Desiree Holt had settled into her weekday afternoon groove—typing up a steamy sex scene for one of her erotica romance novels—when the phone rang. And rang. So, she broke away from fantasy to answer the demands of reality, or more specifically, whoever was calling.
"You're not interrupting me," Holt said, "but Logan and Rebecca are naked in bed, and they're really upset about it."
"I'll talk to you later, mom," her son replied.
"I love razzing my kids," says Holt, 76. Her son recently turned 50.
"They won't read anything I've written ... too much of an ick factor."
Desiree, as you may have guessed, is not her real name, but it's the one she's known by in her small town in Texas Hill Country and on her website, where she's pictured wearing a Texas-sized cross around her neck with a dark streak through her white hair.
Her mission: to empower women to feel sexually free, healthy, and fulfilled. Her inspiration: her late husband, who taught her how to feel that way.
"There's a little bit of him in every one of my heroes," Holt says, describing her husband as a "total alpha male, but so comfortable in his own skin that he could encourage my success and be proud of it."
"He got such pleasure out of the fact that I could take what was good about our relationship and translate it" for other women, she says. She promised him she would continue writing, and she relies a great deal on her own experience to show readers what's possible in a loving partnership—"how to be un-selfconscious and unrestricted and all of those wonderful things."
[See How to Make Love Last.]
Holt always wanted to write fiction, but didn't try it until retirement. She'd been too busy, raising kids and holding a variety of jobs—from running a public relations firm to working in the music business. At first, although her husband loved whatever she penned, not everyone else did.
After a slew of rejection letters, she considered a fellow writer's suggestion about an open submissions call from Ellora's Cave, which publishes romance reads on a scale from "Blush"—less explicit—to "Exotica"—more explicit—and, more recently, an imprint geared toward male readers. Among the publishers in this genre, Ellora's Cave pioneered the approach of releasing stories first by e-book and then in print, says Deb Werksman, editorial manager for Sourcebooks Casablanca, an independent book publisher based in Chicago. That's key, since this readership was the first to adopt e-books, she says. "And for obvious reasons, right? You don't have to worry about the covers of the books." Sourcebooks Casablanca, incidentally, publishes erotic romance, which Werksman defines, with a chuckle, as love stories where "it's as much about the emotion as it is about the orgasm."
The same could be said of Holt's stories, which now number more than 100 since the 2007 publication of her first piece, a Valentine's-themed tale. It was an appropriate start, since Holt's stories, at their heart, are about love—the risks people take to claim it and the circuitous paths they may find themselves on to get there. "It must have a happy ending," she says.
Intertwined with the love story, of course, is some rather graphic material. Holt's characters dabble in uncharted sexual territory, often trotting out bags of sex toys, experimenting with pain, pleasure, and power, and acting out the sexual fantasies they've been too timid to talk about. Holt is currently working on a piece she calls her "grittiest" yet; in the world of "BDSM,"which stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism, her submissive heroine learns about love with a dominant partner.
If it seems odd that a woman in her 70s can write this stuff with such apparent know-how, that's due to her own reporting—in writing about BDSM, she's visited dungeons and interviewed many practitioners—in addition to her own sexual explorations. She and her husband would enjoy shopping at adult toy stores—"then we'd come home and open a bottle of wine and play with the toys," she says.