A conversation with Melissa Pimentel, author of LOVE BY THE BOOK
What type of research did you do for this book? Were there any guides or approaches you came across that didn’t make it into the final novel?
The novel sprung from my own experience of trying out different dating guides and blogging about the results—my “summer of scientific experiment,” as I like to call it—so I already had ag ood idea of how some of these guides worked and the results they produced.The rest was done by trawling through websites and archives for the best (or worst,depending on your point of view) dating guides throughout the ages. I thought it wasi mportant to get a snapshot of how social mores have evolved over the years, so I chose guides that were popular in their time—like The Technique of the Love Affair, which was the 1920s flapper’s courtship bible—to see how they’d fare today.There were a few books that didn’t make the cut because they were too similar to guides I’d already covered, or I just ran out of time! One in particular that I was sad to have missed wasa guide—written by former celebrity bodyguard Big Boom—called If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs. I mean, how can you not be intrigued by that title? But it tread on familiar ground, so I left it out. I’m still a little sad about missing that one.
What was the most shocking or misguided piece of dating advice you encountered?
I think some of the most alarming advice I found was in Rules of the Game, a guide aimed at men and stemming from the pickup artist scene. The whole PUA trend has always seemed a little sketchy to me, and this book confirmed my suspicions. While some of the advice—like being more confident and putting yourself out there more—is valid and helpful, other tips—like encouraging men to chip away at a woman’s self-confidence by “negging” her—are pretty worrying. It plays up to the whole idea that women love alpha males (which is true in some cases), but seems to ignore the fact that women don’t particularly like being insulted by some random dude at a bar. It was fun to imagine how a woman would use this advice on men,and what the response would be, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone—male or female—in real life unless you want to come across like a real asshole.
What was the most helpful piece of dating advice you encountered?
There is definitely merit in the idea that everyone likes a chase, and that coming on too strong is a turn-off. I think this is true for both men and women—I’ve had so many female friends tell me that they went on a great date with a guy and were subsequently repelled by that guy being a little too keen. I guess it’s that old Groucho Marx adage about not wanting to belong to any club that would have you as a member. So playing it cool would be my number one piece of advice. Don’t call or text him constantly. Don’t bombard him with suggestions for adorable date venues, or force him to have a conversation about commitment after two dates. Let him do some of the work.Of course, I think all of this flies out the window when two people meet and fall hard for each other—then all bets are off and it’s totally acceptable to text each other surreptitiously under your desk at work all day.
What is it like to be an American writing about London? Do you find you have a different perspective on the place and its people than a U.K. native?
I think lots of Americans suffer from a severe case of Anglophilia—it’s something to do with the accent and the conviction that they’re more intelligent and witty than us, a weird hangover from Colonial times—so I definitely brought that with me when I first moved here and I’m sure that bleeds into my writing. I’m sure I approach England with a bit more romanticism than someone who was born and raised here; what could be construed as dilapidated is usually seen as adorably quaint through my eyes. That said, I’ve lived in London for ten years now so I’ve gained a fair bit of resident grouchiness, but I still find certain things charming where a native might find them banal and/or irritating.
Love by the Book was inspired by your real life blog in which you documented your attempts to date while following actual dating guides. What was the experience like of fictionalizing a story that was very familiar to you? Did you find it made you see your own experiences through a new light?
It was actually lots of fun to fictionalize the blog, because I got to relive a really entertaining period of my life and also change/embellish/invent things as I went along. I made Lauren do things I would never have had the courage to do myself, and placed her in hilarious, awkward situations that I was glad not to have suffered through. And yes, I did see my own experiences through a new light. When I was doing the project myself, I never really thought about my motivation or intentions (I’ve never been very good at introspection), but when I was finishing up the novel, I suddenly realized that I had probably written the blog as a way to force myself out into the scary world of dating again. I also think it probably had something to do with getting over the breakup of a previous long-term relationship, though I’m trying not to dig too deep into that one!