"How's your author's new dating book selling?"
"Oh God, it's just awful since the divorce."
"Yeah, I guess it's tough to promote a relationship expert whose husband is dumping her."
It was a conversation between two literary agents at a publishing convention, and little did they know that truth was about to become fiction.
It was 2002, and a very famous dating expert was going through a very public - and very nasty - divorce. The two agents were lamenting the divorcing author's tanking book sales.
However, my friend Lisa Daily, an author and relationship expert herself, who happened to be standing next to the agents, had two different reactions. Her first thought was, "There but for the grace of God go I."
Yet as she pondered the public fallout of a famous relationship expert getting dumped, she also spotted the seeds of an idea. She realized that, for better or worse, the voyeuristic thrill of watching a perfect princess take a fall is as delectable to people as chocolate-covered gossip.
Whether it's the head cheerleader getting ditched at the prom or the pompous PTA president getting a DUI, if we believe that someone's trying to pretend that they're better than we are, we relish watching him or her go down.
"I call it the Kathie Lee Factor," Daily says. "We love to see a goody-two-shoes get knocked off her pedestal."
She was referring to the salacious delight many of us felt when perky morning show host Kathie Lee Gifford - who had been nauseating us for years with her picture-perfect family - was publicly humiliated by the fact that her hunk of a husband, Frank Gifford, had been shacking up with a flight attendant. (If you didn't secretly titter over that one, you're a better person than I am.)
Daily took the idea of a relationship expert getting kicked to the curb and turned it into a novel, aptly titled "Fifteen Minutes of Shame" (Plume April 2008), a hilarious and surprisingly touching story about what happens when America's cutest, perkiest TV love guru finds out that her own husband is cheating.
In one of the book's most memorable (and wickedly funny) scenes, the heroine, super successful author Darby Vaughn, is sent reeling when "Today Show" anchor Matt Lauer shocks her with the news that her husband has just held a press conference announcing that he is leaving her.
Her poised "I know everything about men" persona collapses as she throws up into the basket of chrysanthemums on the "Today Show" coffee table, live on national TV.
It's both pathetic and hilarious.
Daily (www.LisaDaily.com) swears that beyond the initial idea, the book is pure fiction. Yet a number of scenes ring eerily familiar as Darby's public shame is devoured by the jackals of tabloid journalism, revealing our endless appetite for celebrity gossip.
However, in an odd paradox of human nature, while we may relish every juicy detail, a public scandal often softens our hearts toward the one taking the tumble. Witness the wave of sympathy Hillary Clinton and Martha Stewart experienced after their own fifteen minutes of shame.
Daily suggests it's all about perception.
"When Jennifer Aniston's marriage ended, she was treated with some kindness because we liked her and sympathized with her," she says. "But the celebrities who really get hung out to dry are the ones who trot themselves out claiming to be perfect or to know all the answers."
I won't ruin the ending of "Fifteen Minutes of Shame," except to say that the heroine ultimately learns that the secret of overcoming public embarrassment lies in admitting that you're just as human as the rest of us.
Because, as Daily says, "While it's always intriguing to see someone fall, it's far more compelling to watch them get back up."
Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.