The Beatrice Interview

Linda Jaivin

Sumptuous Porn for the Smart Set

interviewed by Ron Hogan

"She wore no underwear.
She never wore underwear.
What was the point?"

Linda Jaivin is only the second writer I've ever met who brought props to her reading. The first one, William T. Vollmann, didn't tell anybody he'd brought a cap gun with him for a particularly dramatic point in the short story he read. But there's no way the audience could miss the prominently placed fruit bowl Jaivin lays out for the oral presentation of the first chapter of Eat Me, a runaway bestseller in Australia, where the Connecticut expatriate lives and writes, which has just been released in the States. Although she doesn't actually demonstrate how her characters insert figs, strawberries, grapes and other fruits into their private parts, there's certainly no missing the point. During our interview, which appropriately takes place in a Haight Street coffeehouse near the site of her performance, Jaivin's clever, playful frankness remains intact.

RH: You¹re a woman writing an erotic novel about a woman writing an erotic novel. That raises some inevitable questions about how much is real and how much isn¹t.

LJ: Real in what sense? They¹re all real fantasies. Sometimes, when I get asked how much of the book is real, I say absolutely all of it. I¹ve done everything in the book. I¹ve been a sushi table for twenty-four samurai, I¹ve galloped along the plains of the American West and had sex with cowboys, all of that. It¹s all real because it happened in my head.

RH: How did you first get onto this topic as a writer?

LJ: I think about sex a lot, and I¹m quite honest about that. I like talking with my girlfriends about sex, and I like reading about it. I started to write about sex because I wanted erotica that was tailormade for me, and who could write that better than me? I didn¹t start writing this thinking that it would become a bestselling novel. I didn¹t even think that it was ever going to be published. I wrote my very first erotic short story for my personal amusement, and then showed it to a girlfriend, who happened to be the Australian editor of Rolling Stone. She suggested that I submit it to Australian Women's Forum. I'd been working as a specialist on China up until that point, and had been writing freelance articles, waiting months to see them published, then chasing down the editors for the tiny checks. I sent this story off, and within two weeks I'd gotten the biggest check I'd ever seen in my freelance career. And at that point I saw my future as a writer.

RH: You also wrote non-fiction about sex for several Australian magazines, writing in a very participatory style.

LJ: I really admire writers like Hunter S. Thompson and P. J. O'Rourke, as well as Orianna Fallaci, and [Australian writer] John Birmingham. These are people who jump into the story and make it live. You get their personality. You live the story through them. They take risks and then they describe their experiences for the reader. I wanted to write that way, and it was a conscious decision on my part to model my journalistic style on my heroes.

RH: Which is how you end up straddled across the lap of a spanking fetishist...

LJ: ...for the article "Confessions of an S&M Virgin," yeah. He was spanking me, and the tape ran out, and I couldn't change it, because I was lying on his lap with my hands manacled, so I had to ask him to turn the tape over for me, and he spanked me hard again, saying, "Naughty reporter! Naughty reporter!"

That article's the title essay in a collection of my articles that will be coming out in Australia in the fall. It will have some of my best articles on sex, including "Why I Love Younger Men"...

RH: And let's talk about that.

LJ: What aspect of it do you want to talk about?

RH: You're the one who knows what you like about younger men. You tell me.

LJ: I'm a very playful person and I'm not really ready for the "let's just go to dinner and a movie" relationship. What I lack in stability by going with younger men I gain back in playfulness. It's reflected in my writing -- my romantic hero, Jake, is a twenty-two year old total slacker who says his main accomplishment in life is his dreadlocks. He's a fantasy object, and as I said earlier, what's in the book are my real fantasies.

RH: So you're more the party all night kind of woman, then?

LJ: I am and I'm not. We were talking before you turned the tape on about my stay in Seattle and how I ended up in this punked- out lounge at 4 a.m. I've done a fair amount of it on this book tour and I plan to continue doing it. At the same time, when I'm actually writing, I have to lead a very disciplined lifestyle. Most of the time, I'm in bed by 9:30 and at my computer by dawn. I get my most creative work done in the morning, as soon as I get out of bed and grab a cup of coffee. So I'll go through these long periods of total discipline and then when that's finished, I'll cut loose a bit.

RH: Now, when you're over the lap of a spanking fetishist getting your ass slapped, how do you maintain objectivity?

LJ: You don't, that's the thing. That's why I like New Journalism. It throws away the pretense that journalism can be objective and they make it totally honest and I love that. Most journalism still maintains that pretense, which is bullshit. Objectivity doesn't exist. Why are you sitting here interviewing me and not somebody else? You've got a subjective interest sparked by I don't know what because I don't know you well enough. Why do you ask me the particular questions you do? You might have started by asking me about where I was born and where I grew up and my expertise in China, but instead you're asking me what I find sexy about younger men. That's a subjective choice, and I believe that subjectivity should all be out in the open. That's why, if I'm going to write about S&M, I want to lie across a guy's lap and get spanked and write about my feelings which, in that case, were that much to my surprise I began to understand the eroticism of S&M.

What's enjoyable about writing fiction is that it's total subjectivity. You make all of the choices, you have no boundaries except the ones you set yourself. You tackle any subject at any depth from any angle. In fact, the most successful fiction is when you get deep into a character and bring forth a subjectivity that is not your own. When I wrote Eat Me and Rock and Roll Babes From Outer Space, I felt liberated. Liberated from any objectivity that still lingers in even the most subjective journalism.

RH: In addition to being about sexual fantasies, your work is about very particular locations and communities in Sydney.

LJ: Eat Me is very much a love letter to Darlinghurst. I adore the cafés there. Even in my most disciplined writing stages, you'll often see me at the Tropicana around 11:00 or 1:00. Café Da Vida in Eat Me is based on two of my favorite cafés: the Tropicana, which is the great people-watching café, and Hernandez, a little place just off the main street run by a Portugeuse family that roasts their own coffee on the premises. It's filled with these wacky oil paintings done by the wife of one of the owners, which are copies of famous paintings but with her husband's face. I put them together into my fantasy café, and then the name Café Da Vida comes from a little sign on the wall of Hernandez. It means "Coffee gives life."

Rock and Roll Babes From Outer Space is a love letter to another little part of Sydney that I adore, New Town. It's been yuppified fairly quickly, but it's still a little grungy and bohemian. Lots of green hair and dreadlocks, lots of rock pubs. It also has a little setting in Elisabeth Bay, which is the neighborhood near Darlinghurst where I actually live. There's a town house there where most major rock stars stay when they come to Sydney, and I have my spunky alien chicks who come to Earth for sex, drugs and rock'n'roll land their spaceship on top of it, because it's the most rock'n'roll place in Sydney.

RH: What's the American reaction been to your work?

LJ: This reading was a bit difficult in that people weren't quite laughing, and I wasn't sure if they were getting the humor. But everywhere I've been, people have been really positive. Nobody's walked out in the middle of a reading yet, although I had one person in Minneapolis wait until the end of the reading, then walk out. The reviews have been good as well; Glamour said it was the sexiest thing to come out of Australia since Mel Gibson.

But The New York Times won't even take an advertisement for the book which shows the cover. They said it was too risqué. I expected maybe Bible Belt papers wouldn't want to review the book, and in my hometown paper, where they did a long feature on me, local girl moves to Australia and writes about sex, that sort of thing, the advertising department made them take the name of the book out of the ad, but I was surprised that the Times would act that way.

RH: Well, you certainly handled having what must have been an awkward moment, when that eight year old girl wandered into the reading and sit down in the front row, rather well, just ignoring it and moving on.

LJ: Thank God her parents finally pulled her out of there. I mean, I was 11 or so when I started to find pornography and read it and I don't thnk it harmed me in any way. I'm not saying that eight year olds should be reading my book by any means, but there's a lot of unnecessary repression about sexuality. People are more uptight than they need to be. Eat Me is about having a good laugh as much as it's about having good sex.

RH: We were discussing earlier, back at the bookstore, that your reading habits tended more towards humor writing than erotica.

LJ: Absolutely. I consume much more comic fiction than I do erotic fiction. The novel I'm reading now, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, is probably going to be one of my all-time favorites. What a fabulous book. Absolutely fantastic. I also really enjoyed Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. These books aren't strictly comedy, though. They're great books that just happen to be very funny.

RH: And both just happen to be by younger men, I notice.

LJ: I hadn't actually thought of that, but okay. There's also an Australian writer, Cathy Lett, whose book Fetal Attraction is hilarious. So I like both genders. Different countries...

RH: Very universal and eclectic in your tastes, then.

LJ: Oh yeah.

RH: So after this second novel, what are your plans?

LJ: I was invited to work on the film version of Rock and Roll Babes, but I declined. I don't know enough about writing film and I'd rather not make the mistake of getting involved and having my heart broken by the inevitable compromises. So I've got the essay collection coming out in Australia in October 1997, and I'm 30,000 words into my third novel, which right now is called Fatale. That's supposed to come out in 1998 in Australia, so I'll have to work very hard on it. I just realized recently that most of those 30,000 words should really be written in the first person for one of the characters.

RH: That's got to hurt.

LJ: Those sorts of realizations are painful, but ultimately they're better for the work. In Rock and Roll Babes, there were originally four alien chicks instead of three, and Jake wasn't the first Earth man they abducted. They originally took one of his flatmates, but doing it that way, it took until page seventy before the romantic situation was set up. So I had to rewrite about 40,000 words to get rid of an alien chick and that flatmate. There were just too many characters and I was spending too much time trying to figure out who was where and how to move them around, so two of them had to go. But writing is all about rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, and when I get home and rewrite that section of Fatale, I know it'll be better for it.

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All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan