I’ve been lucky enough to be beach-bound for a good part of the summer, which means I’ve also been lucky enough to catch up on some killer books. The standout so far has been “But I Love You” by Peter Rosch. Peter burst onto the scene with his first novel “My Dead Friend Sarah“, and in his second, he dives into the dark side of Manhattan’s elite — think “Millionaire Matchmaker” meets “The Wire” — and the result is a thought-provoking page turner that you simply can’t put down.
I stole some time with Peter to get the deets on “But I Love You”, and pick his brain about how it came to be. If you like “Behind the Music”, get ready to go “Behind the Book”. Then, click here to buy a copy for yourself and all of your closest friends.
“But I Love You” is told from the point of view of a variety of characters both male and female, who come from all walks of life. How did you approach writing roles that were nothing like you, and so different from each other?
First, I’m glad that you think the characters are nothing like me. I wish that were true. More accurately, I’d say they are nothing like the person I choose to be though. The selfish behavior of these characters is likely my own, but done up on steroids. And, let’s be honest, there’s no real shortage of self-seeking subjects in the world for us to observe. I write a book to serve a selfish need to be heard, you write a blog to fill some personal need, and that’s fine. That’s what creative people should do. I guess it becomes problematic if we dwell in our own filth of at-all-cost desires for too long. So, my own despicable thoughts coupled with half a lifetime of various introductions to loathsome characters (real or imagined) was there to draw upon. I’ll admit, there were times that I left my writing room feeling disgusted with every player, and thus with myself. It was occasionally unsettling. The personal challenge I had in mind before beginning was to create realistically disturbing self-centered sociopaths that we can all relate to, and at times empathize with. Then wrap that up in a love story, because what’s more selfish than wanting to possess the attention of another human who makes us feel good about ourselves? Love (or a crush) is always a good place to go if you are looking for a true-to-life start to something that can become disturbing and violent, happens all the time.
The book dips into many worlds — S&M, mental illness, substance abuse, drug dens, and crime — all centered around a Millionaire Matchmaker-esque corporation. What kind of research did you do to portray these worlds so well?
I spent nearly two years trying to launch a single’s connection app with a friend six or so years ago, and during that time she and I (mostly she) performed an enormous amount of research on the dating world. Hooking people up with people is a lucrative business, always has been, and I met a lot of “entrepreneurs” trying to capitalize on the many quick bucks there was to be made by infusing technology into the dating equation. Truthfully, my partner was in love with love—she was in it for the idea of love. She was ahead of the curve with the idea, I’ve got to give her props on that. I’d say my interest was a bit more on the potential windfall of riches that never materialized. Even so, I’d not count myself as one of the gaggle of abhorrent folks we encountered (even if I was). The other themes… I was a bit nervous about writing a second book that included substance abuse issues, but ultimately I came to feel that addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness were integral. Both are as common as shoes in the worlds these characters inhabit. I don’t believe I’ve used them in a gimmicky fashion, or for shock value. If you were to hold a mirror to NYC, the reflections of most would at the very least include a friend, or friend of a friend, living within the construct of those crippling themes.
This book read like a film. Are there any intentions to turn it into a screenplay?
I’ve started and stopped and started and stopped adapting But I Love You many times. A friend suggested it should actually be a movie and not a book, or a movie first and then a book. I take it as a compliment. I want to write quick, exciting reads. Both my novels were written with a film-like-read in mind. I’m pretty wordy though, even in a short story, and writing a sceenplay is a different beast altogether. That said, I’ll likely keep starting and stopping, starting and stopping until someone else raises their hand.
On a more general note, how did you stay motivated to keep writing, and what are some tools you used to keep committed to the project?
My wife motivates me. Her adoration motivates me. I’ve got to earn it. I am addicted to the rush of writing books for my wife who I believe is my biggest fan. On a more procedural tip, sadly, I often use cigarettes as a reward system to plow through pages. “Do five pages, and then you can have a smoke!” The truth is the truth. And part of that I guess is the fact that if I don’t write, tell, or act out stories in some form I’m just not a happy person. I don’t quite understand why I feel the need to torture myself in that way. It’s very rewarding, but it is also very lonely. Uglier things keep me going too. To plagiarize: “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.” That’s Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that I’m running neck and neck with the best writers our there, and I’m certainly not going to let them get the drop on me. Ha. I’m an ass.
How did you reward yourself when it was done?
I’m not sure that I did. I think we had a big dinner out. But the biggest reward, even if it sounds totally repugnant, is that I can now focus on my third while I try to goose notoriety around But I Love You. At a certain point, finishing a book in any form is all about getting to the next story for me. Two years is a long time to craft something, even off and on, and calling it “done” at some point is probably the biggest reward.
Describe “But I Love You” in three hashtags:
#loveisasickness #peoplesuck #itcouldhappentoyou
For more, click for my talk with Peter about his first book, “My Dead Friend Sarah”.