PW: Your first book, Winter Season, was published by Random House, and your second, Sisters of Salomé, by Yale. How did you get to ReganBooks with The Surrender? Did you show it to other editors?
Toni Bentley: Sure, it was quite interesting [laughs]. I got what I call a lot of rave rejections, which I'd never had before and I was very proud to have. I had no idea how this book would be received. I knew it was sort of out there, but on the other hand, I thought, everything has been written about sex, from the Marquis de Sade on, how could this be shocking? Yet people seemed to find it somewhat shocking, which fascinated me, and I wanted to know why. I can just say there were a lot of really fabulous editors who wanted to do it, but running it through the whole system, it would get stopped at various stages. And with Judith Regan it didn't.
What moved you to write this book and tell such an intimate story about yourself?
My first book, Winter Season, began as a diary which I started keeping when I was 17 and still keep on and off. I had this extraordinary experience and I had to write it down for many reasons: to understand it, to know what was happening, in some ways to control what felt very out of control for me. I was so obsessed with this situation and this man and this act that was all new to me.... So I figured, well, I'm supposed to do this. I didn't know that it would ever get published.
I sometimes wonder about people who write about their sexual experiences, about the level of exhibitionism in it, and conversely, how voyeuristic it is to read these books.
I certainly can see how in some ways I am [an exhibitionist], and I think it's very interesting that when I was a dancer [with the New York City Ballet]... I was actually quite shy and retiring, and now as a writer, I've become more Balanchinian after the fact. You know, he wanted you to be really out there and in the spotlight and show what you had, and I had a sort of European upbringing and I was quite shy and modest. And then I started coming out of my shell later on in words. I don't know so much that it's that I want to write to be exhibitionistic, but I want to write what's true, and that becomes something people can say is exhibitionistic, I suppose.
It's not just that you're talking about anal sex but talking about it in such a spiritual context.
That is perhaps the main reason I started writing about it. The whole high-low thing... you know, Balanchine taught me that. We were dancing in Paris, and then we heard that he was going over to the Crazy Horse Saloon midnight show. I was totally fascinated, went over, and when the curtain went up, that was really the beginning of [Sisters of Salomé], I thought, oh my God, those girls look just like us but they're naked. Some people say, what, you're a ballet dancer writing about anal sex? I see a total continuity, most obviously because both dancing and sex are about physical transcendance—through your body, getting to another place that's bigger and higher than you are and goes beyond your ego.