She adopts a dog named Chester who has a brain tumor and is optimistic for them both. She even takes a lover, a young twenty-two year old, who soothes her needs, but yet makes her feel like she is cradle robbing.
She swears she won't get married again, and is off men to her best friend Amanda, even as she does spend alot of her nights with her new boy toy. But when Amanda confides in Holly about a man she has been seeing on the side, Holly becomes snide. Amanda is married and have a beautiful little boy; why would she want to ruin it?
Secrets to Happiness is filled with many eccentric characters against the backdrop of New York City. A compilation of stories and their journeys that frankly had my head spinning until about half-way through the novel. From page one I was captivated with their lives, and what their secrets were to happiness. A fresh and engaging read!
About the Author
Sarah Dunn has moved from Los Angeles to New York five times, and from New York back to Los Angeles four times, which means, at the moment, she is happily residing in New York. Her first novel, The Big Love, has been translated into 23 languages.
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.
Blog Tour Stops
Big thanks to Hatchette for allowing me to give-away two (2) copies of Secrets to Happiness. USA & Canada Only. No PO Boxes. Just leave a comment, along with your email in the comment form. Winner will be chosen on June 28th.