KJ~~Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Phoebe~~ I grew up in Georgia, moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, “retired” from showbiz to Florida to work as a journalist, and seven years ago moved to Austin, Texas, with my husband and our terribly spoiled dogs, where I plan to stay for a while. I’ve worked as a film producer/director, a theater critic, a health columnist, a game-show host, a casting assistant for Broadway shows, an intern for Paramount Pictures, and the voice of the heroine in a video game. Kind of a fun and eclectic background to draw on when you’re a writer.
KJ~~What are you working on right now?
Phoebe~~ At the moment I’m putting the final touches on the Breakup Doctor sequel—Bedside Manners, out in March of 2015—and then doing a final edit on a manuscript currently called Falling Together (soon to be retitled, thanks to one of my favorite writers, Marisa de los Santos, who used that working title for her last book). That one’s a bit of a departure from the Breakup Doctor series—a deeper story about a woman who leaves her seemingly happy marriage and literally starts a new life from scratch in an unfamiliar, washed-up beach town after a tragedy she cannot overcome. It’s about forgiveness, really—of the ones we love who hurt us, whether they mean to or not (and often so much more deeply because we love them), and even more important, forgiveness of ourselves for doing the things we once imagined were unthinkable.
KJ~~Of the books/stories you have written, which one would you like to tell us about?
Phoebe~~ The first in my Breakup series—cleverly titled The Breakup Doctor—is about a therapist who, when she loses her practice, reinvents herself as a relationship columnist and counselor, on call to help you shape up after a breakup. But when her own relationship falls apart, she finds herself spectacularly breaking every one of her own rules. It’s a fun, funny read, but I hope also says something real about how we handle the tough parts of love—not just in our romantic relationships, but with friends and family too. And how to forgive yourself when you fall short of your own expectations. Which seems to be a theme in my writing.
There are a variety of buy links on my publisher’s page
KJ~~What was the hardest part about getting this book/story from the first ideas to publication?
Phoebe~~ A couple of years ago my agent, the tireless Courtney Miller-Callihan at Sanford J. Greenburger, submitted Breakup Doctor all over, and we got some of the nicest, most positive rejection letters you’ve ever seen—but not a single offer. I figured the story was just a no-go, so I put it away and worked on two other manuscripts I’ve since completed.
After that I revisited Breakup Doctor and still liked it and thought it had a story to tell, so I did a heavy rewrite of it and told Courtney that I was going to self-publish, and she said, “Give me one more crack at it first.” (Every author wants a Courtney Miller-Callihan in her corner.) And so she shopped it around one more time, and this time we found the perfect home for it—Henery Press, an intimate house that has impressed me at every turn with their enthusiasm for the book and for me, as well as their industry knowledge and fast growth as a company.
In a way I think this is how it had to happen—Breakup Doctor is a much better book than it was the first go-around; I needed time to “season” the story. And Henery is the exact right publisher for it, and I found them at the exact right time (when they branched out form their usual comedic mysteries to include my genre, chick lit). It makes me think of the story of Breakup Doctor itself—something really, really good came out of what at the time felt like nothing but rejection and heartbreak.
KJ~~Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
Phoebe~~ Breakup Doctor started years ago as an almost entirely different book, generally based around a woman who bought a fixer-upper house to flip it in the hot Florida market, just before the mortgage crisis hit. At the time I was living in Fort Myers, Florida—the epicenter of the mortgage collapse, nicknamed “Foreclosure Myers” in the press. And yes, I had just bought a house.
In the process of writing it, however, I supported several friends through tough breakups (and vice versa), as well as writing a recurring series for my paper about happily married couples and what made them work. I spent loads of time observing, researching, and talking about relationships—why they succeeded, why they failed, and how to handle the latter when it happened—and the book started to take on a new path, though I still wasn’t quite finding its spine.
And then I met the man who is now my husband, and we hit it off fast and hard, followed very quickly by what I like to call “the Great Disappearance” (and my husband likes to call “a figment of my imagination”). After a month of steady contact—dates, phone calls, e-mails, a full-court press—he told me he was going away for a week’s vacation, and I stopped hearing from him. Completely.
I immediately decided he was there with another woman, and that all the great connection I’d thought we’d had was in my own head. I beat myself up mercilessly—how could I have misjudged everything so thoroughly? And in his absence the book finally found its heart: Why can love make us a little crazy, even when we think we have it all together?
Oh—and it turns out my husband was at a weeklong yoga retreat. Where they discouraged computer and cell phone use.
KJ~~What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
Phoebe~~ He’s Just Not That Into You, by Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, literally changed my dating life, and is probably a good large part of the reason I’m happily married today. It was a big inspiration for Breakup Doctor as well. For craft books, Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing is like a master class in writing fiction, and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write is the greatest treatise on and exhortation to creativity that I know of. In the fiction field, I have to say that my childhood reads were among the most influential—they’re simple stories, but books like Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown and the Judy Blume books and Why Me? and Lisa Bright and Dark gave me an appreciation for storytelling that’s probably a huge part of the reason I love to do it today.
KJ~~What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Phoebe~~ Like a lot of writers, I still work a full-time job, although I’ve had the luxury for the last twenty-plus years of working from home. So generally I get up, walk the dogs, and then write for a couple of hours in the morning, and then work my “regular job” for the rest of the day. Lately I write weekends too, though I didn’t used to—since the first Breakup Doc came out, I learned that getting the word out about your book is also a full-time job. So I’m still working to find the balance between my writing career and my other career, book promotion, and family. I keep assuring my neglected husband and family and dogs and friends that that balance is coming soon….
KJ~~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
Phoebe~~ I’m a big fan of authors like Hester Browne, Lolly Winston, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, Liz Tuccillo, Marisa de los Santos, Sarah Pekkanen, and Sarah Bird, more or less in my genre. But I also read a lot of nonfiction—I love history, sociological subjects, and biographies (especially if A. Scott Berg wrote them)—some self-help (like any writer worth her salt who focuses on relationships), and recently have been reading more mystery. And Jenny Lawson and the Oatmeal make me snicker like a twelve-year-old boy.
KJ~~Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
Phoebe~~ Usually avoidance and denial, and then more coffee and gritted teeth—the mental equivalent of a cattle prod. My husband and I just saw Eddie Izzard, one of my favorite comedians, and in a Q&A after the show he was asked about what led to his success. I loved his answer: “Determination.” He said that someone once asked him, when he began pursuing acting, why he wanted to be a so-so actor when he was such a brilliant comedian. And his answer was, “Once I was just a so-so comedian.” That struck me so viscerally—the idea that being successful is much less about some kind of innate talent, and more about determination, persistence—just doing and doing and doing that thing you love until you become good at it. That’s what I remind myself of on the days writing feels like a slog.
KJ~~If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
Phoebe~~ I think I would like to visit the worlds of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I grew up reading these stories, and they were the magic portal for me to my imagination. All things were possible—frogs could talk, a mermaid could trade her tail for legs, a childless couple could wish a minuscule son into existence. Good triumphed over evil, virtue was rewarded, and true love conquered all. They were magnificent and magical and occasionally terrifying, and they opened worlds to me beyond the one I knew.