Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Jana Eisenstein, author of Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences.
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?
EISENSTEIN: I’ve always loved writing. As a pretty introverted child, writing offered a way for me process my thoughts and feelings. At the time, those feelings were often along the lines of, “I just want to be left alone.” I wrote several stories of Cinderella eschewing her royal duties, in one instance fleeing a drunk and abusive prince, to make it on her own. So, it’s very possible that as a child I manifested the very independent life I currently live.
In college I very briefly, and sort of accidentally, became a humor columnist for our daily newspaper. I tried my best to emulate the satirical writers I had grown up on, but I found it difficult to churn out work I was excited about on a weekly basis. I ended up writing some pieces that elicited strong reactions – both positive and negative. It was more than my fragile teenage ego was prepared to handle and made me realize I don’t enjoy writing on a deadline or with the sole intention of pleasing others.
So, I left the paper and spent my college years quiet, dateless, and completely unnoticed – exactly the way I wanted it. After some unexpected drama at the end of senior year involving – what else – a guy, I moved from Boston to DC for grad school and decided to reinvent myself. It’s here where my book really starts – documenting my transformation from quiet young ingénue to uninhibited party girl. I made a lot of bad choices, often involving men, during those first years in DC. But in writing about my experiences, using humor to point out my own errors and deficits, I was able to transform my secret disappointments into entertainment for others.
Writing about my many failures has also helped me identify and change my unhealthy behavior patterns. For anyone struggling with personal issues, if you can’t afford therapy and are able to wait a decade for noticeable results, I highly suggest you write your own book.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing your book?
EISENSTEIN: Writing is therapy for me; I didn’t set out with the intention of writing a book. I just happened to have a bunch of bad dates and short-lived relationships that left me questioning my sanity. So, I wrote about them. Turns out, when you online date in a major metropolitan city, you end up with enough bad dates to fill a book. Once I had a reasonable collection of stories, I began to notice some themes – among them, that I consistently date men with whom I’m clearly incompatible. As I teased out those threads, they coalesced into a central arc, and I realized I had the makings of a book. Or, the manifesto of a sad, lonely lady.
FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ?
EISENSTEIN: Since I didn’t initially set out to write a book, I mostly just wrote when I needed to sort through my thoughts and feelings about another date/relationship gone wrong. So, I wrote intermittently over the course of several years. Not to brag, but I have a lot of failed relationships.
Once I began the process of formalizing my stories as a book, the writing became more structured. I joined a writing critique group and also worked with editors, so I had deadlines and expectations to meet. While that took a lot of the fun out of the writing process, the collaborations and feedback made my work so much better.
Now that the book is done, it’s nice to be back in a mindset where I can sit down and write when I want, and not feel guilty if I don’t. And since I now have more time to date and be ghosted, I see more writing in my future.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
EISENSTEIN: My introduction to humor writing was Dave Barry. In the days before the internet, my mom used to clip his articles from the newspaper and share them with me. I subsequently read all his books. He wasn’t creating new stories or inventing characters; he was putting a hilarious spin on the real world. This was my first taste of satire, and I was hooked. Once I discovered this type of humor, I sought it out in everything. I devoured books by Nora Ephron and Joseph Heller. I used to watch The Simpsons with a notebook and pencil so I could write down the best lines or make note of the references I didn’t get so I could look them up and laugh at them later. Those writers were brilliant.
More recently, Tina Fey has emerged as one of my favorite writers. I loved her on SNL, but it was her work on 30 Rock that filled the satirical hole in my funny bone, or whatever part of the body satire comprises. The liver? I once had a date tell me I reminded him of Tina Fey, and it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I still remember the compliment; can’t remember the dude’s name.
FQ: As an author/writer, what famous author (living or dead), would you like to have dinner with, and why?
EISENSTEIN: This may be cheating, since she’s credited as a writer rather than an author, but hands down it would be Tina Fey. She’s brilliantly witty; a talented writer, actor, comedian; and the characters she creates and portrays feel very real, which makes her humor so relatable. I would love to pick her brain about how she decided to pursue comedic writing, and how she found the strength to fight for her rightful spot in an industry dominated by men, and a world where many people think that women aren’t funny.
Although truthfully, I’m terrified of meeting anyone I hold in high esteem. I’m as charming as can be in low-pressure situations like first dates and dental visits. As soon as there’s a power imbalance, I’m a disaster. There’s a non-zero chance that I’ll slip on a banana peel, walk into an impeccably clean glass door, or otherwise embarrass myself and ruin any chance we otherwise would have had at being best friends. This was true when, as a child, I avoided all of my beloved characters at Disney World, and it holds true today. Sorry Tina, our friendship just wasn’t meant to be.
FQ: What is your all-time favorite book? Why? And did this book/author have any influence over your decision to become an author?
EISENSTEIN: I don’t have a favorite book. In fact, I don’t generally have a favorite anything. My tastes and interests are always in flux, which makes choosing security questions for online protection quite difficult.
Many books have impacted me in important ways, however. In high school I read Famous Crimes Revisited: From Sacco-Vanzetti to O. J. Simpson by Dr. Henry Lee and The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell. These books acquainted me with the importance of forensic science in piecing together mysteries and are in large part why I majored in biology in college.
While an undergrad, Richard Preston’s books, The Cobra Event and The Hot Zone, and John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza (combined with my dislike of chemistry and physics) supplanted my desires to become a world-famous forensic pathologist, and led me to my master’s program in public health microbiology. I may not be studying Ebola in a BSL-4 lab or tracking the origin of deadly contagions, but the trajectory these books helped shape for me has allowed me to do some very interesting and rewarding work throughout my career.
As for my decision to become a writer, there was no one book or author who set me on this path. I’ve always loved writing, and have churned out humorous poems, miniseries, satirical teen ‘zines, and comics for friends and family throughout the years. I’m constantly trying to improve, and I really enjoy reading everything from YA and sci-fi to mysteries and biographies. I just love a good story. Good luck trying to hack my security questions with that.
FQ: What makes your book unique in memoir/dating books? Why should readers pick up your book over others in the field?
EISENSTEIN: If you’re a single adult, chances are you have a dating story or two; we all have them. The problem, I found, is that memoirs about dating tend to fall into one of two categories—the annoyingly optimistic If-You-Kiss-Enough-Frogs-You’ll-Eventually-Find-Your-Prince category, or the postfeminist You-Don’t-Need-a-Man-to-Be-Happy category.
Ghosted falls somewhere in between. It speaks to those who, like me, haven’t given up on finding love, but are coming to terms with the idea that a single, lasting relationship may not exist for them. It’s a story full of humor and heartbreak that will resonate with those who have been through the dating wringer and know that life doesn’t always deliver tidy resolutions or grand romantic payoffs. It’s a book for realists looking to laugh at themselves and commiserate with others, because although they may be lonely, they’re certainly not alone.
Also, in my completely unbiased opinion, it’s just a fun read. Regardless of your dating status, if you want a quick read that will make you laugh, give Ghosted a shot. And tell your friends.
FQ: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
EISENSTEIN: Honestly, writing the book was easy. As I mentioned, writing is therapy for me and, well, I have a lot of issues. Putting all of my many (many) mistakes onto the page and crafting it in a way that made me laugh took the sting out of my failures.
The hard part was everything after the writing. Once I decided I wanted to create a book from my stories, I had to educate myself. I took writing classes, attended conferences to learn about the industry, began networking, started lurking in online writing forums. I had to throw myself into the soul-crushing world of pitching myself and my story to agents and publishers and people on the street who might be or know an agent or publisher. Fortunately, my disappointing dating life has fortified me against the barrage of rejections I received from the publishing industry. I stuck with it, and now I get to share this book that I’m insanely proud of with the world. Perhaps if I channeled all that energy into dating, I’d finally have my happy ending. Then again, I need more material if I’m going to write a second book.
For more information on Ghosted: Dating & Other Paramoural Experiences, please visit the author's website at janaeisenstein.com