Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005

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Q & A: Jeanette Angell

Author, Manchester resident, former callgirl

By Michelle Saturley

Jeannette Angell is an accomplished professor and author with a Ph.D. Ten years ago, after a personal catastrophe left her penniless, Angell responded to an ad in a Boston-area newspaper to work for an escort service. For three years, Angell led a double life: by day, she taught an anthropology class at a prestigious Boston university; by night, she was a high-end callgirl for Cambridgeís upper middle class businessmen. Angell wrote about her adventures in the hit memoir named, aptly enough, Callgirl. [For a full review of the book, see page 58 of 'the Hippo', or click here to read the review online].

What is the question youíre the most sick of answering about the book?

Probably, in one form or another, the question of how I justified being a callgirl. I think itís pretty well covered in the book how I justified it. I think, if youíre going to interview me about my book, you should at least read it. And the other question, which is sort of a spin-off of that question, is, ďDo you think God has forgiven you for what you did?Ē When I was doing radio interviews down in the Bible belt, I got that one a lot. It was really irritating.

Prior to writing your memoir, what was your writing experience?

I was a published novelist before I wrote Callgirl. So, I was a writer before. I had three published novels previous to the memoir: Wings, The Illusionist and Flight.

Why do you think the other books didnít get the attention that Callgirl has received?

For one thing, I was always on the trailing edge of trends in publishing with my novels. For example, my novel The Illusionist came out just after the movie The Music Box, which dealt with similar subject matter of a daughter coming to terms with the reality that her father was involved with the Nazis. Even though my book was different, it still got lumped in with that movie, and nobody was interested. My book Wings came out at the same time as a Danielle Steele book with the same title. Different story, but same name. So, which book do you think people will buy: a novel called Wings by Danielle Steele, or Wings by Jeannette Angell, unknown writer?

Callgirl was different, for obvious reasons. Thereís the fact that itís a memoir, and memoirs are very hot right now. And of course, thereís the subject matter. But I think the success was not just because of the subject matter, but because of the timing. It started a trend. Since it was published, there have been at least three other books by former callgirlsóone by a callgirl whoís still working.

Thereís a passage in the book where you confide in one of your closest friendsóa manóabout your secret job. He treats you disrespectfully after that. Did anything like that happen after the book came out?

I did lose a couple of friends after the book came out. I guess they werenít good friends to start with, if that could make them stop being around me. This is something that happened ten years ago, not yesterday. And itís part of what made me the person I am now.

I think you can like a person even if you donít like everything about them, but not everyone thinks that way. I had one person tell me, not a close friend but a fairly good friend, ďI canít even look at you anymore without thinking about this.Ē So, yeah, it has changed relationships with some people.

Are you still friends with Peach [The madam of the escort agency]?

Yes. Peach is still in the business, actually. Iíve been working with her on a sort of sequel, Madam. Itís coming out in the spring of 2006. It wasnít my idea to write the sequel; it was the publisherís idea, but I would still be friends with Peach anyway. Yes, she is a madam, but she is also a very genuine and kind person who really cared about the women who worked for her.

Who has been more judgmental about your former line of work: men or women?

Itís definitely been women. And I did not expect that. I was totally shocked. I thought, when the book came out, that women would embrace it, you know, sisterhood and all that. I thought, from what I knew in talking with female friends in my own life, that almost every woman has been in a similar position as I was at the time, and maybe even seriously thought about doing it, even if it was only once. I thought women would understand about making choices, having options, taking power over your own life. But thatís not usually what I get. Most of the time itís, ďHow could you?Ē

I think the most disturbing thing is when women blame callgirls for breaking up marriages. Personally, Iíd rather have my husband go to a callgirl for a brief sexual experience than get involved in a long emotional affair with someone. But I find it interesting that nobody blames the menóitís always the womanís fault.

Your book has been translated into 15 languages. What has been the reaction to the book in other countries?

Thatís been my favorite thing about all of this. I get copies of each edition that has been translated. All the covers look different. I have a copy of each translated language edition in my house.

The reaction to the book has been very different overseas, in Europe and especially in Australia, where prostitution is legal. Thereís a lot less of an emotional, judgmental reaction. They talk more about the actual writing, the quality of the book. I think itís because Americans have a hard time talking about and dealing with sex. They canít decide if itís bad, if itís dirty, or if itís wonderful. In other countries, the answer is, ďYes!Ē to all three. And thatís okay.

What is the one thing that you want people to take away from reading the book?

I want people to realize that this is more common than they know. That I am not an aberration. That not all prostitutes are desperate drug addicts who walk the street. I canít speak to that experience, because that is not what happened with me. I feel terrible for women in that situation, but that was not my situation. Some prostitutes are just regular people, who make the decision to do this simply to support themselves. If you live in a city, you probably know a woman who has done this.

Whatís next for you?

Well, I just finished taping an episode of The Montel Williams Show that should be airing soon. And I am shopping around a new novel, In the Dark Woods. The title is a line taken from Danteís Inferno. I write very dark novels. Iím also getting ready to promote Madam, when it comes out. Peach wonít be involved in promoting it. She canít; sheís got to protect herself. And Callgirl has been optioned for a TV series on the F/X network. Itís still in the development stages, but itís very exciting. I also wrote some short stories for the Amazon Shorts project, where people can download a short story off Amazon for 49 cents.

How did you come to live in Manchester?

I think I actually went on a few calls in Manchester for Peach back when I was working for her! [laughs] Seriously, my husband got a job in New Hampshire, and this seemed like a good place for us to live. Our ultimate goal is to move to Montreal, where I can speak French and he can speak English. It was either here or Portsmouth, and we chose here. I like Manchester. Itís convenient, itís affordable, and there are things to do here. I like that you can walk around downtown. I like that an independent bookstore just opened in the Millyard. I think weíre going to stick around a while.