Bestselling author Beth Harbison talks about old loves and new lipstick



If you can’t find Beth Harbison by her computer, penning another bestseller, you’ll probably be able to locate her at the Sephora makeup counter. Beth knows her makeup — and she also knows how to write compulsively readable novels. Her book Shoe Addicts Anonymous hit the New York Times bestseller list, and won praise from readers and critics alike. To learn more about Beth and her latest book, Hope In A Jar, visit her  website.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Usually I cite the time when I was in fourth grade and I re-wrote the end of Black Beauty (64 pages!) to bring all the horses back to life, but I don’t know that I realized I wanted to ‘be a writer’ so much as I wanted to un-do that depressing ending.  The first time I recall really thinking, “I want to be a writer” was when I was a young teenager and my boyfriend was at USMC boot camp, leaving me home to be faithful and bored, which meant I did a LOT of reading.  Sometimes more than a book a day.  And I was in the backyard, under the cherry tree, reading a Dorothy Eden book, loving it and feeling sad I was coming to the end of it, when I had the thought that if I were a writer I could go anywhere, any time I wanted, with whomever I wanted.  Mysterious house on the Yorkshire moors, cottage on the French coast, an island in Greece…with a quirky best friend and a mysterious love interest….who wouldn’t want that job?

  Your productivity is amazing – you’ve written dozens of romances, and, for the past three years, you’ve turned out one bestselling hardback after another.  What are your work habits like?  And where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing in my office on a desktop, though I have two laptops too (an upstairs and a downstairs one – I need to be able to work whenever possible! Plus, sometimes the fatigue of being in one position gets to me so I have to mix it up some).  But I don’t have set work hours and sometimes I go days or weeks without getting anything done if I’m stuck.   But when I know where I’m going and what I’m doing, I write quite quickly.  It’s not a rush, it’s just my pace.  It’s almost like a court stenographer typing out what she sees, only it’s in my imagination not a courtroom.

 Tell us about the most interesting bit of research you’ve done. 

The most interesting bit of research I’ve done for a book is happening right now – I’m excavating my first love relationship, which has me going through old diaries (15 volumes!) and letters.  I hope the book will be something of an exorcism.  Actually – oh my God, this is just occurring to me! – it’s me re-writing the end of Black Beauty again!  I’m trying to fix the fucked-up way that relationship ended by writing those two ghosts that were us off into the sunset.

But you were hoping for something about the phone sex in Secrets of a Shoe Addict?  Okay, all I can say about that research was that it was surprisingly disturbing.  I’m sure the clerk at Borders thought so too, when I set down my pile of books for purchase that included Bear in the Big Blue HouseFather TwilightPenthouse Letters Volume XVII, Dora the Explorer’and Little Star, and Call Girl: My Life in Phone Sex (or something very similar).

 How did you get your agent?

An editor loved my book and worked her butt off to sell it to her company but it was nixed by the president (of the company, not of the U.S.), so she wanted to see it published so badly she referred me to Meg Ruley, whom I’ve been with ever since.  Something like 18 years now.

 What do you wish you’d known when you first started in the business?

Nothing – I think I did everything perfectly: I wrote a few really shitty drafts, learned to accept rejection, learned to get excited about personalized rejections (as opposed to crooked Xeroxes of “Dear Author” letters), learned to revise and revise, then honed my craft on those Silhouette Romances, under the eye of some seriously kick-ass editors, including the great Joan Marlow-Golan (Ph.d – in literature – from Harvard!) 

Do friends or family members see themselves in your characters? How do they react?

Nope – they’re not there.  The book I’m working on now is the first one I’ve ever tried to tell the truth in.  It’s really hard.

 Okay, you’re an admitted Sephora junkie, and Philosophy cosmetics co-promoted your last book, Hope In a Jar. What’s the best thing in your make-up bag?

Nars Dolce Vita lipstick.  It’s sexy and perfect on everyone.  Fiberwig mascara is a close second.

7 Replies to “Bestselling author Beth Harbison talks about old loves and new lipstick”

  1. Thanks for saying that doing “everything perfectly” means revising a lot and getting rejected a lot. I can relate to celebrating personalized rejections!

  2. How fascinating that you realized that Black Beauty rewriting thing is at work again! I think writers often write in part to make sense of their lives, and that’s why readers read, too.

  3. Fiberwig mascara? I’m so on it. Oh, wait, we were talking about writing, weren’t we? Totally agree with Kristina about writing as therapy in a sense — we’re shifting our experiences and emotions through a kaleidoscope and sprinkling the end result onto the page.
    We all wrote about our work spaces this week — very cool that you have them scattered through the house, so you can get down a page whenever inspiration strikes.

  4. Wow, Sarah, nice analogy! Wish I’d come up with it!

    Fixing history is hard work. Dangerous. It’s kind of a race to see if I can finish the book before reliving all that stuff actually makes me go insane. If I start using mayonnaise as make-up and asking for payment in ponies, stage an intervention, would you? And bring Zoloft.

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