Taylor Jenkins Reid, MALIBU RISING

Taylor Jenkins Reid, MALIBU RISING

“We live our inner life, and then we live the life that we show people. Sometimes, we’re just putting on the performance.” Zibby is joined by bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid to talk about her latest novel, Malibu Rising, which features the children of one of her former characters —from both The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones and the Six— over the course of one day. The two discuss why Taylor finds fame and families so interesting to write about, how her screenwriter husband is always her first reader, and the ways in which both Taylor and Zibby manage societal pressures as working mothers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Taylor. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Malibu Rising.

Taylor Jenkins Reid: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Zibby: It’s so funny. I stayed up. I had read most of this a couple weeks ago. It kept me company the day that my kids went to my ex-husband’s. I was so sad. All I wanted to do was get into bed and read something good. I picked this. I was like, everybody’s raving about this book. I had this interview coming up. It totally did the trick. I just want you to know you kept me company in a very dark moment of the summer.

Taylor: Oh, good. I am honored to have had the opportunity. Thank you.

Zibby: Then I finished it last night. It kept me up until one thirty in the morning, which I never do. I read eight books a week or something crazy. I am very good with my time. I was like, I cannot skim a word. I want every word of this book. My husband was like, “That’s the book of the summer.” I’m like, “I know.” I’ve had it everywhere we’ve gone. That’s my personal story about it. For people who don’t know what Malibu Rising is about, would you mind telling a little bit about it and also how you came up with this, especially after Daisy Jones & The Six?

Taylor: Malibu Rising is the story of the Riva family. They are four adult siblings, surfers, throwing a party at the end of August in 1983 in Malibu. The book starts at seven AM and takes you hour by hour through a day in the life of this family going back in time to their parents’ marriage to show you all the long-simmering tensions in this family. Then as the party starts, some of these tensions rise to the surface. By the end of the night, everything has turned into complete chaos. Malibu Rising is the story of that day. I came to write it in a couple of different ways. I had a few different ideas of things that I wanted to write about. I had a moment where I realized that all of these things could come together and sort of coalesce into one novel. The elements were, I really wanted to write about siblings. I wanted to write about kids who have sort of had to raise themselves and how they banded together and bonded through this trauma of losing both of their parents in different ways.

Then I also wanted to write about famous children because I’ve been writing about fame for a while. One of the things that I was interested in is — two of my previous characters, Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones, are women that know what they want. They’re very serious about going after it, albeit in different ways. What they want is the attention of the world. I thought, what is it like when you have the attention of the world, but you didn’t seek it out and you don’t necessarily want it? It’s something that was chosen for you. Those pieces came together for me. I thought, what if it was a famous father that left you? How would that be different than the experience of never seeing your father again? What if you see him on billboards and you hear his music on the radio but know that he’s not there for you? What would that feel like? That’s when I knew. I was like, I already have a famous character. I have a character who is famous who would leave his kids. That’s Mick Riva. I had written about Mick Riva in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. He appears again in Daisy Jones very briefly. I thought, well, there you go. There’s your answer. That’s the guy who would leave his kids. Then it was like, okay, if it’s Mick Riva, then that brings us into, he probably had kids around this time. Now we’re into the eighties, which I had wanted to write about. I really wanted to write about the beach. All of it came together. I thought, let’s just set a rager in Malibu in 1983 and let Mick Riva’s children get through all of their tension and agita in one night.

Zibby: Wow, that’s so interesting that that’s how it came about. I love that. Also, what you said about kids raising themselves, essentially, I feel like your character, Nina, is just so — they’re all so real. The issues that she’s struggling with and how we watch her, over time, come to terms with that and how you have that arc of her character, it’s amazing. I feel like the positioning of the book is like, it’s a rager in Malibu. Yes, yes, of course, obviously, but it’s so much deeper.

Taylor: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. Look, I try very hard to make my books really fun, and so I appreciate when people think they’re fun. I also work really hard to make sure that they are saying something and that they have complexity to them and that there’s something to sink your teeth into. Thank you for seeing that.

Zibby: Of course. I feel so attached to Nina’s mom, June. I want her to come back. I don’t know if you’re going to do anything — not that she can — anyway, they were so lifelike. They each had something that they kind of taught the reader in the end. When you’re coming up with your characters — fiction, to me, I’m just so impressed by novelists and the ability to craft people out of thin air and make them so realistic, especially these ones who I could literally see. I can’t wait for the movie, but I feel like I just watched it in my head already. It was twelve hours long. I loved it. It was great. They’ll have to compete with that, my own footage. When you’re creating your characters, what is your secret? How do you do it? I was trying to analyze it as I read. Is it the details? Is it the backstory and when you learn the backstory? Is it the detail, little things? Is it how you see them when they interact with other people that gives away the most? I feel like that always shows us so much.

Taylor: The most succinct answer to your question is, I don’t know. I think what it is for me is that certainly, lately, I spend a lot of time doing research on my novels at the very beginning of my process. During that period of time, I’m not writing, but I’m thinking constantly. You come across a fact. Oh, would my character do that or not do that? By the end of that period of time, I know them. I really feel like they live somewhere in my head. I know them. I know what they would do and what they wouldn’t do. By the time I get to writing — it’s funny, I think sometimes there are two different types of writers. I’ve totally made up this theory. I have no evidence to back it up. I think sometimes there are people who, they think a sentence. Then they think, that’s a good sentence. Then they type it. For me, that whole process is not happening. I don’t know what I’m about to type before I type it. It’s going directly from my reptilian brain into my fingers. It’s totally bypassing my frontal lobe.

There are times when something will reveal itself as I’m typing. I’ll go, oh, okay, I didn’t know that I knew this about them. I think it’s just an innate sense that I have for who these people are. They show up pretty fully formed for me. I try to just get as close to the truth of them as I can on the page. I really appreciate you saying that they come to life to you because they come to life for me very, very much. June in particular, I know her. I feel her. Then in turn, I pretty much know the large things that are going to happen in a novel. There are times when I, by somebody else, my husband who’s my first reader, my agent, my editor — I have to be pushed to make some of the really terrible things happen. I’ve come to love them so much. It’s hard for me. I’ve cried multiple times in notes meetings, not because I was bothered by the notes, but because I was like, oh, no, you’re right about this note, and now I have to go do this sad thing to this person that I care about. They’re very real to me. I hope that means they’re real on the page.

Zibby: Wow. You had this interesting line. I also loved the character, Kit. I loved all your characters, honestly. As she’s struggling and as she puts on the outfit and decides on who she wants to be for that party, you wrote, “Dressed as she was, she could feel a difference in how the rooms she entered made space for her. She was still trying to figure out how she felt about it.” I just loved that line. Tell me about that line. I just loved it.

Taylor: What I think is really interesting about when we’re meeting Kit in this particular time in her life is that she is curious about finding out more about herself. She’s changing things up. She’s going to dress a little bit differently. She’s going to try to behave a little bit differently. The way that she’s choosing to dress and behave is a little bit more conventional, more traditional. We’ll say it’s a stricter definition of femininity. She’s going to show a little skin. She’s going to be conventionally attractive. She’s going to do that. Gender presentation’s a really interesting thing to me. My whole life, there was always a subtext to a lot of my conversations with people where it felt like I wasn’t being feminine enough. The way that I was speaking wasn’t particularly feminine. The way I was dressing wasn’t particularly feminine. It bothered people. I was very influenced by bothering people. I don’t want to bother people. It was like, okay, let me try this on. Okay, this works, but I still don’t know if it’s me. Over time, I’m in my thirties now, I’ve been able to adopt a much stronger sense of self and a feeling of, oh, I can be whatever I want any particular day. I’ll be this one day and something else another day. When you’re a teenager or somebody like Kit who’s twenty, twenty-one, she’s trying on a new self. She’s certainly getting attention for it, but is it who she is? She’s not sure. Kit is someone I just have a lot of affection for. She’s working through some pretty big questions that night. I don’t even think she knows what she’s setting into motion when she does it.

Zibby: It’s so true. I feel like this whole thing, though, of fame and coming into a room and how you’re perceived by others, that’s really what the whole thing is almost about, in a way, too, the differences between how you see yourself and how they’re all thinking of you.

Taylor: And what people want you to be. People want Nina to be something other than what she is. People want Kit to be something other than what she is. Look, the way all of us function through life is societal expectations versus what’s in our heart. For women, we’re just given a lot less leeway on societal expectations. I find their struggle between what they’re being asked to perform or what they need to perform in order to get what they want versus what they want to do on their own, what their heart is telling them to do — both of them find more concrete answers to those questions than I think they intended to.

Zibby: Daisy Jones was such a huge hit. Now, of course, this is another huge hit. I’m sure you’re grappling with these issues of fame yourself as you’re writing them in your characters. How are you thinking about that for you? Are you enjoying this? In a way, when you’re writing, you want it, but do you want this?

Taylor: It’s interesting. It’s funny because it’s a question that I’ve been presented with a few times over the course of releasing this book. My answer keeps changing. I think part of that is because of the — my initial instinct in being asked that question every single time is to bat it away as quickly as possible and say, I’m not famous. There’s nothing famous about me. I’m an author. I’m just writing stories. Nobody needs to be interested in me. It does, at some point, get a little naïve and insincere. I have the ability to get my story to a much wider audience than I certainly was at the beginning of my career and that most people have the opportunity to do. To deny that is a little bit silly. At the same time, I really do grapple with, I am not well-suited to performance. When you’re not well-suited to it, what does the performance look like? Everything is a performance. Even your day-to-day life and your interactions with the person on the street, we live two lives. We live our inner life, and then we live the life that we show people with Instagram. In the United States, somebody says, how are you? You go, good, good. How are you? It’s totally irrelevant to how your day’s actually going. We’re just putting on the performance. Oh, my day’s going well. How’s your day going? I’m not well-suited to the performance piece. I don’t have an answer yet on how I feel about it. There’s definitely growing pains. It’s definitely hard for me to understand. I released a thing on my Instagram. If anyone wants signed copies, call Diesel Bookstore here in LA. I’ll go over and sign them for you. I honestly thought maybe thirty people would call. It just turned out to be much, much bigger. That’s hard for me to understand. I still don’t totally understand it. I’m grappling with it.

Zibby: How many people signed up?

Taylor: I think we had about five hundred in the first two weeks. It’s a lovely, lovely thing to have happen. It’s an adjustment for me. Look, my first book came out, I had a very small, loyal fanbase that was mostly the copies my mother-in-law bought. I know that not every book gets that kind of attention, and so I’m appreciative for it every single time. Every reader that shows up and buys a book, reads it at the library, I know not every author gets that. I am very, very appreciative.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to ask you — now I feel ridiculous. I’m sorry to ask you questions you get all the time. I hate when I do that.

Taylor: No, I’m sorry. No, that is not at all what I meant. What I meant is that my work lends itself to that question. I wish that I had a more concrete answer.

Zibby: I think your answer is how you feel. That’s okay. Not everything is totally crystalized while you’re going through it.

Taylor: That’s well-put. I think you’re getting me in the middle of — I am in the chrysalis right now. I’m trying to report on how it looks in here. I don’t know how I will change, but I can tell that I will.

Zibby: Back to your husband being your first reader, do you read it out loud to him, or does he read it himself?

Taylor: He’s the first person that reads everything I write. He’s a writer too. He’s a screenwriter. He reads everything that I write. I just finished my eighth book. I have learned not to sit over him or be in the same room when he is reading. It used to be like, I’d see him smile or shake his head. I’d be like, what line are you at? What are you reacting to? Now I just hand it over to him. I’m like, okay, I need this by Monday, and let him do his thing. He’s phenomenal at story, really incredible at structure. I benefit greatly from both his encouragement and his hard truths. He’s come to me a few times over the years. I remember with one book in particular he was like, “It’s not good enough.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll try again.” He shows up for me in the way that a true, true partner does, which is to say that he’s not going to lie to me. He’s going to tell me the hard truth when I need to hear it, and so I trust everything that he says.

Zibby: Do you do the same for his work?

Taylor: I do. Although, he needs me less. He breaks a lot of stories. I work on basically one book over the course of a year, most likely, two years. He’ll read the same book two or three times. My husband’s breaking screenplays — he probably does ten stories a year. Sometimes he’ll bring me in when he needs character work or he has a final draft of something. Over the years, he needs me less now than I need him. He’s got the power in this relationship on that front.

Zibby: Nice. Are you going to collaborate?

Taylor: We have, yeah. We’ve written some screenplays together. We adapted my book, One True Loves. We’re in the process of actually working on a new draft of that because it’s scheduled to shoot next month. It’s fun to work with him. He’s just very talented. I’m in good hands and only have to do half the work that way.

Zibby: You were so nice to thank him and everything for taking care of your daughter. That’s so sweet. It’s hard getting stuff done. It’s really hard.

Taylor: It’s hard getting stuff done. Once I had a kid, I just realized the amount of labor that is required in order to raise a child, the way you have to rearrange your entire life around it. I want to be very clear with people because they may see on Instagram, I’m talking about my cute little kid. Here are the books that I’m writing. I know for me, I look at other moms and I’m like, how are you doing that? I don’t have time to do everything you’re doing. How are you doing it? I just want to be really clear. I’m doing it with help. I have a husband who actively raises his daughter, is with her fifty percent, if not more, of the time. Obviously, now we’re back to having a school system. That helps. I have in-laws that watch her. I have nannies and babysitters. I have help. I personally want to be transparent about that.

Zibby: I couldn’t do anything I do. Right now, I have seven kids in the other room behind that door. I’m not even kidding. I also have my in-laws and a babysitter and my husband. I hear the screams, and I know I can do this interview.

Taylor: Exactly. It takes a village. There are people that are doing it on their own.

Zibby: I know. I have so much respect.

Taylor: I have so much respect for those people. My mom did it on her own for a long time. I have a lot of respect for it. I also want to be transparent about the support that I do have because I think sometimes, we make it invisible. Then when we look at it on Instagram or Facebook or whatever, it’s like, how are they managing to do all of that in one day? How did she bake that cake? I’m so tired. That’s my soapbox that I will get on for me personally, is just wanting to talk more about that.

Zibby: Interesting. Now I’m rethinking my Instagram. I don’t think I make it seem like I don’t have help.

Taylor: I doubt that you do. Also, I don’t put my family members on my Instagram. I’m not sitting here going, oh, here’s the nanny, oh, here’s my babysitter, and showing the photo of them. It’s more just like, when you have an opportunity to talk about how you get work done or who to thank, for me, it’s like, let me thank the people that make the room for me to do this.

Zibby: Of course, I’m now — you say something about you, and I’m like, oh, does that mean I’m doing something wrong? This has nothing to do with me. I’m so sorry.

Taylor: No, but I do the exact same thing. That’s what I mean. When I look at women’s Instagrams or I look at even — parenthood is not just a female thing, but mothers are just super highly charged, this idea of motherhood and how to be a good mother. Our society defines women by it so much that I’m very receptive to — I’ll be on Instagram, and I’ll be like, her entire spice rack is all fresh spices. Mine is not. How did she do that? I’m very susceptible. Somebody’s just doing their own thing, but I’m thinking about how it reflects on me. We all are.

Zibby: Okay, you have to check out my Instagram. Tell me if I’m coming across as trying do it all and something like that.

Taylor: I assure you I am not judging anybody else. I’m judging myself so much. I have no time to judge anyone else.

Zibby: Exactly. I feel that way too. Everybody’s posting all the workout classes. Everybody’s so fit. I’m just like, well, you know what, I got a lot of other stuff done today. That’s what I have to offer. Anyway, your most recent book, what is that about, the one you just finished?

Taylor: Mum’s the word. I just finished it. I don’t know when it’s going to come out. Basically, I see The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones & The Six, Malibu Rising, and this next one as sort of a quartet. They’re four books about women in the public eye during various decades and different scenes in American culture in the second half of the twentieth century. I’ve given some clues here and there about a little bit of what it will be about. The biggest thing I’ve said is just that it will take place in the nineties. We’ve had Evelyn Hugo in the sixties, Daisy Jones in the seventies, Malibu Rising in the eighties, and now we’re going to go to the nineties. I have a few more rounds of stuff to do on that, copy edits and things like that. Once that book is sealed, I’m going to start fresh again. I’m going to go in a different direction. I have some ideas of what that will be. I’m not totally sure yet, but I want to go back to the drawing board and come up with an area of the world that I have more to say about.

Zibby: I love it. Do you do all your work at home? Where do you usually like to work?

Taylor: Yeah, I like to work at home. I need silence. I need it to be quiet. Also, I’m old now, and so I have carpal tunnel. I need my mouse and my keyboard. Otherwise, my wrist starts aching.

Zibby: I have the same thing. I’m pretending it’s not carpal tunnel, but it gets all swollen in here. Is that what happens to you?

Taylor: Yeah. Mine just aches. My wrist aches, and my shoulder. It’s a bad setup. I’m at home at my desk working. It gives me a strong sense of, this is — I feel very centered here at my desk. I can focus. Now, when my kid is home because she’s been pulled out of school for COVID or something, then it’s very difficult to get any work done. I still stay here and just put in some white-noise headphones and keep going.

Zibby: Awesome. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Taylor: I do. Write more. I think I, at the beginning of my career, was not reading or writing as much as I later ended up doing. The more that I wrote, the better I got. If you just write and write and write, if you just write one thing from beginning to end, if you have a short story idea, you have a novel idea, you have an essay you want to write, just finish it. The joy of finishing it will be enough to power you through to the next one. There’s that sense of satisfaction when you just finish something. I think the more you write, the better you get. The more you read, the more aware you are of your place in the larger world that you’re writing about.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great. Taylor, thank you so much. This has been so fun. I can’t wait for your next installment of the quartet. Thank you so much. This has been so fun.

Taylor: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Taylor: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Taylor Jenkins Reid, MALIBU RISING

MALIBU RISING by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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