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January 24, 2014

Inspiration: Jacqueline Susann

Jacqueline Susannby C. Margery Kempe

When I was growing up, there seemed to be a lot more writers on television. Not tucked away on obscure cable channels (ah, terrestrial television!) but on the chat shows like other important people. Back then people didn’t only appear to plug things — or if they did, they bothered to be charming not just bored and hitting all the release dates.

Surely one of the most alluring of the public writers — i.e. people knew by name on sight — was Jacqueline Susann. She started out thinking she might want to be an actor, but found the endless casting calls a drag. She amused herself writing letters “from” her poodle Josephine to her friends and when one said she should write a book as Josephine, the penny dropped.

Every Night, Josephine! was the kind of novelty book that didn’t especially suggest a career ahead, but Susann was an ambitious woman and thought about what would sell. The dishy gossip she heard hanging around Broadway with her tony friends and her experiences trying to break into acting gave her oodles of material for her big break novel Valley of the Dolls. For the first time in mainstream bestsellers, the sex was explicit. She was talk of the town and the rest is history (read the scandalously breathless [and speculative] biography Lovely Me by Barbara Seaman or the trashy but heartfelt bio pic Scandalous Me with Michele Lee if you can find it).

What Susann totally changed was how to promote books and, ever the control freak, she took a  lot of the process into her own hands and made herself a success. She was witty, charming, stylish and tireless. With grim determination she fought back  a few times against the cancer that eventually took her life.

From her I learned things like signing your books meant the bookstore could not return them. Susann would bring coffee and doughnuts to the teamsters who were delivering the boxes of her books, because it helps if your merchandise arrives in good shape.

Some people sneered at her books as “trash” but that never daunted Susann. She “had something to say and said it” in her books. Damned by would-be highbrow interviewers, Susann never backed down and always remained proud of her work. Although she wrote about the glitterati, they always ended up badly because she thought her readers would appreciate their own lives that much more.

What did I learn from her? Do what you want, don’t apologize for your work, laugh at those who sneer and laugh all the way to the bank. I haven’t had that much to put in the bank yet, but I’m already laughing.

Jacqueline Susann: one of a kind.

Here’s a new BBC radio adaptation of Valley of the Dolls.

Susann on ‘What’s My Line?’

As a young wannabe actress:

Her classic novel as camp (and groundbreaking) Hollywood film with a fabulous cast including Patti Duke, Susan Hayward, Sharon Tate, Martin Milner and look for fledgling actor, Richard Dreyfuss, near the end as well as the author herself in a cameo as a reporter:

Supposedly Harold Robbins impression of Susann’s life: also known as one of the worst films ever made.

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13 comments

  • Post authorKemberlee

    Excellent advice — Do what you want, don’t apologize for your work.

    Must set aside some time to watch that movie. Been aaaaaaages since I’ve seen it.

    Reply to Kemberlee
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      It’s such a fun film. And the Roger Ebert-co-written ‘sequel’ is a hoot in the So Bad It’s Good vein.

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe
  • Post authorLizEverly

    I remember my Mom had some of her books, along with Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I remember reading some of Robbins and Sheldon, but I can’t remember if I read any of Susann’s work. Of course..that was in the 70s, I was quite young and sneaking my mom’s books left and right. It’s all a big blur. Grin. But I saw her recently on the Graham Norton show and thought I really need to read Valley of the Dolls. Fun post!

    Reply to LizEverly
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      Saw her recently?! Is she back from the dead? O.O

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe
      • Post authorLizEverly

        LOL. No it wasn’t the Graham Norton show. (We watch too much Norton in this house!) It was another OLD interview…somewhere, can’t remember exactly where.

        Reply to LizEverly
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  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    Valley of the Dolls – an absolute classic. And so was Susann. I love her “don’t give a damn attitude” and snubbing of those who snubbed her. Inspiring!

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Am I the only person on the planet that read YARGO — her sci-fi romance novel full of beautiful bald men? What a weird WEIRD novel that was — I never looked at bees the same way again. Anyone who writes those over the top futuristic erotic romances on Ellora’s Cave has gotta check out Yargo.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      Heh, I haven’t read that. Will have to check it out.

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe
  • Post authorBarbara Mikula

    I remember how risqué we all thought those books were back in the day, and yes, JS was an inspiration. In writing erotic romance for two years now with twelve books published (Skye Michaels), I know I have learned a lot along the way thanks to Siren Publishing’s excellent editors and the example of some erotic authors that I personally enjoy. Sandra Brown is another inspiration. Her original little romance novels have all now been brought out in hard cover as she has moved on to bigger projects. I find that fantastic and amazing. I think we also owe a certain vote of thanks to E.L. James/Fifty Shades for opening a lot of doors. I now have no problem whatsoever telling people that I write “naughty books like 50 Shades” and holding my head up. Nine times out of ten I get a great response – with the occasional person who gives me the “fish eye.” I have greatly enjoyed the journey and hope to keep on keeping on. I have provided many laughs and opportunities for good natured kidding from my friends and family – my son-in-law now calls me PQ (for porn queen) instead of DQ (for dressage queen). That’s ok as I am increasing my grandsons’ inheritance and yes, although I am not laughing all the way to the bank, I am definitely chuckling!!! –

    Reply to Barbara Mikula
    • Post authorLizEverly

      I love Sandra Brown, too. I think Witness was brilliant.

      Reply to LizEverly

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