reading aloud from Phyllida  
I had a reading at the Park Slope, Brooklyn, Barnes & Noble two weeks ago. It was the major event for me so far in my publishing odyssey.

Phyllida is what I like to call a "romantic comedy." That means there's sex in it as well as jokes. When I read for an audience, I often choose a sex scene. One reason is I'm not good at "voices." If a scene has six or seven different characters, all exchanging witty banter, listeners are going to hear just one voice: mine. It's not easy to distinguish who's saying what. In a sex scene, there are only two people (yes, it's a "bisexual" romance, but nevertheless the characters do it in twos). Plus, I figure if people are going to come all the way out to Park Slope on a weeknight, the least they deserve is a little action.

I read a scene from early in the story, after my hero and heroine, Andrew and Phyllida, have been married for one day. This is their third sexual encounter, and the first time Phyllida enjoyed it. The scene takes fifteen minutes to read aloud, including the sex scene itself and the two characters' respective reactions to it. Andrew, who's primarily same-sex oriented, is surprised by his strong desire for his wife but has no concept of the kind of foreplay a woman needs; Phyllida, who was a virgin just two days ago, doesn't understand why she responds to Andrew's supercilious manner and forceful lovemaking. Afterward, Andrew is amazed that sex with a woman can be so satisfying, whereas Phyllida tries to make sense of deriving physical pleasure from what she feels is rape.

I practiced at home, reading the scene aloud and timing it. But reading in a public space in front of an audience was a very different experience. The scene sounded much more graphic here, and it was ironic that I was standing directly in front of the Religion section, with a whole shelf of Bibles behind me. At the end of the reading and the questions and discussion, the store coordinator and the HarperCollins publicist joked with me about "breaking barriers" at B&N.

But it was the audience that made this event a success. I had hoped for a larger turnout. Most of the people were coworkers, friends and neighbors, along with two lovely ladies I met that night, fans of the book. It may have been a small audience, but it was an active, engaged one. As Spencer Tracy's coach says of Katherine Hepburn's athlete in the movie Pat and Mike: "Not much meat on those bones, but what's there is cherce."

The most probing questions had to do with my choice of subject--the bisexual husband--and style of writing. I have always said that I wanted to write entertaining, popular fiction that is well written--what my mother, who valued more serious works, called "high class trash." After a discussion of the concept of "slash" fiction, I joked that perhaps what I write could be called "high class slash."

Finally, two old friends who had supported Phyllida from its earliest days as a POD (print-on-demand) book asked if I thought I was limiting the book's audience, and myself as a writer, with this kind of story. It's true, I said, that some people are turned off by the idea of a man who gets to "have it both ways" and of a wife happy in her marriage to this man. But when I thought about it, I knew I was privileged to be writing exactly what I wanted, not tailoring my ideas, my characters or my plots to the demands of the marketplace.

I left that night with the same feeling I had at Phyllida's book party a month ago: that I have been blessed. Perhaps those Bibles had a message for me after all.

To everybody who has read Phyllida and enjoyed it, and especially to all of you have written to tell me so: Thank you for giving me the ultimate affirmation.
The Funnelfunnel101 on May 30th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
If you ever consider writing another bisexual romance, I hope you'll have the woman be bi this time. :) I loved reading Phyllida and would love to read another book by you, especially with a bi woman as the main character (being myself bi).
ann_amalieann_amalie on May 31st, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
Sorry for the delay in replying. I've been thinking over your message and what to say.

It's a very understandable and sympathetic wish, that I would make the woman bi in my next story. It's an interesting experience, being a woman author and writing about bisexual men. Even though so many women are writing gay male romance, writing a "bisexual" m/m/f romance as a woman strikes some people as weird, or confusing.

Here's the best I can say: I'm not able to imagine a good story about a bisexual woman in a historical setting like the late 18th and early 19th century, which is the period of history I like (also earlier). In my next book (almost finished)--a version of Pride and Prejudice, there is a little bit of sex between the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, and her friend Charlotte Lucas. But the way two young ladies would see their sexuality then was so private that I don't write anything explicit. They would consider it innocent, loving friendship (which it is, of course) and they would never talk about it, even to each other. For me to show it to readers would be the ultimate betrayal, and I like them too much to do that.

Both women marry, Elizabeth for love, but Charlotte for practical reasons. Staying single was a very difficult business for a woman then. If she didn't marry, her brothers or parents would have to support her for the rest of her life, and usually they resented it. There are examples of lesbian couples back then, but it was not easy for most women to live unmarried.

In some ways, I don't see female "bisexuality" as a useful category in those times. I think one of the greatest improvements of our era is women's freedom to express their sexuality, which they rarely enjoyed in the past.

Perhaps a better writer than me, or a different one, can write a historical novel about a bi woman.

I really appreciate your interest in my writing, and I'm sorry I can't give you a more positive answer--all I can do is be honest.
Gaedhalgaedhal on May 30th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
I think people's sexuality is a lot more complex than we usually
see portrayed in novels -- even so-called literary novels. I
think about what a fuss was made when Michael Chabon published
"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" and the main character was in
love with both a woman and a man and had a difficult time
choosing between them, as if that was so shocking or weird
or even crazy.

Pre-20th century (and Freud) I believe people didn't label
themselves so much. Oscar Wilde was married and loved and
had sex with his wife. That he was probably basically gay
didn't negate that relationship. I know a number of women
who had relationships with women early on and then eventually
ended up with men, and vice versa. I like reading about
all kinds of sexualities -- and I bet more people would
as well if they were available. Look at the explosion of
slash stories on the internet. The market is out there.
ann_amalieann_amalie on May 31st, 2008 06:41 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I totally agree with you. My post was really about my own not-so-conflicted feelings: wanting to be considered a "good" or "literary" writer while writing exactly what I want.

The question of labels is especially tricky. I agree that people didn't label themselves in the past--or if they did, not with the same labels we use now. It feels wrong somehow to use a label like "bisexual" for a story set two hundred years ago.

But I'm writing now, when for some people it is very affirming to see a story that presents a "bisexual" man in a positive way, as a romantic hero. So there are times when in writing or talking about the book I like to use that word (or label) as a kind of shorthand to let readers know what the book is about.

Edited at 2008-07-14 05:44 am (UTC)
donnalee_kissdonnalee_kiss on July 14th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
I just ordered my copy from B&N and I'm looking forward to reading it soon!
ann_amalieann_amalie on July 14th, 2008 05:41 am (UTC)
Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.
donnalee_kissdonnalee_kiss on October 15th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
I finally get to post to you about my reading. Only problem I had was a particularly slow spot about 2/3 of the way through the book, but I felt it started great and ended well. Much of what was written rang true from my experiences with bisexual men, and you got some of the nuances that get missed by writers of erotica. I just wish you would not have held back sexually so much. But then it could just be my sexual nature. ;-P
ann_amalieann_amalie on October 15th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
What fun to get some more feedback! Sorry about the slow spot.

But, no, I'm not going to apologize for "holding back" sexually :) I've read a couple of comments elsewhere that said the style was just below the level of erotica--and that was what I was aiming for. It felt like my natural writing style, and it also suited the romance-novel form I was using to tell this slightly different kind of love story.