If you grew up in the 70s and 80s as I did, chances are you spent hot, hazy summer days hanging out at the neighborhood pool with your friends.
We splashed and played encircled by a ring of moms propped up in deck chairs, their noses buried deep in summer reads.
If only we’d know what was going on between those covers, emblazoned as they were with vaguely suggestive titles rendered in colorful opulently loopy letters. If the novel was written by Judith Krantz – and it probably was – it was peopled by powerfully ambitious women going, after all, they wanted in life with gusto, guts, and the latest Gucci.
Our moms were whiling away those summer days far away from the hot concrete deck of the local pool. They were transported to high-powered, high-fashion, high-flying worlds were more than a little hanky panky was going on.
No wonder mom couldn’t tear herself away and join in a round of Marco Polo.
It takes moxie to dominate a literary genre, and Judith Krantz was one of the most prominent authors of romance novels of our time, jockeying for position on bestseller lists with the likes of Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. She passed away earlier this summer, leaving behind works such as Scruples, Princess Daisy and I’ll Take Manhattan.
Krantz defined a subgenre of romantic fiction that’s come to be known as “sex and shopping” but she was about so much more. Here’s how:
It takes time for moxie to bloom.
Krantz didn’t write her first novel until she was 50.
Let that sink in. FIFTY.
She went on to write ten wildly successful books, several of which went on to become wildly successfully miniseries.
But she didn’t publish her first novel until she’d lived over half of her life. Just what was she doing all that time?
She was living. She grew up comfortably in a well-to-do New York family. Her privileged upbringing afforded her the opportunity to go to Wellesley and embark on a career in the publishing industry. Her first job after graduation was working in public relations in the great fashion houses of Paris. Her young adult years were just as breezily fun as you might imagine; filled with lovely parties and borrowed couture gowns and dates with an endless supply of interesting and appealing young men.
She returned to New York and began writing and editing for Good Housekeeping, and settled into writing part-time after she married Steve Krantz, a film producer, and gave birth to their sons Tony and Nicholas.
While churning out articles about “The Myth of the Multiple Orgasm” and the latest in fashion accessories, Krantz was honing important skills and gaining important insights.
“My work caused me to interview hundreds of women about their lives and their problems. I think that getting to know so much about women was crucial before I started to write fiction to be read mainly by women,” said Krantz in an interview with Book Page.
In addition, Krantz developed the discipline that comes from working on a deadline. She knew how to shut herself off from the world, focus, and crank out words for hours.
None of that would have been possible if she’d started writing novels in her 20s.
“I’d advise a young, would-be novelist to do as many jobs and talk to as many people about their lives as possible. There’s nothing worse than the 25-year-old novelist regarding her own misspent youth. Live first!” she said in that same interview.
It’s easy to be discouraged and think you’ve accomplished nothing if you get to 50 and still haven’t achieved your dreams. It takes moxie to understand that every moment of your life, every experience, every encounter you have with another person may just be preparing you for that “big thing.”
Without question, Krantz experiences, discipline and maturity played a significant role in her success. Maturity = moxie.
Moxie is subversive.
As a veteran of the magazine industry, Krantz had a front-row seat to observe how women are messaged.
”I don’t want to turn and bite the hand that fed me for 27 years – the women’s magazine,” she said in an interview for the release of her fourth novel. ”Men’s magazines never say, ‘Do you weigh 300 pounds and are your thighs flabby?’ They know a man would never ever buy a magazine that made him feel insecure or unattractive. They make men feel like heroes whereas women’s magazines make us feel like failures.”
The women in Krantz’ novels – though impossibly thin and beautiful – were anything but failures. They were hard-working, unapologetically ambitious and unabashedly sexual. They may not have marched in the streets for equal pay, but the conquered the world on their own terms.
Krantz wrote about women’s power in a way that would not likely have been approved by traditional feminists, and it was arguably effective on her own terms. That takes moxie.
It takes moxie to embrace who you are.
Krantz’ writing was often dismissed or even derided by the literati. Critics seemed to be disappointed that a Wellesley graduate would spend her time and talent churning out escapist fantasies.
Such criticism might have been rooted in elitism with a dash of sexism thrown in for good measure.
“If you’re a successful writer of science fiction, you’ll be celebrated and praised for your vivid imagination. People will talk about how impressive your work is and wonder how you have created alternative universes that reflect the problems we encounter in the existing one. Your work will be read on buses and trains, without attracting comment. Your readers will rarely feel the need to defend you or hide their enthusiasm for your books,” said podcaster Daisy Buchanon in a remembrance of Krantz posted recently. “However, if you write books that are set in the world we know, and you tell stories about women getting exactly what they want, you will rarely be afforded the same courtesy.”
Krantz mastered the art of writing fast-paced, engaging novels that wove powerful themes – the need for love, defining one’s own destiny – into fantasy worlds she created out of her own observations and life experiences. The worlds might have been fantasy, but the characters who populated them were real and relatable to readers.
“Why do we underestimate the talent of the writers who don’t simply take us away from reality, but manage to invent dazzling universes, and find a way to make us feel as though we belong there, alongside their wittiest and most glittering characters?” said Buchanon.
Krantz had the moxie to know her own power and lean into it, never pretending to be more – or less – than she was.
I don’t know that Judith Krantz ever attended the Kentucky Derby, but she would have been right at home in that glamorous company. If I’d had that chance to interview her on the red carpet, what would you have wanted me to ask?