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In the 19th century, Freud asked, "What do women want?" He may never have found a suitable response, but now, centuries later, author Lynne Kaufman is certain that she has discovered the answer — and it might be as controversial as the infamous query posed by the famed psychologist.
Her debut novel, Slow Hands, tells the story of two sisters who set up a bordello created expressly to meet the romantic needs of women. It is staffed by male Zen students whose spiritual practice teaches them to take their time, pay attention and see the beauty in the everyday. In researching her novel, Lynne interviewed gigolos and male escorts. "They agree that what women crave is not necessarily sex but intimacy," she comments. "More often, our needs are for a romantic dinner, a tender massage, to be held, to be touched, to be danced with — above all, to be listened to. We want pampering. We want attention."
The issue of a woman's sensuality has been a burning question for Lynne for at least a decade. After reading that Joe Conforte, proprietor of Nevada's notorious Mustang Ranch and one of the most influential forces in legalizing prostitution in the Silver State, had plans to open Mustang W, a bordello for women, she was intrigued by the benefits of such an establishment. Lynne drove from her San Francisco home to Reno to interview Conforte, where she gathered enough inspiration to begin outlining what she intended to become a nonfiction book about female sensuality.
"It's a long-held belief that women don't truly want or need sex and they would never pay for it," she notes. "My conversation with Conforte, during which he showed me hundreds of letters from women eager to visit Mustang W and men eager to work there, showed me that is an outdated idea. Women have come a long way and this is the final frontier. Indeed, a woman deprived of sensual attention, in essence, is denied her full femininity and self-worth."
The nonfiction book was ahead of its time: most editors, even though they were intrigued by the topic, found it too controversial. Eventually, Lynne realized that this revolutionary idea needed to be presented as fantasy, and Slow Hands was reborn — as a work of fiction.
"There is no place like the Slow Hands full-service spa in America," she says, "but there should be. It's a place where a woman can delight in what pleasures her — but where the end goal is not just sex. Rather, she can be caressed, complimented, flirted with, listened to, tangoed with. If all this leads to sex, the woman is the one who decides that."
In fact, Lynne considers this book a clarion call to encourage women to embrace what they want, and empower them to ask that their needs be met. "I hope that Slow Hands will be read by men and women alike," she says, "and inspire someone out there to create such a haven for women." She continues, with a smile, "I also hope husbands will read it to find out how to pleasure their wives."
And how has being in touch with her own sensuality helped Lynne? "It makes me happy, and it's essential for my creativity," says the author, who has also penned 12 plays in addition to Slow Hands, her first novel. One of her plays, Daisy in the Dreamtime, will be premiering in New York's Abingdon Theater in March 2003.
In addition to her prolific writing career, Lynne also serves as the director of travel/study at University of California Berkeley Extension. In her free time, she's an avid swimmer and a dedicated student of Zen. A former New Yorker, she's also a fan of theater and film, as well as being a voracious reader. And, true to her sensualist nature, she is addicted to French champagne, chocolate truffles and faraway places.
Lynne has a long, feisty and vibrant marriage and is the mother of two reasonably well-adjusted grown children.
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