Zibby is joined by Jane Green, 18-time New York Times bestselling author who has pivoted from books and started a podcast network dedicated to fully-immersive audio dramas for women. Jane talks about Rainbow Girl, her six-episode series about a ‘70s rock band and its groupies (it’s set in the same world as her latest novel Sister Stardust), and the unique challenges of scriptwriting for audio and managing an entire production team. She also hints at the big-name authors she has recruited for the next few series…


Jane Green: I’m completely delighted that Zibby Owens is joining us today to have a little chat about Rainbow Girl and some of the inspiration behind it. For those of you who have listened, you may want to know some of the backstory. No one better than Zibby to talk to about this. Zibby, welcome.

Zibby Owens: I am so honored that you selected me to talk to you about this. Thanks, Jane.

Jane: Pleasure.

Zibby: How did we get here? What made you decide to start not only a podcast network, but to take Rainbow Girl and make it into your very first show?

Jane: The podcast network came first. I was approached by a man that I’ve known for a very long time who was a very big deal in the radio world and then in the podcast world. He founded and built Cadence13 before selling it a couple of years ago. He came to me two years ago and said that he had this idea for fiction on podcast. Would I be interested in joining him as a partner and building a network creating fiction for women? As I started to think about this, I realized that one of the things I absolutely loved as a child were radio plays. I grew up listening to them all the time, and in the car. I remember as a teenager, even, not wanting to get out of the car because I was so immersed in these plays. I thought, what if I did a modern version where I serialize them? Of course, I realized that I had this phenomenal network of friends who are authors. We’ve all got stories in drawers that we never got around to or didn’t have time for. I thought, if I start with one and then I start going to people I know and asking them for an idea, for an outline, I can attach a scriptwriter and get this developed into a six- to eight-part series that is acted by a cast of actors, fully soundscaped, completely immersive.

I thought, let’s see how this goes. I’ll write the first one. I had already dived into writing Sister Stardust, which was set in the late sixties and biographical fiction. I did so much research into the Rolling Stones for Sister Stardust because they were really wrapped up in Marrakesh in the sixties and with the Gettys, who I was writing about. One of the rabbit holes I went down was a Keith Richards rabbit hole. Keith Richards had this crazy relationship with this very beautiful, very brilliant, very chaotic woman who was a model/actress in the sixties and seventies called Anita Pallenberg. There’s just one crazy story after another. I found one particular story of when they bought an old farm called Frog Hollow in South Salem, New York, in the late seventies that was so unbelievable that I just thought, I need to borrow this story and expand. That became Rainbow Girl.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. How did you go about writing the script? You hired a scriptwriter, or you wrote it yourself?

Jane: I’d started writing it myself. I wrote the first three episodes myself. I kept giving it to my team. They kept sending back notes. The truth is scriptwriting is a very, very different skill set. I will say now that I spend all my time reading scripts or listening to audio dramas, I actually now feel that — I am, in fact, writing one by myself. At that time, I said to the team, “Listen –” They were all being so nice and so polite. I said, “Look, if I had commissioned this from someone and this is what they delivered, I wouldn’t accept it. I recognize my deficiencies.” I think most novelists can write a script, but there’s a very big difference between a script and a great script. I needed this to be great. I ended up bringing in this really talented young writer, Tommy Lombardi. He just punched it up and made it very quick and brought excitement and drama and really did a wonderful job of taking my words and making them much better.

Zibby: Is there a different skill set in evaluating or writing for audio versus screen?

Jane: That’s a great question because that’s something I think I wouldn’t have thought of at first. In fact, even as I was writing Rainbow Girl, I think I was writing it more for screen not really understanding the differences for audio. With audio, because you’re relying solely on your imagination, you want to keep the cast smaller because you don’t want to confuse the listener. You also want to place all of the situations and scenes in a place that already has audio. In fact, one of the things I was reading — I think this is such a brilliant exercise. They said, as a practice, tell a story, set a scene with no dialogue, just using sound effects to tell the story. Things like kettles whistling can be very ominous. You can have all sorts of echoey, shady conversations in a stairwell. If you think about where you’re setting those scenes, it can really add to the story, or detract.

Zibby: Has this made you listen now in a totally different way to other scripted podcasts?

Jane: Yes, I listen in a totally different way. I also am very clear now on the difference between a great script and a script. Whereas in the beginning, I didn’t know in the same way. I know this with novels. I’ve been writing novels for twenty-seven years. It’s in my DNA. I can take somebody else’s novel and tell you exactly what needs to be done and what’s wrong with it because it’s just in my DNA. I feel like I’m nowhere near that with scripts, but I’m definitely getting much more comfortable and beginning to understand what a great script is.

Zibby: For Rainbow Girl, did you personally cast all the actors?

Jane: I have a producer, Garet Scott, who is absolutely joyous to work with. She did the shortlist and found all the actors. I then came in and picked from the shortlist that I was given. It’s so hard. You’re hearing these tapes. It’s really hard to know how people will be. I will say, actually, we’ve done a second show that comes out in December with Jenna Blum, The Key of Love. That’s set in 1943 in Boston. It’s a wonderful World War II historical romance. The actor who plays the main character, the man, Francis Scott Key — he plays a composer — what’s so funny is that hearing his voice, I knew instantly he was who I wanted. He has this wonderful, patrician-like, old-world voice. That was how my husband’s grandparents spoke. I’m mad for them. Oh, I love your shoes. I’m mad for them. He had one of these voices. Then I actually ended up going into the studio during the day that he was recording. He’s this young, hip actor who’s got tattoos and speaks nothing like that. That’s when you realize, my god, these people are so talented.

Zibby: Wow. Of course, then you’re like, where is the old patrician guy, and why is he not just trying to be himself?

Jane: I’m not sure that there are too many of them. That old Boston/New York accent, which is very English — it’s almost more English than it is American. I think that’s really gone. You don’t hear that anymore.

Zibby: It’s true. Jane, you could have just decided to do a podcast like this yourself and be invested in one. Instead, you are partnering on the entire business. Tell me about that decision. This is a big departure from novel writing.

Jane: It is, and it isn’t. I will say that before I switched to an agent in America, which was ten years ago, I ran my own business. UK agenting is very different to American agenting. In the UK, my agent, he was my mentor, my guide, my teacher, my friend. We made every decision together. Nothing was discussed that I didn’t know about or I wasn’t in on the call. If he had a call and I wasn’t on it, he’d phone me up and say, “This is the offer. What do you think?” We’d discuss it. I’d say, “I think we should do this.” He might say, “That’s a great idea.” He might say, “That’s a terrible idea.” Either way, we collaborated. I had a partner. When I switched to an American agent ten years ago — I wish I’d known this at the time. It was the single-worst decision I made in my career because what I found — I’m not suggesting this is true of everybody. What I found was that I was immediately infantilized and kept out . They didn’t want me to be involved in my career. They didn’t want to have a partner. There was no transparency. I stopped being in charge of my career.

I’d done it really well. I love the business side of things. I actually have something of an aptitude for business. Although, I’m also understanding how much I don’t know and how much I have to learn. The last ten years, I watched my career change without having any control over it whatsoever, which I hadn’t been used to. As publishing changed and I felt that I really wasn’t supported, I was going through the motions, actually. I’m a storyteller. I’m always going to be a storyteller. I’m a writer. It just felt that I was working so hard doing everything myself with very little support. I was just ready for a new challenge and also feeling very strong that at the age of fifty-four, actually, I’m nowhere near ready to start hanging up my work shoes. I’m just getting started. By the way, Martha Stewart didn’t have success with Entertaining — she only became famous in her fifties through publishing her book, Entertaining. I keep thinking, Martha did it. I’m going to reinvent myself too.

Also, I love collaboration. I think I’ve been terribly lonely writing books and working by myself. I adore working with other people. I was a little nervous because I can be, certainly with people who have worked for me in the past, I can be horrible to work for. I never lose my temper. I’m not a shouter, but I’m a micromanager. I’ve had to learn how to let go of that and how to manage people. I’m loving working with really talented teams of people and very, very much want everybody that I work with to feel empowered and to celebrate them. I’m having to sort of take my ego out of the equation and understand that holding people to my standards, that’s about ego. It’s about me. It puts myself in the middle. Actually, this has nothing to do with me. This is about creating the best product we can create and working with people who like working together. Ultimately, at the end of the day, people work with people they like. I have great equity in the book business, which is really helping this. Now I want to continue that equity in the podcast world.

Zibby: I did happen to go to business school, but I feel like management is not something that we all, necessarily, learn enough. I feel like I have the same thing. I want to be in control of every little thing. It’s hard to let go if you have a clear vision too. It’s hard. It should be like, okay, you’ve turned thirty, now it’s time for your tune-up. Now you’re forty. There’s another class you should take. Managing people in all aspects is a challenge, but it’s so important.

Jane: It is. It’s all relationships, whether it’s management, whether it’s being a wife, whether it’s being a mother. It’s all relationships. It’s all communication. I feel so strongly that we should have lessons in school about how to have relationships with people, how to be in a friendship, how to communicate, how to say what you mean, mean what you say, not say it mean, just how to be in the world. There’s no blueprint. Most of us are messing up every step of the way. If we’re lucky, we gain enough wisdom to not only recognize that, but to have enough humility to listen honestly to people that we trust around us. I think that is crucial. I feel enormously lucky because I’ve landed in the right place with a team of people who are — we’re all teaching one another. It’s just wonderful to be in that situation at this stage and also building something new in the podcast world, which is the Wild West. This doesn’t exist. There’s a little bit of scripted drama, but it tends to be either for millennials or it’s very genre. It’s sci-fi/fantasy, which is great. I definitely want to be doing that in the future. There’s very little great stories for women. This is all female-led, female-driven. I’m looking to create great, immersive stories for women. I can’t listen to audiobooks, but I don’t really have time to read anymore. I still want story. This, where it’s acted and sound effects, to me, is much more immersive than an audiobook. On an audiobook, if I don’t like the narrator’s voice, I’m buggered. That’s it. There’s too much exposition in fiction for me to listen to. I just get bored. Plays and audio dramas, those, I can listen to.

Zibby: How are you working with authors? Are you going to authors you know and saying, “Would you like to write one of these?” Are you saying, “Do you have an idea for a story? Then we’ll get a writer for you”?

Jane: It’s actually both. The truth is it is such a different skill set that if authors want to write their own scripts, I’m happy for them to do it knowing that we may well have to bring in a script doctor to punch it up at the end. There’s that. There’s also the model of going to authors and saying, “Hey, we’ve all got those stories in drawers or lurking in files on our desktop, the stories that we woke up one night and had a brilliant idea. We wrote it down. Then for whatever reason, we didn’t have time. Life got in the way. We didn’t get around to it. We can attach writers who can work with you,” or whatever works for the author. We’ve got various different models. We’ve got some really big names coming to you with some really great shows next year.

Zibby: Can you share any of them? Are they all top-secret?

Jane: I can’t yet, but we have a fantastic psychological thriller from somebody that you will all know. That is something I’m very excited about. We have a wonderful romance, which features three of the top romance authors in the country. We’re doing an original scripted drama centered around a book club. We’ve got all kinds of projects going on.

Zibby: It’s so exciting. What is the listening length goal for each of your projects? Is there one?

Jane: It’s about half an hour. Each episode is about half an hour. We’re developing shows that are anywhere from six to ten episodes. We’re also doing some scripted shorts. I have some authors who are fronting shows where they are writing a scripted short story, but they are also recruiting other friends within that genre to write a script. Every week, there’ll be a different short play, basically, around a theme, psychological thrillers, relationships. Right now, the feedback we’re getting is the sweet spot is where we are, which is half an hour. We’re learning all the time and so open to feedback. Who knows? We may change.

Zibby: I love how you’re bringing in such a wide cast of characters and all these stories to everybody else. It’s really amazing. Anything else with Rainbow Girl that people who have just listened might not know? Were there any secrets? Were there any missteps that you had to correct? Any drama internally? Anything that you cut out? Any behind-the-scenes intel you can share?

Jane: Happily, there’s no internal drama. We did have an original soundtrack, an original song, created for the show. I don’t know how this person managed to do it. They managed to create something that sounds just like the early Rolling Stones meets Led Zeppelin. My son is a musician. I did call my son at one point and say, “Darling, do you think you could just compose something quickly that sounds a bit like the Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’?” He’s like, “Mom, if I could do that, I would’ve left university long ago.” I’m asking him to create this extraordinary track in a minute. It’s set in the late seventies. It’s outside of New York. It’s set in Sleepy Hollow, but it’s all Studio 54. I went down a big Studio 54 rabbit hole as well and was seriously thinking at one time of writing a book about Studio 54. It’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The real story behind it, different people died. It was a not-dissimilar story, but different people died. It was at Keith Richards’ house in South Salem. I did use the story as inspiration. I’m still fascinated by, not rock and roll today, but rock and roll when rock and roll was edgy and glamorous and crazy. The women were beautiful, and the groupies. It was just this extraordinary world that I find absolutely fascinating. Who knows? There may be more stories from me on this theme in the future.

Zibby: One of these days, you’re just going to pick up and run off with a rock band, is what’s going to happen.

Jane: That’s also entirely possible, yes. The thing is, my voice is okay. It’s not great. What I lack in talent, I make up for it with enthusiasm. I think that my biggest issue is I don’t have the stamina. I’d do one great performance — I don’t know, maybe you’re suggesting I’d run off as a groupie, which is far more likely. Although, I’d be the worst groupie in the world because I’d never want to have sex. I’d just want to get in bed in my nightie with a book and a cat. I’d be a terrible groupie. I’m sorry. No, no sex for me.

Zibby: That’s so funny. I can’t speak to your singing voice, but your podcast voice is amazing. I loved hearing your voice in the scripted show as an actress or actor, as they would say. Are you planning on repeat performances of yourself as narrator or character?

Jane: Possibly, but not as a standard. I wrote myself into this script as a music journalist narrator writing this tell-all book about the Wide-Eyed Boys, the band that features in both Sister Stardust and Rainbow Girl. Because Emerald Audio is my network — I adore This American Life. Actually, my secret crush for years has been Ira Glass. I fell in love with his voice. When he does the intro and the outro on This American Life, it just makes me happy. I feel warm. I think that this is my goal. I won’t necessarily play the narrator, but I will be voicing the ads. We have BetterHelp as our sponsor for Rainbow Girl. I think I will be voicing the intro and outro to every show.

Zibby: Interesting. I love it. Is there anyone on your wish list for what kind of story or if there’s an author you want or anything?

Jane: Yes. I really, really want Lisa Jewell. I really want Lisa Jewell to write something for me. Lisa and I have been friends for twenty-seven years. We were baby authors together. We wrote our first books at the same time. We have the same publishing team. We were neighbors. I know she’s listening to Rainbow Girl, but she’s so busy. I’m like, “Please, please, please.” I do have a few others. I would love Adriana Trigiani to do something for me. It’s really lovely now, actually, because I’ve been approaching people, and I’m starting to have people come to me, which is great. I love good stories. I just want to bring more people and to allow the busy women to multitask. That’s really what this is doing. It’s just as soap operas started in the fifties for the 1950s housewife who was so busy cooking and cleaning. She couldn’t stop to watch her favorite television show. They created radio dramas. They were sponsored by soap companies. That’s how soap operas became a thing. Here we are full circle seventy years later but with today’s woman also so busy for different reasons. She’s not necessarily cooking and cleaning. Although, she might be. She’s juggling kids and jobs and side hustles and friends and everything else and exercise. Who has the time? None of us has the time. There’s nothing better for me than just tuning into a great story while I’m going about my day.

Zibby: I love it. Moms don’t have time to read books. Moms don’t have time to do anything.

Jane: Speaking of which, now is the time to shout out that Zibby is the host of “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” which I’ve been lucky enough to be on a couple of times. Wonderful podcast. You should all be listening. Zibby, thank you so much for joining us and for asking me these questions.

Zibby: Thank you for having me. It’s an honor.


RAINBOW GIRL by Jane Green

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