The women at the post office cringed every time they saw Ella Patterson heading their way.
The busty, energetic teacher-turned-author would arrive at West Dallas' central station lugging cartloads of her book, Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up!, packed one-by-one in red-and-white overnight envelopes.
The postal workers just saw packages. Hundreds of 'em. At one time. It could take up to an hour to process Patterson's load.
Some clerks saw her coming and ducked into the bathroom. Others chose that strategic moment to go on break. Some suggested she get a meter or have postal trucks pick up the parcels at her house.
"They were dodging me," Patterson says. "They would say 'I'm closed' at every window I'd go to."
She eventually devised a counterstrategy. She'd have her husband hide around a corner with the cart of books, and when she reached the clerk, she'd signal him to roll it out.
Finally, one woman broke down: "Well, what is it, anyway?" she asked.
Patterson walked to her car, pulled an unwrapped copy from the trunk, and handed over the book.
The cover was innocent enough--if a bit plain--with its stark design and small, color photo of a sweetly smiling Ella Patterson, who "...informs, entertains and inspires women to accept their sexuality," according to the cover blurb.
But inside were 220 pages of sexual dynamite--40 short, sharp chapters on games, toys, myths, and perils of sex--among other subjects. Each contains Patterson's frank, homespun wisdom. In a chapter entitled "Penis," Patterson concludes, "To be honest, penises aren't really good for anything, but poking sensuously in and out of you."
Another chapter prescribes a regimen of vaginal exercises to enhance the sexual experience--complete with an outrageous stunt to test your progress.
For post office ladies getting a little bored in the bedroom--or anyone else, for that matter--Patterson provides a long list of "Games You Can Play." Among many other ideas, most of which can't be printed here, Patterson recommends serving your man dinner "stark naked, with you as the dessert."
Back at the post office, another convert was born. The clerks never looked crosswise at Ella Patterson's secret parcels again.
In fact, they pored over the book during coffee breaks, passed it from woman to woman, shared favorite tips, and dropped suggestions to their men.
Soon, male workers began buying copies for their wives. Now it seems that every time Patterson stops by the post office, someone wants to buy her book.
In the post office, in beauty shops, in small bookstores, and in thousands of Dallas bedrooms, Ella Patterson's latest work is a hot topic.
And against all the established wisdom of the book-selling business, the self-published volume has attained the status of an underground best seller.
At $14.95, Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up!, a candid, thorough...well, uninhibited look at female sexuality, isn't cheap. Yet it's earned its cult following almost entirely by word of mouth. Patterson has sold more than 20,000 copies of the manual since it went on the market in August 1994, and her mailing list grows daily.
"We mail out 50 to 100 books a day, and that's just by the phone," Patterson says. "That isn't even counting my distributors."
The book has remained on the best seller list at Black Images Bookstore in Oak Cliff for several weeks, and has found buyers as far away as London.
Instead of boring expositions on anatomy or jargon-filled discussions of the latest psychological malady from which we all suffer, Patterson's book is streetwise and straightforward, containing a plethora of tips, observations, and suggestions on all aspects of sex--including "sexual hope chests" (always pack whipped cream and "assorted popsicles"--don't ask); spotting an unsensual man or "sexual dud" ("His bedroom manners will reflect his personality so watch for tacky signs"); and basic feminine hygiene ("Never, ever be caught with dirty underwear, or underwear held together by safety pins").
Patterson, 40, answers all the questions you were afraid to ask, and much more--all kinds of stuff that a limited imagination never even conceived of. The DeSoto author devotes major chapters to turning men on; she encourages the reader to give good "phone sex," "hire" her man for an evening of passion, and blindfold her lover for his titillation.
"Once you've become sensuous you will be an adored, admired, and attractive woman to all men," she promises.
Chapter 35, for instance, offers sexual techniques, exercises, and diet tips that she boasts will make sex "an event of more erotic stimulation with pulsating, earthshaking and successful adventures of love."
She is so confident she's onto something that she's included a section on Single Women's Ethics. Rule Number One: "Keep your hands, body, lips and mouth off your sister's or your best friend's man." Even though Rule Number Eight allows: "Flirt all you want quietly, it not only builds your ego, it also keeps you in practice."
The book's appeal, in part, is its plain language. Patterson doesn't shy away from using casual, even crude, language to denote different body parts and sex acts, and trains her eye on what's relevant. For example, an entire chapter devoted to The Penis.
It's the girl's version of lockerroom talk--delivered by the sassiest cheerleader on campus.
And it comes with a guarantee: "Through intelligence and observation, manipulation and concentration, you, too, can become a sensuous woman to the man of your choice."
In 1992, Ella Patterson was an overworked DISD schoolteacher who, in addition to coaching women's sports at Kimball High School and teaching physical education classes, was a wife and mother of three children.
She spent the remaining scraps of her free time working on a master's degree, attending night classes on female psychology, and touring AIDS clinics as part of an intensive workshop on sex education. Patterson planned to use her coursework for recertification so she could teach health classes at Oak Cliff's Kimball High.
"A lot of the students didn't have even a basic knowledge of hygiene," she says. "I felt there was a need for more education."
But a serious car accident in March 1993, would forever shift her focus. Patterson found herself bedridden with painful hip, back, and neck injuries, her normally frenetic life drawn to a standstill.
Unable to go back to work, Patterson began slipping into depression. She complained to her doctor.
"The doctor asked me, 'what do you like to do?' I said, 'well, I like to write.' And she said 'Well, write.'"
Patterson followed her doctor's orders.
Hobbling to the public library each day, she began researching her book. Patterson had gotten the notion to write a guide on sexuality after several conversations with beauty-salon patrons.
"I'd be sitting in nail shops and beauty shops and the conversation would always turn to men and sex," she says. "Some type of way, the conversation always geared in that direction. I sat down and said, 'I am going to write about this stuff we talk about all the time.'"
Patterson, who takes great care with her appearance, had logged many hours in beauty shops. She started interviewing patrons at the parlors she frequented, inviting them to share details of their most intimate adventures. The ladies were delightfully forthcoming. "Everybody was trying to top each other's story," Patterson recalls, laughing. "I just added my own touch to it."
She used the upstairs guest room of her DeSoto home to organize her handwritten notes, slowly pulling together chapters. When she was able to move about more easily, she began hanging out at Infomart, the Apparel Mart, and movie theaters, where, clipboard and pencil in hand, she'd interview women who passed her way.
Patterson queried women of all cultures and nationalities, managing to elude security guards for several months. "I interviewed Pakistanis, Chinese, blacks, whites, every type of nationality I could come across," she says. "I don't know what it is about women, but once they find out you're on the same wavelength, they tend to open up."
If a security guard approached to ask her to leave, she told them a fib--that she was invited "by people."
After months of research, Patterson typed up her first four chapters (including "Becoming a Real Woman" and "Getting the Man You Want"), bound them at Office Depot, and tested them at movie houses on Saturday nights, handing out copies to women and men she encountered in long lines at the ticket booths.
"I saw these two white guys, handed them a copy and said, 'Hi, I'm Ella Patterson, and if you don't like it you can throw it away, but if you have comments give me a call.'
"One of the guys said, 'Hey, I should give this to my wife.' People gave me such a good response."
Patterson eventually quit her job at Kimball to work on the book full-time, adjusting her budget to accommodate the loss of income and extra expense. "The hair got bad," she admits.
Toward the end of her work, she hired Dallas artist Mark Strader to illustrate the book. "I told him I wanted the pictures to be wholesome, but erotic," Patterson says. "I didn't want body parts, but I wanted to get the idea across."
Strader provided her with whimsical, somewhat crude line drawings of women in a variety of environments: lounging on a sofa with a martini in hand, pinching a man's butt, and lolling in bed.
Patterson wrapped up work on her book in the fall of 1993, but lacked a title. An avid churchgoer who prays daily, Patterson says she sought divine help for the title.
It came in a dream, she says.
"I ran out the next day to get it copyrighted," Patterson recalls. "Here I had just thought of it, and I was scared someone would steal it."
Patterson pitched Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up! to several publishers, but got no takers. So the determined author headed for the Southern Methodist University law library and researched ways to publish the book herself.
She began marketing her work before she'd even found a printer, sending press releases to local bookstores.
Orders came in immediately--forcing Patterson to snatch the book from her editor, Lucille Enix, an SMU instructor, before the woman was finished proofreading. "I can't wait for you to finish editing it," Patterson told Enix.
Then came the problem of printing costs. One local printer wanted $30,000 to print 1,000 copies of the book. Patterson rejected that offer as clearly unprofitable. A few smaller printers charged less, but required the author to do virtually everything but jog on a treadmill to turn the printing press.
After months of fruitless searching, Patterson stumbled across Alfred Huntsberry, a soft-spoken, middle-aged printer who'd run Alps Printing in South Oak Cliff for 34 years.
Huntsberry listened patiently while Patterson pitched her book. She told him she didn't have a lot of money, but believed the book would be successful. He agreed to print 1,000 copies.
"Just bring it to me and we'll pray about it," he told her.
Huntsberry says he took the job for two reasons. First, he thought she had a good product. Second, he considered it his responsibility.
"It is so hard for us as black folks to get the proper people to fund us, and she hadn't had any help at all," Huntsberry says. "I thought I'd take her on my own and help her out."
The book finally came off the presses last summer. Patterson quickly sold her initial press run of 1,000 copies by mail order--fueled almost exclusively through word-of-mouth.
Soon, the demand for books outstripped the printer's capabilities. "Ella's book was doing so well, we just couldn't keep up and meet our other customers' needs, too," Huntsberry says.
The author ended up at Dallas Offset printers, where she ordered 100,000 copies. The printing company has published 45,000 so far.
By this time, Patterson had set up her own company, Knowledge Concepts Systems, to handle marketing. She found distributors for her book in Dallas, New York, and Atlanta, and adheres to advice that Emma Rodgers, co-owner of Dallas' Black Images bookstore, once gave her.
"She told me not to be caught without my books," Patterson says.
So Patterson always totes a box of books in the trunk of her Mazda Miata. She wishes she'd bought a bigger car.
Patterson's marketing efforts got a big boost earlier this year when Black Elegance, a 9-year-old national magazine that focuses on black lifestyles, began seeking materials for its annual "sex issue."
Sonia Alleyne, editor-in-chief of the New York-based publication, said she'd already scanned through hundreds of manuscripts and books on sexuality--but she and her editorial staff weren't impressed.
"We went through a ton of books," Alleyne recalls. "But it was all the same thing--medical terms, talk show-type rhetoric."
Then Alleyne came across a postcard Patterson had sent to every magazine editor she could think of. The card informed editors that "...this guide is for women who need a directory on becoming a more sensuous and sensitive love Goddess."
Intrigued, Alleyne called Patterson, requested a copy of Will the Real Women... and immediately knew she'd found her book.
"Everyone here agreed that we'd not read anything like it," Alleyne says. "It's a very outspoken guide. That is what women have been waiting for."
Alleyne recalls her own response to Patterson's explicit prose. One day, she was commuting to work on a New York subway. "I was trying to make sure no one could read it over my shoulder. Some things in the book are not for everybody."
The book caused some discussion among the editorial staff about what could be printed in the magazine. "We didn't want to turn anybody off," Alleyne says. "Some people may find it abrasive, but it is real. It talks about things that people are afraid to talk about. I had a friend call me, excited about those vaginal palpitations."
Black Elegance excerpted Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up! and profiled Patterson in its April 1995 issue.
The issue was a tremendous hit. People deluged the magazine with comments, and newsstand sales were strong. A few readers called Black Elegance to provide unsolicited reports on their post-Patterson trysts.
"One couple called to let us know they'd tried certain numbers," Alleyne says. "It certainly is a book that gets you involved."
Patterson sold more books, and Black Elegance enjoyed a surge in circulation.
Vera Peeler was sitting in a beauty shop in Flagstaff, Arizona, when she ran across a copy of the magazine--and Patterson's excerpt. "I said, 'This sounds like a book I want to read.'"
The 55-year-old housewife placed an order with Patterson, and loved the book. She showed her favorite chapters to her friends at the nail shop. "I said, 'you guys need to look at the title, and that's all you need to know.'"
The ladies wanted their own copies, so Peeler ordered 10 books from Patterson.
She peddled those, then brought her copy to the beauty salon to show her beautician. Her beautician wanted a copy--and so did her client.
Peeler ordered 10 more. And sold those, too.
"I told Ella she should put me on commission," Peeler says.
Patterson is convinced her book will become a national best seller. She receives dozens of letters from readers thanking her for the book, and often asking questions.
One woman confessed she couldn't enjoy lovemaking with her partner, and begged for advice. So much pain was evident in her words that Patterson sent a kindly letter in return, urging the woman to seek counseling.
"I am not a psychologist, and I don't want to act like one," Patterson says. "I just told her not to be afraid to seek counseling--that there was nothing wrong with it."
Another woman wrote and asked Patterson to send her a copy of Will the Real Women... "ASAP," and signed the letter "Desperate."
But Lavilla Bradford, a 43-year-old Sacramento woman, is more typical of her readers. Bradford says she shared the book with her lover, who found it enormously interesting. Since then, she's learned to "appreciate that he's emotional, and I've neglected that. Now, I appreciate the extra things he does that I used to take for granted."
Today, Patterson spends her days fielding phone orders from home, presiding over book signings, and answering fan mail. Her answering machine is literally full of pleas from booksellers--including Barnes & Noble and Walden Books--begging for copies of Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up!.
Between orders and promotional trips, Patterson is finishing up two other volumes--Women Who Live Alone, an instructional safety guide for single women, and a novel, Woman with a Past.
The author is already fielding orders for the unfinished books, and is rushing to get them into print.
"This has been tripping me out," she says in her husky, crackling voice. "My feet hurt, my back hurts. I'm trying to catch up to the book. It has just taken off."
Beginning with a salutation of "Happy Sexuality," Patterson's book attempts to solve the mystery of becoming a "real woman." It has nothing to do with baking cupcakes.
"Women who cook, clean, speak well, and are good mothers come a dime a dozen," Patterson boldly declares. "But a sensuous woman, who can make her man feel he's the world, will be worth the world to him."
Today's women, she points out, "are no longer submissive to men when it concerns their bodies. Women are taking their bodies back."
Men, on the other hand, are "concerned contributors."
Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up offers an astounding variety of advice on everything from fragrances and stimulation techniques to breath mints and oral sex. Under "Props and Supplies," Patterson advises women to periodically send their lovers Mr. Goodbars (the candy bar) as a gesture "to tell him he's good."
The author makes clear early on that, in order to become a sensuous woman, women have to stop thinking like "nice girls." She proves her point in a notorious, blush-inducing chapter titled, "Games You Can Play." Many copies of her book, indeed, are permanently creased at page 19.
Here, Patterson provides readers 100 ideas to spice up their sexual relationships--culled from personal experience, as well as her numerous interviews with strangers. About 20 percent can be printed here, including Number 73: "Leave love notes all through your home for him to find"; Number 77: "Ask him to strip from head to toe for you to his favorite song"; and Number 88: "While waiting in lines together tell him in a low, sexy voice what you plan to do to him when you get home."
Others--the X-rated ones--nonetheless deserve comment. Number 20 is potentially embarrassing; Number 68 can prove unduly taxing on the male partner; and Numbers 90 and 92 are quite novel, indeed.
"Much of it is obvious, but it is also very intuitive about issues of sexuality," says Dr. Phyllis Simpson, a former professor of Patterson's and an instructional specialist for the Dallas Independent School District.
But Simpson admits she never quite finished reading the book, because "My daughter, who is 22, took it and won't give it back."
Ella Patterson, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, has loved writing since she won an award for it in third grade. She's compiled dozens of journals, and even used to ghost-write love letters for her college friends. "One day I said to myself, 'I need to be charging these people.'"
Patterson is an endearing mixture of church lady--she blushingly showed a copy of the book to her pastor--and vamp. A former cheerleader and athlete, she sports a tattoo of an exotic bird--the "African tit"--on her left breast.
"I thought, well, 'a tit on a tit,'" Patterson says. "The African tit used to guard the African queens when the warriors went out to war. I believe all women should be treated like queens."
Over the years, her cheerleader's physique has filled out, and she dresses her plumper frame to perfection. She's partial to gold jewelry and fine fabrics, and has traded her long, woven braids for a short, crisp bob.
The most striking aspect of her appearance is her tawny-colored eyes, which are level and frank--like a schoolteacher. With soul.
Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up! was a logical response to "people who were always asking my advice about sex. I used to think, 'what do I look like?'"
The book's brisk sales come as no surprise to Patterson's 39-year-old husband, Martin, a manager at EDS. "She has always had a lot of energy, determination and focus," he says. "She has a lot of drive to make herself happy."
The former Ella Jones set her sights on Martin when the two were attending Dallas' now-defunct Bishop College. "The way she tells it," says Martin, "she decided whether I was going to be someone she wanted to be with."
Martin was a fine young athlete, and Ella set about pursuing him. She flirted shamelessly and wrote sexy, passionate love letters.
"She was very creative," he says, chuckling. "If she doesn't attract you, she will scare the death out of you."
Ella's efforts certainly bore fruit. The two have been married 17 years and have three children, ranging in age from 12 to 23.
The husband has long since resigned himself to his wife's energies. "I don't want to sound like I can't control my wife, but when she knows what she wants, she will not stop until she gets it. As a matter of fact, she drives me crazy."
Patterson admits her book has stoked considerable curiosity about her intimate encounters with Martin. And she is determinedly mum about them.
Martin Patterson says even executives at the ultra-conservative EDS have inquired about his sex life after hearing about his wife's book.
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He figures that's understandable. "When a person reads the book and begins wondering about the person who wrote it, your first thought is 'Geez, what a freak,'" he says. "But I have to keep a little mystery."
Ella won't reveal which games she's played, either.
"We [she and her husband] agreed long ago that we were not going to go there," she says. "I am not going to let a newspaper article get me in trouble with my husband. I haven't been married for 17 years by making those kinds of mistakes."
But surely, if the book reveals anything about the Pattersons' secret life at all, it's that Ella's husband Martin is a happy man.
"He says he is," Patterson replies with a husky laugh. "He smiles all the time.