Rebecca Taylor was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and spent most of her childhood moving with her military family from Canada to Okinawa and all over the United States. She spent her 20s working as an international flight attendant while pursuing degrees in psychology and sociology. She has since written eight novels, and currently lives in Colorado with her husband and two children. Learn more at: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, @RebeccaAuthor (Twitter), @RebeccaTaylorPage (Facebook) and @RebeccaTaylorBooks (Instagram).
Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
I have this unquenchable thirst for books and movies that feature writers as characters. I really wanted to write one of my own, and that desire collided with a psychological question I had at the time: What must it be like for the siblings of really, really, famous and successful individuals? When I started writing “Her Perfect Life,” my own two kids were 14 and 13 years old. I was living through what was probably the height of their sibling rivalry. Given how intense the conflict could get in my own home, it made me wonder what it must feel like to be the sibling of someone like Michael Phelps. So I created Clare, the super successful and famous author with an over-the-top life, and her sister Eileen, the mother of three with a deteriorating marriage who is holding onto some serious resentment.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
I thought it best to just start at the beginning with chapter one. It really lays the foundation for Eileen and Clare’s very different lives.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book?
I loved writing this book because it’s really about two sides of my own life: being a writer like Clare and being a mom like Eileen. It allowed me to really dig deep when it came to their specific character, personalities, life experiences, and conflicts.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
I will say that I did not expect that Clare would endure the terrible loss that occurs at the book’s climax. And I know that making that narrative choice made some readers very unhappy. However, psychologically speaking, it was an essential element of the story with regard to pushing Clare to her final destructive act. I firmly believe that she would not have ended things if she had not experienced such a profound loss. It was the final heartbreak that precipitated her emotional spiral. But even I hated to do it.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
There were a few things. First, I signed with my agent, Kevan Lyon, based on the concept of this book and the first four chapters. Which was fantastic…but also added some pressure with regard to delivering a completed book that she felt confident she could sell to a publisher.
The next, of course, was trying to release a debut novel at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic. Every in-person event was canceled, and we had to scramble to figure out virtual ways to get the word out. I don’t mind admitting that after waiting so many years to get a book traditionally published, it was a little shattering to finally accomplish the feat and then have your party canceled, so to speak.
However, I was definitely not alone in that disappointment, as almost all my fellow 2020 debut authors were experiencing the same struggle. It was nice that so many of us could support each other and help each other celebrate in alternative ways.
Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
As I mentioned above, several readers have expressed displeasure, even anger, over a particular narrative choice I made near the end of the book. I view that as the reader’s business, not mine.
When I’m writing a book and making choices about things my characters will experience and endure, I’m making those choices for reasons, the biggest being that the character’s psychological arc has got to make sense with regard to their motivations, behaviors, and actions. Otherwise, you risk unbelievability.
To answer the second part of the question: I didn’t address them because I don’t respond to public critiques or reviews—it’s not my business what individual experience a reader has with my books. It’s only my business to keep writing compelling books, even if they don’t make everyone happy.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
I can actually write just about anywhere as long as I have my noise-canceling headphones, but I typically write in my home office early in the mornings. When my kids were really little, I used to get up at 4 a.m. to get some writing done before they woke up. Now they are both grown, I still prefer mornings, but it’s usually around 5:30 or 6. When I’m actively working on a title, I try to write for a few hours.
Tell us about your next project.
My next book, “The Secret Next Door,” is releasing on Nov. 9 and is currently available for preorder wherever books are sold. Here’s the book description:
It’s the perfect neighborhood, filled with not-so-perfect people.
Alyson Tinsdale is giving her son the childhood she never had: a stable family, loving home, and a great school in a safe neighborhood. When they move into the home of her dreams in one of Denver’s most sought-after developments, Alyson works hard to fit in and impress the other mothers.
Bonnie Sloan is the neighborhood matriarch. With her oldest son headed to Yale, and her youngest starting kindergarten, Bonnie is now pursuing her own long-held political aspirations. But it’s her middle child, Elijah, and their private family struggles, that cast a shadow over her plans.
When the open space behind some of the most expensive homes gets slated for development into an amusement facility, the neighborhood becomes deeply divided. The personal pressures and community conflicts ratchet with every passing day, but it’s when a 13-year-old boy is found dead beside the lake that simmering tensions boil over into panic.
Gossip flows, lies are exposed, and accusations are made as cracks run through the community’s once solid foundations. The neighborhood’s faith in external appearances is eclipsed by the secrets every house keeps.