Zibby welcomes debut author Rowan Beaird to discuss THE DIVORCÉES, a delicious page-turner set at a “divorce ranch” in glamorous, dizzying 1950s Reno, where Lois Saunders becomes obsessed with a fellow guest named Greer. Rowan delves into the intriguing historical backdrop of this novel, touching on the phenomenon of divorce ranches and the limited options available to women seeking separation in the 1950s. Then, she reflects on her writing journey, her experiences with grief after two miscarriages, and the book she is working on now.


Zibby: Welcome, Rowan. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss The Divorcees. 

Rowan: Thank you so much for having me.

And also before we get started, I just wanted to say congratulations on blank. Oh my gosh. 

Zibby: Yeah, of course. I know. It's so funny. I've been doing this podcast for, I guess, six years now and where I, you know, the idea that anyone would come on congratulating me in the beginning seems so ludicrous. So it's just, you have to take a moment to be like, wow, that's.

That's cool. Yeah. It's amazing. Oh my gosh. Of course. White Road, which, you know, as an author, I'm excited to hear more about your road. But anyway, start by telling everybody what The Divorce Days is about, please. 

Rowan: Yeah, of course. So, The Divorcees, it's set in 1951, and it's about this sheltered young woman named Lois Saunders who journeys to one of Reno's famous divorce ranches to separate from her husband.

And while there, she becomes obsessed with this mysterious, glamorous fellow guest named Greer. Who both offers Lois a new life, but also threatens the freedom that she really craves. 

Zibby: So I could not believe as a divorcee, well, I'm married now. Am I still a divorcee? I was. 

Rowan: That's a good question. 

Zibby: Are you always a former divorcee?

Rowan: Former divorcee, ex divorcee. 

Zibby: Ex divorcee. The idea that there was a time when I would have had to, you know, be whisked off and like have to go horseback riding every day just to like get through. You All of that and like live with a couple other women and just be completely sequestered like a a shameful, terrible thing.

Yes. You know, is wild. So did this really happen? Like where did this come from? 

Rowan: It really happened. So I learned about the existence of divorce ranches hilariously enough on my bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas of all times and places. And we were visiting this place called the Neon Museum. And we had this really amazing tour guide who knew a lot about the history of the state.

And she shared that. Starting in 1931 to help recover from the Great Depression, Nevada made two really important decisions. So one, they legalized gambling, and two, they changed their divorce residency requirements. So that, like in the novel, as you know, if you move to the state for just six weeks, you could separate from your spouse for pretty much whatever reason, which was radically different than everywhere else in the country at the time.

You know, in New York, for example, you could really only separate from your spouse if they committed adultery, you needed proof of it, the judge then could even still deny your claim. And so as a result, Reno, because it was already a tourist destination, it became the divorce capital of the world. And if you were amongst the rich or the famous, When you went to Reno, you'd stay at a divorce ranch, which, as you noted, you know, you'd spend your days riding horses, you'd spend your evenings going to casinos, and I, when I learned about this, I was just so fascinated by it, because it really felt like this lost chapter of history.

Zibby: Totally. Oh my gosh. But it wasn't everything, because in the book, it's outlined what the acceptable causes are. Right? Including impotence, by the way. Yes. How are people proving this? Are they like dragging their poor husbands to court? That's a great question, yes. Yes. Right. Because she was sort of like, you know, there's no box for like, he was just an asshole.

Yeah. You know, like, you know, there was just no box for, you know, I just said it. It had to be something so extreme, you know, and even one of the, one of the girls said to the other, like, well, You know, unspeakable, like why, if he didn't do one of these things, why did you even need to get divorced? Right?

Something like that. 

Rowan: Oh, totally. It's, it was really incomprehensible at the time that, as you said, you'd leave your husband just because you didn't want to be married to him anymore because you didn't love him anymore. Yeah. 

Zibby: Mind blowing.

Rowan: I know. 

Zibby: What else did you find? Cause now I'm totally curious. What else, like how many people went through a ranch and what happened to those people after?

You know, even in the book, there's this expectation that, well, yeah, this is a stopgap measure until you somehow get in a respectable position again, right? It wasn't supposed to be, like, because when, what is her name, Lois, the main character, suggests that afterwards she's gonna just, like, live by herself.

It's completely, like, scandalous. And they're like, oh, we see that. People are aghast. Some women would ever do that, you know. 

Rowan: Exactly. Well, that was, you know, part of the joy of writing this novel was doing the research. And one of the really incredible resources that I found was created by the University of Nevada, and it's the thing called the Reno Divorce History Project.

And as part of that, you know, you can imagine because of this time period, unfortunately, a lot of the women that went to Reno are no longer with us. But earlier they had interviewed a lot of these women and so you can go on the site and read transcripts of women just talking about their time in Reno and what that time was like and what it meant to them.

There's also some interviews of, you know, because sometimes women would leave their children at home, but sometimes the children would come with them just because there wasn't alternate child care. And of course, You can leave the child with the husband. And so there's also interviews with some of the children that are remembering going to Reno for six weeks and what sort of sense they made out of it.

And, you know, some described it a little bit like summer camp, where it just felt like a vacation and others understood the gravity of the situation a bit more, but, yeah. You know, because of this change in legislation, there was a huge rise in divorces in Nevada, as you can imagine, so thousands of women traveled to Reno to separate from their husbands and, you know, divorce trenches, specifically, you know, as I said before, there were some that catered more to like to middle class women, but Primarily they were really for the, the rich and the famous, you know, actresses like Rita Hayworth went to divorce ranches to separate from their spouses.

And so all of those stories were just so incredible to read about. And, and as you said, you know, some women do frame it like, God, it was just such a relief. I was so ready to leave my husband and they did find community in these ranches and people that were going through the same sorts of experiences.

But. Like in the novel, you know, so much of what lay ahead of them beyond the ranch was the real unknown and the options that were open to them were so limited at the time. 

Zibby: I love this whole notion of this blanket term of unspeakable cruelty, and they just like throw that out as a, you know, and you're like, well, what does that mean?

And You know, there's all this intrigue and it's terrible and anyway, I, I find this absolutely fascinating that, did you think about calling this book The Divorce Ranch? Was that ever a title? 

Rowan: You know, we went through a couple of different titles. I am horrible at titles. I don't know if they come easily to you at all.

Zibby: No, I actually just found an email that I had sent my editor about bookends and the subject was eight million ideas and they were like 200 titles, none of which were bookends. 

Rowan: It's so hard. And so I, I originally, and when it went out on submission, I had just called it the Golden Yarrow, which is the name of the ranch because when in doubt, I default to location.

So yes, and Divorce Ranch. I mean, whenever you say those words, people are always immediately intrigued. Like, what? What could that possibly be? So, yeah, I think a title. 

Zibby: Well, it's not just the setting and premise of the book that are good, but your writing is beautiful. I mean, this is like a, you're a literary writer.

I mean, it's a beautiful depiction of, of all of it from scenery to relationships to, you know, feeling ousted by. your dad and not, you know, disappointing your family. And like, there are all these themes that are relatable, but you write them in a, in a really beautiful way. So then I wasn't surprised to read your bio and be like, Oh, okay.

All these like literary journals and, you know, this award she got and blah, blah, blah. So tell me about your background and how you became a writer. 

Rowan: Yeah, so, you know, I'm lucky in that I've had parents that were always really great readers and my mom herself is a poet. And so growing up there was no shortage of books in our house and that was in many ways how I sort of accessed the larger world.

But for a while I actually thought I was going to be a painter, I really loved fine art. And then in high school my canvases started slowly becoming lines of poetry and words and some hopeful teachers were like, This actually isn't the field for you. Maybe you should go into the lucrative field of creative writing, you know.

Zibby: I was going to say, yeah, bank on the poetry career. That'll be good. 

Rowan: Yeah, exactly. But, you know, I started writing, I started writing poetry at first, and then kind of gradually started writing short fiction. I went to study English literature in college and, and really thought I might be a professor, you know, writer in my, in my mind.

Uh, even then I didn't think, well, is this a viable career path, especially graduating into the recession? I just felt like, you know, I needed some other idea of, of how to make my way in the world. And so I actually turned to working in nonprofits. I've done mainly communications work and program management work for different arts and education organizations.

And so. And, you know, I always kept writing throughout it. I would just steal time in the mornings and the evenings and on the weekends, but I could not conceptualize writing a novel. It just felt so overwhelming. The idea of how to structure it, how to pace it, I just felt like my brain didn't work that way.

And then, You know, I think like many writers, I do have a failed novel in a drawer that just did not really work out. And that was kind of my first attempt. And I think. You know, it didn't exactly teach me how to write a novel because I, I think that with each novel, it's, it's just a totally new creative endeavor, but it did teach me that this is something that I was capable of.

And so, when I had that spark of an idea for The Divorcees, I honestly thought about, God, could this be a short story? Like, is there any way I could kind of, You know, make this into a story, exactly in my comfort zone, but the more time I spent with it, I was just like, gosh, there's just no way there's, and part of it was because there was just so much there in terms of research and that part was really exciting, but eventually I sat down and sort of outlined it and structured it.

And luckily by that point I had an agent because of a short fiction contest that I'd won. And, you know, my agents, they've been so helpful in steering this. It's a project to what it is today. And same with my wonderful editor at Flatiron, Carolyn Bleakey, but I'm honestly kind of still in shock that I wrote a novel and that it's not in the world that I'm talking to you right now.

Zibby: Wait, so go back to the novel that ended up not selling. What was that about? And what was that process like versus this one in terms of time or anything that you. 

Rowan: Yeah. 

Zibby: I typed it differently. 

Rowan: I definitely spent less time on it, you know, it was much more of a quiet family drama, it was about the relationship between two siblings and a brother who goes missing in a national park, and I, you know, I still feel a little bit attached to it every once in a while in the back of my head, I'm like, gosh, should I go back to that?

But, I think that why I eventually abandoned it, and we didn't even send it out, it was a sort of thing where my agent came back with some notes, and going through her feedback, I just realized that I didn't have an ideal version of the book in my head, like, I couldn't figure out what I was really working towards, and Even when that's never good, it's like, it's not just that the road is hard.

It's just, you can't see the road or it's just like, I don't really know how to do this. And I just never felt like that with the divorces. I always felt like. Okay. I know what I want this to be. I'm not there yet, but I have an idea of, of the shape of it. And so, so I don't know. I think that novel might just stay in a drawer.

I feel like it was a bit of a rite of passage. 

Zibby: And tell me about the contest that you won. 

Rowan: Yeah. So that was through Plowshares, which, you know, it's this literary journal out of, uh, Boston. And gosh, that just felt like such an incredible stroke of luck. It was the short story that I'd been working on. That was about the, you know, very unsexy topics of grief and moving forward in life.

And I am, I'm not a very fast writer. I move very slowly and I put so much time and thought and effort into this short story. And, you know, I kind of just sent it out on a whim. It's this contest called the Emerging Writer Contest. And this writer that I love, Garth Greenwell, was judging it. And so a part of me thought, But if I could even just get to the point where he reads that story, that would mean the world.

Wow. And so I, when I got the email that he had selected it, it was, I mean, full body shock. I, I still remember I was at work and I was sitting next to a coworker and I just let out this like huge and take a breath. And they're like, Oh my gosh, is everything okay? What happened? But that was really kind of a life changing moment because it just, it got more people to, to read my work and agents started reaching out.

And all of a sudden just this door opened. So that was pretty incredible. 

Zibby: I think that's something we don't give enough advice to young writers about is entering contests. I mean, almost never, no one, almost nobody ends up saying that as advice, but it really can help. I mean, I've had a number of people who have won like a pitch contest or a short story contest or whatever.

National writing, whatever. I don't know. And that's it. Like, that's one path to discovery. It's not like, you know, a sure thing, but no one's got to win. 

Rowan: Exactly. Exactly. And yeah, I mean, I always tell people and, you know, sometimes I do think of that as a sliding doors moment, you know, what if I was just like, Oh, this isn't worth it.

There's, you know, there's always. Entry fees and I don't know what are the odds out of thousands of people I could win. But, but as you said, somebody has to and, and it really was life changing. That's amazing. Sliding Doors is like my favorite movie. Oh, so good. I just rewatched it. 

Zibby: I did too. I rewatched it.

I was like, wow, has this held up over time? You know, I showed my kids. I'm like, this is so important because this is like life. 

Rowan: It's so true. I think about it so much. so often. 

Zibby: Yeah, me too. All these little tiny decisions that just set off our heads in different ways. So you spoke about writing slowly. Your sentences themselves are beautiful and, you know, the fact that you have a poet as a mom and all of that is not a surprise.

Is it slow because you're taking your time and perfecting each sentence? And then do you, do you, let yourself just like delete them after. I mean, I try to plow through as fast as humanly possible. 

Rowan: I get that. I just wish I could do that. I know. Yeah. And I have had to get to a point where I've actually set myself word count goals to kind of get over the feeling of preciousness that I do feel like sometimes I have with my work because as you said, you get to a point where you do just have to cut a lot.

And when I was. Um, and so, you know, younger at an early stage of my writing journey. I, I just, it was so difficult to do that because I just knew the amount of time that I had put into those sentences and, and I just became so attached to them that I, I was evaluating the prose itself and not what it was doing for the engine of the story.

That was, I think, so much of the work of, of writing this novel and partially, I mean, I have to credit the other writers who gave me feedback and my agents and, you know, my wonderful editor who helped me because you do just get really attached to things because I do, I mean, I sit down and I really. There are days where I write for two hours and I've written a paragraph and a half and I don't necessarily feel great about that.

It doesn't always feel productive and positive, but I, I have been trying to push myself to, to again, just think about, okay, what is, what is this paragraph doing in service of the story? What is it doing in service of the characters? You know, I, I love atmospheric writing. I love really beautiful, powerful prose, but more than anything else.

I mean, I'm drawn to a novel because of its story. And so that's, that's a lot of the work of I think shifting to novel writing is, is really putting that front and center and knowing that, you know, as, as the famous line goes, you have to kill your darlings and, and just be pretty ruthless when it comes to the editing process.

Zibby: Yes. Amazing. You mentioned a short story about grief. What has your experience with grief been like? 

Rowan: Gosh, you know, it's really evolved. I think that my most difficult grieving process was actually during the, the pandemic. So I'm profoundly lucky in that, you know, my parents are still with us. You know, I haven't lost anybody really early in their lives.

You know, I had to go through obviously the process of at this point in my life, losing my grandparents and people like that that were really important to me. But, um, The most profound grief that I've experienced during the pandemic, I was trying to get pregnant. And during that process I had, unfortunately, two pregnancy losses.

So two miscarriages, yeah, within six months. And I'm, I'm so lucky in that I now have a beautiful. Almost two year old daughter who, insanely enough, I actually gave birth to her the day after this book went out to editors. Oh my gosh. So, yeah, so she is, I mean, so closely linked in my mind in terms of the gestation of this project because I was gestating her along with it.

But. I think that really acquainted me with a new, a new type of grief that felt really all consuming. And I think that before that process, I subscribed to the, the idea of you go through grief in stages, and it's this linear process, and eventually if you, Put enough work into processing this loss. You'll come out the other end.

And now what I've realized, and especially as I've talked more to people I know that have lost really close loved ones or that have had similar losses to me, it's that you are cycling through those stages. all of the time at any given moment. And sometimes you wake up and you realize that you've taken four steps backward and you have to make peace with that and give yourself grace because, you know, there are moments where you wake up and all of a sudden it feels like the day after you experienced that loss and, and that's okay.

And that's part of the process as well. So that's, that's been a, a really transformational. Kind of part of my, my journey as a human and you know, like kind of going parallel to my journey as a writer a lot of the time, but yeah, I'm very sorry, very, very sorry you had to go through that. Thank you. I know it's, you know, I think that the other powerful part of that was just realizing how many women have gone through the exact same thing.

And I think I've made a lot of really deep connections with people through it. So I never want to say I'm grateful for having gone through that because I don't, I don't wish that on anybody, but. I, I do think that it was kind of transformational in its own way. 

Zibby: How far along were you each time? You don't have to say.

Rowan: Oh, no, it's fine. You know, I was lucky in that, I mean, it's so odd to use the words lucky when talking about these sorts of things, but I was in my first trimester for both. So I was about eight and six weeks, but yeah. 

Zibby: The worst, I'm so sorry. 

Rowan: It is. It is. Oh, thank you. 

Zibby: Well, what, what are you working on now?

Rowan: So I, you know, it's, I did not do this intentionally, but I am working on a wedding novel from divorce to wedding. 

Zibby: I know your husband, I don't know. I mean, I assume it's, are you married? I shouldn't have, shouldn't. 

Rowan: Yes. We're still married, but you know, I've always wanted to set a novel over the course of a wedding weekend.

I think, as you know, that's just such a charged time and it's a moment in your life, a rare moment when it's. Yeah. Yeah. You know, everyone you know everyone you've ever loved is all on one roof with you. And so, you know, luckily, or at least as far as I know, people were very supportive of my marriage and wanted me to get married.

But I wanted to write about a marriage that not everybody was supportive of. And sort of the idea of that. That lit match of, of what if it's, you know, a marriage that all of your loved ones have questions about and kind of what could unfold then. So it's, yeah, I'm, you know, I would never want to say writing is fun because it's work.

I mean, there's joy to be had in it, but for me, it's often, you know, it's often difficult and arduous in its own way. But I am finding. Joy and just writing. Again, you know, as you know, sometimes the process of promoting a book, it can make you feel separate from the actual work itself. So it's, it's been nice to just kind of get back to the page, 

Zibby: That's, maybe you should call the next one, the fiances.

And the fiances. 

Rowan: I would love that. I mean, next to a big shelf, those would look good. 

Zibby: Right? Then you can have like a trilogy. What could the third one be? 

Rowan: I know, what is the third one? 

Zibby: Fiances the day. Divorcees 

I dunno. 

Rowan: The wives? The husbands? 

Zibby: I know, but that doesn't sound good. 

Rowan: I know.

Zibby: I don't know.

We'll both have to think about it. 

Rowan: Exactly. We'll get there. We'll get there. 

Zibby: Yeah. What else ends in that, you know?

Rowan: I know that's it with that accent. 

Zibby: Yeah. Okay. I'm, I'm wasting time here. 


What about the immigres? 

Rowan: Oh, yes. 

Zibby: That could be good. 

Rowan: That could be a great one. 

Zibby: Not wedding related. 

Rowan: Not wedding related, but still.

Zibby: But still, we got the E's. Okay. Anyway. 

Rowan: We've done it. 

Zibby: You could have a website that's just like, you know, the EES. com.

Rowan: It's my domain. 

Zibby: Okay. What is your advice for aspiring authors? 

Rowan: Gosh, you know, the first two things that I think of one, get comfortable with rejection, you know, rejection is, you know, it's just, it's such a part of, of everybody's journey.

And I think you have to do two things. Like one, you have to get comfortable with it. You can't, take it personally, but you also have to learn from it. Often I've found really important lessons in the rejections that I've received. And the other thing I'd say is just everybody has to find community. I mean, I think that's such a beautiful thing that you've done.

You've created such an incredible literary community, and that's just so critical to writers because so much of the work is solitary. We're alone at our desks, at our computers, or with a piece of paper, and The only way I really think that we can create the sort of work that we want to create is through the encouragement and feedback of fellow writers and also of readers.

And I, I can't imagine this novel or really any piece of writing I've ever worked on without the, the amazing community that I've, I've managed to make for myself over the past, gosh, you know, 20 plus years. So I'd say Yeah, find your people and unfortunately get comfortable with rejections. 

Zibby: I love that.

Well, congratulations on the divorcees. This is awesome and I hope that this summer we see a lot of people reenacting this cover, which is a woman in a pool with like this cute string. I mean, you can't really see the bikini, but it's like this big bikini with this cool white sunglasses and a book on her head and I mean, that is just so perfect. I will try to reenact this, but I might not. I might not feel comfortable showing this. But maybe to you. 

Rowan: If you don't share it on social. 

Zibby: Yeah, not on social. I don't even own a bikini. So let's just leave it at that. Anyway, well, thank you so much, Rowan. It was lovely to meet you.

Rowan: Oh, thank you so much. This has really been a pleasure and an honor. So thank you. 

Zibby: And hopefully Chicago in May. 

Rowan: Yes. Fingers crossed. 

Zibby: Fingers crossed. Okay. All right. Take care. Have a great day. 

Rowan: Have a good rest of your day. 

Zibby: You too. Bye bye. 


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