It's impossible to get a few years under your belt and not ask yourself what if. What if I married my childhood sweetheart, what if I hadn't quit my career to stay home with the kids. (Or, what if I had?) What if at 40 years old, in the middle of a long sexual dry spell, I find out I have breast cancer — and realize that I might lose part of my body before I get a chance to use it? When Claire, the main character in Logan Belle's new eSeries Now or Never found herself smack dab in the latter what if, she makes a bucket list — a sexual bucket list.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I sat down with author Logan Belle to find out what inspired her to write this story and if women everywhere should crack open a notebook and start jotting down their SBL (sexual bucket list) today.
SheKnows: After writing half a dozen novels about young women finding love in their 20s, your new novel Now or Never, available today, centers around a woman in her 40s. Why the change in direction?
Logan Belle: For the past year I've wanted to write about a mature woman dealing with love and sexuality, a character closer to where I'm at in my own life. This summer, in the middle of writing a novel about an NYU college girl, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
It changed me, as it does every woman who deals with it.
A week after surgery, even though I was in the middle of writing one book, I knew I couldn't delay writing what was in my heart. That same week I started drafting Now or Never, a romance featuring not just a more mature woman, but a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer and starts thinking that when it comes to her sex life, she better use it or lose it.
SK: Did the breast cancer diagnosis have an effect on how you felt about your sexuality?
"I think it's important to take stock of what we want to do with our time, with our bodies, and not assume that the opportunity will be there when and if we finally get around to it."
LB: I have to admit; it threw me off my game for a while. I'm not even talking about any of the physical stuff — I mean purely from a mental standpoint. It made it impossible to deny the fact that I'm not 25 years old anymore. And there was a three-week period in which I was waiting for genetic testing to come back to see if I had the BRCA gene — the so-called breast cancer gene. At the time, Angelina Jolie had just announced her elective double-mastectomy because she had the gene that puts you at higher risk for recurrence and ovarian cancer. So that was a time when I wondered how I would be able to feel like a woman even if I lost the things that are so physically defining. Luckily, I tested negative for the gene. But that was the most challenging time from a mental standpoint, and a low point as far as feeling like a vital, sexual person. That emotional moment created my character Claire.
SK: Claire, our main character, wanders into an Erotic Reading Salon, do those really exist?! And have you attended one?
LB: Yes! The erotic reading salon in the book is inspired by an actual group, The Erotic Literary Salon in Philadelphia. A fabulous woman named Dr. Susana Mayer runs it. I was fortunate enough to be invited to read there one night last spring. One of the first people to the mic was a woman named Frances Seidman, in her early 90s. Her stories were sexy, witty, poignant — the highlight of the night. It really gave me food for thought.
SK: I love the idea of a sexual to do list. We all have tabs on what we've done and what we haven't, but I like the idea of getting some to-do deeds down on paper. Do you think we could all benefit from this kind of list?
LB: Women tend to put everyone else first. We're caretakers. We're juggling careers and kids and trying to stay in shape. And then one day we wake up and everything we have to do has gotten done, but what about the things we want to do? When I got the breast cancer diagnosis, one of the first things I realized is that I took my body for granted. I knew I'd get older some day, but it was some distant thing. But treating breast cancer, even minimally, is going to change your body. So yes, I think it's important to take stock of what we want to do with our time, with our bodies, and not assume that the opportunity will be there when and if we finally get around to it.
SK: Men have tons of hang-ups, but crossing sex off their list of priorities doesn't seem to be one of them. Why do you think women can close down shop more easily than men?
LB: I think part of it is biological; part of it is the message we get from society. If we have children, it's natural to back-burner our sexuality for a while. And then as we hit our 40s, we're no longer sexually objectified in our culture. I'm 41, and I have a daughter in fourth grade. Many of my friends my age have very young children. But if I was in a movie, I'd be playing the mom and my daughter would be like Miley Cyrus and the movie is all about her love life and as a 40-year-old, I'm just background. Even in a movie like It's Complicated, Alec Baldwin is lusting after Meryl Streep. But in real life his wife is in her 30s. So this is what we're told about our role as sexual beings. But men, especially if they increase in wealth and power with age, are viewed as just as attractive — if not more so — well into middle age. It's a challenge for us, as women, not to buy into this.
SK: I shook my fist in the air when Claire let that stray cat into her home to give herself an excuse not to deal with her own life. That struck me as a trick I've pulled out of my bag before.
"My 20s is a place I like to visit. I just wouldn't want to live there!"
LB: Everyone has their own little avoidance tricks, and we all have our weak spots — things we don't want to deal with: money issues, health issues, relationship issues. Claire has avoided intimacy. She told herself it was something she would deal with later. And now that she is ready to think about it, her life is complicated with health issues and it makes her revert back to avoidance.
SK: As the author, did you miss writing for your typically younger main character?
LB: I didn't miss it when I was in the moment of writing Now or Never because I knew I would be going right back to it. The next novel I have publishing with St. Martin's Press is in the New Adult category — heroines in their early 20s — and so I haven't left those young gals behind entirely. And honestly, I enjoy writing both. My 20s is a place I like to visit. I just wouldn't want to live there!
SK: Having come through to the other side of a breast cancer diagnosis, what's your biggest take away?
LB: I have two major takeaways: First — since we've talked about avoidance — the one thing we must not avoid is screening for breast cancer. My doctor told me to have a mammogram when I was 41. That first mammogram spotted the early cancer. And I was not in a high-risk category; it wasn't even something that was on my radar. I just went for the mammogram, and I'm so thankful that I did. Catching it early gave me options for treatment that I wouldn't have had if it had been caught at a more advanced stage. My second biggest takeaway is that I am not alone. Literally every woman I have spoken to about this has either gone through it, or knows someone who has gone through it. At first, I didn't want to talk about it, even with my close friends. But I realized that hearing and reading about other women's stories was a great comfort to me. I hope that in some small way Now or Never can contribute to that conversation.
Now or never
Now or Never is available wherever ebooks are sold. The second installment of the eSeries called Now & Forever will roll out Jan. 20, 2014. I, for one, can't wait.
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