Sex Scenes and Censorship
I asked Ed for a funny story that involved publishing personalities, and he regaled me with this hilarious gem:
Some years back, I collaborated on a semi-secret rescue job, for free, finishing a novel by a prominent male writer who’d died suddenly (so his widow and family could get the royalties from his last book). My collaborator was his longtime in-house editor, a rather homely and forbidding “old pro” of long experience, much older than me. The book was quite steamy, and at the outset she requested that I leave handling all the sex scenes to her, as (being in-house) she knew exactly what would be acceptable, and a lot of time and grief could be saved. That was fine with me, and I got to work and had the thing done very quickly. Whereupon her boss, the publisher, demanded the draft MS to read over.
The editor handed it over, and he read it and hit the proverbial roof at how explicit the sex scenes were (spankings, bondage, whippings, and hanky-panky in public on the hood of a car were all involved, as I recall). He assumed they were my work, but at that point I hadn’t even seen them. The guy didn’t roar at me. Instead, he invited me down to an editorial meeting in his boardroom, intending to humiliate me by having me read aloud select passages (of his choosing; the “worst” of the sex scenes, of course) in front of his head of marketing, his head editor, the editor I was working with, some of his company’s board of directors, and so on. Whereupon he could launch into a tirade, kick me off the project (charity work for me, remember) and ride to the rescue of his dead author’s memory.
I showed up, and read the scenes (which I was seeing for the first time) aloud with gusto, giving my hammy, all-too-breathy character voices and a compelling “Radio Award Style” narration—which of course made the publisher absolutely purple with rage.
He let fly at me—and was rather taken aback by how much his “disapproving” staff loved the steamy scenes.
Then he was really shattered to learn that the offending scenes had been written by his staid old staff editor. His face was screamingly funny.
She even smiled at him sweetly and informed him in a carefully neutral voice that she’d really enjoyed doing all the necessary research.
I then rescued the guy by gushing about how inspiring it was to meet a publisher who cared so deeply about the quality of his books and the memory of the dead author he’d worked with for so many years, and pumping his hand, and telling him how I’d never forget this moment.
“Neither,” one of the board members told the ceiling rather loudly, “will we.” Most of the staffers around the table were fighting to keep from bursting out laughing, and one of the worst mischief-makers among them even demanded I read one of the scenes again.
This time I adopted the voice and manner of a respectable and naïve radio announcer, beginning with polished confidence and then faltering and getting doubtful as he went on into the more explicit moments, and the whole room—the publisher included—ended up rolling around shouting with mirth. Whereupon the publisher decided to save face by taking us all out for lunch, and a good time was had by all.
The editor is long retired, and our paths didn’t cross often after that hilarious occasion, but she always greeted me with mimicry of my respectable but doubtful radio announcer voice, suggesting haltingly that “We really must get together for some necessary research.” Then she’d snort and we’d talk. Yes, the book got published. No, none of our names was ever associated with it. Which is as it should be, though if you don’t mind ruining a steamy book you’ve already enjoyed, please remember that it can always serve as entertainment again by declaiming the sex scenes aloud for an appreciative audience.February 5th, 2010
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