“Does it have any sex in it?”

“Does it have any sex in it?” the man sitting next to me on the plane asked, looking a little stiffer as he peered at the Sunsets of Tulum bookmark I’d just handed him.

I was on the way to a book event in New Mexico and we’d been stranded in Dallas Fort Worth for almost 5 hours. Twice before, they’d loaded us onto the plane for Albuquerque and twice we’d waited at the gate for hours as they’d diagnosed different mechanical failures. I’d noticed the guy next to me had a Dean Koontz book and thought, “heck, it can’t hurt to give him a bookmark.” So as we boarded the third plane and waited (again) for what would be our final time, I took the plunge and handed him one, saying, “I’m a writer, here’s a bookmark, maybe this can be your next read.”

Now I was pretty sure I’d handed it to a religious nut. This was Texas after all.

“Well,” I said, thinking of the 3 or 4 pages of pretty explicit sex and the allusions that were sprinkled throughout. “Yes, it has sex scenes. But they’re not gratuitous–”

“What about the F word?” he said, almost cutting me off. “Does it have that too?”

Ummm…here and there.

“Yes,” I answered, steeling myself for some lecture about obscenity and profanity and so on from some jerk who doesn’t understand the freedom of speech or the difference between literature and porn. Just the perfect ending of a long, exhausting delay-filled travel. It was my fault, of course, for giving him the bookmark. But it upset me to think of someone dismissing it because they were a prude. “But not too much. Just here and there.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, smiling. “But my grandmother’s 99th birthday is coming up next week and she doesn’t have much mobility, and she loves reading. She’d get a total kick out of the fact that I met you on the plane but if it’s got tons of sex and profanity she won’t read it…”

And so I explained that it was a love story, a literary romance about an unexpected, life-changing affair and that the sex wasn’t gratuitous, but was there because it was part of the story. It was graphic but warranted. And I told him the anecdote of one of my friend’s friend’s relatives, in her 80s, who’d read it and said, “My…graphic…but you’re never too old to learn!” And we agreed that she could just skip over the sections if they were too spicy.

To make a long story short, shortly after I was pulling my suitcase out of the overhead and he bought a signed copy before the plane took off. Perhaps this was like that movie Groundhog Day: I had to sell a book before the plane could leave…

Thanks, Don, if you’re out there…I hope “Gram” loves the book and has a great birthday next week, and thanks for the lesson in not jumping to conclusions when someone asks if the book has sexy scenes.

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