Thursday, November 12, 2020

Q&A with Beth Harbison


Beth Harbison is the author of the new novel The Cookbook Club. Her many other books include Shoe Addicts Anonymous and When in Doubt, Add Butter.  



Q: You write that you came up with the idea for this book after learning about your agent's daughter's cookbook book club. What intrigues you about cookbooks?


A: At first it might sound funny for me to say that I consider cookbooks to be “armchair travel,” but for a foodie, there is no better way to imagine oneself, say, in Tuscany than to muse over pictures and details of a fresh tomato and basil salad with tears of crusty Italian bread, smashed garlic, and a drizzle of aged balsamic and olive oil.  


No matter what mood I’m in - the south of France, the old country (Lithuania in my case), a home kitchen in Warsaw, the deep American South, and so on - there is a classic recipe, and cookbook for sure, that details it.  And the best cookbooks always include a little introduction to the recipe, which explains the origins for the author. “I was on a balcony in Madrid…"


Q: What inspired your cast of characters?


A: My characters are always an amalgam of characteristics or experiences of people I’ve known. My daughter, for example, has done the opening work for many fine restaurants in the D.C. area, and even created drinks menus at the venerable Willard Hotel in D.C. Her experiences really informed the character of Trista.  


Aja is much like my best friend from high school, now a life coach and yoga teacher.


Margo shares many feelings and tendencies with me, I’m afraid - I had a boyfriend once that I jumped through hoops to feed good, low-cal food to. He was neither worth the cost of butter nor the trouble of avoiding it.  


And Max shares some characteristics of a dear friend of mine who is a big-time literary agent, but who also happens to own and have fixed up a farm in Lovettsville, Virginia - that farm being one of my favorite places on earth.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: You know, I always think I know what’s going to happen and I always divert from my outline. Sometimes it’s because I do one tiny thing I wasn’t expecting and it opens up a much more interesting road than I had planned to follow.  


Q: How did you choose the recipes to include?


A: Oh, that’s always a mood thing. If I’m posting on social media I try to stick to what’s seasonal but if I’m pressed to just come up with favorite recipes it really depends on my mood at the time.  


In this case I just narrowed it down to those recipes that were both delicious and easy for all levels of cook. The only one that isn’t pretty simple - by virtue of having a zillion ingredients - is the hot sauce. But it’s so good it’s worth it. Plus one batch lasts for ages.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The story of two sisters - a private chef and a ghostwriter - who try to reconcile their relationship whilst making their way through an LA jungle full of quirky celebrities. Not only do I have sisters, and know that dynamic well, but I spent a lot of time in LA last year writing a book for a big-name reality TV.  


It was very interesting and very challenging at times. OK, it was hell at times. You don’t know “surreal” until you find yourself hiding from a celebrity in the bedding section of a TJ Maxx.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Only that I always put my heart into my books and really escape into the world and the people I’m writing about. If I touch even a tiny truth that a reader recognizes and feels less alone for seeing it’s shared, that is a win for me, because that’s what makes me love reading myself. The world is a lot less lonely for readers.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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