Sex and Typesetting by Guest Author Maggie Dana

maggie_danaWe’re very pleased to welcome Maggie Dana to the ball. A book designer and typesetter, Maggie is also the author of six books for children. Her first novel for grownups, Beachcombing, has just been published by Macmillan New Writing in the UK, where she’s been doing a book tour and hiding from her family.

Sometimes old flames burn the brightest…

This is the tag line for Beachcombing, my debut novel. Pretty catchy, huh? My youthful editor at Macmillan came up with it for the cover. But see the word old in there? That’s me. And the flames? The burning? That’ll be my face when my 16-year-old granddaughter discovers the two bedroom scenes in the book and realizes her grandmother still thinks about sex.

It’s silly, I know, to be embarrassed about sex when it comes to your family. I mean, none of them would be around if you’d not had any, right? I have three children and five grandchildren, so it’s pretty obvious I’ve had a few romps in the hay. But my very English parents (no sex please, we’re British) never discussed such things; nor did my teachers. I came of age in the fifties when married couples on TV sitcoms slept in single beds, and nice girls didn’t even get to first base. Not that we knew what first base was, given our national sport was cricket, and it had wickets, not bases.

beachcombingLike most authors, I have a trusted reader and when I wrote that first love scene she was inconveniently down in Florida visiting a friend who didn’t, at that point, have email. So I faxed her the pages. Trouble is, I mistakenly faxed them to her friend’s business partner who is probably still scratching his head over them.

Are they very racy? Do they border on soft porn? Not in the least; then again, I don’t leave my reader at the bedroom door, either. But since they’re written in first-person point of view, I know I’m going to get some funny looks from family and friends once the book is published. Good thing I’ll be in the UK when it is. That way, my family will (hopefully) read it while I’m gone and by the time I get back, the initial shock will be over. Or so I keep telling myself.

All this makes it sound like I’ve written a geriatric Lolita or Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Far from it, but it is about a mid-life love affair and, quite frankly, there aren’t enough novels with 50-something heroines who’re not ashamed of their wrinkles and saggy boobs, as I’ve tried to show in this snippet:

We light the candles and watch one another undress, and for once, I’m not ashamed of my middle-aged body. Tonight my hips aren’t wide, they’re generous. My soft stomach is smooth and sensuous, and I’m proud of my full breasts that never passed the pencil test.

When Deb Kristina, who I met several years ago in an online writer’s forum, then in person (she’s absolutely gorgeous!), invited me to write an article, I decided to write about book design and typesetting which is what I do for a living. I love talking about fonts, about whitespace and leading, and why readability is a typographer’s first obligation to the reader. But Kris convinced me that while this is all very interesting, sex is even moreso. As she succinctly put it, “Marketing, baby. Sex sells.”

I just have to hope my kids don’t read this blog as well.

20 Replies to “Sex and Typesetting by Guest Author Maggie Dana”

  1. Ha, Maggie! I don’t know about gorgeous (blush, blush) but I’m right about sex being more exciting than typesetting, at least when it comes to convincing people to read BEACHCOMBING!

    Which, by the way, everyone, is not just sexy in a delightful, fun way, but also funny, wise and engrossing!

  2. I had the pleasure of lunching with maggie in the UK recently and we had a great time. I really enjoyed her book and have reviewed it if anybody wants to nip over to my blog and have a read, and one of the things I loved about it was the fact that the heroine had saggy bits, droopy bits, horrid bits, as we all do and yet it did not matter. I am in my sixties and yes enjoy a bit of fun when it comes my way (and to my astonishment it still does) and feel like cheering when a heroine like Jilly comes along. I have two grown up daughters who are aware that I have a ‘life’ but they avoid the thought of it like the plague. Odd isn’t it? I mean they would not be here otherwise but the young never like to think of older people, and especially mums and grandmas actually ‘doing it’.

    Good for Beachcombinhg say I and just in case you think I loved it because of the naughty bits, I loved it because I thought it was a terrific book and very well written,

  3. Thanks so much for being our guest today Maggie! I’m sure your family is very proud of you, and they’ll soon get over any shock they have in finding out you write sex scenes in your book.

    Maggie is just back from England, but she’ll be checking in later to respond to comments.

  4. Hi everyone:

    And thanks again for inviting me to share my dubious thoughts on sex and typesetting with you today! I bet those two subjects haven’t been coupled (ouch!) much in the past. And for those of you who don’t know Elaine’s blog, she has one of the most interesting and varied book review sites on the web. It’s the first thing I read every morning.

    I’ve been very brave today. I just emailed my kids (Melanie, Paul, and Peter) along with granddaughter, Kathy (the 16-year-old) to let them know about this article. I really am a sucker for punishment.

  5. I guess I can understand why people get a little uncomfortable writing about sex, or having people they know read it. But the thing is, sex in novels is very rarely just about sex – it’s usually the vehicle for something that progresses the story, or it *is* story.

    Where it progresses the story, it’s almost incidental. I mean, if you had people plotting a bank robbery in MacDonald’s, you wouldn’t think of it as ‘the Big Mac scene’, would you?

    In the second case, which is more rare – the act of sex has significance in itself. And this is where sex is very useful to a novelist, because people have sex for all sorts of reasons – lust, boredom, ambition, fear, joy, misery, revenge, celebration – any of which might be important in a story.

    As the erotic writer Fenner Jekyll says, “People think that in my books, everything is about sex. Actually, the opposite is true: sex is about everything.”

  6. This blog post had me reaching for the pencils on my desk….
    Hey, writing that can inspire one to action and self-reflection is a very good thing. 😉 My young nephew recently told me it’s “disgusting” that women as “old” as Sheryl Crow still “try” to look sexy. Oy. I can just imagine what’s going on in your family circles.

    Maggie, your writing is gorgeous. Women everywhere will see some part of themselves in the pages of Beachcombing. That susurration you hear is the whispered chorus of “me, too!” from women lucky enough to be reading it right now.

  7. In case you get the impression Beachcombing’s Jill spends all her time in the bedroom, she also runs her own business, deals with an overbearing client, repairs the kitchen sink, and zips around her small town wearing a “If It’s Called Tourist Season, Why Can’t We Shoot Them” tee-shirt.

    Jill’s one snappy lady and so is Maggie’s writing. The dialogue pops, the pace is just right, and the emotions ring true. Sure, the bedroom scenes sizzle. But so does the entire book.

  8. Maggie, thanks for being our guest today! Your novel sounds like a fun read, and how refreshing to have a middle-aged woman depicted who’s not at odds with her body! Wishing you the best of luck for your book!

  9. Thanks, again, everyone for chiming in. Of course, the weather has not cooperated. On a day when I’d be happy to stay inside and communicate with everyone is the first day the sun has shone in Connecticut since the beginning of June. Hell, the weather in Old England was far better than the weather in New England.

    Am now heading back outside to enjoy it. Will check in again in an hour or so.

  10. And I’d like to add that Ann Weisgarber’s devut novel, THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF RACHEL DUPREE, was published last year in the UK by Macmillan New Writing and it was long-listed for the 2009 Orange Prize for fiction as well as short-listed for the Orange Prize for debut fiction, and US rights have just been sold. It’s an incredibly wonderful novel. I read it two months ago and am still thinking about it.

    Thanks, Ann, for chiming in here, and thanks also to Camille for her post. She has an exciting non-fiction book coming out later this year.

  11. Okay, Beachcombing just went on my summer read list. I know how you feel about your kids and the sex scenes – a bit anyway. FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA doesn’t exactly have sex scenes in it, but it certainly alludes to, well, okay, comes right out and says we had sex and that just freaks out my teenager daughter! Oh, well …. how does she think she got here?

  12. “Getting to first wicket” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

    I think it’s fabulous that your character not only knocks the boots but also feels great about it. I mean, it’s not like there’s an age limit!

    Thanks so much for being our guest, and congrats on your debut!

  13. Katie, I’m beginning to think that ‘getting to first wicket’ sounds rather appealing. In fact, I prefer it to ‘first base.’ If another sex scene crops up in my life (real or imagined) I shall be thinking of wickets and all things cricket, such as silly mid-on, googlie (cricket owned the term long before Google did), and stumps.

  14. Oh, Maggie, your post here is as warm and funny as your book! You are a brave, brave woman. My sons would have heart attacks if I even mentioned the word “SEX” in front of them, much less write such a scene.

  15. Don’t worry mum, I’ll close my eyes when I read those bits!

    Lot’s of love and congratulations–looking forward to getting my own autographed copy at your event this Weds.

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