Florence King Writes a Bodice-Ripper
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princessbarbFrom the New York Times in 1987:



… By the mid-1970’s the so-called ”antifeminist backlash” had produced a demand for lushly romantic bodice-rippers known in the trade as ”sweet savages” after one of the genre’s all-time blockbusters, ”Sweet Savage Love” (1974) by Rosemary Rogers. Published as original paperbacks with three-word titles composed of emotionally extravagant trigger words, they sold millions and made their authors rich.

Deciding to get in on the gravy, I contacted a packager for whom I had once done a ghost job.

…My first sweet savage mistake was choosing as a background the fall of Roman Britain to the Anglo-Saxons. … but we got into another wrangle when we tried to come up with a title. ”Something Saxon Splendor,” I mused.

”They don’t know what Saxon means unless it’s got Anglo with it, and then you open up another whole can of worms. They’ll think it’s an ethnic-awareness book.” …

We were stuck in the ”Something Saxon Splendor” groove until my editor decided to abandon the troika mode entirely and go for the romantic-fantasy jackpot with a ”princess” title. ” ‘The Barbarian Princess,’ ” he said proudly.

… like the typical sweet savage entry, my novel was a sadomasochistic daisy chain of incidents based on the popular wisdom of the antifeminist hour: ”When in doubt, rape.”

My editor counseled me carefully on the need to strike the proper balance between erotic titillation and romantic idealism. …

”Remember,” he cautioned, ”keep the heroine a virgin as long as possible and never let her have sex willingly with a man she doesn’t love.” …

”Go easy on the Latin,” he warned. ”Sweet savage readers can’t handle all that. You can have her scream desistere when she gets raped, though.”

… Just as he is about to ”take” her, Hibernian pirates burst out of the woods, throw nets over them and drag them back to the ship to sell them as slaves in the snake-infested Auld Sod.

Screaming ”desistere!” Lydda is taken to the captain’s quarters, but just as he is about to ravish her, she manages a neatly placed kick and jumps overboard. …

Conveniently widowed, she is now free to run away with Thel and live happily ever after, but I was only on page 200. More had to happen.

AT this point I started to drink. I had always liked a little snort but now I began downing bourbon in the classic Southern manner….

By now I was drinking one day, sobering up the next, and writing on the third, which explains what happens on the voyage: a storm at sea. …

Amazingly, this free-for-all sold for such a large sum that my editor asked me to write another one, this time using a background of ancient Greece. …

”It’s time to cease and desistere,” I said, and left.

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