This month’s Reese’s Book Club pick and number 1 on the bestsellers list!! Author Laura Dave explains why she couldn’t let the story behind her latest novel, The Last Thing He Told Me, go after starting it nearly ten years ago. Laura talks with Zibby about wanting to write a thriller about the Enron scandal, what the process of adapting the book into a TV show has looked like, and why she’s drawn to the found family structure.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laura. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Laura Dave: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here. I’m an avid listener, so it’s very fun.

Zibby: Yay! You have so many books that all look amazing. Now that I have your latest book, I have to go back and read all these other ones which I don’t know how I missed. I hate that I did, especially because no one else in the world seems to have missed these books. They’re all being made into movies. They look great. Now you’ve switched gears. You’ve been called something like the master of the family novel or something amazing like that and wrote a thriller-ish type of novel. Tell me about switching gears. Then I want to go back and hear how you started writing to begin with.

Laura: For this book, for The Last Thing He Told Me, I actually started working on it in 2012, so it’s been a long time coming. I love true crime. I’ve always loved thrillers in general. Especially on the other end of the pandemic, I feel like that was a lot of comfort food to me. I had a lot of Nora Ephron movie viewing and a lot of thrillers on my nightstand. I wanted to write a thriller that was rooted in hope, which sounds at odds with what the genre is. Gloria Steinem has this quote that I love about watching a woman become the hero of her own life. I started imagining a woman who is presented with a version of her husband that seems entirely paradoxical to who she knew her husband to be. While this was happening, I had, for years and years before that, been very interested in Enron and trying to retell the story of a financial scandal through the point of view of a wife who really believes her husband to be innocent, not unlike how Linda Lay went on The Today Show when that all broke and said, “My husband’s done nothing wrong.” I would never speak to Linda Lay’s actual mind frame or what she thinks or thought about her marriage. For the purposes of this story, I wanted a wife who believes that, who believes her husband’s done nothing wrong despite all the mounting evidence to the contrary. In that juxtaposition, Hannah Hall was born and The Last Thing He Told Me was born. Then it has had many, many iterations over the last eight years, the largest of which happened shortly after I had my son when I realized that this was, in the most primal sense, the story of someone becoming a mother. Her hero’s journey was going to wrap entirely around becoming a mother to this girl, to her stepdaughter, who did not have one.

Zibby: Wow. When I was sixteen, I was dealing with my parents dating. It’s always great when your parents are dating, but particularly in high school when you’re trying to figure your own stuff out. I really empathized with the daughter who was up listening to beautiful Carole King and doing her own thing and having to deal with this perhaps not-so-welcome stepmother into her life. Then you’re thrust together. I could view it from both point of views, which was very interesting.

Laura: I can imagine that too. You’re like, I’m the one that’s supposed to be having a date on a Saturday night, not you. What’s happening?

Zibby: Plus, the fact — you know what? I’m not even going to go there. I’m not going to talk about my parents’ dating life. I feel like they would not be happy about that, so I’ll move on. Tell me about the stepdaughter-stepparent relationship as the central piece. How did you come up with that? What was that rooted in?

Laura: I’ve always been really interested in this idea of found families and the way that sometimes our family becomes people that aren’t our blood families, necessarily. Also, over the last several years, I’ve had so many friends become moms in ways that aren’t the traditional route of, they get pregnant, they have a child. I wanted to honor all the different way we find our journey toward family. That was one of the motivations for Bailey and Hannah’s relationship starting off as a new stepmom to her new stepdaughter. Hannah arrives in Sausalito shortly before the events of this book begin. Bailey, who is sixteen and good at it, isn’t particularly interested in her new stepmom and probably would have remained uninterested in her if her father’s scandal hadn’t blown up. He disappears leaving the two of them together to figure out where he was and pick up the pieces of where they’re supposed to go next.

While I was spending time with them, it allowed me to, in a microcosm, examine how you go from strangers, in way, to something much closer, so much akin to forever family. It was a really natural exploration. I have a lot of empathy for both of them for walking in and what you share together is a common person, someone you both love deeply. That doesn’t necessarily translate into you getting along as well as each of you might get along with that common person. I wanted no one to be bad here, everyone to be coming at it from a place of just trying to navigate this new relationship while managing to have some self-preservation of what they think they need. That’s where we started. I spent a lot of time talking with women who found themselves newly in that situation, long held in that situation. It was really interesting. I think also, I hope — I don’t want to ruin anything that happens in the book. I feel like their journey toward each other is one that — I didn’t want it to be linear. I wanted to mirror more how it happens, which is, you move together, you move apart, you move together until the ultimate way that they learn they can trust each other.

Zibby: Of course, it never is linear. That’s not how any relationship works, certainly not complicated ones in your closest family members. So why not just scrap this book? You’ve written other books since. This was twelve years ago. Why did you go back?

Laura: In the first several iterations, there was a character who I was really trying to save. I couldn’t let go of the fact that I couldn’t save that person to make the story work. We talk about found families. What I wanted here was the ultimate happy ending. Just like you’re just saying now, there’s no linear path, there is no happy ending. There’s endings. There’s beginnings. There’s do-overs if we’re lucky. I couldn’t let go of this story because it felt to me that I hadn’t really seen a story before that navigated this terrain in a way that asked the question of, what makes us who we are? What we find out quite early on in this book is Hannah’s belief that she knew who her husband was. All the details come out different. He didn’t go to school where he told her he went to school. He didn’t grow up where he told her he grew up. Clearly, he’s embroiled in some very challenging aspects of his present and his past which he didn’t share with her. As his core, she believes that she still understands who he is. At her core, she believes she knows who she is.

I wanted to really figure out a way to look at, what makes us who we are? What makes us know someone else? How do we become a witness to someone’s life? I kind of couldn’t shake it. Every time I put it away and started working on something else, I found myself wanting to come back to it. Then, as I said, shortly after my son was born, my husband who’s also a writer said to me — I was working on another book that was focused on a therapist and on divorce and all this stuff. I wasn’t enjoying writing it. My husband said, “What if you picked up that book and you made Owen bad?” In my infinite kindness of when I’m stuck writing, I was like, “Um, that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” That’s verbatim what I said. Later that day when I was at the coffee shop, in a world where we got to sit at coffee shops, I opened the file again. Whereas that wasn’t the right thing to do, or I don’t think it was correct thing to do, it opened up for me what I needed to do to tell the story properly and who I had to kind of sacrifice to tell it properly. Since then, then this final journey of this book has been really joyful in finding where I wanted to go.

Zibby: Now this is going to be a movie, right?

Laura: Yes, it’s going to be a TV show. It’s going to be a limited series. I call it a movie all the time. I’m in the middle of writing it. I’m writing it with my husband. Julia Roberts is going to play Hannah, which is a dream come true. That’s very exciting. We’re in the middle right now of writing all the episodes. It’s supposed to shoot next January. It’s exciting.

Zibby: Wow, that’s really, really awesome. My brother is also a producer, and my husband. He did Ben Is Back with Julia Roberts. Have you that seen that?

Laura: Oh, you’re kidding. I love that movie.

Zibby: So good, right?

Laura: It’s so good. The son in that is also so, so good.

Zibby: Don’t tell me his name. I know his name.

Laura: I was trying to remember it too.

Zibby: This is terrible. He was also in — oh, gosh. This is just showing my age here. I can’t remember anything.

Laura: Me neither.

Zibby: It’ll come to me before the end of this episode. It’ll just pop in. Anyway, that is so exciting. What is it like collaborating with your husband on a creative project like that? Have you done that before for your other things, or not?

Laura: For one of my other books, a book called Hello, Sunshine, we wrote the script together. That’s on hold at the moment because we have to do a rewrite of that after we finish this. We collaborated, but we were collaborating in a very different world where there was leaving the house and childcare. This time around, it is fun and an honor and also, oh, my gosh, a lot of late night, early morning navigating of trying to write that. I think what’s really fun about it is, we got married in 2011, so he’s been living with these characters on and off for this whole time anyway. He’s read so many drafts of this book. I feel really lucky that we’re doing it and also quite tired because usually, we’re working from about eight thirty at night to close to midnight after my son goes to sleep. It’s a little crazy.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s a lot. At least it’s something you can do together. My husband and I, I’m like, “Should we put something on the calendar? I don’t know when we’re supposed to see each other. I’ll wave to you. We’ll pop into each other’s Zooms.”

Laura: That’s the thing, exactly. It’s so hard to figure out that time. One thing I highly recommend doing together if you haven’t already is, have you seen Ted Lasso?

Zibby: No.

Laura: Oh, my gosh, it’s so good. It’s these little twenty-five minutes of joy. It’s a show on Apple. Jason Sudeikis plays —

Zibby: — I saw him all of the awards and stuff. Yes, I have to watch it.

Laura: It is so joyful. It was so funny because I feel like especially in the middle of this, you turn on the TV, and you’re tired. You’re like, just forget it. I’m just going to read a book and go to sleep, or whatever. You can’t even — that was one show that captivated me during this. I was like, oh, my gosh. You’ll watch them in three days. It will be really great.

Zibby: Okay, perfect. Meanwhile, your book Hello, Sunshine, did you name it Hello, Sunshine before Reese’s company?

Laura: A couple months before.

Zibby: Didn’t they option one of your books? I was reading it three times. I was like, did I get this wrong? Is it a coincidence? Tell me about it.

Laura: It’s a total coincidence. It’s actually funny. I named the book Hello, Sunshine. Then between the time I named the book Hello, Sunshine and the book came out, that book, she named her company Hello Sunshine. It’s funny. I got a lot of notes when Hello, Sunshine came out. Oh, my god, you’re doing that with — it was very confusing for people because Reese actually optioned my very first novel called London Is the Best City in America. The show that we’re doing with Julia Roberts, she’s the producer on this new show, The Last Thing He Told Me. She’s amazing. She’s so smart about these limited series and how to make them. That’s been really lucky. We had a funny moment about the Hello Sunshine of it all. She’s not involved in that one.

Zibby: Now that you’ve put this one to bed finally, did you love writing a thriller so much you want to write another one? Are you going back to your bread and butter? What’s coming next for you?

Laura: That’s a good question. I just started a new book that is in this realm of mystery, sort of mystery, not thriller-thriller. I could never write violence very well. I would have people shaking hand at the end instead. It is in that same genre. It’s sort of based on family secrets. Again, that writing is taking place sometime between six AM and seven thirty AM, six AM and eight AM, so it’s slow-going.

Zibby: What are you doing in between? Are you with your son the rest of the time? What’s happening in those hours?

Laura: I am with my son. He just actually started back at preschool last week. You have several kids, yes?

Zibby: I have four kids.

Laura: Four kids. I knew it was three or four. I forgot for a second. Are they back in school now? Remind me.

Zibby: Today was literally the first day, at least three of them. My little guys went back today after multiple quarantines for various reasons, including my own being sick.

Laura: That, I remember.

Zibby: We’ve had everyone we’ve ever seen even for a second get sick. They finally went back today, but my son now is home from boarding school with his friend. It’s never empty, which is fine. I love it, but at least the little guys, who just walked in in case it now interrupts our podcast.

Laura: That’s so funny. A couple minutes ago, I was like, do you hear him? He’s in the next room. The going back to the school, even for the three hours, it’s lovely.

Zibby: Life-changing.

Laura: It is.

Zibby: Can I ask how old your son is? You don’t have to say.

Laura: He’s four. He loves going to school. Also, it’s a double life-changing thing. One is, you can have a minute to breathe. Then the second thing is the happiness and the social interaction that you see come back into their skin and into their lives. Literally, he comes out of school, and his cheeks are red with happiness. That feels like such a blessing. I feel very lucky. Maybe now I’ll have those two and a half hours in addition to try to do something.

Zibby: Watch, you’re not going to be able to get anything done.

Laura: I’ll get nothing done.

Zibby: You’ll just do online grocery shopping or something.

Laura: Exactly. I’ll watch Ted Lasso again.

Zibby: You’ll watch Ted Lasso again, oh, my gosh. How did you first get into writing? How did you break into this whole publishing world to begin with?

Laura: I always wanted to write since I was eight years old, literally. I went to college. I wrote a collection of stories as my thesis. Then I went to graduate school. I wrote an entire book. I moved back to New York. I was very proud of myself. I wrote this book. I published two short stories in literary journals, so I had a couple of agents reaching out. Anyway, long story short, I moved back to New York. I spilled water on my computer, and I lost the entire novel.

Zibby: No!

Laura: Yes. I was like, oh, my gosh. It was sort of this beautiful moment in that — this is very retrospectively looking at it this way. I remember my father said to me, “What are you going to do now? What are you going to do?” I’m like, “I’m going to start again.” I ended up, in that year after graduate school, I had thirteen jobs, literally, again. Literally, I sound like Bailey in my book. It’s so funny. I’m in her mind frame. I’ve been talking like a teenager. I wrote for ESPN. I wrote for Glamour. I wrote for all these places, I tutored, to just try to save my mornings for writing. In some ways, I think the book turned out a lot better than it would’ve. Also, I just learned that what makes you a writer is that you sit down and write every day without thinking about what’s going to happen or whether you’re going to get — I taught myself that was what was most important to me in that year. Whereas I think I should learn how to save things on a computer properly, it probably ended up working out. I ended up selling that first novel, quitting most of my jobs, and writing full time from then on.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Speaking of that, what is your advice to aspiring authors?

Laura: My advice is that you need to create a habit out of it. It doesn’t have to be that you write every single day. I think we teach ourselves what matters to us. If you teach yourself that you have sacred time devoted to this, then it helps you keep doing it. Some days, it’s going to work. Some days, it’s not going to work. If you sit there and you honor that time, something good’s going to come out of it. To that end, I really do believe that what makes you a writer is if you write, not how often you’ve been published or where you’ve been published. If you’re writing, you’re doing the job. If you’re not writing, you’re not doing the job. Two books that have always helped me return to doing the job when I’m having trouble, which I recommend to anyone that wants to write, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott especially, she talks a lot about letting go of expectations. Your first draft is for yourself. They actually both talk about that. I read them. I reread them. It just reminds me that it’s a practice and to give yourself the freedom to write the story you want to write.

Zibby: Anne Lamott is coming to my book club. I was going to show you her new book, which now of course is — I don’t know where it went. If you want to come, you should come.

Laura: I do.

Zibby: Zibby’s Virtual Book Club is every other Tuesday, but I’m doing an extra Tuesday for her episode. I think it’s either April 4th or 11th. It’s on Go to Book Club. You just sign up. You’ll get the link. We always talk about the book for thirty minutes. Then the author joins for the next thirty minutes.

Laura: I’m in. That’s great. That’s so fun. Oh, my gosh, that’s a dream. I’ll just be there silent because I won’t want to embarrass myself.

Zibby: You can watch me embarrass myself. When the author comes, it’s all Q&A. We can just dissect the book first. I would love you to be there. That would be amazing.

Laura: Wonderful. I love that.

Zibby: Laura, thank you. This was so fun. I hope we can all meet up in LA this summer sometime and whatever. I’m so excited about your book, which I feel like we didn’t talk enough about. I’m sorry. It was just great getting to know you.

Laura: No, no, this was great. It’s so nice. Yes, when you’re in Los Angeles this summer, I would love that. I would really love it.

Zibby: Awesome. Have a great day.

Laura: You too. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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