If You Were Here
Great writers tend to write about what they know. And national best-selling author and proud Lake Forester, Jen Lancaster, is no exception. With her first foray into fiction after numerous memoirs, Lancaster took inspiration from her recent move to the North Shore to write If You Were Here.
“While this book is definitely fiction,” explains Lancaster, “it was a book that I had to write because of where I am in my life right now. We’ve just moved from the city. We’re renovating this old house. I knew and understood the characters I wanted to write about.”
This is exactly the talent that has earned Lancaster so many fans. She first began writing when she found herself unexpectedly unemployed. Detailing her experiences in her blog, jennsylvania.com, her acerbic wit won the blog a massive following, and Bitter Is the New Black, Lancaster’s first memoir, was born. Four memoirs later, Lancaster is a New York Times best-selling author.
In her long-awaited fiction debut, If You Were Here follows Amish-zombie-teen-romance
author Mia and her husband Mac (and their pets) through the alternately frustrating, exciting, terrifying—but always hilarious—process of buying and renovating their first home. Set in the same Chicago suburbs as John Hughes’ 80’s movie classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, Mia and Mac get caught up in wars with the homeowners’ association, meet some less-than-friendly neighbors, and are joined by a funny cast of supporting characters, including an ex-landlady who has a strong resemblance to a certain Hollywood celebutante (who shall remain nameless, but let’s just say her last name is the same as many hotels). To top it all off, they end up buying the same exact house that the dreamy Jake Ryan “lived in” in John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles. As Mia and Mac struggle to adapt to their new surroundings, they will discover whether or not their marriage is strong enough to survive months of DIY renovations.
“While there are definite similarities between Mia and me,” explains Lancaster, “Mia is much slower to escalate. She’s a much nicer version of me. But unlike Mia, I LOVE the suburbs. I LOVE Lake Forest. I’m never leaving!”
Those who live in Lake Forest are in for a special treat when they read Lancaster’s newest book. While she’s careful to change street names, her ability to take you to where the story is set makes it easy for the locals to figure out the who, the what, and the where she’s writing about. North Shore readers will also appreciate Lancaster’s attention to detail as she weaves Lake Forest’s strict policies about “signage” into the storyline.
When asked if she’s worried that she might lose some of her fans with her move into the fiction arena, Lancaster seems confident that she won’t. “I hope If You Were Here will encourage non-fiction readers to try something new. But I worked hard to pick relatable themes so that even my non-fiction readers will be able to connect with the characters,” says Lancaster. Readers will also be able to make a connection to Lancaster. In a creative use of footnotes throughout the novel, it’s almost as if Lancaster is commenting on her own story as it unfolds, engaging her readers in a conversation that her fans will find familiar.
Now expressing herself through the characters in her book, Lancaster admits it’s sometimes difficult to separate herself from those she’s writing about. “At one point, I was writing about how Mac was obsessed with tools and how he’d come home every day with a new benchsaw or power screwdriver. I started to get really mad at my own husband,” says Lancaster. “My husband got it and didn’t take it personally. He knew I was working.”
Next in the queue for Lancaster are two more books that will follow the If You Were Here storyline. Her main characters are likely to become city dwellers once again who dabble in some local politics. “Mac and Mia don’t have the same experience in the suburbs that my husband and I have had. After living in Lake Forest, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love that we have space,” Lancaster adds.
These days on breaks from promoting If You Were Here, Lancaster finds herself a regular visitor to Highwood’s antique and consignment shops. “We bought a traditional house and I’m filling it with beautiful, traditional things—one piece at a time,” she says.
While taking her time to figure out what her life will be in Lake Forest, Lancaster finds great joy in appreciating the suburb with an outsider’s perspective. “I love that I see women wearing Lilly Pulitzer at the grocery store. It’s who they are and I think it’s so charming,” says Lancaster with a laugh. “I couldn’t be happier.”