Friday, March 25, 2005


1. Why did you write this book? A close friend loaned me a diary she’d written years ago about a traumatic affair with a handsome foreign student. The story seemed both timeless and timely, since it takes place at the dawn of the Women’s Movement and at the height of the Sexual Revolution. The story was both timeless and timely. Her experiences spoke to me. partly because we’re still struggling with many of the same questions.

2. Such as? Well, sexual fidelity vs. sexual freedom for one. Despite all the talk about the New Morality, "hooking up" and casual sex, relationships are still an emotional minefield, and after all is said and done, most of us want to be happy in a relationship. Questions raised by her story are still important today: for example, is it possible to be in love with more than one person at the same time? And the role of women in our culture is still evolving. Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard of all places, is advancing a theory that women are genetically unsuited to do well in math and science.

3. Is it a novel of ideas? Not particularly, just a good story that happens to be about smart, passionate people who believe they can change the world with their ideas and passion. It’s a novel of experience, loss and growth. With some good sex scenes.

4. Did you write the original journal? No.

5. But you claim the story is true? It has been faithfully adapted from the journal my friend loaned me. I fleshed out the details to make it more readable. Remember, the original was never intended to be read by anyone but its author, much less published in book form. This was in the days before blogging!

6. Is the novel autobiographical? Definitely not! I believe the phrase in movies and on TV is “based on a true story.”

7. If the journal’s author doesn’t want her identity revealed, why did she allow it to be made into a novel? She has led a happy and successful life since then, but feels there are countless people who struggle to find themselves, and others who will remember passing through that stage. I convinced her that it’s a really good story, too, a "Love Story" for today's world, with none of that movie's simpering, sugary nonsense about two-dimensional, perfect people never saying they're sorry. Love's more complex than that, and to say otherwise is to cheat those who are looking for answers in books.

9. Is the novel “chick lit”? Not really. Cassie is a beautiful innocent who finds herself in an erotic funhouse without a map. Men will enjoy watching her navigate the shoals of the Sexual Revolution. In the course of a few chapters, she moves from wife to active explorer in all the sexual possibilities. There’s also a bit of voyeur in each of us. And did I mention the hot sex scenes?

10. Why is the story set at Yale and in 1975? It’s not just when and where the journal was written, but reflects the passionate ideas of the time and place, along with the social and sexual upheaval of the era. The 1970s are now officially “cool,” with VH-1 style nostalgia and a longing for what seems like a pre-AIDS paradise of supercharged eroticism. Remember that sex with a condom was referred to disparagingly then as “showering with a raincoat.” No one thought about disease. It was excessively naive, but that's how people thought.

11. Aren't the 70s ancient history to today's readers? Do you really think that someone as remarkable as Cassie won't find fans today? There’s a bit of her in every woman I’ve ever met, and some even wish they were more like her: impulsive, headstrong, vibrant and alive. If Cassie were going through her ordeal today, she’d be writing a blog. Her story could happen in any age.

12. Who is the audience for this book? Primarily women, but then women buy most fiction. Young people will be intrigued by the AIDS-free eroticism. Older women will identify with Cassie’s struggle as they recall their own march to independence. Men will be intrigued by the erotic elements of the plot. There’s even a world of blogs devoted to those on the fringes of academe (see the “The Invisible Adjunct” in the “links” section).

13. But aren’t people eager to forget the Women’s Movement and the Sexual Revolution? Cassie never refers to herself as a feminist because she doesn’t know she is one. Remember, women still earn less than men, and the furor over the president of Harvard's outrageous suggestions proves Cassie’s struggles are still very much with us.

14. Why is the writing, especially at the beginning of the book, sometimes so shallow and superficial? The narrator is 24 years-old, give her a break! Spare me the sage MFA-generated narrator who is impossibly wise. As the story develops, she grows in depth and perceptiveness (isn’t that the point of a novel?). Cassie is stumbling along, discovering herself in spite of her problems (or perhaps because of them?). The reader will root for an underdog, especially one who's pretty and really very decent at heart. Readers love to peek behind the scenes of someone else’s life.

15. What about the discussions of literary theory in the book? Actually, that takes up part of one chapter and leads to the novel’s first sex scene (even if it is a dream). You can’t have a movie about Mozart unless you show him composing; equally you can’t have a novel about bright young people who think they can change the world with their ideas (and whose passions are fueled by their head trips) unless you show those passions, too. Kids are learning about Deconstruction in high school English classes now, this was the era when Deconstruction was brand-new, controversial and therefore highly-seductive.

16. Are real persons named in the book? With the exception of public figures active during the time period when the story takes place, any similarities to persons living or dead are purely coincidental.