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Interview: July 7, 2006

July 7, 2006's Carol Fitzgerald and Joe Hartlaub interviewed internationally bestselling author M. J. Rose about THE VENUS FIX, the third installment in her Butterfield Institute suspense/thriller series. Rose explains how she first became interested in the novel's topic --- Internet sex sites --- and reveals what she discovered while conducting her research.

She also discusses the series's recurring theme of patient confidentiality, shares what's on her reading list, and divulges a few details about her future project. THE VENUS FIX deals with addiction to Internet sex sites, and raises a number of questions and concerns regarding the problems that such material creates with adolescents of both sexes, as well as the relationships between adults. What attracted you to this as a topic for a novel?

M. J. Rose: I was at a bookstore signing and a young teenage girl approached me to tell me how much she liked my work. We got to talking, and she told me about how she and all of her friends read the sexy parts in my novels. That led to her eventually telling me that she and her friends were having a hard time dealing with how deeply the guys at school were into Internet porn.

At that point, I was halfway through writing the second novel in the Dr. Morgan Snow series (THE DELILAH COMPLEX) and wasn't ready to think about the third, but I knew I was hearing about something that mattered.

I actually started researching the next day.

BRC: While researching the material for THE VENUS FIX, did you talk to anyone who is involved in the online sex industry? Did you interview individuals who have had ongoing difficulties as the result of an addiction to adult websites, either through their own use or that of a partner?

MJR: I have done research with women involved in the online sex industry and with dozens of teenagers before I started to write THE VENUS FIX, as well as several therapists, and adults addicted to Internet porn. I researched every group I wrote about in the book.

I've never written a novel before in which the research was as disturbing or as troublesome as it was this time. The implications of what I found out were far reaching, not in the least because no one seems to have any solutions other than to turn their backs and ignore the problem.

My goal with every novel is to thrill my readers and keep them turning the pages. But my mission is to find the dark, disturbing subjects that pain us and shine some light on them.

I hope I've done both with this one. The subject matter deserves it.

BRC: Butterflies figure prominently in this series, especially THE VENUS FIX. What significance does the butterfly have in your life? What made you choose to include butterflies in your work?

MJR: They have no significance in my own life, but rather in the life of my character, Morgan Snow. The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and that same word means the soul. In addition, butterflies are a wonderful metaphor for metamorphosis, which is clearly part of any therapy. I always look for the reality of my characters' lives --- objects, smells, sounds --- that are meaningful to them. Butterflies, in this series, helped me to create Morgan and bring her to life.

BRC: One theme that is constant throughout your Butterfield Institute novels is the issue of patient confidentiality. What do you think, personally? Is the standard of confidentiality too strict, presently appropriate, or not strict enough?

MJR: Even though I know how tough the standard is, how it can seem unfair and how it often makes life difficult for doctors, I think it is more important that patients are able to trust those in a position to help them. And besides --- if the law got too lax, there would be no books left to write in the Morgan Snow series.

BRC: Access of Internet sex sites by adolescents, such as what is depicted in THE VENUS FIX, seems to be a problem without a solution. Given the nature of the Internet, it is almost impossible to effectively monitor such sites; similarly, it is extremely difficult to restrict an adolescent from accessing them. Based on your research, what solution --- if any --- do you propose?

MJR: In my research, I found that the kids with the most involved parents had the fewest problems. I'm not talking about sitting in the room and not giving them freedom; I'm talking about spending real time with them and discussing what the dangers are out there --- being part of their lives. Some of the most well-adjusted kids had parents who took them online, showed them the sex sites, and let them see what they were talking about.

But if you are talking about actual solutions, I've heard about the potential for creating WWW2 for porn --- a separate part of the web. Don't ask me how it works, but it does sound like a possible solution. It wouldn't impinge on adult freedom of speech, but it would protect our kids.

BRC: You have also written a number of stand-alone works. Do you have any plans for an additional series, separate and apart from the Morgan Snow/Butterfield Institute books?

MJR: Yes, but I think it's bad luck to talk about it this far in advance. I hate to be cagey, but let's just say I have another series starting in September '07 that is very very different from everything I've ever done before. I guess I like seeing how far I can push myself. I'm also very lucky to have an editor and publisher who are all for me trying new things.

BRC: You began writing and publishing novels at a relatively late stage in your life. What prompted your shift in careers?

MJR: Quite honestly, I got bored. I'd reached the top rung on that ladder and wanted to try climbing another one.

BRC: Given that you work on a number of different projects --- novels, seminars on marketing, and a blog, among others --- do you find that you have to structure your writing time to include each project? What is your work schedule like?

MJR: Yes, I do need to structure my time. I work on my novels for four to six hours a day, from 1 PM to 5 PM every day, and then sometimes again after dinner. I don't try to write a word before then --- the mornings are for the gym and the marketing stuff. It seems to be working, except I find I'm working on Saturdays and Sundays too often and I don't think that's good for my soul. I'm trying to make an effort to take a little more time off, and do a little less work outside of writing novels.

BRC: What author, if any, has had the most influence upon your work? And what do you read for pleasure?

MJR: Oh, that is such a hard question. I think I'm influenced by so much of what I read. The first author who'd had an impact on me was Ayn Rand, and my most recent influence is my friend Lisa Tucker, author of the amazing ONCE UPON A DAY.

For pleasure, I real a lot of suspense --- some of the highlights of the last few months were novels by Barry Eisler, Carol O'Connell, Lee Child, P. D. James, Daniel Silva, Jeffery Deaver, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Ruth Rendell, Laura Lippman, and Robert Goddard.

My favorite book last year was THE SHADOW OF THE WIND.

I also reread classics over and over: Daphne du Maurier, John O'Hara, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on and on and on.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it? Also, what can you share with us about it?

MJR: I'm working on the new series I mentioned earlier. The first book will be out a little more than a year from now. And while it's suspense, it also has some historical elements in it. Cryptic, I know. I'm sorry. I'm superstitious about telling too much!