As I prepare to launch my third novel, The Floater, later this year, I need to say a few words about the charged topics of sex, race and class. You may have noticed that my female protagonists aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to men or sex. (And “floater” Norma Reyes will be no exception.) I realize that many best-sellers feature a nonthreatening female protagonist who could be a poster child for Ladies Home Journal, but my women are a bit sloppier than that.


It’s no secret that “Millie Moskowitz” depicts me as a child. Likewise, it shouldn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that certain points of view put forth in my second novel (An Unexpected Exile) are similarly borne from my having personally navigated the more treacherous waters of sex and intimacy in multi-cultural, male-female relationships. But here’s something interesting: Despite being a shoplifting, oversexed adolescent who picks up grown men for sport, twelve-year-old Millie Moskowitz seems to have won readers’ hearts. Twenty-nine-year old Risa Weinberg (An Unexpected Exile’s misguided, beleaguered protagonist), not so much.

Is it possible Risa discomfits readers more than Millie? Female readers know they would never behave as Millie did; perhaps they aren’t quite as certain how they would react to a man like Arturo. Risa is at once attracted and repulsed by Arturo because she automatically sees him as racially, economically, and culturally inferior, an unsuitable candidate from beyond her middle-class, white comfort zone. Once she becomes clouded by sexual desire, she can no longer make reasoned assessments about his character as a man. But ironically, her very desire is borne from the forbidden fruit of dissimilarity.

During my decades-long journey of recovery from “Millie’s” early misadventures, I’ve traversed the equally tricky pathway from lower middle class to comfortably upper middle (okay, upper mid-middle, to be more precise). So I feel qualified to make this stark observation: Say what you will about the “huddled masses,” but they sure speak more candidly (albeit more crudely) about sex, race and money than those aiming for “polite society.” For reasons I cannot quite explain, I feel compelled to tackle these oft-avoided subjects through my fictional characters. If this makes them (and me) a tad less likeable, this is an unfortunate byproduct of being honest.

So I am now going to state the obvious: Racial, class and cultural intolerance is alive and well in America today. Hence, tragedies like Trayvon Martin (only the latest in a long line of similar calamities for which our country is famous) remain a sad fact of life. I daresay that until white America stops seeing everyone else through preconceived lenses of color, class and culture, we will continue projecting subconscious fears and flawed stereotypes onto anyone who looks or sounds different. And those fears are what stubbornly drive our most intimate, personal decisions about who is or isn’t worthy of room in our coveted, gated communities—or a fair shot at our hearts.