Posts Tagged ‘chapters’

Kissing and telling … and telling

December 5, 2012

I am thrilled to report that the revision stage of Kiss and Tell is now complete, and the entire manuscript is in the capable hands of Brion Sausser, a book designer in California.

Although I’m sure there will be a proofing process—electronically, I’m guessing—I am proclaiming the writing phase OVER. The final weeks turned into a rather painful process, as I raced to make many of the changes my beta readers suggested. Corralling 455 pages of type is about as fun as it sounds. After wrestling with the words for so many months, the final polish was hampered by just how familiar I was with the material.

That’s the beauty of beta readers. They found rough spots, confusing syntax, missing words, repetitions and more. If I had it to do over, I would have definitely enlisted my beta readers before we hired Tiffany do to the editing work. But you live and learn. This is my first book. If this turns into the biggest regret I have over Kiss and Tell, I can easily live with that.

As publication loomed, Maureen and I circled back around to the book’s title, in order to finalize the subhead. (Maureen is the Wellington gynecologist whose patients filled out our survey on sexual desire and are the characters in Kiss and Tell.) Our working subhead was Sexy Secrets from Behind the Gynecologist’s Door, but we had worried from the start about using the gyno word in the title. It’s an ugly word and it carries an unpleasant visual as well.

So we polled some friends (mostly hers) with some sample subheads, among them Frank Talk From Women about their Sexual Desire, Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women of All Ages and Women of all Ages Tell the Truth about Sexual Desire.

Yes, I realize the distinctions are fine, but titling a book is nothing if not an exercise in squeezing the most and best meaning out of every single word.

Feedback from our public was helpful, but also confusing. Many people voted for the Frank head; just as many said the word was old-fashioned or made them think of a guy’s name instead of women’s desire. Suggestions came in to incorporate words such as “riveting,” “candid,” “explicit” or “raw and unedited.”

After much debate and vote counting, we created four finalists and sent the list back around to our polling group. We asked for votes only, no more suggestions of new titles, since we felt we were closing in on a winner. Of the finalists, Maureen liked Sexy Talk From Women of all Ages about their Desires; I thought it sounded too Cosmo girl. She rightly pointed out that a book’s title should first of all, SELL the book. We waited to see what the votes said.

The winner by a landslide (with 17 votes) was Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women of All Ages. We were very happy with that and Maureen was planning to make an adjustment on our website to that effect.

But then, on Nov. 24, Maureen and I met to have our author photos taken and I asked her to consider yet another change. My riding buddy Ken had reminded me the night before of how intriguing specific numbers can be, and so I asked Maureen what she thought of adjusting the subhead to Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97.

I told her that naming exact ages is more likely to catch people’s attention, as they think “97? 97!” Or “15?” Although I liked the lyricism of the phrase of All Ages, I agreed with Ken’s assessment that 15 to 97 would sell more books.

After all the polling and consideration of outside opinions, Maureen and I knew it was ultimately up to us, so that morning we chatted a bit and then just decided: Yep, we’re gonna use the ages.

So there it is. Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97 is a done deal.

Stay tuned for an update next week on book cover designs. Brion has already sent us 8 samples and we’re debating the merits of erotic vs. sexy vs. serious vs. age appeal, with shades of typography and color choice thrown in to keep it interesting (and complicated).

Hopefully I’ll also be able to narrow down the date the book will be available. It’s going to be early next year, but that’s the best I can do right now. Stay tuned.

Just think, before you know it, Maureen and I will be asking to speak at your community groups and book clubs! Don’t be shy! Get us on your calendars. We kiss and tell.

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The lap of luxury

November 25, 2012

Through no accomplishment of my own, I am spending tonight at the PGA National Resort and Spa free of charge.

I’ve just completed a sunset walk around the pool and club house area and strolled over to the spa area, which I decided to locate since I’ll be heading over at 10 in the morning for a “neck and shoulder massage; $90 gratuity included.”

Should you be wondering how in the world I got so unbelievably lucky, let me answer by saying that people are SO NICE.

I was slated to dog sit for a one-night gig so that the owners of a sweet little chihuahua could use their soon-to-expire coupon for a complimentary night at PGA (yes, home to the Honda Classic.) The client called the day before and announced she had good news and bad news. The bad news was that 14-year-old Tabby had a cough, and though she seemed OK, Tabby had just started taking medication and Mom didn’t feel right leaving her when she wasn’t feeling perky. The good news was that if I chose, I was welcome to use the certificate!

Well, I am on a mad deadline to deliver Kiss and Tell‘s revised manuscript to our book designer by Dec. 5, but I figured, ‘Hey, I can work in serene, posh surroundings just as easily as I can beside the construction zone that Southern Boulevard (30 yards from my front door) has turned into lately. Why not?’

Brief digression to point out that dog people are THE BEST. My dog sitting clients are so kind, so welcoming, so sweet and so treasured by me. And then to receive a generous offer like this confirms it once again.

So this morning as I’m packing up to drive the 6 or 7 miles over here, I email book partner Maureen about something else and I happen to mention my plans. “Hold on,” she replies. “When are you going? I have a gift card for spa services there that’s about to expire. You could use it.”

That much good karma coming together at one time is astonishing, let’s face it. Over the top, right? But it all worked out. Maureen donned her motorcycle gear and rode her Harley (yes) over to my condo this morning to hand off said gift card. She headed across the bridge for a beautiful ride on Palm Beach; I finished loading my car and arrived here at PGA by 12:15.

Everyone on staff here is super nice, and even though check-in isn’t till 4, if rooms are ready they are happy to assign you one. I was settled in and headed to the pool in no time—but not before I called the spa to check out their services and decide which exotic treatment I was going to use my gift card for!

After just a few short hours, I feel like a different person. The quiet, the green of the golf course and this evening’s cheerful twinkling Christmas lights out front—combined with the sun absorbed poolside this afternoon—have combined to lull me out of the noisy, chaotic jumble I’d accumulated in my head.

I’ve been ridiculously stressed about this upcoming deadline, alternating between a deer-in-headlights inability to decide what to do next and panicked stabs at completing the revisions that the three “fat” chapters are desperately crying for. One of my beta readers provided so much amazing, insightful input that it’s taken me days to go through her notes chapter by chapter and clarify areas she found confusing, add sources, rethink construction, etc, etc. With that phase complete, I’m heading back into those fat chapters (the very long 40s, 50s and 60s decades) for judicious trimming and more.

Something had been niggling about me about those chapters, and my astute beta reader helped me identify what it was. Because there are more women included and because I gave them free rein to share their stories, readers can get lost in the wilderness so to speak. My friend suggested I make more frequent use of my narrator’s voice to paraphrase and then assist the reader to know what’s important about these decades, what the take-away is. It’s a matter of guiding my readers and helping them stay on the path through these more complicated chapters.

Which is hard work. Anyone who writes knows how difficult it is to make sweeping changes when you’re too close to the material, and I’m definitely close to this material after more than 2 years of steady research and writing. But I realized if I just go day by day, and concentrate on each chapter separately until I am satisfied with it, I can maybe, just maybe, hit the deadline.

I was supposed to have everything to our designer by this Friday, but THAT wasn’t going to fly, so I pushed it back, to my chagrin. Even so, I know it won’t be perfect. I console myself with the knowledge that if I worked on it for another month, or even another year, Kiss and Tell wouldn’t be perfect.

Instead it’s going to be the best book I can write right now.

It’s still early and I’m feeling refreshed, so guess what I’m going to do now that I’ve posted a blog?

Yep. I’m going to go back to writing about sex!

Plus, I promise to blog again in a couple days about the process of honing the book’s subtitle, which required massive polling, much democratic input and then a final executive flourish of a decision.

It’s all good.

I’ve written a book

August 17, 2012

For more than two years now, “I’m writing a book” has been my job title, my obsession and my reason for being.

On Monday I sent 474 pages of words—95,800 of them actually—to an experienced book editor to see what a professional person thinks of all this research on women’s sexual desire.

While I recognize that revisions—perhaps major ones—are part of the process, I’m naturally thrilled to be done. There’s undoubtedly a line I’ve stepped across; the book is whole now, a complete work. It’s permissible for me to shift over and say “I’ve written a book.”

Though I’m elated and proud and even incredulous about this achievement, I’m a little surprised at how quickly I’ve moved on. The self-congratulatory period was frankly shorter than I think I deserved. I thought I’d linger awhile in the fog of self-satisfaction once I hit that SEND button.

Instead, I immediately began thinking “OK, what’s next?”

First off, I’m way behind on day-to-day tasks and appointments, so I’m scrambling there. More importantly, I have several freelance writing assignments due before the end of the month, so no dilly-dallying in that arena either. In addition, I want to spend some time on marketing and social media (for example: do better at blogging!). And I definitely need to perform major research on the next phase of self publishing. I’ve collected numerous articles about the process and must absorb them in order to determine the best way to go about hiring a designer to pull the book together for publication.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Whelihan wrote a very nice letter to Victoria, our New York agent, and terminated our relationship with her. We received seven rejections (from Perseus Books, U.S. Penguin Group and others), which didn’t discourage us that much. We believe women’s sexual desire is a subject that needs to be addressed in all age groups; New York publishers seem to think we need to narrow the focus of the book and only appeal to smaller slices of the population.

We respectfully disagree. And since Dr. Whelihan is the expert (and after my research, I’m getting there!), we decided to trust ourselves and publish the book that our heads and hearts tell us is what readers want.

At this point, if a publishing house in New York suddenly offered us a contract, we’d say no. It would be 12-15 months before the book was for sale if that happened. With self-publishing, we hope to have copies of Kiss and Tell in hand by Thanksgiving.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to download the book. You will, of course. And we’re even hoping to make individual chapters available online, in case you truly just want to read about sexual desire for women in one decade only. (That’s another perk of self-publishing; you get to do what you want!)

It feels like everything is moving much faster now. Hopefully the momentum will continue and we’ll see our dreams realized of a book to sell by the holidays. Such a brave new world. Scary, but exciting.

Just look what happens when you hit the finish line … when you can truthfully say “I’ve written a book.”

Good news and bad news

July 29, 2012

The good news is that my surge to finish the book and deliver the manuscript to the editor by Aug. 13 is on track. I allowed myself a bit of padding when I chose the deadline, hoping I wouldn’t panic too much (which I did anyway for a couple days).

The bad news is that I’m using up a lot of the padding with a complete rewrite of the chapter on the 70s ladies. Up until this chapter, the editing process has been a matter of reading along and feeling pretty OK about the work. I occasionally find bumps and even places where I think, “what the heck happened here?” Which means I stop and rewrite, fix the transitions and modify whatever requires it.

But the 70s chapter was the fifth chapter I wrote and I’ve realized my form changed right after that. This was the final chapter where I told the women’s stories more individually, allowing their voice to proceed more or less uninterrupted as they discussed desire throughout their lifetime. The latter chapters, which I like better, interweave the women’s observations and feature several subjects commenting on the same topic, rather than being isolated in their own life story.

I’m editing the book in order, even though I didn’t write it in order. I figure it’s imperative to read the book sequentially at least once. The fact that I made it to the 70s without any chapter screaming for a rewrite constitutes additional good news. And since the 80s chapter was included in my book proposal as “sample pages,” I know it’s going to require very little editing. The 90s chapter is short, so while it may need sprucing up, the work will be mercifully brief.

Meanwhile, I remain bogged in the 70s. The intro to the column wasn’t engaging at all; just dry statistics and overall percentages of what women told us in the general survey. So I went back and read my raw notes for the chapter and found these women imparted surprising and even shocking things about their sex lives.

One woman said she experienced so much pain with sex (right from the start) that it took two years before she and her boyfriend got all the way to full penetration. She delivered this information with no sign of how dismaying a listener might find this. Another 70s lady had several trysts with a 27-year-old lover just weeks after she was widowed and then began a tempestuous affair with a man three decades her junior. During her 48-year marriage, she took an unknown number of affairs or lovers, likely between 75-100. This information was also delivered absent dramatics; the speaker showed no expectation of her words creating surprise.

Another woman in her 70s had gone for marital counseling in her 50s and was able to speak very eloquently to the things which keep intimacy alive in a relationship when sex is no longer possible. (Her husband’s health issues are the culprit.) Yet another subject says, “I guess I got holy,” when describing how her attendance at a new church has made her disinclined to engage in the affairs of her youth. But the thrice-married woman still struggles with her sexuality: She doesn’t understand why she still has passion if she’s not supposed to do something about it. And she feels trapped by the church’s admonition against sex before marriage, since she has no desire to remarry after her third husband’s death.

Given the exceedingly rich material the 70s ladies shared with me, my chapter just didn’t do them justice. Yesterday I wrote 6 new pages of juicier stuff as a fresh introduction. Then I went through the interviews once more with my trusty colored highlighters, using them to mark comments on common topics. This afternoon it’s back to the grindstone, with the goal of more integration of the women’s stories. I’ll still let them speak at length in places, but the group as a whole needs cohesion. I can see that now.

The clunkiness of this unedited 70s chapter is reassuring in one other way: It means my skills and expertise sharpened as I worked my way further into the book, and I can now bring them to bear on my less polished work. My voice naturally became more sure as I increased my familiarity with the material and came to rely less on recitations of numbers and more on the truths I’ve found at the core of women’s desire.

This was exciting to realize—and it’s what made me sure I had to rewrite the chapter. Before I turn the manuscript over to editor Tiffany, I’m determined it will be the best I can offer.

But dang. Having to redo a whole chapter is the pits. Mumble, mumble, grumble, grumble.

And now I shall STOP procrastinating and get back to it.

A dash to the deadline

July 13, 2012

Exactly one month from today, on Aug. 13, my book’s manuscript is due to the editor.

This is NOT an editor hired by a publishing house; we didn’t get a book deal for Kiss and Tell. It’s an editor Dr. Whelihan and I hired privately, although she also works for all the big New York publishing houses. I mentioned her in an earlier blog, and was impressed with the sample edit she did on the intro to my chapter on the 80s Ladies. (Plus I met her in Austin when I was in Texas for two weeks enjoying an annual girls’ weekend and celebrating my mom’s 84th birthday. Her name is Tiffany Yates Martin; she’s 6 feet tall, gorgeous and extraordinarily charismatic. Yes, you’re detecting a bit of a girl crush.)

Kiss and Tell‘s book proposal has now been officially turned down by seven publishers. It’s a little bit discouraging, sure. But the reason they are saying no to the book still strikes Dr. Mo and I as just being off. They seem to think readers will only care about the sexuality of women their own age; that our focus is too broad and no one’s interested in the passion of women in other age groups.

I realize everyone is super savvy up there in New York, of course, but I think the suits in the city maybe don’t know as much as they think they do about women’s sexuality. I mean, did they completely miss the uproar over Fifty Shades of Grey? Why don’t they see that women—of ALL ages—who read about desire in the form of fiction will also read about it in non-fiction form?

And believe me, the book is going to be erotic.

I know this because our agent told me after reading the sample chapters that I needed to mention the material’s steaminess in the proposal. “You’re missing the turn-on factor,” she said. I hadn’t really planned that effect, but I was quick to follow through on her suggestion.

And it makes sense that when women talk about what stimulates their desire, and those scenarios are faithfully transferred to words—reading them might indeed stimulate desire.

I digress!

The breaking news to share here is that I have committed to finishing the book’s first draft in one month. I was terrified into paralysis at first. I spent two days assuring myself this was impossible. For so long I’ve been saying, “I’m writing a book.” I still can’t quite grasp what it will mean to say, “I’ve written a book,” since the process itself has defined me for so long.

But then the soldier mentality took over, and I just started marching. I’m digging in every day; I figure it’s a six-day-a-week proposition from now till the deadline. I have to read every single word I’ve written so far and try to drag them all under the umbrella of one voice. As the project unfolded, the narrative shifted, and now it’s time to solidify the chapters under a unifying voice.

I’m also having to finish up certain chapters, which I left undone purposely, waiting for closure on other decades in order to come back and wrap up earlier chapters with more expertise and authority. The overview chapter, which explains what trends we found and sets the stage for the whole book, is proving to be a gigantic time suck. I’m wrestling with whether or not to break it into several chapters, because some of the (juicy) stories that accompany the overarching trends are lengthy.

But big picture problems like that aren’t enough. I’m also doing meticulous copy editing as I go, since there’s no point in ignoring it as I do a final read. Tiffany was kind enough to provide me with some style tips, which is a good thing since it turns out that journalism’s AP style isn’t at all what book editors are looking for. Oh joy. Live and learn.

This final push toward the deadline is a microcosm of what the entire book process has been. If I look up and survey the landscape of what still has to be completed, I become overwhelmed and frightened. If I keep my head down, and put one foot in front of the other, one paragraph after another, I can hold on to the hope of finishing.

Here goes!

A little help here, please

May 27, 2012

The solitariness required to write a book is a given, and I’ve learned to be content with the alone time necessary to make that happen. But as I embark on the final chapter, I find myself looking forward to a point in the near future when I can begin working with an editor to make this exciting book the best it can be.

I’m eager to dig into the structure, find the flaws, rearrange whole chunks of content if need be, polish the prose, make my voice consistent. I have both specific questions and more general concerns I’m ready to discuss with an editor, someone who’s really passionate about this material like Dr. Mo and I are. Someone I trust.

I actually have someone in mind and I’ll of course name her if our relationship becomes official. Meantime, you might be wondering why we’re looking to hire our own editor instead of waiting for a publishing house to assign one. If you read about the process of signing with an agent, you know we contracted with someone in New York who’s been sending out the ‘Kiss and Tell’ proposal for a couple of months now.

But we’ve had a snag and a bit of disinterest, so rather than stewing in any disappointment, we’ve decided to push ahead on a couple of self-publishing fronts, in case that turns out to be the path we take. So at last week’s work meeting, (after which I polished off the health chapter!!) we split up tasks to accomplish in the next couple of weeks. Dr. Mo is researching a loan to cover the cost of self-publishing while I gather exact estimates for what those costs will be.

Fortunately, I know people who’ve written books, and early on I got a recommendation for a very experienced editor who has worked with both fiction and non-fiction. I like her flexibility because, although the book is non-fiction, it’s written in story fashion and utilizes many fiction-like touches to increase its appeal.

I emailed the editor and she got back to me quickly (despite being out of her office), which I took as a good sign. She had heard about ‘Kiss and Tell’ from a mutual friend and finds the concept intriguing. Woo hoo! First hurdle overcome; no prudes need apply.

Like some others I saw online, this editor offers a free edit of 1,000 words of your book, so you can see how she works and whether you’re a good fit. I think this is an excellent practice, because anyone will tell you that finding a person who gets what you want to do and helps you say it in the best possible way is a writer’s dream. Serious writers all long for the partnership of a caring editor.

I perused my decades chapters and decided to submit the first 1,000 words of my chapter on the 80s Ladies. Remember them? I adored those gals and also felt they brought out some of my best writing, so I’m curious to see how much this editor wants to change up what I’ve done. Good editors don’t rewrite everything a writer creates in a bid to insert their own voice; instead they make the writer’s voice truer and stronger.

That’s what I’m holding out for.

Naturally we wouldn’t move definitively to hire an editor until we formally sever ties with our agent. And it may not come to that. In the world of publishing, something unexpected can always happen.

We’re just trying to stay smart, stay flexible and make the best decisions possible for ‘Kiss and Tell’s’ success. Fingers and toes crossed!

Healthy sex

April 29, 2012

Having completed a chapter for each decade of a woman’s life, I’m now turning my attention to the chapter dealing with the health issues that can affect sexual desire. Everything from a medication for high blood pressure to the invasive treatments for cancer can impact (read, diminish) a woman’s libido.

I gathered up almost 20 surveys that mentioned health issues and summarized their concerns for Dr. Whelihan. She sent me 1,500 words about those conditions, in relatively general terms. Now I’m phoning the survey takers for more specifics on their problems, and during a future work session, Mo and I will tailor her responses to each woman’s health concern.

I’ve returned to peruse some of the book’s opening chapters (written a year ago), and I’ll eventually edit each one so my voice stays consistent throughout the book. Something I didn’t anticipate on a long project like this is how much your voice and style evolve during the process. To keep each chapter sounding consistent, you have to continually edit.

Instead of creating a separate health chapter, I decided to segue into the subject from one of those early chapters, titled “A Day in the Life of the Doctor.” It introduces Dr. Whelihan through a “visit” to her office, and sets the scene for how she interacts with patients about sex.

One reason for this adjustment is the realization that many books deal with treatments for sexual dysfunction; very few deal with the subtleties of female sexual desire — and so that’s where we want to keep the focus. We don’t need to venture too heavily into sexual healing territory.

Our agent is still busy pitching the book to publishing houses. So far we’ve been rejected four times. I’m not feeling particularly devastated by this. I think the book is tremendously marketable and so does Maureen, so we remain confident. Plus, I was told that “The Help” was rejected 60 times before it found a publisher, which consoles me to no end.

Our rejection letters, which the agent forwards to us, are generally encouraging. However, one letter said our focus was too broad, and that we needed to hone the material down to a more specific age group. I understand the impulse that drives this suggestion, but I respectfully disagree. I think when you’re talking about sexual desire, whatever age group you leave out will have every right to raise their hands and proclaim “What about ME?”

What could I tell them if I excluded them from the study? “Sorry. Didn’t think you mattered.”

One way to address this concern would be to self-publish the book and market each chapter separately as an e-book. If a 20-something woman for instance cared only about her decade, she could pay $2.99 or whatever for that chapter, and not have to purchase the whole book. But then, isn’t she going to want to read the 30s chapter … you know, to check out how sex is going to be in the near future?

And say that reader is in her 60s. After she reads her decade’s chapter, won’t she be curious to read the 20s chapter to see what women her daughter’s age say about sex?

These are the aspects of marketing I ponder. And though I remain convinced people will want to read the entire book, I am very open to the idea of selling chapters individually online. It does make a lovely kind of sense, because it’s an inexpensive option to owning the book. Maybe someone buys their decade, is intrigued, and comes back for the whole book. Who could argue with that?

Meanwhile, Dr. Mo and I are giving the agent additional time to market our book on a more conventional track. I have no idea how many rejections it will take for us to abandon traditional publishing and embrace self publishing. I guess it depends on what future rejection letters say and how we come to feel about the whole process.

Do my readers have thoughts on this? What’s the magic number? How many no’s do you think we should collect before we merrily go our own way?

I’d be interested to hear … as you know, I’m learning as I go!

Making sure to get it wrong

April 11, 2012

I thought I’d write this week about how important it is during this project to protect the anonymity of the women who trust me with the stories of their sexual histories and deepest desires.

It’s on my mind because the issue came up several times as I worked on the 50s chapter, which by the way I’ve just completed. (Insert roar of crowd here.)

During interviews, I ask each woman to choose an alias for herself — just a first name. If she’s married or talks extensively about a partner, I will often ask her to come up with a fake name for that person as well. Force of habit is strong, so as they talk about these people, the women often use real names. This can get confusing when I start writing the chapter a couple weeks later, because while taking notes, I might accidentally type the name the woman says, rather than the agreed-upon fake name.

Which is why, at some point in my notes, I usually type something like “husband’s name is Sam but we’ll call him Mike.” That way, if I type in the wrong name at any point, I can double check for accuracy when I’m compiling the chapter. (My method has been to conduct all the interviews for a chapter and then write that decade’s chapter before moving on to the next.)

As I wrote about Alexa and her lover Tony, I looked in vain for my cheat note to myself as to his real name. I couldn’t find it, and suddenly worried that we had not chosen one — and I was perhaps using his real name. So I called Alexa back and she reminded me of his real name, reassuring me that I had it wrong.

Whew. That’s the goal!

Certain identifying factors about people are too distinct, so occasionally I will change a woman’s school, profession or perhaps country of origin. I stay true to physical appearance, family details and sexual history of course, but even so, many of the women are unrecognizable. I know this because Dr. Mo, who has of course met all these patients, usually can’t recognize them as she reads the chapters upon completion.

Compounding her challenge to figure out who’s who is the fact that Dr. Mo rarely knows who is interviewed. She and I narrow down prospects to maybe 15 or 20 women, she retrieves their phone numbers from her medical files (which I don’t have access to) and then I set about the business of arranging interviews. Availability is key, so by the time the chapter is finished, it’s very difficult for her to sort everyone out.

Nevertheless, her patients out themselves from time to time. They come in for a check-up and proudly proclaim that they are going to be in the book. “Anne interviewed me!” they tell her. “It was so fun. It was like therapy!” (Tell me I don’t love to hear that; it’s my goal for these brave, candid women to feel at ease and comfortable no matter how intimate the topics are.)

All of this makes me confident that my ladies’ anonymity is being protected, but I had a special case in this 50s chapter (my FINAL decade chapter, by the way!). Christina confided to me that she had emotional and sexual relationships with women in her 20s, but returned to a heterosexual lifestyle at age 31. She then asked me to exclude that fact from the book.

I made the case to her that such an omission invalidated the integrity of her story, and that other readers, if only a few, would surely identify with her life experience. She was still reluctant, so I offered her veto power over the chapter once it was written — something I’ve never done before. But I was positive that once she saw her experience in the context of nine other 50-somethings, she would realize how comfortably it fit in among the tapestry of stories.

I finished the chapter, Dr. Mo gave it her stamp of approval, and then I called Christina and made an appointment to take her a copy. (I wasn’t comfortable with an email version of the chapter floating around in the ethernet, as paranoid as I’m sure that sounds.) She had no problem with any of the identifying factors I used about her, but felt some of her quotes, while accurate, didn’t quite reflect her thoughts. So we sat down and worked them all out together, until she was satisfied she’d been as clear as possible.

So her anonymity was protected, her quotes were sharp and the chapter included her invaluable and interesting input. A win-win.

Honestly, I protect these women so completely that by the time a chapter is finished, when I think of an interviewee, only her pseudo name comes to mind. This week, when I spoke to Christina and Alexa, I automatically called each of them by these assumed names.

I guess if I run into them at book signings, I’ll have to pretend I don’t know them because I may only recall their book names — and using those would give them away!

Yep. The 50s were fabulous

March 9, 2012

So. Despite a couple of cancellations and some rescheduling, I have now wrapped up the 10 in-depth interviews for women in their 50s.

I suppose it was completely predictable that I would feel connected to these women. They’re my contemporaries and I feel a kinship with each, sharing as we do a list of common points of reference. I find delight in talking to women of all ages, but it’s lovely to note that extra little spark that kicks in when someone identifies with all your childhood memories and markers.

As a prelude to writing, I’m compiling a cheat sheet, a helpful habit I developed four or five chapters ago. It’s a crude chart that simply includes name, age, pseudonym, number of marriages, number of kids, number of sexual partners, frequency of sex … basically just a few quick details so I can do comparisons and know at a glance what percentages I’m dealing with. It helps to jump-start the process of identifying trends within the decades.

One thing I immediately noticed this time was the effect of birth control pills. Not a single woman in her 50s married due to pregnancy, while 33 percent of the 60-something interviewees did just that. Another 33 percent of the 60s women got pregnant on their honeymoons, proving that although The Pill was technically available to that older decade of women, its cultural and practical assimilation took years.

Another difference — which may or may not be connected to the elapsed decade — is the number of women who identified themselves as bi-sexual or lesbian. When possible, we strove to include a lesbian woman in each decade’s interviewees, wanting their voices included. A gay woman in her 60s and one in her 50s were therefore part of our sampling. But two additional 50-somethings told me they were bi-sexual during our interviews.

Their stories were very different but equally fascinating: Christina dated women exclusively during her 20s, but has since returned to a heterosexual lifestyle; Alexa began having sex with women only after she and her husband entered the swinger lifestyle when she was in her late 30s.

Christina lost her virginity to her first boyfriend at age 16 and dated him for 4 years. She had another male lover as well, but then as a freshman in college, began a lesbian relationship, and dated women exclusively for a decade.

“In my 20s and into my early 30s, I considered myself bi-sexual,” she says, “but in the past decade, when I think about making love to another woman, I find it unappealing. So I would not consider myself to be bi-sexual anymore. However, when I was younger, I was open to not only sex with either gender, but a relationship.”

At age 30, Christina started dating a man.

“It wasn’t a gender issue,” she clarifies, “it was a relationship issue. I happened to be attracted to him as a person. At that time in my life, the circumstances were right. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m gonna go back to men.'”

After that relationship, Christina dated one more woman, and that was the last time. She says she stopped being interested in women around the age of 31.

“I think women have much more in common with other women,” she says. “I have a hard time understanding men, I truly do. I understand women much better, but there’s not that physical attraction any longer. There’s still an emotional attraction, but not a physical one.”

Alexa, on the other hand, is attracted to women physically, but has had no exclusive, long-term relationship with one. She considers herself bi-sexual, having engaged in multiple encounters with women in groups through the years (sometimes with one other couple, sometimes with several other couples).

Though she’s now a widow, during the 16 years when she and her husband Greg were swingers, Alexa says she looked forward to sex with the women: “Women know women’s bodies a lot better than most men, I would say.”

However, she never had sex without Greg’s presence.

“He loved to watch two women getting it on,” she recalls. “For guys, it’s like their favorite fantasy.”

There’s more to Alexa’s story (she became involved with a bi-sexual man after Greg died), but it’s all rather involved as you can imagine, so full disclosure will have to wait.

Meanwhile, have you visited the website we set up for Kiss and Tell ? If you share your email with us, we’ll notify you when the book is published.

Yes, that’s still a ways off, but it’s getting closer all the time!

A matter of balance

November 26, 2011

Libidos, for women, are an inconstant thing.

My research has proven this again and again, and while delving into sexual desire for the ladies in their 60s, I encountered an imbalance I was forced to address.

Here’s what happened. After we selected 16 excellent and balanced surveys, I started calling the respondents, hoping to set up 8 interviews. Some said yes, some had voice mail machines, some had left the state. The out of towners all expressed a willingness to do phoners, but that’s never my first choice — so I thanked them and moved on.

And I started doing interviews.

Wonderful interviews. With women who shared very interesting stories.

But a little ways into the process, I realized my subjects were trending toward the low-libido side. One married woman hadn’t had sex in 7 months; a single woman said it had been 7 years. A married lesbian said she and her partner hadn’t made love in over a year.

All of this is to be expected in a chapter dealing with women in their 60s, but I knew from the 193 surveys in this decade that other women were having a different experience. I flipped back through my 16 chosen surveys and realized that all four of the Florida evacuees had filled out surveys indicating a high libido and sexy stories to share.

Darn!

I became more aggressive about reaching the remaining women in my batch that were interested in sex, but even so, when I sat down to write the chapter, I realized the overall balance was tipped too far in the “no, thanks” column. So I called Dr. Mo, told her the situation, and suggested I go back for more interviews before I tried to write the chapter. Though I already had 7 interviews, enough for a chapter, she agreed — and we moved our deadline date for the chapter to be completed. I lined up another interview the next day and then called one of the relocated gals who was returning to Florida for Thanksgiving and pigeon-holed her for a face-to-face interview while she’s in town. She was a great sport about sacrificing some of her vacation, and our talk is scheduled for tomorrow.

And then — we’ve allowed just 5 days to write the chapter. I know. Very tough. I had 57 pages of notes last time I checked, which is even more than the 40s. But I’m hopeful. The 60s feel less scattered and somehow more manageable material-wise than the 40s. The ladies seem to fall into groups more easily, instead of being quite so distinct — although of course each woman’s story is filled with unique details. Two women began having sex at age 16, two more at 17, one each at 18 and 19 and one at 22. Kay, the lesbian of the group, started earlier, at age 14 with a girl a couple of years older.

And most of the women are in their late 60s; the youngest is 64, though tomorrow’s interview is 63. The older ages are partially a result of the sheer length of time it’s been since they filled out their survey. We spent 15 months accumulating the 1,300 surveys and it’s taken me this long to work my way through all of the decades. So most of the women are two years older now.

I’m not worried. The project and research are valid; that I know. I still feel confident about landing an agent with our good idea and the book’s progress so far. Just this week I sent out six query letters or proposals to agents I feel are a good match for the material. Keep your fingers crossed that the right person signs on to help us turn this project into a book you’ll find at Barnes & Noble.

Meanwhile, I am struggling through the final indignity of my ordeal with adult braces. I write a monthly column for The Palm Beach Post and I’ve decided my next one will deal with the topic of outright deception by orthodontists. The information they don’t give you on the front end of braces could easily fill a file cabinet, and while I understand the impulse, I cannot forgive it. Again and again I was blindsided by unpleasant surprises and unforeseen requests. When this is over, I will never look at rubber bands the same. They are no longer friendly, helpful office supplies; their evil twins are instruments of torture.

The zig zag elastics I’m wearing now are woven criss-cross between my bottom and top teeth to “set” my bite, and they do not allow me to talk, drink water except through a straw, take pills or even lick my lips. It creates this weird claustrophobia, where you feel trapped inside your mouth. I distract myself in order to not get panicky about it. Then when you remove them to eat, your teeth feel all loosey-goosey and it hurts to chew meat or anything crunchy.

But what else is new? After 16 months, I should be used to this. Funny thing: I never got used to it.

HOWEVER … God willing and the creek don’t rise, the braces come off Dec. 6, which is a few weeks before my predicted removal date. I attribute this to my dogged insistence on following every rule laid down for me. In all this time, I have only once forgotten to wear my bands at night, and I’ve been pretty compulsive about daytime wear as well.

Yes, I’ve been a good little patient — but I haven’t been good-spirited. A girlfriend who’s well acquainted with my usually optimistic nature told me recently she loved that for once I was not taking mistreatment lying down. She made it clear she was fine with me refusing to look on the bright side and instead complaining with gusto.

Needless to say, she immediately became my favorite person.

Just think, Faithful Blog Readers. Very soon these posts will no longer contain my grumblings and whinings on the oh-so-absorbing topic of braces.

I’m thinking that will be a day we can all celebrate!