New York Times bestselling author Beth Harbison has a talent for writing not only great novels, but books that are perfect beach reads. Harbison sits down with SheKnows to chat about everything from her own experiences working as a private chef (sometimes awful) to the perfect meal to complement her book.
SheKnows: You’re active on Twitter (@bethharbison). Tweet us about your novel, When In Doubt, Add Butter (in 140 characters or fewer, of course!).
Beth Harbison: Private chef cooks up more than she intends to in the kitchens of the rich, famous, hot, cold, and impossible. It’s possible the author is sublimating for Other Things, both in writing and researching this book…
SheKnows: What was your inspiration for making the main character a personal chef? Do you cook?
Beth Harbison: I worked as a private chef several times, for wonderful people and for awful people. I’m not sure the awful people are still living, but they are not depicted in the book, as they were so dreadful that, if they’re still around and thought I was mocking them, I’d be afraid the contents of my milk box would be poisoned. As for “do I cook?” yes I do, and it is such a huge part of my life — my friendships, my parenting, etc. — that it made for a very strong plot armature.
SheKnows: What would be the perfect meal to complement your book?
Beth Harbison: Impossible to answer easily — it would depend whose diet appeals to you. If you like Russian food, then my Uncle Jack’s Noodle Kugel would be perfect; if you’re more into comfort food you can never, ever go wrong with Croque Madame, a brown sugar ham and aged cheddar sandwich dipped in French toast egg mix and topped with a fried egg and real maple syrup; if you’re trying to watch your calories, I have a kick-ass braised onion pasta that relies upon excellent balsamic vinegar and sharp, salty Pecorino Romano cheese; if you are living in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie, I’d go with perfectly chilled shrimp cocktail with a big kick of horseradish in the cocktail sauce; and if you are a raw vegan who’s allergic to everything from soy to goat’s milk to air, I can’t help you. Maybe some lettuce?
SheKnows: How did you come up with such a perfect title for your novel?
Beth Harbison: I don’t remember, but it had to be my brilliant editor, Jen Enderlin, who — now that I think of it — has probably come up with every one of my titles. Usually over a boozy delicious lunch in NYC. Gee, I wonder why I can’t remember?
SheKnows: What’s the story behind your book’s cover (you have some of the best book covers out there, btw!)?
Beth Harbison: Jen Enderlin strikes again! I had nothing to do with it. But I have to agree with you — this one and Hope in a Jar both look lick-able, don’t they? I framed this and put it up in my dining room.
SheKnows: What books are in your beach bag this summer?
Beth Harbison: I’m reading my daughter’s next book, Voodoo Dolls, which I am uncomfortably jealous of. Jen Lancaster’s Jeneration X (and then a re-read of everything else she ever wrote, as she’s just so funny). Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book (we went to junior high together, briefly — until I flunked out — though we didn’t really know each other), which I read a teaser for and found bright and funny. The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings because she’s hysterically funny and I don’t care that I never home schooled I know it’s going to be awesome. There could also be a book on sex in that bag. And I might have read a list of “hey, ever try this?” things aloud to my friend the other day that left us both feeling like 100-year-old virgins wearing pinafores, because people are way freakier than you might ever expect. If you don’t believe me, Google “klismaphilia”. Or don’t. Really. I’m looking for recommendations for a really good ghost book — anyone???
SheKnows: Describe your writing space — what are five things that give us some insight about you?
Beth Harbison: My work space is the smallest room in my house but it has a closing door and a view out front, which are both important to me. Five things that would give you insight? Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff about me that would give you more insight than I can imagine. Like the time this dumb girl in high school actually came to class talking about this dream she had about a tunnel full or worms and it was okay to let the worms in but she had to keep the snake out. And she was really puzzled as to why we all gaped at her and asked if she really had no clue what that might be about. Also, her mother was a psychologist. Fun fact. So. Back to me.
- I have four robots and a robot-shaped pen on my desk.
- I also have two little Ganesh statuettes, one given to me by my agent, Annelise, and the other from my best friends since high school, Dana (she was basically the inspiration for Jordan in Always Something There to Remind Me).
- I have a hand-painted Penzo bowl full of runes I made myself about 25 years ago.
- At any given time there are at least four pairs of reading glasses on the desk or I panic and feel around the space, knocking glass things over, like Mr. Magoo.
- I cannot sit in my office chair like a normal person, I always sit cross-legged, even if I’m here all day long. I don’t know what it says about my psychology but it keeps me flexible in a way that has come in handy now and again.
SheKnows: Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Beth Harbison: I am working on it, but I can’t tell you about it, except to say it’s challenging and very emotional to write and I need to focus every bit of energy I can on keeping it tight and not diffusing the energy by talking about it. And you’ve just given me the perfect opportunity to point out to my friends, to whom I have to say the same thing, that I’m really not being deliberately cryptic, I just need to keep the energy in the work!