Q&A: Erica Jong Feels Miley Cyrus’s Pain

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Groundbreaking erotic novel Fear of Flying turns 40 this year, prompting two anniversary editions of the book and a renewed push to turn it into a movie. By phone from her home, the 71-year-old Jong discussed her sympathy for Miley, her disgust with Fifty Shades, what female bloggers are doing wrong, and her next book, Fear of Dying.

Now that Fear of Flying is turning 40, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

I have no regrets. I should have anticipated the controversy, but who can anticipate controversy? I had no idea. Anybody who instantly goes from being a poet and a graduate student to being a public figure has to be in a state of shock. First people want to praise you, and then they want to attack you. No one can prepare you for it. When I see young women entering that roller coaster, I feel so bad for them. Like Miley Cyrus. First they want to discover her and photograph her, then they want to attack her. It’s so schizophrenic.

Did you watch Miley’s VMA performance?

No, I did not. I don’t even know what that word means, though I’ve heard people talk about it. I’m interested in what happens to people when they get into that publicity machine. We tend to think things have changed, but there’s still a deep sexism underlying the way women are treated publicly. If women write about or display sexuality, there’s an attempt to talk them down and say they’re nothing but sluts.

I hear the Fear of Flying movie might be back on the table, after years of struggle. Where does that stand?

We’re in the process of casting. We’ve had many drafts of a wonderful screenplay that was written by Piers Ashworth with my input and notes, and it’s a marvelous script. We have financing committed, and we’re in the process of casting.

Who do you want to play Isadora?

Oh, I can’t really talk about it! Not until it’s finalized. I don’t want to jinx it.

1976, at Heathrow Airport Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Speaking of erotic movie adaptations, I hear you aren’t a fan of Fifty Shades.

Have you read it?


It is so badly written that you can’t even say it’s written. I mean, nobody even bothered to copyedit it. You will see the same phrase repeated about ten times on a page. When Anastasia has an orgasm she’ll say, “Holy shit,” and she’ll keep saying “holy shit,” “holy cow.” I mean, it’s absolutely a mess of bad writing, but beyond that, it’s a very old-fashioned book. Anastasia is courted by a rich older man. He asks her to be his personal slave. He asks her to sign a contract. He starts giving her things. A laptop, which she can’t afford; she’s a poor student. A car, which she can’t afford. You start to get the notion that it’s about women having sex for money.

And the other thing about bondage — and I have never been into B&D — but you really have to ask what it’s about. And it’s about not taking responsibility for your pleasure, because if you’re bound and gagged and tied to the bedpost and you have an orgasm, you can claim you never really wanted it. You were forced into it. And I think that’s a very retro notion.

Fifty Shades was initially published without pay, as Twilight fan fiction —

Whatever that means.

— have you read any Fear of Flying fan fiction?

I have not.

Do you like the idea of it, though? I found a fan-fiction chapter starring Harry Potter and a vampire named Isadora who has a “great fear of flying”: “I could feel my body shaking with nerves as I watched Harry from the quidditch stands …”

That’s, um, that’s —

Quidditch is when they fly on brooms.

That’s extremely flattering. I can’t say I support it, but when people are blogging about you or writing about you, it’s a form of flattery. As you know, the more people are mentioning your name, the more interest they’re displaying.

There’s also some extremely honest confessional women’s writing online. Do you keep up with blogs?

Sometimes I do. But as a past president of the Writers Guild, I think women shouldn’t write for free. Maybe you have to do it for a time, to make a reputation, but I think the idea of giving your work away is the beginning of authors not being able to make a living. These armies of female bloggers are making it harder and harder for women to make a living writing. You can’t exactly trade a blog for your lighting bill or your rent bill or your food bill. I think professionalism is important, and professionalism means you get paid.

Well, some blogs pay.

What? $200? $100? $50? A few do. Very few. There are a lot of women blogging for free. Certainly the Huffington Post doesn’t pay, although they do pay their editors. They’re getting tremendous amounts of advertising money, they just don’t share it with creators of content.

What do you think of Internet dating? If Isadora Wing had a hookup app, she could have sped up her search for the zipless fuck, no?

You’ll discover that in my next book.

What’s the next book about?

Oh, hard to describe. The Internet does play a role, though. It’s fiction. And very funny. It seems to be called Fear of Dying. We’ll see if that stays the title.

Q&A: Erica Jong Feels Miley Cyrus’s Pain