Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Margo Rabb, author of "Cures for Heartbreak"

I wrote Cures for Heartbreak over a period of eight years, though when I started writing it I had no idea that it would take so long to finish.

Cures for Heartbreak is a very personal story for me: the fifteen-year-old narrator, Mia Pearlman, loses her mother to melanoma days after the diagnosis, just as I did. It seems that many writers are drawn to personal material for their first books, and when I started writing fiction, the material that I couldn't keep away from was about my mother's death. I felt that enough years had passed since she'd died to give me some perspective on her death, for it to become digested enough to write about. The process of re-visiting the past, altering it and shaping it into fiction helped make sense of things for me; it helped take something painful and incomprehensible and turn it into something else: a story. Writing a story can be magical -- I see things on the page that I never knew I'd felt or believed or could have imagined before.

A couple years after I started the book, I finished the first draft. I was certain it was almost done. Then, on an August afternoon, my father died of a heart attack. He was very much like the father in the book, and we'd become extremely close in the years after my mother died.

Despite having spent ages thinking and writing about grief, despite believing I'd shone a light in every corner of the experience of losing a parent, I was devastated by his death. Losing him only seemed to compound the grief I still felt for my mother. I felt a sense of dislocation so severe I sometimes felt seasick, as if I'd stepped onto a ship's deck in a storm and couldn't find the door back inside. I could no longer work on my book. What was the point of writing about grief anymore? What was there to say about loss except that it sucked, that I was depressed and miserable and missed my father and mother and wanted them back? Even my title seemed to mock me: Cures for Heartbreak. I put the draft aside.

I dealt with the particularly bad, lonely, griefy days after both of my parents' deaths by spending countless hours curled up in bed, reading. Within two weeks after my mother died I'd checked out every library book I could find which featured a dead parent. The majority of these books were from the psychology, religion, and self-help sections, but the ones I loved were fiction. I devoured everything from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre to Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes to L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. After my father died, all I wanted to read were short stories by Alice Munro. The various narrators in Friend of My Youth, The Moons of Jupiter, and The Progress of Love dealt with loss and love and grief with a complexity I'd never seen before. I read those stories again and again until the covers warped.

All these books didn't make me feel better or comfort me so much as they helped me get through, gave me a sense of companionship, and an understanding of who this new motherless fatherless person was.

Years passed. I wrote other stories and books. Eventually, I picked up the manuscript of Cures again, and knew I was finally ready to finish it. I revised it heavily, threw out over a hundred pages, and wrote a hundred new ones. At long last, it was finished for real.

It's been sixteen years now since my mother died, and eight years since I lost my father. I guess in some ways this book was a chance to go back in time, to visit that girl curled up in bed, miserable and confused, and to tell her: it will be okay. It does get better. In some ways it doesn't get better, but in other ways, it does. That's what heartbreak is: complicated and never-ending. Some days you'll think you're cured, you're over it, and other days you'll want to crawl under the covers just as you did sixteen years ago. But that's what books are here for.

Margo Rabb is the author of the novel Cures for Heartbreak. Visit her online here.


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Monday March 12th 2007, 1:55 PM
Comment by: Glen H.
Touching. I lost my dad 2 years ago and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him. My mother passed 2 years prior, so I have a personal experience of dealing with loss that makes this topic very relevant. I think about both of them and what they mean to me.
As the oldest of three, I was thrust into the role of helping my sisters deal with their grief while I remained strong throughout the process. But I can relate to the comments about curling up in bed, miserable and confused. Even while being strong through the process, my introspection and sorrow were obvious to me. And it is heartbreaking, complicated and never-ending. And I welcome it. It honors my parents and it makes me feel like a kid again.
Thanks for the article.

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