Jackie Collins rules as the master storyteller of sex, celebrities and scandals (The Examiner)
Sitting down for a conversation with best-selling author Jackie Collins is a lot like being caught up in one of her highly entertaining novels. She’s sassy and hilarious when she tells stories about her life and what she’s seen among the rich and famous, who are often plagued by scandals that they bring upon themselves. Collins keeps it real when she talks about sex, celebrities and relationships — she’s like the neighbor who knows what everyone else is doing, and once you start chatting with her, time really flies. It’s no wonder that’s millions of people have responded so well to her books and her memorable characters.
I recently caught up with the fabulous Collins at Bar Seine in New York City’s Hotel Plaza Athenee, where we chatted for an hour — and no topic was off-limits. Collins was in town to promote her novel “Poor Little Bitch Girl,” which revolves around three women in their mid-20s who all knew each other in high school: Denver Jones, a hotshot Los Angeles attorney; Carolyn Henderson, a Washington, D.C.-based senator’s assistant who’s having a secret affair with her married boss; and Annabelle Maestro, the estranged daughter of two movie stars, who is operating a high-priced escort service in New York City with her cocaine-addicted boyfriend, Frankie Romano. All three women’s paths cross again after Annabelle’s mother is shot to death and there is an investigation to find the killer. Collins’ most famous character, Lucky Santangelo, makes a cameo in “Poor Little Bitch Girl,” and Lucky’s son Bobby (a nightclub entrepreneur) plays an important role in the book.
During our interview, Collins talked openly about everything from what she thinks of real-life celebrity scandals; bad behavior she’s witnessed behind the scenes; what she has planned for her next novel “Goddess of Vengeance”; who’s the most outrageous celebrity she’s ever met; and what keeps her inspired after all these years as a famous writer. And in this computer age, did you know that Collins literally hand writes her books? (Although she’s not computer illiterate — she uses Facebook and Twitter.) Or how about that time she was terrorized at gunpoint by a masked man with an Uzi? Read on to find out more.
How did you come up with the idea for “Poor Little Bitch Girl”?
I was writing a TV series called “Poor Little Rich Girl,” about the Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton kind of girls, and it got rejected at every TV station that I took it to, because they’re idiots. And I thought, “You know, I like the title.” And then I got the idea of Annabelle, and I thought, “Yeah, well, ‘Poor Little Bitch Girl.’ Why not?”
But it’s getting a little controversy, the title. I did 20 radio shows this morning, and some of them didn’t want to use the title. And they were like, “Oh, we can’t really say it. Our audience might not like it.” This early in the morning? I was like [she says in a skeptical voice], “OK. Yeah.” But it’s a good title.
I love the cover of the book. I had to fight for the cover. One of the bookstore chains — I won’t name which one — said they didn’t like the cover [because they thought] it was too provocative. They said, “What is that on her finger?” I said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s caviar.” And they went, “Oh.” And I had to fight for it. They kept on coming up with other ideas and they’d send them to me and say, “Isn’t this great?” I’d go, “No.” I just like that it’s just in your face. I like a cover that’s in your face. So that’s how that came about.
Annabelle Maestro in “Poor Little Bitch Girl” is quite a character. Did you base her on any real-life daughters of movie stars?
Absolutely. There are several daughters of Hollywood stars who’ve I’ve known for many years who are so entitled and privileged. And Annabelle was kind of like that, but then she got away [from her parents]. But the other thing I was thinking with Annabelle was, “What is the new accessory in Hollywood?” Babies. And what happens when the baby becomes older, and then all of sudden, you have a grown child, and their egos are so big that you don’t want to have a grown child who’s no longer good for photo opportunities?
And so [Annabelle’s parents] pushed her away as soon as she reached puberty. [Annabelle’s father] took her to the Lakers’ games and they sat courtside. And you see that all the time [in real life]. How often do you see them with their grown kids? Think about it. Unless they have the new wife with the new kid and new family. The old family is pushed completely into the background. So I thought, “Annabelle and those girls are pushed completely into the background.”
And I thought, “What would she be doing? She’d be lying in bed with Frankie Romano,” who I loved writing. He was so much fun. She’d be reading the paper. And what would she be reading about? Eliot Spitzer. And what would she be thinking: “What an idiot, to go out of town to have this assignation with a call girl, when he could be doing it here. I could be running these call girls, and Frankie knows all the girls in town.”
And there’s a lot of famous women in Hollywood, actually — when I say famous, it’s kind of like vaguely famous — but, you know, if you offer them $10,000 cash [to have sex for money], they’re going to do it …
And the moral of the story is: “Always pay cash!”
You would’ve thought Eliot Spitzer would’ve realized that. And then with [“The Poor Little Bitch Girl” character] Carolyn, it’s very timely now with Mr. [John] Edwards and [Mark] Sanford. I mean, these guys are completely ridiculous! What is wrong with them? Do they really think they’re not going to get caught?
I had drinks with someone from the [Bill] Clinton administration, before [Clinton] was president. And I’ll always remember it, because I said, “Is he going to be president?” And the guy said, “Absolutely! But we’ve got one problem.” And I said, “What problem is that?” And he said, “A zipper problem.” And how true was that?
But that guy [Clinton] was charismatic. He would come to Hollywood and make quite an impression on quite a few of the Hollywood women, Hollywood wives, married to guys 20 years older than them, if you get my drift. But you, know, I never get sick of it all, and I think that’s why people have enjoyed my books for so long: because I chronicle the real truth, not the front page of a tabloid.
What part of the world still excites you the most as a writer?
It’s still Hollywood. I went to a pre-Grammy party, and it was like a wonderland of stars, but they were all looking at other stars. It was very fascinating. I love Hollywood. I’ve been there since I was a teenager, and I find it a fascinating place. And I guess Las Vegas is another place I’ve found incredibly attractive, because it is true: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” When people get there, they think nobody’s going to find out what they do. It’s like fantasy land.
People tell me everything. The last time I was in New York, I had a driver, and he was saying, “Oh, I was driving …” I can’t tell you names. If I told you names, I’d have to kill you. He said, “I was driving so-and-so last week.” And this was a very happily married guy with a family — a movie star. And I said, “Yeah?” And he said, “He did not get back to the hotel until five in the morning, every single night.” He said he was here for two nights. He [the driver] said, “I was exhausted at the end of it.” People tell me things. You’d think they’d say, “Oh, we’re not going to tell her. She might write about it.” But they don’t do that.
If I wrote about Tiger Woods [before his scandal], who would believe it? I would be laughed off the page. I mean, he’s “Mr. Clean-Cut” who’s been with how many women? It goes up every day. They’re still crawling out of the woodwork. And his taste level, you know, unless they worked in a bar, it didn’t seem he was that interested. She’s beautiful, his wife. What is that men say? “No matter how beautiful the wife is, there’s always somebody else they want to screw.”
There was a very famous movie star who said, “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?” And in Hollywood, he was known for going out for a lot of hamburgers.
How often do you read websites and blogs that specialize in celebrity gossip? How believable do you think they are and do they have any influence in what you write about in your books?
I read some of it. I kind of watch TV programs more. I do a lot of things on the Internet. I’m very into iTunes. I’m very into iPhoto, my favorite. I like to do a lot of research. I write my books in longhand. But I find when I go on the gossip sites, suddenly, three hours have gone by. No food and no water. Oh my God! I love them and I’m fascinated by them but I can’t be addicted to them, because I’m already addicted to television. I am a total TV addict.
What are some of your favorite TV shows?
“Dexter.” “Dexter” is so brilliant.
I’m so happy that Michael C. Hall finally won a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Award for his role in “Dexter.”
So am I! He just deserved it. He’s so fantastic. And I love “Rescue Me.” Great show. There are so many good ones. “Modern Family.” “Brothers and Sisters.” “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Great show. “Two and a Half Men” is so funny. [Charlie Sheen] is still so funny. He’s still so good. And I don’t think his personal life affects the show whatsoever. Ratings just go up.
Just like with Neil Patrick Harris. When he came out of the closet as a gay man, it didn’t affect his career.
I love him! But I hated him as Doogie Howser. I love him now! He’s so fantastic on “How I Met Your Mother.” I’m dying to know who the mother is. I want it to be the Canadian, but it’s not going to be.
You mentioned earlier that you write your books by longhand …
I know. Archaic, isn’t it? [She laughs.] But 27 novels later, I can’t change the way I do it. I have lovely handwriting, and at the end of [writing] a book, I have it leather-bound. It’s usually three leather-bound volumes of each book.
And what you see is what you get. I’m very rarely edited. In fact, I make them nervous. As soon as I change publishers, I go, “Well, I’m not fond of being edited, because I edit myself very stringently as I go along.” And if I fail, I’d rather fail on my mistakes, rather than somebody else’s. I’ve had editors come up with outrageous ideas, and I go, “Yeah, that’s great. Terrific. Use it on somebody else.” So basically, one of the reasons I’ve been lucky enough to be so successful is because I’ve done it my way, like the Frank Sinatra song.
I had written a book called “Hollywood Husbands,” and he had a biography out at the time by Kitty Kelley, which he hated. So he sent me a letter saying, “Jackie, I just want you to know that you are writing the truth and Kitty Kelley is writing fiction.”
Where do you keep your leather-bound, hand-written books?
In my library downstairs. They’re on specials shelves. I love them, because that’s all my life’s work in these books. I can’t change the way I do that — and I don’t want to. And also, I can write anywhere. I don’t have to depend on a computer and a battery. That sounds rude, doesn’t it?
Are there any more of your books that you’d like to see turned into a movie or miniseries?
Right now, they’re shooting one of my movies in Paris. It’s called “Paris Connections.” If you go to Parisconnectionsmovie.com, you can read all about. Did you watch the “The Unit”? There was a great gal on it called Nicole Steinwedell, and she’s playing Madison, who’s a character I’ve written about in three books.
So it’s going to be the character of Madison, and [the “Paris Connections”] movie will be out on DVD. It’s being financed by a huge [conglomerate] chain in London. And Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife, is in it. She plays Olivia, the evil assistant … Caroline Chikezie, from “Footballers’ Wives,” is in it. She plays Natalie … the best friend of Madison …
Are you involved in the casting?
Oh yeah! It’s so much fun. I said to them, because we’re going to do a series of them, “We have to shoot the next one in L.A.”
Do you work closely with the screenwriter?
I have them a 16-page outline, but when we did “Lucky Chances” and Lady Boss,” I wrote all the screenplays. That’s 10 hours of prime time for NBC. That was fun. In the future, I’m going to write my own screenplays, because I think it’s better. Nobody is rewriting you.
Speaking of writing, did it take you longer or shorter than usual to write “Poor Little Bitch Girl”? There are lot of current pop-culture references, such as one of the characters has Beyoncé’s song “If I Were a Boy” as her phone ringtone. You can tell the book wasn’t written several years ago.
It’s interesting. Publishers would like to get a book a year before they publish it. I always like to keep them on their toes. In England, they gor it six weeks before they published it. And I think it’s good, because that way, you can have popular references and nobody is going to say, “This is out of date already.”
Also, I have a way of capturing things before they happen. Like a couple of books ago, I mentioned Alicia Keys before she hit. And everybody said to me, “How did you get Alicia Keys in there?” I said, “Well, I saw her at a Clive Davis party, and she performed and I said, ‘She going to be huge,’ and I threw her in.”
Even in this book [“Poor Little Bitch Girl”], when I mentioned Robert Pattinson, my editor said to me, “Who’s Robert Pattinson?” And in a previous book, I mentioned Megan Fox, one of the editors said to me, “Who’s Megan Fox,?” And I said, “Just go with it. You’ll be very happy. Don’t worry about whether you know who they are or not.” But I’m a popular culture junkie. I love movies and television.
What have been some of your favorite recent movies?
“The Hurt Locker.” [Kathryn Bigelow] is such a great director. And she’s so beautiful, so fantastic-looking, and I hope she wins [the Academy Award]. And I loved “Up in the Air,” George Clooney. I actually interviewed George Clooney.
I just relaunched my website. I did a series of interviews for English television, where I interviewed Al Pacino, Shirley MacLaine, Sylvester Stallone and Michael Vartan. It was fun.
Who was the most fun to interview?
I would say Al. He’s my neighbor in Beverly Hills. He doesn’t like to be interviewed, so I had to pester him. He had very powerful PR. He kept on changing the times on me and stuff, but finally! “I’m never going to lend you a cup of sugar again!” So finally he arrived with this very powerful PR, and it was 6 o’clock at night. It was dark out and we did [the interview] by the pool. And we had candles everywhere, and we got to the end of the interview and I said, “You’re free [to go].” And he said, “No, no, let’s do a little bit more. I really enjoyed this.” And the PR was sitting there going, “Oh, really.”
How do you feel about interacting with fans on the Internet?
I’m on Twitter, under JackieJCollins, because somebody took my name. And Facebook. I love this thing where you can talk to people, your fans, readers instantly. Like I’ll say, “I’m just packing for New York,” and somebody will say, “You know, it’s freezing there.” I only had to get rid of one person: this old English queen, who kept writing me the most horrific things … So I just banished him!
Which of your characters do you identify with the most?
Lucky Santangelo. I love Lucky. She’s so strong. And women love her. And I think she’s a character who’s like a James Bond for women. Women, they write to me all the time: “I was breaking up with my boyfriend, and normally I would like be on the bed and kick and scream, but I was thinking Lucky, so I went out and kicked some ass!”
Talking of which, I was held up about 10 years ago with an Uzi in my face. It was some guy in a ski mask going, “Don’t move, bitch, or I’ll blow your f*cking head off!” And at the time I was writing “Lucky,” and I thought, “This dialogue is so corny that if I wrote this …” But I was in Lucky mode, and I was in the car with two other people. I was in the driveway. I don’t know how I did it. [The gun] was two inches from my nose. I managed to just back up and go off.
And of course, once I realized what had happened, I was shaking. Everybody said to me, “Don’t you realize how quick that trigger could’ve been? He could’ve sprayed the whole lot of you!” But you know, there was so much hate in his voice that I thought, “I’m not hanging around for this.” You never know what can happen in life. I was coming from a party at 11 o’clock at night, in the heart of Beverly Hills, and there you are with a gun in your face.
You’ve no doubt been to a lot of fabulous parties in your lifetime. Can you talk about any standout memories from any of those parties?
Seeing Kenny Rogers perform for a private party for like 50 people. That was somewhat bizarre. And I’ve been to parties where they’ve had gambling set up and you can actually gamble. They do great charity in Beverly Hills, so they give the money to charity.
I remember when I first came to Hollywood, going to a party that the Mamas and the Papas had. And everybody was stoned out of their heads. And when I first came to Hollywood when I was a teenager, they used to have cocaine in silver dishes and the maid would go around with the cocaine.
And there was a famous Hollywood story — I never experienced this one myself — but there was this guy who was extremely well-hung, and they called him Freddy, for some unknown reason. And he would go around to people he didn’t know, and he would have a tray, and under the tray would be Freddy — or “Little Freddy” or I should say “Big Freddy.” He’d surprise people …
I wrote this book called “Rock Star” and I talked to a lot of rock stars. My husband used to own a discotheque, and I remember one night, we had a private cinema in the discotheque, and Prince was in the private room with an underage girl and somebody walked in on them. With a lot of the male celebrities, girls would just follow them into the men’s rooms and unspeakable things would happen — which I would later write about! [She laughs.]
And then there was a famous Hollywood hostess, and she was married to this guy and she was having an affair with this other guy. And the husband decided he wanted to buy her a very expensive ring, so he went to the jeweler and bought her a beautiful ring. And she went back to the jeweler’s the next day and she said, “Look, I want this ring duplicated. My ‘friend’ is going to buy the same ring. You will give me 90 percent of the money. Keep 10 percent for yourself. You’ve already sold the other ring. So then I can wear the ring for my husband and my lover and they both can think they bought it for me.” So she got the ring and the money, and she wore the ring with both of them, no questions asked.
Who’s the most outrageous celebrity you’ve ever met?
Andy Dick. [She sticks out her tongue.] I was just about to go on the Craig Ferguson show, and I can’t remember what it was [Andy Dick] said to me, but he totally insulted me. I walked past him like, “You’re insulting me?”
Andy Dick recently got arrested again for sexual assault.
It’s sad, really. There’s a lot of drugs going on in Hollywood. The young stars, they have stardom so young, and it’s like they’re surround by people who are “yes men” and will do anything they want. “You want to try some cocaine? Sure, go ahead! You want heroin? There you go! You want pharmaceutical drugs? We can get you whatever you want!” And the clubs are rife with these people.
So when you watch shows like “TMZ,” where they show the girls stumbling out of the clubs — not the famous girls — the girls who are available to an guy who wants them, it’s kind of sad. It’s a sad commentary, because I really love strong women and I try to make women have more self-respect. And those kinds of women who behave like that and dress like that and will sleep with any guy …
I’m a television addict and I love reality television, too. “The Real Housewives,” oh my God! But when you see some of those other shows with some failed celebrity rock star and these girls saying, “I love you so much! I’ll do anything!” And they give him an immediate bl*wjob, you’re like, “For God’s sake! Have some self-respect!” Those shows I don’t like.
Are you into fashion? Do you have any favorite fashion designers?
If I was into clothes and getting designers, I would not have the time to write. I find it’s impossible to do everything. I prefer to write. I like Dolce & Gabbana. And I like Valentino. And that’s it. I’ll only get my one expensive outfit a year … I have my own particular style because it saves me time.
There was a movie star called Katharine Hepburn, and I remember reading an article about her once. She said, “Darling, I get up in the morning, and I have 10 pairs of black pants and 10 pairs of black tops, so I never have to worry about what I’m going to wear.” I change my jacket and jewelry and stuff, but black pants and a black top take you anywhere. And then you don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying. And black boots, of course. A pair of black leather boots.
Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Do you have any Valentine’s Day advice?
I just have one thing to say: The pleasure you give is the pleasure you get back. And that really applies to everything in life, especially sexually.
You talked about liking strong women. Do you think a woman should ask a man out on a date?
It’s an interesting question. Guys are strange creatures, and they’re really old-fashioned, as much as they claim they’re not. And they kind of feel like, “Oh, she’s chasing me. She’s stalking me.” It’s a fine line.
Lucky Santangelo, in the beginning of her career in my book, would say to Lenny, who she’s married to still, when she first saw him, he was a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas in a hotel. And she kind of looked at him and said, “I’ll have a one-night stand with him.” So she summons him up to a suite and he’s kind of puzzled and she says, “OK, let’s get to it.” And he goes, “No! No way!” And she does, “What are you talking about?” And he backs out. And that’s the only reason she’s interested in him. She’s sort of like the man.
It’s sort of the reverse psychology. And she would always say to guys when she was going out with them, “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” I think a woman can say that to a man easily. You’ve gone on a date with a guy you really like, and you don’t want him to say, “I’ll call you,” because you might be sitting be a cold phone. So when you say, “I’m really busy. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” And then you let him wait three or four days. And then you call him. They love that!
What do you have planned next for the Lucky Santangelo character?
She’s coming back in the next book, “Goddess of Vengeance,” and this time she’s going up against a prince in the Middle East. And we all know how Middle Eastern men treat women, so it’s going to be a battle. She’s going to get into the way they’re treated, the Taliban, all of that.
What kind of research are you doing for that?
That will take a lot of research on the computer. When I did “Married Lovers,” I researched everything on the computer. When I wrote “Lovers and Gamblers” a few years ago, I had to research everything in encyclopedias. I love the computer! You can just Google anything and find out whatever you want to know.
I know a lot of Middle Eastern men. In fact, I went to a party the other night, and they’re all a little overweight. And they’ve got these bellydancers dancing around. It’s so archaic, the way they treat women. And they’re so into hookers! And the wives are sitting there, covered in jewels. The guys are so into hookers. And I thought, “Yeah, I really want to expose some of these guys.”
Do you plan any sequels in advance? Do you think any of the main characters in “Poor Little Bitch Girl” will be in any of your future books?
I never plan my books when I’m writing. The characters just come to me, but I’m thinking, this book “Goddess of Vengeance” will be about Lucky and the Middle Eastern guy, but at the same time, Bobby Santangelo Stanislopolous [Lucky’s son] will be opening his club in the Keys [a luxury Las Vegas hotel/casino owned by Lucky Santangelo]. This [Middle Eastern] guy wants to buy the Keys, and he can’t believe a woman is turning him down.
So there’s going to be a running story: It’s going to be Lucky’s story, it’s going to be Bobby’s story and it’s going to be [Lucky’s daughter] Max’s story. And someway or another, Frankie Romano is going to be involved … I probably will bring them [“Poor Little Bitch Girl” main characters] all back. I’ll definitely bring Frankie Romano back, because he’s a bad boy.
What do you think your legacy will be?
I think I’ll be remembered for writing about Hollywood and Las Vegas at a time when the only people writing about Hollywood and Vegas are really failed screenwriters. All the books that are taken seriously as “Hollywood books” are about failed screenwriters. They’re not about people actually in there.
Or you’ll get these fake books that are not actually written by the personalities. There’s a couple of these books going around at the moment, and you see these people on television going, “Oh yeah, writing’s so great. I loved it!” And you’re like, “Get a f*cking life! You haven’t written anything! You had somebody else writing for you, and you’re out there promoting it.” I’m not naming names.
What advice would you have for aspiring authors and screenwriters?
You have to write what you know. You cannot write about Hollywood unless you’ve lived there and had experiences there. You cannot get a map of Hollywood and say, “I’ll write these Hollywood characters,” because they don’t ring true.
If you work in a department store, that’s what you’ve got to write about. If you’re in an office building and there’s a lot of people there, there’s always drama and a lot of stuff going on. Look at “Mad Men.” “Mad Men” is a fascinating program. And yet, who would think “an ad agency.” There’s always stuff going on
You have to write about what you know, like your own background. You know, I bring a lot of background into my books. And although I don’t really talk much about my personal life, there’s a lot in there that relates very strongly to me. The fact that Lucky ran away from school at 15. I was thrown out of school at 15. I was a wild child, so I’ve written about those experiences in many books …
And make it a good story. A lot of people can write, but they don’t know how to tell a good story. I have no idea how you do that, because when I’m writing, I don’t know where these characters are going to go and what they’re going to do, but then it all comes through at the end …
And it’s best to have an agent instead of trying to get a publishing deal yourself, right?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely, because your manuscript will just end up on the slush pile. I was very lucky because … when I wrote my first book, “The World Is Full of Married Men,” I looked in my bookcase — I’m an avid reader — and I kept on seeing the same publisher pop up on all these books I liked to read. And I thought, “Well, if I like what they publish, they might like what I write.” So I went to that publisher.
But it took a while. It started off with a secretary and then it went up and up and up, and finally it reached the managing director, and he called me in and I went in to see him. And he said, “We really want to publish this book. We really like it, but you’ve got to take out all the four-letter words.” I said, “OK. Half the book is gone.” He said, “Otherwise, you’ll be banned in Australia and Boston and all over the place.”
So I took out all the four-letter words. I was banned in Australia. I was banned in South Africa. I was banned in Boston. And the book came out, and a guy in England took a half-page [ad] in an English newspaper. It was about the double standard turning on its head, and he said, “This is the most shocking book I’ve ever read.” And it was number-one within two weeks! … I still have that clipping somewhere. And I never looked back from that.
I never know what I’m going to write next. It’s just Lucky who’s hung around for so long. And Madison. I want to write about her again. She’s a good character. She’s 29 and a journalist. People say, “How old is Lucky?” I say, “She’s the same age as Madonna and Sharon Stone,” because I think those are good role models for women.
What writers or books have inspired you over the years?
Mario Puzo. “The Godfather” books. And I love Joseph Wambaugh. I was just reading on the plane [Wambaugh’s] “Hollywood Station,” and it’s all about Hollywood cops. It’s just riveting, the characters he creates. When I was a kid and read Dickens, I just loved the characters. And I know I write too many characters in my books. That’s why I give them very distinctive names so as soon as you read them, you know who they are. It’s not Fred. It’s Denver and Bobby Santangelo Stanislopolous and Lucky. It’s names and characters you know immediately, and I think that’s extremely important.
Why did you choose to have Denver Jones be the only character with a first-person narrative in “Poor Little Bitch Girl”?
I really wanted the voice of Denver. I really wanted to have the voice of this 25-year-old girl. She sleeps with two guys in the space of two days, and she thinks, “Oh gosh, should I have done that?” And then she thinks, “Why the hell shouldn’t I? Men do it all the time.”
And I wanted to get that point across: that women look after themselves and have self-respect and do what they want to do instead of being put-upon by some guy, that’s perfectly fine. Because a lot of women don’t think that way. They’re either drunk and fall into bed with some guy without even thinking about it or they hold out for three months and then they lose him.
So I wanted to be her voice. I get a lot of young readers who come to [me] when they’re 15 or something and they say, “I love reading your books. I’m going to read all your other titles.” It’s really nice that I get people reading. My biggest critics are people who’ve never read me. “It’s raunchy sex.” Yeah, sure. If it was raunchy sex, go buy a copy of Playboy and read what the guys make up in the letters page …
I think sex doesn’t sell. A good story and interesting characters are what sells. And if they have a sex life, that’s great too. I always tried to write erotic sex, as opposed to rude sex. A lot of men write rude sex. I call it “the gynocologist’s sex.” They think that’s being a real turn-on.
What do you think about Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying”?
Oh yeah … The zipless f*ck. She was very much before her time, too. I liked Erica Jong very much, but she doesn’t seem to be writing so much now. She’s an excellent writer. There were some good female writers in the forefront. Female sexuality, when I started to write, was “Oh, we’re going to go into Bloomingdale’s and have a nervous breakdown. Oh, we’re going to wait for this guy to phone us. Oh, we’re going to wait for our husbands; maybe he’ll come home, maybe he’s having an affair.”
And what I did in “The World Is Full of Married Men,” was I had this guy who screwed around on his wife for 10 years. Everybody accepted it … Then she eventually does it back to him, with a rock star, of course. And he goes to her and he’s furious and he says, “We’re getting a divorce.” And he goes to his mistress and he says, “I’m leaving my wife and I’m going to marry you.” And she looks at him and says, “I don’t want to marry you. I just like sleeping with married men.” And that’s what created shockwaves with the book, because men were furious that I would dare to say that about guys.
What authors scandalize you when you were young?
Philip Roth, “Portnoy’s Complaint,” the liver scene. And “Candy” by Terry Sutton. They were shocking back then, but I loved them. I thought they were fantastic books. And of course Harold Robbins. But the women, they were all in the kitchen or in the bedroom … And thought, “When I write, my women are going to do whatever they want to do.”
Do you remember when you first wanted to become a writer?
I remember when I was 8 … I wrote a little book, and I’d cut things from magazines to illustrate it for my characters and I called it, “These Things Called Teenagers.” And I did a series of books: one was French, one was American, one was English. I’ve got them somewhere. I must dig them up someday …
Anybody who gets published, it’s a great achievement, especially in this day and age. It’s so difficult. They do not realize, new authors, how difficult it is. Every inch of space in the bookstore is paid for by the publisher. So when new authors go in and say, “Why isn’t my book up front?,” they have no idea it’s because their publisher hasn’t paid for you to have anything up front. It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s so difficult for new young writers. But I think the Internet helps. If you get a buzz going on the Internet, that’s great.
What does success mean to you?
It means I can call up Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills and get a table. Let’s not be coy about it. It’s great. If I can do that, it’s terrific. I’m very lucky. I don’t have movie-star success. I have writer success. It’s a whole different ball game, because even though I’m sort of a personality, I can do what I want to do. I can go to Target, wander around. Some people come up to me and say, “Love your books.” I’ve got the characters between me and the public.
I’ve got movie-star friends who can’t do that. Their life is over. They can’t go to Target. They can’t go to the supermarket. They can’t go to a normal movie. And that’s kind of sad. I would hate that. So the success I have I really like because it’s very sort of subtle.
You work very hard. You deserve your success.
I do work very hard. Sometimes I’m on a TV show, and they’ll say to me, “Oh, you churned out another book!” And I’m like, “Wait a minute, it’s a year later. You don’t say to Tom Hanks, ‘You churned out another movie.’ Yeah, well, it has been a year since I was here.” Because I don’t do TV unless I’ve got something to promote, which is why I’ve managed to stay anonymous, more or less.
Is your writing process daily?
Yeah. I like to roll out of my bed in the morning early, and then I’ll go straight to my desk and write a sentence or two. And then I’ll get dressed and have my coffee and all of that, because you’ve already started the process, and then you can’t wait to get back to it. But other than that, if I don’t do that, I’m like, “Oh, maybe I should take the dog for a walk. Maybe I should clean out my closet.” And then you never get to the desk; it’s too late. And since I write in longhand, I’ve got to be there early. And once I’m there, I love it so much. I cannot wait to get back and start the new book.
What keeps you inspired? Have you ever gotten writer’s block?
No. I read the New York Post every day, and there is always something in there. There is always one story that is going to be fascinating.
How do you deal with people who criticize you or your work?
You don’t read what people say on the Internet. You read the articles if someone writes the article, but you don’t read the comments after … because those people are completely anonymous and they have nothing to lose. And it gives them a kind of kick to say something really disgusting.
The things they say about Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Paris is a friend of mine, and she’s very sweet. And she’s smart. I’ve known her since she was 10 years old. She’s really smart. People ask, “What does she do?” She does plenty. She’s been in a ton of movies. I love her CD [“Paris,” released in 2006]. In fact, she played it for me personally. I went to her house. I’m friends with her mom, and she said, “Oh, you’ve got to hear Paris’ CD.” And they were filming [“The Simple Life”] at the time, and I was like, “Oh my God!”
I actually love [the CD], I put it on my iPod, I’ve got it in my car, and it’s got some great tracks on it. Can you imagine what she’s had to read about herself or what the late-night comedians have to say about them? … If you ever make it, don’t read the haters, because there’ll be plenty of them.
Do you ever savor your success?
No, I don’t, because I’ve always got a publisher breathing down my neck. My English publisher is saying, “Are we going to have the new Lucky book by September?” And I’m going, “I haven’t started to write it yet!” I do take off a year here and there, but when I usually take a year off, it’s usually for a man — and that’s stupid. When you get into a new relationship, you have to give them time and attention.
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