Friday, September 23, 2011

Q&A with one of my writer crushes: Valerie Frankel

by Melissa Senate

In 1994, right before Valentine’s Day (naturally), I got my heart smashed to pieces by the guy I thought was The One. I did the usual: took to bed with boxes of Puffs and pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and a few days later went to the one place I could always count on for comfort: a bookstore. And guess what treasure I found on the New Non Fiction table? The Heartbreak Handboook. Not your ordinary “self-help” book. Not just a book (that managed to be pee-in-your-pants funny and dead-on serious) about how to get over a broken heart. But a book by one of my writer crushes, Valerie Frankel.

If you were a twentysomething and early thirtysomething in the 90s and read Mademoiselle magazine every month cover to cover (as I did), EVERY ARTICLE was written by Valerie Frankel. What to do if you made an ass of yourself at the company Christmas party by drinking five margaritas and throwing yourself at the cute guy from the Contracts dept. What to wear (and say) to meet your new boyfriend’s southern parents. What to do if you hate your job (and she also wrote a book called The I Hate My Job Handbook). Valerie wrote and spoke my language, always hitting it right on the ole head, always touching and funny and true.

Since that heartbroken February all those years ago, I’ve read many articles and books by Valerie Frankel, including a fabulous memoir, Thin Is The New Happy. And when I learned she had a new memoir published last week called IT’S HARD NOT TO HATE YOU, I bought it and gobbled it up.

I will tell you: it’s impossible to hate Valerie Frankel, and I loved every freeing word of this book, which is basically about NOT PRETENDING. It’s also hard to hate Valerie because she kindly agreed to be interviewed for The Girlfriends Book Club. And here she is:

IT’S HARD NOT TO HATE YOU by Valerie Frankel

From the author of THIN IS THE NEW HAPPY comes a hilarious new memoir about embracing your Inner Hater. In the midst of a health and career crisis, Valerie uncorks years of pent up rage, and discovers you don't have to be happy to be happy. You don't have to love everyone else to like yourself. And that your Bitchy Twin might just be your funniest, most valuable and honest ally.

"It's refreshing to read as Frankel realizes that anger can be cathartic, even entertaining, when expressed, and makes for a fuller, fun life. Fans of her recent memoir, her novels, or her collaborations with Joan Rivers and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi will especially enjoy learning what makes the funny, warm Frankel tick." –Publishers Weekly

"A worrisome diagnosis leads Frankel, a self-described grouch, to consider the surprisingly positive implications of a negative personality. Frank, funny, and full of zingy insights."--Good Housekeeping "Book Pick" (October 2011)

Q: Tell us about your book, Valerie:

A: It’s Hard Not to Hate You is a memoir about toxic emotions. The action starts when I learned I had an early stage cancer, and a genetic mutation that would make future cancers in multiple organs all but guaranteed. My doctor advised me to reduce stress, a necessary fix since I’d become a bubbling cauldron of anger and bitterness about everything lately. My career, marriage, friendships, neighbors, outlook. It all seemed to set me off into fits of annoyance and rage. The harder I tried to be happy and maintain a placid state of mind, the harder it became.

What I came to realize, thanks to discussions with people I trusted, was that suppressing the toxic emotions was what was causing most of my stress. I resolved to let it all out. Each chapter takes on a different form of “hate,” be it professional jealousy, marital annoyance, impatience, envy of women who have a million friends, loathing for other people’s bratty kids, grudge holding. The plot unfolds in chronological order, as I progress through my year of hate, building on important emotional shifts and ending with the necessary prophylactic hysterectomy I’d spend months dreading and building up the courage to have.

Q: What will women relate to the most?

A: Women will relate to the pressure of trying to feel happy all the time. If we’re not bursting with joy, it’s like a personal failure, something to feel guilty about. In It’s Hard Not to Hate You, I replaced Authenticity and Honesty as my emotional ideals, and gained valuable insight into myself and my relationships. Since it’s impossible to control your emotions, the Happiness Movement is selling women a bogus bill of goods. You can’t decide to be happy. You can pretend to be happy. But, what I found, was that glossing over my darker emotions limited me in a profound way. When I pulled back the curtain, and let the anger and resentment and jealousy out, I was happier. I admitted to having negative emotions, which “good” women aren’t supposed to have, and became a better, deeper person.

Q: What will people be surprised to know about you?

A: Interesting conversation with my Mom. After she read the chapter in It’s Hard Not to Hate You called “Why I Have No Friends, Part One,” about my struggles with friends as an adolescent, she said, “You seemed like such a happy kid.”

I was so not happy in junior high! I was the opposite of happy. But I put on a good show, and kept it up until, at 44, I decided to tear off the Poker Face, stop being afraid of anger, and just let it out. My own mother was surprised I wasn’t as cheerful as I seemed. I wonder how many other people I’ve met thought they understood me. I bet millions of other women feel equally misunderstood.

Otherwise, people would be surprised to know that, despite writing about sex in magazines for twenty years, I’m really quite prudish about many acts and practices. I’d never have a threesome, for instance. Just can’t imagine any circumstance that would make this fun. I’ve written articles coaching readers on threesome etiquette, and it’s fine for them or anyone. But I couldn’t possibly.


Big thanks to Valerie Frankel for stopping by the GBC blog. You can find out more about Valerie at her website, friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Bio: Melissa Senate is the author of ten novels, including her latest, The Love Goddess' Cooking School, and is also a freelance editor and copywriter. She lives on the coast of Maine with her son and her stacks and shelves of books. For more info, visit Melissa’s website, friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


  1. Melissa: Thanks for the introduction to Valerie. I just ordered the new book!

  2. Fascinating interview! I've read many of Valerie's articles, too, and love her writing. Her new book sounds terrific. Thanks for this!

  3. I really enjoyed It's Hard Not To Hate You, too, and found a new writer crush in Frankel myself! I could definitely relate to many of her angst-filled passages, and feel like I walked away having learned a little something, too. :)

  4. Melissa, thanks for bringing Valerie here--what a fascinating journey! I agree that the happiness industry can grossly oversimplify our complicated feelings. Looking forward to reading this and hoping Valerie is healthy now!

  5. I read the Heartbreak Handbook too. I still remember the cover.Great interview, Melissa.

    Hi Valerie,

    Thanks for swinging by. Can't wait to read the book!

  6. Loved the Q&A, Melissa. I've read many of Valerie's articles, too, and always enjoyed them. Will definitely read this new book -- thanks!

  7. Thanks Melissa and ladies. Karin: Long time! I remember being in the GCC several years back. Congrats to you all on a great site and so many great books.

  8. Great Q and A, Melissa! It made me love Valerie Frankel even more!!

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