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SECRETS TO HAPPINESS
by Sarah Dunn
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Holly Frick has just endured the worst kind of breakup: the kind where you're still in love with the person leaving you. While her wounds are still dangerously close to the surface, her happily married best friend confesses over a bottle of wine that she is this close to having an affair. And another woman comes to Holly for advice about her love life--with Holly's ex! Holly decides that if everyone around her can take pleasure wherever they find it, so will she. As any self-respecting 30ish New York woman would do, she brings two males into her life: a flawed but endearing dog, and a good natured, much younger lover. She's soon entangled in a web of emails, chance meetings, and misguided good intentions and must forge an entirely new path to Nirvana. From the author of The Big Love, Secrets to Happiness is a big-hearted, knife-sharp, and hilariously entertaining story about the perils of love and friendship, sex and betrayal--and a thoroughly modern take on our struggle to be happy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A "Q & A" WITH SARAH DUNN
How was the process of writing Secrets to Happiness different from that of your first novel, The Big Love?
Well, it was much more pleasant. That’s the main thing. I really enjoyed writing this book, and all of those things happened that novelists always talk about, the characters started talking and taking over the story. I never had the slightest idea how it would end. I keep a big cork board on the wall in my office, and I was always re-arranging the scenes in the first half of the book, moving my three-by-five cards around – a lot of procrastinating, really, involving bright magic markers and such – but the entire right side was just empty cork for a very long time. When I started out, I wanted to write a longer book than The Big Love, because everybody was telling me they read my entire book on a single airplane flight, and I was starting to get a little offended. I thought it would be good to write something that took a little longer for people to finish. I think they did something with the font or something, because this one reads just as fast.
What aspects of Holly’s character would you say you identify with most—or least?
I love to give advice. I always have. And about 80 percent of the advice I give is great, but unfortunately the other 20 percent is horrible. I mean, ruin-your-life horrible. And I never know which is which, and I argue for both kinds with equal certainty. And, like Holly, I do tend to meddle, and I suppose I have a dash of the rigidity that she has. My sister read the book and sent me an email that said, “Who was the twenty-two year old? Was there a twenty-two year old?” Sadly, there was not.
Holly has written a book loosely based on her relationship with Spence. As an author, do you often crib material from your own relationships? Are there characters in Secrets to Happiness that are based on real people?
Let me just say, it’s a dangerous thing to be my friend. But some of my friends now want to show up in a book, and they like to pick out the little parts that they know are based on them. For example, my friend Jill always insists on sharing a changing room with me. I have no idea why she does this. She has a lot of sisters, I guess. She also encourages/forces me to buy expensive things that I never end up wearing, and so when Jill got to that scene in the book about Amanda, she knew the scene was based on her. I’ve found that it’s easier to base a character on someone you meet for a few minutes at a cocktail party than on someone you’ve known a long time, because then your subconscious just takes those fleeting details and plays with them until the character comes alive.
Chester and Panty are both adorable sounding dogs. Do you have a dog? Brain tumor-free, I hope….
I don’t have a dog. I have a new baby, and a fat, ill-behaved cat, and a dog would probably throw me over the edge. I had a sad experience with a cat around the time I was writing Secrets and that influenced the shape of the Chester story. It was one of those things where, as a writer, you use the feelings but not the facts.
Secrets to Happiness is a very “New York” story. Do you think this story could have taken place elsewhere? Is finding happiness in New York City particularly challenging, do you think?
One character in the book, Lonnie, says that New Yorkers suffer from ‘excessive ego demands’, and I think that’s true. New York City, I contend, actively conspires against happiness. There are a lot of other things you can get easily – stimulation and excitement and a very good bagel come to mind – but ordinary things are hard. Daily life can become a competitive sport. Honestly, just listening to myself, what the heck am I doing here? Maybe it’s time to move!
Holly spends a Sunday afternoon in The Strand bookstore, but she has to set herself some time and money restrictions before she enters. Are books a favorite indulgence for you, too?
I’m in a bookstore, I’d say, four times a week. I love bookstores, although one thing nobody tells you is that publishing a book can ruin bookstores for you for a while. In that entire sea of books, maybe, maybe you’ll find one or two copies of something you spent several years of your life creating. Or none! But I consider myself a book buyer, not just a reader, so I’ve had to get over that. My father used to take my sister and me to a bookstore once a week, and we each got to pick out two books. Now, all these years later, I’d say I’m still averaging two new books a week.
You recently had a baby boy. How has that affected your writing life?
Writing used to be the hardest thing I did in a day, but now it’s the easiest. I have a nanny most days until 1:30, and, let me tell you, sitting in Starbucks for a few hours every morning, thinking your own thoughts, putting them down on paper – suddenly, that’s paradise! How is it that I used to complain about this? Then I go home and I’m covered in spit up for seven hours. Come to think of it, I’m more or less covered in spit up at Starbucks too, but I really can’t blame that on Harry.
What are you working on next?
I’ve got a new novel brewing. There might be some Hollywood stuff thrown in to pay the bills. I just finished a pilot for NBC called George & Hilly which was really fun to write. I will say, there’s nothing like writing a novel. It is a pretty satisfying enterprise, over all.
Thank you to © 2009 Hachette Book Group
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