To begin with, we’ll shed light on the discrepancy between the hardcover version of Paradise and the paperback version.
It is a small change. Barely noticable. Who would have ever thought there was such a story behind it?
This came to our attention when a question was posed to Judith regarding her comparison of Meryl Saunders to a “Mormon Mouseketeer.” Having read only the paperback version at the time, I was confused and completely befuddled by any mention of a Mouseketeer — much less a Mormon Mouseketeer. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the reason I had no recollection of it is because the phrase is not in the paperback version at all.
For those of you who perhaps do not have access to a hardcover, the passage is as follows:
But it was not Meryl’s body the ABC group was staring at, it was her face — a face that graced movie and television screens all over the world; a face whose girlish sweetness and outspoken Mormon beliefs had made her America’s darling. Adolescents liked her because she was so pretty and looked so young; parents liked her because she set a wholesome image for their teenagers; and producers liked her because she was one hell of an actress and because any movie she was in was guaranteed to gross in the mega-millions. Never mind that she was twenty-three years old with a strong sexual appetite — in the pulse beat of shocked silence that greeted Meryl’s arrival, Matt felt as if he’d been caught in the act of seducing a Mouseketeer, a Mormon Mouseketeer.
Paradise (pp. 123)
Below, Judith tells us why she used the phrase to begin with, as well as why she decided to change it to “Alice in Wonderland” when the paperback neared its release date.
Alright — why did I use the term “Mormon Mouseketeer” in the first place? I wanted to illustrate why the situation was so embarrassing for Matt and for Meryl’s image. The word that came to mind that illustrated wholesome youth , old-fashioned ideals and a youthful performer was: “Mouseketeer!” Great. I used that. But there was one big complication, one that I have to keep in mind throughout every book: My readers span four generations and range in age from 14 to 94, with most of them centered between 25 and 65.
That main group covers four decades. If I used “Mouseketeer,” most readers between 25 and 45 wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about. They might have known what a Mouseketeer was, but they wouldn’t have been old enough to have experienced the epidemic of adultation and immitation the original Mouseketeers recieved from my age group.
I’d already gone to great lengths describing Meryl’s wholesome, American sweetheart image — an image that simply doesn’t fit with current 23 year old movie stars. My readers would know that. In real life, the media would dub her a phony, and she’d be laughed out of Hollywood, ridiculed. Unless. Unless. She was a Mormon Mouseketeer!
That worked. Readers, regardless of their ages, would get the picture. And to be honest, I actually paused to consider whether Mormons or anyone else might feel offended, and I decided the answer was definitely a “no.” I arrived at that conclusion because to my way of thinking, Meryl Saunders hadn’t done anything wrong. It was clear in the scene that she was only using his house while he was away; it was clear that Matt had just arrived in Carmel that morning and he was about to leave for Chicago. I realized her negligee was very revealing, but she was sleeping alone in it. If she’d been sleeping alone in the nude, there wouldn’t have been anything immoral about that. Therefore, I reasoned that a red negligee was perfectly okay. And it made sense that a 23 year old woman who was a symbol of wholesomeness — and who was perfectly wholesome, in my viewpoint — might wear something very sexy when she was alone, just for the fun of it.
I also thought the way she carried off the embarrassing moment with the press was adorable, not to mention mature and brave. I liked her so much that I’ve kept her in mind for a possible role in some future book.
If I had implied that Meryl was Matt’s lover, or that she had another lover with her at the house in Carmel, I would never have used the word “Mormon” to describe her, because, in my mind, that would have been an indirect slur. Whatever my faults, I would no more ridicule someone’s religion than I would redicule a person’s handicap.
So the book went to press and the hardcover hit the book stores.
Two weeks later, I recieved my first batch of reader mail on Paradise. In it was an envelope with a Utah postmark, and inside that envelope was a letter from a Mormon woman in her sixties who was displeased by my mention of her religion. She expressed her displeasure with me — along with her deep, profound love of an all-powerful God — by condemning me and my books to the fires of eternal hell!
Wait a minute! Hell? Eternal hell? I wondered what she wished on someone who cut her off in traffic. I decided she was a fanatic, tossed the letter into the trash and forgot about it. For another week or two.
In the same batch of mail, I recieved two more letters from women who were Mormon. They did not curse me or threaten me. In the gentlest way, one of them attempted to explain the abiding respect Mormons have for marriage and love-making. She ended by saying that she knew from reading my books that I am not the sort of person who would deliberately set out to hurt of shame anyone, and she knew that hadn’t been my intent.
The second letter was just as gentle — just as “Godly” in it’s writer’s desire to explain not blame. She sent me as a gift, The Book of Mormon. No other letters ever arrived concerning my use of that word, but when the paperback version was nearing release, I asked my editor to have it deleted.
I’ve never been completely clear on precisely what Meryl did that was offensive as a Mormon, but as I re-read that passage tonight, for the first time in years, I have a feeling it wasn’t what she was wearing or anything she did. I think it may have been the comment about her having a “strong sexual appetite.” And the funny/sad part of that is: I don’t think I wrote that. I’d have to spend a week in the attic going through boxes, but I would bet that was a copy-editor change that I didn’t notice because I only had one day to proof-read the galleys. (Which was my fault because the manuscript was so late they were typesetting it while I faxed in the pages.)
I would have said “normal” sexual appetite, or “normal and healthy.” I wouldn’t have said “strong,” because I was trying to point out that she was a normal, healthy young woman who was forced to live up to the public’s image of her. It doesn’t matter at this point.
You’ll notice we didn’t simply drop the word “Mormon” and settle for “Mouseketeer,” in the paperback, and now you’ll understand why.
So there you are — the story behind the story.
Copyright: Simon & Schuster, Rememberboard, circa 1997