Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott, ALL THIS TIME

Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott, ALL THIS TIME

Zibby Owens: I had such a great time getting to know Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott who are the number-one New York Times best-selling team of Five Feet Apart which was made into a hit movie. Now they’ve come back with their second joint novel called All This Time which was absolutely beautiful and a tearjerker — I didn’t see the twists coming, which always makes me feel like a dufus — but is fantastic. Mikki is a really well-renowned screenwriter and is actually writing the new Dirty Dancing movie which is super exciting because I think Dirty Dancing — I saw it in the theaters like twelve times when it came out. I’m pretty much obsessed. Rachel is hard at work on her third novel and used to be an athlete and just got married to her wife. Her pictures are on Instagram and they’re beautiful, as we talked about. Anyway, I hope you enjoy our episode.

It’s so great to be talking to you, ladies. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Mikki Daughtry: Thanks for having us. Zibby, I wanted to say I’m sorry about your — I follow you, and I’m sorry about your mother-in-law. That is a shame.

Rachael Lippincott: I saw that as well. I’m so sorry to hear that.

Zibby: Thank you. It’s been a crazy time. I just started doing podcasts again. Now I feel like I can at least have my old shred of my personality back and life goes on type of thing, not that I don’t think about them all the time and write about them all the time. At least I can put on a happy face and chat and all the rest. Thank you. I appreciate your saying something. On to your book, All This Time. First of all, so good. Did not see any of the twists and turns coming. I hate when I have to admit that because I feel like I read so many books that I should know. I should be prepared. Oh, my gosh, what a heart-rendering story. I’m so glad I got to read it early.

Mikki: Thank you for reading it.

Zibby: For people who don’t know what All This Time is about, can you just tell them a little more about the story and also, following your huge success with Five Feet Apart, what it was like embarking on another project?

Mikki: I’m hesitant to say what it’s about. You know why. It’s about love and loss and how we overcome that and the people we find to help us through and how dreams play into that and how the things that we want can become reality or reality may not be what it seems in the sense that when we lose something, we’re caught in this maelstrom of pain and sorrow and guilt sometimes. It really sometimes takes a helping hand to get out of that. On occasion, that helping hand becomes the person you were always meant to be with. That’s really all I can say without grenade-ing most of it.

Rachael: That was something that really drew me to this story, and also Five Feet Apart in a way, was the exploration of grief and the twists and turns that that journey in particular takes. I absolutely loved that bit when I read the screenplay for Mikki.

Mikki: The way it came about in this sense was — Five Feet Apart, it was really the strangest, the way that we got the book written. It was exact opposite of what normally happens, which is there’s a book and then they buy the movie rights and there’s a movie. In this case, there was a movie that was being made. They were like, this would probably make a really good YA novel. Let’s reverse engineer it. That’s how that came about. When Rachael came on board, she adapted the screenplay from Five Feet Apart. We were already filming. In this case, it all happened — Justin Baldoni, the director of Five Feet Apart, had a friend, Claire Wineland, who had CF. She told him, “I can’t ever be with someone with CF, someone who would understand me, because we’re not allowed to touch each other or even get within six feet of each other.” That really sparked with him, an idea for a story. Then I wrote the screen for that. Rachael adapted it. Justin found me through the screenplay I had written, this story. That’s what happened.

When Five Feet Apart was such a success, we were like, what would be a really good sister book to this? What would be a good companion piece kind of thing? I really feel like the tone is the same. It’s a similar feel. It’s definitely a similar genre. It’s got all the same hallmarks as Five Feet Apart, but it’s totally different. It’s like your cousin who looks just like you but is nothing like you. It’s kind of like that. This is the script that he read of mine that made him want to hire me to write Five Feet Apart and to come up with that story. It felt like the perfect companion piece, and so Rachael and I — I was like, “Hey, you want to do another one? Here’s another script. Do you want to take it?” The funny thing about this one is, honestly, it was an adult script. The original piece, my original work, was an adult script. It wasn’t a YA. It was a pretty easy shift, though, to rejigger it and to rebreak it to fit a YA format. You just age them down. Their concerns are different. I can tell you a lot about the original. It’s heavier. It’s much more painful. You can see, Zibby, having read this, where if you age that up and give them a family, where it goes from there.

Zibby: I don’t think I can handle that.

Mikki: Right. It’s a whole different — oh, we can’t talk about it. If it were out, I could be, this is everything that happened. It came from there. Then I aged it down. I went back through the script and said, let’s take some of this drama, not the drama, but let’s take some of this adultness out of it and go for what are important to young people just starting their lives instead of people who are in their lives. That’s how it came about. I am a chatty chatter, so you have to shut me down.

Zibby: No, it’s good. The thing about this book that really hit me too is that I felt I could relate not only to the main characters, but also the mom.

Mikki: Oh, my god, I love her.

Zibby: That ages me somewhat. I’m forty-four, not like I’m ancient.

Mikki: I’m right there with you.

Zibby: I felt like her pain and the fact that she had lost her husband and her trying to — your child’s pain is almost worse than your own pain. Probably, it is worse than your own. It actually is, I should say. Her watching the pain that Kyle has to go through — Kyle’s my husband’s name too, by the way.

Mikki: I saw that.

Zibby: That really got me too. You didn’t go into it too much. You could just see by her actions, how she was feeling. It just broke my heart, the whole thing.

Mikki: Thanks. I really wanted there to be a family situation that wasn’t the, oh, I hate my mother. That is a reality for a lot of people where they’re constantly in that battle with their mother. I wasn’t. There are relationships with teenagers who have really great relationships with their parents. I wanted to speak to that. His mother is not his problem. I didn’t want that to be some kind of situation there where we’re focused more on, he’s fighting with her and he’s trying to break away from her. He’s lost what he thinks is the love of his life at the beginning of the book. I think I can say. It’s on page three.

Rachael: I also think another element of that that really spoke to me was the fact that she is a single mother. They have this really deep connection because for so long it’s just been the two of them, in a lot of ways, against the world, similar to Will in Five Feet Apart. I just loved that. He was suffering so much. You would see her at the door trying to connect to him, trying to find a way to open the dialogue back up like it used to be. I really just loved the portrayal of the single mother like my mom, fighting it out. You guys go through everything together. You always have her. You always have that connection, that person that is always in your court, always trying to think of your best interests, to help heal your heart however they can. That was really a cool part of the story for me too.

Zibby: It’s so true. By the way, Rachael, I was looking at your Instagram. Your wedding pictures were so . I just had to say, those dresses, oh, my gosh.

Rachael: Oh, gosh. Thank you so much. I’m still in a state of .

Zibby: that you can research somebody and know the most private moments.

Rachael: It’s like I was there. No, I’m kidding. Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Zibby: I also really liked how Kyle is getting over a football injury. At one point, that’s the worst thing he could ever possibly imagine could happen. Then life, what you think is the worst thing ever suddenly gets put into perspective and something even worse comes along. You’re like, oh, gosh.

Rachael: You’re like, this is rock bottom. Then it is not.

Zibby: Now this is a really big deal. I thought that was a big deal. I feel like injured athletes — actually, my husband Kyle was an athlete as well. I guess he is an athlete, but he was in the professional tennis world for a long time. He used to play football and all this stuff. When he stopped, it was a whole big thing. What does an athlete do who’s not really doing their thing anymore? I think there’s not that much. I remember at the time I was like, “Let me find you some articles. Let me find you some books.” I was googling. Come on. There are so many athletes out there this happens to. There must be a ton of literature. Of course, I’m more into fiction. It was just nice to see that here. I know it’s just one injury, but just what happens when your dreams stop and it involves your body instead of just your mind. Tell me a little bit about choosing that.

Mikki: That was part of the aging down, actually, to turning it into a YA. What would be important to this guy? It’s exactly like you said. I wanted to give him something that he thought was his life. He’d think, this is going to be it. This is forever. I’ve got it planned out. It’s everything. He hinges every part of his personality and his worth on that. When that taken away from him, he turns to his girlfriend and kind of puts all that weight on her. We get to see, at the very beginning, what that weight has done to them. It was a big part of the aging it down for YA, to give him something that he thought was his whole world that he could lose in a shattering way and think, oh, my god, it’s the end, it’s over. We’re like, oh, buddy, no. Oh, hun, no, no, no. There’s a bigger world out there, and it gets a lot worse.

Rachael: That particular aspect spoke to me on two levels. One was on a very personal level. I was a huge athlete growing up. My freshman year of high school, I played three varsity sports. It was my thing. Then I had spinal fusion surgery going into my sophomore year. In my head, I was like, I can heal up. I could play junior year, maybe still get into college. Then I just had this huge crisis of conscience where I just could not play sports. I was healing. I was recovering. All of a sudden, I wasn’t an athlete. My body wasn’t necessarily my temple anymore. I kind of had to look around at my life and see what was still there, what was important to me, what I liked doing, when this huge aspect of my personality that was so big when I was thirteen, fourteen years old, what else there still was. Another element was back when I was in college, I wrote part of a manuscript that was about a boy who was in a really bad accident.

Mikki: Oh, you did? I didn’t know that.

Rachael: Really? Yeah. He played football. We’re just surprising everybody today.

Mikki: We say that, that things cross over sometimes. It’s really weird. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know you wrote anything like that.

Rachael: I started writing a manuscript about a boy who was a football player who got into an accident. His entire life changed. He could no longer play the sport he loved.

Mikki: Totally out of your head, then.

Rachael: When I read the manuscript, I was like, oh, this is it but way better. It panned out. It kind of felt like it was a character that I knew and a scenario that I understood a little bit of, so it was cool.

Zibby: Why did you originally have spinal fusion surgery?

Rachael: I had scoliosis. My spine was just not doing the thing it should’ve been doing. Just straightened it out.

Zibby: I guess with writing at least, unless your fingers are — it’s so different.

Mikki: Just don’t break your fingers.

Zibby: Yeah, just don’t break your fingers.

Mikki: Break everything else. Just don’t break .

Zibby: How do you two work? How do you do it? Tell me your process, how the magic happened.

Mikki: This one is different. I have a full-time writing partner, Tobias Iaconis. I always want to call him eye-ack-onis now because my phone pronounces his name phonetically. One of these days, I’m going to literally say his name wrong. It’s Tobias Iaconis. We write our screenplays together, not necessarily this one, but we do a lot of writing together. Rachael and I have worked, so far, only in the sense that I have given her a fully formed, fully fleshed-out screenplay with the dialogue and a lot of the prose. She adapts that. She’s adapted that with Five Feet Apart and with this one. She’s adapted those stories into the books. It’s a little bit of a different process where we don’t — oh, sorry.

Zibby: Are you a part of the adaption, or do you just hand it off?

Rachael: She’s a part, especially with this one, with All This Time, a huge part. With Five Feet Apart, it had just gone into production. I think a lot of that was her reshaping that screenplay. I would keep getting emails like blue edition or purple edition or pink edition as they started going into production. I think a lot more of that was her sending it to me. We obviously had long phone calls, especially at the beginning where she was telling me everything in detail. I would ask questions. I could always bounce everything off of her. Especially with All This Time, we had a conversation about it a couple days ago, actually, just talking about how she felt that the scenes were super detailed. It was almost already in book form at a lot of parts.

Mikki: Oh, I know what you’re saying. I was like, what are you talking about? We were talking about when you get a production script, it’s very lean on details. It’s mostly dialogue because all of the set design, all that stuff, is taken out of it because they’ve done the work already. What I gave Rachael for All This Time was a very meaty — I knew it was going to her and not into production. I knew it was going to her, so I was able to really give her a beefy, beefy script. It was kind of a quasi-script-novel-y thing.

Rachael: Somewhere in the middle, for sure. It isn’t just a complete handover. I always have Mikki on call. She’s looking through everything, commenting, changing, revising.

Mikki: Rachael does not get any sleep. It’s just like, oh, my god, there she is again.

Zibby: Sorry if I’m a little slow on this. I’m sorry for the sirens also. This book, you said you started with the screenplay. Is this already in production?

Mikki: No. Lionsgate has bought the rights to the book for the movie. This started, like I said, from the original screenplay that was the adult version. Then I aged it down. When I aged it down, I filled in a lot of the stuff about what it would be. It was in chunks. I would be writing. The editor, Alexa, would come back and say, “Maybe there’s some scenes that this could happen.” I would write the screenplay scenes and then give them to Rachael, and she would adapt them. It’s how we had our little wheels greased the way we worked together like two little cogs with Alexa cranking it.

Rachael: Definitely. I would get a draft back that would have notes from Alexa. Then I would also get additional scenes from Mikki as well that would just be additional parts of the story to fill out certain scenes, certain characters, certain backstories. It would be both at the same time and then integrating them together into the next draft that I would turn into both of them.

Zibby: Got it. Now that I finally have gotten this process down, so then when Five Feet Apart became a movie, were you a part of that, Mikki? You had written that screenplay.

Mikki: Oh, yes. I was on set. The funniest thing is when — it was really close to production when they said, “Simon & Schuster wants to turn this into a book.” As Rachael was saying, she got a script. Then I was on set. I would be like, oh, we’re changing this scene right now. I wonder if Rachael has gotten to this scene yet. I would quickly text her and be like, “Rachael, Rachael, have you done this yet?” She’s like, “I’m working on it right now.” I’m like, “Stop! We’re changing it.” We get a lot of comments. They’re like, oh, my god, the movie is so close to the book. We’re like, well, yeah.

Rachael: For a reason.

Mikki: I was like, “Don’t write that yet. Here’s what happening.” I would shoot her off some pages.

Rachael: I think that answered your question.

Zibby: I have it all straight. I saw that you’re already working on a third one. Are you doing that together?

Mikki: Rachael. Nope.

Rachael: I’m working on a third book. I can’t talk about it as of yet. I’m currently working on it. I’m in my second draft of it. I’m deep in the edits. Deadline is coming up. That one’s just a solo one. Mikki is also working on —

Mikki: — I’m back in movie world.

Rachael: Many a thing.

Zibby: What are you working on in the movie world?

Mikki: Dirty Dancing.

Zibby: No way!

Mikki: Yeah, the sequel with Jennifer Grey. I can’t say anything, obviously, about it. That’s really exciting. Then Tobias and I have a children’s horror movie at Netflix that’s going into production in about a month. They’re setting up in Toronto right now, building the sets and hiring everyone. That’ll go, hopefully. You never know what’s going to happen. Hopefully, that keeps trucking along. I shifted seamlessly right back into my movie writing, screenwriting. I’m like, what is that word?

Rachael: What’s that thing that I do?

Mikki: Screenwriting. Maybe another novel for me at some point that I write. We’ll see. Right now, I’m firmly entrenched in making movies.

Zibby: That’s so neat. Did you already finish writing Dirty Dancing too?

Mikki: Working on the second draft right now.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow.

Mikki: I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that. I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re writing. We’re writing.

Zibby: They announced it was going to be a movie. Someone has to write it. I’m sure they probably linked to you somewhere. Jennifer Grey has become a friend of Kyle’s and mine.

Mikki: She’s amazing.

Zibby: I met her through another friend. Then we’ve all gotten together in LA. This is so great. Not close friend, obviously, but I’m going to have to find a way to barge myself onto that set. I’ve never really been on a movie set before.

Mikki: Oh, my god. Do it. Do it. Do it. It’ll be a little bit. I’m not sure when they’re planning on shooting. There’s a ton still to do. Yes, you should get your ticket now.

Zibby: If people ever are out and about and on sets again.

Mikki: If that happens. I know. They’re doing it. I don’t know how much you know about it. In Toronto, and rightfully so, they’re being very, very careful. They fly you in. They’re not letting many people in. You have to stay in strict quarantine for two weeks. If you’re in a hotel, you can’t come out of your hotel room. The police come by every day to check if you’re still there. This is what I’ve heard. I know that it’s true because they’re working on up there. If you’re caught out at all, it’s a $750,000 fine per incident.

Zibby: What?

Mikki: Per incident. Don’t fuck around. Canada’s not playing, but they’re filming up there.

Rachael: $750,000. Ooh, I’m sorry.

Mikki: Per incident.

Rachael: Oh, my gosh.

Zibby: the people who made that up. They’re sitting there. How did we make?

Rachael: That’s a scary amount.

Mikki: Let’s make it prohibitive. Don’t you dare walk out. It’s like if you walk out of your room to get a soda in those two weeks. Then once your two-week quarantine is up — like I said, this is what I’ve heard from them setting up for . When your two-week quarantine is up, you’re out. You’re out and about. You’re part of the community. You wear your mask, but it’s more lenient. You go about work and your life and stuff.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Good luck with that.

Mikki: I’m not going. We’re staying home for this one. We’re skipping this one. Normally, we would go. It’s very prohibitive when we’re working on this other — we’re working on Dirty Dancing. It’s a lot of restrictions to not be able to move freely and do the work that we need to do otherwise.

Zibby: What kind of books do you two like to read in your spare time? Maybe you don’t like to read.

Mikki: No, I’m totally a reader.

Zibby: I don’t want to make any assumptions.

Mikki: I’m a writer who doesn’t read. I’m sure they are there. I love British novels. I find that I really tend to lean toward Australia. I love Liane Moriarty. She’s so much fun. Anything she writes, I’m in it for a fun little romp. Then I love Kazuo Ishiguro. He’s probably my favorite, and Julian Barnes. Those two British guys, I can’t. I can’t even. It feels so small, but it’s so huge. The fact that they are able to have such an impact in such a realistically grounded world that they write about, it’s like you’re there. Remains of the Day, just stop. I love Gabriel García Márquez, obviously. One Hundred Years of Solitude, how are you a writer and not married to that book? That’s the epic masterpiece of all time. Those are the kind of things I read when I read. Then I read a lot of 1930s and ’40s novels. It’s really fun because it’s of the time. The World’s Illusion is a really good one. It’s very political. I really love it, set in the times of industry workers and how they were treated. It’s a narrative. I like stuff like that. I’m kind of a weirdo. I live in the past, for sure.

Rachael: I read all different kinds of things. I’m a huge fan of Nina LaCour. She’s probably my favorite YA author. I talk about her a lot. Her book, We Are Okay, is absolutely my favorite. I really love it. A lot of times there’s a conversation between plot-based and character-based stories. I just love that. It’s essentially just a book of a girl alone in her room drinking tea and reflecting on life and grief and all these other things. It’s a very quiet book, but so much happens. She’s just so talented at saying exactly what needs to be said and nothing more and nothing less. I just love that. Oh, man, other books that I really love. I love Laura Taylor Namey’s book coming out later this year, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. Absolutely fell in love with that. It’s wonderful. It’s also set in the UK, in Britain. That’s a really great read. I’m also a huge fan of mysteries. My favorite is Agatha Christie. You turned my brain on to the British thing, so I’m going to just keep going on it. I really love the Miss Marple mysteries. That’s classic, feel-good read, especially during the craziness of the past few months. I’ve been checking into a couple of my favorite ones of those. I also really love the BBC episodes that they did on them. Those are probably my favorite.

Zibby: What advice would you guys have for aspiring authors or screenwriters?

Mikki: That’s the question. Work your ass off. Don’t expect any favors. If you get a favor, be grateful. I always say this, once you start getting there, please don’t buy your own hype. It’s easy to think that you did it by yourself and to think that it’s all you and you’re so important, you’re so vital. Yeah, maybe, but a lot of cooks go into the kitchen. A lot of cooks are in the kitchen. A lot of the flavor, whether — I can only speak for myself. I hate saying that ubiquitous you. I can speak for myself that at the end of the day, I’ve done the work, but it’s everybody around me and their opinions that I trust and respect and love. They’re all in there. The stew is better with a lot of flavor, if that makes sense. I take everybody’s salt and pepper, and I throw it in there. I’m like, let’s see what happens. I definitely would say, and I say this pretty much every time I’m asked, if you’re doing it alone, don’t be afraid to reach out and let people help you. Even a bad note is a good note in a way because it’s going to expose something that may be missing. They may not be telling you in the right way. It’s something that we call in the business, the note behind the note, which is, I really wish he did this here. That’s not really the issue. The issue is something’s missing in that moment that makes them wish for something different. That’s what you have to get to. Without that bad note, you wouldn’t look at yourself and say, oh, there’s a hole here. Rambling again. I write much better than I speak, just let me say.

Zibby: So do I.

Rachael: That was perfect. I feel like I shouldn’t even go know after that, honestly.

Mikki: What do you have for new and up-and-coming writers? That’s kind of where we’re different. I’m in my thing. You’re just getting in.

Rachael: That’s a really good question. Something that was really big was just — you aspire to be a writer. You always dream of it. It was really hard for me to prioritize, especially when you don’t have a book deal or you don’t have a screenplay that’s been optioned by film or something. It’s really hard to find time and give yourself the time to devote yourself to this passion and devote yourself to sitting down and putting words on the page. I think it’s so important that you carve out that time and that space if this is what you love to do. Really, just let yourself have the freedom to write. Let yourself have the freedom to put things on a page and explore the stories that you really want to tell. That was always really hard, especially when I was starting out, just giving myself the time and what I loved doing, the opportunity to really work.

Mikki: I can speak to that, what you’re saying, Rachael, just a bit for screenwriters. If you’re just coming up and you’re trying to, like Rachael said, find the time and find the motivation to stick with it, find a screenwriting group. I was in a screenwriting group, Twin Bridges. It was everything to be held accountable for pages. We’d go and we read our pages. We read each other’s work. We’re commenting and critiquing and helping and giving notes and learning very much about the craft. Joe Bratcher ran the class, Joe and Judy, his wife. They taught at UCLA. A very, very integral part of my getting started professionally was to have the motivation and the responsibility of showing up with the pages I said I would show up with, and then learning. That’s where I got that whole “it takes a village” kind of thing because everybody piles on and tells you what they think. You’re fielding ideas. Do it. For screenwriters, that would be. I would say if you are looking for something to hold your feet to the fire, get yourself in a writing group.

Rachael: I would agree totally a hundred percent with that. Also, you have this space. Forming a writing group is really important because then you not only have somebody to bounce your ideas off of and grow from, but you also have this accountability, like what you just talked about. If you show up for one of your weekly get-togethers and you don’t have anything on the page, you’re going to look a little foolish.

Mikki: You’re the asshole.

Rachael: That’s really sound advice.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you, ladies, so much.

Mikki: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: I can’t wait until your next book and, Mikki, your movie. I, embarrassingly, have not watched Five Feet Apart. I am going to do that.

Mikki: You should.

Rachael: Something to do today.

Zibby: I’m so excited. Kyle and I are going to do that. That’s my plan. I’ll just call him and let him know. I should’ve done it before we talked.

Mikki: We weren’t talking about that one. This one was more important today.

Zibby: It was so good. I’m so excited for you guys, All This Time.

Mikki: Thank you. Thank you so much, Zibby.

Zibby: It was great to talk to you.

Rachael: Thank you so much for having us on.

Mikki: Nice to meet you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Mikki: Bye.

Rachael: Bye.

Mikki Daughtry and Rachael Lippincott, ALL THIS TIME