A Conversation
with Ellen T. White

Why did you want to write this book?

Truthfully, I could spend hours talking about romance. Even when I don't know the players, I love to hear the story behind a relationship—how the couple met, what attracted them at first, and the lurid details of their sex life. I've been thinking about a book for years.  I just had to figure out what form it would take!

The "self-help" books out there on romance and seduction discouraged me.  Even the most popular ones seemed to say you have to be someone you're not.  Each offered its own prescription for seduction that presumes men are only attracted to a particular kind of woman or that there's a fail-safe formula that works for everyone.  But attraction is far more complicated than that. 

The women I know who are irresistible to men come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.  The same is true of the women whose romantic reputations have survived centuries—women like Cleopatra or Catherine the Great. This got me thinking:  what can these women—historic and contemporary—teach us about being irresistible?  And maybe being irresistible to men is more empowering than women have come to view it.

How is your book different from other relationship books in bookstores today?

No other book out there uses the lives of famous seductresses as role models.  It's a real how-to with case studies drawn from life.  In bookstores there are certainly very interesting, quite serious books on muses, courtesans, and on seductresses in general. Many of these books helped me understand these women when I was writing Simply Irresistible.  But my sense was that women wanted to know—in a step by step fashion—how these Sirens actually did it. I wanted to know how they pulled it off!  I wanted readers, whatever their age or circumstance, to see these icons as real women and to identify with them, so I wrote about them as I might about a girlfriend—with humor and without historical reverence.

What is a Siren, and is it important to be a Siren?

A Siren is a woman men get excited by—on a sexual level and on other levels, depending on who she is.  Not every woman is going to want to be a Siren in the sense that she wants to attract hordes of men.  But every woman has someone in her life that she wants to be irresistible to—so, in that sense, being a Siren is important. Simply Irresistible says, above all, that being a seductress is not so much a case of pleasing men as it is about being your most attractive self, which in turn is irresistible.

You outline five siren archetypes—the Competitor, Goddess, Sex Kitten, Companion, and Mother. How did you come up with these categories and what’s a short description of each.

While it’s true that there’s no set formula for seduction, every woman has to work her seductive arts from a solid Siren archetype. Of course, a Siren doesn't necessarily have all the qualities of her archetype. And she can borrow from another when it serves her purposes. But it's useful for a budding seductress to understand what kind of Siren she predominantly is, before she begins to refine her individual approach. Archetypes work because they correspond to primal male needs.

Here's what I mean:  On some level, men never really outgrow their need to be mothered.  A woman who operates within the Mother archetype gives him that same kind of unconditional support.  The Mother Siren has a sixth sense about what men need emotionally, sexually, physically, and has an uncanny way of providing it. 

  • The Goddess keeps men on their toes through her illusiveness.  For men, she's offers the whole gotta-have-what-you-can't-get syndrome. But even when a man has his Goddess, he doesn't feel it.
  • The Competitor is a risk-taker and is often as successful as her man at sports or in the board room.  She's a tomboy and she's more comfortable with men than women.  She's sexually free and aggressive.  She's low maintenance and often commitment averse.
  • The Companion is his ultimate friend—the corporate wife, the not-so-little woman behind the man.  She is ambitious, but for him. She takes a keen interest in what he does, but as his strategist. She's often an optimist and a party girl. 
  • Finally, there's the Sex Kitten. She relates to men on such a physical/sexual level that she runs the risk of becoming a caricature—which is in a sense where Marilyn Monroe went wrong.  The dyed-in-the-wool Sex Kitten is ultra feminine, touchy-feely, and a bit of an innocent.  She's his muse, often, and he's her protector. 

Who are some moderns sirens that you name in your book, and how do they differ from the sirens of the 20th century?

Modern Sirens are women like Angelina Jolie, Nigella Lawson, Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, and Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall. Sometimes, a historic woman will represent a "lesson in love"—for instance, Lola Montez, a 19th-century courtesan, represents the lesson "Create a Scandal."  But to illustrate that lesson, I weave in contemporary women—such as Paris Hilton—who have also used scandal as a tool to heighten and embellish their irresistible appeal.

By looking at women through the ages, I'm illustrating that what's irresistible to men has never really changed, but that it is also infinite and various. It's everything from possessing brains and talent to having a strong sense of humor or being sexually intrepid.

In a way, the historic Sirens were more interesting because they were more outrageous. For example, Cora Pearl, a French courtesan during the Belle Epoque, served herself up to her male dinner guests on a massive dish, covered in nothing but icing florettes, a grape in her navel, and powered sugar. Sirens have always broken the rules, but women today are much more careful of their reputations than the women of yore.

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE is in part a case study of famous femme fatales throughout history, how did you choose the iconic women in the book to represent the various archetypes?

I never chose a woman just because she was beautiful.  Many may have been beautiful, but that's not what being a Siren is about.  It's more about force of personality. I wanted to present a wide range of examples for everyday women to relate to, in order to prove that being irresistible is vast and various. There were also women in history that I was intensely curious about myself. For instance, I wanted to know if Catherine the Great really died while attempting to make love to her horse. Many of my choices revolved around the lessons I was looking to provide. For example, I chose celebrity chef Nigella Lawson when searching for a woman to represent cooking and aphrodisiacs—as I have come to learn that there is a great deal of truth to the expression “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." I also wanted women who represented brains, talent, and humor—all very sexy qualities.  I found that Clare Boothe Luce, Edith Piaf, and Carole Lombard, respectively, were all perfect embodiments of these attributes. 

Which sirens in the book do you relate to most, and why?

Simply Irresistible really started with Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill, who was the mother of Winston Churchill.  I was living in England for six months around the time that a two-volume biography came out about Jennie.  I was totally gripped by this woman because she was brilliant, phenomenally accomplished, but also very seductive and very human. Even though my "introduction" to Jennie was long ago—and I've learned about hundreds of women since—I still identify with her the most. She was a Companion Siren, according to the archetypes, and so am I, predominantly.  She was a vivid, flawed, fascinating woman who delighted in men and who always sought out the joy in life. 

That being said, of all the women in my book, I admire Queen Elizabeth I the most. I admire her for her bravery.  To survive as an unmarried woman and as a queen in the 16th century was an act of sheer will and passion on her part.  But she also had a special weakness for men and was a notorious flirt.

What are three things a woman can do today to begin unleashing her inner siren?

In Simply Irresistible, I talk about the three things all Sirens have—and these are qualities that will make any woman more irresistible to men, as well as more powerful generally.

  1. Have absolute confidence in your allure.  Women are often looking for confirmation that they are attractive to men, when in fact they should begin with the attitude that they are.  It takes a leap of faith for some, but it is a leap that makes all the difference.
  2. Celebrate men.  There's still this whole “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” mentality out there.  Women often view men warily, as if they are the enemy.  But think about it: don't you like the people most who like you?  Women need to view men as their cohorts and companions. Most men think a smart, confident woman is sexy.
  3. Embrace life.  This really means play up your strengths, make the most of what you have, and embrace your circumstances.  Sirens have a kind of vitality, a sort of unquenchable life about them. They aren't whiners, they are doers and survivors. 

Today, women are by and large strong, educated and independent, but it is essential for sirens to celebrate and praise men. Do you think it’s difficult for contemporary women to express such adoration?  And why is celebrating men so vital to being a successful siren?

By advising women to celebrate and praise men I am essentially saying hold men in esteem and affection. Women today celebrate and praise women—lavishly, unabashedly.  Women should celebrate and praise men the way they do women.  I mean, why not?  Men are human.  They have as many hurdles and difficulties as we do, though maybe of a different kind.  Very few set out to be our enemies. Don't you love a man who loves women?  Isn't he a pleasure to be around?  Well, then, it shouldn't be so surprising that men love women who love them. I guess what I'm saying is that a little mutual admiration doesn't compromise anyone.  Strong, educated, independent women and women who love men are not mutually exclusive.

See Ellen White discuss SImply Irresistible on video.