Author Leigh Himes describes her debut novel as a story of empowerment.
The One That Got Away is the story of Abbey Lahey, an overworked mom, an unappreciated publicist, and the wife of a frazzled out-of-work landscaper. Lahey is a woman who feels stuck in a life she’s not sure she’s meant to live and is desperately in need of a break from it all. When an unexpected accident catapults her into an alternate existence, and Abbey wakes in a hospital room to find herself happily married to the one that got away: Alex van Holt, a handsome, wealthy, nearly-perfect-in-every-way man in the throes of a Congressional campaign. Abbey’s life with Alex is one of privilege, luxury, and ease—a life she’s only read about in the pages of Town & Country. Yet even with everything she thought she ever wanted, Abbey feels unsettled. Torn between two very different lives, Abbey begins to take increasingly dramatic steps to reclaim her true self… whoever that may be.
The One That Got Away addresses universal questions of identity, love and marriage, and fantasy and reality in a way that is fresh, imaginative, honest, and, at times, heartbreaking.
Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks describes it as “an enchanting novel about the choices we make in life and love—by turns hilarious, poignant, and nostalgic. Himes’s novel will make you revisit all the “what ifs” you’ve ever contemplated . . . a lively debut that will strike a chord in anyone with a romantic past.”
The novel takes place in Philadelphia, the suburbs, and the Main Line.
Himes has spent 14 years in the public relations field. Born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., she now lives just outside of Philadelphia with her husband and their two children.
Philly Happening Editor Susan Field caught up with Himes at Metropolitan Café in Rittenhouse Square to discuss how the idea for the novel came about, how writing the novel made her fall back in love with her life, and what she’s working on next.
Your background is in Public Relations. How did you get started in fiction writing?
It started as a hobby. I didn’t think it would go anywhere. I’ve never written fiction before, not even a poem, but I had written every day for 15 years for my job in PR. Having to write for different types of people with short deadlines was good training. When you have the right idea, you can’t stop writing.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
It was a twist of fate. I opened a magazine and saw a picture of a man that I had almost dated years before. This got me thinking about how life would have been different for me if I had chosen another path. I had the idea to write about a suburban mom who has a “Sliding Doors” moment.
You have a busy life with two kids. How did you balance family life with writing a novel?
I worked on the novel in the evenings.
When I wrote the first draft, it was just for fun. It wasn’t difficult, it was fun. In a weird way, writing it made me fall back in love with my life. I was able to find something that I was really passionate about that was just my own.
How did you go about pitching your book to an agent?
I knew my agent from another life. I called her office and she answered the phone, which so rarely happens. The timing was right.
Why did you decide to make Abbey work in the PR world?
When I decided that I wanted to make Alex van Holt a politician, I thought it made sense to have Abbey in PR and have the two worlds come together. One of the things that I like about her is that she’s successful and ambitious.
In the novel, the van Holt’s are a rich, Kennedy-esque family from the Main Line. Have you had any personal experience with the Main Line that inspired the way you portrayed it in the book?
I’ve always been interested in the architecture along the Main Line, and I wonder who lives in those mansions and behind those big stone gates. But other than that, the van Holts are pure fiction. I certainly don’t run in those circles.
In the novel, there’s quite a contrast between settings: The Main Line, the suburbs, and the city. Can you talk more about that?
I’m from North Carolina. Everything there is more spread out. When I moved to this area, I was interested in the contrast between these communities that are located so close together. Delaware County, Upper Darby and Springfield are more working class and Irish Catholic. These counties are right up against the Main Line, which is where some of the richest people in the country live. The Main Line is right up against Philadelphia, which is a trendy, fun city.
My favorite part of the book was when Abbey has a revelation that Alex isn’t the one that got away—she was. She got away from herself. This was a really powerful moment.
I think this is something we can all relate to. Being in your 40s, getting married and having children, it’s easy to get caught up in everything and to get away from things that you used to do or who you used to be. You lose your fight. It’s easy to get pulled in a lot of directions and it can be hard to stay true to yourself. Abbey learns to not only appreciate what she has, but to learn to fight for it.
What does Abbey learn about marriage?
That it’s about more than just love. You have to find the person that builds you up and wants what is best for you.
Will there be a sequel?
I was so sad when I finished the book because I had to say goodbye to the characters.
I’d like to think that Abbey learned her lessons and they will stay with her. By the end of the book, she has embraced the chaos of her life and decided to do it 100 %.
If I did another book with these characters, I might like to explore Auben or Jules’ lives and narrate from their perspectives.
What are your favorite books?
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
- American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
- The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
- Us by David Nicholls
- The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
I love Historical Fiction. I read all 11 Poldark books (a series by Winston Graham on which the BBC series is based). There’s a shout-out to that series in The One That Got Away. The name Auben (Alex van Holt’s sister) comes from that series.
Are you working on your next book?
Yes! This one has no fantastical elements, but has a lot of the same themes. It also takes places in Pennsylvania.
How is the process going?
It’s more difficult! The first time there was no pressure or expectations. It took me awhile to find the right idea.
How do you know if it’s the right idea?
When you find yourself thinking about it while you’re walking your dog or washing the dishes, then you know you have the right idea!
What advice do you have for other writers?
Write about what moves you.
Any last thoughts?
Keep your mind open. I got a whole new career out of opening a magazine and getting an idea. You never know what tomorrow will bring!