Reese returns to earlier theme in second novel

April 2, 2000
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

When Laura Reese's first novel, "Topping From Below," appeared in 1995, the Davis author developed an immediate cult following from those who delighted in her exploration of sexual obsession and sado-masochism.

A large number of readers might have picked up the book because it was set in Davis.

Her second novel, "Panic Snap" (St. Martins, 2000, $24.95), returns to an exploration of sado-masochism, but this murder mystery is set in the Napa Valley.

"Panic Snap" describes the attempts of a woman named Carly Tyler to find the person or persons who tried to kill her when she was 17. She was found, battered and bloodied, on a field off County Road 104 south of Davis. As a result of her injuries she lost her memory and had to build a new life. But an article and photograph she came upon in Wine Spectator magazine sent her to the Byblos family winery to discover if the answers to her identity and the identity of her would-be murderer could be found there. Yes and yes.

But, if you read "Topping" and didn't care for its sexually explicit themes, don't read "Panic Snap." The reverse also is true.

"I enjoyed writing this book," said Reese in a recent interview at her Davis home.

After the first book came out, Reese was troubled by a painful accident, the death of her mother and a host of other personal upsets. Recovering from those events delayed work on her second novel, which was also hampered by several false starts, she said.

"But I really enjoyed it when I finally got back to writing," she added. And when she settled down, it took only a year to complete.

But then, more difficult times.

"I finished 'Panic Snap' just three or four days before my father became seriously ill," she said. Her father, former Davis City Manager Howard Reese, died last June.

Reese says her third book will not feature sado-masochism.

"I don't want to do a series," she said. "My editor and publisher tell me that I have a cult following but, no, the next book will not be about SM."

On a personal level, Reese says she feels totally comfortable with a reputation as someone who writes about sexuality. She just doesn't want to be typecast as an SM specialist.

"However, I'm really interested in sexuality. There are so many facets to explore and sexuality is something that isn't explored too much in writing."

Who writes well about sexuality?

"I admire Norman Mailer's exploration of deeper and darker impulses," she said. But there's a price to be paid for frank exploration. In Reese's case, a large daily newspaper and a public broadcasting station refused to review her novel, to give her any ink or air time.

"They were afraid of offending," Reese said. "But what can you do? You can't avoid a subject because you're afraid it will be censored in some way."

Reese says her publisher received fan mail after "Topping" came out and her biggest fan identified herself as a 76-year-old widow in Eureka. She also got letters from men in prison and people in the SM community who expressed eagerness to make her acquaintance.

"Others just wrote to say they enjoyed the book and liked getting to know about this world," she said. She said her life hasn't changed in the least following publication of an erotic thriller.

"I learned a lot from writing 'Topping' and this book," she said. "You learn from your mistakes and in my case I get a lot of direction from my editor at St. Martins, Charles Spicer. He picks out problems areas and lets me come up with my own solutions, which I appreciate as it helps me improve as a writer. Other authors have editors who barely take a look at what they do or rule by fiat."

Reese said she spent a lot of time in Napa researching aspects of the wine industry. She also talked to professors at UC Davis in the department of viticulture and enology and ended up learning a great deal about wine.

"You research extensively but only about 10 percent of what I learned ended up in the book," she said.

And the twins who own the Napa winery where "Panic Snap" takes place are both fictional graduates of UCD.

"I had to get Davis in the book somehow," she said, laughing. This may or may not please the department of viticulture and enology.


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