New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Serle joins Zibby to discuss her gripping, emotional, passionate, and heartbreaking new novel, EXPIRATION DATES. Rebecca delves into her novel’s plot, unveiling the intriguing premise of a woman who receives slips of paper predicting the expiration dates of her relationships. She reveals how elements of her own relationships found their way into the narrative and then talks about structure, character development, and the themes of love, fate, and relationships. Finally, she shares some of her Hollywood experiences and updates us on upcoming film projects!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rebecca. Thank you so much for coming back on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books" to discuss Expiration Dates. Congrats.

Rebecca Serle: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: You're welcome. There are so many things that I enjoyed about this book. The LA references were fabulous. I'm like, okay, now I'm at Tower Bar. As I read it here in New York, it's so nice because I feel like I'm actually out there with the palm trees on the cover and all the landmarks and the hot spots. Thank you for that.

Rebecca: I knew, we inadvertently have some Beverly Hills Hotel colors going on with the green, even though there are no scenes that actually take place there.

Zibby: It's just the general vibe.

Rebecca: It's the general vibe, yes. I really want this to not be a beach cover because it's really not about -- there's a little bit in Malibu, but it's really about the city of Los Angeles, which I think is not a thing that people always, necessarily, associate with about LA. I think it can be a lot about that beach. This is really about the town, in a way.

Zibby: Awesome. I almost never go to the beach there.

Rebecca: I never go to the beach. I live in West Hollywood, where a large section of this book takes place, where our narrator lives. I never go. Before I was married -- I have a really dear friend who lives in Malibu. I would go out there a lot of weekends. I would spend time out there. Now I have a husband, and I don't get to do that stuff anymore.

Zibby: You're like, see ya, I'm taking off for Malibu. Have a nice day. Expiration Dates, tell us what it's about, please.

Rebecca: Expiration Dates is about Daphne Bell. She is a young woman in her thirties that, since the time she was a kid, every time she meets a man, she received a slip of paper with his name and number on it. That number is the exact amount of time they will be together. Our book opens with Daphne receiving a slip of paper that just has a name, and the time is blank. It's really a question of what that means.

Zibby: It's amazing. Such a great concept. Then it lends itself so well to these excerpts where -- not excerpts, but chapters about each relationship that came before and how long and what was on the card. It's so clever, the whole packaging.

Rebecca: There's an episodic element, like you were saying, to the book, but I never want that to feel anecdotal, in a way, because I feel like then you're just skipping through, and you don't care. All of the chapters that are about her past loves are revealing something about her and who she is and why she's single and the way she deals with that, which was very true of my life too.

Zibby: No, they didn't come across as skipping. I was just saying it's a great way to structure the story because you go back. They're not parentheses on the side. No, it is the story.

Rebecca: It's a fun way to structure the story. My books are so -- a lot of times, the main story is pretty slender, what you're trying to say between two people. It helps broaden out the world and just give you a sense of who this woman is. The story of who she is is found both in the relationship that you see her having throughout the book, but also in the relationships she's had in the past and how she's gotten to that place.

Zibby: You were doing a deep dive into your own past relationships? Is that where this came from?

Rebecca: There's a lot of hallmarks of certain kinds of relationships. There is a chapter in here that's titled Stewart that really -- I guess I hope not, I hope won't resonate with women because it's kind of terrible. There are a lot of markers of different kinds of men and different kinds of relationships in here, certainly that I experienced and that I think most people do if you're single for a long time. I was almost thirty-seven when I met my husband. I had been out there a lot. The book reflects a lot of the chapters of my own life too.

Zibby: I like the guy in Paris on the work trip.

Rebecca: That was fun.

Zibby: I'm like, that was kind of enjoyable.

Rebecca: There's some wish fulfillment too. I definitely got to have a little bit of revisionist history with my own life. Fiction gets to be the most realized version of things. A lot of times in real life, it's not really that complete pinnacle. It was fun to get to go back and go in my memory bank and play with different relationships and then also just make them really fruitful in a way that they probably weren't in my own life.

Zibby: I feel like now your books are developing certain themes and characteristics. Do you feel like that too? Something -- not otherworldly. That's not the right way to say it. There's just something that wouldn't necessarily happen. It all has to do with love and the way things should be and the universe, in a way.

Rebecca: Completely. There's always a little bit of magical realism in there, something that's happening that's outside the norms or the boundaries of our own plane of existence. She gets notes in this one. In One Italian Summer, she obviously meets her mother, who is not alive and not thirty. I think you and I talked about this, probably, when we met for In Five Years. The question that I'm really interested in in life is, what do we control? How much is in our control? How much is just going to happen regardless of the choices we make? and what the relationship between those things -- I struggle a lot in my own life being like, is this in my control? Is this because of something I've done? What is the role of fate? What is the role of free will? How do we determine which is which? I think a lot of my books, in a way, are trying to explore that. It's probably a pretty unanswerable question.

Zibby: That's good. Then you won't run out of material.

Rebecca: Exactly. I think there's plenty for me still to ask about that. Obviously, I'm not the first writer to say this. We write to figure out how we feel about our lives and about the world. That is the thing that I am just constantly wrestling with, so it shows up in all of my work.

Zibby: Do you feel that you're approaching love stories differently being in love?

Rebecca: You know what's so interesting? This book, I wrote right before I met my husband. I wrote my -- this is in the acknowledgments at the end of the book. I wrote my editor, Lindsay Sagnette. I said to her, "I think I'm ready to really write my book about looking for love." I always knew that I wanted to write it, but I couldn't really figure out how the story was going to end because it hadn’t ended for me. I didn't know. What's the answer? Who do you end up with? What's the message? What am I trying to say to women? What am I trying to say to myself? I felt like, you know what, I'm just going to write it. I don't know how it ends, but I'm going to write it. I wrote her. I said, "I think I need to do this. I think if I write it true, he'll be there at the end of it." That's exactly what happened. I wrote it, and then three months later, I met him.

Your question is interesting because even though some of my characters have been partnered, my books, in a lot of ways, have been about looking forward and that search. What's going to be? Who am I going to become? Who am I going to end up with? Now that I'm with someone, and in all of the complexities that marriage brings, I think that it's very real. I don't have to say that to anybody who's married. It's not just the challenges of partnership, but it's also all of the real-world things that come when you choose somebody to be in life with. It's their family. It's your family. It's aging parents. We were just talking about before we got on, it's endless house renovations. Life becomes very about the details and very about the concrete. Not so much Expiration Dates, but I think my work going forward is really starting to reflect that. What does it mean to not be out there in the search anymore, but be here dealing with what has come?

Zibby: Yes, and hopefully, not wondering about other ways life could've gone.

Rebecca: Exactly. What does it mean to really just be present with this thing that is?

Zibby: It's a lot, the universe and life.

Rebecca: The universe and life. You know, small things.

Zibby: Can I ask how you met your husband? It's not even remotely related to this book.

Rebecca: Absolutely. We met on Coffee Meets Bagel, which is a dating app. What was really funny is I saw him, and I was like, he looks really familiar. Again, I was thirty-six years old. I asked him, I said, "Have we been out before?" He said, "No, we haven't." I was like, "What's your last name?" It gives you a first name. He told me his last name. I typed it into my email. We had emailed six years before when the app introduced us. We had emailed back and forth to each other. I was out in Los Angeles making Famous in Love, my television show, but I was still really living in New York. I was sort of just moonlighting as somebody who was sometimes in LA. We had emailed back and forth. He was like, "We should get together." I just never responded to his last email because I think I went back to New York. He lived in LA. He always says to me, "You ghosted me." He said to me before, "We missed those six years. We could've had them." The truth is we really couldn't have because he had just broken up with somebody who was in New York. He never wanted to leave New York. At the time, I was never going to leave New York. That was the only place to live on the planet. Anyone who left was crazy. You think about these moments where you come together, and the universe -- speaking of -- is like, not quite now. Not quite now. What I say to him when he sort of bemoans the fact that we "lost" that time together, what I say is, "But isn't it beautiful to know that the things that are meant to be become?" They become anyway. It wasn't six years ago. It was now. Isn't it incredible to know that it's now? Still, the things that are meant to be, they are. They find a way. That's us.

Zibby: That gave me goosebumps. I love that. Look at that, turning it all into great copy.

Rebecca: Great copy. Life is copy. Everything is copy. I know. My poor husband, I was talking to him about something I'm currently working on. I was like, "Hey, I wanted to tell you happy marriages are just not really interesting fiction. You know that, right?" He was like, "Uh-huh." I was like, "So the things that I'm going to write about, it's not how I feel about us or anything that I would do. It's just the realities of fiction." He's like, "Uh-huh." It is true. The work changes a little bit. My books -- it's no secret. You and I have talked about it. My books are very personal to my life. They've also been sort of -- I hesitate to use the term semiautobiographical because that's not true, but they're mirroring, in some way, the life stage that I'm in and the core relationships I have. In Five Years was really about a time in my life where the women in my life, my friends, were my primary partnership. Then One Italian Summer is about my love story with my mom and that familial love.

I now am starting to write about what it means to be with somebody. It's a different process. You want to be truthful to the world and to your art. That is important. That is the reason that I am on this planet. I have to be. Also, I have this man who I love so much and who is such a sweet and tender person. It starts to become kind of interesting where the lines blur when you're inventing things about a relationship that isn't true in your own. Of course, the relationship in the book is going to have elements of your own because you're writing it honest. Part of that, like we were talking about, is all of the details of what make up a marriage. I'm finding that process to be interesting. He's wonderful. He's like, "Write whatever you want. You write novels, not memoirs." It's a different process. It's interesting.

Zibby: I guess, cling to the idea that whatever you write, the most important thing is protecting your marriage. It's more important than any book, than any plot.

Rebecca: For sure. Thank you. Yes.

Zibby: I feel like sometimes I'm like, I'm just going to put this in, but it's really some sort of secret about -- someone will know who it's really -- I know who it is. Then it's like, well, the person who reads it will know that I have betrayed the secret, so isn't that just as bad even if nobody else knows? I don't know. It's toeing the line.

Rebecca: Very interesting.

Zibby: What is going on with all of the film projects? What's going on in that part of the world for you?

Rebecca: These things are just starting to come back up because there was a strike. Hollywood was on strike. For anyone who doesn't know, the writers were on strike. The actors were on strike. It was resolved last month, maybe, a few weeks ago. Things are just starting to come back into the fold. We're in process on both In Five Years and One Italian Summer. Hopefully, they start to move forward. They're both films. They're both really interesting projects with really wonderful producers attached. Hopefully, those begin to move forward. I'm just endlessly and ever in a battle with The Dinner List script. It was a movie. Then it was a show. Then it was a movie. I'm writing it. I'm constantly trying to figure out what this thing is. It really is my white whale, that particular script. We'll see.

Zibby: Do you have any time to read or do anything non-work related that's fun?

Rebecca: I'm like, yeah, what do I do that's fun? I just got married, and so that was fun. I was planning that wedding and the house reno. I have been reading. My husband actually likes to read right before bed, so I've gotten in a routine of doing that with him. I also started a book club this year, which I absolutely love. Cannot recommend it enough to all of your listeners. If you're thinking about starting a book club, do it. It will be one of the best things you do this year. I love it. I just pulled people from totally different areas of my life. We're not all writers, by any stretch, which is great because I just want the point of the book club to be, let's just talk about whether we liked it or not. That's it. It's really fun. This month -- actually, we meet tonight. We read It Ends with Us, Colleen Hoover's book. Then we're reading a lot of popular fiction. Last month, we read Happiness Falls by Angie Kim, which I loved. I've noticed that the book club is making me read a lot more. Because there's that set book, I finish it pretty early on into the month. Then I'm like, oh, right, reading's great.

Zibby: Is it online or in person?

Rebecca: In person. We're a very strict in-person-only book club. So much stuff happens online. It's wonderful. It's great that you can be in New York and I can be in LA and we can do this, but it's nice in person. Are you in a book club? I know you do seven thousand things related to -- but are you --

Zibby: -- The only book club I'm in is my own book club. I pick the books, so I've already read them when I pick them. Then we do get together, but it's on Zoom.

Rebecca: Oh, you do? You do the meeting? You have a meeting?

Zibby: Yeah.

Rebecca: That's great.

Zibby: We talk for thirty minutes. Then the author comes for thirty minutes.

Rebecca: That's really nice. I love it.

Zibby: Is anyone welcome in your book club?

Rebecca: Yeah, but you have to live here.

Zibby: People who are listening and live in LA, they can just be a part of your book club?

Rebecca: Maybe. We're a pretty small group. Here's what I'll say. This is what I'll say. We are looking for other members, but we're very serious. You can't miss two in a row. Otherwise, you get kicked out of the book club. We rotate hosts. Every month, we go to somebody different, and they host. Tonight, I'm hosting. It's ugly sweater book club because it's December. We're pretty strict because the truth is -- sorry, we're totally getting off topic here.

Zibby: I know. I'm sorry.

Rebecca: This is what I will say. The truth is you really have to be able to commit to extracurricular things you want to do. Otherwise, it's not worth it. Having a book club where people come once every six months and have a glass of wine and no one's read the book, I don't want to do that. Let's come. Let's have read the book. Let's come together. Let's commit to one night once a month. You'd be surprised how hard that is for people.

Zibby: Everybody has their own obligations and all of that.

Rebecca: Exactly. Totally. If you're serious and you really want to be part of our book club, DM me. We are looking for new members, but you got to be serious.

Zibby: Wow, okay. Heeded. Advice heeded or whatever. You're also in this secret writing club too, right?

Rebecca: Secret writing club? I don't know. That sounds fancy. What I will say is that I lived in New York for a very long time. All of my writer friends were in New York. That's where we all lived. It's where we all met. Then I moved in 2019. A few of my author friends moved with me. Then COVID just brought everyone out. We do have a really nice circle and a really nice group and dynamic out here. It's really, really, really nice to have other authors that I can see on a weekly basis here. That's special. It's funny. It was our whole group in New York, and now it's our whole group out here. It's wonderful how that worked out.

Zibby: That's great. How long do books usually take you? A year? How long? How long does the first draft take you?

Rebecca: The first draft is quick, but I turn on a concept for a really long time. I think I had the idea for this book maybe in late 2020 around the time that I was finishing One Italian Summer. I said to my agent, who I absolutely adore -- I told her the idea. She was like, "How exactly would that work? I'm not sure." I was like, yeah, maybe it's garbage. I don't know. I thought about it and thought about it. Then I wrote Expiration Dates. Sorry, excuse me, I wrote One Italian Summer. This is Expiration Dates. Then I came back to it in 2021, and I sort of figured out all of my books -- I'm not trying to make this a hallmark of what I do because my goal is to keep evolving and changing. I don't know if I'll always write magical realism. I would hope that my books keep evolving as I do and as I grow as a person and as a writer. Who knows? My last four novels have had some kind of midway twist. That twist is really the why. It's what the book is really about, with a capital A, I like to say. Why this story? Once I realized what that twist was, then I started writing. Then the writing process is really quick. I would say probably three or four months.

Zibby: Wow, that's great.

Rebecca: But it takes a long time to get to that place. It takes a long time to be like, what's interesting about this story? Why this woman? What's going on with her? Then once I figure it out, then it's a pretty quick process. I'm writing a book right now, actually, that is taking longer. I find it much harder. You take some time off, and then getting back into it is really challenging because you're like, wait, where was I? Have I said that before? What's his relationship with her? Do you tend to draft pretty quickly when you write? Do you like to stay in step? It just depends?

Zibby: It's really hard. If I had nothing else to do, it would be much better to just a month or two, and that's all you do. I go, and then I come back. I have to reread from the beginning. I'm like, I don't have time to reread. With my last, I kept notes. I was like, what did I say about this person?

Rebecca: Then the time that you reread, you're like, okay, now my writing time is up for the day.

Zibby: Right, exactly.

Rebecca: Now I got to leave my computer. That's been my process now because, you know, life. It's harder.

Zibby: Yeah, I know. That's why people are like, get in the document every day. Then I think about that advice, and I'm like, I don't have -- what am I going to do, open it and be like, I don't remember? I need to go back and fix this, but I don't have time today.

Rebecca: I know. I get in. I'm like, this is a mess. Then I get out.

Zibby: I know. I'm like, oh, no, no, no. Wrong term. Oh, my gosh. What is your advice for aspiring authors? Aside from maybe being better than we are at getting in the doc regularly or not forgetting or putting your life on hold or something.

Rebecca: The writing part is important. My advice would be, read as much as you can. I always find that when I'm actively reading, I'm more inspired to get into a book. I actually tend to read more when I'm actually writing than when I'm not because I feel like I'm in the universe of words. I think that's really helpful. Then, yes, consistency is important, but setting -- oh, here's what I will say. This is what I have done previously when I'm drafting. Listen to my advice on that, not on what I'm currently doing now. I used to, on my previous novels, write two thousand words a day, which for this current moment in my life is too many. Let's say five hundred. Let's say five hundred words a day. Make it five hundred. Don't make it 499. Don't make it 502. Make it five hundred because what happens is when you end a day's work in the middle of a thought, it's much easier to come back to the page the next day. Actually, most of the time, you end up ending in the middle of a sentence. When you come back to the page the next day, it's a lot easier to complete a sentence than it is to start a new paragraph or to start a new chapter or to start a new scene. My advice really is to leave off the day's work midway because the next day, it's easier to pick up. That's my number-one piece of advice for people who are looking for drafting advice.

Zibby: Good to know. I feel like you need to teach one of our Zibby Classes about fiction writing. What do you think?

Rebecca: That trick is really, really helpful. I should do it more right now.

Zibby: Rebecca, it's been so fun. We met so long ago. Not so long. When we were in LA. I've watched all these books of yours come out. It's been so exciting. I'm so grateful Sarah Mlynowski originally connected us. I'm just so rooting for you. It's so exciting.

Rebecca: Thank you so much. Thank you for all your support. I love seeing you. I remember our In Five Years chat, which was March 10th of 2020.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, yeah, because you were here. That's right, with Arielle .

Rebecca: I was here with Arielle. I was going on a fourteen-city book tour. We were all just staring at each other like, what's happening? Of course, we all know what happened next.

Zibby: I left town that night. That afternoon is when we were like, we're pulling the cord here.

Rebecca: You were like, we're leaving. I was like, me too, to go to Boston and talk to two hundred people. What's happening? It was crazy and wild. I always think about that, that little touchstone in such an odd time.

Zibby: Crazy. Hopefully, nothing bad will happen after this one.

Rebecca: All good things from here out.

Zibby: Bye, Rebecca.

Rebecca: Bye.



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