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; 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.
Your novel is called ‘The Breakup Doctor’ please could you tell me about it?
Brook Ogden is a therapist who always seems to know the right answers for her patients. When she loses her practice, she creates an even more successful one as the Breakup Doctor, on call to help you shape up after a breakup. But when Brook’s own relationship falls apart, she finds herself engaging in every behavior she preaches against. 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.
Are any of the characters in ‘The Breakup Doctor’ anything like you?
Well, Brook—the Breakup Doctor—is a bit like me in that she is very contained as far as how she reacts to things—she prides herself on being cool and collected, always in complete control in her reactions, as opposed to her best friend, Sasha, who’s more of an “id” person. I would love to be Sasha, actually—she’s very Zen as far as being perfectly okay with herself and her own behavior—even when it’s what a lot of us would term a little crazy. Her self-acceptance is rather awesome to me, and eventually to Brook, who realizes that sometimes Sasha’s way—letting it out instead of holding it all in—is a lot healthier.
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
I have a multipublished author friend who told me once that the only thing that separated her from all her unpublished writer friends was persistence, and I thought, “Okay…that I can do.” I used to be an actor, so I knew about rejection, and I thought I was prepared for how hard the road to publication would be. Well, like nearly everyone, I found it was harder than expected, and I remember coming very close to throwing in the towel on this story. Literally on my one hundredth submission to agents, I said, “That’s it; I’m putting this one in a drawer.”
One of my writing critique partners exhorted me to keep going—to persist. And because I generally hate to accept defeat, I reluctantly agreed to keep submitting. I think on something like submission 113, I found my fantastic agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenberger. And she was marvelously enthusiastic and encouraging; I felt like I had an ally, and now the road to publishing would open wide!
And of course that didn’t happen either. Courtney submitted Breakup Doctor all over, and we got some of the nicest, most positive rejection letters you’ve ever seen—but ultimately no offers. And so I put the manuscript in a drawer and worked on two other stories I’ve since completed. I decided to self-publish Breakup Doctor, and so I did a heavy revamp of it and told Courtney that I’d be publishing it myself, and she said, “Give me one more crack at it first.” (I’m telling you, 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, a newer small house that has impressed me at every turn with their enthusiasm, professionalism, and knowledge.
I sort of feel like this was the way it was supposed to happen—Breakup Doctor is a much better book than it was the first go-around; I needed time to “season” it. And Henery is the exact right publisher for it, and I needed to wait until they had hit the ground running and then decided to branch into chick lit. (They specialized in cozy comic mysteries before they signed me.) It’s actually kind of like the story of Breakup Doctor itself—something really, really good came out of what at the time felt like nothing but rejection and heartbreak.
Writers put so much time and energy into their characters and I have been told in the past that a writer carries their characters around with them.
So my question is if you could go out for a day with any one of your characters: who would it be, what would you do and why did you pick this particular character?
Sasha, in a second. As I said above, that girl doesn’t self-censor—she lives it right out loud. I may not be able to be that way myself, but I adore being around people like that. They bring out the side of me that I’m usually a bit too in-control to let loose…and I like it. What would we do? I’m guessing just about anything, and I would nod and say, “Yes, Sasha. Lead on.”
If you could choose one book that you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
All right, this is my practical answer for women, not necessarily my global and big-world-picture answer. But I’m going to say He’s Just Not That into You. I wish this were required reading for every woman on earth, from about age 12 or so. I think as women we tend to universally accept less than we might want, because we’re conditioned to be pleasers, to be accommodating, to make excuses and take responsibility even for things that have nothing to do with us. And I think that trait is what garners us most of the unhealthy relationships we have. This book really changed my dating life pretty much immediately—and totally. It made it impossible for me to ever again accept less in my relationships. The next relationship I decided to enter into after reading this was with my now-husband. And as a bonus, the book was a real influence for me in writing Breakup Doctor.
If there was one saying that could sum up your life to date, what would it be?
I once sublet my New York apartment to a friend while I was away, and when I returned he’d had the bedspread dry cleaned. It wasn’t necessary, and I thanked him, and he told me, “My mama taught me to leave a place a little bit better than I found it.” That stuck with me as a really beautiful way to live our lives. Leave the world a little better than you found it—whether that means taking time with the people you care about and telling them how you appreciate them, or picking up a piece of litter, or working as an activist for something you believe in. Just leave the place a bit better than you found it.
What can we expect next, any future books in the pipeline?
I’m currently working on the second on the Breakup Doctor series, which is due out next year. And I’m putting the finishing touches on a different type of story—a women’s fiction about a woman who leaves her seemingly happy marriage and re-creates 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. It’s been titled Falling Together for the longest time, although I’m going to have to find a new title, because Marisa de los Santos used that one for her last book! I’m open to ideas, if anyone has something genius. Titles vex me.
What or who in life inspires you?
People who handle adversity with acceptance and grace just awe me. I think it’s so easy for a lot of us to complain about our everyday challenges—I know I do it, anyway. Ridiculous things—a bad hair day, a frustrating challenge at work, a difficult writing day, feeling overwhelmed, car trouble. And then you read about someone who faced a terminal illness with grace and courage and an open heart, or who lost a loved one and persevered through the grief and pain, or someone who had an incredibly difficult upbringing who makes a triumph out of her life. It really puts things into perspective for me, and reminds me to not take all the good things for granted—and to be grateful even for the things that seem “bad.” Sometimes these are hidden blessings—experiences we’re meant to learn from—and how we face them, what we learn, how we grow, is the crucial part of the challenge, not the setback itself.
In this way, I am also always amazed by dogs, oddly enough. If a dog loses a leg, say, it doesn’t bemoan its misfortune, or fall into despair, or worry that it’s not going to be able to do everything it wants to do. It quickly adapts, and you see these dogs getting around as well as any four-legged dog. I learn a lot from my dogs in general, actually: about unconditional love, acceptance of others and oneself, living in the moment, and just delighting in the simple everyday things. Dogs are sort of living Zen masters. J
Please would you share who your 5 dream dinner party guests would be?
Jane Austen (because she was brilliant and what she did and I need to know more about how she did it), Neil Patrick Harris (because that’s the most fun I imagine I’m going to have ever with anyone), Nelson Mandela (because I want to learn his patience and unswerving faith in mankind), Max Perkins (because he was a genius as an editor and I want to learn craft from the master), Neil deGrasse Tyson (because he can explain the secrets of the universe to me, and he’s also a riot). Now you’ve gotten me all excited about this dinner party and want to have it at once.
At your dinner party, there’s a cupcake in honour of ‘The Breakup Doctor’, what would the ingredients be?
The cupcake would be spicy Mexican chocolate with penuche (brown sugar) frosting. Because YUM, first of all, and second, that mix of sweet and savory is a good metaphor for getting past a broken relationship. There may be pain and grief and difficulties, but there’s a sweetness in it too, because every broken relationship leaves you with something good, usually the wisdom to recognize what you don’t want next time, as you get closer and closer to what you do want. And now I want these cupcakes at this dinner party as well…rather desperately.
Sweet or savoury?
Evil choice. Savory, if I only get one or the other, but I shall mourn sweet forevermore.
Books or e-books?
Love both, but books—they’re so tangible and familiar and lovely…almost a talisman for so many happy memories throughout my life.
Cinema or DVD?
DVD! Unless it’s the cinema drafthouse, and then count me in.
Staying in or going out?
Staying in these days. My husband and I and the dogs (Security Dog and Giant Lapdog) have become real homebodies. And we have recently moved into a neighborhood with incredibly awesome neighbors, so we find ourselves walking to one another’s house for frequent get-togethers, like when you were twelve. I love it.
Classic or modern?
Interesting question. Classic for architecture and fashion. Modern for literature, if you bent my wrist and made me pick one.
A big thank you to Phoebe for stopping by and talking to The Love of a Good Book