I've met Valerie Frankel, author of the memoirs Thin is the New Happy and the new It's Hard Not to Hate You, several times, and from those interactions, would not describe her as a "hate-filled" person. Yet as she documents in It's Hard Not to Hate You, her anger had become an issue that she wanted to resolve, once and for all. In chapters such as "Why I Have No Friends" (actually, this warrants two chapters, Parts I and II!), "How to Hate the Man You Love," "Why Pot Should Be Legal" and "I Hate Your Kids," Frankel delivers an often amusing, entertaining, educational and at times gossipy story of her life. She reveals how she went about venting her anger about an obnoxious neighbor, a famous author, a "hellspawn" at her daughter's school, and others. Whether you're the nicest person on the planet or someone who curses out, well, everyone, you'll appreciate Frankel's attempts to be a better person and dish about those who quite possibly deserved some of the anger she's eager to shed. Give this book to your best frenemy for the holidays, or be selfish and steal away for a few hours and devour it yourself!
What was your motivation for writing It's Hard Not to Hate You and how did the process of writing it change you?
The mental tagline during the writing process was "the hate in me has got to come out." I was inspired to go there after a doctor advised me to reduced stress. Since trying to appear unflappable despite the health crisis (and a career crisis as well) was causing more stress than anything else, I vowed to stop squashing my Inner Hater and just let the so-called toxic emotions out. The process of writing about anger, jealousy, spite, envy, impatience and resentment was cathartic. I didn't realize how much hate was in me until I stopped suppressing and started confessing. By the end, I feel unburdened and a lot less angry. If you release your anger, it dissipates much faster.
Hate is a pretty strong, but often accurate, word. What do you see as the difference between hating and disliking someone? Is it "better" in some way to dislike someone, or is that just a more socially acceptable way to say it?
I used the word "hate" in a cheeky way. I don't really hate (like a Nazi hates a Jew) overbearing parents of bratty kids, or novelists who are more successful than I am. By Nazi standards, I don't hate anyone. But a lot of people and situations seriously piss me off, or annoy the living crap out of me. The word "dislike?" Hate it. It's weak. You will not see Mario Lopez hosting a TV show called Disliker. Dislike is the emotional equivalent of agnostic. Hate is declarative. In writing, it's always better to use a strong word, even if it turns people off. Regarding It's Hard Not to Hate You, a lot of readers have said, "The word 'hate' in the title scares me." If a word on the cover scares to you, the stories and attitude inside the book will terrify. So, yeah, you should back away from my memoir, slowly.
Have you heard from any of the people you've written about in the book?
Weirdly, no. I did have to change names and some identifying details. But, then again, people rarely recognize themselves. As a writer, you can almost rely on it.
I've seen a lot of novels criticized because the protagonists aren't "likable." As a novelist, what do you think of this, and have you found that's the case with memoir as well? If so, does that change your writing process at all?
"Likable" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. You can't please all the people all the time, or even some of the people some of the time, but you can be true to your characters and intention. As a reader, I find characters likable when they're confused, messed up, indignant and funny. I'll forgive a lot of bad behavior -- in fiction and reality -- if the person makes me laugh. Often, humor is my only requirement for likability. As for being the main character in a memoir, I don't aspire to be likable. I've learned over many years of writing books and magazine essays that trying come off a certain way is the fastest way to fail. It's a lot easier to be honest, and let the reader decided if she should love you or hate you. If you're honest, she'll like the authentic emotion on the page, even if she finds it hard not to hate you. I do try to be funny, though.
Turning the book's theme around, do you have any mortal enemies, anyone who finds it hard not to hate you (that you know of)?
I've behaved atrociously many, many times. There was a girl at camp ... shudder. I've said and done (and written) things that have earned me a place on a few people's Enemy Lists. There have to be one or two vengeful souls out there who are rooting for me to fail miserably and suffer alone in a dank, dark room. I just don't happen to know who they are, or when they'll come for me. I get hate mail from people with political agendas. Warning: If you make one tiny crack about George Bush in a 250 page memoir, you will get hate mail.
Your previous memoir was Thin is the New Happy, about your body image and weight loss journey. Is there a connection between the two memoirs for you?
I think of Thin is the New Happy as the memoir about learning to overcome what I hated about myself. It's Hard Not to Hate You is the memoir about learning to overcome what I hated about others. Both memoirs take the circuitous, rocky road from hate toward tolerance, appreciation, forgiveness and love. Maybe my next memoir will be about something less emotionally fraught, like cats.