Katherine Lin delves into her newest novel, which explores young widow Ellie Huang’s journey through loss, and her escape to the French Riviera with her best friend Mable. The narrative sheds light on complex female friendships and mother-daughter dynamics, influenced by Katherine’s own experiences. The setting, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, adds a touch of escapism while revealing the characters’ inner demons. Katherine also touches on handling rejection in the literary world, highlighting the grit required for aspiring authors. Through humor and insightful discussions, Katherine and Zibby explore the book’s nuanced portrayals of relationships and self-discovery.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Katherine. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss You Can’t Stay Here Forever: A Novel.

Katherine Lin: I am so excited to be here. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Yay. Can you start by telling listeners what your book is about?

Katherine: Twenty-eight-year-old Ellie Huang gets, basically, the worst news that you can imagine. She finds out that her husband is killed in a car crash and then that he was cheating on her with one of her colleagues at her San Francisco law firm. In the midst of all this tragedy, in a rare act of impulse, she uses his life insurance money and runs away to the South of France with her best friend Mable. They go to this really famous real-life hotel called Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, which many might recognize from the Cannes Film Festival or UK Daily Mail, which I absolutely love. As she’s at this hotel trying to run away from her life, they run into this mysterious couple, Fauna and Robbie. Then, no surprise, your demons can follow you to the South of France. Soon, a lot of the things that they tried to run away from, both Mable and Ellie, come to the surface in France. It’s a book that I hope a lot of folks will really enjoy. When I was writing it, I was thinking about complicated female friendships and the slippery nature of marriage and monogamy and mother-daughter relationships.

Zibby: I was going to say the mother-daughter relationship piece was particularly striking, her relationship with her mom, at times, fraught. I loved how you described that scene where she’s at a sleepover watching Dynasty or something on TV and is like, oh, that’s totally my mom, that WASP on TV. Then her friend is like, no, no, you have to be white to be a WASP. It’s a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. She’s like, wait, my mom’s a want-to-be WASP?

Katherine: Yes, exactly. I think every mother and daughter can talk about the thorny relationship that they have. Ellie’s in particular with her mother Mary, there’s a resentment that I think a lot of folks might find familiar. I certainly can find that familiar. Also, there’s so much love and loyalty. It’s so exciting to be on this podcast because I actually recently gave birth to my daughter, my firstborn.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Katherine: It’s funny because I wrote this book when I had not had a child yet. I remember writing it and feeling so much sympathy for Ellie. Then it’s funny how life humbles you. Now I have my own daughter. She’s only nine months old, but as I’m rereading this book and talking about it, my sympathy, so much of it has gone to the mom. It’s been interesting, also, as an author to see how that has played out as this book gone through its life cycle.

Zibby: One of the themes, of course, is just, no matter what happens, the mother-daughter relationship is sort of — well, I shouldn’t say that because I guess it’s not the case for some relationships. At least in this relationship, no matter what, they are there for each other, and even in simple acts like when Ellie comes out and the mom has laid out a new dress for the funeral, which is at once heartbreaking and tender, and even just the way she shows her love of taking care of things around her, not necessarily of her herself. At the end, that’s who she wants to call. I loved that part too. I loved Ellie’s relationship with Mable, how she met with Mable being this outspoken voice in a crowd and all of that.

Katherine: They meet freshman year of college. I find platonic relationships really fascinating, especially female friendship. For me, my best friends in my life have been just as important as my romantic relationships and just as complicated and complex. There is all the love and loyalty, but there’s also so much jealousy and competition with really, really long-standing friends. Sometimes I think when you meet, they’re kind of frozen in time in your mind for them. If you’re changing or they’re changing, it can be a lot of growing pains for these relationships that you follow throughout a life. That’s really true for Ellie and Mable. They’re such opposites attract. Ellie is very, tell me what to do, I’ll follow the path that’s laid out for me. Mable is this writer that’s really strident and brazen with all of her opinions and says all the things that Ellie wishes she could say. In so many ways, they complement each other, but as you point out, it’s also a complicated relationship and can be rocky at times. Both of them are dealing with their own demons in this book.

Zibby: You had a line — wait, let me see if I dogeared it. Ellie was like, maybe we’re not so much friends as I’m just following her around everywhere. I am just her shadow in all of this. Is this even a friendship, or is this just a one-sided puppy dog type relationship? You wrote it better than that.

Katherine: I know what you’re saying. Mable, she’s the kind of person, you walk in the room, and everyone wants to know what she’s thinking and what she’s going to say. I think there is something that’s so alluring about having a best friend like that, but it can also be really overshadowing. For Ellie especially, she’s at an inflection point in her life where she’s realizing that so much of her life is being defined by the things around her, so the way that her job defines her and the way that her husband has defined her and now she’s realizing the way that her best friend has defined her. She’s really setting out and trying to find her own voice on this journey for her. It was something that I really felt for her, especially since both of them are in their late twenties. It can be a difficult time. It’s really fun and energetic. I miss it so much sometimes. There’s a lot of growing pains in your late twenties. It’s kind of like a second adolescence, sometimes I think.

Zibby: It’s so true. You depend so much on that found family when you’re striking out on your own and all of that good stuff. I don’t want to give anything away, but with one of the characters who comes up in the book, there is a moment where she talks about how, in her own head, she’s always happy being second fiddle. She’ll always take the backseat. She’s comfortable not being number one, but instead, always being the person behind the person, which I also found really interesting, for someone to have that level of self-awareness and for you to have a character in the book who then has that level of self-awareness and what something like that even comes from. I was curious about the psychology of that character.

Katherine: This is a book — I think that the heart of it is the way that we feel about our relationship with other people. We’ve talked about Ellie and Mable, Ellie and her mom. I think that for some people, they always feel, like you said, second fiddle and kind of the person always behind the scenes. Certainly for someone like Ellie, that’s not the case. In fact, that could be the source of a lot of problems, feeling like you’re the one who’s being pushed along, you’re going along. Something that Ellie goes through is a questioning of that. When you are in that place where you think, I’m just second fiddle, it’s also giving up some of your agency and some of your responsibility in that part of that relationship. For Ellie, it’s deciding, okay, I am around people who are very strident and really strong personalities, but is this something I’m also drawn to? What does that say about me? Why is it that I like to fade into the background and be defined in this way? Certainly at this point in her life, is this something I need to work on? Is this something where I need to step into the spotlight as well?

Zibby: This is also a lovely escapist book. I have actually been to Hotel du Cap for lunch a couple times and once, apparently, when I was a kid to stay for a little bit. I’ve also been to Club 55 in Saint Tropez where you have — literally, I was like, goosebumps. This is actually a real experience of a real restaurant. This is no longer fiction. Somehow, real life is completely in this novel at this point with everything about it. Tell me about, why Hotel du Cap? I know it’s an iconic South of France landmark and a dream. It would be a huge dream just to take off and hang out there for a while. Why there? Why the South of France? Why Saint Tropez? Why the whole place?

Katherine: I think that as a writer, real-life setting can do heavy lifting. It’s a little bit almost like cheating because when there’s such a storied place in the cultural psyche for a place like this, when you go there in the book, a lot of readers automatically know what that means. I knew that Ellie and Mable were going to run away. I wanted them to run away to a place that was very fish out of water where they would feel really uncomfortable. Hotel du Cap was just the perfect place for that. Like yourself, I was also lucky enough to go there once for a short visit. I’ve never been more intimidated in my life. I’ve never felt worse about myself than at these places, at that restaurant, up at this hotel, even just having lunch at the hotel. It’s a place where everyone is beautiful. The wealth and the excessiveness of the opulence is really in your face. It’s a beautiful place in the world. It’s just wonderful to look at. Ellie and Mable, being people who are not used to this world, I wanted them to go there and to view and have this critical observation of everything around them. When you run away with your best friend, who doesn’t want to stay at one of the nicest resorts in the world, but of course when you go there — Ellie and Mable are Asian American women. They are primed to be observing everything around them and be aware of the race, the privilege, the power, the wealth, the class, everything that’s going on. I would say I chose it, in many ways, because it’s so iconic. It does so much heavy lifting. Also, I think it speaks to the themes of the book of trying to find yourself, trying to realize how you are defined in relation to others.

Zibby: So true. Thank you for taking us there because that was a real joy. It’s very much of The White Lotus ilk. I know that you wrote this, I’m sure, before that even came out and everything, but it has that same sort of vibe where you’re in this new place. It’s so beautiful. You’re with new friends, or in that show, old friends.

Katherine: It’s exactly like that. You’re right, I wrote this before White Lotus. I remember when me and my agent were working on it, all of it was coming out, season one and then season two. We were like, oh, my god, what a coincidence. There are so many similar vibes and themes. It’s the idea of traveling to somewhere great and then realizing, okay, I’m going to have to do a lot of work on myself too.

Zibby: I was wondering, actually, as I read it, if you had gone through this kind of life-changing loss that Ellie goes through in the beginning. You do take us really deep and quickly into that moment. From a literary standpoint, it’s a great way to start the book because the reader is immediately hooked. Then we are so invested. We have no choice but to follow along and see what happens. When I was reading it, I was wondering, had something like that happened to you? If not, did you model it on a friend or something you’d seen or what?

Katherine: This story actually came to me when I was doing this really long commute. I’m also a lawyer, so I was doing this really long commute. I always knew that I wanted to write something in the wake of tragedy and loss. So much of even the first paragraph in the first chapter, it was something I knew, on this commute, how I wanted to start the story. During this time, I was actually reading a lot of the Modern Love column in The New York Times, which I’m a huge fan of. There was no particular column or story that spoke to me, but I remember I was just drawn to so many of these stories about redefining your relationship with yourself after loss. It doesn’t have to be death, but any sort of loss and change. At the same time in my own life, even though I wasn’t going through specifically anything as bad as what Ellie is going through in this book, I was also in my late twenties. I was also asking a lot of these similar questions. In particular, her relationship with her job was something that I really understood. I went to law school right after undergrad. I did, not exactly the same thing she did, but a lot of those similar career choices. I remember thinking, so much of my late twenties was, is this something that really made me happy, or is this something that I felt that I had to do? I’m not really sure if this is something, in my own free volition, I would do myself. I still, actually, really do love the law. I do enjoy it. I don’t think I hate it as much as Ellie does. I will say this undercurrent of asking yourself these big existential questions was something that I really related to. I knew the story would be one about loss and tragedy and finding yourself through the tail end of something that’s very, very difficult.

Zibby: But not something that you had experienced?

Katherine: No, I’m very lucky that I have not experienced something like that. When I was writing this book, I really did try to seek out a lot of the stories and accounts of people who have gone through something really similar.

Zibby: Amazing. I am a junkie for stories of loss. I feel like I’ve read so many books and watched so many movies. Having gone through loss in different ways myself, there is something about reading closely how someone gets through something you think is unimaginable. I appreciated that in your story. I feel like I have a wealth of comp.

Katherine: What’s so hard about this is this book really only follows Ellie for a few weeks after this horrible thing happens, and grief is something that you deal with for a lifetime. When I was writing this, I was also really cognizant of the fact of, okay, we’re following these weeks afterwards, but also, this is something she’s going to have to deal with her whole life. Grief doesn’t really just end cleanly and neatly, as much as some people may want it to. This is also something I feel like — as I write, these people are so real to me. They’re like my real friends. I always think about Ellie and think, how is she doing? We saw her for a few weeks. A few years later, how is she doing with something like this? It is difficult to write about tragedy and loss, but it’s also something that’s so universal and that we all deal with.

Zibby: Totally. Is this going to be a movie? A TV show? Something? Has it been optioned?

Katherine: It would be so exciting. No, we haven’t been optioned. It would be so cool. Every writer says that. They would love to see something up on the screen. That would be super exciting if it would be. I always say it would be a great excuse, me and my agent joke, to have to go to the hotel to do some research. What a great excuse to have to go and do a little research for that, the movie or a TV show.

Zibby: That would be a fabulous filming experience, for sure. I feel like in the movie version, I would want to see even more scenes with how the infidelity — I want to see more of that. Now I’m really curious about her husband and what he was thinking and feeling. I know we get a glimpse later from a different — I was left wanting more from all the characters.

Katherine: It’s interesting. Some people have asked me, who do you relate to? I know this is not the most satisfying answer, but I actually feel like I relate to all of my characters. I love them all. Ian, the husband, he does something so — he cheated on her for her marriage. That’s something that’s so horrible. As I was writing, because I love all my characters and I love him, I also had moments where I was like, gosh, I almost want to write things from his point of view and explain why he did what he did. What does it mean? The way that Ian has come to me is, he is a man who is very charming. People love him. He’s the life of the party. It can be really difficult if you’re also insecure about certain parts of your identity. For him, it was the way that he was feeling at school. Was he as smart as Ellie? Was he as book smart as the people around him? I had the same gut reaction. I wanted to know more about him and have that come out. Ultimately, it’s a story about Ellie.

Zibby: I know, I know, I know.

Katherine: I know exactly what you’re saying.

Zibby: Are you working on anything new now?

Katherine: Yes. I am working on, hopefully, my second book. I’m hoping it’ll have legs. It’s so early, so it’s always kind of difficult to know. I’ve heard some writers say, sometimes I feel like I’m writing the same book over and over. As I’m working on my second book, I definitely understand that because even though it’s not the same characters and it’s not a sequel or anything like that, I’m realizing as I’m writing, wow, so many of these same themes, like marriage and monogamy and the relationship you have with your parents and complicated friendships, all of that is coming to a head again in this second book with completely different characters. It’s been a really exciting time. I’m in the middle, and it’s always hard to tell. I want to say it’s going to be a second book, but who knows? I hope so.

Zibby: Speaking of the writing itself, you wrote this as a lawyer, this book, You Can’t Stay Here Forever. Now you’re writing with a nine-month-old at home. Where are you finding the time? When do you fit in it?

Katherine: When I was writing as a lawyer, I was lucky enough to take a few months off to try to get this out. Then of course, books take many years. I had this very rough draft. Then as a lawyer, I was waking up at dawn. I was an eviction defense attorney. I was waking up at dawn and working on it. I was tired all the time. Of course, then you have a baby, and you realize, now I really know what it’s like to be tired in a way that I never was before. I would say that I still find that waking up early and writing before dawn is really, really helpful for me. It’s been much easier as she’s been getting older, actually. In the beginning, it was so hard. I had to be with her. It was really hard to leave her side. This, it’s easier to find two or three hours to yourself and being able to write this. I would say there’s no easy answer. It’s really, really hard. God, I will tell you, after having a baby, I feel like I have never thanked my mom enough, to go back to mother-daughter relationships. I was like, man, oh, man, I got to thank my mom more because now I know how hard it is to both work and have a baby.

Zibby: It’s insane. When I had my twins — this is now sixteen years ago. I spent that first summer literally living at my mom’s house with the babies. I’m here in Los Angeles now. I have a bookstore here, and so I’ve been spending time here. I was driving around yesterday. I was thinking, wow, I wonder what it would’ve been like if I had had my twins out here with no family around. My brother’s out here, but without her there. It made me want to call her and say thank you or something.

Katherine: Oh, yeah. I was very lucky. My mom and dad live in Chicago. They came two days after I gave birth, and my mom stayed here for a few weeks. It was the greatest thing. You also need help. It’s helping the baby, but also just your own self and your recovery and getting to rest and sleep and everything. I was really lucky that my mom was able to come here for a few weeks. Now I’m always begging her to move out to California. I’m in Northern California. She’s still in Chicago. I’m still like, please move out here. I want to see her more, but then it’s also the reasons of, oh, my god, when she’s around, it is so much help to have your mother around.

Zibby: You had some conflicting feelings in this book about San Francisco. How do you feel about it?

Katherine: You know, it’s hard. I moved out here from Chicago. Not to San Francisco. I moved out here for law school in Northern California in 2011. Now it has changed so much with tech. I’m still a transplant. For people who have been here longer, that rings even more true. I think that there are so many wonderful things about San Francisco. I love the city. I will die on that hill. I love San Francisco. I think it’s one of the best cities in the world. As the book talks about, it has changed so much with tech. A lot of what I used to do as an eviction defense attorney with housing has been a major issue for San Francisco. I still love it. I think it’s one of the greatest cities. I love California. I don’t think I’m ever moving back to Chicago. I’m too used to the weather now. I always tell my parents, I’m like, I’ve gotten soft. I can’t go back to the winters. I think it is a really interesting place to set your book and to talk about the themes of class and privilege and power. It is both in San Francisco and at Hotel du Cap, I would say.

Zibby: Yes, both places that would be lovely to visit. We do these retreats from Zibby Media. Now I’m thinking we should try to do one at Hotel du Cap. How amazing would that be?

Katherine: That would be amazing. I can’t even imagine. That sounds perfect.

Zibby: What if we tried to do a really small thing next summer or something where it’s even just ten or twenty people? We market it. You go, and maybe another author who has a book in France.

Katherine: Oh, my god, that would be amazing. I’m sure you already know this, but it has such a storied history with writers because F. Scott Fitzgerald went there. Tender is the Night is based off of it. I think Hemmingway — I could be wrong on that — maybe also went. It has been around in the writing world for such a long time.

Zibby: It’s so expensive, though. We would have to find a promotion or something.

Katherine: Exactly. Maybe just let us do it. We could ask Hotel du Cap. Please, let us .

Zibby: I’m not even kidding.

Katherine: Listen, that would be a dream come true. I can’t even imagine. It is such a gorgeous, beautiful place. The service and everyone was just fantastic and unbelievably nice there too.

Zibby: Maybe there’s some way. Maybe they’ll be interested in US book lovers or something. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Katherine: That is a great question. Gosh, I have seen so much. I will say that if you really want to do it, you have to learn how to deal with rejection. It is my number-one advice because it is the one universal constant thing that will happen. No matter where you are in your career, you’re going to get rejection. It is so difficult. I wish I could say, and this is how you deal with it. This is the step, and then you’ll be totally fine. It really is such a journey. It’s so different for so many people. I would say learning how to deal with rejection. Then I would say it takes so much grit. It’s so difficult. It’s so much endurance. If that’s something you want to do, we are all rooting for you because we all need more writers, I think especially female writers. It’s something that we all need. To read more new perspectives and diverse perspectives I think is great. Yes, learning to deal with rejection. If you know how, please tell me because that’s something I also am learning on this journey.

Zibby: I’m all about dosing myself in vats of chocolate-covered almonds and lots of tears and chocolate.

Katherine: Yes, you have to vent. You got to feel the feelings. Writers, you got to feel the feelings. It is very hard. It’s endurance. There’s also luck too, which is always the hardest thing to hear. So much of it is also luck.

Zibby: Timing, luck, I know. It’s a people business. From one day to the next, winds shift. You never know. I left that on a very negative note. I didn’t mean it that way.

Katherine: No, no, no, I think that’s great. We’ll add one more thing. I once heard a writer say this, and I think this is true. Nothing will feel as good as the writing. There’s the business side of it. You can’t control any of it, how it’s received. All of the business part of it, the capitalist part of it, you can’t, but you can control your writing. That will be the best part of your job, is the writing, which I hope is a freeing thing. On the good days, it’s the best job ever, when you have those good writing days.

Zibby: Although, those can be torture too.

Katherine: Yes, exactly. Then it’s also the hardest.

Zibby: It was so fun to talk to you. I hope we meet in person. I’m not even kidding about the retreat. I want to figure out if there’s any way to do that. That would be so much fun.

Katherine: Oh, my god. I feel like if there’s anyone that can do it, it would be you. Please, please tell me.

Zibby: I’ll give it a shot.

Katherine: I love Los Angeles. I’ve been meaning to go down ever since I’ve given birth. I got to go down. I love it.

Zibby: Come anytime. We’ll do an event for your book. Is there a paperback coming out or what?

Katherine: Yes, there is a paperback coming out. I was just emailing with my agent. I’m not sure exactly when, but it is coming out.

Zibby: Come do an event for the paperback.

Katherine: That would be perfect. I love LA. I actually lived there for a year. I lived on the East Side. I know there’s a whole thing. I don’t know enough about LA, but I know people get very strong opinions.

Zibby: I’m on the of LA, East Side of New York. I don’t even know. Thanks so much. This was really fun.

Katherine: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.


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