Brooke Lea Foster, ON GIN LANE

Brooke Lea Foster, ON GIN LANE

Award-winning journalist and author of Summer Darlings Brooke Lea Foster joins Zibby to talk about her latest novel, On Gin Lane. The two discuss the real historical event that inspired this novel, what Brooke finds so magical about the summertime, and why she’s so excited about her next book. Find more details about Brooke’s summer writing contest on the new Moms Don’t Have Time To site. Enter by August 15th for a chance to win a lunch with Brooke and Zibby in the Hamptons and more!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Brooke. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss On Gin Lane: A Novel, which, for people listening, has one of the most gorgeous covers I have ever seen. If you are somehow where you can quickly google this cover, On Gin Lane by Brooke Lea Foster, you should absolutely do so.

Brooke Lea Foster: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I’m so excited to be here. Summer Darlings, my first book, had such an amazing cover. I didn’t think they could top it, but I actually think they did.

Zibby: That’s true. It’s the gold. Not that I even love gold, but this gold is so perfect. It reflects the light in this gorgeous picture.

Brooke: It’s so shimmery. It’s so interesting because they actually sent us, my editor and agent and I, twelve choices of different book idea covers. Let’s say this one was labeled number ten. All of us were like, number ten, number ten, number ten. It just jumped out at us, the image, because it captured the story so well. There’s a longing in the woman’s face on the cover. She’s kind of looking out. I think that really captures the longing of my main character.

Zibby: Let’s talk about Everleigh since we are going there already. I kind of want someone to make me a hotel after reading this. I’m like, what would my hotel look like? Yeah, I would agree with the throw pillows. Anyway, tell listeners what the whole book is about. Then let’s get into the characters.

Brooke: On Gin Lane is about young debutante in the summer of 1957. She lives in New York City. Her fiancé whisks her off to Southampton for the weekend. When he gets there, he gifts her this fabulous oceanfront hotel, which she’s utterly shocked by. He announces they’re going to stay the whole summer. She’s a bit ambivalent about that. She didn’t really have a say. He just decided they’re going to stay there for the summer. She kind of comes around. After a pretty glamorous — I think you would agree — grand opening party where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller even make an appearance, the hotel burns to the ground. The book is part a mystery of who burned the hotel down. Really, it’s the story of a young woman finding her voice at a time when women didn’t really have a voice and finding out that maybe this fiancé of hers that she thought was Mr. Perfect is not so perfect after all.

Zibby: You never know what you’re going to get.

Brooke: It’s true. You know what? It’s based on a true story. I got the idea for the book because when I was researching a little tidbit in Summer Darlings, I was trying to find out where a young society woman would stay in 1962 if she was traveling to Chicago. It turned out it was most likely the Palmer House hotel on the Chicago Loop. As a journalist, as someone who loves historical fiction and going down the rabbit hole, I just started researching the story behind that hotel. It turns out it has this really fascinating backstory where Potter Palmer — it’s a little bit of a tongue twister. He was a wealthy businessman in Chicago back in 1871. He built that hotel and gifted it to his fiancé, who was a young socialite at the time, very glamorous herself, Bertha. Thirteen days after the grand opening, the hotel burned down. I filed that away because I just thought, that’s such a great plot.

Here I am still working on Summer Darlings. My head is in a completely different island. I’m on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m in five years later. When it came to work on my second book, that little nugget stuck with me. I pulled it out. I just thought it be great to take that idea from back in the 1870s and put it on a young Manhattan couple, go out to Hamptons for the weekend, which is a place I love and know well from growing up fairly close by, and having him gift her a hotel. Who gets to get gifted a hotel? I just thought it was so neat. Then to have it burn down, it’s this image of perfection, which I think runs rampant in the Hamptons, but really, behind closed doors and those perfect picket fences, we all put our pants on the same way. There’s all the same family drama and heartbreak and longing. It’s just playing out in much bigger houses. In this case, it plays out in a hotel until it burns down.

Zibby: Not to mention, it’s not like Everleigh felt like things were going so great anyway. She didn’t even want to be in the Hamptons. Woe is me kind of problem, but you feel for her because she wants to be near her parents. They had just been working on this other house. It sounded like she was mostly just happy that he wasn’t — what’s his name?

Brooke: Roland.

Zibby: Roland, sorry. Roland was just not working at all. She had been worried about that.

Brooke: Right. She was worried that he didn’t have a really reliable job. He was an architectural major, but he wasn’t building anything. She was like, what is going on? She’s ready to go to her dad and say, can you give him some work? She comes from a place where — there’s a couple things going on with Everleigh. Her mother has struggled with mental health issues. Her mother is very depressed, has some psychiatric problems. She’s been in and out of the hospital. As a daughter, Everleigh’s really shouldered that burden. A lot of us do that where we feel like we have to take on the problems of our family. She’s certainly done that, always checking on her mom, worrying about her mom. Is her mom feeling okay? Is she going to go to lunch? Going away for the summer is scary to her because she’s going to really be leaving her mother with her mental illness all alone.

Also, there’s the cultural factors at work at the time, the socioeconomic factors. Women at the time were pretty unhappy. They were back in the home. They were encouraged to get a Mrs. degree. Meaning, you went to college just to meet a husband. There’s all this pressure on Everleigh to be the happy homemaker and move into this house in Bronxville in the suburbs. She’s shouldering a lot when she gets out there for the summer. When the hotel burns down, it’s heartbreaking, but it also becomes this opportunity for her to unravel and separate a little bit from these pressures and problems she’s been dealing with in her life. She kind of finds a whole new path that summer. I really believe in the power of transformative summers. I don’t know if you do too, Zibby, just from being out there all summer. I feel like we wait all year in New York for our summers. Somehow, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I don’t know that I necessarily change every summer, but I do feel different by the end of the summer. I come back with goals and ideas and new ways of looking at myself. I think Everleigh certainly does in this book too.

Zibby: I love that, the transformative nature of summer. I feel like that’s an essay contest. You should ask people, in the spirit of — maybe I should do that on Moms Don’t Have Time to Write or whatever it’s going to be. In the spirit of this, what’s a transformative summer experience? What’s a summer where you really transformed? That would be a great essay.

Brooke: I would love to read those.

Zibby: Ooh, that would be fun. Maybe we should do author-related writing challenges.

Brooke: Oh, yeah.

Zibby: I used to do things like that on — way back when, I used to — not way back when. Maybe four years ago or whatever, I used to write for the Today parenting community site. They would have a challenge. Then everyone would write. They would post about the same topic, like stepparents. Never mind. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent, but I’m kind of loving my idea here. I’m just going to write it down.

Brooke: I love that, though. I can even think back on several summers at pivotal points in my life, whether it was when I was first graduated college and was figuring out what the heck I was going to do with my life — I spent this summer trying to figure that out. I spent one summer, I remember, working through stuff from my childhood. I remember, by the end of the summer, feeling like I had healed myself because I had kind of gone there. Then I’ve had summer romances where you spend the summer in love. I would love to read .

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I could write so many summers. That would also be a fun device for a memoir, only writing about summers, essays about summer. Summer Loving or something.

Brooke: Elin Hilderbrand’s 28 Summers is a good example too, multiple summers and having them add up to a larger story.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, right, of course, but that’s fiction.

Brooke: That’s fiction, right.

Zibby: I’m kind of thinking as personal essay.

Brooke: I know. Got you.

Zibby: Cool. Yes, that struck a chord.

Brooke: All right, so we’re going to launch an essay contest. Great.

Zibby: Oh, a contest? Yeah, I guess it could be a contest. So we’d have a prize and everything?

Brooke: Yeah.

Zibby: This is getting even more exciting. Okay, sure. What’s our prize going to be?

Brooke: To be published, right?

Zibby: Just that? Not a trip to Southampton or something?

Brooke: That would be amazing, a weekend there.

Zibby: A weekend? Now we’re really going crazy. This is fun. I like this. Let me think about some fun prize. I still think it should have something to do with the Hamptons.

Brooke: Definitely.

Zibby: Anyway, so when you were writing this and putting yourself in Everleigh’s shoes and everything about the limitations of her voice and her power and even the fact that she was damaged goods because of this one horrific situation that had already happened to her, at such a young age too — it’s ridiculous. What if it was still like that? What would life be like if that hadn’t been the case? When you extrapolate Everleighs all over the world and then realize that we don’t have to live like that anymore, just talk about that.

Brooke: It’s so funny. I’ve been listening to authors and obviously talking to authors with a book coming out. I feel like what’s really interesting about this crop of books coming out right now is that we all wrote them during lockdown. What ends up emerging is really, really interesting because it’s either what we fixate on as people or what was saving us at the time as people. There’s all these time travel books that came out that aren’t science fiction. I remember being interviewed for Summer Darlings back then. I think it was by The Washington Post. He was saying, “Do you think you’ll ever write a book set in the present day?” I was like, “No, because I’d much rather go back in time, especially at this moment.” Writing historical fiction during the lockdown was really a saving grace. For me when I was thinking about that question — what emerged in my writing from that time? — I came back to this one quote that’s in On Gin Lane. Everleigh ends up meeting this celebrity photographer-like person. I relate her to almost like an Annie Leibovitz of the time. Everleigh’s dream is to really get in touch with her photography and maybe pursue it, but she’s always been discouraged and embarrassed. She is encouraged by Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe to visit this art colony in Sag Harbor that I daydreamed up.

She goes and she meets up with this woman named Starling who started taking pictures in the forties when a lot of the men were away for the war. Then when men came back, when her husband came back, she refused to go back to domestic life. Everleigh’s working through — at work one day — she gets a job working for her. Sorry, I forgot that part. She’s at work. They’re just talking about what she should do with her life moving forward. Starling looks at her. She says, “You know, you only get one life, and you get to do whatever the hell you want with it.” I love that line. I know I wrote it, but I love it because I found it so empowering. That’s kind of what I was telling myself. We all have this one life, and we get to decide the rules of this life. It was a long way to answer your question. The point is that there’s rules all over. We even set limits on ourselves. We tell ourselves what we can and can’t do. Society tells us what we can and can’t do, but that’s not true. We decide. In the end, it’s all about our own choices and finding our own voice and path forward. That’s really what I wanted to show. In lockdown, that’s what I was obsessed with, was all these rules and things of what we could and couldn’t do in the present moment, but then larger, the larger idea that I was suddenly reassessing my own life. Here I am as a mom teaching school. You remember how it was. We were all getting through it. Moving forward, I get to live on my own terms. That was kind of author working through character there.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so cool. I love it. Author empowerment moment.

Brooke: Exactly. My character’s teaching me. We’re always working stuff out in our writing.

Zibby: Totally. I feel like everybody should have — they should have novel therapists or something or sessions where you just read someone’s book. What about this theme?

Brooke: It’s so interesting because as a writer, you often don’t even know you’re working something out. I didn’t even think about that until yesterday, this idea that maybe I was working through something during that time when I was writing it because so much of it comes out without us realizing it. It’s so deep down in the subconscious. I turned in my third book to my agent recently. She was like, “This is interesting. It’s carrying on this idea of women finding their voices and women being restrained, all this stuff.” I’m like, oh, my god, I just was writing the characters. I didn’t even see it. I was like, “Oh, that’s really good. I’m glad you saw that.”

Zibby: Wait, give a little more description of this next book, please, if you can.

Brooke: This book was so much fun to write. It takes place in 1967 and 1977. It’s about two friends. One is a local girl out in East Hampton. Her mother just died. The other one is a summer girl who comes out from the city with her family. There’s kind of that same dynamic of rich girl/poor girl, which I just love. It’s about their friendship and a secret they keep for ten years and the two of them grappling with it and coming back together and trying to face it. It was such great fun to write because 1967 and 1977 out in the Hamptons was just a really fascinating — you’re moving up in time. You have Andy Warhol throwing his parties out there. You have The Rolling Stones at the Memory Motel in Montauk. The music was really interesting. There’s this one point in the book where they go to the drive-in movie in Bridgehampton. They’re seeing Star Wars because Star Wars released in the summer of 1977. It’s been great fun. It’s funny because my first book took place on Martha’s Vineyard. I love that island to pieces. This book, On Gin Lane, is in East Hampton, Southampton, Bridgehampton. I couldn’t leave it for the third book. I wasn’t ready. I was like, you know what? I’ve had so much fun interviewing people and being out there and telling a story in the past out there. I wasn’t ready to leave it, so it’s also set out there.

Zibby: I have to say, I started going to East Hampton in 1979 when I was just three years old. I was not there. I think we went to Pound Ridge or something when I was just born. I’ve been out there forever. As I think I told you — didn’t you talk to my stepfather or something for the book?

Brooke: Yes. Oh, my gosh, I talked to your stepfather. I interviewed him about what it was like. I’m sure you heard the same thing from your family as I heard from my family. They would always be like, god, we miss how it used to be out there. It’s always like, it was a better time out in the Hamptons if you went back in time. The truth is it was just different. It was different in some ways, but it was similar. Your stepfather was like, there was always traffic. Everyone always complained. It’s not like there wasn’t traffic. Then when I was doing my research, there are parts of Meadow Lane in Southampton when you — say you were to go down towards Cooper’s Beach but turn right toward Meadow instead of Gin, all of that, there were no houses there back then in 1957 when I’m writing about it. You could ride your bike down that road and just look at the ocean and the bay, which I thought was neat. Now if you go down that stretch of road, there’s all of these gorgeous houses, but you can’t see the ocean. You can only see a little bit of the bay. There was a racing track out in Sag Harbor that’s now a golf course.

Zibby: I’ve been there many times. It’s so cool. They preserved the heritage of that, too, at the bridge. It’s very cool.

Brooke: It’s so cool, right? I remember interviewing someone else who was telling me that there was a dress code in Southampton back then. The woman I interviewed was saying her mom ran to the market to pick up groceries. She was wearing hot pants and a blouse. A cop came up to her and was like, mam, you’re going to have to go put some clothes on or I’m going to have to give you a ticket. It’s just so fun to think about that time back then.

Zibby: Wow. There was just something so wholesome and simple. This longing for the way it was — there was the candy store and the news company that sold all the newspapers. It was already so different from life in the city. It’s not even like it was truly that — it was frozen in time before, so now it’s even — anyway, whatever.

Brooke: There’s a joke. I don’t know if you got to this part in the book. I have a joke where the two friends are chatting about all these people. Her fiancé built the hotel, in part, because he wants to be able to bring more people out from the city. Her friend jokes and is like, the last thing I want to do is vacation with everyone from the city at the beach. I just got a chuckle out of that because that’s what we all do, right? We all go out there now, and we hang out on the beach with our — back then in 1957, it wasn’t necessarily the case. It was the case for some people. That wasn’t the culture. It wasn’t that everyone out there was from the city.

Zibby: Amazing. Are you going to spend time out there this summer?

Brooke: I am. We have a house on the North Fork, so that’s where we are. My family’s in Montauk, so I’ll be out there a lot. I’m doing the Authors Night in East Hampton.

Zibby: Oh, me too.

Brooke: That’s what I was hoping, Zibby. I was hoping we could finally meet in person. I was going to email you about that. I’ll be out there for that. I go all the time. I’m always taking the ferry over from Shelter Island, and the Shelter Island over to Sag Harbor. I love the beach down at the end of Ocean Road in Bridgehampton. I have all these restaurants I like to — we all have our summer spots that we try to get to. Yes, I will be out there all summer.

Zibby: We should try to meet up out there or something. That would be fun.

Brooke: I would love that. I would.

Zibby: What are you finding to be different — I know this is early days and all — from Summer Darlings and this book in terms of anything you’ve learned or what you’re going to implement, either on the tactical marketing side or just from an emotional standpoint with the launch and all of that?

Brooke: Not to focus on when Summer Darlings came out, but Summer Darlings came out in May 2020. I didn’t do one in-person event for Summer Darlings. For this book, it’s been really exciting to get out and talk to people in person. The journalist in me, I love to go out and talk to people. Just giving an in-person talk and having an event and then having people come up to you afterwards and getting to know them and hearing their story, I love that. The other thing is, I just feel like I have this group of author friends now who are so kind and so willing to help me get the book out there, which is something I didn’t have with Summer Darlings. I was really the new person, the new kid on the block. That’s been really, really nice. I think that’s it. I don’t have any tactical — I probably should have more tactical ideas about things.

Zibby: No, that was great.

Brooke: I’m always just so excited to put the book out. I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve done nothing but think about this book for a week straight, and this week too. It is exhausting to put out a book, but it’s also so exciting. You know. You’re doing the same thing right now.

Zibby: This has been different because it’s so personal. Having a memoir come out, it is just so — every conversation is like — I had this one interview yesterday. She only wanted to talk about all the grief and loss. At the end of it, I was like, this is just hard. You don’t necessarily want to stop your busy life to talk about the saddest things in your life.

Brooke: It’s true, but you know what? I know exactly what you’re talking about because I’ve written a lot of first-person essays. People hone in on what they relate to. Then that’s what they want to talk to you about. You have to go there over and over and over.

Zibby: It’s fine. I’m obviously happy to do it, but it’s emotional.

Brooke: It’s emotional, absolutely. I get it.

Zibby: But I like emotional, so that’s good. I’m so excited. It’s all good. I’m not complaining.

Brooke: Totally. You’re learning the transformative power of your own words, which is that people are going to read your work and feel something. It’s going to change the way they see themselves. As a writer, that’s all we hope we can do, is teach something.

Zibby: It has been so nice. I’ve started getting emails. I’ve always loved to write authors. I just put an email in the book. I make myself do my other emails. Then I’m like, then I can scroll down and see if anybody wrote.

Brooke: Aw.

Zibby: I know. It’s so funny.

Brooke: That’s so nice, though. I get that.

Zibby: Writing contest, I’m going to email you about this because I hundred percent want to do this. I think it would be so fun.

Brooke: I’m going to think about it too. Maybe we can get Gurney’s to donate a weekend or something.

Zibby: Maybe even just a fun lunch at Sant Ambroeus in Southampton. People could drive back or whatever.

Brooke: That’s a good idea. We don’t have to commit a whole weekend.

Zibby: Yeah, let’s just do lunch on a weekend or something. I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.

Brooke: That’s true. Actually, we could do lunch with me and you and the winner.

Zibby: Oh, let’s do that.

Brooke: Perfect.

Zibby: That would be fun. I’m in, in Southampton.

Brooke: In Southampton.

Zibby: On Gin Lane. We’ll meet on Gin Lane.

Brooke: We have to for a photo op, but I don’t think we can eat there.

Zibby: No, but we’ll stand under the sign like you did on Instagram. Perfect. That’s fun. Thank you so much. It was great chatting with you. I’ll be seeing you soon.

Brooke: Same. Exciting. Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye.

Brooke: Bye.

Brooke Lea Foster, ON GIN LANE

ON GIN LANE by Brooke Lea Foster

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