Recently Jessica Anya Blau, longtime TNB contributor and author of two daring novels, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and Drinking Closer to Home, piloted (I believe rather unintentionally) the concept of the Six Question Sex Interview series. Her sex interview with author James Magruder was so stimulating (er, inspirational) to her fellow TNBers, that it seemed only fair that Jessica herself should be the next subject of this new series. Always happy to engage in intellectual conversation with a talented writer (er, dish about sex with someone who writes about it as much as I do), I volunteered to do Jessica’s honors. What follows is our exchange about her provocative writing, the Big Questions of age and beauty, what the next generation really thinks about its parents’ sexuality, and a few technique tips along the way.
Stay tuned for Jessica’s stint as a Featured Author on the Fiction Section in early 2011, when Drinking Closer to Home officially debuts! And now, without further ado . . .
The Six Question Sex Interview: JAB Edition
GF: The parents in both of your novels are unconventional to say the least: they smoke (and grow) weed, they decide to “quit” parenting, they own vibrators, may have had affairs and . . . well, party naked. I mean, even the grandmother in DRINKING talks about “discharge” on her granddaughter’s underpants! On the one hand, I read your fiction wanting to cheer these free-spirited oldsters on, but I admit that sometimes it’s hard, since it’s also clearly not how their kids feel about them–Anna in Drinking Closer to Home, in particular, is physically grossed out by her parents, especially her mother Louise, who she says smells like armpits and has a square, flabby ass. In other words, the parents’ compulsive sexuality isn’t necessarily “sexy.” Can you talk about how age and responsibility factor into the complex equation of someone’s sexuality?
JAB: Here are two things I’ve noticed: sex plus old people equals a joke.Look at Betty White or those Playboy comics with the old lady (do they still have those? I haven’t seen a real live Playboy Magazine since my elementary school friend and I snuck into her father’s collection stacked by his chair).And then there’s the woman who hangs her wet-plastic-bag-looking breasts out the window in Something About Mary.The second thing I’ve noticed is that a come-on or a flirtation is either grotesque or compelling not depending on what is said and done, but rather on how appealing the flirter is.For example, if Jon Hamm walked up to you and said, “You have the most beautiful eyes,” your response would be, “Hell yeah, and what are you doing later?”Whereas if your friend’s grandfather hobbled up to you with his pants hitched up below his conical man breasts so that his sock garters showed and said, “You have the most beautiful eyes,” (same exact sentence, same wording, same delivery) you would find it repulsive.
I think that as hard as it is, we have to accept not only who we are, but how we are perceived.I’ll be talking to a student, for example, and I’ll read something on their face, or they’ll say something, and I’ll know that they see me as a professor, mother, and person of authority.This particular idea of me makes my students feel safe and comfortable.My responsibility with them, in my opinion, is to not act outside of those roles as it would totally freak them out and unground them.So, I shouldn’t discuss my lust for Jon Hamm and the extra scenes I mentally write into Mad Men each week that star him naked.But I can discuss character development, or how plot is moved in Mad Men.To sum it up, it’s important to know ones audience and to respect the limitations of that audience.And our children, in some ways, can be our most limiting audience.
GF: In Drinking, Anna finds herself on the “winning side” of lust and affairs, manipulating men with her body, whereas her sister, Portia, finds her husband banging a younger woman shortly after Portia has given birth, gained weight and a C-section scar, and stopped regularly shaving her legs. This got me thinking back to one of the first TNB posts I ever read of yours, in which you interviewed your mother and discussed the subject of Beauty in some depth. Beauty, of course, is one of sex’s great mysteries, since almost everyone on the planet has sex, and few of these people are beautiful, yet somehow sex and romance manage to remain, in the popular consciousness, reserved for Beautiful People. Tell us the Jessica Anya Blau philosophy of beauty, as it relates to sex.
JAB: Well, I think there are two kinds of beauty.There is Still Beauty, beauty that is simply physical and is easily visible.You see a person sitting there and they are undeniably beautiful.Those people have a certain amount of power as long as that beauty exists.Then there’s Active Beauty, the beauty a person exhibits in movement, life, action and, most potently, talent.For example, I went to a Bar Mitzvah last Saturday and there was this beautiful woman dancing who was about my age; she was riveting. At the end of the night, I started talking to her and I saw that she had these funky teeth and an almost insect-like divided body.But she was still beautiful, because she smiled, and I could see how she connected to the world around her.If I hadn’t seen her dancing, if I had just seen a photo of her and nothing else, I wouldn’t have seen her beauty.Another example: I once dated a professional sailor.He raced boats, to Hawaii and back, that sort of thing.All our dates were on boats, we’d take a boat out and he’d be running around, messing with the sails, standing at what seemed like impossible angles as the boat ripped along on its side.He was beautiful.Amazing.Totally compelling.Then, after about a month we had our first date ashore.We were walking along the sidewalk toward a movie theater when I looked over at him and realized that nothing of his beauty came out on land.I couldn’t see it in him when he was a slow-moving, heavy-footed pedestrian.The relationship didn’t last long.I think the key to beauty is to find the things that make us happy, and to find the things we’re good at and to do them passionately and with all our hearts.Even those who are lucky enough to have Still Beauty need to find their Active Beauty.Still Beauty doesn’t last, there’s no point in putting too much stock in it.Active Beauty is something you take to the grave.
And as far as sex goes, Active Beauty is the dominant force.We’ve all met the gorgeous person who has no more appeal than a blow-up doll.And we all know the limitations of the man who chooses the blow-up doll over an engaging, vibrant human.
GF: Portia’s friend Sarah’s hot and pervy dad gives Portia advice on how her boyfriend should perform cunnilingus so she’ll orgasm. While it’s a given that all regular TNBers perfect oral sex and have mind-blowing orgasms, still, for the benefit of whatever sixteen year old, clueless boys might have wandered into this forum by mistake while googling their “nervous breakdown” due to the inability to make their girlfriends come, will you please instruct everyone on how to properly lick pussy?
JAB: What I wrote in Drinking Closer to Home is, in fact, the advice that all sixteen-year-old boys and even many grown men need.Sarah’s dad says, “Tell him to keep his lips fairly close together and to use his tongue as a forceful nub.”Then he goes on to say, “Remind him that he’s not a Labrador.”I will add that to get to all good things in life you need focused dedication to one task at a time.If you’re wandering here and there, diddling on the piano and then plucking at the violin for a couple of bars, you won’t ever get to those beautiful, thundering chords at the end of the piece.
Also, second piece of advice for anyone who’s fumbling with girls and women: find your Active Beauty, become talented at anything (guitar, surfing, math) and you’ll be forgiven your floppy, aimless tongue (for a while, at least).
GF: One of the most charming chapters in the novel is about Emery’s idyllic but completely asexual relationship with his girlfriend, Katie, when he’s still in high school and hasn’t yet come out. When Emery and Katie decide to lose their virginity to one another, the event is so completely anticlimactic that they–especially Emery–mutually conspire to avoid sex for the remainder of their relationship. Later, Emery is in a longterm relationship with a man named Alejandro with whom he wants to have a baby. I have to say that, out of all the members of the family in Drinking, Emery is by far the most normal and functional. But were there any challenges for you, as a woman writer, in getting into the sexual mindset of a gay man?
JAB: In an earlier draft of the novel I had written Emery, the character based on my brother, without any sex scenes.Then my editor said she wanted a chapter with Emery losing his gay virginity and one with him losing his straight virginity.I realized then that the reason I hadn’t written any Emery sex scenes is that thinking about my brother having sex, and thinking about his penis in particular, did make me a little uncomfortable.(Whereas I had no problem at all writing the numerous and often kinky sex scenes for the character based on my sister.)With Emery, I decided to simply get over it.A penis is just a penis.Sex is just sex.If you look at it in the most basic form and don’t add any history or politics, sex is pretty darn easy.Before writing those scenes, I wrote my brother an email and asked him to tell me about his two losses of virginity.He sent back wonderful, detailed stories of each.I took the stories, fictionalized them, got into his head, and “felt” them, in a sense, as I wrote them.The human impulses are universal whether you’re gay, straight, young, old, male or female.So any of us can tap into desire, even if the desire we’re describing in fiction isn’t necessarily one that we have in real life.And as far as Emery being the most “normal” one in the book, I suppose that’s how it is in real life.My brother’s not dramatic, he doesn’t really fuck up in big ways, he keeps it all under control.
GF: In many ways, your writing seems to be no-holds-barred when it comes to sex . . . yet the little interview with your family at the end of DRINKING, revealing how autobiographical the novel is on many levels, makes me wonder: is there anything you held back from putting into one of your novels because you were worried it was too revealing or might upset somebody? Come on, there are only 80,000 people listening . . .
JAB: I wish I had some juicy, sexy, never-before-heard tidbit to give you, but the truth is the stuff that I held back is the stuff no one would want to read.There’s an Ann Beattie story in which one character says, “Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it.” So true. And the reason I’ve omitted so much.
GF: Flash forward 20 years and one of your daughters is writing a novel based on you. How would she describe your sexual persona during her youth?
JAB: Ah, great question!Well, I don’t walk around naked, as my parents did.And I never talk to my kids about my sex life!My daughters’ complaint about me is that I ask too many questions.My curiosity about them and their lives appears to be infinite.So if one of them tells me she kissed a boy I want to know what the kiss was like, where it happened, what his breath smelled like, what his mouth tasted like, if they locked braces, or banged foreheads, etc.I ask only a fraction of what I’m curious about, so it always amazes me that they think I ask too much.I want to say to them sometime, “Do you have any idea how many unasked questions are knocking around in my head?!”Anyway, I think they find me a little invasive, so that is probably what they would write about.
They haven’t read my books and they don’t read my posts on TNB.But if they did, they’d probably write about how traumatic it was to find out that their mother pulled down her tube top while standing out the top of a sunroof during a traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway.Or maybe they’d just write about the horror of having a mother who would actually wear a tube top.
*Interviewer’s note: I should add that, while I’ve been a huge fan of JAB’s on TNB since I joined the site in something like 2008, it was a particular delight to meet her in New York this past May, where I found her just as vibrant and sexy as you all imagine her to be. You’ve all seen that tan and that hair in her TNB photo, but I’ll add here that she’s a hell of a dancer, too. Her kids are the only ones who would bitch about her in a tube top. Just saying . . .