Taylor Jenkins Reid Explores Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll

Posted by Cybil on February 28, 2019
What’s it like being a woman in a man’s world? That’s one of the questions Taylor Jenkins Reid tackles in her latest novel, Daisy Jones & the Six. Daisy Jones isn’t just any woman, though. She’s a rock star. Her life has all the glamour, love, and loss that go with that kind of fame.

Daisy Jones herself arrives on the Hollywood party scene in the late '60s. Desperate to find love—and herself—she sleeps with rock stars and parties all night, but it isn’t enough. Then her stars begin to align with Billy Dunne, the leader of a band called the Six.

Told in the style of an oral history, Daisy Jones & the Six chronicles the tumultuous relationships behind the music of a famed '70s rock band. Fans of Jenkins Reid’s work will recognize her flair for form as well as the attention to detail that drew many readers to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Most of all, fans will find the deep characters who have left them always wanting more. Jenkins Reid talked to Goodreads contributor Rebecca Renner about her latest novel. Their conversation has been edited.

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Goodreads: What inspired you to write about a band in the '60s and '70s?

Taylor Jenkins Reid: A number of things came together for me all at one time. I’ve always been really fascinated by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and their relationship. And so, wanting to write about a band similar to Fleetwood Mac was absolutely part of it. The other part of it is that I became really taken with a band called the Civil Wars, which was a band of just two people—a man and a woman—and they sang these incredibly intimate songs, but they weren’t together. They were married to other people, but they broke up, randomly—just very abruptly one night and they won’t talk about it. They won’t go on record about it, and I was very fascinated with that. And I’d known some friends who are musicians and I’ve seen, from a very distant perspective, the way that art and collaboration with another person can blur lines sometimes: whether you’re collaborating solely in a creative way or if the romance is creeping into that.

So that was my primary focus. I was really interested in telling a story about two people who had complex feelings for one another, but were also trying to create something together that was separate from what was going on between them. And I set it in the '70s because it feels like such an evocative time in L.A.’s history. The Sunset Strip during that time had the Southern California sound, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, the Laurel Canyon scene having Crosby Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell, and the Mommas and the Papas all living in the same neighborhood. I got really excited by that, and so I know that I am in a good space creatively when I want to get lost in something. It seems to be a good time that other people want to get lost in too, so that’s where it started.

GR: Several people have sort of been joking that it’s a real band. Lots of people have Googled "Daisy Jones," myself being one of them. My question is: What did you do to make it feel so real?

TJR: I find that hugely flattering. The fact that people want this to be a real band and want to Google them is so satisfying for me as a writer. I had a similar thing with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, in which Hugo was a movie star. And you know she’s fictional. But one of the things that happened when that book was released is when I searched “Evelyn Hugo,” one of the autopopulated things from Google was: “Is Evelyn Hugo a real person?” Which made me really happy. Coming up with fake famous people and writing them in a way that people are interested in learning more about them—then bummed that they can’t—is the most fun part of this job for sure.

With Daisy Jones & the Six, I think the reason why people feel drawn to this band and want them to be real is because of the way it’s written, because it’s an oral history. There’s no narrator in this story; you’re hearing everything from the characters themselves and hopefully that contributes to giving it a sense of authenticity. That you feel like you know Daisy Jones. She must be real, because she was just talking to you in this book.

GR: Is that the reason you chose interview as a form?

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TJR: Yeah, it is. My primary inspiration was the fact that when I’m learning about rock, when I’m reading stories about musicians, my favorite way is to hear about it is from the musicians themselves. I love watching rock documentaries. I love reading oral histories. Vanity Fair did an oral history of Laurel Canyon that really was such a perfect way to consume that story. Because I felt like I was there. And the oral histories that I’ve read, especially when they’re about the entertainment industry, really pull you right into the center of things.

The Saturday Night Live oral history is really fantastic, and it’s really long. It’s one of those things you sort of dip in and out of. You feel like you’re on the set of Saturday Night Live. Like Lorne Michaels is right there. I wanted this book to feel that way. So that’s why I chose to do it in oral history format, because I wanted it to feel like you were watching a rock documentary.

GR: Several of your novels are so richly historical. Tell us about your research process. How do you find just the right details?

TJR: What I found with my latest book is that if I’m really excited about the research aspect of it, that’s going to steel me through the writing of the first draft and beyond. So I choose to set my stories during times and in places where I feel nostalgia for. I grew up really enamored by Hollywood. I grew up on the East Coast, in Maryland and Massachusetts, and I was obsessed with Lucille Ball and Cary Grant. For a very long time, I just wanted to go to this imaginary Hollywood place where all these larger-than-life stars, like Paul Newman and Katharine Hepburn, existed. That was never possible for me, obviously. But when I decided I wanted to write about an actress, I thought: I want to write it in that space because I could disappear in '60s Hollywood. I want to go there. To go there in my brain. I couldn’t go there physically, but I could go there in my brain.

And so I did the same thing with Daisy Jones. I want to go see Fleetwood Mac in 1977. I can’t, but I can go there in my head. I start out every book with a month, maybe a bit more, with solid research. Not necessarily knowing what I’m looking for, just trying to put myself in that space. For Daisy Jones, it was watching a documentary called The History of the Eagles, which is a three-hour documentary on the Eagles. It’s fascinating from beginning to end. It was listening to a lot of the music I hadn’t listened to in a long time or had never listened to. That Eagles documentary got me listening to Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, which then got me listening to Cher. Then I would listen to Fleetwood Mac. I’d listen to Tom Petty. I was just bouncing around from person to person. The book that was really influential for me, for this story, was Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run. Once I got where he was coming from, the things that he was writing and how he felt about his art, that really informed a lot of the male voices in the story.

Researching was the most fun thing. I was literally just watching rock documentaries, reading books about rock, listening to rock, from morning until night. I listened to Rumours so much that my daughter is going to think it came out in 2016.

GR: Daisy Jones & the Six isn’t the only novel where you play with form. In your first novel, Forever, Interrupted, you alternate chapters between past and the present, but each chapter informs the others so well. How did you do that? Did you plan that beforehand, or develop it in editing, or something else?

TJR: It’s funny, I do play with form in my work. It’s not intentional, though now I’ve done it so often that I’m excited by the idea of continuing to do it. So it’s becoming more intentional now. But it truly started with Forever, Interrupted. I came up with the concept of that book, which is: A woman meets the love of her life, and they elope, and he dies nine days later. She meets her mother-in-law for the first time in the hospital. That was my premise.

I sat down to write that, and I assumed that it would be a linear novel. But on the first day, I sat there and went: Well, wait, you can’t have her meet her mother-in-law in the middle of the book while sticking to the premise, and you can’t have her meet her mother-in-law without showing the relationship she’s had with her husband because that’s the whole heart of the book. So how do I start this book? After a few hours of staring at a blank screen without knowing what to do, I was like: I can start both of these stories at the same time.

Once I figured that out, the book made a lot of sense to me, and I was able to write it very quickly, in part because one story line informs the other. I knew that I’m at the end of this chapter, so now I need to tell you how this affects her life in the present. I felt much more comfortable in that space. Since then, I’ve not really written any linear stories because I find such comfort in allowing the story to navigate the format that it’s told in. Trying to fit a story into a specific structure is very limiting to me, whereas if I take the story and say, What’s the best structure for this story to unfold?, I understand what I’m doing a little bit more.

GR: For Daisy Jones, which came to you first: the characters, the plot, or some combination of that?

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TJR: I 100 percent thought of the premise first. I thought: I’m really intrigued by the idea of a man and woman creating music together who have a very difficult and personal relationship with each other. That was what excited me. Then I knew I wanted to tell that story in the midst of a full band and a full band’s problem as an oral history. That’s how the story came to me, and that’s the shape that it took. Then I sat down and said: What is the dynamic between these two people? Do I want them to hate each other, love each other, or somewhere in between?

As I started making decisions about the way I wanted the story to unfold, that started to inform who these people needed to be for that to happen. Then Daisy and Billy took shape, and I thought, Well, Daisy is going to be this type of person? And is Billy going to be this type of person? And how does that form their characters? By the time I got to writing, Daisy was fully three-dimensional to me. I understood what she would look like and how she would move and the things that she would value and things she wouldn’t. And Billy was the same.

While I’m writing a book, I’d tell you the characters came to me fully formed. It starts to feel like that. But then you get a little bit of distance, and now I can tell you I had no idea who they were going to be for a little while. Now I’ll be like Evelyn Hugo’s name was always going to be Evelyn Hugo. It just appeared to me as Evelyn Hugo. But a little while ago I found a list of names for what her name potentially could have been. I didn’t even remember that in-between stage while figuring out who she was. It’s the same for Daisy Jones. I didn’t know who she was when I came up with this, but by the time I wrote the first word, I saw her very clearly.

GR: You’re a planner and not a pantser?

TJR: I’m a planner in terms of who these people are. In terms of what happens to them, I’m a pantser. I don’t really know. I know how it begins, I know how it ends, I know who is going on the steering list. Where you’re going in the midst of that journey—I’m figuring that out in my first draft.

GR: What are your favorite books?

TJR: I have a lot of favorite books. My favorite favorite book is probably The Great Gatsby. It was the first book that taught me that you have to read a book at a certain time to absorb it. I read it a number of times, like in high school, and I think I even reread it in college, and I did not get why people like this book. I was just not into it. Then I read it some time in my 20s and just felt kind of devastated by it. I keep coming back to it. It’s the one thing I can reread. It’s a slim novel, but there are a lot of different elements in it. Now I’m very mindful. Sometimes I’ll read a book, and I don’t get it, I don’t get why everyone’s into it. Then I’ll remember sometimes you have to hit the book at the right time, and sometimes it’s not the right time. But I finally got to The Great Gatsby at the right time.

GR: How do you think The Great Gatsby influenced your writing?

TJR: It’s the way Fitzgerald does his characters: Jay Gatsby is a person, but he’s also representative of so many things. Daisy Buchanan is a person, but she represents so many heartbreaking things about the world. They both do. Having the understanding that your characters need to be specific, need to be a specific person, but the idea that they can stand for more than who they simply are—I’m really drawn to that about The Great Gatsby. That it has a legend that sort of hangs over the specifics. I’m always aiming for that. That the book is saying a lot more than just what’s happened.

GR: What was your legend for Daisy Jones?

TJR: A big part of this book is the idea that there are a lot of ways for a woman to be in a man’s world. Seventies rock is a male-dominated space, and there are women in this story finding their way through that space. Their relationship to each other and the way they affect one another’s lives was something I was very intent on from the beginning. These are not women that are fighting with each other. These are women who are very different from one another but are supporting each other in the right to be whoever it is they want to be.

GR: What about recently published books. What have you been recommending to people lately?

TJR: One of my favorites as of late was Madeline Miller’s Circe. I really love Circe. I really loved her first book, The Song of Achilles, too. I talk about that book all the time. I own multiple copies of it. I was really excited for Circe. It was exactly as good as I hoped it would be.

There’s also a book that came out this month, that I’m still enamored with, called The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer. It’s about Lee Miller and Man Ray and the affair they had in Paris in the 1930s. It really digs into this idea of a woman as a muse who then wants to become an artist in her own right, the difficulty with that and the difficulty men have with that. I loved those.

There’s a book coming out in two months called The Editor by Steven Rowley. It’s my favorite book of the year, even though it hasn’t come out yet. I love it so much. And I really like Helen Hoang. I think her romances are truly extraordinary, truly. The new one coming out, The Bride Test, I could not put it down. I was floating and smiling ear to ear the whole time I was reading it.

GR: What is the best writing advice someone ever gave you?

TJR: There have been a lot of female writers in particular that I’ve been looking to and have admired for a long time who often give the advice that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I know Jennifer Weiner says that. I find it very freeing to dismiss the idea of writer’s block, because I think writer’s block comes from the idea that you have to write something good. You have writer’s block because you can’t think of anything good to write, not that you couldn’t write anything. You could write garbage, but you don’t have anything good to write. I find if you dismiss the idea that you need to have something good to write and you just write, that can be very freeing.

I write a certain number of words a day when I’m on a draft schedule with no obligation that they be good. I can always go back and edit bad writing, but you can’t edit no writing. I found it very helpful to be sort of freed from that idea of writer’s block. You’re freed from the idea that you have to write good content, because you don’t. You edit it to be good later. If you can’t, and today’s not your day, that’s fine. Get the words out. Go do something else, and come back to it and fix it when you are having a great day.

Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel Daisy Jones & the Six will be available on March 5. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Gordon Taylor Jenkins Reid, I have only read three of her books so far but she is already one of my most favourite authors. Thank you, thank you TJR for being you.

message 2: by Cori (new)

Cori Im so excited, I picked this as my Book of The month today and then found out its Reese Witherspoon's March bookclub pick. Woohoo! Looking forward to reading it and great online discussions!

message 3: by Pam (new)

Pam This and EH were 5 star books. Love TJR!

message 4: by Andra (new)

Andra Lucky enough to read an ARC of Daisy Jones. Loved it.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Can't wait to read this as I too am addicted to musician interviews and documentaries. And Fleetwood Mac the band and the relationships.

Also love the advice on avoiding writer's block. I use a similar approach in my writing. (First traditionally published novel coming out this fall!)

message 6: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn McBride I hadn't heard of this writer before I read this piece, but now I want to give Daisy Jones a try. I like the author's attitude toward writers block. I'd like to incorporate that into my own manic writing style.

message 7: by Mohsen (new)

Mohsen If you do not upset me
i say
this is not bad
It was a little informative
A lot of books to read to learn more
I always try to learn more
from your book

message 8: by Mohsen (new)

Mohsen anyway
i love this book

message 9: by Arch (new)

Arch It just made me love her even more when she recommended Song of Achilles. I absolutely love that book.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I love this book and all her other books. She’s my favorite author. Meeting her while on her new book tour made me appreciate her books even more.

message 11: by Mario (new)

Mario Molna So glad I picked up this book. She did it again! I wasn't going to read it as I didn't think a book about a 70's band would intrigue me... but i was hooked from the beginning. Loved Evelyn Hugo, and also Loved Daisy and Billy.

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