Hi Word Wenches and Wenchlings!
I'm Susie Felber, Edith Layton's daughter. I'm a comedian and I write a buncha stuff, including this Dumb Blog for truTV. CNN links to it and I hope you'll read our newsy dumb entertainment early and often. Speaking of reading, my mom has a new historical novel coming out 11/25 entitled A BRIDE FOR HIS CONVENIENCE. You should order it now, one for each eye. Yes, I got my writing talent from my mother. But that "one for each eye" jazz? I totally stole that from her outright.
Shameless promo out of the way, I'm thrilled to be here. I wasn't pressed into service — I wanted to get share-y about what it has been like being a romance author's daughter and display some rare Layton photos plucked from the Felber archives — like this one back from when she still smoked and I was a natural blond — but you'll need to click on the links to see all the vintage snaps. And so I don't risk boring you, I'm going to make this a "to be continued" post.
I'm immensely proud of my mother and all she's accomplished. I think she's a killer role model and a great writer. But while she was always my mother, she wasn't always a romance author, a designation that comes with plenty of perks and bushels of baggage.
You may have heard how she intended to be a playwright. How she freelanced for everything from the El Crappo Gazette to the New York Times and once even got a telegram from Barbara Cartland after writing an article about reluctantly discovering the delights of the Dame after a back injury. How she wrote three different books in three different genres before one got published and received enough rejection letters to, in her words, paper a small bathroom. But since this is about ME, let's skip ahead to her first published novel which came out in 1983.
The family was very excited. So excited that we hightailed it to the local mall and each got ourselves T-shirts with felt iron-on letters spelling out THE DUKES WAGER. Wearing our custom Woolworth getups with pride, we threw her a book party complete with balloons and a banner, produced on the home computer, back when computers had to be painstakingly programed with GOTO commands and the printer paper still had those annoying perforated side bits you had to carefully peel off. (Private to Hollywood: I'm still 18)
In our kitchen and milling about the living room, some were tittering about "hot" novels and finding the whole idea of her being a romance author uproarious. They weren't industry or society types, they were just friends from suburban Long Island. They were just having fun, and maybe a little too much wine.
Oh how my hackles went up! I was pissed on her behalf. She was triumphing after years of struggle, and they hadn't even read the book, or any like it. That's when I realized it would take more than felt-lettered shirts to convince people how cool she was.
Soon after, I brought the book to show off to Mr. Bimberg, the elementary school librarian. I came armed with the information that this was a Regency novel, and therefore very much above the fray. He glanced at the cover, laughed and said, "Oh, your mother writes dirty books! HA HA HA!"
I told him it wasn't dirty and then I was rendered speechless.
Not because I was shocked, mind you, but because I realized that my impulse to tell him the truth — that if he wanted to see a really dirty book he'd have to check out the armfuls of fantastic free historical smut that I'd picked up at the Romantic Times conference and then had quickly hidden under my bed — might get me sent to the school therapist, STAT. As in, "So tell us Susie, how long have you been dabbling in throbbing manhoods and frothing caverns?"*
In the early years, with every release, we'd make a bee line between B. Dalton and Walden Books to see if her books were there, and if so, how many. Mortified by the Romance section with its pink and purple covers festooned with acres of man boobs, I'd hide out in the nearby Mystery or Fantasy sections.
She'd say, "Oh look, they have five copies, come take a look!" And I'd be cringing an aisle or three away in front of the dragon books, thumbing a Niven and saying, "Yeah that's great. I can see fine from here, really!" Remember: This is long before there were in-your-face unabashedly girly intelligent feminists like "Smart Bitches" to champion the genre.
Anywho, she'd inevitably press me to really look, and hating myself for being such a lousy daughter and a wimp, I'd sulkily come by and take a peek before scampering as fast as possible to the safety of the magazines, hoping no boys had seen me lingering in the land of paperback longing and love.
Of course, once mom had left, I'd sneak back to do what she never had the promotional sense or guts to do — quickly rearrange the shelves, positioning the Layton line attractively in face-out position.
So, I was always an in-your-face girly feminist and champion of historical fiction. It's just that until I grew up, I worked mostly as a covert agent.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Next time: The joy of Romantic Times conferences, one too many research trips to England and throwing mom her second-ever book party — thirty novels later.
PS Feel free to leave a comment and say howdy!
* By the way, I can't make this stuff up — "frothing cavern" was burned in my memory from a particularly bad Zebra I read in the 80's. No, I wasn't traumatized, I thought it was hilarious even then.