Photographed by Kevin Scanlon
When Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, went on Up Close with Elvis Mitchell in October of 2010 he was asked, of course, about the sumptuous set and costume design on his multiple-Emmy Award-winning period show set between 1960 and ’70, and his answer has stuck with since I first heard it on the radio in 2014. “I had this philosophical idea underpinning the entire thing,” Weiner told the live audience, “Which is: if you look around the room right now there are people dressed in all different types of clothing here — from things that just came out today to things that they wore in high school and there are people here in vintage clothing — and it all exists at the same time; your furniture is like that, everything is. For example: I knew Peggy had a ponytail, but Jeffrey Rebelo, who did the hair on the pilot said to me, “How about bangs?” and he showed me all these research pictures. Elisabeth Moss let me do that to her for a long time because it was the character and because Peggy is dressed in styles from the ’40s, she is a little dowdy because Peggy is from the sticks.”
When I repeat this quote to Taylor Jenkins Reid over email she writes back, “I have never heard this quote before and now I suspect I’ll think of it all the time! It’s so true and it’s one of those things that you really have to be careful about. You can’t rush the details when it comes to writing about the past. You have to think about each individual character, no matter how small, and consider how they would be living at that time.” This conversation comes on the eve of the publication of Reid’s sixth book, Daisy Jones & The Six, out March 5th. A novel set in the rock and roll world of Los Angeles in the ’70s, Daisy Jones is Reid’s second period novel, after 2017’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which spans a Hollywood movie icon’s life from the ’50s through the ’80s as told to a reporter in the present day. Employing an adjacent device, the plot of Daisy Jones is revealed through a series of interviews with band members, former crew members, journalists, etc. recounting the rise and fall of a fictional band that closely resembles the trajectory of Fleetwood Mac.
What follows is the rest of our email correspondence.
Your new novel centers around Daisy, a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties. What sort of research did you do to understand what that time was like?
I was initially interested in female musicians during that time so I started with listening to the music that women were putting out in the ’60s and ’70s. Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Cher. And then I started reading biographies and watching rock documentaries. One of the best documentaries I watched was The History of the Eagles (2013). It’s three hours long and it’s just gold from beginning to end. I also read a lot of old copies of Rolling Stone. I have a massive stack of them still in my office. I no longer need them for work but I can’t bear to part with them.
With your last two books you’ve dipped your toes in period writing. What sorts of factors went into making the decision to do period fiction?
I don’t know if I made the decision in any formal capacity. I think I just reached the end of the road in the contemporary fiction I was writing. And I started wondering where I wanted to go next. It’s certainly different: It’s a lot more work. I feel out of my depth a lot. But the most exciting thing about moving into writing about the past is that you get to lose yourself in a time and place. It’s escapism for me writing it as much as it is for anyone reading it. I liked disappearing into ’60s Hollywood for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I had an insanely fun time losing myself in ’70s rock for Daisy Jones.
“By allowing my main characters to tell their own story in their words, and then giving them someone to tell their story to, I can show you both the legend and the truth.”
Also unique to your last two books is the device of letting the main character dictate the story to a third party. How did you arrive at that device and what freedoms does it allow?
That, more than anything, is a result of writing about famous people going on the record about something. Which is the plot of both Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones. It’s two very different stories but they have the same basic idea: What’s the truth and how is it different than the legend?
I’m fascinated by the difference between how things are and how they look. And fame is a great way to dissect that because we all have a communal understanding of fame — we have tropes about actresses, tropes about rock bands. So I can subvert those tropes by telling a personal, intimate story about how it truly was.
By allowing my main characters to tell their own story in their words, and then giving them someone to tell their story to, I can show you both the legend and the truth.
Many of your books seem to deal with the “what ifs” of life. What about that is interesting to you?
Honestly, that’s probably just because I think too much. You don’t want to be in my head. It’s a lot of thinking. Just all the time. “What if I’d done this or that? Did this happen because I did this? Would I have gotten where I wanted to go faster if I made a different decision?” I think what I’m saying is that I’m deeply neurotic and it shows in my work.
“Ambition is all well and good. But so is balance. I’m still finding it.”
You’ve said in previous interviews that you stick to a strict writing schedule every day of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. How did you arrive at that schedule, and what about it works for you?
I find great comfort in sticking to a work week. I know a lot of writers who are much more flexible and somehow still get things done. But if I told myself that I only needed to work when inspiration struck, I’d never finish a book. I’m insanely good at rationalizing watching TV instead of working. But my ambition pushes me to produce as much work as possible so that I can write all the things I want to write. And that means that I need to put in at least forty-five to fifty hours a week, sometimes more. So I set a schedule and a daily word count and that’s how I achieve the goals I set.
All of that being said, it’s sometimes a grueling pace to produce content. And it’s catching up with me. I’m hoping to start slowing down soon. Ambition is all well and good. But so is balance. I’m still finding it.
How much outlining and story blocking do you do before getting a first draft out?
My first drafts are a mess. I know the premise and I know how it all ends. But the first draft, for me, is about finding out how all of the characters get from point A to point B. Usually, I find it along the way in these zigs and zags and then I have to go back and turn that mess into a streamlined story.
The TV rights to Daisy were acquired by Reese Witherspoon’s studio and then by Amazon Studios last summer, which must be incredibly exciting! How much of a role will/have you had in its development?
I’m very fortunate to have sold the book to Hello Sunshine because of the incredible respect they give authors. My role is very informal and unformed at the moment. But I feel very included and confident in the choices they are making. I cannot wait to see what they come up with.