Clarissa Cruz
June 30, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Don’t you think Grandma and Grandpa would rather spend their golden years chasing after adorable grandchildren instead of having torrid, Viagra-fueled sex?


”As you grow older you don’t necessarily lose your passion,” insists author Jeanne Ray. ”I just wanted to show that there are a lot of people out there who are sexy after 60.”

And in her first novel, Julie and Romeo, she does just that. The smart, unsentimental tale of how two rival Boston-area florists in their 60s (Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani) fall in love despite their warring progeny is a refreshing addition to a fiction world sparsely populated with older protagonists. Ray worked as a nurse for more than 40 years before her daughter, Ann Patchett, encouraged her to publish her first manuscript (”I was her personal trainer,” laughs Patchett, who passed her mother’s book on to her agent, ICM’s Lisa Bankoff); she says she was compelled to write the book after perusing magazines with headlines touting GREAT SEX AT 20, 30, 40. As the fictional Julie muses, ”What about sixty? Were we finished? Unentitled? Too thrilled about taking our grandchildren to swim practice?” The tale is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet — but not the version you think. ”I rented Romeo & Juliet with Claire Danes and handsome Leo,” says Ray. ”I thought, What would have happened if their parents had fallen in love?” And there’s a bit of her own story dashed into the mix — she’s nine years into a happy, late-in-life third marriage. In fact, Ray is so busy with her family and her nursing work that the success of Julie and Romeo — which boasts great industry buzz as well as a healthy first printing of 75,000 — has caught her by surprise. ”I feel like I was wandering down the path of life and suddenly now I’m on the ramp to the freeway,” she says.

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