Online dating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. From catfishing to ghosting, nearly everyone who’s tried it seems to have a horror story (or 20) to tell.
Ballston Spa author Cari Scribner used some of those experiences, both personal and not, as inspiration for her novel “A Girl Like You,” which was recently published by Circuit Breaker Books. It follows Jessica Gabriel, a fifty-something-year-old, who is convinced by her children to venture into the tumultuous world of online dating.
Scribner, a College of Saint Rose graduate, has worked as a journalist, including for The Daily Gazette, and freelance writer throughout her career. She’s also published many short stories in literary magazines. “A Girl Like You” is her first novel.
Publishers Weekly recently reviewed it saying “The themes of love, loss, resilience, and rebuilding are familiar territory, and though Scribner’s candid tone will put readers in mind of a more explicit Sex and the City, the characters, observational humor, and frank (and sometimes graphically detailed) sexual exploration feel fresh. Fans of women’s fiction will want to take a look.”
Scribner spoke with The Gazette earlier this year about the challenges of online dating, writing and publishing a book.
Q: What drew you to writing?
A: I had a writing minor at Saint Rose and in that capacity, I did everything from playwriting to poetry to technical writing, but writing wasn’t a major itself. So journalism was really the heart of what I wanted to do and doing that for 20 years was a career goal. But at the same time, I was doing creative writing and I was involved in the New York State Writer’s Institute and various writing groups and critique groups. Critique groups are rough. They don’t sugarcoat things and I went through years of [writing] short stories, drafting and polishing them and then about three years ago I got serious about getting published. So I started submitting my short stories.
I’m happy to say that now I have 16 that were published, but it wasn’t an overnight success. I had one story that was rejected 35 times. It never occurred to me that the story was bad, so I just kept sending it out and the 36th literary magazine loved it.
Q: What do you think made you [push] to get published?
A: It was definitely that my kids were grown up. That was the first part of my life. I was working for the newspapers while my kids were young and I reached the point of “Well, now what do I do?” It was definitely writing. Since I was in third grade, I wanted to be a published writer and always saw that for myself. I just felt the nudge to do that. So you know, you start with smaller steps but you always have big dreams.
Q: When did you start working on the novel?
A: Well, I’ve had my share of online dating, with some success and a lot of blunders. Everyone that I met said they had horror stories. So what I began [with] was a compilation and an exaggeration of dates that I had or had heard of, or could imagine. The start of the book was to be humorous but I soon realized that I had to add some depth, it couldn’t just be anecdotes. So I wove a story more about a woman finding her way, and finding her resilience, and looking for a partner but ultimately finding herself.
Q: Interesting. With a lot of romantic comedies, the storyline is usually “she gets the guy.”
A: Yup, and there are a lot of rom coms out there but I wanted a deeper message for both people that are still single and for people that are happily married to realize how good they have it and that you do long for that long-term relationship, and sometimes you have it and sometimes you still look for it.
Q: When did you start online dating?
A: Probably five years ago, off and on. At certain points, I would get so disgusted I would take my profile down for six months. It’s very superficial, it’s almost impossible to gauge whether you’ll be a good match with somebody from a couple of paragraphs. Photos are notoriously 10 or 20 years old. I had dates where I would show up and I didn’t recognize the person. It’s terrible. It’s funny, but it’s terrible.
Q: Do you feel like dating has changed a lot in the last few years?
A: Definitely. The days where you could bump into somebody at the gym or the supermarket are gone. People are busy, they wear headphones; they’re just distracted by life and the days of being set up by friends or blind dates are really faltering. That’s not as commonplace anymore. You have to be active. You can’t wait for somebody to come to your front porch. You have to be actively searching and that is a strange thing because most people such as myself think that love will strike them when they least expect it. Someone will fall from the sky, but it’s a job to find somebody now.
Q: What were some of the challenges you had in writing “A Girl Like You”?
A: Making sure that I didn’t portray the woman as a victim. I wanted to be sure that she was shown as taking a hit when she was divorced . . . but I didn’t want her to be in the middle of a pity party. I wanted her to be constantly moving forward. Asking herself questions like “Can I be alone?” How do I deal with loneliness? How do I deal with fixing a leaky sink? All the chores that come with being a single head of a household, she had to learn how to do and that made her a stronger person.
Q: Are you also working on a sequel?
A: I am; I’m very excited. It’s called “A Place Like This,” from the saying “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” In the sequel, she has to deal with an entirely different challenge when her youngest child moves out and she is truly alone in an empty nest. She has a new way to meet people, she becomes a Uber driver so all kinds of people get into her car. So it has that funny element but she deals with loss heavily and it hits her hard and once again, she’s got to dig deep and see what she’s really made of. Her life as a mother has been put on the back burner; she’s no longer central to her kids’ lives. She has to turn around and say “What do I do now?”
Q: Is there any part of the writing or editing process that you dread?
A: The hardest part is dealing with procrastination. I mean, just like anything else, and I do some technical writing for an investment blog as my way of earning a living so I have to completely switch gears into creative and you’d be amazed how you suddenly need to empty the dishwasher or go for a walk or do some online shopping and you really have to sit down and write and that’s the hardest part for me. But because of the newspaper work, I do really well with deadlines.
“A Girl Like You” is available at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, as well as on amazon.com.