Q. S.E.C.R.E.T. was your first erotic novel. Was there anything that surprised you about the process, during the writing/editing stage or after publication?
A. What most surprised me about writing erotica was how much sex tells you about your characters. What they like, what they don’t like, how far they’re willing to go, it all informs their actions and propels the plot. My other novels dealt with the repercussions of sex, but not so much on the actual act. My early books weren’t prim; they just weren’t explicit. But one of the strangest parts of writing erotica is breaking down the sex scenes with my editor to make sure they make sense, uh, choreographically. The editing process has yielded some of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had, as we read parts back to each other cleaning up sentences and improving them.
Q. S.E.C.R.E.T. was an international sensation, published in more than 30 territories. Did knowing that readers around the world would be enjoying the story in different languages and countries affect how you wrote SECRET Shared?
A. I’ve said this before, but I’m forever grateful that I had NO idea how popular the book would become, or how widely it would be published when I began writing S.E.C.R.E.T. I might have choked. I had only completed a half dozen chapters when it was sold, so I completed it in a tense haze, under an incredible deadline. Book two, SECRET Shared, was written directly after that, with the knowledge that it would be widely published, But by then my characters were fully formed and they knew what they wanted to do and where they needed to go. I just had to follow behind them and guide them. So the pressure was less intense.
Q. SECRET Shared focuses on two characters, Cassie, who we know from S.E.C.R.E.T., and a new character, Dauphine. Can you tell us a bit about the experience of writing two characters throughout one novel?
A. That was not really planned until I began the writing process. It seemed to me that Cassie’s trip through the steps couldn’t continue. And S.E.C.R.E.T. has a mandate to “pass it on”. Naturally I needed to find a new candidate equally compelling and equally vexed by her sex life, but in a different way than Cassie. She couldn’t also be locked in sexually and reluctant. In fact, Dauphine’s far more experienced than Cassie; she’s just shoved sex on the back burner of her life. And so many people do it. Sex becomes a muscle we no longer flex. The trick with Dauphine is finding her Southern-ness, the parts that no longer work and the parts that served her well. The voice came from that. Switching voices between chapters took some getting used to. I would find myself putting Cassie’s words in Dauphine’s mouth. There’s also a character, Mark Drury, who both women “know.” I had to see him through two different eyes, by two women who felt differently about him. Once the characters became fully formed that was just a natural expression of who they were. But it was challenging, writing from two different perspectives. And fun!
Q. Cassie is such a strong, multi-dimensional character and you’ve captured those qualities again in Dauphine, though she has a completely different personality. Where do you draw the inspiration for your female protagonists?
A. While my characters are very much their own people, I tend to pull parts of them from parts of me. I think most writers do. That’s where writing becomes a lot like acting. Though an actor isn’t really the person they’re playing, in order to pull it off, you do have to pull from the source, your own psyche. But once that character’s fully formed, I back off and see what they want and what they need, madly following behind them. As a writer, you tend to know intuitively what your characters will and will not do. A great editor also helps. It’s like introducing a new friend to an old and trusted one, at least that’s the relationship I have with my editor. I also add elements of my friends to my characters. Sometimes it’s hair color or a particular issue, like self-consciousness, or sarcasm. When I can hear my friend’s voice resonate in that character, I know I’ve struck a chord. (And yes, I’ll tell my friend that I’ve “borrowed” something from them and given it to my character. They’re usually flattered, thrilled, even).
Q. Do you see parts of yourself in the women of S.E.C.R.E.T? Is there a character you particularly identify with?
A. I think a writer’s DNA is in a little bit of each of their characters. I think I share Cassie’s reticence, Will’s simplicity, Tracina’s survivor mentality, and some of Matilda’s hard-earned wisdom (I like to think!) My new character Dauphine is a bit of a workaholic, and that’s something I definitely share with her. I can really lose myself in my work, which I’m lucky to find so edifying. But still, work is no substitute for intimacy, as Dauphine happily discovers.
Q. If you could place a “wanted” ad seeking male candidates for S.E.C.R.E.T., what would it say?
A. Ha. Maybe something like: Do you know how to make a woman feel desired? Is giving pleasure one of your greatest turn-ons? Ever wanted to make someone’s sexual fantasy a reality? An organization dedicated to female pleasure is looking for a few good men (and perhaps a couple of women!) Open to all races and ages, but must be fit, sexy, smart, and personable. Funny, charming, talented, and daring are bonuses. Prefer those who are unattached, or in an open relationship. We provide no-strings encounters with attractive women needing a sexual boost, the only requirement being a desire to please. You’ll be paired with those whose pleasures match your own abilities and proclivities. There is no pay, but all expenses are paid for in each encounter, which may involve exotic travel and incredible adventure. Fully bonded and insured. (Just thought of this!) Must be prepared to submit to tests, both physical and psychological. Discretion is an imperative, anonymity a policy. Non-professionals only.
Q. In addition to Cassie, readers will recognize many other characters in SECRET Shared from S.E.C.R.E.T. Did you always know you wanted to bring them back? Or were there some characters you found you just couldn’t say goodbye to?
A. As the first book was completed, S.E.C.R.E.T. the novel, became S.E.C.R.E.T. the series. So yes, that meant some characters would stay, newer ones would be introduced, and some characters will go, their journeys now complete. That said, I just couldn’t resist seeing what Jesse was all about. Bringing him back for SECRET Shared allowed a peek into who these men were and what was in S.E.C.R.E.T. for them. And while recurring characters allow me to rip back the curtain even further on how S.E.C.R.E.T. operates, new ones add new elements to this mysterious group. It’s really quite exciting for me too.
Q. What made you choose Argentina as a locale for SECRET Shared?
A. I lived in Buenos Aires in the late ‘90s, working on a human rights fellowship, studying the “disaparacedos” and how that loss affects their families decades later. I have remained haunted by that city, its beauty and strange sadness, attributes it shares with New Orleans, a city I also first visited in the ‘90s. So I don’t know. I can’t really write about places I’ve never been and don’t know much about. Argentina is an incredibly evocative place, and I guess I feel that the “happenings” in S.E.C.R.E.T. are so fantastical they need these magnificent backdrops to contain them. Great sex can happen anywhere, but there’s nothing like a dark tango club in the heart of La Boca district to get you in the mood. (There. That’s your sneak peak…)
Q. In SECRET Shared, Cassie and Dauphine push their boundaries—both sexually and emotionally. Did you find yourself pushing your boundaries as an author?
A. Yes. Being a writer of erotica wasn’t in my long-term career plan and I never imagined S.E.C.R.E.T. would grow around the world, let alone evolve into an “anxiously anticipated” series. But yes, in order to do this book, and this genre, justice, I’ve had to write well out of my usual “comfort zone,” which ended up happening quite naturally as the characters became more real to me. For instance, as Cassie’s sexual appetites evolve, she becomes more confident, more adept. That meant I had to up my game, erotically speaking. So the sexual stakes get higher in SECRET Shared and I think I’m having more fun with the material. I hope that shows on the pages!
Q. Your writing has been described as having a theme of female empowerment. How do you feel about that description?
A. I didn’t set out to write erotica with a female empowerment “theme”. I just wrote what I believed about sex and women. And I believe that setting yourself free of sexual constraints can be incredibly empowering, when you do it on your terms. I started with this premise: what would happen if someone who is sexually repressed is offered the opportunity to change that? What would she do with that gift? That this became not just a plot point but a political message is fine by me. Everyone benefits when repression of any kind is thrown off. If my books carry the mantle of “empowerment”, that’s just great—because I think I’ve demonstrated that empowering people, not just women, is sexy.
Q. What would you say to a reader who has never read an erotic novel?
A. I imagine we’re talking about someone who not only hasn’t read erotica, but has resisted reading “genres.” I would say to them that whether it’s an erotic novel, fantasy, sci-fi, or whatever, a good novel is a good novel. Don’t get tripped up by the label or category. I can’t believe, for instance, that I resisted George R. R. Martin’s series for so long because I had a prejudice against “fantasy” books. I never read books with dragons and kings and had no interest, until a particularly persuasive friend suggested I give them a try. I lost months in those books. I just got swept away. For me, a good book is about the plot and character development. I no longer turn down a potentially great book because of the so-called genre into which it gets slotted.