Bestselling author Kaira Rouda joins Zibby to talk about two of her novels, The Next Wife and Somebody’s Home, both of which she wrote during the pandemic lockdown. Kaira shares how she took the advice she gave to other women in her career prior to writing and became the novelist she always wanted to be, what inspired her to make the shift to domestic thrillers, and what advice she gives to her children about their own writing.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kaira. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss both Somebody’s Home and The Next Wife. You’re just cranking out the books over here.

Kaira Rouda: I know. It’s kind of a problem. I think it’s a pandemic problem. My kids all came home. We were just in here. I would come up to my office and write about other people’s stories to get away from it.

Zibby: If you can’t move your body, you might as well get your mind out in other places. Let’s start with Somebody’s Home. Why don’t you tell listeners what it’s about? It’s coming out January 18th, correct? Still the same?

Kaira: Yeah. That’s funny, I haven’t even really talked about it yet. The whole story starts — it’s centered around a house, somebody’s home. One family’s moving out. Another family is moving in. Everybody has their own reasons for leaving and staying and changing their lives around. It was during the pandemic. It was the whole notion of, home should be a safe place. What happens when it’s not? There’s a twentysomething guy who has grown up in this house. He lives in the carriage house. He doesn’t care who moves in. He’s decided it’s going to be his home. I don’t even know how to describe it for you.

Zibby: You’re right, he does not want to move. He’s not happy at all that his stepparent and parent and his half-siblings are moving out. They’re in a new home. It has no room for him. It doesn’t matter that he’s in his twenties. It’s a rude awakening, nonetheless. He’s not a happy camper, it sounds like.

Kaira: Not a happy camper. It really was that time during the pandemic where you were at your house and thinking about, what if you didn’t have a safe place to be in?

Zibby: I also thought it was funny, too, in this book when you said — wait, I just had it one second ago. I’ll just read this little section. You said, “And she loves to play the victim, and for sure, she’s had a great experience with that over the years.” I’m not going to curse, but you said, “My dad’s a something a lot of the time. Look, honey, I’m getting a divorce. I bought my first house, and I’m going to make it fabulous. Can you please cheer me on just a little?” Then you say, “Are you trying for Real Housewives again? I ask. Dad kept her from doing the reality TV show last time. Now there’s nothing to stop her.” I also thought this was so funny because Jill Zarin is the one who introduced us, so this is perfect.

Kaira: My little nod to Jill. I know. She’s so great.

Zibby: Nod to Jill.

Kaira: I just got to see her. It probably triggered some Desperate Housewives or Real Housewives kind of thing. She’s so great and so open and out there in the world. I think that’s what people see. My character wants to be that person too.

Zibby: I love it. Also, why don’t you plug The Next Wife as well? You’ve got so many books. behind you, there’s so many. Anyway, Next Wife.

Kaira: The Next Wife, this story, I had fun with it because it’s a story of two strong women and the man that’s in between them. It’s the first wife and the second wife. What I wanted to do with it, a typical trope, was see if perhaps the power could stay with the first wife in some ways. Kate is really strong. She’s created a business. She and John, her husband, had built it and run it. Then everything’s going perfect, they’re launching an IPO, except for the fact that John has fallen in love with his administrative assistant and married her. Her name’s Tish. That’s the wrinkle in Kate’s otherwise perfect —

Zibby: — Always a wrinkle when your husband falls in love somebody else. Definitely, a wrinkle.

Kaira: When you meet them all, they’re all together in the same conference room about to announce the IPO. There’s a lot of tension there, let’s just say.

Zibby: Interesting. Wait, let’s back up. How did you get started writing, particularly this kind of book and all of it? Where did you grow up? Where are you from? How did we get here?

Kaira: What is my story? I’ll try to make it a short story. I grew up all over the place. My dad was a professor. I was born in married student housing at Northwestern where he got his PhD. Then my sister was born at USC. My brother was born at UT Austin. We got our first pet at Harvard. Then we ended up at Ohio State. I feel like I’ve lived everywhere. I went to college at Vanderbilt in the Southeast. I’m a person who’s lived everywhere. I always wanted to be an author from third grade on when I wrote to Robert McCloskey. He was Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings. I wrote to him. He wrote back and said, “Good luck to you. I’m an illustrator, not an author.” That kind of illustrates the publishing career.

Zibby: I did that too. I wrote letters to authors too.

Kaira: Did you?

Zibby: Yeah. Now people can just go on Instagram, but yes.

Kaira: I know, it’s great. They’re like celebrities to me. Then I went to college for English, but I never had the courage to get a byline, write anything for anybody else. I always wrote for myself. Went into journalism and got my first byline. Kind of got the confidence there. Then I always wanted to be Darrin Stephens of Bewitched as well. I didn’t want to be the magic person. I wanted to be the one creating. I went into the advertising world, ended up vice president of marketing for all that glass ceiling stuff, super fun, for a national carpeting cleaning company. Then had to sue them for gender discrimination and sexual harassment. While I was on the sidelines, I started finally trying to write my novel, which is a long process. My husband and I started a business then and built it, a franchise business, to twenty-two states in residential real estate. I was able to show real estate people that women make or control ninety-one percent of all purchase decisions in the housing space. Back then, that was eye-popping, even though the entire industry was run by women. Women were sixty percent of the brokers, but all the bosses were still men. I would go around and use consumer terms like she and her. People would be like, what? It was nice. It was fun to change the mindset of an industry. We created Real Living and then sold it to Brookfield in Canada. Then they changed all the GMAC franchises to Real Living. All of a sudden, it was this huge brand. Then they didn’t need me anymore because I’m in branding. Then I finally wrote my first novel.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s quite .

Kaira: Actually, I wrote a business book first for women entrepreneurs. That was called Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs. Then I went on a little speaking tour. I would talk to women and say, it’s time to put your passion into action, make your dreams come true. I realized I hadn’t done that yet, so that’s when I started writing. Sorry, that was long.

Zibby: No, it was not long. That’s great. You wrote what you needed to hear yourself. I feel like people often do that. They say, write the book you need. There you go.

Kaira: I know. I think so, even though I never thought about writing a business book. That’s what my dad did. Everything turned out great. Of course, it was a seamless road to publishing. Everything went perfectly. No, I’m kidding. Then I’ve done everything. I’ve done hybrid publishing, self-publishing. I’ve done it all. I think that’s part of the process too. It’s been a great journey of learning. When you see it from all different sides, you also build your knowledge base and with what’s right for you and what’s a good fit. All in all, I think things do work out the way they’re supposed to. I’ve been super happy writing domestic suspense because it’s just what I really like. I realized the first novel I ever wrote was domestic suspense or whatever this is called, psychological thrillers. I kind of found myself in women’s fiction. I liked that as well. My first three novels were women’s fiction. While my agent was reviewing this sweet women’s fiction series that we were working on, the idea for Best Day Ever popped in my head. I wrote Paul and his creepy character. I sent it to her two weeks later. It came out really fast. I’m like, “I got this idea.” She’s like, “Oh, I don’t read those.” I’m like, oh, no.

Zibby: What?

Kaira: Yeah. Then I sent it to my beta reader. She’s like, “This is the best book you’ve written. You’ve got to make her read it.” Then I went back and begged my agent to read it. She did. She loved it. Then I got my first big publishing deal, which was really fun.

Zibby: Do you still work with the same agent?

Kaira: No. That’s the other thing. My agents now love this space and domestic suspense. I think, again, it all works out the way it’s supposed to be. I think it’s important to have an agent who loves what you love too, likes to read what you write, likes that space and appreciates it. I’m really happy that I have that now.

Zibby: Good. Yes, you need an agent in your corner, for sure. Helps when they like to read what you —

Kaira: — When they like to read the kind of books you write.

Zibby: That helps. How long does it take for you to write a book?

Kaira: My friend said, “You should say a lifetime because it’s all your experiences.” I’m a fast writer. I’ll get a draft in a few months, usually, down. Then that makes people go, oh, that’s weird. Now I’m like, I don’t know.

Zibby: I don’t think it’s weird. It’s okay.

Kaira: It depends on the story too. Somebody’s Home, for example, just burst into my head. The characters were there. Don’t tell my agents, I’m a pantser even though now I have to pretend to be a plotter because they wanted to see an outline. I’ll usually just write the whole book and then go back and outline it and see if they like it. That’s how we’re working right now. Somebody’s Home just came out really fast and furious. Then other books like The Next Wife — she was in my head, both the characters, first Kate, the first wife. I thought it would be just her perspective the whole way through. Then Tish is like, no, no, I have some things to say, the second wife. Then the daughter, Ashlyn, wanted to have some words as well. She’s a strong woman. Then through the process, my agents didn’t think Ashlyn needed to have a say, the daughter, and so they cut her out. Then on submission, my publisher came back, my editor, and she’s like, “You know, we really need to hear from the daughter.” I’m like, “I agree.” Things like that happen where the whole story idea was there and in the world, but the process it goes through can take a while.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh. What books have downloaded themselves fully formed into your head lately? What are you working on now? What are you toying with?

Kaira: Right now, I am in developmental edits for my book that comes out next November, soon.

Zibby: This coming? No? What?

Kaira: November 2022. I told you this is a pandemic creativity boom. This one is called The Widow’s Mandate. I’m working on the rewrite for that. It’s my first one set in Washington, DC. I think the thing is “When a cheating congressman’s demise allows his wife to take over his congressional seat,” or something like that. It’s fun. My husband ran for congress and was in office for two years. He’s running again to try to get back in. It was just such a fun experience to see Washington from that side. I’m like, this would be a great place to set a suspense story.

Zibby: I just finished Hillary Clinton’s new book with Louise Penny. Now I feel like I know all about DC in a whole new way.

Kaira: I haven’t read that yet. The whole enchilada, it’s a whole a culture. I was peering inside it for a year and a half before the pandemic hit. There’s some great things about it. Then there’s a lot of tradition and a lot of — I guess it’s traditions, especially when it comes to the spouses, their roles and how they’re — it traditionally was almost all women. Now that’s changing. It’s an interesting time.

Zibby: How into houses are you, actual houses? Do you go to open houses? I know Somebody’s Home takes place when a house was sold. I personally am obsessed with going to open houses and love new houses and all of that stuff. I was just curious how you felt about it.

Kaira: Plus, being in the real estate business for all those years too.

Zibby: Exactly, you’ve sold a whole business.

Kaira: Marketing houses. I like open houses. I also like Zillow, perusing neighborhoods. I often use real estate websites to pick my houses for my characters. I think that’s really fun. Then I’ll just change them around and stuff, but at least it gives me a visual of where they might want to live or what the neighborhood’s like. I like doing that too. We live in Laguna Beach. The history of this neighborhood, there’s no inventory. Everything’s sold, so there aren’t any open houses right now around here because the market’s been so hot. I know it has been everywhere. It’s such a crazy time. I love it too. I have my Architectural Digest magazines. I always rip things out. I’m a big home person too.

Zibby: Me too. There’s just something about, also, the possibility. That’s why I think it’s so great you used it for fiction, and especially for suspense. This idea that your most personal possession was just somebody else’s most personal possession — I can’t believe, even here, somebody else used to be sitting at my desk. It looked different. I don’t even know that person. It’s just crazy. This sounds ridiculous. I’m sorry.

Kaira: No, I agree. The whole presence of the people before you is still there. It’s still there. There was a family with eight children in our house that we bought from them ten years ago. We have four kids. It was plenty for that, but eight is a lot in any house. I always think of that. I still think about — they had ramps in the courtyard and little miniature courses.

Zibby: How old are your kids?

Kaira: They’re all in their twenties. We’re empty nesting right now. That’s why I have three dogs. I’m filling the house with dogs until the next phase.

Zibby: Are they excited about your second whole big writing career here after everything else?

Kaira: Yeah. My daughter is. She’s a screenwriter. She’ll read my books. She also helps me with teenage girl dialogue. I’ll run things by her, make sure it sounds not stupid. She does. She works with me. We’ve written a couple treatments for a couple of the novels together. That’s been really fun. I don’t think the boys have read any of my books, my three sons. Someday they’ll want to sit down and do that, but right now, they haven’t. They’re like, go Mom!

Zibby: It’s nice having kids — give them something to cheer about. I feel like for so long, I was just cheering for them all the time. Yay, this pretend little soccer award that everybody gets in the class. Now all of a sudden, there are things for both of us. It’s just nice.

Kaira: I wrote a lot about that in my book for women entrepreneurs. Bottom line is, kids want a happy mom. Whatever f you. If it’s not fulfilling to be doing that soccer thing — I’ve done all that as well. To me, it wasn’t quite enough. I always had to have something continue in my career even if it was just freelance writing or something that was my own as well. I agree. As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing, then your kids are thriving.

Zibby: Although, my daughter doesn’t like it when I’m ever busy, but what kid does? You were busy two minutes ago. Anyway, doesn’t matter. You can’t win.

Kaira: What you’re modeling there is patience and all those other things that don’t necessarily just come about by them seeing you having a focus other than just them all the time. I really do think it’s important. I’m sure they’re very proud.

Zibby: Just to have something. Even when they were little, I did do freelance writing and all this other stuff. Even if I had done crochet, if I just had something I was producing that I was really proud of, something on a regular basis…

Kaira: I totally agree. I think that’s important. It’s really easy, as you know because moms don’t have time, to lose yourself in your kids and your family and all of that. I call it caring about the curtains. When you start caring a lot about the curtains, you probably have too much time on your hands. You’re not finding something that could be a little bit bigger, helping others. The other thing is giving back. I just started working with a food pantry because you had COVID and all that stuff. Whenever you give to others, you get it back two, three times. I come back and I feel so happy to have done something tangible for somebody else that morning, Thursday morning. It’s important.

Zibby: It’s also that sense of feeling connected to the larger world when you give back. You’re a part of something. Sometimes if you’re just in your house all day or hanging out in the carriage house, you forget what else is out there. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Kaira: I have a son who’s a singer/songwriter with Sony. I have a daughter who’s a screenwriter. I tell them, as I would tell anybody, that the only way you won’t make it is if you give up because then you won’t. If you just keep going and keep putting out your best content and be flexible and be able to pivot — if you’re hitting the wall too many times, then maybe it’s time to pivot what you’re writing or try something new to pitch. If I had given up, I would never be here. That’s really it. You just keep writing until something hits and you get that. Then that’s the thing with life too. I’ll never forget going to BEA in New York and seeing this big poster for Best Day Ever hanging six stories, it felt like, at the Javits Center. I had that moment where I’m like, oh, my gosh. This guy who was signing people up for American Express cards was like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “That’s my book.” He’s like, “Oh, my god.” That moment of actually having your dreams come true, but then you got to make a new one. I never imagined that that would happen. Then it’s like, wow, I got to get another dream going. That’s that whole thing that makes life fun, is not giving up and sticking with it.

Zibby: When I first went into BEA in the Javits Center and saw those flags, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was like, oh, my gosh. For a book lover, to go in there — I know they’re not having BookExpo anymore and all of that. At least, not for a while. I don’t know. It was amazing.

Kaira: It really was. Whatever the pinnacle of book dreams are, that was it.

Zibby: The Oz or something.

Kaira: So many rejections and so many — it’s a hard business. It’s hard to keep going if you can’t find it in yourself. You just need to. It is lonely because you’re in your house and writing pretty solo. Then if you’re like me and you don’t outline, then you end up with these whacky notes.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, look at those.

Kaira: I know. I just had a two-hour call with my editor for the developmental edit. I’m like, ah! Then I tell myself — actually, my daughter taught me this. She’s like, “Mom, these are all these people caring about your words. They’re trying to help you make them better, so don’t get pouty. Just get back in there.” I’m like, “You are so right.”

Zibby: And that every book is not just the author being like, here you go. Everyone has input. It keeps continually improving.

Kaira: So much collaboration, even the cover design and everything that goes into making this story come alive. It’s a cool, scary, hard, but fun process. Then you got to sit around and wait for reviews of this thing that you’ve worked on forever. Then people come out and just one-star it. Kirkus just reviewed Somebody’s Home today.

Zibby: Oh, my god, I’m sorry I missed that.

Kaira: This is my favorite pull quote ever. “Whatever the opposite of family values is, Rouda seems intent on perfecting a genre that enshrines it.” Well, okay, maybe. Maybe that’s what my people are doing. You get them and you’re like, oh, no, I can’t open that.

Zibby: That’s exciting. At least, that you were even reviewed is exciting. You’re a big deal, but it’s awesome thing.

Kaira: It’s great. I’m clearly enshrining the opposite of family values. Although, I think there’s redemption in them as well.

Zibby: I won’t tell Dan Quayle, wherever he is these days. You remember what I’m talking about?

Kaira: Yeah.

Zibby: Anyway, Kaira, thank you so much. Thank you to Jill Zarin for introducing us, if you’re listening. I’m delighted to have met you. Hopefully, I’ll see you in LA one of these days.

Kaira: Yeah, I’d love that. I know I was just gone when you were here. We were ships crossing in the night, but I’m usually always here at my house writing stories. Thank you so much, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks so much. Bye.

Kaira: Bye.

THE NEXT WIFE by Kaira Rouda

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SOMEBODY’S HOME by Kaira Rouda

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