Sex as a Second Language

Sex as a Second Language

Atria • Hardback & Trade Paperback  April 25, 2006
Purchase Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

Read an Excerpt»

Katherine Miner has decided to withdraw from the world of men at the ripe old age of forty. A former actress, Kat now teaches advanced English as a second language to adults in downtown Manhattan.

But even as Kat prepares her students to venture into the linguistic minefields of casual social contact, she has no intention of risking her own neck. In fact, Kat plans on retiring from sex. It’s not that she hates men. It’s just that she doesn’t trust them. After all, her soon-to-be ex-husband has dropped all contact with their nine-year-old son, and she herself hasn’t spoken to her father in more than thirty years.

Bit then Kat receives a letter from her father that turns her life upside down. And suddenly she is discovering that she still has a lot to learn about men, friendship and kind of nonverbal communication they don’t teach in school.

Alisa Kwitney’s darkly humorous novel affirms that forty is not the end of the world for women – sometimes, it’s just the beginning.

Interview with Alisa Kwitney and Deirdre Martin!
You know the standard author interview format: Where do you get your ideas from, how many hours a day do you write, do you use a computer or dip a quill in your own blood. Yawn. Tired of the same old questions? Then find out what happens when two writers stop being polite and start asking each other what they really want to know.

Read the interview…


Read Between the Lines

A New Look for Spring
I’m not entirely sure why, but my seventy-one year old mother tends to be a surprisingly good indicator of trends. If my mother starts walking around in gold metallic sneakers, I know I’ll soon be seeing them in the New York Times Style section. If she starts singing the praises of some barbecue joint in Harlem, I just wait for the Food Network to follow suit. And when she complains that she’s losing interest in LOST, I brace myself for the series’ cancellation.

So when Mom says that she’s no longer purchasing hardcover novels, I pay attention. “With all the high quality trade paperbacks they print now,” she explains, “there just isn’t the same distinction that there used to be between hardcover and mass market paperback.” According to my mother, trade paperbacks have changed her formerly snobbish attitude about hardcovers, the way HBO TV movies made her rethink her assumption that movie theater films are inherently superior.

Sure enough, I began getting reader mail asking me when Sex as a Second Language is coming out in trade.

Well, the answer is now. As of April 3, SASL is out in trade paperback with an eye-catching new cover and some nifty extras, like a reader’s group guide and an author Q & A.

And even though I don’t always agree with my mother about the little things, (those were not attractive shoes, Mom) I’ve learned to respect her opinions about the big issues. So Flirting in Cars will be published as a trade paperback right away in August.

Naturally, my mother approves my decision. “Not only is it more affordable, but you can fit it more easily into your suitcase.”

I’m holding firm on the shoes, however.

Why is Romance a Dirty Word?

In the first chapter of Sex as a Second Language, my heroine says that the only men she finds attractive are the ones she would be insane to get involved with. Her friend counters that the last time Kat was single was ten year earlier, and hasn’t her taste in the opposite sex changed at all?

Well, Kat admits, she’s no longer attracted to Kevin Costner. But beyond that, my heroine doesn’t really know what she would like in a man. She dismisses Magnus at first because he doesn’t seem articulate and lacks an edge, but it’s pretty damn obvious that she’s going to be reevaluating that initial impression.

Why is it pretty damn obvious? Well, because although my books aren’t published as mainstream romances, they adhere to many of the conventions of the genre. Hero and heroine meet early, and their relationship is central to the book. My endings are, if not happy, then at least hopeful.

And, although my books are often described as “chick lit”, I tend to break the unofficial chick-lit rule that the whole book should remain in female point of view. (This used to be an unofficial romance genre rule, too, until Laura Kinsale revealed just how compelling the hero’s perspective could be.)

Now, as I write this, I am very much aware that admitting to writing chick lit is like admitting to smoke the occasional social cigarette, while admitting to writing romance is like carrying a pack of Marlboros around. It is, to put it bluntly, not quite acceptable. At family gatherings, relatives ask, Aren’t you ready to quit yet?

And I say, No, because I’m enjoying myself too much. And why the hell is romance such a dirty word, anyway? Literary authors who think nothing of dabbling in other genres – mystery, fantasy, young adult – still treat romance as if it were in some way inherently inferior.

But I don’t see romance that way. For me, the general structure of romance fiction is open and roomy enough to allow me to create my own kind of stories. And I like the way romance allows me to make my hero a catalyst for my heroine’s change, and vice versa. I also like the way in which the expectations of the romance genre give me something concrete to play with, as I explore the themes that interest me – the way honesty and deception can get tangled up with each other, the confluence of the personal and professional in modern life, how strange we all are under the surface, and how wonderful it feels when we reveal our hidden strangeness and find a kindred strangeness in somebody else.

Which is why I don’t think it matters whether or not a reader can predict the ending of a romance. The real challenge, for me, is in convincing my own cynical self that it makes emotional and psychological sense for these characters to wind up together.

—Alisa Kwitney, off to watch Dear Frankie on DVD for the third time. Hey, it’s research – Gerard Butler’s restrained yearning is as sexy as his Scottish accent.


The romance between Kat and Magnus is, except for the CIA part, true-to-life and achingly bittersweet. Kwitney even gives them one of the sexiest scenes involving two 40-somethings since “The Thomas Crown Affair.”—Debra Pickett of the Chicago Sun Times

“Alisa Kwitney’s Sex as a Second Language [has] …intriguing characters…The engaging heroine, a well-drawn cast and the author’s compassionate eye takes what might have been Chick Lit of the Week to a much more satisfying level.”—Barbara Samuel for Bookpage

“an engaging and intelligently written comedy–with a few genuinely titillating sex scenes.”—Publishers Weekly

Sex as a Second Language, Alisa Kwitney’s smart, sassy, sexy tale of the single mom who brings in a spy from the cold and warms him up, is funny and emotionally true, a great read!”—Jennifer Crusie, bestselling author of Bet Me

“Another sexy, smart book from Alisa Kwitney. Sex and a Second Language is a wonderful coming-of-ago (in this case, 40) story about finding passion in the most unlikely of places.”—Valerie Frankel, author of The Girlfriend Curse and Hex and the Single Girl

“Smart, funny and very real. Alisa Kwitney gets to the heart of relationships and portrays them with wit and honesty. Women who’ve reached the ripe young age of forty will identify with the heroine’s concerns, attitude, and longings.”—Leslie Schnur, author of The Dog Walker