INTERVIEWER: Thank you for taking a moment to answer a few questions. Please tell me a bit about your book.
ZOLA: Originally published as Virgins! A Memoir of the Sexual Revolution, this is a collection of love letters to the first man I made love with, then men who were virgins with me. The book covers from 1967 to 1981. Men as Virgins has an additional three chapters, a preface and an epilogue where a man has the last word.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you write VIRGINS?
ZOLA: I wanted to understand my own sexuality as well as men. I had six sisters and no brothers, so men were like aliens. Furthermore, my excessive sex drive puzzled me. Only now psychology links hyper-sexuality to being bi-polar or manic-depressive, or another diagnosis I received: borderline personality.
INTERVIEWER: Who will benefit from reading your book?
ZOLA: College students looking for love, women, Baby Boomers from my generation, and men, curious how other men handled their virginity.
Sometimes, it’s better to learn from books than real life. As a friend once said, “Experience is the best teacher, but the most expensive.”
INTERVIEWER: What challenges did you encounter while writing VIRGINS?
ZOLA: Structure. When I finally discarded a linear timeline and gave each man one chapter, despite the time overlaps with the other relationships, then I had control over the material.
Additionally, I stopped drinking and taking drugs. Writing and drinking for my first novel, left half of The 13th Vampire Mission, about good vampires versus bad vampires, in my head and not on paper. When I smoked marihuana, I couldn’t write a decent paragraph for three days.
INTERVIEWER: What did you learn that surprised even you about the subject matter or about yourself while writing VIRGINS?
ZOLA: While writing it, I felt I was on my deathbed, reviewing my life. I felt like I was cleaning kitchen cabinets, having to remove everything in them, throw out food that had gone bad, finger-tip remove icky dead insects, and scrub away years of mildew and dirt, and then, suddenly, find a diamond of insight.
I also learned how culture impacts relationships. It’s very hard being young.
INTERVIEWER: Which word best describes the experience of writing the book: enjoyable, cathartic, gratifying, educational, frustrating, challenging – and why?
ZOLA: All of those! Writing unifies my entire being: my emotions, intellect, memories and experiences, making me feel whole and complete. I used to say the two things in life I love the most were making love and writing, and when I wasn’t doing one, I was doing the other.
When I was writing the book, I felt a pulsating, circular light in the middle of my chest. The closer I got to finishing it, that light slowly moved left, towards my heart.
INTERVIEWER: When did you know that you wanted to become a writer?
ZOLA: I wanted to be an artist when about five. At ten, a paragraph published in my school newspaper. At 15, I had two essays published in the Chicago Tribune’s “Voice of Youth”. I was determined to be a psychologist, and write books on the side, like Rollo May’s Love & Will.
INTERVIEWER: What books have influenced your writing?
ZOLA: At college, I loved Russian novels because they had more than one or two main characters, unlike most American novels. Since I read much psychology, those authors would be included, including Fromm’s Art of Loving and Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
For five years, all I read was non-fiction, psychology, the occult and mysticism, such as Alice A. Baily, Leadbetter, and Urantia. As a writer, my heroes are Emile Zola, D. H. Lawrence, and Anais Nin – her novels, not her journals. I also love Faulkner. Nowadays my favorite writer is Kingsolver. Her books are exquisite, bursting with love and compassion. I recently read a highly literate novel The Alchemy of Desire by Tarunj Tejpal.
INTERVIEWER: How did your childhood influence your writing?
ANSWER: Such a big question! I’m the sixth of seven daughters. Despite being dyslexic, I learned to read because my school used phonetics. Additionally, both parents were big readers. I read everything as a child, including the Bible and a huge dictionary which had word origins. My sisters and I also read Classic Comic Books.
My childhood was difficult so school was a safe place compared to the emotional chaos at home. I became a bookworm because books were an escape, especially Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.
INTERVIEWER: Who is your favorite author?
ZOLA: That’s like asking a painter which is their favorite color. I greatly enjoyed Mean Genes by Burnham and Phelan and Lost Discoveries by Teresi. Being in my sixties, I could list thousands of authors!
INTERVIEWER: Why do you write?
ZOLA: I used to write because I had too much energy. Writing channeled that energy into something productive. Nowadays, I want to share what I’ve learned about life with other people.
INTERVIEWER: What do you love to do nowadays – other than write?
ZOLA: My favorite experience is being with people I love and who love, understand, and accept me – that’s paradise on earth.
INTERVIEWER: What's next?
ZOLA: The Expats. I’d like to compress teaching overseas in Arabia and Asia for 25 years into one great, fantastic and entertaining novel.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
ZOLA: Yes, I think virginity and sexuality are our own personal nuclear energy - and just as dangerous as nuclear bombs – and their fallout lasts for life.
Loving and being loved is the central core of what makes us human. Our virginity sets the stage - the pattern - for our lives.
Family home outside Chicago, 1954, in Des Plaines, which is also home to the first McDonald's.
Me and my six sisters. I'm fifth from the left (the short one).
Writing the book felt like dying. This is one of my first photos -a cemetery near Rogers Park, Chicago, 1974.
Some books I've loved over time.