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Interview: June 28, 2002

June 28, 2002

M. J. Rose's third novel FLESH TONES is centered in the New York art world. In this interview with's Roberta O'Hara, M. J. shares her thoughts on love, obsession, and the deeper meaning to be found in the reading experience.

BRC: The difference between love and obsession isn't always clear in FLESH TONES. How do you define love? How do you define obsession?

MJR: I think love is a noun that describes a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, or a verb that describes having that feeling.

But I think obsession is a storm that leaves you blind to reality, clouds your judgment and renders you almost helpless.

BRC: Do you think Slade and Genny were genuinely in love?

MJR: Oh yes.

BRC: Slade ends their affair the first time because he learns that Genny is a minor. This is your only real nod to the fact that she was underage and in a relationship that maybe she shouldn't have been in. Do you think she was too young for the relationship?

MJR: I think we currently think of 17-year-olds as much younger than we have ever thought of them before. Throughout history 17-year-olds have been old enough to marry and have children. Even in the 1970s, 17 was much older than it is today. When I was in high school in NYC in the '70s, I knew of several relationships between artists and photographers and young women Genny's age. No one even seemed to notice the age difference --- except perhaps the girl's parents.

BRC: How familiar are you with the New York art scene?

MJR: I was born in New York, and first began my involvement with art when I was six and took painting lessons on Saturday mornings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not a bad place to start out. Fourteen years later I graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was supposed to be an artist but somehow wound up a writer. I am still an avid student of the arts and spend a lot of time at galleries and museums.

BRC: Do you have a favorite artist? Was there an artist you had in mind when creating Slade Gabriel?

MJR: From Georges de La Tour to Odd Nerdrum to Georgia O'Keefe to Vermeer --- I can't name just one favorite. Art is very important to me and so I'm always looking for and discovering new artists. If I had to give up looking at paintings or writing novels, I'd actually have a hard time making a decision.

And Slade wasn't based on anyone. He really was my own creation.

BRC: What was your inspiration for that intimate scene where Slade uses Genny as his canvas?

MJR: When I sit down to write, after the first three or four minutes of typing, I go into a deeper state of concentration where I'm not really aware of the computer or my hands but, rather, I am literally seeing my novel unfolding like a movie, and I am merely describing what I am seeing. Slade just did that to Genny. And I just wrote down what he did.

BRC: The sex scenes in your books are both erotic and sensual. How do you feel about writing these scenes?

MJR: As a reader first, and an author second, I'm all too aware of how much easier it is to sit down and watch TV or rent a movie than it is to read a book. Television is passive entertainment that requires so little effort on the viewer's part: even if you're watching a wonderful movie --- you're just watching. But as a reader you're required to become more involved and devote more attention --- and if the book is good you're glad to. So I think it's part of my job as an author to make sure the reading experience isn't just more work for my readers, but is more rewarding and offers something you just can't get on a screen.

If there is eroticism and sensuality in my novels it is because it is in our experience as human beings. And, I believe, it's an area of our lives that can be explored in fiction in a deeper and less prurient way than on any TV or movie screen. And it's there because I write what I want to read.

BRC: What is your opinion of assisted suicide?

MJR: I think we should be allowed a kind way to end our own lives, if that is what we choose to do.

BRC: Your first novel, LIP SERVICE, was originally self-published on the web before getting picked up by a NY publisher? Why did you chose to go that route?

MJR: I had a wonderful agent --- my agent still --- who had taken me on, but ultimately couldn't sell my first novel. While she had editors who loved it, they felt the book crossed too many genres (mystery, erotica and psychological thriller) which presented a difficult marketing problem.

At that point, having just left advertising, I felt that by using the Internet, I could market my book and find my audience ,so I self published LIP SERVICE. It did so well, it was picked up by the very same publishing community that had rejected it two years before.

BRC: Do you recommend self-publishing for first-time authors in the present market?

MJR: The present market is much more crowded in 2002 than it was in 1998. For one thing, print on demand has become so affordable that there are over 70,000 self-published books available online now. And I still think getting an agent and being published by a publishing house is preferable --- especially in fiction.

I only recommend going the self-publishing route for fiction if you have tried the traditional route and failed. Don't self-publish because your Mom or your sister like your novel. Make sure you get objective professionals --- agents, editors --- to express interest.

BRC: What authors do you read?

MJR: My list of favorite authors is about as long and varied as my list of favorite books. I read mostly authors who are no longer alive --- I'm less afraid of being influenced by them. But some contemporary authors who I do read include: A.S. Byatt, Salley Vickers, Michael Didbin, Carol O'Connell, Katharine Weber, P.D. James, Philip Roth, Patrick McGrath, Mark Slazman, Margaret George, and Michael Chabon.

And at least one author a month who I discover through the Bookreporter. And I'm not just saying that. This site has introduced me to some wonderful writers.

BRC: What does M. J. stand for?

MJR: The M is for my first name Melisse. The rest is for my Mom, who always believed I'd get published but died the year before it happened. I took her name so she'd be part of all my books. BRC: What's next for M. J. Rose? MJR: Literally, I'm about to go walk the pooch - Winka. See:

Other than that, I'm currently writing the screenplay for my first novel, LIP SERVICE, which should go into production in the fall of 2003. And I'm working on a new novel.