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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Talking to Author Katie Lee About Love, Friendship, and Betrayal

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Katie Lee

Photo credit: Patrick Cline

Groundswell is Katie Lee's first novel. This romantic story is about a struggling young screenwriter, Emma Guthrie, who is suddenly thrust into a world of wealth and celebrity when she falls in love with a dashing actor. Emma marries and seems to be living a fairy tale life until she accidentally learns her husband, Garrett Walker, has been sleeping with her friend.

The couple's bitter divorce plays out very publicly in the media as Emma's self-esteem and trust are sapped by this unthinkable betrayal -- by both her husband and friend (somewhat reminiscent of the true story of Shania Twain). Emma retreats to a small town in Mexico to heal, and unexpectedly discovers an inner strength that allows her to rebuild her life and find a deeper type of love.

While the story is fictional, it offers an interesting glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. At the same time, the book also grapples with the real issues women face -- famous or not -- as they search for lovers, friends, and their sense of selves. I found the book hard to put down once I started it. It's a great book to get lost in at the beach or in your backyard this summer.

A little bit about the author: Katie Lee is an accomplished cookbook author and food critic. She's also the food and lifestyle contributor for The Early Show and has appeared on Oprah, The Rachel Ray Show, The Nate Berkus Show, CBS Sunday Morning, Extra, and Iron Chef America. She also writes a regular column for Cosmopolitan. Katie Lee met "Piano Man" Billy Joel when she was only 21 years old and married him two years later. After five years, the couple had a high-profile separation and Katie's own career took off.

I was pleased that Katie agreed to discuss how her own life and friendships influenced her book:

Irene: Betrayal (both by a husband and a best friend) is a powerful theme in Groundswell. Are there any particular reasons why it plays such a prominent role in your first novel?

Katie Lee: Betrayal is one of my biggest fears. Betrayal happens on many different levels all the time, and there is no worse feeling than realizing someone you thought you could trust has gone against you. I picked it as a theme for Groundswell because I think everyone can relate, and what could be worse than a husband who cheats with a best friend?

Irene: Why did you make the leap from cookbooks to novels?

Katie Lee: I have always wanted to write a novel, and I tried many times but could never find the right story. One day, I was walking on the beach, and the idea for Groundswell hit me. I went into the house and started writing and never stopped.

Irene: Have you ever been betrayed by a girlfriend? If so, can you talk about it a bit and about the feelings it engendered?

Katie Lee: Oh, yes, unfortunately, but I think we all have. I once had a "best friend" share private stories that I had told her in confidence to another mutual friend. I think the worst part, aside from the actual betrayal of trust, is that this experience affected my future relationships, as I was hesitant to be as open with my other friends.

Irene: How old were you when you met Billy Joel? How were your life circumstances similar or different from Emma's?

Katie Lee: I met my ex-husband when I was 21. Like any author, I've drawn inspiration from my own life, and my friends' lives, but it is fiction. I have been a part of situations, some glitzy and glamorous, that you just cannot make up, so some of that is in there. The story of Emma and Garrett is their own; thank god it's not mine!

Irene: Do you think friends play different roles when a woman is married as opposed to when she is single or divorced? Were you able to maintain your friendships during a high-profile celebrity marriage? Were there any special challenges?

Katie Lee: I think friendships, true friendships, morph as our lives change into what we need them to be. I am very lucky to have some really great friends, who have been there for me during my ups and downs. I will say that being a part of a celebrity marriage makes finding new friends more difficult, as some people have ulterior motives. I had to become much more perceptive, and figure out who wanted to be my friend for me, and not because of who I was married to.

Irene: In the end of the book, Emma derives support from her closest friends that allows her to grow and find herself? Is there a parallel you can talk about from your own experience?

Katie Lee: I have a great group of friends that rallied around me when I was going through my divorce. But, like Emma, I think we both "found" ourselves on our own, making a connection with nature. For Emma, it was when she went off to Mexico by herself and learned to surf. For me, it was the summer I spent alone in the Hamptons, also learning to surf. Surfing and the ocean were big inspirations for the story, and I thought a lot of the E.E. Cummings quote: "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea."

Irene: What is the relationship between your work and your friendships? Do you make close friends at work or do your close friends work for you, as did Grace in Groundswell? Do you think that work and friendship is a volatile mix?

Katie Lee: I've made some real friendships with people I work with, like at The Early Show and at Cosmopolitan, and I love the women I work with at Gallery books. I don't have anyone who works for me though (except a housekeeper who comes in one day a week), so I can't say that I have friendships with people who work for me, but I'd imagine that's a fine line to walk.

Irene: Do you have any other thoughts to share on female friendships?

Katie Lee: When it comes to friendships, it's quality over quantity. I'd much rather have a few really close friends than a bunch of acquaintances.

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Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship lessons.