Only one week after taking early retirement in 1999, Gene P. Abel was struck by inspiration. “The storyline just popped into my head,” he says. “I can’t tell you why, but there it was, and it was so intense that I sat down and started scribbling my thoughts on a yellow pad. Sometimes ideas woke me up at 3 in the morning.” Those scribbles would become The Inn of Destiny, an erotic romance that includes elements of fantasy, finance, and global politics. The combination may seem unusual, but it certainly follows Abel’s own diverse interests and life experiences.
In the novel, suburban New Jersey couple Jackie and Jerry French plan a romantic weekend in the Poconos to try and put some fire back into their marriage. Instead, they experience prophetic dreams about an impending financial meltdown and the threat of major war in the Middle East. For Abel, throwing these high-stakes plot twists into the story came naturally. Though he currently lives in New Jersey, he worked in finance and administration for hospitals and school districts throughout Pennsylvania. He also spent 30 years in active and reserve duty with the military, most notably serving as a nuclear weapons officer in the ’60s.
In writing about Jackie’s and Jerry’s dreams of impending world war and economic depression, Abel could include elements of fantasy and science fiction, two of his favorite genres. A huge fan of Star Trek and Jules Verne, Abel believes that SF is at its best when it has political undertones or anticipates a real-world development. (He remains particularly fascinated that Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea long before nuclear power existed.)
While these plot twists lend several unique and unexpected moments to The Inn of Destiny, the main thrust of the novel is the struggle of bored housewife Jackie to reignite the physical passion in her marriage. And Abel doesn’t shy away from the ensuing romance or sex. “I wanted to show the reader that [Jackie] had an intensity for the physical and that it was not something new,” he explains. Abel spends the necessary time to develop Jackie’s character, dedicating whole chapters to her burgeoning sexuality.
They had a delicious meal, and [at] about 9:30 they decided to return to the bar, where a small combo was playing dance music. Jackie remarked, “This small group does produce a great sound.” They danced for two hours and had several drinks. Jackie made sure Jerry did not overdo it. She had very definite plans for the remainder of the evening….As they walked down the hall to their room, Jackie’s anticipation of the romantic evening she had planned made her think of… the year she spent in Paris when she met Jerry.
“One of the difficulties of having busy lives is how to keep the sexual, physical part [of a relationship] alive. Sometimes when people are unfulfilled, they try and find what they need in less positive ways,” Abel says. As the story progresses, Jackie continually looks for satisfaction while also struggling to stay within her marital commitments—she even tries wife-swapping in a memorable New Year’s Eve scene.
The book’s current version has benefited from the advice of not one but two important women who helped Abel refine the portrayal of Jackie and her frustrations and her desires. His late first wife, Carol, provided the initial feedback. “She gave me a woman’s perspective,” he explains. “She would say, ‘Don’t go this far over the top with the erotica! Pull it back a bit!’ ” More recently, as he revisited the book with an eye toward revising and rereleasing it, his current wife and avid reader, Susan, made additional suggestions.
Abel had originally published The Inn of Destiny under a pseudonym and mostly forgotten that he had, at one point, written an unusual romance. Up until last year, he was researching primary sources on the national debt and constructing a book that evaluated whether conservative politicians had lived up to their promise of fiscal responsibility. (A lifelong Republican, Abel came to the conclusion that they hadn’t, titling his 2018 nonfiction work Broken Promises and Lies of the Republicans.) But once Broken Promises was released, readers and friends began to ask Abel about his previous attempt at fiction. He and Susan dusted off The Inn of Destiny and found that its subplot of political and financial volatility, though mapped out 20 years ago, actually felt quite prescient.
Abel has since begun a second novel—this time, a pure SF story dealing with time travel—but he felt that it was also the right moment to give The Inn of Destiny a second chance. “There are a lot of romance novels out there, so what I had wanted to do [was] to try and interweave a strong storyline that had something current,” Abel explains. “It was current when I wrote it, and it’s still current today.”
Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris.