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Author Jackie Collins Remembered For Impact On Steamy Fiction

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Jackie Collins has died. Over five decades of writing, she sold more than half a billion steamy novels to her fans. Collins never wanted to be a literary writer. She said she didn't care what critics thought about her because 15-year-old girls still read my novels under the bed covers with a flashlight. But her legendary sex scenes have entertained readers of all ages for more than half a century. Freelance journalist Annalisa Quinn joins us now in the studio to talk about Jackie Collins.

Welcome.

ANNALISA QUINN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, there are a lot of racy novels out there. What was the secret of Jackie Collins' success?

QUINN: Her books are orgies of sex and wealth and violence, but they're also funny and transgressive and told a lot of girls that it's OK to like sex. Her motto was girls can do anything. And that didn't just apply to sexual empowerment, but it also applied to being a mob boss or knowing how to shoot a gun. Her most famous heroine was Lucky Santangelo, and she was cool, calm, assured and with more balls than a tennis court.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

QUINN: Her heroines are fearless, and women find that empowering. Jackie Collins' heroines sleep around. And they have affairs. And they carry handguns in their purses. And they never chip a nail while going after what they want.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Now, this is the age, of course, of "50 Shades of Gray." Sex in novels is not a big surprise, but Collins sort of - she started writing in the '60s and '70s when sex in novels was, I think, more restrained. So I imagine her novels were considered shocking?

QUINN: Absolutely. She was one of the first mainstream novelists to write openly and graphically about women loving to have sex. Her first novel came out in 1968, which was five years before Erica Jong's notorious "Fear Of Flying." Her first novel, which was "The World Is Full Of Married Men," was banned in Australia and South Africa because of the sex scenes. And it was so racy that Deng Xiaoping suggested that her publishers should be executed.

WERTHEIMER: What was she like as a person?

QUINN: Well, in a lot of ways, Jackie Collins lived her life like a Jackie Collins heroine. She was witty. She was charming, and she was completely unapologetic about her sex life. She liked to talk about the fact that she had an affair, she says, with Marlon Brando when she was a teenager. She lost a husband and then a fiance to cancer, but she wrote an essay a few months ago saying that at age 77, she lived her life like a cool bachelor with a man for every occasion.

WERTHEIMER: Freelance journalist and critic Annalisa Quinn. She covers books and culture. Thank you very much

QUINN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.