The Good Neighbor : A Conversation With Author Amy Sue Nathan

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Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Good Neighbor, brings us the story of Elizabeth aka Izzy Lane and her introduction to the worlds of Internet celebrity and dating after divorce. Set in Philadelphia, Nathan's book really captures Lane's struggle with moving on after her divorce. We talked about the secrets we keep, what makes Philadelphia awesome, and how imagination is the writer's best friend.

Tell us about The Good Neighbor; how did you first come to know Izzy Lane?

I met Izzy Lane when I thought "what if..." Then, Izzy became near and dear to my heart for two reasons. First, she did the opposite of something I did. While we both started blogging anonymously after our divorces, I did it as a way to tell the truth. And I did! I told some funny and obnoxious dating stories, I wrote about my kids, I wrote about motherhood and life. Izzy used her blog as a way to disguise her life, not to recount it. Izzy lied on her blog, and then she continued to lie. In real life, my true blog stories led to writing essays for magazines and newspapers. No lying going on there! It was so much fun to flip life around and really give Izzy good reasons to make up stories, and get herself into a lot more pickles than I ever have. (Thank goodness!) Second, and probably what makes Izzy near and dear to me, is that , I based Izzy's old neighborhood on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood I grew up in, and where I lived until I was twenty-six. That street, and that neighborhood is ingrained in me, and I could easily have been one of Izzy's neighbors. Maybe I was...

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What do you hope The Good Neighbor says about secrets?

I think the story says "be careful." Be careful what you tell, and be careful what you don't tell. Mostly I think The Good Neighbor says BE YOURSELF--because a secret or lie that hides who you are might feel good at first, but at its core, it's the worst kind of secret. It robs others of the opportunity to know you. Izzy learns that lesson well in the book.

I see that you live in Chicago while The Good Neighbor is set in Philadelphia. As a fan of Philadelphia, I must ask--what do you think makes Philly great?

That's easy! Soft pretzels, Butterscotch Krimpets, and growing up on a one-way street where you knew everyone and everything by heart.

I lived in Philadelphia until I was twenty-six, it's all I knew. I went to elementary school, Hebrew School, junior high, high school, and I went to Temple University while living in the house I grew up in and commuting to campus for four years. Then I worked in Center City (and wore sneakers with my business suits when I rode the El, bus, and subway) until I married and moved away. And, while I haven't lived in Philly since 1990, I am planning to move back in a few years!

While The Good Neighbor is set in Philadelphia, it's not set in Center City, nor is it sprinkled with historical landmarks. What it does offer the reader, I hope, is the real experience of being part of a working middle class neighborhood where kids played in the middle of the street (and survived to tell the tale), and where everyone lived there for as long as you did, or longer. The Good Neighbor doesn't chronicle Izzy's childhood, but growing up on that street shaped her, as it did me.

It's a little funny that the very thing that gets Izzy Lane in trouble, her great imagination, is what helps you to succeed as a writer. What do you think it take to be a women's fiction writer? What inspires your imagination?

Real people and the funny, happy, sad, and wacky things they do or say inspire me. I'll never tell who inspired Mrs. Feldman and her story - but she and the life she lived were a combination of several people I know (now everyone I know will read more carefully). I usually take something or someone I disagree with or don't understand and I flip it around and make it right, and that's what inspires story details, plot, subplots. I also take something I admire of someone else's and make it my own by giving it to a character. It can be as simple as a haircut or as complicated as a career choice. My characters spur my stories, and they appear ready to tell me what's what. I have learned to listen to everything they say.