July 24, 2008 / 12:13 AM / 10 years ago

Author Philip Galanes finds writing a form of therapy

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) - Some people turn to a therapist to sort out their problems, others talk to friends, but New York lawyer Philip Galanes found the best way to resolve issues in his life was to write a novel about them.

Author Philip Galanes is seen in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters by HarperCollins on July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Brad Roaman

Galanes, a corporate and entertainment lawyer in private practice, wrote his first novel, “Father’s Day,” in 2004 about a man whose father committed suicide, as his father had done.

His describes his second novel, “Emma’s Table,” due out in August, as a comedy of manners that centers around a celebrity decorator and merchandising mogul reminiscent of Martha Stewart.

Galanes, who also writes an advice column “Social Q’s” in the New York Times, spoke to Reuters recently:

Q: What started you, a lawyer, writing fiction?

A: “Well, I used fiction to explore problems that were somehow too hard for me to figure out in my real life. I could put them down and start looking at them really closely and move the characters around and think them through. It was rather like shadow puppets for me and my problems. Some people go and talk to therapists, some talk to their partners, some have a group of friends but for me working on this book is my way of trying to sort out my problems.”

Q: Has it helped?

A: “The first book I wrote was about a guy whose father kills himself, which mine did. It was simply too hard a subject for me to make any progress on in my real life. Through the book I really feel I got some place and how it could happen and who was and wasn’t too blame - meaning my mother and my brother and I. After it came out I found I was ready for this universal hug saying we love you and we know you are not to blame.”

Q: How is your new book different?

A: “While the first book was very sad, the second book is far more of a comedy of manners. We are knocked around by life but we have to get back up and keep marching forward. There is a figure very much like Martha Stewart and a figure very much like me. It is about marching forward. This is about all the pickles we get ourselves into.”

Q: How does your advice column fit into all this?

A: “‘Social Q’s’ is incredibly closely related to the book and my work as a lawyer. I find people most interesting when they have got themselves into a terrible jam. I love it when people say the absolutely wrong thing or manage to offend, as we have all been there. My career is largely about getting people out of the pickle they have got into.”

Q: Do you get much reaction from readers?

A: “Yes. People have tremendously strong opinions. I give my opinion and we are inducted with letters about how wrong I am. I have got some really unfortunate ones but the first time someone wished a lingering illness on me, I was really shaken up. I am getting tougher. I see that with humor and maybe having a slightly provocative tone, you have to be careful because maybe the fact I am being tongue-in-cheek is not coming through.”

Q: Is there any particular problem you hear of most?

A: “There are a tremendous lot that come in about social networking sites now as these really blur the boundaries. People have their social lives on these sites but they are also seeing friends from work and might start dating a woman they met there. It is all great when it is going well but when you try to extricate yourself, it is all still there and so is the boss.”

Q: What are you reading?

A: “I am a big reader. I read at night after dinner. Right now I am reading “Middlemarch” (by George Eliot). I’m reading a lot of 18th and 19th-century English stuff although I don’t know why. I used to be a voracious reader of contemporary stuff.”

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

A: “You have to be a little bit successful to give advice, but if anyone were asking me I would say the secret is treating it as much like a job as you can and sitting down and working even on the days you don’t want to work. For me it only works when I force myself out of bed even on the days when I don’t think I have anything to say and slowly the work starts taking shape.”


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