An architect who worked construction in his younger days, author Jeff “J.S.” Wilson built his novel, A Hundred Honeymoons, around a definite idea. “I didn’t want to shy away from the sexual joys and pitfalls of growing up,” he says. “So many books about growing up get to the part where sex is involved and skirt around what really happened and why. I wanted to write as boldly as I could without going over the line.”
Advertised as “a carnally driven small-town soap opera revolving around two innocent teenagers drenched in hormonal confusion,” the novel focuses on Todd, a high school student who finds himself falling in love with Sally, a girl his own age, while being seduced by an older woman named Miss Lady, “the lonely wife of an abusive, alcoholic husband isolated on a beautiful ranch on the Carrizo Plain in central California.” Wilson dubs Miss Lady his favorite character, noting “the tug-of-war going on between her life in isolation and being tempted by a desire she can’t overcome, even though she knows it’s morally wrong.” The mature-for-his-age Todd has been working on the ranch since he was a youngster, and now, at 16, he is, Wilson says, “helpless to resist even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.”
For her part, Sally is “growing up too fast to control the sexually challenging world unfolding around her,” says Wilson, who set his story in the late 1950s and early ’60s for that reason. “It’s an era that sees huge social and moral swings in what people do and what society will accept.” The character gets caught up with Mrs. V, an unscrupulous older woman who “exploits everyone and everything around her.” And high school cheerleader Sally just may fall prey to her dangerous charms.
The book took Wilson some 25 years to write. “I’ve been a storyteller since I was about eight,” he says. “I’ve had many of the episodes in my head for a long time.” Some of those were no doubt triggered by Wilson’s adventures traveling to Europe on a freighter; visiting England, Germany, and Italy along the way; and then returning to the counterculture of ’60s San Francisco. And his life got more exciting from there—when the oil boom began, he got an offer to work in Alaska, which he compares to “Dodge City during the cattle drive.”
Wilson based his plot on people and places he knew and was very familiar with. “I wanted each venue and character to be vivid for the reader,” he says. “I wanted the reader to feel they were there and even more so to know each character and place personally. The details I’ve put in are real, down to the street corners, piers, buildings, and bar stools, in San Luis Obispo.”
Wilson insists the novel isn’t autobiographical. “These are examples of real-life events I’ve observed,” he says. “Most young people are challenged by sexual confusion. Some adults exploit this confusion or fall victim to their own weaknesses where carnal knowledge is concerned.”
Wilson says that writing the book was “a lot of work, but fun.” He’s even imagined the dream cast for a movie adaptation, with Meryl Streep as Miss Lady and Brad Pitt as Todd. “I could see Betty Davis playing Mrs. V exploiting Ann Margret as Sally,” he says. “Jayne Mansfield could easily fit Brenda enticing Coach played by Jon Hamm.”
His advice to beginning writers? “Know your subject and have a passion to write about it,” Wilson says. And while he found the editing and publishing process challenging, he might be up for doing it all over again. “It’s my first book,” he says, “but hopefully not my last.”