Reading aloud from Phyllida
January 1, 1970
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 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.