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Warm and Willing

Lawrence Block is Jill Emerson: Warm and Willing (USA 2016)

From the Publisher:
Here's what someone wrote as the book description for an earlier edition of WARM AND WILLING:
"An emotionally and sexually frustrated divorcée explores her mounting attraction to women. Rhoda's divorce has her thinking that romance is not for her. But maybe she just needs to look in a new direction. Megan is an attractive blonde who instantly sees what Rhoda's love life has been missing: a woman's touch. As Megan guides Rhoda into the sensuous - but hidden - world of women who love women, the two unlock a passion that may be too hot to contain. There are a lot of beautiful women in the Village, and Rhoda's just begun her adventure as a freewheeling lesbian."

I guess that's fair. But these early books cry out for a stroll down Memory Lane, and there's a lot to remember about the beginnings of Jill Emerson.

In 1958 I wrote my first book, a novel about a young woman's confusion about her sexual nature. It's recently been republished as SHADOWS, by Jill Emerson, but back then the publisher slapped a different title and pen name on it, because there was no Jill Emerson.

Jill came out, as it were, six years later-by which time I'd acquired wife and children and had written close to a hundred books. Then in 1964 I broke with my agent and found myself stranded; my chief market was a closed shop, and I could no longer write for it. A brighter man than I would have been terrified, but I just figured things would work out.

I decided I'd write a lesbian novel. That's what my first book had been, so it seemed a logical choice for a new beginning. Now I could have proposed such a book to Midwood Tower, Harry Shorten's operation, which was by no means a closed shop, and where they thought highly of me. But instead I chose to submit the book over the transom, under a pen name.

Specifically, Jill Emerson. Now Jill already existed, because I'd enrolled her as a member of Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization, so that she could subscribe to their magazine, The Ladder. I put her name on the manuscript of my new novel-I can't recall what I called it, but you can be damned sure it wasn't WARM AND WILLING-and wrote out a cover letter and mailed it off to John J. Plunkett, editor in chief at Midwood Tower.

I'm not sure what I was trying to prove. But, astonishingly, I proved it. Mr. Plunkett sent a contract by return mail, and some day I'm going to publish our correspondence. He and Jill really hit it off nicely, and I think he may have had a slight crush on her. A hopeless one, of course, because Jill wasn't interested in anybody with a Y chromosome...

Jill went on to write a second book for Midwood. I called it ENOUGH OF SORROW, taking the phrased from a Mary Carolyn Davies poem I've always liked, and I'll be damned if Midwood Tower didn't keep it. They stuck an award medallion on the cover, and included a quote-"A remarkably candid treatment of a particularly controversial theme..." The source of the quote is never revealed, and I can only assume it was either John J. Plunkett or another Midwood editor, Sandy Levine.

Over the decades, I've come to regard Jill Emerson as rather more than a pen name. She would appear to be more an aspect of self. One way or another, donning her persona seems to liberate something within me, and to give me access to otherwise elusive parts of myself.

But need we inquire all that closely? Probably not. This is, after all, just a book-a sensitive exploration of a young woman's sexual awakening.

Lawrence Block is Jill Emerson: Warm and Willing. CreateSpace Publishing, ISBN: 9781539543404 (October, 2016), 196 p., $9.99.

 

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