Getting what you want

Jane Juska wrote a book about her quest for a fulfilling sexual relationship. A year earlier she placed an ad in the literary section of the New York Times.

Jane had little idea how dramatically her life would change by this action.

Her attempt to introduce a fulfilling sexual relationship into her life led her to a thorough examination of her life to date, and the writing of her best-selling non-fiction book, A Round Heeled Woman.

Jane's book spoke to many women, young and old, about their own experiences of both romantic and sexual relationships. Film rights have now been purchased and she is writing another account of women and relationships.

YL asked her about her transition from a lonely, retired teacher to a busy author and speaker.

What is A Round Heeled Woman about? Love? Sex? Companionship?

No, it's really about going out and getting what you want.

What made you want to share your adventures in print?

I was writing small pieces in my journal, to try to get control over things that were happening to me - trying to get control over chaos. I thought it was too good to keep to myself, that I needed a wider audience, so I wrote half of a really bad novel; I became a character called Norah. Everyone should write a novel and call herself Norah.

I have had an adventure...
Sometimes I just don't recognise my life.

I sent it to a good friend, Matt, and he said, "Well, nobody's going to believe this is fiction! You have a story to tell, why don't you sit down and tell it?" It was as though I'd been given permission. So I sat down, and wrote it in four months.

I was still teaching writing classes at St Mary's and I would look at the students and think, "If only you knew what I was writing about". Then the day came when a publisher bought my book. I was just so excited, I told them. We all cheered - it was such a lovely moment - and then they asked what the book was about!

Was it difficult to navigate the fine line between putting your frank confessions into print and having these sexual adventures misrepresented by a publisher?

I objected to the original cover. It was lurid. At first I thought, "Oh my god, the marketing people have definitely taken over!" But if you write a book, people are always going to make of it what they need to, and in some ways, different people will get very different things out of it. Happily, the reviews have been remarkably positive, and often emphasise that the writing is good.

It's going to be a movie, as well?

Yes. I've signed over all creative control. The studio has bought it, and will do what they want, although I'm really pleased with the casting of Tyne Daley (ex Cagney & Lacey). I think she'll be terrific. She took me to lunch in New York, and gave me an original copy of a work by Trollope - very kind, very appropriate.

You are very tough on yourself regarding your parenting. Was it difficult to write about your experiences as a single parent?

So many readers are single parents, so I included a chapter about bringing up my son. I sent it to him and said, "If you don't like this, I'll remove it or change your name". And he replied, "I would be proud if you used my name - and, by the way, I thought I had a happy childhood." But no, he hasn't read the other chapters. He really doesn't want to read about his mother having sex!

How do people react when they've read your book? Are men less respectful?

I don't know if I could say that. No, they certainly don't act disrespectfully. Women are warm even before we meet. A certain barrier has gone down, as has the necessity of small talk. They share amazing stories and the most intimate details. If fact, many men approach me now. One local man who has read my book greets me with "Hello Jane, I love your spirit - how are you doing today?"

So how has your life changed?

I have had an adventure, which has had a ripple effect. It has blown my cover. Things happen everyday. I never knew there were so many men in the world. They've become good, sometimes remarkable, friends. Sometimes I just don't recognise my life, but there's nothing like doing the laundry to ground you. I am also able to devote more time to writing, so I am looking for a bigger house to store my stacks of paper.

Would you advise other women to place a personal ad?

No. I don't advise anyone to do anything. That would be presumptuous. I do give talks. I did one for 19- and 20-year-old students whose college had put my book on their reading list. I remarked that I think about sex all the time, and they were nodding their heads like crazy. It's not an age thing.

My favourite response of all was a woman who called me and said "Please have coffee with me - your book has changed my life." I met her - she was in her early 60s, sad, undernourished, divorced for a long time. She said, "I want to find someone. How do I do it?"

Sometimes I think we all jump to the end, when we don't understand what we should do in the middle, to achieve what we want. So I just said, "Lighten up. You'll scare people away." She contacted me two weeks ago and said, "I did what you said. I lightened up, and I'm having a fine time, thank you".

A Round Heeled Woman,
Random House 2003