Millions of men and (no doubt many) women have watched famed black porn queen Debbie Dare—she of the blond wig and blue contacts—“do it” on television and computer screens in every combination of partners and positions imaginable. But after an unexpected and thunderous on-set orgasm catches her unawares, Debbie returns home to find her porn-producer husband dead, electrocuted in their hot tub in the midst of “auditioning” an aspiring young starlet.
Burdened with massive debt—incurred by her husband, and which various L.A. heavies want to collect on—Debbie must find a way to extricate herself from the peculiar subculture of the porn industry and reconcile herself to sacrifices she’s made along the way. In Debbie Doesn’t Do it Anymore, the creator of the Easy Rawlins series has painted a moving portrait of a resilient soul in search of salvation and a cure for grief.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 12, 1952
Place of Birth:Los Angeles, California
Education:B.A., Johnson State College
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from the hardcover edition
I was reclining on my backside, thighs spread wide open. The smell of flower-scented lubricant filled the air, and hot lights burned down on my sweat-slick black skin. Blubbery and pink-skinned Myron “Big Dick” Palmer was slamming his thing into me, saying, “Oh, baby. Yeah, baby. Daddy’s comin’ home. He’s almost there, almost there.” There were two high-def video cameramen working us: one moving from face to face while the other focused on our genitals. The still photographer was Carmen Alia from Brazil. The recycling hum of her digital camera buzzed around us like a hungry horsefly circling an open wound.
“More passion!” Linda Love, the director, yelled.
She was talking to me. Myron always had the same passion in any sex scene because he closed his eyes and imagined that he was with Nora Brathwait, his high school sweetheart. She had never let him go all the way and every sex scene he ever did was dedicated to wiping that humiliation from his heart.
Luckily for me Myron’s size pushed his thing against a sore spot deep inside. So when Linda called for more feeling I stopped thinking about the details of the shoot and began to concentrate on how much he was hurting me with his attempt to penetrate all the way back to adolescence.
I allowed the pain to show in my face with each stabbing lunge.
“That’s better,” Linda said.
“Almost there,” Myron moaned for what seemed like the hundredth time. “Uh‑uh.”
The grunting meant that he was about to orgasm. I knew it, Myron knew it, and, worst of all, Linda was aware of what was coming--so to speak.
Within the next six seconds she’d cry, “On your knees, Debbie,” and I’d have to jump down while looking up into the bright lights as Myron Big Dick ejaculated on my face and breasts.
That was the money shot, the reason I woke up at five a.m., spent hours doing makeup and hair, toes and fingers; it was the reason I’d capped my front teeth, had breast implants, worked out two hours a day five days a week with trainer-to-the-stars Efron Fuentes, and shaved my pussy more often than my husband shaved his chin.
The money shot was not only my paycheck but the salary of every grip, cameraman, makeup artist, and gofer in the room. Our reason for living would spout from Myron Palmer’s big pink dick.
This was no revelation. I had experienced thousands of ejaculations from men of every color, size, and nationality. I had been spouted upon in Moscow, Kingston, Paris, and Johannesburg. This was my job, and the only thing I worried about was keeping the acrid stuff out of my eyes.
I was preparing to slide down from the sofa onto my knees when something amazing happened.
Myron grunted and Carmen switched to a double flash setting, Linda cried, “Debbie . . .” and Myron plunged up against the one spot in my entire sex that still had sensation. I could feel a blast from the air conditioner and the crusty fabric of the sofa where we teetered, me on my back wearing only leopard-print high-high heels and Myron on his knees thrusting, thrusting. And then, completely unbidden, I imagined a tall, olive-skinned man with intense eyes standing in the corner of the crowded room. I knew this man but could not name him. I was moving toward him and at the same time I was being stalked by the most powerful orgasm that I’d ever experienced. The faster I moved the closer the feeling came until suddenly I was bucking and screaming, begging for more.
“. . . on your knees!” Linda shouted, but I was way beyond taking orders from her. I could feel my nipples getting so tight that they seemed to be pinching themselves, and I felt the full weight of the experience of every one of my thirty-one years.
Myron pushed me off the red sofa and onto the floor. Then he stood up, drizzling his semen on me while I jerked around like a mackerel just landed on the deck of a day boat off San Pedro.
I wanted to stop but the orgasm was relentless, like a series of storm-driven waves crashing down on the shore. The only option open to me was to let go of consciousness while Linda and her producers tried to figure a way to save the shot and all our paychecks.
I woke up in what was once the nursery of the Bel-Air mansion. The owner of the house had been a movie producer for one of the big studios until his star waned. He foolishly mortgaged his house to finance his girlfriend’s film, Fun for Fauna. The movie didn’t even make it to DVD and now the owner, Sherman Pettigrew, rented his place for porno shoots whenever he could. Sherman lived in a trailer behind his ex-girlfriend’s new beau’s house in Topanga Canyon.
Anyway . . . I came awake on a daybed in the barren nursery of the failed movie producer’s house, stillborn into wakefulness after wasting what seemed like the last iota of passion in my life.
“You okay?” a soft voice asked.
I raised my head and saw Lana Leer sitting on a pink wicker chair. She was very petite, very white, with hair as short as a new recruit’s buzz cut.
“I passed out,” I said.
“It’s so embarrassing.”
Lana giggled. Then she laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked even though I knew the answer.
“I don’t mean to make fun, Deb, but it is kinda silly for a woman who’s had sex with five men at once to be shy about an orgasm.”
“Where is everybody?”
“They left. Linda asked me to stay and make sure you were all right but I would have anyway.”
I realized that it was dark outside. When I shifted in the bed I felt the long-lasting slick lubricant between my thighs.
“How long was I out?”
“A long time.”
“Was Linda mad?”
“No. Myron really saved the day. You looked good with him standing over you like that. It looked real.”
“I have to get home, Lana,” I said, trying to gather the strength to sit upright. “Has anybody heard from my husband?”
Linda reached out and took my hands. She remained steady and I was able to pull myself up.
“No. I called the house but only got the service.”
“Thanks for staying with me. I remember once in Jamaica that dickhead Lester Foley got me high and left me in a hut on the beach without any clothes.”
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” the diminutive personal assistant said.
There were three police cars, their red and blue lights flashing angrily, parked on the sidewalk, the lawn, and up in the driveway of our home on South Elm in Pasadena.
Lana and I were walking up the slight incline of the lawn headed for the front door when someone said, “Excuse me, ladies; this is a possible crime scene and we’re not allowing anyone in.”
He was a small man in a black uniform with blue eyes and pink skin. He recognized me from his porno collection; I could see it in those startled eyes. There aren’t many black-skinned women with long white hair and deep blue contact lenses. Debbie Dare was almost unique in the capital of a cliched profession.
“Aren’t you--” he began to ask.
“The owner of this house,” I said. “What crime has possibly been committed?”
“Wait here, ma’am,” he said, and I knew the news had to be bad.
Lana put a hand on my shoulder. It felt so heavy that I almost fell down. My legs were still weak from the unwanted orgasm and now this.
The uniform called into the front door of my house. A few seconds later a slender man in a cheap dark green suit came out. He traded a few words with the cop, looked in our direction, and, hesitantly I thought, walked toward us.
“Mrs. Pinkney?” he asked, looking at Lana.
“Yes,” Lana said, “this is Mrs. Pinkney.”
“Your husband, ma’am,” he said, shifting his gaze to me.
He had passive, maybe even kind eyes and if he recognized me that fact was hidden behind an honest attempt at sympathy.
“What about him?”
The plainclothes cop tilted his head to the side and I couldn’t help but think that that was the way he spoke to his mother when he’d been bad and had to come to her to confess the breaking of a water glass or leaving a door open, allowing the family pet to escape.
“He expired,” the policeman said.
“Expired?” Lana asked.
“Oh my God,” Lana said, and then she began to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
The news hit me like a bucket of cold water. Finally the intensity of my session with Myron was flushed away.
“I want to see him,” I said.
The electricity was out in the house. Yellow metal stalks with powerful incandescent lamps, brought in by the police, eerily illuminated the sunken all-white living room and the double-wide hall that went past Theon’s bedroom and mine. There was an even stronger light coming from the master bathroom. I could see the shadows of people moving around in there, mumbling words that I couldn’t quite make out.
“Maybe you shouldn’t see him like this,” the plainclothes cop said at the door.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Your first name.”
“Is that short for something?”
“I was named after Perry Como. My mother loved his voice.”
“Are you married, Perry?”
“Yes. Of, of course.” He said these last three words showing me the wedding band on his left hand.
“If it was your wife in there would you walk away because some stranger told you to?”
The policeman looked down and I instantly liked him. He took a step back and I walked into the huge bathroom.
There were three men and two women in there, all of them wearing blue hairnets and thin rubber gloves. One man was vacuuming the floor with a handheld device while another, a black woman, was taking photographs with a digital camera--bringing Carmen Alia to my mind.
I was further reminded of a porno shoot when I saw the inhabitants of our wide, baby blue circular bathtub.
My husband, Theon Pinkney, was naked on his back with his big belly up above the waterline. His left arm was around Jolie Wins, a sixteen-year-old wanna be adult cinema star.
Jolie was my polar opposite with her black hair and pale white skin. She didn’t look dead.
There was a high-end video camera submerged at the far side of the tub. It was plugged into a wall and had tumbled into the impromptu sex scene that they were filming.
Theon had been a major star in the porn world before he was my husband. He called himself Axel Rod. After he got fat he became a somewhat successful manager before the stars and directors wrested their careers from producers, agents, and managers. Theon probably told Jolie that this was an audition, and he plugged in the camera because the battery had gone dead while he fucked her for hours.
Theon had lost his physical appeal but he could keep up an erection longer than any man I’d ever met.
“Mrs. Pinkney?” Lieutenant Perry Mendelson said.
There was the sound of a grunting moan in the background. Again I was reminded of my work.
“Are you all right?” the policeman asked.
“Why are the police here, Perry?”
“People have died.”
“But it looks like an accident. Do you think he was murdered?”
“No,” he said. “The way we see it the girl’s foot got tangled in the wire and, and, and when she . . .”
“When she moved to get on top of him the camera fell in,” I said.
“Then why is half the Pasadena police department in my home?”
“Your housekeeper, Mrs. Julia Slatkin, came in and found them. She called nine-one-one and said that it was murder. When someone claims foul play we are legally obligated to do an initial investigation.”
“Is this your husband?”
“Yes, it is.”
“The housekeeper already ID’d him but I’m required to ask.”
“Where is Julia?”
“She was distraught. I had one of my men drive her home. Do you know the girl, Mrs. Pinkney?”
“No,” I lied. “No, I don’t. Who is she?”
“We didn’t find any identification in her purse.”
“She looks like a child. My husband was having sex with a child.”
Perry Mendelson looked into my eyes and saw a blank slate. I turned away and went to Lana. She was on the floor in the hall, grunting and moaning, crying with an abandon I rarely felt.
I went to her and hunkered down. It was a familiar movement, a sex position without a partner.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said. And then to Perry, who was standing above us, “How long is this investigation going to last?”
“We can wrap it up in a couple of hours. I’ll have some questions but they can wait until tomorrow if you don’t feel up to it right now.”
“That would be great. I’m an early riser. And, Perry?”
“If you don’t think it’s a crime you can have them take Theon’s body to Threadley Brothers Mortuary. There’s somebody there all night.”
That night Lana and I lay side by side on white satin sheets under black cashmere blankets. I didn’t really need the company, but Lana was a delicate girl and too upset to drive herself home.
She snored softly and pressed against me. I didn’t sleep much but that wasn’t unusual. I hadn’t had a full night’s rest in many years. It wasn’t that I was sad or even insomniac. I just didn’t seem to need that much sleep. Usually when Theon and I were both home he’d have sex with me and then drop off. For most of the night I’d read books at random, napping at odd times between chapters or sections; sometimes I’d even nod off in the middle of a sentence.
Over the years I read Tolstoy and Tennyson, Mary Higgins Clark and John Updike, Roger Zelazny and Octavia Butler in the early, early hours of the morning. I didn’t finish as many books as some because I usually put down a story I didn’t like and reread, many times over, those that I enjoyed.
If Theon woke up and found me reading he’d usually fuck me again. That was his talent--he could have sex anytime with anyone. If he didn’t like burritos and cheesecake so much he could have been a porn star up into his seventies.
But the reason he had sex didn’t have to do with love or the physical passion I’d felt that afternoon with Myron. Sex for Theon always had a definite purpose, like when he’d drowsily awake and see me reading. I was a herd mare and he was an aging stallion running with all his might to keep up.
Little Deaths: Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Walter Mosley
Walter Mosley, a prolific author by any definition, has leaped around literary genres with a singular abounding ease. His dozen books featuring stalwart private eye Easy Rawlins are crowded on the bookshelf behind many other novels and works of nonfiction, as well as a graphic novel with the collaboration of Marvel icon Stan Lee, two plays, and even erotica. And yet Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore, Mosley's unsettling and explicit journey through the strange and intriguingly sympathetic world of the pornography industry, is a foray into new territory. Featuring a particularly memorable protagonist, the novel combines a notoriously rough subject with heart and provides a unique insight into one of the world's most marginalized professions.
Sandra Peel or Debbie Dare, as she's known on screen is ready to quit her job. It's not easy to be one of the most recognizable figures in the adult film industry, and as a black woman with platinum blond hair, bright blue contacts, and a signature bull's-eye tattoo on her right cheek, she's not exactly easy to miss. But when a particularly eventful day on set is followed by the startling death of her husband, Theon electrocuted in the bathtub while filming a coital romp with a sixteen- year-old industry wannabe Deb decides that her days of counterfeit moaning and ubiquitous lubricant are over. As encroaching nihilism threatens to fill the void of her former career, Deb must decide what she wants to live for, or face certain destruction in what most would call an attempt at a normal life.
Just before the publication of Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore, Walter Mosley spoke with me about the novel's conception, the equivocal morality of the industry, and two of the novelist's favorite subjects sex and death. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. Sarah Ungerleider
The Barnes & Noble Review: What made you pick such a unique character to carry the story?
Walter Mosley: It's more like she picked me. A long while ago, I was having a conversation with somebody, and though I don't remember exactly what the conversation was about, in a general sense it was about pornography. And at one point I said, "Well, Debbie doesn't do it anymore," and I thought, "Wow, what a great title that would be." That phrase bounced around in my head for years, and when I finally sat down with that title, this story is what came out. It's kind of a light title. It could almost fit as the title of a comedy, but that's not what this book turned out to be.
BNR: Was there something specific in Deb's character that appealed to you and made you want to write about her?
WM: I started writing, and her character appeared. Once I had the title, I decided I would write about a person in the adult film industry who is in the process of leaving it. For me, the title Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore addresses a much larger issue than the pornography industry. It has a closer relationship to the central theme of Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener. Bartleby says again and again, "I would prefer not to," and Deb has a similar conviction that she's not going to play the game anymore. What's interesting to me about her character is that she's someone who's decided to jettison what she owes to the company store and to start living life on her own terms.
BNR: Deb's decision to stop making films doesn't exactly begin with her husband's tragic death but with an unexpected and particularly powerful orgasm on set that actually makes her pass out. Why does this rush of physical pleasure seem to jump-start a massive emotional transformation within Deb, whereas her husband's demise seems to barely register at least at first?
WM: I'm not so sure about the second part of that. It's not clear what Deb's response is to Theon's death, because as a reader, at the beginning of the book you don't yet know the identity of the girl who died on top of her husband in that tub. In fact, it is very potent and powerful for her to see such a young girl dead, a girl whom Deb tried to help in the past, as we later find out.
Regarding the orgasm, there is not an iota of pleasure in it, which is why Deb actually lets herself go unconscious rather than to keep feeling it. It happened in a job that means nothing to her, and that is certainly not arousing to her after so many years in the business. What's more, during the orgasm she imagines an olive-skinned man watching her, who turns out to be a representation of her desire to kill herself. It's really a very ugly thing, and so it's the combination of the deaths of her husband and the young girl, Jolie Wynn, and the unpleasantness of feeling something so powerful in her work environment, that causes her to quit. I think they all have equal roles in changing her life.
BNR: In French, there's a euphemism for the word "orgasm": la petite mort or "little death."
BNR: There seems to be a very strong connection between sex and death in this novel, starting with Deb's vision of the olive- skinned man while she's being filmed.
WM: It has to do with the degradation of her profession, a profession that makes people a lot of money, that people pay a lot of attention to, but at the same time is generally looked down upon and thought of as morally wrong.
Additionally, inside the profession itself, people are dying all the time. They have heart attacks, they get terrible diseases, they kill themselves, they get murdered. It's really a very dark path that people in the adult film industry are following. Death is ever-present. Deb and Theon's close relationship to an L.A. mortician, and this feeling like they have to bury their co-workers who have died is beyond what occurs in other professions.
I never say this outright in the book, but being in the industry is kind of like being in a cult. It's not so unlike being a policeman or a firefighter. You get to a point in those jobs where no one on the outside understands you, only those who work beside you day after day. In a way, you are killing yourself even if you don't actually die, because you are giving up everything that you were before you took that job.
BNR: When you were writing the novel, did you have the chance to talk to anyone involved in the adult film industry?
WM: Nah. Though after I finished the book, I was on a plane flying from L.A. to New Jersey, and I guess there's a big porn convention in New Jersey every year, so the plane was filled with performers from all over the world. I was sitting next to a woman and we discussed the industry for four hours. And it looks like most of the things I wrote about were accurate [laughs]. But I did not do research before writing this book.
BNR: Deb doesn't really mention that she has a son until almost three-fourths of the way through the book. As the narrator, why doesn't she speak of him earlier?
WM: There are a couple of little moments where she mentions him, early on, but it's not clear what their relationship is. She doesn't talk about him because she doesn't want to think about him. He's not a central part of her life because she's given him up. She understood early on, though she wanted the experience of having this baby, she couldn't bring a child into the life that she was living. So, she gave him up to who she felt was a better person: her stepsister.
BNR: When Deb decides to get out of the business, she visits her son and is encouraged by her stepsister to take him back and raise him on her own. Yet as she grows closer to reclaiming her son and the semblance of a normal life, she more seriously considers killing herself. Why move closer to death when she has this kind of second chance?
WM: Suicide is something that Deb can't escape, which is why her personification of suicide, the olive-skinned man, appears and calls to her during that very unwanted orgasm, a physical response that she has no use or want for anymore. Suicide is a part of the "not doing it anymore." It's not just her career. Her life is over.
She loves her son. But not only does she feel he doesn't need her, she thinks that she would be wrong for him as a mother. She's the most recognizable person in the industry, so what happens when her son is twelve years old and he sees her having sex on film? Sex in every way you can possibly imagine, on every continent, in hundreds of movies. It's not that she doesn't care, it's that she cares so much she'd rather give up a life as a mother because it's better for the child.
BNR: At one point Deb says, "It's not that I think it [porn] is wrong. I mean, it ain't wrong to work in a coal mine for a dollar a ton...it just ain't worth it." Did you find yourself considering the ethics of the adult film industry while writing this novel?
WM: The ethics of the porn industry is nothing compared to the ethics of war. We have thousands of young men and women across the ocean killing people, and I question the ethics of those actions. I question the ethics of the CIA supporting Muammar al-Gaddafi, The ethics of the porn industry are basically the ethics of sex. And we know what the ethics of sex are. Sex is sex.
BNR: But there is a mass exposure aspect, a public nature inherent in pornography that gives it another layer.
WM: True, but there was once a time where if a woman showed her ankles, it was incredibly risqué. There are parts of the world today where if a woman shows her face, she might be killed for doing so. The idea of exposure is relational, it's not an absolute. People have sex, a mother tells her daughter to find a man with a good job so he can take care of her. Is that prostitution?
One thing Deb has to learn and accept is that she's not a bad person. What she does is not bad, what happens because of what she does is bad. The act itself, though, that's a job. And the actions of that job are clear in the first five pages of the book or so: the lights are shining, there's lubricant everywhere, her co-star Myron's there and being filmed alongside her, and there's the director and the photographer. I mean, it's work. And maybe it's unhealthier than working in a coal mine, but not by much. I mean, working in a coal mine is really bad for you.
BNR: Toward the end of the novel, as Deb is preparing to commit suicide, the jealous girlfriend of a man who's infatuated with Deb slashes her face with a knife and almost kills her. After her brush with death, Deb loses the urge to end her life. Why does coming so close to death remove the urge to actually meet it?
WM: It's an interesting notion. I imagine it like this: life is a balloon, and it's being pumped full of air. There's more and more air being pumped in every day, and eventually it's about to explode. And then a certain person comes along and pokes a hole in the balloon, and it deflates instead. In Deb's case, what's deflating is the desire to commit suicide. It's almost as if instead of having to do it herself, this jealous woman has done it for her, or at least tried to, and got so close to actually killing her that Deb is no longer the owner of that urge. She can let go and start a new life.
BNR: So is this the last we'll see of Debbie Dare (or Sandra Peel, as she'll go by from now on)?
WM: Well you know it's funny; I have no idea whether she will return in this particular medium, but right now I'm working with my business partners on producing a Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore television series.
BNR: I'm guessing that the show will not appear on basic cable.
WM: It could be on basic cable. I mean, it's not going to be on ABC. But you don't have to have graphic sex or nudity in order to do a show like this. This is not a book about sex. I wrote a book about sex, Killing Johnny Fry, a "sexistentialist" novel that someone can get excited by, but there's no excitement in the sex in Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore. It's not a book about sex, it's a book about the sex industry.
BNR: Finally, you've written over forty books at this point. What fuels the engine, so to speak?
WM: Well, I love writing. Is that a good enough answer?
BNR: It's the best answer.
WM: I love to write. I write every day. If I don't write, I'm unhappy. I'm always writing and I'm always thinking about writing. I love doing it. That's it.
June 11, 2014