Zibby speaks to author, screenwriter, and repeat MDHTTRB guest Laura Hankin about The Daydreams, a deliciously entertaining novel about the stars of an early 2000s TV show who implode spectacularly on live TV–and the reunion special, thirteen years later, that could destroy or redeem them. Laura shares her sources of inspiration: nostalgia for early 2000s pop culture, the rise of the #FreeBritney movement, and an interest in how damaging fame can be for child stars and young women. She also talks about her own brush with fame, nepo babies, the topic of her next book, and her best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laura. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Daydreams: A Novel.

Laura Hankin: It’s such a pleasure to be back with you.

Zibby: You were one of three authors featured at the very first-ever publicist event I was invited to.

Laura: Really? You were such a pro. I had no idea it was your first time there.

Zibby: I think so. I think maybe I’d gone to one or two lunches. I was invited from Berkley to come to a cocktail party on this beautiful rooftop. I was like, that’s so cool. They’re inviting me. Of course, I’m going to come.

Laura: I remember that event. It was so fun. I’m so glad that I got to do it before the world shut down.

Zibby: Totally. You were with Stephanie Wrobel. Weren’t you with Stephanie Wrobel?

Laura: Stephanie Wrobel and Kathleen West.

Zibby: And Kathleen West. That’s right. You’re all still writing, so there you go. Have you stayed in touch?

Laura: Yeah, we have. We message a lot on Instagram. Actually, Stephanie moved to New York. I think when I’m up there for book events for The Daydreams, I’m going to hopefully try to see her in person again.

Zibby: Then we did a podcast, which we did six months before your book came out. Do you remember that? It was so ridiculously early.

Laura: I do.

Zibby: We made some joke. Ha ha, I hope the world doesn’t end. Then it was COVID. Isn’t that what happened? Crazy.

Laura: Yeah. I think we recorded it in late 2019. Then we singlehandedly brought the pandemic upon us all.

Zibby: It was us. What was your pub date or month for that book, Happy When You Know It?

Laura: It was May 2020.

Zibby: It was.

Laura: In some ways, I was lucky in that — I really feel for the authors who had books coming out March 2020 or even April. At least by May, people had figured out a little bit how to pivot to Zoom and Instagram Lives and stuff like that. People were a little bit beyond the initial, oh, my god, I’m panicking so much. I can’t pay attention to anything else. People were just kind of bored and wanted to read, so that was good.

Zibby: That was nice. That was a perk. I can’t even joke. Any renewed interest in writing is great, but it is hard. I felt so much for the authors who had books coming out during that time, as you know. Then you had another book that we didn’t even get to talk about in between this book and that book. We talked about Happy & You Know It. Right? That’s what it was called?

Laura: Yes.

Zibby: Happy & You Know It and then A Special Place for Women, maybe talk about both of those books. Then we’ll get to this book. Can you do a quick one sentence on your past oeuvre? We can talk backlist.

Laura: Absolutely. It’s funny because now my head is so full of The Daydreams that I’m like, can I even whip out the little plot summary for the other ones? I’m going to try. Happy & You Know It is about a failed musician who takes a job singing for a playgroup of wealthy moms on the Upper East Side and then gets drawn into their glamorous lives and their dark secrets.

Zibby: I loved that book. That was awesome.

Laura: It was very fun. It was very much based on my time working as a playgroup musician. I was writing it from that perspective. It’s funny because I’m actually pregnant now.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, no way! That’s awesome.

Laura: Yes. I’m like, do I dare reread the book knowing what I know now? I wonder if I’ll like it even more or be like, oh, my god.

Zibby: I would wait until year two or something. Then go back and reread it.

Laura: A Special Place for Women is about an undercover journalist who decides that she’s going to infiltrate this rumored secret society for the fanciest women in New York. Then she gets pulled in far deeper than she had planned to.

Zibby: Excellent. Did you get to infiltrate any secret societies as research? Did anyone let you in? Did you?

Laura: I don’t think I can say.

Zibby: Ooh.

Laura: No, I did not get invited to any secret societies, sadly. I’m still open to it if anyone listening society and wants to .

Zibby: Maybe we should make our own, is really what should happen.

Laura: We’ll talk about that after.

Zibby: That brings us to The Daydreams. Now you can give your highly polished, top-of-mind pitch for The Daydreams.

Laura: Anyone listening can see if this one sounds better. I’m actually kind of impressed with how I did on the other two.

Zibby: You did great. Hats off.

Laura: Thank you. The Daydreams is about the stars of an early 2000s TV show who implode spectacularly on live TV at the height of their fame. Now it’s thirteen years later. They’ve all gone in very different directions. One of them has left Hollywood entirely. One’s a movie star. One is a cautionary tale. They’re forced to come back together again for a reunion special that could either offer them the redemption they so desperately need or destroy them all completely.

Zibby: I love it. As I started, I was like, is this like 90210? No, because there’s singing. Is it like High School Musical? What are we basing this on?

Laura: It was a little inspired by High School Musical. I really wanted the stars of the show and the show itself to feel like it could’ve existed in the early 2000s alongside all the stuff that already did exist in the early 2000s. That said, while doing research, I absolutely was taking inspiration from various shows and pop stars at the time.

Zibby: That sounds like a really tough job having to research those. I feel really sorry for you. It must have been really tough to watch all of that.

Laura: It was brutal. It was brutal to have to listen to all that amazing pop music. Whenever anyone was like, “Are you sure you need to keep listening to this album?” I’d be like, “Yeah, I’m positive.”

Zibby: It’s essential to my craft. It is.

Laura: It is funny. I’d be like, I’m going to do a little bit of research, so let me google Jessica Simpson, or whoever. Then I would just go down that rabbit hole. A day later, I’d be like, I am the world’s foremost expert on Jessica Simpson.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. One thing you did with the stars of the show within the book is you had them use their real names in the show so that they almost couldn’t escape. It was almost before this massive reality explosion. It was almost like a trick to make watchers feel that they actually were getting to know the people, and so they felt much more invested when the show got taken off the air very suddenly after this attempted kiss and all of that.

Laura: Exactly. The man who creates the show has this brainwave after all these teenagers are cast in it in 2003 and is like, we’re going to change all character names to your real names. The teens and the tweens watching can’t really separate out, is Summer in real life different from Summer on the TV show? For the stars themselves, it’s great in a way because people get invested in them, but then it’s also, they have to struggle with their own sense of self. They feel like they can’t escape it. They’re playing versions of themselves in a way, but they also don’t have any control over it because they’re not writing the show. It’s this much older man making them do stuff.

Zibby: It’s kind of like a nightmare, actually, when you think about it. You’re going to go on TV with your real name. People are going to assume everything you do is what you intend to do. It’s almost like the — what’s the politician thing where they control the — Manchurian candidate, when they’re completely controlled.

Laura: I wanted to explore how so many young people back in the early 2000s signed up for this because they were like, oh, my god, fame. Incredible. Why wouldn’t you want fame? Then it’s just so much more complicated and damaging than you expect when you’re outside of it.

Zibby: What was the initial spark? Was there one show you watched or one thing that you were like, “Yes, my next book is this”?

Laura: I will say that for the longest time, I’ve just had this note on my computer reading, “Destiny’s Child at the Super Bowl.” Do you remember when Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl, and she brought the members of Destiny’s Child back to do it with her? For the longest time, I was like, that must have been so weird for Kelly and Michelle because this one member of their band had gone on to anchor the Super Bowl. They were doing their own thing, but I just felt like the dynamics must have been so interesting. That was always in the back of my mind. Then over the past few years, I just got really into early 2000s pop culture in a way that a lot of us did because it was a scary, destabilizing time, and it felt familiar and comforting. I was also noticing how so many of the big, bright starlets of the time had really struggled in the years since. This was around when #FreeBritney was gaining traction. I wanted to explore, why had these young women struggled in a way that perhaps their male counterparts had not? If we were starting to acknowledge that perhaps we had treated them pretty terribly back in the day, what now? How do we move forward? How do they move forward? How do they forgive us? How do we forgive ourselves for our complicity in gobbling up all the stories about their “breakdowns”? That was the inspiration for the book.

Zibby: Also, you’re a musician, so this is sort of like the road less traveled. What would’ve happened? Maybe it wouldn’t have been so great if you had become Britney Spears. Maybe it all worked out just fine.

Laura: I actually have been thinking about that a lot. I was a huge theater nerd growing up. Being a teenager in the early 2000s, we were bombarded a lot with this idea that if you went down to the mall, there was going to be a casting call from Nickelodeon and Disney. Maybe you could become the next Amanda Bynes or Britney Spears or whoever. I always was like, I should go do that. I was always too busy with homework and play practice and stuff like that, so I never did. I did have one kind of close potential brush with fame, which was when I was a freshman in college. I went to this open casting call for this very big Broadway show that was looking for teenagers.

Zibby: Dear Evan Hansen? No.

Laura: No. It was Spring Awakening.

Zibby: Oh, okay. Keep going. Sorry.

Laura: I got a few callbacks for the leading role. I totally bombed my final callback. I remember they made me sign this thing that was like, this show is a little explicit. I had to sign a piece of paper being like, I’m over eighteen, and I agree to show my bare breasts on stage every night and simulate sex.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Laura: At age eighteen, I was like, sign me up. I want to be famous. I think sometimes about the alternative life where I dropped out of college and was doing that. Who knows what it would’ve led to. I’m pretty happy with my life right now.

Zibby: Wow, so crazy. I feel like we could all write so many alternative narratives. What if I had taken this path? What if I had done this? I find that endlessly fascinating. I made my kids watch Sliding Doors the other day, which, turns out, was not totally appropriate, but it’s fine, and also was so dated. I hadn’t watched it in forever. It’s so dated. It’s worth a rewatch just for that.

Laura: You would recommend. I remember loving that movie but also, in the end, being like, what? No spoilers.

Zibby: It did have that kind of ending, but just the notion that every little thing you do changes the whole trajectory of your life.

Laura: I know. Catching that train versus not catching that train.

Zibby: Getting the role, not getting the role, all of that. Then your characters go on to have alternative lives. We enter the book sort of riding on the shoulders of a lawyer who’s trying to have a normal life. Her phone is blowing up. She’s like, what is going on? I love how she can totally hide. Nobody even knows about this huge piece of her except for maybe some teen girls who were exactly the right age at the right time.

Laura: Nobody expected her to get out and become this professional, uptight lawyer lady.

Zibby: It’s so crazy. Is there anyone who has starred in a show who has become an uptight lawyer lady, going to law school and all that? I don’t know. Maybe.

Laura: I don’t know. There must be somebody somewhere.

Zibby: There must be someone. We’ll have to dig a little more.

Laura: I feel like in terms of former teen and child stars, Mara Wilson is super interesting to me. Do you remember her from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire?

Zibby: Oh, yeah. What happened to her?

Laura: She’s great. She ended up going to grad school. She does some writing and is an interesting, very thoughtful, intelligent public figure at this point who I think has some really nuanced views on her child stardom.

Zibby: Interesting. Also, and Mayim Bialik, who became a neuro — whatever she is. I don’t even know. She has some crazy degree. Astrophysicist. I don’t even know what she is, but amazing. She went back on the education train. Kellie Martin, do you remember her? I can’t even remember what she was in now. Anyway, she was in my college. We were in an art history thing together. She had just been on TV. She was a really big deal at the time. You’re probably too young. This was in the late nineties. Mid to late nineties, I must admit.

Laura: I’ll look her up.

Zibby: From your writing, it seems like you were having fun writing this book. Were you having fun writing this book?

Laura: Absolutely. It was such a pleasure to live in this world and just imagine that I was a celebrity. I developed so much love for all of these characters and really wanted them to succeed. As you said earlier, the research part of it was quite enjoyable. At the same time, I wanted this book to be really fun and a page-turner and juicy and delicious, but I wanted it to tackle some deeper issues and get at the trauma that some of these people are dealing with, and the sexism and the racism and so many of the awful things that they had to go through at the time. Even while doing the research, there would be moments where I’d be watching an interview that, for example, Britney Spears had done where she was just getting torn apart, and it would be hard to watch. While a lot of it was very fun, it wasn’t all just like, woo-hoo!

Zibby: Interesting. There’s always a bigger message to every story. Is this more cautionary tale? Your unborn child here, what would you say? Go down this path? Don’t go down this path? How do you feel about that?

Laura: It’s tough. I got so much enjoyment and community from doing theater growing up. That’s actually one thing that I wanted to show in the book. For all that the fame can be really awful and tough, these people being together and making something and making a show together is so joyful. It fills you with adrenaline unlike anything else. I think if my daughter was like, “I want to be famous,” I’d tell her, “Take the class. Do the plays, but we’re not going to let you go to any professional auditions until you’re eighteen.”

Zibby: Got it. No signing away topless performances.

Laura: Exactly. I think it’s so fascinating looking at the nepo baby discussions and all these famous parents talking about whether or not they’re going to let their kid do stuff or not.

Zibby: I do kind of feel for them in a way. That is what they know. That’s what they’ve seen. Those are the role models. That’s the industry they know. Those are the people. I grew up among finance people, and I was like, no thanks, but that is what I knew. That would’ve been the easier path if I had any aptitude in that area because I was so familiar with all the terminology and the people and the companies. I understood it all. Ultimately, that was totally not for me. I could see if I actually was enjoying it and it was the entertainment industry or something that was glamorous. Should I not do it because my parents did it? Now they’re not allowed to do it. Poor Jamie Lee Curtis had to be like, however old she is, I’m a nepo baby. She’s standing on her own two feet at this point winning her own awards.

Laura: That’s the thing. There are so many nepo babies who are older, and we don’t think of them as nepo babies because they’ve proven themselves, like Jamie Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, Laura Dern. I don’t think any of us would be like, Laura Dern does not deserve to be an actress. It’s sort of just like, the ones now need to prove themselves. Some of them will. Some of them won’t.

Zibby: Also, they might have a genetic aptitude for some of this.

Laura: True.

Zibby: I don’t know why I’m defending this. This is probably going to be — anyway, whatever. Just musing. I don’t really have a point of view on this.

Laura: We’re developing our in real time.

Zibby: Developing our ideas, yes. Don’t quote me on this, please. What are you working on now? Are you working on a new book?

Laura: Yeah, I’m actually in revisions on the next book, which is due in a week and a half. The Daydreams comes out in about a week and a half.

Zibby: Good timing. Thank you, editors.

Laura: It is a little bit more of a love story than I’ve written previously. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about it. It’s loosely inspired by the time in real life when I had to walk down the aisle at a friend’s wedding with a guy who had given my book one star on Goodreads.

Zibby: That is so awesome. I am obsessed with that.

Laura: Hopefully, 2024, you’ll get to read it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, obsessed. That’s hilarious. I actually have a novel coming out in 2024 also.

Laura: You do? What is it?

Zibby: It comes out in March. It’s called Blank, about a woman who’s a writer and a mom in LA. It takes place over five days where she cannot get this next book written in time. They’re about to take back her advance. She has this unconventional solution to the problem. Meanwhile, she had almost finished writing a book and then was in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee and the biggest deal author in the country was on the equivalent of GMA being like, I have the same exact book and the same title coming out. She’s like, you’ve got to be kidding me. She had to throw the whole thing away. That’s where it starts. Really, it’s about friendship and motherhood and love and all of those good things.

Laura: That sounds so good. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thank you. Sorry for even pitching it. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this publicly, certainly not on my own podcast, before. I’m sort of gearing up to promote.

Laura: I’m honored that I get to be the first on air of the pitch.

Zibby: I’m like, oh, my gosh, how am I going to deal with that? Scary.

Laura: You don’t really have anything going on in your life.

Zibby: I’m literally going to have to change something because I’m up — all of us are working so hard to do all the things we’re doing. It’s a lot. Also, all your other books and keeping those up. It’s juggling, and then you throw one more ball up there without having to stop.

Laura: I’ve never been good at real-life juggling, but learning how to do the hypothetical juggling.

Zibby: I took a juggling class at my school. They had these electives. I went to an all-girls school until nineth grade. We would have these activities with the boys’ school. We had to pick these fun things, like juggling. Calligraphy was one of them. All these random things. The boys would come to our school. I haven’t thought about this in so long. I picked juggling. I got really good at it. I remember doing all these tricks where we would juggle and throw to the other person. We would have all these things going on. This was in fifth grade, so it’s been a while. Now I don’t think I have these skills anymore.

Laura: Oh, my gosh. I’m just picturing you juggling seven balls at a time while also discovering your feelings towards the opposite sex.

Zibby: Totally. I was so mortified. I was always blushing. Oh, my god. I’m probably remembering that whole thing wrong. In my head, that is what happened. We were in the ballet room.

Laura: Do you think it’s like riding a bike and you could pick it up?

Zibby: Maybe.

Laura: It’s interesting.

Zibby: Interesting. Who knows what comes out in these conversations. Any advice for aspiring authors?

Laura: I would say one thing that has really helped me is finding a writing community. I have an online writers’ group. We meet on Zoom every few weeks and trade pages and give feedback. They’re all so wonderful and thoughtful. It just really helps me stay motivated. I could not have written The Daydreams without them, for example. If you can find your people that way, I know that there are Facebook groups for finding people. Hannah Orenstein runs one writers. I recommend finding your group of writers if you can. Also, just accepting that a first draft of anything is going to be horrible. That’s okay because that’s what revisions are for.

Zibby: How much better do you get it before you even hand it in to your editor?

Laura: For me at this point, I’ll churn out the totally garbage first draft, and then I’ll clean it up. I’ll do one revision of it before sending it to my editor. I’m lucky that I’ve worked with the same editor now on three books, so I think we have a trusting relationship. She’s willing to see stuff a little earlier on. With The Daydreams, for example, I knew that I loved the idea from the very beginning. I thought it had potential to be the best thing I’d written. When I finished the first draft of it, it was like, oh, god, this is so far from what . In between the first and second drafts, I had to rewrite a full quarter, if not third, of it.

Zibby: Wow. That is good advice and inspiring. You also have the coolest cover ever, I have to say. Don’t you love it?

Laura: I love it so much. I’m obsessed with it.

Zibby: It’s so great. It was on my desk. My husband was like, “Oh, my god, that looks amazing.” I’m like, “I know.” It’s an amazing cover and a great book, so there you go. Perfect match.

Laura: I think you can judge this book by its cover. The cover really captures the vibe of it.

Zibby: I think we better just throw out that expression in today’s marketing world of books. Thanks, Laura. It’s always so much fun to talk to you. Congratulations on your pregnancy. I hope everything goes well. I can’t wait for the next book. That sounds so up my alley. I cannot wait.

Laura: Thank you, Zibby. It’s been such a pleasure getting to talk to you again.

Zibby: You too. Bye, Laura.

THE DAYDREAMS by Laura Hankin

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