Elizabeth LaBan is the author most recently of the novel The Restaurant Critic's Wife. She also has written the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper and the nonfiction book The Grandparents Handbook. Her work has appeared in publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Newsday, and she lives in Philadelphia.
Q: Your own husband, like your character Lila's husband, is a restaurant critic in Philadelphia. Did that make it easier or more difficult to create these characters?
A: In many ways, I think it made it more difficult to create the characters because I wanted them to be different from me and my husband. While we eat out a lot, and have a ton of adventures at restaurants, our personal life is pretty boring (which I am thankful for!).
Of course we drive each other crazy every now and then, but we are happily married and have two great kids. I always wanted to be a wife and a mother. I have been able to build a career I love despite my husband’s high profile job.
He is extremely reasonable in most situations, and he is always eager to help me if I’m having a hard time with something. There isn’t much of a story in that.
So in addition to wanting to make Sam and Lila different from us, I also had to come up with a few conflicts to move the book forward. If Lila had always wanted to get married and have kids, and Sam had no issues around getting to know new people, and Lila was fine with having to leave her job, the book would be very slow. There would be no room for growth for either of them.
Once I started to see Sam as controlling, which became exaggerated as I got to know him, and I was able to play with this idea of remaining unknown, the story came to life for me. In our lives we are careful to stay under the radar if possible, and to not become friendly with restaurant people, but I took that to a whole new level in the book.
Q: Philadelphia is almost like another character in the book. How important is setting in your writing?
A: It’s funny, because so far I have set my adult novels in Philadelphia consistently, but my one young adult novel, The Tragedy Paper, is set in New York where I grew up. My knowledge of navigating life as a grown-up mostly centers around Philadelphia, in the same way my life as a teenager took place in New York.
With that in mind, I guess it is important to me. My next two forthcoming novels (one, called Pretty Little World, will be out in January 2017, and the next, called Not Perfect, will be out in January 2018) are both set in Philadelphia.
I have lived here for over 18 years, and I know the city so well. It is a pleasure to have my characters live here and walk these streets. In fact, so far, I haven’t even strayed too far from my actual neighborhood.
Even so, I certainly haven’t ruled out the possibility of writing a book that takes place somewhere else, but right now that is hard to imagine.
Q: In addition to fiction for adults and young adults, you've also written nonfiction. Do you have a preference, and is your writing process different depending on the type of book you're working on?
A: When I’m deep into a project I’m so happy – whether it is women’s fiction, young adult or nonfiction. Having said that, though, I think my absolute favorite to read and write is women’s fiction. My writing process for all three is mostly the same, but nonfiction tends to involve more of a research element, which, of course, fiction can involve, too.
Q: How would you describe Lila's conflict between her family and her work?
A: I would say she is a reluctant mother and wife. She fell in love and got swept downstream, even though it was never what she thought she wanted.
Because she ends up marrying Sam who is paranoid about people figuring out who he is, and because she becomes pregnant, Lila ends up having to give up her high-powered job with an international hotel and resort chain.
This is something she mourns, and at the same time it forces her to figure out what will really make her happy in the long run. The conflict changes as the story goes on, and she is very different at the end of the book than she is at the beginning.
Q: Can you say more about what you're working on now?
A: I am at the tail end of editing my next women’s fiction novel, called Pretty Little World, which will be published in January 2017. I wrote that one with my writing partner Melissa DePino. I am working on another solo book, called Not Perfect, which will come out in January 2018.
Melissa and I are also writing another women’s fiction book together; the working title for that one is Desired Result. In addition to that, I have a finished early draft of a young adult book, which I look forward to getting back to soon.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that my husband, Craig, is so much nicer and more reasonable than Sam is in the book.
It’s funny, because I like Sam, despite his quirks. I believe he is kind and caring, even though he can barely see beyond his fear of being spotted by someone in a restaurant and having that compromise the integrity of his ability to review it.
I think he is misunderstood. Some readers think he is really mean, and I would never want someone to think my husband is mean, because he is really one of the kindest and most understanding people I have ever met.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb