The Story Behind the Book – “Going Both Ways”

Most ofGoing Both Ways my writing has been centered on interpersonal relationships and the male-female dichotomy. Despite being a heterosexual male, my writing often portrays the male characters as boorish while the women tend to be more likeable and far wiser. It’s been said a million times that men don’t really understand women and vice versa. And it almost has to be that way because we’ve never taken the proverbial walk in the other gender’s shoes. But what if we did? How would that change our perspective?

That was the inspiration behind Going Both Ways. This idea of a body/age/gender switch is a fairly common conceit (think Big and 13 Going on 30) – so I added the unique twist of having the Patrick/Trish character alternate gender every other day. I thought having the same mind in alternating bodies would create optimal opportunity for growth, insight and humor.

I wrote the first third of the book very quickly, but I had no idea where the story was going or how it would be resolved. That’s not unusual for me. I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. Some writers get freaked out by that approach, but I find it energizing. To me it means the characters have ultimate freedom to take over the story and lead it wherever it needs to go. That’s exactly what happened with Going Both Ways. Patrick/Trish got into a situation that forced them – and the book – to move in a new direction, a direction I’d never envisioned but one that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself). Once that plot resolution was revealed to me, the writing again came fast and easy.

I write because I love to. I publish because I want my stories to be read. But while I love the writing, the selling and marketing process has always given me fits. I have a literary agent who sold my nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown. I loved the book and had decided to self-publish – but first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

Interview with Jersey Girl Book Reviews

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.16.33 AMBefore we get to the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself. 
After a career as a marketing executive, I left the corporate world to focus on activities that were more fulfilling on a personal level and more contributory to the world around me. Today I focus on writing and teaching. I’ve often said “I live the American dream” and that is indeed how I feel. With a wonderful wife, two grown children, great friends and a couple of rambunctious Labrador retrievers, I stay very active and involved.

How long have you been a writer?
Truly my whole life. Like many kids I starting writing goofy stories for my own enjoyment and to share with friends. I sold my first article when I was 16.

Do you have a day job, or is being an author your career? 
Writing is now my focus though I’m also an adjunct professor at Boston College and still do some consulting on the side.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey as a writer. 
I truly had no choice. It’s what I always wanted to be. My first book was a YA novel. Since then I’ve written several books of humor, two nonfiction books, and several adult novels.

Please give a brief description/storyline about Still Counting
A young couple (Adam and Nina) share an immediate and powerful connection to each other. Nina sees life as a 1000 shades of gray, while Adam tends towards black-and-white. Their conflict – and the resulting damage to their relationship – revolves around Nina’s bisexuality. Adam somehow equates bisexuality to promiscuity and feels he now has to compete not just with other men but also with every other woman in their circle of friends and colleagues. Nina wants trust, but Adam delivers irrational jealousy.

What was the inspiration for this story? 
I wanted to write something like Erich Segal’s classic Love Story for a 21st century audience that revolved around contemporary themes. I’d been holding onto the first line – “The first time I saw her it was raining.” – for a long time and finally had a place to use it. I think it served well as a powerful springboard for the characters and plotline.

How did it feel to have your first book published?
I was thrilled beyond belief. It had been a lifelong dream. It also provided affirmation that I wasn’t the worst writer that’s ever lived and encouraged me to continue – and maybe push the envelope a bit in terms of subject matter.

Do you write books for a specific genre? 
My interests are quite broad so I tend to write in a variety of genres and on a broad array of topics. My focus now is on fiction that provides insight into male-female relationships – e.g., romance, chick-lit and women’s fiction.

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why? 
I’ve always had a soft spot for what I would call “mainstream/commercial literary fiction” – books like The World According to Garp, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and This Is Where I Leave You. They’re all funny, sad, and universally relatable. Also loved Still Alice and The Notebook – both of which combined stories of true love with the inevitability of aging and death.

Do you have a special spot/area where you like to do your writing?
I have two primary writing spots in my house – a small den where I work on a MacBook Air at my desk or while sitting on a comfy chair with a “lap-desk.” I also have an iMac set up in a nook in the basement, and I work there if I need the larger screen or am creating supporting multi-media like video trailers.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books? 
I got a million of ‘em. Seriously, I have way more ideas, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, they just pop into my head.

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes? 
I’m very disciplined. When I wrote Still Counting I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, 7 days a week. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most? 
I love writing dialogue and short scenes. I’m not a big fan of long detailed descriptive passages; I often skim them in books I read and I know I’m awful at writing them.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing? 
My wife and I have two yellow Labs and we take them for a walk or two every day in nearby woods. I’m always reading two books at once – one novel and one nonfiction title. I could perhaps be defined as a Netflix addict but I prefer Netflix “enthusiast.” In all honesty, however, writing is my favorite thing to do.

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received? 
Just do it! You can think about it and agonize over minutiae but it’s all for naught unless you actually put words on paper.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer? 
I love to hear that something I wrote touched the reader or provided insight. There’s nothing better than that.

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans? 
The usual suspects – Twitter, my Facebook Author Page, and blogging.

Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences or are they purely all from your imagination? 
I don’t believe there is any fiction that has not been influenced by real-life experiences in some way. Having said that, the storyline is purely fiction and the characters are not based on particular individuals.

What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer? 
I most loved Steinbeck, John O’Hara, and Philip Roth when I was younger. Still love Anne Tyler, Nick Hornby and Elizabeth Gilbert. The commonality is their writings focus on interpersonal relationships and always offer a few ah-ha epiphanies.

What is your definition of success as a writer? 
Being read and enjoyed by a wide audience.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit of it with us? 
I have another book, Going Both Ways, coming out on March 18 from Wild Rose Press. It’s a gender-shifting paranormal romance. I’m currently writing two novels — a black-comedy and a road-tripper.

Interview with “Change the Word”

Blackboard with chalkChange the Word: What was your inspiration for Still Counting
Phil Fragasso: I’d always wanted to write a classic romantic page-turner like Erich Segal’s Love Story, but I wanted the story to revolve around contemporary issues (in this case sexual identity). My goal was to create a character-driven story that would make readers laugh and cry and provide some insight in the process.

CTW: What was the greatest challenge you faced while writing it, and how did you overcome it?
PF: I’ve often said that my tragic flaw is having too many interests. I’ve written in a wide variety of genres and my most recent work has been nonfiction. I have a literary agent who has sold my nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Still Counting. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown in genre fiction. I loved the book and had decided to self-publish – but first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

CTW: If you could spend a day hanging out with one character from Still Counting, who would you choose and what would you do?
PF: It would have to be Nina. She’s a remarkable young woman. Strongly independent beyond her years (she’s only 22). She’s a beautiful and sassy artist who knows exactly who she is and makes no apologies to anyone. I love people like that. I’d want to spend the day walking around Boston and Cambridge with her talking about whatever popped into our heads and eating at some of the cool restaurants and bars mentioned in the book.

CTW: What are three things you need when you sit down to write?
PF: First off, gotta have my MacBook Air. It’s weird how my writing process has changed over the years. When I started writing, I wrote on a manual typewriter. When I upgraded to an electric typewriter, I found I could no longer write with my fingers on the keyboard. Maybe it was the impatient hum of the motor, but I had to write longhand and then type it. When I moved to computers I was again able to sit at the keyboard and create. Now I have a hard time writing longhand – probably because I edit extensively as I write. Second thing would be a beverage. Usually coffee in the morning, diet Coke and iced tea in the afternoon, and whiskey in the evening (though not always in that order). Something about writing makes me thirsty. Why? Can’t say. The third thing would be a comfortable place to sit. That may sound strange, but I’m big on comfort. I can write most anywhere regardless of noise levels or lighting, inside or outside, just as long as I’m sitting comfortably. (And yes that means I can’t write while standing up. Tried but can’t do it.)

CTW: Where do you draw inspiration from as a writer?
PF: Everywhere. I have way more storylines, situations, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, but the inspiration just pops into my head. Part of it is that I’m always open to new ideas and keep my eyes and ears wide open

CTW: What are your three all-time favorite reads?
PF: “All-time favorite” is tough and limiting it to three is impossible. I’ve always had a soft spot for what I would call “mainstream/commercial literary fiction” – books like The World According to Garp, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Help, and The Invention of Wings. They’re all funny, sad, and universally relatable. Also loved Still Alice and The Notebook – both of which combined stories of true love with the inevitability of aging and death.

CTW: What is the most important lesson you have learned so far as an author? 
PF: Discipline is king. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time and end up with nothing. I’ve learned to be very disciplined. When I wrote Still Counting I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, seven days a week. I wrote the first draft in about three months, and then edited and re-edited for another year.

CTW: What’s up next for you and your writing career? 
PF: I have another book, Going Both Ways, coming out on March 18 from Wild Rose Press. It’s a funny, gender-shifting paranormal romance. I’m currently writing two novels – a black-comedy and a road-tripper.

It’s Official: I’m a Girly Man

guy with ipad LOVEI started lusting after girls before I hit my teens. I spent my youth playing baseball and basketball. I love horse racing, pro football, and fishing. I enjoy cold beer, straight whiskey, and the occasional cigar. I’ve owned a series of sports cars over the last three decades. Nonetheless, at the relatively ripe old age of 65, I’ve come to the unequivocal realization that I am a girly man.

As with most things in life, my wife came to this conclusion long before I did. Pretty much from the day we married she’d proudly announce to anyone in hearing range that she was the guy and I was the girl in the relationship. If something needed fixing around the house, I’d look at it, not have a clue what to do, and turn it over to my wife. I’d usually stay nearby in case she needed my “manliness” to reach something high or move something heavy, but for the most part I’d simply stay out of the way.

My wife also likes to point out that I’m the one who remembers our anniversary and can recall who-what-when-and-where minutiae about our first date. I like holding hands and cuddling far more than she does; and I’m the one who reads Nicholas Sparks novels, watches movies with subtitles and, with nary a trace of embarrassment, the one who cried when Haddie returned home from college to be with her cancer-stricken mom on Parenthood.

I used to attribute this aspect of my character to simply being in touch with my feminine side, but I now realize it’s much more pervasive than that. I proactively seek out and embrace the feminine aspect of my character. Many of my closest friends are women and I do find myself confiding more to them than I do to my guy friends. In addition, while noodling this idea, I’ve also recognized that most of my guy friends are also girly men. They don’t cheat on their wives, they don’t drink or gamble to excess, they don’t feel compelled to exercise their Second Amendment right to own firearms, and they tend to be soft-spoken, empathetic and humble. They’re good people who don’t hang out at the country club bar to escape from the old “ball and chain.”

I’ve never been a particularly competitive guy. Whether playing sports or playing board games with friends and family, I don’t really care if I win or lose. I’d prefer to win, but the reason I play is to play. I guess that’s why I’ve never been attracted to the likes of fantasy football. In fact I don’t even understand its appeal. It requires way too large a time commitment and delivers none of the intellectual, social or emotional rewards I value. Plus, if I had Russell Wilson or Luke Kuechly on my fantasy team would I have to root for them even when they’re playing against my beloved Patriots? I don’t get why anyone would purposely choose to add yet another conundrum to our already confusing lives. But there I go again thinking like a woman instead of a dude.

Life is short, which means it’s all about choices. So rather than watching half a dozen sports events every weekend, I limit myself to one or two – and oftentimes none. That means I can’t name the leading running backs in the NFL, the division leaders in the NBA, or the top twenty NCAA teams. But I’m okay with that. It’s not important to me. What is important is learning more about the world around me and the people that are important to me – my family, my friends, my students, and myself. And the way I achieve that is via so-called girly activities like reading, listening, and introspection.

I’ve been a writer for my entire life. I sold my first article when I was sixteen, and I’ve had a wide variety of books and articles published over the years. Recently, however, I’ve decided that the “wide variety” was disadvantageous. I needed to focus my writing. So guess what? I decided to focus on the romance and “chick-lit” genres. I realized I enjoyed reading and writing about the interplay between men and women far more than the cat-and-mouse intrigue of mysteries or the life-and-death plot twists of thrillers. I’ve found that I learn far more about relationships and the human condition from Jodi Picoult than James Patterson. Similarly, I glean more insight when writing a love story than toiling away on a sci-fi adventure. And the beauty is that I can sip just as much whiskey while writing a bittersweet romance as I could working on a hardboiled whodunit.

One of the assignments I give my students at Boston College is to write their own eulogies. That’s a difficult and oftentimes troubling task for young people, and it’s not much easier for folks like me in their seventh decade. But one thing I’d hope to have spoken at my funeral is that “he was a girly man and proud of it.”

If the Character Is an A-Hole, Is the Author One Also?

stupid-man-punchEdna St. Vincent Millay said, “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in the public eye with his pants down.” I’ve long agreed with Millay’s observation, but never more than since the publication of my new novel, Still Counting.

Based on the early reviews Adam, the male lead character, is universally disliked. Readers find him dumb, insensitive, clueless, and far worse. Here are some of my favorite comments:

  • “This is a great book for any woman who has dated a moron in the past.”
  • “Adam truly is a male archetype (duh, get it: Adam?)”
  • “The fact that he just kept digging himself a deeper hole is a typical man.”

The thing is I’m okay with all of this as long as readers don’t feel the same about me. That’s where it gets complicated. Is Millay’s “public eye” viewing me with my pants actually down or only imagining my pants being down?

As the reviewers wrote these comments, they carefully danced around the issue of whether the author had actually intended this reaction and purposely created such an unlovable character. They seemed to hope so – partly, I assume, to not insult the author and partly because they hoped and prayed there was at least one non-A-hole male in the world.

The good news is that I did intend that reaction. Adam is a fairly typical twenty-something guy who tends to believe the universe revolves around him. Women are there for his pleasure; and they need to accept him, warts and all, even if he can’t reciprocate the courtesy. To top it off, if he can’t understand something, he attacks it rather than asking questions and taking the time to learn more.

The bad news is that the author – that would be me – shares some of these traits and is an admitted A-hole in many ways. Like most men I’m significantly over-confident regarding my intelligence and abilities (and maybe even my attractiveness to the opposite sex?). I have a hard time looking a woman straight in the eye if she’s displaying serious cleavage (or even not so serious). And – with sincere apologies to all womankind – I have a deep-seated belief that women are inherently better at cleaning and cooking than the mass of men. On the flipside, particularly as a husband and father to a young woman, I have never underestimated or demeaned women. The two best bosses I ever had were women. In the classes I teach at Boston College, the female students tend to be more engaged, diligent, and insightful than the males. And I think it’s an embarrassment that the U.S. has never had a female president.

One of the reviewers brought a smile to my face with this comment, “The author clearly loves women and thinks men are idiots.” I think that’s my full monty in terms of Millay’s adage. Female readers might view Adam as a cretin but give the author credit for shining such a harsh light on male obliviousness. Male readers, on the other hand, will likely point a finger at the author and curse him out for having broken the bro blood-oath. I’m okay with that as well.

Bisexuality & Promiscuity In Fact & Fiction

Bisexual heartWhen I began thinking about the bisexuality theme in my new novel, I realized that I had a lot of gay friends but none of them identified as bisexual. Through a friend of a friend I met a young openly bisexual woman who agreed to talk with me. I learned a lot that day, but the most powerful insight was that bisexuals (whether male or female) tend to be misunderstood by both the gay and straight communities. Many people assume that bisexuality is simply a form of “youthful experimentation” and at some point the individual will make a choice. The most surprising and intriguing aspect of this assumption is that last word: choice.

Only the most virulent right-wing conservatives would maintain that homosexuality is a choice. Yet many people who fully understand that homosexuality is an inherent trait feel free to equivocate on whether someone can truly be born bisexual. Which brings me back to “choice.” The word implies selection – the purposeful selection of one option over another – and the logical inference is that people are born straight or gay but choose to be bisexual.

When I was young – and that means back in the 60s and 70s when homosexuality was still widely viewed as aberrant and sinful – I remember thinking that I more readily understood bisexuality than homosexuality. As a young straight male, I could see how two men could be attracted to each other and I had no problem with it. What I could not understand, however, was how those same two men could not also be attracted to a woman. I viewed sexuality as a “yes-and” rather than an “either-or.” My view has long since changed about homosexuality, but I’m surprised that bisexuality remains the ugly stepchild of both the gay and straight communities.

The new sexual attitudes study released by the CDC on Jan 7 has received a lot of press with most headlines focused on the finding that the number of Americans identifying as bisexual has increased significantly since the previous poll. In the 2011-13 poll, 5.5% of American women aged 18-44 identified as bisexual compared to 3.9% in the 2006-10 survey. The percentage of American males identifying as bisexual similarly increased to 2.0% from 1.2%. The more interesting aspect from my perspective is that 16.9% of the women surveyed admitted to having some level of attraction to both men and women. The corresponding percentage of men admitting to bisexual attraction was 5.8%. For both men and women, three respondents admitted to bisexual tendencies for every one that identified as bisexual.

Certainly part of the quantitative disparity between bisexual attraction and bisexual identity is due to one’s current circumstances. A woman who is in a monogamous relationship with a man would probably identify as heterosexual even if she had been and continued to be attracted to women. Conversely, a woman who was in a monogamous relationship with another woman would likely identify as homosexual despite being attracted to men. All of this gets back to my original premise that bisexuality is often defined (or demeaned) as a choice. The bisexual who commences a monogamous relationship is no longer deemed bisexual; instead she takes on the sexual preference of her partner – gay or straight. The logic appears to be that unless one is currently acting on his/her bisexual urges he/she can justly be labeled straight or gay.

This all strikes me as a giant load of reeking bullshit. A redhead who marries a blond doesn’t become blond. If you’re a redhead at birth, a redhead you’ll always be. Sure you can dye your hair, but you’re still a redhead.

Here’s what I think (and I do not profess to be an expert at anything let alone sexual identity). I think a large percentage of people view bisexuality as a euphemism for promiscuity. As a result, bisexuals fear being regarded as whorish sex maniacs ready to hop on the next train that comes along regardless of which direction it’s traveling. And that is why I – and probably you as well – know so few bisexuals. Here in 2016, even with the SCOTUS imprimatur of marriage equality, I suspect many bisexuals remain in the closet.

In Still Counting, the straight male character asks the bisexual female character “How do you decide whether you’re going to date a man or woman?” She responds like this: “The same way you decide whether to date a blond or brunette. It just happens.” He then expresses uncertainty about how he could compete with another woman, and she stops him dead in his tracks with this: “All I can say to alleviate your paranoid insecurity is that I have always been and always will be monogamous. I was born that way too.”

What do you think? Am I right? Am I a load of reeking bullshit?
View “Still Counting” on Amazon

Sinatra, the Would-Be Romance Writer

33e598bf-0a25-4503-8f8d-fef093e5b5d5Thousands of books and articles have been written about Frank Sinatra. In all of those works, however, no one has suggested that – had he been an author – Sinatra would have written romance novels, chick-lit, and woman’s fiction. Until now.

Sinatra was an incurable romantic. The list of Hollywood stars he wed or bedded can go head-to-head with the conquests of Clooney or DiCaprio. But those short-lived relationships were never about accumulating bedpost notches. Instead, Sinatra used physical closeness to compensate for his lifelong failure to find true love. He believed in – and sought after – a fairy-tale love affair that would never end.

But that’s not the sole reason I believe Ol’ Blues Eyes would have authored chick-lit novels had he pursued a writing career. Rather than stating it myself, I’ll quote from Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters:

“Sinatra finally found a way to allow tenderness into the performance while remaining manly…He perfected the role of the Tender Tough Guy and passed it on to several generations of Americans. Before him, that archetype did not exist in American popular culture…Frank Sinatra created a new model for American masculinity.”

Sinatra grew up in a world where “men were men” and women knew their place. He spent many hours – both in his youth and later years – hanging out with his Rat Pack pals in NYC bars, Havana nightclubs, and Vegas casinos. With his swagger and smirk, he looked every bit the macho player. But everything changed when he sang. That’s why girls swooned over him in the 1940s and why every self-respecting male born before 1970 owns a copy of “In The Wee Small Hours.”

Sinatra was a control freak in the recording studio. He chose his songs with the careful deliberation of a museum curator. He worked closely with the arranger on the pace and mood of the score, and he badgered the studio musicians to deliver exactly what he wanted. There was no settling for Sinatra. He delivered maximum impact from every nuanced lyric he sang. And it is the content of those lyrics that suggest a hugely successful career as a romance novelist. Consider these lines:

You took the part / That once was my heart / So why not / Take all of me

In the wee small hours of the morning / That’s the time you miss her most of all.

I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart / Never be the same / Since we’re apart

Curmudgeons might argue that Sinatra didn’t write any of those lyrics. Tis true. But what’s equally true is that Sinatra owned those lyrics. He made them his. He filled them with an emotional richness that could transform treacle into soul-deep rapture. The songs Sinatra selected told the story of his life – of love lost, love unrequited, and a future that still held the possibility of true love forever.

Love lost, love unrequited, and the possibility of true love forever are the literary linchpins of women’s fiction and chick-lit novels. Had that been the path Sinatra pursued, he would have been a masterful and bestselling author. You heard it here first.

 

Novelist’s Parents Discuss Son’s Book

Godfather parodyMary Donatello has just opened an Amazon package containing a paperback copy of Still Counting, the novel narrated by her son Adam.

Mary: Hey, Joey, come here, come here. Adam’s an author!

Joey:   A blog about ironic alliteration that no one reads does not qualify him as an author.

Mary: No. It’s a real book. The one about him and Nina. Remember?

Joey:   Did he mention us?

Mary:  How should I know? I just got it.

Joey:   I hope he didn’t say nothin’ about the gerbils.

Mary: Well it would serve you right for kidding around all the time.

Joey:   Let me see it.

Mary: Be careful. Don’t crease the pages.

Joey:   It’s a book. You can’t read it without turning the pages.

Mary:  Just be gentle.

Joey:   Look at this. He says I shit like clockwork.

Mary:  Well you do.

Joey:   But the whole friggin’ world doesn’t have to know it.

Mary: Everyone who knows you already knows your schedule. The rest of the world doesn’t care. Plus it’s fiction.

Joey:   Fiction? Listen to this. He says I sometimes try to talk like a Mafioso. That ain’t no fiction.

Mary:  They say authors should write about stuff they know. So sometimes there’s some truth mixed in with the fiction.

Joey:   So now you’re a literary critic?

Mary:  I read everything on Oprah’s list.

Joey:   Wait a minute here’s something about you.

Mary: What did he say?

Joey:   He says you’re a no-nonsense matriarch with a bellowing voice like a sports announcer. He says you’re a clean freak and you always cook too much when we have company.

Mary:  He’s a good boy.

Joey:   You always liked him best.

Mary: But you’re a close second.

Joey:   Does that mean it’s time to get the gerbils?

Guess I’m a “Trans-Genre” Writer

StillCounting_w10155_300I recently had a new novel accepted by a publisher. When people ask about the book, they usually want to know three things: the title, the plot, and the genre. My response to the first two questions comes fast and easy, but I stumble on the third. Part of the issue is that I hate labels of any kind. I think they’re simplistic and limiting, but that’s not the overriding reason for my hesitation. I feel like I can’t give a simple answer to the question. I have to explain, equivocate and, sometimes, evade outright.

Here’s the problem. My book has been categorized by the publisher as “women’s fiction” – also known as chick-lit. I’m a guy. I’m not a big brawny guy by anyone’s standards, but I am a genuine American male who loves football, drinks whiskey, and confesses to occasionally peeing in the shower. So the admission that I’ve written a chick-lit novel is more than a little disconcerting – to me and the recipient of that information.

Rather than surrender to the chick-lit label, my fallback approach is to analogize. “Remember Erich Segal’s Love Story? It’s kind of like that.” Or “It’s about male-female relationships.” Or “It’s like a James Bond movie without the villains, chase scenes and explosions.” Each of these tends to elicit blank stares so I ultimately have to use the women’s fiction label and refer to contemporary authors like Nicholas Sparks. The blank stares often turn to smirks or sheepish eye rolls. I usually smile and shrug and, for that, I should be ashamed.

I’ve long espoused the tenet that writers should write about what they know and write the kind of books they like to read. So here’s what I know. Love is the most transcendent of human emotions – and the least understood. It’s driven by chemical, physical, intellectual and spiritual attractions (though not necessarily in that order). Love is usually front and center during our moments of deepest despair and rapturous joy. Like most people, I’ve experienced both extremes. I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve shouted and whispered. I’ve begged for and offered forgiveness for transgressions real or imagined. I’ve pondered whether it was better to love or be loved. I’ve wondered whether my experience of love was different from or the same as everyone else’s. And at the most fundamental level, I’ve long wanted to better recognize and appreciate every nuance of what Freddie Mercury called that “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

What I know also drives what I read. I’ve loved books and libraries since I first learned to decipher the alphabet. I read for pleasure, but I also read to learn; and it’s a hallelujah moment when I can combine the two. Many of my hallelujah reading moments have been delivered by books that fall into the chick-lit genre. Books like Eat, Pray, Love; The Rosie Project; The Bridges of Madison County; and The Best of Me. The cynical might question what one could possibly learn from an Elizabeth Gilbert book. The more open-minded will understand that our lives revolve around people and relationships – especially those relationships defined by romantic love and heartfelt bonds. I find that chick-lit books offer a petri dish of love’s complications, encumbrances, and possibilities. In the process they can provide rare insight into the mysteries of love, the arc of heartbreak and renewal, and the secret of successful lifelong commitments.

It’s often stated that people read history to better understand the present. People read chick-lit books about relationships to better understand their own. I’m in that camp. Proudly.