Sheila Yasmin Marikar, FRIENDS IN NAPA

Sheila Yasmin Marikar, FRIENDS IN NAPA

Zibby speaks to Sheila Yasmin Marikar about FRIENDS IN NAPA, an unputdownable dark comedy about six old friends who descend on Napa Valley for a luxurious weekend of fine wine and good times… until old tensions simmer to the surface, and one friend ends up dead. Sheila discusses her transition from journalism to fiction writing, her collaboration with Mindy Kaling’s Book Studio, the inspiration behind this White Lotus-esque satirical novel, and how she developed her fun cast of characters and setting. And, in the end, she shares her best advice for aspiring authors!


Zibby: Welcome, Sheila.

Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't have time to read books to discuss your latest novel Friends in Napa, which is a Mindy's book, studio pic, or publication. . 

Shiela: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. It's a pleasure to be here. 

Zibby: And we both work with Carmen Johnson, who's like my favorite person. 

Shiela: She is wonderful and I, I just got to meet her in person for the first time a couple of weeks ago in New York, uh, at my launch event there.

And what a delightful, it was just delightful. And I feel like she knows me front to back, despite us never having been in the same room. 

Zibby: Yes, it's very nice having an editor who kind of gets the writing and all the stuff. And as I was reading yours, I was like, Oh, I love this writing style. Like this, I get this is like, I'm so course, like, Carmen is drawn to this as well.

Because I am too. Anyway, it's great. 

Shiela: Well, it's very similar to what do your style in blank, you know, you just you drop in and there you are. And these are characters that could be your best friends or your sister or They're just people. I, I like to write people that I feel like I meet in life. You know, they're not in an ivory tower somewhere, like looking down on the rest of civilization.

Zibby: Yeah. And observational too. I mean, how funny you were about even like in the opening scene, like the, the women on the plane who were like milfs, whatever, milfs, what was it? Milfs, I can't remember, something like. 

Shiela: Milfs, milfs without borders. Oh, right. It's actually something that I heard a woman on a plane once say.

She described herself that way to someone else and I was like, this is, that's just hilarious. Like good for you, woman. Thank you for inspiring me. 

Zibby: And you're like, and not only that, then she had sold like 36, 000 sweatshirts and you're like, Oh gosh. And you're a working mom too. And you're like, you know, drinking, you know, it's, it's, it's like the, it's one way to show, uh, Envy and respect at the same time and just like the ludicrous nature of life and that we can all arrive in the same spot and yet look and feel so different and yet Aren't there things that are the same?

So I mean you're the not you your character is a working mom there's a mom on the plane away from the kids and finally trying to take a minute and We've all been in that. Well, I shouldn't say we all Okay, let me back up. There's like so much I want to talk about. Why don't you tell listeners what your book is about?

Shiela: Sure, so, so Friends in Napa is about a group of college friends who reunite after a long time of not seeing each other in wine country, and one of them ends up dead. That's basically my elevator pitch, but if you like The White Lotus, this is a lot like The White Lotus in the vein of like, it's a dark comedy, it's a satire, but there is also a murder kind of wrapped into it, and you do have to read it until the end to figure out who was killed and why it happened, and what happened.

What happens afterwards. And, you know, I wanted to create something that was like, bingeable in the same way that a TV series would be. I've, I've heard so many people say they've read it in one sitting or in 24 hours, or they just, you know, couldn't wait to keep coming back to it. And those are exactly the types of books that I love too, where I almost want to savor them for longer.

I want to spread it out over a, a longer course of time, but they're You're just like drawn. You're like, I gotta, I gotta keep flipping the pages. I'm going to stay up too late. I'm gonna, uh, you know, like I'll be a little tired tomorrow. It's okay but yeah, that's the book. 

Zibby: That's the best feeling when a book hits you just the right way.

How did you get involved with Mindy Kalick? Like, how does that work? I don't, I'm not as familiar with that piece of the puzzle. 

Shiela: So, so Carmen actually works with Mindy as well and from the beginning, the idea with Friends in Napa, back then it was called Wine Country. That was the working, the working title.

And that's also the name of a film that, uh, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did for Netflix about Wine Country. So we decided, you know what, we'll, we'll do something a little bit different. But It initially, you know, the idea I had was a girl's trip gone wrong, and it was just going to be two women, you know, at different, like, kind of personal and professional, professional junctures in their life going to wine country to, to get away from their problems.

And Carmen and I started talking and she said, you know, if, if you're into it, we'd love to try to develop this for Mindy, for, for her imprints, but she's not going to, she, she wants to read a full manuscript before she decides what's going to happen. under her umbrella. So, write it, and if it doesn't work for Mindy, then it'll go with little A, which is the imprint that, that you're on, that, uh, the goddess effect my, my first novel was published under.

And, uh, yeah, so that, to me, felt like, all right, sure, let's, let's, let's, shoot for the stars and hope that, hope that she loves it. And, uh, as I was writing, especially the character of Anjali, who is the working mom, who is a little bit, she's certainly disgruntled when you first meet her. She, she's wanting, she, she's wanting a life that, that she feels like is out of her reach.

I feel like There's so much similarity between the characters that Mindy plays and the characters that she creates and Anjali, and I was just picturing Mindy in my head as I was writing this character, and I could totally see her, especially that airplane scene, just being like, like, it's not fair that I don't get to use the first class bathrooms, like, what are you talking about?

Zibby: So true. Can I read just like a little bit of the beginning just to show your voice and all that? 

Shiela: Please do. Yeah, I'd be honored. 

Zibby: Even the things you're saying like, the tiny Ziploc bags that even like an apple has to squeeze into to fit. I mean, what is with those little bags? What are they for? Things are always falling out.

I don't get it. 

Shiela: I have no idea. I ordered them by accident once and I was like, what, what, what am I going to do with these? 

Zibby: You had a line, you said, and this is not what I was thinking. The whole paragraph, but just one line. You said she wondered if a condition of being an adult was that you always thought you should be doing something other than what you were doing.

I love that. I'm always like that. I should be doing this. I should be doing that. 

Shiela: I, you're not the first person to say that either and it is something that I think multiple times a day, like, like, oh, I'm working on this thing, but like, wait, no, I'm going to just stop that and switch to this and I think we all feel like that.

Zibby: Cold. So cold. But that's like the art of it, right? Making that feeling, putting it into words in a different way so that we all kind of feel seen. I mean, you're so funny. You said, was Xerox still a company? I like chuckle at all these lines so much. Cause that's the way I think too. I'm like, da, da, da and then I'm like, wait, Xerox, is Xerox still a company?

And then you put it, it's just so funny. You said she wished she was the sort of woman who would accept a tennis bracelet as an apology. Well, she wouldn't turn down a tennis bracelet. She wasn't made of. Stone, but it wouldn't even occur to David, her husband to make a grand gesture like that, even if they could afford it.

The problem with joint credit cards, if he spent $7,000 at Tiffany's, she'd get a fraud alert as if she didn't already know charitable thoughts. She was supposed to be thinking charitable thoughts about her partner, about her marriage, about their life. , 

Shiela: I I love that you, you recognize the humor in that and uh, yeah.

Just, it just struck me as something, I'm sure it often happens, you know, people who have joint credit cards, my, my husband and I do have a joint card, but any kind of shopping that I'm doing, I'm doing that on my own. Like, unless, unless we're buying something together, he's getting me a gift or something like that.

I, I do not want. Do you have to explain why, why did I spend 500 on a vintage jewelry website that I just found on a random Tuesday morning? I, you know, that's, that's just what happened. 

Zibby: Yeah. Private business. You know, every so often I look into my husband's like credit card expenses and I'm hoping he's not doing the same.

Just like, like, what was this about? You know, tell me a little bit about this one. Cause you just don't know.

Shiela: Yeah. If I looked at my husband, I, I have, I do not want to, I don't want to. I love too many questions. 

Zibby: Everyone should have their privacy. So talk about the Napa setting. I understand that you thought of this.

We can't totally remember the conversation. And I was just saying, I listened to your conversation that you had. I'm sorry. I couldn't be there for your launch event at Zippy's bookshop. And you were talking about that and everything. Tell me about the launch and if anything happened that you didn't like.

Back or anything like that. And then talk about the NAPA setting. I mean, why not sit it in Napa? It's like amazing. But, um, . 

Shiela: Mm-Hmm. , right? Yeah. Well, well, as far as the Napa setting, you know, I mean, I just thought, I, I love the idea of doing something in wine country. It's a place that I think so many people, whether or not you're a wine connoisseur or even, even if you don't really drink that much wine or drink in general, I think in the popular imagination, it just has, we have this idea that is this like beautiful rolling hillsides and vineyards and sunshine and there's the sense of, especially if you do drink like this, like your glass is never going to be empty.

There's always going to be another. Another winery to go to, another bar to, to visit, another great meal to have because there's fabulous cuisine in wine countries all around the world. And there's also a sense of, I know I've experienced this with my own friends, like, like, okay, it's like, like a, like a real booze filled getaway.

Who knows what can happen? I get to let my hair down and really like, like sort of party. Which I say in quotes, but I'll, but with like a little bit of a, uh, a sheen of like, oh, this is also like culture. It's not like you're, you know, doing shots on top of a bar, which does happen in wine country, but you're not like, you're not going to like a typical spring break destination, let's say.

So it felt to me like a place where we're. Again, this group of college friends getting together, anything could happen. It could be a very buttoned up and, and kind of proper weekend, but it could also just be like, they could rediscover their love of binge drinking or these grudges that have been simmering for too long and you have won too many glasses.

And all of a sudden you're saying things that you may be. Can't take back and and yeah, Napa to me just I've been there more times than I can count being a resident of California I lived in the Bay Area for a year and a half So I would sometimes be up there multiple weekends a month it while I've never lived there It is a place that feels very familiar to me and I have a lot of friends actual friends in Napa who are thankfully not like this group of people I would I would never want to be friends with, but yeah, and then the, the event at Zippy's bookshop, I mean, what, first of all, what an amazing place.

I, I live on the East side of Los Angeles, so I'm not in Santa Monica that often, but I'm definitely going to be coming up with excuses to go there because the way that it's curated and it just, it feels cozy and like you want to spend time there. I had to, I found myself having to like tear myself. Away from browsing the stacks before the event, like, oh, wait.

Oh, I have to, I have to go sit down now and do something. And then we had, we had wine from sip well, and we had a shwariya ire, the founder of Brightland Olive Oil, who I is a very good friend of mine. And, and. was such a great host. She's never done something like this before. And she just had like, truly, I felt like she was channeling Barbara Walters or like Diane Sawyer.

She was like, I got my questions and we are going to get right into it. 

So it was, it was a delight to pick off my book tour there. 

Zibby: Oh, I'm so glad. And thank you for saying all that. And again, I'm sorry I wasn't there, but, uh, I mean, living on the East side of LA, you might as well live in Northern California.

I mean, honestly, the division between the people, all, I mean, it's far, it's, it's really. 

Shiela: It is. 

I'm, I'm probably in New York more often than I'm in Santa Monica or Venice or the west side of LA. 

Zibby: I joke because we're in the Palisades and originally I wanted to put the bookstore there and the spot that was available was in Santa Monica and I'm like oh no no that's too far but meanwhile I live in New York City.

Do you know Like, I would come out. It's so stupid. 

Shiela: It's, you know, I mean, I think it's like the New York equivalent of, you know, if you live on the Upper West Side, how often are you going to like, like Brooklyn or I don't know, like Greenpoint, let's say. It's, you really have to get out of your comfort zone and we all have our, you know, our routines, the places that we frequent often.

But, but, Yeah, it was just, it was a nice, it was a nice excuse to get out there and realize like, oh yeah, it's also not that far. It's also R& D kitchen, which is so good. That's where we went afterwards and I, I really need to get back there because they have a phenomenal burger and it was the perfect place to celebrate.

Zibby: Well, one time when I'm out there, we should, we should do that on purpose. I am down. I am 100 percent down. I was scrolling through some of your bylines at the Times and all these other venues and the New Yorker and everything. And I was like, Oh, I read that one. Oh, I read that one. That one too. Oh my gosh.

That's amazing. How did you get to be like a prolific journalist at all these big deal publications? 

Shiela: Thank you. Thank you for reading, reading my work. And it's often one of the biggest compliments that I get from friends and people who know me sometimes is that they'll, they'll read something, say in the New Yorker or the New York times, and then say that they got to the end and they didn't, they didn't realize it was me at the beginning, but then as they were reading, they were like, wait a minute, this is totally a Sheila story.

I like that people can. Pick me out of a crowd in that way. But how did I get to writing for them? Well, I started my career at ABC news five days after graduating from college. I, all I wanted to do was live in New York. I, I grew up, well, not grew up, but like high school, college was spent watching sex in the city.

And just thinking, I gotta, I have to have my own version of that Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle. And my parents said, sure, but you're going to pay for it. We're not, we're, we, we can't, you know, pay for your Manhattan apartment. So I figured, okay, gotta get a place in the city. Have to get a job that doesn't have much to do with math because that is not my strong suit.

What are we going to do? And after a series of internships, media was something I was very interested in. And yeah, I started as a desk assistant on the overnight shift at the world headquarters of ABC News on the Upper West Side. And, and, and. For seven years, I moved my way up the ladder. I was eventually the entertainment editor and reporter for abcnews.

com. This was the time when TMZ was really taking off and Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, and this whole group of people were, were kind of in and out of their own legal battles and dramas. And I was having to chronicle this stuff that I never thought In a million years had wanted to do. I felt it was making me feel really terrible inside.

There was one particular list of, of Britney, like all the bad things Britney has done or something where I, I said, I don't want to, I almost got fired because I didn't want to put my name on it and it was, it was just reprehensible to me. I. The day before my 30th birthday, I decided I cannot, I cannot turn 30 and still be doing this.

I just, it's like, it's really like crushing my soul. So, um, I quit and I had always wanted to write for the New York Times. I had a friend who was freelancing for them. She gave me her editor's name and I sent 12 ideas before they, here. Sure. Like, like, give it a shot. Let's see if, if, if you can do it. And I don't think I'd ever been so nervous.

reporting a story and just, you know, just so thorough because I knew if I mess this up, I'm not getting another chance with them. And thankfully I did not mess it up. And that led to more stories with them and, and other magazines and the New Yorker I started writing for. In 2016. So about eight years ago.

And, uh, yeah, that's how that's a very long answer to your question about how I got to be where I am now. 

Zibby: No, I love it. I wanted the backstory. So that's great. 

Shiela: Yeah. 

Zibby: Where do you want to take your whole career? More books, more journalism, more of everything. Something different. What's going on? 

Shiela: Good question.

Where do I want to take my whole career? I do love writing novels. I, I definitely, I am kind of coming. The, the idea for book three is on the back burner. Right now, sort of simmering. It's like, like a slow cooker. something or the other. There's a little bit of time, uh, that it needs to kind of gel together.

I would love to, to adapt the, my works of fiction for film, TV, I, Friends in Napa, especially, as well as The Goddess Effect. I really do see a lot of cinematic potential, you know, and whether that means something on T, on a, TV screen or a movie screen. I, I just would love to get those made and be a part of making them.

And then, I, I would like to write a memoir or some kind of essay collection, something non fiction. Haven't quite figured out what the conceit would be yet, but I'm not, I'm not in a great rush to do it because I think that that's the type of thing, like, often with fiction, with pretty much anything, you really have to feel, like, excited.

And of course there are going to be points in the writing process where you're like, I hate this thing, I can't believe that I got myself into this, like, why this is just such a slog, why am I doing it, I want to quit. Bye. There has to be that point of inspiration at the beginning where it feels like this is urgent and needs to be told and I need to be the one to do it.

And I'm excited to do it. So that's how I'm feeling about maybe a nonfiction book for now. But I also, you know, the access that I get through journalism and the rooms that I'm able to be in because I'm there as a reporter, I couldn't ask for better inspiration or a better well to draw from for. for all of my ideas.

And I do want to keep doing that and keep doing stories that I love that I also feel called to and that, that I think I can hopefully do justice. 

Zibby: Amazing. So exciting. Okay. So what advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Shiela: Ooh, advice for aspiring authors. It's not original, but read. You've got to, you know, you read everything and it doesn't have to be read, read the things that you want to read, I should say.

You don't have to read like everything on the bestseller list. You don't have to read that big book that everyone is talking about that you feel like you should be reading, but you're like, Oh, I'm not really like excited about it. I think someone, you know, other than me, has said, uh, that life is too short to read books you don't like.

And I, I truly believe that. If you start something and you're not into it, unless you, you know, have to do it for some type of assignment, put it down. Just start something else. Find what really speaks to you. Because I think that the more we read, the more like, kind of, the more literature you consume, the better writer you're going to be.

It's, it's. It's a pretty direct relationship. And then I would say keep a journal, keep some, it doesn't, it can be in the notes app of your phone. It can be, there's an app called day one that I really like that's kind of a digital journal that you can add pictures to and video and all sorts of things. Or it can be a Google doc or it can be a, you know, physical kind of journal, a more traditional thing.

But I think that, you know, I, I do not journal or write in a diary every day, I try to, but it doesn't, you don't have to kind of follow that narrative format of like, dear diary, here's what happened today, it could just be like, something, like words, or some, some interesting thing you saw on the street, or, or something you ate, or just, just something that made an impression in your mind for one reason or another.

Doesn't need to make sense, but I think that when you go back and, and kind of read through that stuff or when you're searching for like, wait, what happened that there was something that happened that one day and it like kind of stuck in my mind as like, What if I wrote a story based on this, or this was a character, a point of inspiration.

It's just really useful to have that repository. And I think that the act of writing also, I know for me, it helps me remember things that have happened in my life. And yeah, it just makes it all feel a little bit more real. 

Zibby: She led this book. So great. And by the way, fabulous cover. I feel like I need to put you in touch with Michelle Wilden, who wrote Wine People, which is a book that I love.

We published a Zippy books, which is very different. Um, you know, more like inside the working in the wine industry. But anyway, I feel like the two of you should meet and have a some sort of event or something at this. I don't know. It would be fun. 

Shiela: I would love to do that. That is, uh, yeah, that sounds fantastic.

And that sounds like a really great foil for this, you know, fictional group of people just, just behaving badly in wine country. But to kind of talk about that with someone who actually has experience in this world, that would be really cool. 

Zibby: Okay. I will put you in touch after this. All right. Okay. Thank you, Sheila.

Shiela: Thank you, Zibby. 

Zibby: Good to meet you. All right. 

Shiela: So good to meet you. 

Zibby: Bye.

Sheila Yasmin Marikar, FRIENDS IN NAPA

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