She came tearing through the Lafayette cemetery, stark naked, covered in diamonds and blood, running for her very life, stumbling into a marble mausoleum, tripping over a tree root, falling, getting up, running on. He was behind her, gaining. She reached the unlocked cemetery gate, ran across the street in the darkness, ducked through the back door of the most notorious bawdy house in the city of New Orleans, and bumped into a large, well-dressed man.
"Hello, sugar," the man said. "You busy right now?"
It was Huey Long.
Thus began the infamous bodice-ripper I tried to write a few years ago with two other women I had met at a week-long workshop. What did we really call it? I've forgotten now.
It seemed like a wonderful idea when we started. I had credentials, having written eight published books. Rae had singular gifts, honed at one of those famous MFA programs in Iowa or wherever. Carol had actually completed a formal course on how to write erotica. How could we fail?
Rae had the idea to set the book in depression-era New Orleans to take people's minds off their present-day economic woes. That sounded good. And of course there must be sex scenes. The younger women were more than willing to write the sex scenes, since I was way too prudish, and I could provide the Crescent City ambiance, being the only one among us who had ever been within a thousand miles of New Orleans. And so we began as we meant to go on, with gusto. Or gumbo. The first chapter was a killer, as you can see from the above, which pretty much summarizes it. Once inside the house, of course, Magnolia or whatever it was we called her had to become one of the working girls, or risk being thrown to the mercy of Beauregarde, her murderous husband.
After setting up the situation we had to introduce a bunch of colorful characters, put them in scenes, and slide in some juicy back-story about Beauregarde, who murdered Magnolia's innocent maid (the sister of the blind whorehouse piano player) and maybe some political stuff about the run-up to Huey Long's assassination. I was very uneasy with the sex scenes. While Rae wanted to go upstairs and get handy professional tips from the other whores, I found myself wandering into the kitchen and pestering the kindly black cook for gumbo recipes. Carol tinkered with our dialogue and dressed the madam in inappropriate outfits.
It was starting to look as if it might not hang together. Our styles were too different. I seemed to be trying to turn it into a murder mystery, if not a cookbook. Then Rae wrote the sex scene.
It was too much for me. Not that it wasn't brilliantly written. It was. The situation was that Magnolia was forced by the madam to put out for one of her less attractive customers or leave the house. The encounter was not like yummy fantasy sex but like real sex one might have with a mildly unpleasant stranger, an encounter that leaves one feeling embarrassed, inadequate and judged. I know this is Art, I said to myself, but I can't stand it.
So Rae and I sort of let it lapse. I threw away the scene I had written of the voodoo orgy in Congo Square and the one where they killed the Huey Long character. Some months later Carol sent us a wistful email. What were we doing with the book? We said we had both become involved with other projects. Which was actually true. Rae is a hotshot on the internet now and I turned myself into Irene Fleming for a bit. I don't know what Carol is up to. It was fun working with them, but I won't be collaborating with another writer any time soon. It doesn't work for me.