Betsy Prioleau is the author of Circle of Eros (Duke University Press) and Seductress (Penguin/Viking). She has a Ph.D. from Duke University, was a tenured associate professor at Manhattan College, and taught cultural history at New York University. She has written numerous essays on literature, relationships, and sexuality. She lives in New York City.
Her latest book, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (Norton, 2013), is a panoramic survey of history’s legendary lovers—from Casanova and Lord Byron to the present. Through analyses, stories, and interviews with ladies’ men today, her book explodes all the seducer stereotypes. Great romancers not only defy popular preconceptions; they possess a trove of erotic secrets and arts that reveal what women truly want and suggest a way to reinvent love for the twenty-first century. BookPage described Swoon as “sharp, sexy, and completely engrossing.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy for the very first time at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville this past spring and was immediately struck by her warmth and charm, her intelligence and sense of humor. I’ve been a devoted fan of her work ever since.
HUERGO: What moves you to write?
PRIOLEAU: Curiosity combined with enthusiasm and a passion for ideas and language. I also love to challenge entrenched beliefs and shake things up.
HUERGO: How would you describe your drafting and revision process?
PRIOLEAU: For me the art of writing is the art of rewriting. I write at least five drafts of every essay and chapter, using different colored paper for each version. I’m insanely jealous of writers who “never blot a line,” and get it right the first time. For me, writing is slow and arduous and doesn’t get easier with practice.
HUERGO: Have you ever found yourself stuck at some point in your writing? If so, how did you get unstuck?
PRIOLEAU: I have good days and bad days (complete with blank-screen paralysis), but I check in anyway on a regular basis. I’ve found, strangely enough, that walking away from the computer—even to clean the sink—can be helpful. When I come back, presto! The answer is often there. Sometimes, I alternate between laptop and longhand; sometimes, I sleep on it. Blocks are a mystery, but seem to come with the territory.
HUERGO: Was there a teacher or mentor who influenced your writing or your career as a writer?
PRIOLEAU: I would never have thought of writing had it not been for a college professor who inspired me with the romance of learning, worked me like a dog, and lured me away from fraternity parties to the library. She was a drill sergeant and belle ideal (an Irish ex-actress with glamorous literary friends), and after a year in her writing seminar I was hooked. I still carry a notebook with me everywhere as she commanded.
HUERGO: I’m always curious what writers are working on next. Can you share with us your current project?
PRIOLEAU: I’m mulling several ideas. One is Casanova the gourmet. He lived during a revolution in food preparation and consumption, and left one of the fullest records of this period. He was a great connoisseur of food, which he associated with love and desire. “Sex,” he wrote, “is like eating, and eating like sex,” and he described hundreds of aphrodisiacal meals in his twelve-volume biography. The stories and recipes have never been rendered in English. So that promises to be fun.
Jacob J. Goldberg (head shot/top left)