It’s no secret that one of my all-time favorite authors is Larry Brooks. I devour everything he writes, and usually within days of release. Guess what? He’s got a new book out, a book unlike anything he’s ever written, a book written from his soul on a topic close to his heart. You wouldn’t normally think a writing coach and “craft guy” would write about relationships. But he did, and his passion really shines through. I absolutely loved Chasing Bliss. You can find my 5-star review here.
My questions are in green (to match the cover); Larry’s answers are in black. I’m over-the-moon thrilled that Larry was so transparent and genuine in his answers that you’ll get to see what an incredible human being he really is. I also had the honor of working on this project.
You’ve written a book unlike anything you’ve written before… Chasing Bliss: A Laymen’s Guide to Love, Fulfillment, Damage Control, Repair and Resurrection. The big question is, what inspired you to write about relationships?
I started this about ten years ago, with the two lists (ten reasons he’ll cheat on you, ten reasons she’ll leave you). I think it had to do with what was going on in my own life, combined with some training my wife and I had received on human dynamics. We were both working very hard to not only make our marriage work, but to make it amazing. Just “working on it” wasn’t going to be good enough. And we weren’t getting any younger (and that was ten years ago).
As a writer, I wanted to do important work. Novels are important, but they are a limited voice into the collective consciousness. I just wanted to create something that matters, and do so as a consequence of having contributed to a greater good. There were so many people in my life struggling in their marriage, and—literally—I just wanted to help.
My writing books have helped a lot of people. I find that really rewarding. I’m going to keep going on that path. But with that success I began to consider other ways I might help people live their lives and realize their dreams.
I never considered myself an expert in the field of relationships. Based on track record, this was abundantly true. But my wife (Laura) and I had learned a lot (and have learned much more since), and that learning applied not only to our situation, but to those I cared about who were struggling, and what I noticed that might explain why. That became a call for help, and the book emerged from a desire to respond to that call.
You did an excellent job of being fair to both sexes. How did you get so in tune with the way women think?
Not sure how I can fully explain this, to be honest. I think it’s a convergence of a few things.
First, I love women. I say that from a purely masculine point of view… I love women. Not a in creep, misogynistic sort of way, but in a curious, awe-stricken context. Which connects to the first line in the book: “I love my wife… desperately.”
At a glance I may seem to be a really testosterone-driven guy, and my resume may support that. But while I was a jock (I played professional baseball, among other sports at a high level), I was never a “guy’s guy.” Yet I don’t have a shred of insecurity about my masculinity. In fact, I think an admiration for women is an expression of masculinity.
When I sold my first novel back in 2000, the publisher at Penguin-Putnam (Louise Burke) told me that what caught her eye was the way I wrote women. All of my novels have strong women (one features a female protagonist), including the villains, which are almost always female. There is definitely a connection between my fiction and Chasing Bliss (not that I believe them to be villainous in real life, they just make for cooler villains in stories), in that both seek to look beyond the gender archetypes and explore that landscape from an intimate, unfettered point of view.
I know how men tick because I am one. We are not remotely mysterious (and has such, not remotely as interesting as women). I know how women tick because I’ve looked deeply into their psyche, roles and experiences, all from a context of wonder and admiration. I noticed, assigning meaning as I did.
From meaning emerges understanding. Behind every bad mood, every snappy comment and dark decision, there is cause and effect that links to that meaning.
What sort of research did you do for Chasing Bliss?
My wife and I had engaged with some training that clarified why we do what we do, why we choose what we choose, and the role of old tapes and deeply-held fears and insecurities, all of which emerge to create the paradigms from which we live (no, it was not Lifespring or EST; more like what Anthony Robbins is preaching out there). I combined that with several bouts of counseling in my own life, and the reading that came of it, and from there sought to break it all down so I could wrap my head around it all. This process was approached in much the same way I’ve broken down the art and craft of storytelling to see how the myriad parts and essences interact within a hierarchy of consequences.
Bridging the gap from all that input to landing on meaning and conclusion, and from there toward offering models and clarifications that may help us navigate our lives… that’s what I do. It’s how I think. I want more, I want it to be better. I want bliss in my own life, and have learned that the pursuit of it is the prize, because life is never going to give it to us completely. Everything in the book is something I’ve dealt with, or been on the edge of.
That’s my research, all of it informed by a proactive desire to understand.
You don’t hold back. Two chapters that’ll slap the reader with a reality check are 10 Reasons He’s Going To Cheat On You and 10 Reasons She’s Going To Leave You, but they’re written in a way that’s honest and real without being condescending. In fact, you had me roaring with laughter. How did you find that balance? And how did you boil the lists down to ten? Did it come from experience, research, or both?
I think the humor comes from recognizing the truth in what you’re reading. If not in your own life, then what you perceive that others are experiencing in theirs. Much of what challenges our lives is our “stuff,” our crap, our bullshit. We’re human, we all fall victim to it from time to time.
When it’s our crap, it’s not remotely funny in the moment. But when you see it out there, or when you look back on it from your own experience, you can see it for what it is. Which is crazy. Illogical. Transparently selfish or weak. It’s so lame that it becomes, quite literally, funny. I like to think that I framed it humorously with the writing—I’m no stranger to sarcasm— but really, life is the best comedy writer I can think of.
The balance you speak of is there because we recognize the truth in it. We don’t need to balance truth, it just is. When a man cheats and tries to rationalize it, that’s not only bullshit, it’s already balanced once the reader swallows the words. We celebrate truth. We cheer the pulling back of the curtain that seeks to make tough truths less uncomfortable.
As for ten items on each list, I was working within categories. I kept finding new ones as I went deeper. Within those ten there are other categories that perhaps merit their own chapter. There is much there that I haven’t lived, but in those cases I was one degree of separation from someone who had.
In Chasing Bliss you let the reader into your marriage, which I found extremely brave. Did you have any misgivings about sharing your personal life?
Actually, no. I’m transparent, sometimes to a fault (one of the inner demons that plagued me when I was single; I was the TMI guy). In fact, in early drafts of the book my wife lobbied to pull it back in several places, and to genericize things in others. I get that, I had no literary nobility holding me back from honoring her comfort level. The book isn’t about us, so when I nudged that line it was easy to pull it back so that the only agenda was to illustrate a point.
And yet, because I don’t have a graduate degree behind my name on the cover, I needed to impart a sense of vulnerable transparency to lend credibility. My personal experience is critical to that credibility. I wasn’t guessing, I was interpreting. The degree to which the reader recognizes some of their own experiences, feelings and old tapes is the degree to which they will remain open to making better, more courageous decisions in their own lives.
Several times you mention living “in the pause.” Could you please explain what that means?
“Living in the pause” means, quite simply, considering your responses and your words before letting them fly. We can never take back anything we say or do, we can only defend, rationalize, deny or apologize and live with comes of it. There is no delete button in life, only another sentence that seeks to mitigate the damage done.
Sounds simple, but it’s a skill that first must conquer knee-jerk urges and habits, some of which may be stronger than our ability to choose. Like many of the things that compromise our lives, the first step in adopting and mastering this skill is awareness. For me, everything changed the moment I heard this phrase for the first time. It has been a saving grace ever since. My hope is that others recognize the power in it.
Another thing I loved about this book was that it’s structured like your craft books. First, you give us the reasons why a relationship could be in trouble, then you give us the tools we need to fix those issues and a playbook of how to achieve and maintain bliss. It’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. You’re obviously quite passionate about this subject. Tell us about that. Because most of the writing community never gets to see this side of you, and they’re really missing out.
I told my wife when we began this project that if one person gets something from this, it will be worth the effort. Since you were the first reader of the near-final draft, with this response you’ve already made it worthwhile. Thank you for that. And thank you for sharing your passion for this book, and my other work, with your online community.
I’ll be honest here, as transparent as I just claimed to be. I needed to do this work. My wife and I—and I say this in the book—shouldn’t have worked on paper. We came from different places, and to this day we have vastly different temperaments. Those temperaments, left untended and unskilled, would have done us in.
I couldn’t let that happen. This woman absolutely bewitched me. I had never known such a level of chemistry and allure and respect—that hasn’t waned over our 20 years together— combined with her presence and intelligence and strength of will. I couldn’t let this diminish into the shit-storm of a marriage I’ve seen so many others living with, and that I’d known myself. I’ve described her as scalding hot heroin dripped into an open wound (this from a guy who has never seen heroin or any other drug before), and she was, and is, my best and only shot at real bliss. But I needed to intervene, to bring some order to the passion on all sides, to keep us from imploding.
If you’ve read my novels, you know I don’t shy away from the blind heat of passion, some of it pushing boundaries for readers who aren’t expecting it. So I wasn’t about to shy away from the tough stuff in this book, either.
You’re absolutely right, I approached this years-long healing and empowerment process in the same way I’ve approached dissecting the craft of writing a novel. So it was a natural path for me. It challenged me to be the first-adopter of better choices rather than preaching them from a pulpit of book-learned objectivity.
There is a passage in the book where I describe trying to tell her how I feel about her, using a staccato delivery of adjectives emerging from a state of frustration. And how, about eight or ten words in, I just lost it. How the weight of giving voice to my feelings and irritations, melting together like a delicious but artery-clogging delicacy, overcame me, and we ended up holding each other while I wept like a baby.
Yeah, that’s me. I can bench press a small car, but the confounding, intoxicating entirety of my wife’s 32 personalities makes me as emotional as a new father.
I could not lose her. I could not let our incongruences take us down, nor could I allow her impatience with me to win out. And so, over about 15 years of working with her on our relationship—which, I assure you, had as much joy and laughter and passion as it had dark days; thing is, only a few darks days can trump a calendar full of joy—I wrote this book.
I had a heart attack 18 months ago. This experiences changes much in a man’s life, and among them, for me, was a renewed urgency to get this book out of my head and heart and throw it deep and hard into the world.
How do you define love?
Wow, you’re not asking much of me here, are you Sue.
I do think there isn’t a simple, generic answer to that question. And that the answer might take a legitimately different form among those who try to answer it.
Love can be viewed through many lenses that flash before you without warning.
It is daring to subordinate yourself to the best interests, comfort, and even casual preferences of the person to whom you’ve made a commitment. To give them all the ties, and be patient with what you must deny because you are not yet enough. It is looking at your partner when she is unaware, in that moment seeing her for all that she is, marveling at all sides of her, honoring the strength, wanting to heal the pain and protect what is weak and vulnerable, hoping to earn her trust but fearing you are not enough because she is so far above my league, anticipating what comes next and treasuring what has transpired, already forgetting the specifics of what has challenged you and feeling a sense of regret that you cannot give her more… hoping you can make her dream real, and knowing that when you do, your own dream will have come true.
Basically, seeing the light that streams from her, and acknowledging the privilege of basking in it for as long as you possibly can, committing to do whatever is necessary to keep the light shining brightly.
Toward the end of the book you give readers questions to ask their partner in order to open up honest communication. What are a few of those questions?
First off, they’re all scary as hell. For many these questions will tread new ground, sometimes risky ground. They tear down the walls that separate us from intimacy, because both the questions and the answers demand it.
The questions basically challenge you to ask your significant other (hopefully, the person you consider your lover, your soul mate and your life partner) what you could do better… what he/she regrets and would do differently… what has been the best of times and the worst of times between you… what lingers unresolved between you… what remains an unspoken dream or hope or desire… what has been lost between you… and what are the highest hopes for the rest of your days together.
The agenda, of course, is to create a two-way conversation, ignited when your partner turns the tables and asks the same questions of you.
You might end up talking about this stuff for days, maybe weeks or months. You might end up in front of a professional who can help you better navigate these answers, or examine the state of your willingness or courage to confront them.
Or maybe you’ll just stuff it back down into the dark hole where it all hides, because this level of intimacy is just too much, too scary, too painful to deal with. Even then, though, you will have learned something, if nothing else than a clearer starting point from which you can move forward… or not.
You love your wife Laura desperately, but she loves you unconditionally. To give readers a taste of Chasing Bliss, tell us the difference between desperately and unconditionally, and why it’s okay to not love each other the same way.
Laura would tell you that I am a needy person. That I need her attention, affection, reassurance, approval… that I need the essence of the two of us more than I need the comfort of being okay with myself, which I am. I recognize self-esteem as essential to making it work, thus creating a bit of a paradoxical dance between us. This doesn’t mean I don’t happily give her space—I absolutely do, as I need my own space and solitude, perhaps more than she does—but rather, this is about the certainty of us as a passionate priority, rather than just a contract or an inevitability.
She would then tell you that none of this is in doubt. And while I need to hear it and experience it and shout it to the hills, she doesn’t, at least as on-the-nose profoundly or regularly. She never doubts us, never doubts me. And yet, if someone or something emerged as a threat or something that needed to be dealt with, she would be there for me. For us. And God help the person who stands in her way.
We would take a bullet for each other. We would push and shove and kick and scream to be the person who pushes the other out of the way to take that front-line stance, and we would smile as we go down, knowing the other is safe.
The good news for us is that neither of us would change this dynamic. It makes us who we are, as a couple, and as separate parts of the whole.
What are the realms of relationship?
There are different aspects of being together. Different forces, different influences, different contextual situations. A couple can be solid on some things, but it might be those weak areas that keep them from a higher happiness, or even put them at risk.
Living in love with someone is very much the proving grounds for the notion of a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. Within relationships I think of those links as realms… areas of behavior, habit, preference, opinion and belief that require a degree of compatibility, compassion, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and intuitive management.
When a relationship breaks down, you can almost always trace it back to a weakness in one or more of these critical realms of relationship. The book looks at seven of the most sensitive and omnipresent, all of which creates a framework for other realms of relationship that challenge us on a regular basis.
If you are parenting a child, for example, you are coexisting within that particular realm of relationship. If you are not on the same page, the relationship is challenged. Such is the case with all of the realms that confront us, and from which none of us can escape without negotiating a successful middle ground.
When I first started reading Chasing Bliss I joked with you about Laura training you well. But that isn’t completely true, is it?
Well, perhaps not literally. At least until Date Night.
By training me, I’m talking about our relationship being the catalyst for me to confront and navigate the landscape of primary relationships—both as a partner and the author of this book— rather than engage with it from what I call autopilot.
I write about living on autopilot in the book. It is an apt analogy… autopilot works only for a while before the vehicle (the relationship) must land, refuel, get a tune-up, an upgrade, a new coat of paint… all before resuming the normal flight path of life with a full tank.
Autopilot is the enemy of bliss. Because bliss demands proactive attention, it can never be taken for granted or left unattended, and because life always puts storms in our path. Bliss takes work, consistent and responsive and compassionate work.
Laura trained me by holding me to a higher standard of partnership than autopilot allows. By challenging me to hold her accountable to higher standards, as well. This tango—also an apt analogy, since the tango is a passionate, sometimes dangerous dance that is at times a power struggle and at other times a seductive embrace—is for lovers only, and never for the timid or weak of heart.
Once you get the hang of the dance, bliss is the music that guides you.
You leave the reader with a beautiful, heartfelt message. Without ruining the last chapter, can you give us a teaser of this inspirational message?
The ending is an acknowledgement of how challenging and even foreign this call to bliss might seem, while promising an outcome—on either end of the intention—that will be well worth the effort. The goal of the book is to provide an awareness and a set of tools that will take you there.
What do you hope to achieve with Chasing Bliss?
I don’t use the word bliss lightly. I know it means different things to different people, and I have no illusion about what it might take to get there, given the state of disrepair in some relationships. I see so much utter mediocrity out there where relationships are concerned, just as I see the fallout from relationships that have crashed and burned.
I have also seen the fire that reignites when a couple casts off their B.S. to render themselves genuinely vulnerable to truth. When they put their partner and the relationship ahead of their own fear and weakness and selfness impulses, when coldness gives way to the heat of reignited passion and hope.
I’m not naively saying that anyone can do it. I am saying that, if you are choosing to stay in the relationship, then you owe it yourself and your partner to consider trying.
My hope is that, among the wreckage, some learning has taken place. The highest goal of the book is to help you recognize and embrace that learning, and to harness it through a clearer understanding of what factors pressure or fuel a relationship in ways that either take it down or send it soaring.
What’s next for you?
Laura and I went to France last year, and I promised her I would write a novel set in Paris about love and passion and—because I get some input, as well—some dark intrigue and a few killer twists you’ll never see coming. It’s called An Affair in Paris, and I look forward to moving from the story plan into the drafting state, once Chasing Bliss has been fully launched.
After that, if Chasing Bliss finds some traction, I have a follow-up in mind, called “DGD – Overcoming Dumb Guy Disease,” which is a concept I discuss in the first book.
Lastly, where can readers find Chasing Bliss?
It’s available on all the major digital venues, and the paperback can be ordered through Amazon.com and through bookstores.
Also, you can visit the book’s website at www.chasingblissbook.com, where “Buy” links are available.
Finally, if you will permit me, I’d like to speak to your readers directly.
You have a rare breed of mentor in Sue Coletta. Yes, we may sound like a mutual admiration society enthusiastically slapping each other on the back, but that is only the result of getting to know each other, among the many online acquaintances writers connect with along the road to publication.
Sue Coletta is three things, among many other wonderful adjectives I could muster: she is as generous as she is knowledgeable about craft and the rocky road of getting published, and she is as passionate about it all as anyone I have ever met in this business. She has almost single-handedly rescued me from a descent into cynicism and impatience as a novelist and blogger, and she models the hope I have rediscovered for writers who are hungry to learn the craft and talented enough to put it into play within their work.
I would like to thank her for all of this. And for hosting me on her site with this interview.
Feel free to contact me (at email@example.com). I hope you’ll give Chasing Bliss a shot, and that it makes a difference in your life. As is true in life itself, you’ll never know until you try, and you’ll regret not trying once you see how it all turns out.
Well, folks, what do you think? Will you give Chasing Bliss a try? You can “Look Inside” by clicking “preview” under the cover on my sidebar.
Larry Brooks is the USA Today bestselling author of ten books, including six psychological thrillers (novels he calls “relationship thrillers”), and three #1 bestselling writing craft books, published by Writers Digest Books.
He is the creator of the popular fiction writing website, http://www.storyfix.com/.