Posts Tagged ‘sexual histories’

Can a brain set to “market” be turned off?

May 11, 2013

Here’s hoping that in the coming week of vacation I will able to silence the barrage of marketing imperatives my brain is so kindly providing to me during every waking hour.

Honestly, it’s become ridiculous. Some days I’m very productive—mailing out packets, making lots of phone calls, researching physical addresses or names of contacts at various media outlets—and some days I get pulled off track by personal errands, chores, doctor’s appointments, what have you. But it doesn’t matter which kind of day I’m having: The loop in my head of marketing minutiae remains shrilly insistent, shoving its way into every moment of every day.

You need to call the manager back at Lemuria Book Store . . .  It would be great if more people posted reviews on Amazon . . . I wonder if Palm Beach Book Store needs more copies of Kiss and Tell? . . . You should email Michael and get his opinion on which book store in St. Louis he thinks would be best for you to approach about a signing . . .  I can’t believe Grand Rapids’ Shuler Books is doing their quarterly authors’ event in July, when naturally I’ll be there for a week in June. Argh!  . . . How many radio stations in Phoenix should I contact before my book signings there, I wonder?  . . . That receptionist said the event manager would be working tomorrow between 9 and 1; don’t forget to call him back! . . . What are the best indie book stores between here and St. Louis that I might want to approach about an event? . . . Does anyone listen to their voice mails and return calls anymore?

No. That would be the answer to that final question.

And it’s about the only definitive thing I can say. Because everything else about marketing a book is an exercise in fluidity, in keeping your options open, being flexible, available, asking what someone needs and then trying to provide it as seamlessly as possible. And in the midst of all that fluidity, you have to nail down concrete dates for events and then work frantically around them to bring the light of publicity to bear on your (comparatively) insignificant little soiree.

It is not a dance for the weak of heart, my friends. At the end of the day there is often no tangible evidence of your labor, no finished pages, no satisfying prose. Just a couple of more strings in the water that, with luck, will bring a nibble one day in the future.

The difficulties of self publishing are much more visible to me now than they were this time last year. I’m still glad Dr. Whelihan and I chose this path. (She’s the medical expert and research partner for our “Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97.”) We were right to assume responsibility ourselves because publishing houses don’t have a good track record of promoting first-time authors. With my journalism background, I believe I am better equipped than they are to tap into interested media outlets.

But I sure do wish I had a staff! Not to mention a few plane tickets to cities I’d love to visit for book signings.

It would be great to divide up some of this detail work with eager assistants, bright-eyed interns perhaps, hoping to impress their boss with their diligence.

Instead, it’s just me. Planting my butt in front of the computer and reaching out into cyber land for contacts, advice, magic and miracles.

And occasionally, lightening strikes. The one time I spoke with a HUMAN last week (a producer for Channel 3 in Phoenix foolishly answered her phone), I was actually able to reel her in. After my 60-second spiel, she said, “Hmmm. That sounds interesting. Would you send me an email with more about the book and I’ll pitch it in our Tuesday meeting.”

This is what counts as a home run in my world, ladies and gentlemen. Of course I worked hard on a personal letter and a funny, succinct synopsis to hopefully increase her interest. I sent it off within 45 minutes. And, naturally, I’ve heard nothing.

I would feel so much better if she just sent a “Thanks. I’ll let you know what happens,” email. But no salaried employee has time for that anymore, I’m guessing. So, although I’m sure my email was delivered, I’m sitting in Wonderland as usual—wondering if she received the message, wondering if she liked the message, wondering if she’s thinking about liking me and my book . . . it’s all so uncertain.

And it’s all guaranteed to make you insecure. Yes. This work plays havoc with how you see yourself in the world. Although I am certain the book is fun, informative and highly readable, I am struggling with the task of saying that over and over every day. I’m not sure why that is. The book is the book, and its quality isn’t diminishing. And happily, when readers give me feedback, it is extremely positive and uplifting.

But in this marketing world that I enter day after day, my confidence sometimes falters. I’m not a retailer by nature (see my previous blog), and so I find it tricky to consistently find the right words and approaches to encourage others to open up to “Kiss and Tell.”

Doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying.

And in the meantime, I’m finding the personal appearances at clubs, meetings and community events to be the most gratifying part of the process right now. The light in the attendees’ eyes, the interest they show and the questions they ask let me know I’m on the right track.

So, tomorrow morning I leave for a week in North Carolina with friends. I have one book-related appointment at Malaprops in Asheville (with no promise of anything), so mostly this is vacation. I will be staying near Bryson City, on the southern edge of Smoky Mountain National Park, and just typing those words makes me want to say “ahhhhh.” Our cell phone coverage will be pitiful, thank goodness, and I hope to lose touch with the cyber world that has been too much my companion lately.

Instead, I’m dreaming of forests and mountains and a cool, green world, far from all the concrete cities.

Yep. I’m definitely going to switch off the marketing brain for a bit.

Advertisements

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.

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!

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!

30somethings; here we go

August 22, 2011

Though my August sights were set on corralling nine women in their 30s for in-depth interviews about their sexual desire, I was only able to connect with six.

One woman insisted she would be honored to participate, and we agreed on a tentative day, with time to be determined later. Subsequent calls went unanswered, until the day of the interview, when she called to say she’d lost her phone. Happily, it had been found, so we set up another interview day. And then she disappeared again. Or maybe she re-lost her phone. Who knows? My voice mails fall into some lonely message box.

Another number led to a husband who asked me question after question about why I needed to speak to his wife. Sounding reserved, he agreed to have her call, but I was suspicious when she never did. I left him a couple messages asking if I could have her direct number; I wonder now if she even had her own phone. He eventually called to assure me he’d told her to call me and that since she hadn’t, she clearly didn’t want to talk with me. Don’t know why she couldn’t tell me that herself.

Anyway. It’s a marvelous mixed bag of 30somethings that I did connect with, so I’m satisfied. Three are married, two are single and never married, one is divorced. One of the married women is in love with a woman, another waited till age 26 to have sex and is married to the man she chose. He’s older than her by 15 years. One of the single women is a bi-sexual, but calls herself a “true bi-sexual,” which to her means she’s not only interested in having sex with men or women, she’s interested in long-term relationships with either gender. In talking this out, we realized that the term bi-sexual is very accurate, and refers, of course, to sex. So we decided to trade “true bi-sexual” for the term “relationship bi-sexual,” since that best describes her situation.

After a 7-year engagement to a man, Cyndi then spent the past two years having relationships only with women. “Are you a lesbian now?” her friends ask her. “No,” she says. “I just want to find someone I can get along with that I enjoy being with. They ask, ‘Which way do you lean, who do you think you’ll end up with?’ I have no clue. I really don’t know. I just know I’ve increased my chance of meeting that person by 100% because I can do man or woman. People want to label people too much. I’m like, why? All this classification stuff. Don’t box me in.”

Fascinating, yes?

Also in my 30somethings women: a woman who confessed to suffering long-term childhood sexual abuse (extremely sad), a young mom who became pregnant her senior year of high school and an athlete who gave up on empty relationships and unsatisfying sex at age 24 and became a born-again Christian. She met her husband of 13 years a short while later and they waited until marriage to consummate their relationship.

See what I mean? It’s a truly fascinating mix of women and I’m eager to write a chapter to do them justice. I’m thinking the theme of the 30s decade is decisiveness or being definitive. (But neither of those words sounds powerful enough to be a theme. Isn’t it weird that the word definitive sounds wimpy?)

Oh well. We’ll see. What I do know is the women deserve the best I can give them.

So I better get to it. This is writing week.

Meeting our public

May 30, 2011

Earlier, I promised a report on my first public appearance with Dr. Whelihan to talk about our book. The event took place in mid-May at a private country club in a retirement community, with more than 100 men and women attending. Many in the audience had enjoyed a glass of wine before the talk began, which the Doc tells me tends to dramatically increase the fun factor. I spoke first, for 10 minutes or so, about the concept of the book, and then shared a few stories from the dozens of fascinating interviews I’ve had. And I quickly learned the Doc was right: In spots where I’d hoped for a few chuckles, the crowd erupted in prolonged laughter — something I could get used to, by the way.

And then Dr. Mo got up. Man did the retirees love her. She has a power point slide show she knows backward and forward, and it’s filled with enough humor, information and shock value to keep everyone entertained. The woman sitting in front of me kept turning to her husband throughout Mo’s talk, her face a changing canvas of delight, hilarity and shock at hearing someone say aloud the things the rest of us only think.

In fact, it was a little surprising the Doc didn’t get a standing ovation. If we’d had books to sell that night, I honestly believe every person would have taken one home.

So. That’s a good start, yes? And then, just this past Thursday, we talked with a much smaller group at The Breakers Hotel on Palm Beach. We’re honing the order of how we present things and figuring out how to make the book relevant to various audiences — all of which is sure to pay off when we have something to sell.

Speaking of something to sell, I am doing my best to stay on track with my goal of finishing a chapter a month. Last month was a difficult mark to hit, what with all the stress emanating from my deadbeat tenants in Texas, which probably shaved a few years off my life. Adding to the challenge is the fact that I found the 20s the toughest decade yet to write, what with their whole transformational subtext. But I made my deadline! And Mo liked the work, saying “if this is a bad chapter, we’re in great shape.”

Thus, I have happily turned my attention to the 70-year-olds.

We selected 6 women in this decade to interview, and I already have 5 meetings either set up or completed, which is fortunate since I want to finish the chapter early so I can go on vacation with a clear conscience. My accelerated schedule translates to 2 weeks of research, and 1 week of writing, so I can’t waste any time.

Of the two women in their 70s I’ve interviewed, I’ve already encountered both ends of the spectrum in terms of the number of partners. One has been with more partners than anyone I’ve spoken with so far (50+) and the other was a virgin when she married and has had sex with the same man for 61 years. An amazing variety right off the bat.

Complicating my ability to meet that deadline is a decided lack of cooperation from my Mazda SUV, which has decided it no longer wishes to steer. I tried to back out of my parking space last night to go to a pet sitting gig, and the vehicle won’t turn. And that nasty little undercarriage light comes on. Fortunately, I could walk to the job — it’s that close. But now it’s Memorial Day and my auto shop is closed. Sigh.

As my friend said: Cars are great — except when they aren’t.

Thank goodness I was able to reschedule the book interview I had today for Friday, and am still on course. But tomorrow morning’s hair appointment for a trim? It’s looking like I’ll have to ride my bike to that one. I wonder just how many miles away that is …..?

Meanwhile, for anyone interested, I invite you to visit the website Dr. Mo set up for our book. It’s at www.KissandTellBook.com and has a feature where you can sign up to get an email when the book comes out. Hard to believe — but it seems our dream of publishing a book may actually come true. How cool is that?

Another one bites the dust

April 21, 2011

My ability to meet a monthly deadline prevailed once more, and the 80s Ladies chapter is complete. To finish it, I wrote for about 8 hours the day before my Sunday meeting with Dr. Mo, a painful mistake I won’t make again. (Hello, Repetitive Stress Injury!)

I feel like this with every decade of the women I interview, but right now, the 80somethings are totally my faves. They were so dear, so revealing, so completely captivating as they shared the secrets and details of their sexuality. I feel such a responsibility to honor their candor in a respectful way.

“I can’t talk openly with people,” Catherine, 84, told me. “But it’s OK with you.” It was so OK that she even told me about her first orgasm, which she experienced at age 82 with the man who’s now her second husband. Her decades-long marriage to an alcoholic womanizer had failed to create passion, but she says she loved him despite his weaknesses. When he died from cirrhosis of the liver, she remained a widow for almost 20 years before meeting her second love. Today, Catherine says, “I feel free and I feel whole.”

Does she curse the fates that kept her from sexual passion for most of her life? Not a bit. She expresses only happiness and gratitude for her current good fortune. How many of us would be as philosophical?

For a few of the 80somethings, sex was behind them. Emma, a precocious woman with a strong libido who began having intercourse at 16 (and enjoyed perhaps 20 lovers over her lifetime), said her sex desire had died out around age 70. And Jane, a widow of nine years, said medications prevented her from having a sex drive — and besides, she’d never been interested in anyone except her husband.

But if you think 80-year-old women are sexless, you’re wrong. One 85-year-old widow, who enjoyed a tremendously satisfying sex life with her husband for 55 years, met a man down the hall in her seniors’ community and began having sex with him. She expresses some understandable disappointment, mentioning that he was very skinny and his bones were sharp when he climbed on top of her.

Within a few months, her lover was moved to a different building, one for assisted living, and though he’d like our widow to come visit, she can’t quite forget those sharp bones. “And he’s still losing weight,” she worries. For now, she’s keeping to her own room.

Honestly, I could go on and on about these women. In fact, their chapter is my longest one yet — 18 pages. But Dr. Mo said not to trim it. She read it and said even though she’s familiar with the subject matter, the stories still fascinated and entertained her.

Am I happy about that? You bet.

And now. On to the 20somethings. Can they top the 80s Ladies?

Booking it

March 30, 2011

Earlier this month, right on schedule, I completed the chapter on teenagers. And by right on schedule, I mean less than one hour before my book partner showed up for our monthly work session. Cutting it uncomfortably close, I know, but rather than letting this dismay me, I took it as refreshing proof that deadlines can still motivate the journalist that lurks within.

Now I’m deep into my 80s Ladies, which is how I quickly began to refer to the women who are the focus of the third chapter in the all-important “decades” chapters. (Obviously, I’m not proceeding in order.) Of the six women in their 80s we selected to interview (of 52 respondents), I’ve seen four, scheduled an interview with a fifth and am stalking the sixth. The elusive sixth candidate has some leg pain, you see, and she needed to consult a doctor and we’ve been chatting about it … several times, but as of yet, she’s been unwilling to set a time to let me come talk with her. I remain optimistic.

Anyway, four interviews done, two to go and chapter deadline is mid-April. I like seesawing back and forth between the older and younger survey respondents, because of the fascinating diversity in their life stories. The teenagers I spoke with can’t even visualize coming into their sexually active years in the type of society women in their 80s and 90s experienced. Two of the teens had double-digit partners, one had seven, another eight. In the two oldest decades, it’s a rare woman who counts more than one lover in her entire life. And I found the teens to be talking and, yes, gossiping about sex openly with friends of both sexes, even as the older generation struggles with some of the more direct questions on our survey.

Which is not to say older women don’t have fabulous sex lives. Au contraire. Most of the teens I interviewed would be jealous of an 82-year-old I met this week. Though her husband’s prostate cancer has curtailed their lovemaking the past two years, prior to that, the couple was quite active — as in every day.

“So … even in, say, your 60s?”, I ventured to ask, ever the skeptical reporter. “Well, probably only four times a week then,” she conceded — and “always on Saturdays and Sundays!”

That’s some serious enthusiasm. Count me impressed, especially as the details of their routine were revealed. (You’ll have to buy the book!) Needless to say, our interview ran overtime, and I was an hour late dropping my car off to get a new radiator. Real life always finds a way to intrude, doesn’t it?

Speaking of real life, my springtime Florida existence is getting close-up inspections from two of my favorite Texans. One visitor just left and next up is Mom, arriving a week from tomorrow. Which means I need to continue being efficient in order to warrant a bit of time off with my company.

Of course, if I know Mom, she’ll be encouraging me to write, write write — even while she’s here.

If only I had the work ethic she dreams of for me. This book would be a wrap!

90s – done!

February 10, 2011

My book plan for 2011, which I shared here recently, is to write one chapter a month, each one highlighting a decade in the life of women and exploring what influences they most commonly cite as affecting their sexual desire during that period.

Uh oh. Long sentence. I promise not to write such long sentences in the book.

Anyway … I’m happy to say I’m on track.

Well, sort of. Kind of.

I know, I know. You’re thinking I’m lame … but it’s the teenagers’ fault, I swear!

Allow me to explain. After two fascinating teen interviews last month, none of the other young ladies would return calls or texts so that I could schedule face-to-face meetings or even phoners. So I revisited the surveys and pulled out additional candidates, solicited my doctor partner for their phone numbers and then diligently tried contacting the new ones. Also to no avail.

With the month ticking away, and my self-imposed deadline approaching, I made a command decision to switch over to my 90-year-old respondents and see if that went faster.

Voila! You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that women of this advanced age group — if not actually awaiting your phone call — are at least willing to have cordial conversations, and in a couple of cases, were bold enough to allow me to come meet them for in-person chats about their lifetime of desire. (Uh oh. Is that another overly long sentence? I feel sure it is.)

In fairly short order I was able to get an excellent sampling of our most senior ladies. I found that talking to the oldest and youngest survey respondents so close together was as enlightening as I’d hoped. I spoke with six 90something women (of 11 who took our survey) who described a sexual climate that seems light years removed from the one the teens I spoke with inhabit. Most of the senior ladies never received a sex talk from their parents, accepted a marriage proposal from a man they were not intimate with and were virgins on their wedding night.

Their talks with me for the book usually constituted the most detailed sexual conversation they’d had in their life. I was respectful of this and very careful in my language with the ladies, who were paying me the compliment of being vulnerable and candid about a subject their lives didn’t prepare them to share easily. I came away with great admiration for them, along with heartfelt gratitude.

I spent four days last week writing furiously, and as a result had the chapter 90 percent finished by Sunday’s work session with Dr. Mo. I had several NEED DOCTOR’S COMMENTS HERE notations, which we talked through as I took notes. The very next day I incorporated all her comments into the text, which means the chapter is virtually complete. I intentionally left it a bit vague at the very end, so that more definite conclusions can be drawn as the book unfolds.

And now I’m back to the teens. On Sunday, we pulled out yet another batch of young candidates and Dr. Mo dug up their phone numbers (which are not attached to the survey to protect patients’ anonymity). I’ve already done a phoner with one gal from Gainesville and have a face-to-face with another scheduled Saturday morning. They have busy lives, I get it. And I need them worse than they need me, so I must wrestle their slippery schedules and vow to be victorious!

How does this all make me feel? In a word — energized. And I’m happy at how well I seem to be responding to my own deadline. Who knew I’d listen to me?

Of course, this is only Month 2. Sometimes I look way ahead, to all the chapters undone, and all the pieces that have to be pulled together somehow. When I do that, when I take the long view, I feel scared and overwhelmed. So I just pull back, and think about the one chapter, the one next call, the one next interview.

And that — I can do.

(Please note: I did not end with a long sentence!)

One decade a month

January 17, 2011

If I’ve talked to you recently about my book, you understand this post’s title. If not, here’s the quick version.

Every month this year, my goal is to write a chapter about one of the decades in women’s lives and what affects her sexual desire during that time period. It shifts with every decade, to no one’s surprise, and we want to chronicle the major influences (love, feelings of security, stress, children, exhaustion, physical impediments, etc.) and track them throughout a woman’s lifetime. The survey provides statistics and trends, but the interviews will give the book its stories, its characters, its life.

I started with the teens: Our youngest survey respondent was 15, but we began collecting surveys a year and a half ago, so all the women are older now that interviews are actually occurring. I chose the teens because only 27 filled out our survey — it’s a small number and I can get it done in this short month. (Short because I didn’t get home from Texas till the 4th and then didn’t get my routine put back together for a week after that.)

When I told an astute journalist friend I planned to work my way on up through the decades, he wryly commented that I needed to interview the 90-year-olds next. Point taken. February shall be the month for the oldest of my ladies. And won’t that be an interesting juxtaposition for my overtaxed little brain, struggling as it is already with surprise from the teens’ revelations? In fact, I’ve decided to interview additional teenagers in order to determine if the few I’ve met are typical or atypical. (No, I am not going to spill everything right here. You shall be required to BUY THE BOOK.)

Meanwhile, I struggle with questions of whether to renew my search for an agent or just keep plugging away at the actual book. I fully realize that an agent is crucial, that it’s a seminal relationship for a writer. I know it will take trial and error to find a good one. So I shy away from that work because I’m trying to really plug into getting chapters completed — lock, stock and barrel. Why can’t I be better at multi-tasking? It doesn’t seem like making both things happen would be impossible if I’d just apply myself.

The other thing looming for me is to do more than a cursory search for women’s conferences in this part of the country and then make myself available to the people who book them to talk at said conferences. A well-connected, book-world friend told me recently that publishers love writers who’ve already spoken publicly about their work.

Well, it’s easy and fun for me to talk about this book, so I figure I’ll make some inroads in that direction this month as well. If women at conferences react like my Mom’s book club did over the holidays, I’ve got it made. I sat down to share with the ladies some of the findings from the survey and within three minutes, the 65-year-old woman on my left exclaimed, “This is WAY more interesting than book club!”

Ma’am, you have no idea.