The Write Stuff: Leigh Himes on ‘The One That Got Away’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m delighted to be in the cyber company of Leigh Himes.

Leigh is the debut novelist of The One That Got Away (Hachette Books)—out in paperback today. She majored in History and Journalism at the University of Delaware, later embarking on a fifteen-year career in public relations. Leigh made the decision to turn her attention to writing fiction in 2012, limiting her PR work to one beloved client. She and her husband have two children and make their home just outside of Philadelphia.

Leigh Himes
Leigh Himes

Praise for The One That Got Away:

“[A] brilliantly realized wish-fulfillment scenario in the vein of Liane Moriarty . . . [Himes’s] examination of how the choices we make can define who we become will resonate with readers. For anyone who ever wondered ‘What if?'”―Booklist

“Himes takes an intriguing look at how a simple yes could change a person’s entire life . . . the effort is a rewarding investigation of how all that glitters may not be gold.”―Library Journal

“Himes’s portrait of an outsider trying to fit into a narrow new role works well; Abbey is reminiscent of the snarky Jill Weber character on Bravo’s Odd Mom Out.”―Publishers Weekly

“Himes’s well-constructed comic novel adds thought-provoking depth to a charming be-careful-what-you-wish-for story.”―Shelf Awareness

From the publisher:

In this irresistible debut novel, a freak accident allows a wife and mother to explore the alluring road not taken.

Meet Abbey Lahey . . .

Overworked mom. Underappreciated publicist. Frazzled wife of an out-of-work landscaper. A woman desperately in need of a vacation from life–and who is about to get one, thanks to an unexpected tumble down a Nordstrom escalator.

Meet Abbey van Holt . . .

The woman whose life Abbey suddenly finds herself inhabiting when she wakes up. Married to handsome congressional candidate Alex van Holt. Living in a lavish penthouse. Wearing ball gowns and being feted by the crème of Philadelphia society. Luxuriating in the kind of fourteen-karat lifestyle she’s only read about in the pages of Town & Country.

The woman Abbey might have been . . . if she had said yes to a date with Alex van Holt all those years ago.

In the tradition of the romantic comedy Sliding Doors and Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World, Leigh Himes’s irresistible debut novel tells the funny and touching story of an ordinary woman offered an extraordinary opportunity to reboot her life, explore the road not taken, and ultimately, find her true self–whoever that may be.

The One That Got Away

Now, Leigh shares her road to becoming a novelist …

John Valeri: What inspired you to write The One That Got Away – and how do you see your own career change / expansion as informing Abbey Lahey’s character?

Leigh Himes: Like my main character Abbey, I was flipping through a magazine and saw a photo of a man I almost dated years before. I showed my husband the photo, and we laughed about how it would be a good set up for a novel. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and few weeks later, I started writing. Before then, I had no intention of becoming a novelist. So Abbey Lahey informed my career change, not the other way around. (I’m so glad she did!)

JV: You’ve been a publicist for many years. Tell us about the nature of the job. In what ways has this background benefited your ability to help market / promote your book?

LH: Public relations is tough, and there’s lots of rejection, so it’s good training for the book business! I also understand better than most just how difficult it is to get media placements, especially now that so many news outlets are evaporating. That said, fifteen years in PR was good training on building online support, organizing events, and reaching out to influencers, which are endeavors that work in any industry, especially when traditional media is not available.

My best advice to new novelists or other creative types when it comes to marketing/publicity is to focus on what you can control — like your web site, special events, and social media, rather than worry about why your book is not mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. Also—say yes to everything. Events, even ones where it’s just a couple of browsers and your Dad(!), are how you build fans and spread the word when you are breaking in.

JV: The road not taken is a common theme. What particular everyday choices appealed to you for exploration – and how do you feel you brought a fresh take to a familiar construct?

LH: Regret is universal, and the “road not taken” construct is the perfect way to examine and expunge the notion of “if only, I’d done ‘X’.”  That’s why it’s been around since Dickens. Often this conceit means the heroine must choose between two loves or two different lifestyles, but I wanted to go deeper, examining: “Do we have a true self?” “How does the person I chose to spend my life with affect that true self?” and “Who or what really affects our destiny?”

Also, because Abbey is a middle-aged mother of two small children, and there is a Congressional election in the mix, the stakes are high… so what starts out light and fun turns more suspenseful and gut-wrenching.

JV: Like your protagonist, you are a multi-faceted career and family woman. What advice would you give to those who have yet to fulfill their own creative ambitions – and how might they endeavor to achieve a semblance of balance while doing so?

LH: This is a tough one and I’m still figuring this out… we all are. First, write the novel you have to write, or paint the picture you have to paint, even if it’s hopelessly out of fashion. Then, give yourself mini-deadlines and rewards (it could be a week off) along the way.

As for balance? It’s an impossible concept when you’re a writer—you will always be thinking about your book, and you will always feel slightly guilty when you’re not writing—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Just make some progress every day, and you’ll get there sooner than you think.

JV: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

LH: Second novels are tough but I’m getting there! My next book is the story of a young career woman finding her way in love and life with the help of an older, wiser “roommate” she meets in an unexpected way. And, one day, I’d like to write the sequel to The One That Got Away, focusing on Aubyn, the posh, misunderstood sister-in-law, or Roberta, Abbey’s hell-on-wheels mother.  Even the most self-assured of women have regrets—and a road not taken.

Thank you, John!

***

With thanks to Leigh Himes for her generosity of time and thought and to Marisol Salaman, Publicity Assistant at Hachette Books, for facilitating this interview.

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