Monday, August 8, 2011

The lowdown on my book about heartbreak (FAQs)

For those of you who want the skinny on what my book, The Little Book of Heartbreak (LBH), is about and why I'm writing it, here are the FAQs, real and imagined:

What is LBH about?

LBH is about the notion and experience of romantic heartbreak: about why getting dumped feels as bad as it does, about the universality of not just the experience but also the term "heartbreak", about wallowing, about what music, literature, history, science, and popular culture can tell us about love gone wrong. LBH will touch on subjects ranging from neurobiology to medieval history to the genius of Nick Cave.

Why are you writing LBH?

I'm a firm believer in bibliotherapy. Books can heal, and I don't mean in a new agey, pop psych kind of way -- I mean that by engaging with our pain on an intellectual level and feeding the beast with knowledge, we can get to a higher level of understanding about it AND distract ourselves from the immediacy of the daggers in our chests.

I owe my life to both nonfiction and fiction titles that explore depression and heartbreak, like The Noonday Demon: The Atlas of Depression, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears, but whenever I was in the throes of heartbreak, I found myself craving a book that didn't yet exist: a tome that explained why I was acting like such a nutter, engaged me intellectually, gave me perspective, and looked at what I was experiencing through different lenses. A book that helped me to recover but wasn't self-helpy, trite, or just plain stupid.

So I set out to write that book. 

How did you come up with the idea for LBH?

When I was in graduate school in journalism at Berkeley, I did a radio piece on love gone wrong that specifically covered what exactly the pain of heartbreak feels like and why social psychologists think it exists. I was struck by how engaged people were with the story -- everyone who I interviewed and I knew listened to it had something to share. It struck me perhaps nothing is more universal in the human experience -- we don't all become parents, we don't all get cancer, we don't all chuck it all and join a commune -- but nearly every one of us has his or her heartbroken.

Why you?

I'm a recovering expert. Although I'm happily married now, before I met my husband, it's fair to say I got dumped as often and predictably as it rains in Seattle. Okay, so I exaggerate, but according to my scrap paper tally, I was dumped at least a dozen times, about half of which resulted in medium heartbreak (the kind that makes you cry, qualifies as profound disappointment, but you can concede after awhile wasn't so bad because the guy wasn't "the one" and/or had red flags sprouting around him like hair on an old lady's chin), and a quarter of which resulted in extreme heartbreak (the kind that makes you wish you were a lemming because hurling yourself off a cliff sounds like a great idea because he really did seem to be "the one").

I've been ditched after moving across the country to be with someone, via email and over instant messenger, in a Honda Civic, in my own kitchen, and on my birthday.

I'm also fairly certain I've broken the hearts of three or perhaps six individuals, several of whom barely spoke English, and one of whom I almost regretted dumping because he introduced me to the band Hem

So, yeah, I think I have a fair amount to say on the subject. 

Who is your audience? 

Let's be real: men who will read a book about heartbreak are likely few and far between. My guess is that women will dig this book -- women like me who read broadly (medieval history! pop reference! best sellers! Mary Roach! Madame Bovary! obscure books about the history of dirt in London!), have been known to overindulge in Two Buck Chuck, are left cold by self-help books, and are confounded by the perils of the modern dating paradigm (did I sleep with him to soon? what does that cryptic email mean? what do you mean I shouldn't text him until he texts me? should I not have done a bong hit in front of him? was it the ratty red thong or the fact that I identified a little too much with Bridesmaids?)

When is the book coming out? 

LBH will be published in February 2013, which means that my manuscript is due in, uh, six months.

Are you scared? 

Do bears shit in the woods? Totally. But I'm also happy like a Mai Tai on the beach.


  1. Congratulations! As a chick who happily reads Mary Roach, has more than one copy of Madame Bovary and who would actually be enthralled by the history of dirt in London, I will be looking forward to your 2013 release date.

  2. I commented on a more recent post of yours and started to look at older posts and this one caught my eye.

    I have done a bit of work in this area and have talked to hundreds of people on their experiences in a clinical setting. I strongly suggest you talk to as many people as you can to flesh out your ideas. You may not have the time, but I feel it is important not to make sweeping generalizations or faulty inferences, in order to avoid writing fluff. I do not mean to be rude, but your case for expertise in heartbreak reads like a series of "He's Just Not That Into You" experiences. If you do talk of your own experiences, which might be interesting, I would contextualize them by examining why being dumped kept on happening to you. Can the source of your pain be identified in various instances? Were your perceptions or expectations way off? It would be ideal if you could track down and interview those who did the dumping, as well as your dumpees. Perhaps it could be like Jarmuch's "Broken Flowers". The dissolution of relationships can be complex and more than just heartbreak. How a relationship ends can trigger a wide array of emotions that may have precious little to do with the relationship itself, making the topic extremely thorny.

    While I see you already have a market identified, I think men are interested in the subject. It would require a particular approach to writing that is not so gendered. I do not mean to criticize your enterprise, but I get a sense that your book has a very specific audience in mind and is steeped in a particular set of mainstream cisgender American values. I would make this very explicit, unless you plan on writing a medium-sized or big book on heartbreak.

    All the best.