Her official bio – Phoebe Fox is the author of the bestselling Breakup Doctor series (Henery Press), and has been a contributor and regular columnist for a number of national, regional, and local publications (she currently writes about relationships for the Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and She Knows).
She has been a movie, theater, and book reviewer; a screenwriter; and is a close observer of relationships in the wild. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two excellent dogs.
The bio that makes us fall in love with her – She married her husband relatively late, after a long search that yielded her a long and colorful dating life. In 2005 she read Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo’s HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU—and it changed her life.
The prototype of pretty much every guy she and her girlfriends had ever dated was in there—the one who never actually asks you out; the one who’d rather drink (or get high) when he’s with you; the one who cheats; the one who comes on strong, then disappears.
The “This Is What It Should Look Like” sections opened up a new idea to her—there were good men out there and she and her friends deserved to have them. That we all do. She dedicates the Breakup Doctor series to the Behrendt and Tucillo—and to women, “Because you are beautiful, and strong, and smart, and worthy. And if you’re not quite ready to believe that yet, then until you are, along with Brook, I will believe it for you.”
Thank you, Phoebe, for joining us here at Women Writers Women[‘s] Books. We’re thrilled to have you!
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up?
Spawned in California, fledged in Georgia, and since then have moved around a bit—New York City to pursue an acting career; Fort Myers, Florida, upon my unremarked-upon retirement from showbiz to pursue a career in journalism; and finally, Austin, which is where I’ve found home.
What were you like as a kid?
Still awkward. The term “late bloomer” may have been invented for me.
Crisp. I love the sound of it, the onomatopoeia of it, and the connotations of it. It also describes the quality I love best about vegetables, weather, diction, or fall leaves.
Speed reading—seriously, like the Flash. Also, an uncanny recall for eighties song lyrics.
Books on your nightstand right now?
I always have a few working—usually at least one nonfiction and some fiction. I have a weird assemblage at the moment. I am currently midway through Amy Sue Nathan’s The Good Neighbor, Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and an Italian-language workbook. Based upon mood.
The protagonist of the Breakup Doctor series is a counselor named Brook who helps people work through their breakups. Do you have any breakup stories you’d like to share? And what have you learned from them?
I always called myself a “breakup ninja”—if the cord was about to be cut, then I severed it like a zombie’s head: fast, clean, and total. I didn’t get dramatic, I didn’t get crazy, and I didn’t get stalkery. A calm explanation, a clean exit–*mic drop.*
That’s actually how the Breakup Doctor was born. Until you meet your “someone,” then obviously none of the relationships before that are the right one, so by the time I was in my mid-thirties and still single I’d had plenty of breakups. A friend gave me the world-altering book He’s Just Not That Into You, and pretty much overnight I changed my dating habits: I’d never again date anyone who wasn’t totally into me.
Shortly after that I met a guy who clearly was—and I felt the same. We hit it off fast and hard, and I’m all, “I’ve finally got this dating thing cracked!”
And then 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.
Well, I lost my proverbial sh** over it. I immediately decided he was there with another woman, he was a con artist, he was married—you name it. I’d been this coolheaded, rational breakup savant, and all of a sudden I was reduced to a crazy person. And that was when this aimless manuscript I had been writing finally found its heart: Why can love make us a little crazy, even when we think we have it all together? And the Breakup Doctor was born.
Oh—and I later married that guy. J It turned out he was at a weeklong yoga retreat where they discouraged computer and cell phone use. I like to call this episode of our courtship “the Great Disappearance” (and my husband likes to call it “the Great Psychosis”).
This is one long damn answer to your question. J [MM – And one we love! ]
Brook also writes a relationship column that overflows with insight and wisdom. Unsurprisingly, so do you (on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and SheKnows)! You call yourself a “close observer of relationships in the wild.” Is that where you found your expertise – in the wild?
Aren’t most relationships pretty wild? Where love is concerned we are these primitive, lizard-brain mammals, basically.
What I love about writing this series—the reason I started it actually—is because of the myriad breakup stories that my girlfriends and I shared with one another, and the way that that sharing lessened the anguish of them. Breakups are this universal pain, and yet each one is different, and they impact each of us differently. Yet I’m a firm believer that every one of them makes us better and stronger and that much closer to finding the healthy, happy relationship we do want.
And thank you. My husband giggles like a girl every time I’m referred to as a “relationship expert.”
The Breakup Doctor series begs to be shared with girlfriends and sisters. And daughters and mothers and nieces… (The interviewer did!) So I imagine that word of mouth has been an enormous part of you finding your readers. What other ways do you recommend for an author to find her audience? What has worked best for you?
That’s the nicest compliment—thank you. I passed Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s He’s Just Not That Into You along to so many women—and I still do; I’ve probably bought thirty copies of that thing for people—and I secretly did hope that maybe readers might find the same kind of solace and strength and support in my books that I found in Liz and Greg’s.
Finding your audience is practically the oldest profession for authors, isn’t it? And marketing and promoting your books has much in common with the original oldest profession—both involve making yourself visible and available and attractive to those who might be interested in what you have to offer.
Knowing who my audience is really directs the kind of outreach I do. I write for media outlets that appeal to women in my genre’s age range—HuffPost women, SheKnows, Elite Daily. And I write in my wheelhouse—my articles all have to do with love, relationships, breakups, etc. All that helps.
But as for any author, a lot of it is just getting out there so that readers can find you. I love being invited to book festivals, and I do them whenever I can. I speak to women’s groups and book clubs; I am a member of the WFWA, a writer’s organization for women’s fiction authors, where I get tons of support and great resources, not unlike what your site offers authors and readers. I reach out to book bloggers and women’s-interest sites—they are great at reaching readers and connecting them with books and authors.
It’s kind of like the magician’s scarf he pulls out from his sleeve—no matter how much you uncover, there’s seemingly an endless amount more. I just try to be creative in figuring out where my readers might be, and how I can connect with them.
“Chick Lit” was, not so long ago, considered dead. It has made a resurgence. What are the differences between chick lit of old and the new version?
When you and I talked about this, you mentioned that the protagonists in today’s chick lit are more agents of their own change, rather than finding that change through finding love. I love that observation for a number of reasons: Primarily because I have a lifelong sore point with the fact that we raise our girls with Hollywood and romance novel HEAs in a way that I think absolutely sends the message you suggested: “You will be complete when you find a man (or woman) who loves you.”
I consciously try to write these stories so that Brook (and Sasha and even Brook’s mom and Ben’s mom) are finding their happiness and fulfillment in themselves. Which isn’t at all to say that we don’t find some of that through love–I’ve grown since meeting and marrying my husband in really profound ways that might not have happened otherwise.
All relationships (not just romantic ones but those with family and friends too) can change you–potentially for the better or for the worse. And actually I think that’s one of the litmus tests for a healthy one: Does it make you better. Not does he (or she) make you better, but does loving that person,–and, equally important, letting yourself be loved by them–bring out your strengths, help you battle your vulnerabilities, let you see yourself more clearly, offer you ways to grow, teach you about life and love and people and yourself.
We don’t exist as islands, so it’s naive (and I think destructive) to think that we don’t need anyone at all, or that we shouldn’t let anyone affect us or change us. BUT…it’s important to me in my writing to show that we don’t fall apart without that–that while finding a wonderful love match is a beautiful perk of life, it’s not the answer to all our problems. That comes from inside us.
To go back directly to your question, I think there do seem to be more novels, movies, etc., that show that (Taylor Jenkins Reid’s MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE comes to mind, and movies like BRIDESMAIDS). I hope we’re moving in that direction.
Do you foresee more installments in the Breakup Doctor series?
Heart Conditions, the one out now, is book 3. (Book 1 is The Breakup Doctor, and book 2 is Bedside Manners. See what I did there with the theme…?) Book 4, Out of Practice, comes out this fall, and then that’s it for this series, but I’m working on a new series—this one about a very unconventional matchmaker and dating guru. And I have a completed single-title my agent is shopping around—it’s a bit different from these books, more upmarket women’s fiction, and I’m hopeful we’ll find a publishing home for it.
Your publisher, Henery Press, is not one of the Big Five. Yet their impressive stable of books include USA Today bestsellers and many that’ve earned industry awards and nominations. They even accept unagented submissions. That combination for aspiring writers is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Would Henery be considered a large independent press? How does being published by an independent differ from by the Big Five?
Henery was actually my dream-come-true pub house. We had a lot of interest from some bigger houses, but there were several reasons I was most interested in Henery. You named a couple of them—their authors are top-notch, award winners and best sellers.
A smaller house also offers much more personal attention; I never feel lost in the stable. They are a young company, so they are constantly growing and innovating—an energy I love—and consistently including their authors in that. And their contract structure allows authors a greater chunk of their own pie with regards to royalties and rights.
And there’s also a very unusual camaraderie among all the authors in the “Hen House,” as they call themselves—an unbelievable amount of support, fellowship, and help among everyone, from the most established and successful to the newcomers. It’s quite astonishing in the present publishing environment. Henery (like my marvelous agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan) invests in their authors for the long haul, not just the sprint. It feels very much like a partnership.
How long does it take you to write a book? What does your process look like?
Lately I have discovered my new technique seems to be writing what I call a “Frankendraft.” I don’t recommend this, but for some reason on my last two books I’ve wound up with a freakish pastiche of material in my first drafts that I know contains most of the proper parts of a story, but—not unlike Frankenstein’s monster—is stitched together in a not entirely human and vaguely unnerving way. This is probably because I’m a pantser, not a plotter—when I start a book I know the general idea of where I’m going, but that’s about it (if I know too much I lose interest in writing it—the joy for me is in “telling myself the story” as I go).
Luckily, I have a crack critique group, a brilliantly insightful agent, and a wonderful editor at Henery, and between all of them I manage to assemble all the piece parts into a viable life-form by the time I’m through with edits. Also luckily, I love the editing process.
Again, this is a fairly inefficient way to work, and also can cause enormous amounts of stress, angst, and self-doubt, so I urge you not to do anything like this, and find a better system for yourself.
We know that “writing is rewriting.” Do you ever have a hard time with criticism, differing visions for you book than your own, or editorial notes? How do you deal with that?
I know the value of having objective eyes on your work and getting constructive feedback, so I always welcome my crit group’s excellent insights. I faithfully incorporate many of them, then discard the rest because they are so wrong.
After that my agent takes a look—she has a great editorial eye, and she will make many of the same observations I just threw out from my crit group. At this point I will admit that some of those may have had some merit, and I will make more changes accordingly, throwing out about half of what Courtney said because seriously, she doesn’t get it.
And then my editor at Henery comes back to me with all the exact same critiques everybody else has been trying to tell me, and at this point it begins to occur to me that all these people may know what they’re talking about. Thank the sweet lord I have them all to save me from myself.
Any writer who thinks he or she is beyond needing an objective eye on her work is doing herself and her craft a disservice—we’re myopic about our own work. Take a look at some well-established authors’ later titles, once they are high-profile enough to be able to refuse editing, and see how much their work suffers for it.
I recently read an author I used to love, and her latest title was all but unreadable to me—it desperately needed someone to point out where it was repetitive or underdeveloped or overwrought, but she has the heft now to refuse to be edited (some authors do that), and she’s shooting herself in the foot because of it. Good editing makes you a better writer, a better storyteller.
Aspiring writers are asked what genre they write in, but some of them sound similar. I.e., suspense v. thriller. What are the differences between Women’s Fiction and Chick Lit.
That’s a really great question. You can find a lot of definitions on this—especially lately, as it’s a hot topic—but for me there’s a thin line: For my writing style and reading preferences, what I think of as “chick lit” is just women’s fiction with a little more humor.
I know there are some people who don’t even like the term “women’s fiction”—there’s no such thing as “men’s fiction.” I get that, actually, and frankly it would be nice if it were all simply called fiction, but I think it’s helpful for readers to have some sense of what they’re getting, what they like, and be able to categorize that way—mysteries are fiction too, and romances, but they have a subcategory to aid readers. So I have no problem with the women’s fiction or chick lit designation.
The only speed bump with it for me is that there are so many shades of each—chick lit can be shopping-and-shoes or something more substantial, like Emily Giffin or Lolly Winston; women’s fiction can be anything from Jennifer Weiner to Anne Lamott to Alice Sebold to Sara Gruen. All very different in feel, and not all of them appeal to everyone even within the genre (if I never read another shopping-and-shoes book I won’t feel a loss). But it’s all under the same umbrella.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I have repeated this every time I’m asked this, and I hope someday my answer goes viral. Years ago, before I was published, my multipublished, megatalented author friend Sarah Bird told me that the only thing separating her from her unpublished writer friends was persistence.
Best writing advice you’ll ever hear. I persisted after my first manuscript never got an offer of representation. I persisted past 100 rejections on my second manuscript to get my agent on query 113. We persisted in publisher submissions after getting universally turned down in the first round, and two years and a major rewrite later we submitted again and got a four-book contract.
As long as you persist you’re in the game, and you’re on the path to where you’re going. The second you give up, you’re done. Persist.
Which writers inspire you?
My go-tos are Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, Lolly Winston, Sarah Bird, Marisa de los Santos, Liz Tuccillo. I know I’m missing some important ones here.
But I also frequently reread Lama Surya Das’s spiritual writings, Brenda Ueland’s writing on the creative spirit, Sol Stein’s genius books on the craft of writing, Theodore Rubin’s life-altering psychological writing, and the book that launched the Breakup Doctor series, He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (have I shouted-out enough for that yet? I can’t overstate how much it impacted my life). Every woman should read that book the second puberty hits.
Socks or Bare Feet? Theoretically bare feet—always. Except in winter, thanks to my constantly being cold, I reluctantly have to sock up. And thanks to the recent joys of plantar fasciitis, I also wear nice orthopedic Birkenstocks or Vionics with arch support. (Picture all that for a sec. Clearly, sexy is my jam.)
Brisket or Chili? Chili. Brisket is Texans’ misguided attempt to redefine barbecue, which all true Southerners know involves a pig.
Guac or Queso? Oh, come on. That’s like having to pick your favorite child.
Cowboys or Texans? Texans. Everything here has to be bigger, better, louder, prouder, but, man, I love the local pride.
Austin City Limits or SXSW? You can’t pick wrong here. Austin literally rocks—best music scene you’ll find anywhere—but SxSW also brings in film and interactive, and both offer the most magnificent people watching around. Austin abounds with culture. But my very favorite is usually under the Austin radar—check out the Old Settlers’ Festival. See you there.
Thank you, Phoebe, so much dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family! We will be supporting and rooting for you forever more.
Other ways to bond with Phoebe Fox –
THE BREAKUP DOCTOR Series is available –
PRAISE FOR THE BREAKUP DOCTOR SERIES:
“A heartwarming and funny story about friendship, romance, and the heart-wrenching reality of breakups”–Liz Tuccillo, exec. story ed. of Sex and the City/coauthor of He’s Just Not That Into You
“Fox doesn’t just know how to write clearly and powerfully…she has real insight into relationships…a laugh-out-loud read.”—Scene magazine
“Sharp, snarky, funny, and fast-paced.”–Fresh Fiction
“Fox doesn’t just know how to write clearly and powerfully…she has real insight into relationships…a laugh-out-loud read. Fox has a real winner here.” – SCENE Magazine
“A book series you don’t want to miss…not your typical chick lit…will make you laugh out loud… Fox’s books are charming and funny, but they still manage to give us dating advice we can actually use.” – DatingAdvice.com
“A charming and funny novel that you won’t be able to put down.” – Austin Woman Magazine
“Brilliantly written (and with some cracking advice if you find yourself experiencing relationship problems of your own…), this is a warm, witty, light and hugely enjoyable read.” – Bookaholic Confessions
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author & Agent Interview segment. She is the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications.
When she isn’t working on her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found belting out Broadway tunes (offkey and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), repairing or building something around her house, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Say hi! http://www.mmfinck.com
Sites That Link to this Post
- In the Media, April 2016, Part One | The Writes of Woman | April 3, 2016
- Q&A with Phoebe Fox | WordHarbour | February 10, 2016