Bestselling author Lian Dolan returns to talk with Zibby about her latest novel, Lost and Found in Paris, which she has been working on-and-off on for nine years. The two discuss the undercurrents of grief in the story, which was inspired by the loss of Lian’s own parents, as well as which major plot twist really happened to one of Lian’s friends. Lian also shares what the last twenty years have been like working with her sisters on their show, “Satellite Sisters,” which books and newsletters she is reading right now, and how Zibby’s “SexTok” podcast has inspired elements of her upcoming novel.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lian. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” — coming back because I interviewed you for The Sweeney Sisters — for Lost and Found in Paris. Congratulations.

Lian Dolan: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be back. You’ve been so busy the last two years. I just have been sitting in my office writing another book. You’ve been building an empire. Congratulations to you too.

Zibby: I’ve been sitting in my office too. Just different emails. I don’t even know what to say.

Lian: That’s how it gets done.

Zibby: It’s just different emails. Thank you. By the way, you’re completely selling yourself short. You have all this stuff, podcast, books. You’re amazing.

Lian: Thank you. It’s fun to be here. I’m glad to be on.

Zibby: Can you tell listeners about your latest novel? What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

Lian: I describe Lost and Found in Paris as an art history treasure hunt. I don’t want to say it’s a mystery because I feel like I’m not a mystery writer. I’m not sure I could live up to that genre. That’s a lot of responsibility. It’s an art history treasure hunt. It’s set in Paris. The main character is Joan Blakely. She is in her early thirties. She is the daughter of a famous artist who’s gone now. Her father’s died. Her mother was a model in the seventies. She is the average daughter of two above-average famous people. She’s had a rough ten years. She lost her dad in 9/11. She has really taken about a decade to actually recover from the loss and the grief. In that time, she made a lot of decisions she probably wouldn’t have made if she hadn’t lost her dad. She married the wrong guy. She’s in a job she doesn’t love. She’s taken on a lot of the responsibility of saving his legacy and creating the narrative for the rest of his work and his life. She’s put herself on the backburner. Her husband comes to her, drops a bombshell. Joan realizes, I have to switch things up. She has an opportunity for work — she works at a museum here in Pasadena — to take a piece of artwork to Paris that the museum is selling off. She takes this piece of artwork to Paris as the courier. It goes missing. That’s when the clues start coming and the treasure hunt starts.

Zibby: Amazing. Can we discuss the scene where the husband comes to the office and what he says to her, or is that a secret?

Lian: No. You know what’s interesting, Zibby? It happened to a friend of mine.

Zibby: No! Did it really?

Lian: Yes. In the scene where Joan — she finds out that her husband has fathered twins with another woman five years ago.

Zibby: Not just fathered the kids. He’s a part of their lives and would make up stories of where he was going. He wasn’t off on work trips. He was raising these other kids.

Lian: He was coparenting, but he —

Zibby: — Then just in a blasé way, comes into her office as if he was saying, I have to rearrange the trip, or something. Instead, he changes her — it’s just crazy. He just waltzes in and out. What?

Lian: Hey, by the way, did I mention I have two other kids? It was one of those things that happened to a woman I know. She found out, oh, my husband has two other children that are the same age as my child, which was also creepy. Lives are complicated and messy, but that seemed like such a giant bombshell. I felt like, I’ll have to use that at some point. Twenty years later, I used it. I’ve been thinking about it for twenty years. I was like, I’m going to put this in this book. I wanted it to be a big enough bombshell where she’s like, all right, I really have to rethink the path I’m on.

Zibby: Totally. The part with her dad, too, that he was on the plane — she had just been with him working all summer. I don’t know that that makes it worse. It’s not like anything makes it worse. Somehow, the grief feels that much more intense. They had just been working together. Then next thing you know, he takes a different plane, and he passes away.

Lian: He’s gone.

Zibby: Even the way that her mother handles it, too, that she basically doesn’t move, you say something like she just basically stays in one place the rest of her life. She can’t get over it for a long, long time. It becomes, then, up to her, as often befalls the child. She has to do everything for her family. Especially for such a high-profile person, you don’t think, necessarily, about that and what that would entail. That’s a lot on her plate at the same time, is all I’m trying to say. That’s a lot.

Lian: It is. It was inspired, again, by another real snippet of news that I saw in the days after 9/11 when people got their news from newspapers. We weren’t on Twitter. Just hearken back to 2001. I know that you lost a dear friend in 9/11, so you were probably watching more closely than anybody. We thought people were still going to be found in the buildings. The names of who had died was not known. The people on the plane, they knew they were not coming back. That was obvious. Here in Los Angeles, we actually lost a couple of TV producers. They were Emmy Award-winning TV producers. I remember very distinctly that their obituaries were on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. In a giant national tragedy where everyone was sort of anonymous, this idea that if you were slightly famous or had a couple of Emmys and that would land you on the front page of the LA Times, that stuck with me. That is both the burden and the blessing of fame, to be known. Los Angeles is a company town, and the company is entertainment. It just seemed like a weird thing to have to weather, that you were the face of this national tragedy, but it was also such a tremendous personal loss, and trying to balance those two things out. I tried to use that with Joan. Her father was the one that was on the front page of the LA Times. She represented the family at all these ceremonies and flag-raisings and things like that and memorials until she just couldn’t. Then she had to start her own private journey of grief after the public-facing grief. I was trying to get to that. It sounds super serious. The book is sort of a Paris romp, but I did want it to have an under — the journey includes grief and loss.

Zibby: As a lot of journeys do, especially these days.

Lian: Yes, right. That was the interesting thing, Zibby. I started this book nine years ago. It’s just being published now. I started it right after my parents had both died. I lost both my parents in rapid succession. With eight weeks, I lost my mom to cancer and my dad to Alzheimer’s.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Lian: You know what? There was nothing tragic about their deaths. They were eighty-five.

Zibby: I know, but still.

Lian: It’s still sad, though. It’s still really sad. I had a new book coming out, Elizabeth the First Wife. I was on a book tour. I just plunged right into the book tour. Then in the fall, I started writing this book, which at the time was called Joan of Art. I was like, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to do it. Then about a year after my dad died right on his birthday, I just hit a grief wall. I was like, what am I doing? I can’t write a book about the journey of grief when I haven’t taken it yet. I put the book aside for a couple of years. Then I revised it. Then life got in the way. I had kids to get to college. I wrote another book. Then I sold it in 2018, but then I wrote The Sweeney Sisters to come out first. When I was revising it, it was the summer of 2021. Here we are again in this national grieving process. It was a pretty interesting journey. I knew I had been through my personal stuff, but everybody was feeling it again. It was a little bit different. I guess in some ways, I’m glad it took this long to come to fruition because I got a chance to go through it again with that in my mind’s eye.

Zibby: Wow. Sometimes these books have a life of their own.

Lian: They do, for better or worse.

Zibby: Sometimes I feel like they’re like kids. I really wanted to have a kid this year, but then I didn’t. Do you know what I mean? I really wanted the book to come out then, but it didn’t. Why? Luckily, sometimes they do happen. I don’t know. There’s this alternate universe that decides when these things are happening, or it’s just bad luck or rejection or I don’t even know what.

Lian: I feel like I’m a better writer, so I was cool with it. I’ve now written so much. I was like, oh, I’d like to take another whack at this book. That’s exactly what I did last summer, especially to the final third, really rewrite that in a completely different way with a completely fresh perspective.

Zibby: Interesting. I saw in the back you thanked all the people for sticking along your Paris journey. It sounds like it was a taking a village type of endeavor.

Lian: It was. For many years, it was like, how’s that Paris book? How’s that Paris book? I was like, it’s going great, even if I hadn’t picked it up for two years. I was grateful for everyone who did stick with me.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Do you have another book now that you’re working on already? Are you going to take a little time to enjoy?

Lian: No, I am. It’s a good problem to have. I signed another two-book deal with William Morrow. It’s the first time for me that I’ve been out promoting one book but then on deadline for another book. I have to turn in another one by the end of June. This one, I have to say, I have been using your podcast, “SexTok,” a lot for it.

Zibby: Have you really? Yay! Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited.

Lian: Just doing some research over there. I love the way you position yourself in that podcast. It’s fantastic. We’re not talking about me. I just love it.

Zibby: Tracey does not give up. She is constantly trying. The other day, it was something so minor. I was like, “You’re just trying to get me to say something about me. Stop.”

Lian: My new book, it’s about a long-term marriage. It’s about Gen Xers who have been married for twenty-three years. The husband has a work sabbatical coming up. The wife lost her job, so she’s able to go. She realizes at the last minute that she does not want to go on the husband’s sabbatical. It’s this adventure trip to Patagonia and Nicaragua. That is the last thing she wants to do. They end up taking separate sabbaticals from each other, from their marriage, and from their marriage vows. They just decide, a year off. See you in twelve months. It’s called The Marriage Sabbatical. It’s a little bit of a departure for me, so I’m learning a lot from you and Tracey. I’m just testing the waters over there.

Zibby: I’m delighted.

Lian: It’s been fun to write. I wanted to write about marriage for a long time because it fascinates me. I’ve been married twenty-nine years. I think the longer you’re married, the more expansive your definition of marriage may get. People have complicated lives. People have arrangements. People say things. You’re like, really? That’s happening in your neck of the woods? I thought there was material there.

Zibby: I want to be friends with your friends. It sounds like all the people telling you things have the most incredible stories. I don’t know what dinner parties you’re at, but I feel like I want to go.

Lian: It’s Los Angeles. Essentially, there’s just a lot of open books here, a lot of open books. Whereas my husband and I, just for the record, we’re asleep on the couch watching British murder mysteries by eighty thirty PM. We do not lead those lives. This is not about us.

Zibby: I would sooner wear Patagonia than go to Patagonia. That’s how I would describe myself.

Lian: Now I’m writing that down because I might put it in the book.

Zibby: Go ahead. Oh, good, now I can be one of your fun friends. That’s awesome. Tell listeners more about your podcast.

Lian: Sure. I do a show called “Satellite Sisters.” We’ve been doing it for twenty years. It started on the radio. We started with my four real-life sisters who lived all over the place. Our idea was just to have an hour on the radio that sounded like friends sound when they talk to each other. They talk about their lives. They talk about the news of the days and a great book they read and what they’re doing next week. They love each other, but they don’t agree on everything. They don’t have the same lives. Some are married. Some are divorced. They’re interested in other women in particular in terms of what they’re doing with their work and their lives and their career. That’s “Satellite Sisters.” We were on the radio for ten years. We’ve been a podcast since 2009. I literally just got off with them. I was like, hurry up, I got to get on with Zibby. I’m the producer, so I’m texting my sisters. Can we just speed up this last segment? I got an interview to do in five minutes. We do a once-weekly show where we’re still connecting. It’s three of us now, my sister Liz and my sister Julie. Julie lives in Texas. Liz lives in Santa Monica. It’s still the same format. It’s just conversations that women have that may not make the front page of the paper or may not be deemed as important. It’s the decisions we make that help us get through our lives every day.

Zibby: I don’t think the paper’s helping that — I shouldn’t say anything. I think that the advice people get from the people in their — you know, I’m going to just not say anything. Moving on.

Lian: I think the notion is that women’s lives are not hefty enough. They’re not weighty enough to be important issues. That’s nonsense because it’s raising children. It’s education. It’s health and welfare. It’s all these really, really important things that women are holding down the fort on every day. A news program wouldn’t frame it as such. Women are dealing with the heavy stuff all day long.

Zibby: Very true, yes. Amazing. Just curious, going from radio to podcasting, did you have to change anything? Was it the exact same show? Is there anything that you miss about radio?

Lian: Yes. I miss the staff. And the money. I miss the staff and the money, Zibby. Those are the two big things. That is a part of it. When we started podcasting in 2009, it was really just a leap of faith. We felt like, we love doing our show. We didn’t go off the air because we had no listeners. We were an award-winning, money-making show for ABC Radio. Disney sold off the radio division. I literally took my iMac — I’m pointing to it — into the Apple store and asked the little twelve-year-old genius to show me how to record a podcast in GarageBand. I was like, “I think I want to do a podcast.” He was like, “Sure, lady.” That’s how we started doing it, just in our closets in GarageBand. We really felt compelled. We are not done talking. We had an audience. The conversations we were having mattered to this particular audience. There were no gatekeepers over in podcasting, so we’ll go over there. We’ll figure it out. When we were on ABC, we were on six days a week, live, three hours a day.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. What do you even have to say for that many hours a week? Geez.

Lian: Honestly, Zibby, on Friday, we’d drive to the studio and I’d be like, “There’s a billboard. I feel like I can do twelve minutes on that.” We would say anything. We had a lot of guests too. We had a guest every hour, mainly, which was fun, but a lot of prep and stuff. We have a lot less guests. We keep it simple, the production. The sound of the show has not changed. We were pretty confident that it was a good format, and so we’ve kept it the same in that sense. We’re all older and wiser. Our lives are different. As a country, we’ve been through a lot. In the spring 2020, we sensed people needed connection. They needed anything positive to hang onto. They needed friendship and sisterhood. We did shift some of our topics to less news stuff and to accommodate more emotional health and wellness. We really made a concerted effort to put a positive face forward for the shows in 2020 and 2021. We did extra shows those years because we had just felt like people really needed to stay connected. There was a lot of isolation. We were this community that people could connect to. That’s changed. That changed a little bit for the better. It was a positive change for us.

Zibby: How do you foster your community of listeners offline, or do you?

Lian: We do. When we started “Satellite Sisters” in 1999, we had a website. That was pretty cutting-edge at the time. Not too many radio shows had a website and a logo. We had a lot of emails. We would respond to emails and everything. When social media came about, when it was a nice and decent place to be, we started a Facebook group right away. We have a private Facebook group. I have to say, I feel like it’s the nicest corner of the internet, but I think it goes back to the behavior we have on the show. We sort of model the behavior we want online. We don’t yell and scream. We’re not throwing drinks in people’s faces. We don’t trash other women. We don’t trash people. We try to keep the conversation big enough so that people feel included but also personal enough, and so we see that in our Facebook group. We have thousands of people over there, but they get it. They sort of buy into the behavior that we have. The Facebook group is our most potent place. Now I started a newsletter. Again, we used to have a newsletter. Then we didn’t. It’s a lot of work, all these pieces. During the pandemic, I’m like, I feel people need a little extra connection, so we started a newsletter. That’s really been great. I enjoy writing that.

Zibby: You know what somebody should do? Maybe I should do this. Somebody should have a search engine for newsletters. You know what I mean? I want a newsletter not just where I hear about certain people, but I want to hear about sisterhood. I’m a woman facing these issues. I’m forty-five years old. What newsletters should I subscribe to? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Lian: It would be good. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. Okay, get on that. Deputize one of your people or your kids or something. You’re literally writing it down. I love that.

Zibby: I just think it’s cool. Every author has to have a newsletter. Then there are all these really great newsletters that are not author — that have a lot of, if you want great shopping tips, if you want… There should be newsletter curation because there’s so many of them, and now with Substack. I’m sorry, we’re getting totally off topic.

Lian: No. It’s interesting to me because there’s a lot of fancy stuff out there, but newsletters are emails. People still like emails. It’s a pretty basic communication. Because the magazine business is dying, which breaks my heart, I do think newsletters are filling a void of telling people — giving them just enough stuff that they can chew on. With ours, it’s called Pep Talk. I do a little essay, which is a pep talk, every week. Then we do to-do lists and recommendations and a book of the week and things like that. I subscribe to the Department of Salad newsletter.

Zibby: You do not. Stop.

Lian: It’s great. It’s a great food newsletter. Emily Nunn writes it. She’s a real anti-aging activist and a journalist and wrote for The New Yorker and The New York Times. It’s a lot of salad history, which I enjoy. You’re right. I wish more people knew about newsletters.

Zibby: By the way, there are a lot of people who might really like that if you recommended it. Maybe there’s some way to recommend — I don’t know. I’m going to sleep on this one.

Lian: Newsletter curation, I’ll write it down too.

Zibby: We’ll race.

Lian: I do think there’s a lot of good material out there. As they say in podcasting or books, discoverability is the key.

Zibby: Yes, and that’s so hard.

Lian: It’s hard.

Zibby: What are you reading now?

Lian: I just started a book called Ashton Hall. It’s about a classicist, which I like because I studied classics. It’s about a failed classicist, basically. She goes to this house in England. They discover a dead body from the sixteenth century in the basement. Her son, who has a lot of behavioral issues, makes this archaeological discovery. I just started it. It’s unfolding really well. I’m excited about it. We put together, just once a year, not every day like you do, a beach-bag books lists for “Satellite Sisters.” We do that show next week. I’m just cramming in all the beach-bag books I can read to put them on the list. That’s one I think we’ll include.

Zibby: I do have a memoir coming out on July 1st called Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature, so if you want to put it in your beach bag…

Lian: I know.

Zibby: Do you want me to send it to you?

Lian: I’ve got it. Don’t worry.

Zibby: Okay, because I could send you a copy if you want. Awesome. Advice for aspiring authors?

Lian: I always say this, but I feel like people should take a class. I feel like there are so many good online writing classes now. There are great writers who are teaching it, extension courses at various universities and community colleges. I know when I went to write my first novel at forty-five, I took a class. I took an online class because I felt like I needed the public humiliation as a motivator. I needed to say to people, yeah, I’m writing a novel. I needed to pay money. I needed to actually pay money to have some accountability. Also, in the class, you learn to take critique. You understand how valuable that is to becoming better. I met writers in the class. We’ve stayed friends and writing partners for years. I know it’s really tempting just to sit in your room and work on your stuff and never show it to anybody, but a class forces you to put it out into the universe so you get comfortable with that. Take a class.

Zibby: Love it. I’m still thinking about the newsletter thing. I think there should be a registry. You can search, and there’s a registry. Then once a week, you highlight one. Maybe there’s a newsletter podcast or somebody becomes the newsletter lady or something.

Lian: A newsletter of newsletters too. I think there’s something in it. Again, there’s a lot of great content out there, a lot of great content.

Zibby: You could even have some content that you could have — I’m going to stop. Anyway, back to your book to close, Lost and Found in Paris, if anybody forgot what we were talking about. Lost and Found in Paris, lost and found in this conversation. Thank you. Thanks for coming on.

Lian: Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Talk soon. Buh-bye.

Lian: Bye.



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