I'm back "in the office," so to speak, after the holiday weekend, and just in time for another visit on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. My guest is Kyra Davis. She's best known for her humorous mystery series that includes the book Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte, but her latest book is a bit of a departure. In So Much for My Happy Ending, she applies her trademark wit and humor to a very serious subject: mental illness. In writing this book, she drew upon her own experiences married to a man with bipolar disorder whose behavior eventually led to divorce.
So Much for My Happy Ending is the story of April, who is marrying Tad, the man of her dreams. But on their honeymoon, Tad's withdrawn behavior, his refusal to leave the hotel room, and other disturbing behavior are cause for alarm. The novel chronicles every step of April's relationship with Tad, from the engagement and subsequent marriage, through the unraveling and finally the turning point. As April tries to cope with what is happening to her husband, Tad is grappling with the demons that are driving him apart from April and threaten to destroy the one stable anchor in his tumultuous life.
I interviewed Kyra about this very personal book.
How did you decide to write a book so closely linked to your personal experiences?
At first I was scared to write it. I wanted to make sure the door was open to my ex in the event that he ever wanted to co-parent with me and I was afraid that if I wrote a book featuring a marriage that bore a striking resemblance to ours he would never be comfortable enough with me to do that. But two years after my divorce I spoke to my ex on the phone and it became clear that he had no intention of sharing parenting responsibilities with me. Nor did he intend to get treatment for his illness (despite having been briefly hospitalized after an "episode"). Worst of all, I found out that he was feeding his new girlfriend the same self-defeating lies and half truths that he once fed to me. At that point I realized that I wasn't helping anyone by keeping quiet. Not my ex, not my son and certainly not the new people in my ex's life. So I wrote this book. I took great pains to be fair and I truly don't feel that any of my characters are villains. My protagonist, April, is imperfect and partially responsible for the stressers in her life. Like my ex, April's husband has a good heart. He's just lost. As I'm doing this interview, I'm sitting next to my ex's brother, his wife and their children. The fact that they have bought the novel and continue to support me validates my decision to write it and proves to me that I was just in my portrayals of both the characters and the situations I have chronicled.
How did you respond emotionally to writing a book that was so personal? Was it cathartic, or did you find yourself reliving the pain?
It was both cathartic and emotionally exhausting. When I finished I remember feeling like I needed a drink. But I also felt somehow cleansed. There were so many emotions and issues that I had been trying to sort out and this book truly helped me with that.
Should people read this book as a fictionalized autobiography, or is it more of a truly fictional work informed by your personal experiences?
That's a tough question. It's probably as accurate as James Fry's "memoir." I'm not saying that to be catty, I really mean it. Like Fry, I have changed a lot of the details. In some cases I made things more dramatic, in other cases I actually understated things. Very few of the events that take place in So Much For My Happy Ending happened within my life and yet I have had a parallel experience to almost everything that April goes through.
Did you learn anything about yourself and your experiences or gain any new insights from writing the book?
When you're in the middle of a crisis it's hard to see things clearly. Even the things you "know" come into question. As I wrote about April and her husband Tad I began to see things clearly. I can't say I was detached from what I was writing but I did have just enough distance from what was happening to my characters to see the big picture. I can now see that the issues I had with my ex were (and are) valid and I can also see that our problems weren't one sided. I set myself up to be hurt. I didn't always handle things well. I own that. Now I'm ready and able to move on and I know that while I'm bound to make more mistakes in my life and in my future relationships I won't make those mistakes.
What advice would you have for women going through a similar situation?
There is a very fine line between being supportive and being an enabler. If someone you know is psychologically ill or an addict (the manifestations of two conditions are oddly similar) then you should do whatever you can to help them help themselves. Find them a psychiatrist/treatment-center. Research the different treatments options and medications. Ask to go to therapy sessions with them. Give them your ear when they need to talk and your shoulder when they need to cry. And above all, be patient with them. No one changes over night, no matter how good the therapist or drug. But if the person you're with refuses treatment or to even admit they have a problem you need to seriously consider leaving. The harsh reality is that many people need to hit rock bottom before they're willing to get help and sometimes hitting rock bottom means losing an important relationship. If you continue to hang around and prop them up, giving them chance after chance without ever drawing the line as to how much you're willing to take you're not only hurting yourself you're also preventing the man you love from being able to face his demons.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
This book isn't about revenge. I bear my ex no ill will -- quite the opposite. If he called me tomorrow and said that he was ready to see a psychiatrist again, stop self-medicating with alcohol and start taking legitimate prescribed medication I would give him my full support and even try to reintroduce him to his son and try to help facilitate both his recovery and a positive relationship between him and our child. I could never be with him in a romantic sense again. I simply don't have those feelings for him anymore. However, I want him to be okay -- so this book isn't a tool in a vendetta. It's more like a very public intervention.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing the fourth Sophie Katz mystery. The third Sophie book, Obsession, Deceit And Really Dark Chocolate, will be out in September 07. The Sophie books have no bearing to my actual life---well that's not entirely true. I do love dark chocolate.
For more info on Kyra and her books, visit her web site.