The Emotions Underlying Friend Stories

This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

As I mentioned before, I’ve been writing short pieces about my own girlhood friendships as a way to get closer to what the Friendstories project wants to be. My intention is that in writing about the best friends I had as a girl, I’ll be able to define the parameters of the project organically, and connect emotionally to the highs and lows of those particular relationships. I moved a lot as a kid, so I estimate I’ll be able to write about twenty of these, give or take; the experiences of those friendships run the gamut of funny to heartbreaking. I’ll use these twenty short pieces to provide examples to the early folks I’ll approach to contribute to the project, and, ultimately, on the website.

When I spoke to Dan a couple weeks ago about the Friendstories project, he asked me to talk again about how it connected, specifically, to Bittersweet. Bittersweet begins with a girl friendship—that of dowdy, bookish Mabel and glamorous, wealthy Ev; Mabel’s admiration of (and use for) Ev, and vice versa, is the backbone that holds up the rest of the novel. Many women who have either read or heard about Bittersweet have preemptively shared anecdotes about their own girlhood friendships. But what is it about asking others to explore their girlhood friendships that I believe will help promote my book? Of course, that’s not all that Friendstories has to do—I am also building my own brand, distinct from Bittersweet, and I want to create a community that stands on its own two feet. But it is worth asking myself that question again and again as I go on: how does Friendstories connect to Bittersweet?

Perhaps the answer lies in my own experience writing about S., my best friend and neighbor during my fourth and fifth grade years. Our friendship burned out fast and furiously, and perhaps because I moved right afterwards, it was buried deep. But in trying to write about her, I realized the memory of her—and the moment that ended our friendship—still touched a raw nerve. Some friendships burn out long and slow, but this was like quickfire, and it blindsided me. As I wrote about it, almost thirty years after the fact, I found my heart racing, my eyes filling with tears, my hands shaking on the keyboard.

That—right there—is how the Friendstories project connects to my novel. In writing Bittersweet, I have thought consistently about the honest emotion at the heart of Mabel and Ev’s murky friendship. They are each, from one minute to the next, competitive, loving, self-serving, needy, dishonest, loyal, generous, selfish; in a word, they are as close to human as I can make them. I believe that by inviting people to engage in true stories about friendships—both their own, and each others’—I will be building a readership base for Bittersweet that draws on something particularly deep in each of us, the expertise of friends we have loved, and lost, the nostalgia for that era in our lives when who we are is often defined by who we know. I love the idea of engaging future readers on that level.