No one knows how to shock a reader with sexual frankness and kinky family drama like author Erica Jong. Her spicy debut novel, Fear of Flying, became an international sensation 30 years ago, flying out of bookstores; 18 million copies are in print worldwide. Now her daughter (by her ex-husband, writer Jonathan Fast) is giving her a run for her money. In The Sex Doctors in the Basement: True Stories from a Semi-Celebrity Childhood (Villard; 192 pages), novelist Molly Jong-Fast, 26, tells of growing up Jong and Fast. TIME sat down for a chat with mother and daughter.
How did you decide to become a writer?
MOLLY: I originally wrote because I wanted to have something to talk to my parents about. It's the real truth. I felt that was something they would sort of be impressed by.
How did you feel when Molly started to express an interest in writing?
ERICA: She never spoke about it. She just sat down at 19 and wrote Normal Girl [a novel]. What always amazed me, because I've done some guest teaching for some writers, is that the hardest thing for any young writer is to get her voice into her work, and Molly seemed to have that from the beginning.
Did you have apprehensions about Molly being compared to you?
ERICA: Not really. I think being a writer is tough as a career, especially in America where you're required to reinvent yourself all the time, as I did with the first big success. Then everybody wishes you dead for the next three books! It's not an easy profession. It requires a lot of grit, really, more than people think. You have to just keep at it. Whether you start small or start big the way I did, there are always problems.
MOLLY: My mom has been such a great supporter of my work. My grandfather [author] Howard Fast and my father had this dynamic where my grandfather never wanted my father to succeed. He had a very mixed feeling about it, and he would always sort of tear him down. My mother has never, ever wanted but for me to be 20 times more successful than she. She is so unconflicted about that. That has really helped. Considering where she's come from, my mom is like the biggest mensch. Her parents were cold.
So the two of you have never felt competition as writers?
ERICA: No, not really. As a mother, you have a problem. When your daughter becomes the hot, new chick in town, and you are going through menopause, and suddenly your daughter is young and beautiful, and men look at her when you come into a room and not at you, you have a choice, which is to deal with it or to bury it and let it come out in competition with your daughter. I've been in analysis most of my life, and I was very clear that I wanted to get past that and not allow any competitive feelings to hurt my daughter. I felt that my mother was very competitive with all three of her daughters.
Would you say your perspectives are similar?
ERICA: Her voice is extremely different from mine and very distinctive. Some of the stuff that she writes about [in this book] I can barely even recognize as my own life. It's the daughter's point of view. Some of the stuff about the men I dated, I had written about, but you'd never recognize the same person in the way she wrote about it, which I guess is the way it should be. Her view is very comic and very dark.