"Three minutes to fix your life."
That's what the headlines promised after the recent launch of my debut novel Speed Shrinking, where I introduced the world to the concept of free speed dating with therapists. It seemed a clever, timely idea in a lousy economy that might help promote my book.
Until a famous screenwriter parodied the practice in his blogpost "Speed Shrinking, Oy, vey!" A Tufts newspaper editor debated the cultural phenomenon, as if anyone else had ever done it before I'd hosted a soiree with eight therapist author friends. An American Psychiatric Institute member decreed that confessing your problems to multiple psychoanalysts in a public setting desecrated the integrity of the profession because there was no patient/doctor confidentiality. Then a guy at "Diagnostic Voices of the Community" website labeled it "disturbing" to get counseling from someone who hadn't assessed you long-term, as if threatened I was stealing his patients.
"It was a book party, you moron," I emailed back.
"If you post angry responses, the whole blogosphere will hate you," warned my brother Eric.
"But these eggheads are ridiculous," I said. "I'm an author plugging their field for free."
Indeed, the pro-therapy response from the first party I hosted at a neighborhood bar was overwhelming. All hundred guests and eight speed shrinkers pushed me to plan another one. After more ink, I began hearing from strangers - anxious patients asking for invitations, psychiatrists and reporters requesting interviews and invitations to the next event. My husband, who hated my impatience, disdain for small talk and penchant for psychoanalyzing everyone, said, "You've invented the exact thing that only you were put on this planet to create." I next threw parties at a local bookstore and the college where I taught, the publishers donating books so proceeds could go to an AIDS charity and scholarship funds for broke students. Afterwards, more than twenty attendees went on to schedule regular therapy sessions. So I'd inadvertently provided a service that assisted the industry and maybe even came up with an antidote to mend the country's nonexistent mental health plan.
It seemed apt since therapy did save my health, career and marriage. Like everything I've published thus far, Speed Shrinking was based a true story. It was inspired by my own shrink, Dr. W, an addiction specialist who'd helped me quit cigarettes and alcohol. Contrary to my belief that smoking and drinking were helping my work, they were actually fucking it up. In the process of getting clean, Dr. W insisted that I hadn't had the publishing or financial success I wanted over the past two decades because I'd been trying to publish like an addict, being impatient, cutting corners, not really listening. Slowing down, heeding his warnings and taking all of his advice, I sold my first hardcover to Random House, followed by several more nonfiction books, two about my experiences with Dr. W.
When Dr. W moved to another state, I handled my feelings of abandonment by getting addicted to something else stupid: sweets. I needed a fast replacement for my shrink and sugar habit. Dr. W charged $200 a pop; shrinks on my insurance network were $25 co-pay per session. An impatient freelancer who liked journalism because it was literature with A.D.D., I interviewed eight shrinks in eight days, desperate to land Dr. W's clone, probably trying to outrun the pain he constantly accused me of denying. I'd been Dr. W's devoted patient for more than a decade and his office was two blocks away from my apartment. This being Greenwich Village, thousands of local mind tenders popped up in my computer search. When the office of a potential healer was across the hall from my literary agent, I'd stopped by to tell her. "I hope you're taking notes," she said. I did, turning it into a memoir that didn't sell. Then, based on the advice of my editor and my shrink (that "no never means no") I tried autobiographical fiction that ended with me quitting my new shrink, old shrink, and therapy altogether. That led to the book deal for my first novel.
Ironically, the process of "Speed Shrinking" worked better for my plot and PR than my life. I did find another shrink. Alas he said "eat junk food when you feel like it," which led to more pig-outs and weight gain. I ran back to Dr. W., doing phone sessions and seeing him when he came to town. Discussing business strategies to publicize my long-awaited first novel, he advised, "Sometimes you have to spend money to make money." Thus I blew most of my advance on these kooky parties and a press guru who said first fiction rarely gets on TV and instead promoted my novel like nonfiction; my "platform" was being a shrinkoholic.
I was thrilled that Dr. W was impressed with the flattering coverage on 9 TV segments including CBS's Morning Show - where the anchor interviewed me lying on a couch, a hit on YouTube. Since Dr. W was a father figure whose approval had unlocked my potential in the first place, I felt honored he agreed to be a speed shrinker at one of the events, his face captured by two national TV crews. Yet we had a horrible fight when he treated a close female protégé of mine without asking me first. I had to pay him for a real session afterwards to analyze the Oedipal triangle. Meanwhile people from ten countries are still pushing me to throw international speed shrinking parties while, despite the wildly successful and expensive press campaign, nobody remembers it's a book.