Tell us about your debut novel, The Breakup Doctor.
A therapist who specializes in helping people get through difficult breakups finds herself engaging in every behavior she preaches against when her own relationship falls apart. It’s a fun, fast-paced read, but it’s also got some deeper elements in it about the meaning of friendship; and seeing your parents as people, not just parents; and learning to forgive yourself when you don’t live up to your own expectations.
What was your inspiration for writing this novel?
Twofold, actually. And related. The main inspiration was brought on by a book that changed my life—literally: He’s Just Not That Into You. I’d been single and dating a long time, and that book was like a plank-in-the-face realization of what a relationship could and should look like. It’s startling now to realize how much of a revelation that was to me, but it was (thank you, Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt!). Well, like Waldo, once you see something, you can’t unsee it: I knew I couldn’t have a relationship again that was less than I wanted. And I didn’t get into one again until I met my now-husband. From the start, he made it very clear how he felt about me: we talked daily, for hours; we e-mailed back and forth, short and long, silly and serious. We “clicked” like crazy. It was awesome.
And then…came the Great Disappearance. After a month or so of all that contact, he told me he was going away for his birthday weekend to a yoga/wellness-type of resort. And I didn’t hear a word for days. And so in the great tradition of crazy relationship behavior, I immediately inferred that he was there with another woman, and all of the high-intensity courtship he’d been laying on me was an act. I was an idiot; I’d misread the signs again. My husband to this day shakes his head at this story—he was there alone, it turns out, but it was a yoga retreat, as he likes to remind me, and outside contact was discouraged.
Now, I’m a pretty strong-minded, independent woman, and yet here I was going a little crazy over something that, looking back, I see was laughably minor. And it gave me the germ of the idea behind this story—what happens when someone who thinks she’s got it together and has all the right answers finds herself acting just as irrationally as the people she is trying to help not be irrational? Bam. Breakup Doctor. It’s funny—I had been a little stuck in the manuscript until that happened, and the Great Disappearance really shaped this first novel, and subsequently the series. So I now have to thank my husband for it.
Describe your novel’s heroine, Brook.
Brook prides herself on knowing what to do when things are tough—for herself, for her best friend, Sasha—for everyone. She’s not a know-it-all—she genuinely wants to help, and as a trained therapist she is able to use her experience and knowledge to ease people’s difficulties, which she thrives on. But though she is endlessly understanding and compassionate with others, she’s not so much so with herself. Like a lot of us, I think. I hear friends (or myself!) say things about themselves that they wouldn’t say to their worst enemy. And that’s where she gets stuck: She can’t accept that she’s engaging in behaviors she knows are unhealthy and unproductive, and so—like anything we deny—her destructive behavior gets stronger and stronger. Her journey is to allow herself to be human and fallible—just knowing all the right answers doesn’t guarantee that we never get it wrong. And she finds her way there with the help of some sources she never expected.
How many more books are planned for The Breakup Doctor series?
Two after this so far, but the more I enjoy spending time with Brook and company, the more open I am to doing more titles in the series, if I see that the characters have further journeys to take.
Tell us about your experience working with your publisher, Henery Press.
When Henery offered for the book, I did some digging to find out about them—they were newish at that time, and I was very particular about signing with a publisher. I located a blog post by another of their authors, Larissa Reinhart, who writes the very funny and charming Cherry Tucker mystery books, and she was kind enough to respond to my e-mail and answer all my questions, even asking around the other “Hen House” (as Henery is called) authors for more input. That was pretty much indicative of my experience so far with Henery—they are the most helpful, enthusiastic, dedicated publisher I could have asked for—a perfect fit for the series. Editor Kendel Flaum was and is so wonderfully enthusiastic about the book, and gave me spot-on feedback on the manuscript to help me hone it; marketing director Art Molinares is always, but always available to me for my often-ignorant newbie questions; and everyone right down to the interns (I’m looking at YOU, Chloe Harper!) bends over backward to offer whatever help and resources a writer needs. To my knowledge, this level of involvement and accessibility is unheard of in the publishing world—even my agent was stunned when we all approved a cover and were ready to go to print, and Kendel at Henery emailed me to say she had been thinking about it, and it just didn’t do the book justice, and she was going back to the drawing board to design a new cover (which turned out to be so unbelievably good, I think it’s the book’s best marketing tool). That should give you an idea what it’s like to be a Hen House author. It’s like partnering with a team of people who believe in your book as much as you do, and will offer all their resources to help it succeed.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know if I always wanted to so much as I just always was. A while ago, my mom gave me a box of things from my childhood, and I found this carefully bound (with a three-hole punch and string) construction-paper book I made about myself and my life—a very early autobiography I created at age six or so. It was a rather short tome at that time, of course…
What do you love about chick lit?
One thing I think is marvelous about “chick lit” is that it encompasses such a wide range of “feel” in books within the genre, from Bridget Jones to The Devil Wears Prada to something like In Her Shoes, and yet most of them offer some insight into women and our relationships that I think is really valuable. It’s like the sugar that makes the pill palatable: we learn something about ourselves, I think, but usually while having a wonderfully good time.
How do you respond to the chick lit haters?
I don’t know that there’s anything to respond to, necessarily. We all have our taste—positive and negative. I know that some people don’t care for the genre for its overfamiliar tropes—sassy heroine, shopping, love of shoes (but come on…shoes…!)—but you could say that about any genre, really. It’s just what you like.
Who are your favorite authors?
The ones I reach for over and over again are Lolly Winston, Hester Browne, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, Sarah Bird, Sherry Thomas, Marisa de los Santos. I know I’m forgetting a lot of favorites. Outside of women’s fiction and chick lit, it’s a bit more eclectic: John Steinbeck, the Brothers Grimm, master biographer A. Scott Berg, Nick Hornby, Wally Lamb, Malcolm Gladwell, Theodore Rubin, Christopher Moore. I read a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
What was the last book you read that you loved?
How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo. I reread it recently—Tuccillo is also the coauthor of He’s Just Not That into You, which heavily influencedThe Breakup Doctor (and my life), as I mentioned earlier. I was single for a lot of years, and those experiences—the unique highs and lows of the dating world—are still so close to home to me, so close to my heart, and she writes about them with such compassion and humor. I might love Liz Tuccillo and want her to be my BFF.
What are you working on now?
The next Breakup Doctor title in the series, Bedside Manners, is due to my publisher, oh, any day now. Once that’s turned in, I am putting a final polish on another manuscript my agent is interested in shopping around. This one is a bit different in feel from the Breakup Doctor series: a women’s fiction novel about a woman who leaves her seemingly happy marriage and recreates herself in a sleepy little Florida town. It’s about loss and guilt, and how we forgive the ones we love when they let us down—which hurts so much more because we love them—and how we forgive ourselves. (That last one seems to be a recurring theme for me!) It’s been titled Falling Together for the longest time, until Marisa de los Santos preempted my title with her last book! I forgive her, though, because I love her writing.
Phoebe Fox has been a contributor and regular columnist for a number of national, regional, and local publications; a movie, theater, and book reviewer; a screenwriter; an actress; and a game show host; and has even been known to help with homework revisions for nieces and nephews. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two excellent dogs. For more information, please visit www.phoebefoxauthor.com.