I have been dying for someone to choose a Taylor Jenkins Reid book, and author Carly Heath didn’t let me down when she chose to tell me about the delicious tale of old Hollywood, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” and why it is the Best Book Ever.
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Discussed in this episode:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath
Lisa Perrin-designed book covers
Rosemaling folk art styles
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unsted
The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros
Tommy Cabot Was Here by Cat Sebastian
Peter Cabot Gets Lost by Cat Sebastian
Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
The Likeness by Tana French
The Witch Elm by Tana French
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Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast, where we get to know interesting people by asking them to tell us about their favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m talking to author Carly Heath. I have been dying for someone to choose a Taylor Jenkins Reid book, and Carly didn’t let me down when she chose to tell me about the delicious tale of old Hollywood, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and why it is the Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Hi, Carly. Welcome to the Best Book Ever Podcast.
Carly Heath: Thank you so much for having me, Julie. I love this podcast. I’m so excited to be on it.
JS: Oh, that’s so nice to hear! Thank you for saying that. Before we get started talking about the book that we are going to talk about today, I have to show you something I picked up at the library yesterday.
CH: Oh my gosh. Well, I love seeing my book. Julie’s holding up The Reckless Kind, my debut young adult novel. With that library binding. It’s always really exciting for me to see my book with the library plastic wrap; it’s a trip, ‘cause that’s like the most like exciting thing, I think, as an author, that your book is out there and available for people to read for free at libraries. So, like, anyone anywhere can go get it. I love it.
JS: Do you go to libraries and go look at your book on the shelf and see who you’re sitting next to?
CH: Oh, gosh, you know, I actually haven’t been to my local library. I guess I’d kind of assumed that things weren’t really open so I haven’t gone. I really do need to actually go to my local library and check it out. But I have gone to a Barnes and Noble and saw my book there. So that was really fun. A nd the local indie bookstore here. Yeah, it’s a trip after so many years of working on something, being able to see it on the shelves. It’s a really amazing feeling.
JS: Did you have any say in the design of this cover?
CH: Not a whole lot. I, luckily, am a big Pinterest user. So my publisher, they sent a questionnaire of what kind of covers I like. And I just sent a link to my Pinterest board, which has tons of book covers that I’ve been collecting over the years, like, someday I want my book to look like this, you know. Sort of a dream or vision boarding on Pinterest. And, so when I found out, when I got the initial sketches from the publisher, it had the artist’s name at the bottom, which was Lisa Perrin. And I was familiar with Lisa Perrin because that was one of the many book cover designer artists that I had been collecting on Pinterest. So I was really excited that Lisa Perrin would be designing my book cover. They sent me sketches and I was allowed to say things about it, but they do their thing. They know what they’re doing. I didn’t have a whole lot of say and that, but I was really excited with the artist. I think Lisa Perrin is like one of the great book cover artists and designers, and I love her work, and I’m now thrilled. My book is featured on her portfolio and all of that. That’s just amazing.
JS: I went specifically looking for your book because I knew I was going to talk to you and I cannot wait to start this, but I have to tell you, even if I knew nothing about you and I was just walking down the aisle, I would’ve picked this book up based on the cover alone, because this strikes my design sensibility precisely. This is what my house looks like, essentially.
JS: Yes, these colors and the sort of stylized floral. It’s just so beautiful to me. So I know that, we’re not supposed to judge books by the cover, but…
CH: Yeah. I’d also been collecting a Scandinavian folk art and for a while on Pinterest too, so, I had a lot of Scandinavian folk art that I’d collected. I think they got what I liked. I love that that style of art, it’s called rosemaling, which is a Norwegian folk art that was really popular in the 19th century.
JS: Will you tell my listeners what your book, The Reckless Kind is about?
CH: My debut young adult novel, The Reckless Kind, is set in 1904 in Scandinavia, in a fictional Scandinavian country just west of Norway. And it’s about three misfit teens who defy the expectations of their rural Scandinavian village in every possible way. They leave their families, They go off to live on their own, and they need to defeat the town patriarch and the region’s annual winter horse race. So they definitely face a lot of opposition from the townsfolk because of their defiance and potentially deviant nature. And they do have a lot of compassion that the title, The Reckless Kind of hints at. The focus is really all about how kindness is at the root of everything that the kids do. They have a really, really supportive friendship, a very deep, kind of uncomplicated, love for each other, which perseveres, despite a lot of the difficulties that they face. All of the kids deal with disability in some way, which is, I think, for many people, a little strange, like why is there so much disability representation in this book? And the reason why is because that’s how things really are in real life. I mean, for me personally, I can’t think of someone in my friend group who isn’t disabled in some way. It’s such a common experience in life, and especially in the early 20th century, where medical care wasn’t what it is today. Although certainly today there is room for improvement in medical care as well. Injuries did result in permanent disabilities that people experienced throughout their life. So I wanted to showcase, and normalize, how disability is a part of life, and it’s not something that we should ignore or race from. It’s the way things are, and the best way to help support all of us who are dealing with disabilities is to be supportive, to ask what can I do to help? How can I make your experience more comfortable? And so the themes of defiance when society is asking you to conform to something that’s not authentic to your heart is a theme, as well as compassion and kindness for all the difficulties that your friends might be going through. It’s the book of my heart.
JS: What led you into writing YA in a Scandinavian country? You’re an American, you went to a different genre, you went to a different region. What led you to this formats to tell this story?
CH: Yeah, I love YA as a genre, it’s one that I read a whole lot of. The setting is kind of a mixture of a whole bunch of different things that I was interested in at the time. A few years ago, I was reading Kristin Lavransdatter, which is the book that Sigrid Unsted won a Nobel prize for literature in the 1920s. And it’s a really great, epic, Norwegian book, set in medieval Norway, and it’s very immersive and lush. The setting is so fully realized and the characters are very passionate and complicated. I love so much about that book and I love the vibe. I didn’t really love the message of it, which is kind of an anti-feminist message, which is basically that if you defy your parents, you will suffer, and you will leave lead a life of suffering, so it’s just best to obey what your father wants you to do. I didn’t jive with that, but I really wanted to write something that that’s like this. Something that has more of an empowering message, a more feminist message. And I’ve always loved Norway. I love Scandinavia. I’ve been kind of obsessed with it for a long time. In college, I did a costume design project, a set in the early 1900s. So, I’d already done a whole lot of research into that time period. You know, sometimes you could say, there’s a whole of these reasons that I had for writing a book this specific way. But sometimes it’s just that you have characters and settings in your head and they just start talking and they just start living their life. And then they bug you and bug you. And finally, you’re like, okay, I’m just going to write this down. you know?
JS: To shut them up?
CH: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s also really, really fun, too, when the characters are talking and living in their life and you’re like, okay, this is awesome. I want to live in this world and I want to start letting these characters exist for other people to read and enjoy as well.
JS: Carly, were you always a reader?
CH: Yeah, I mean, as early as I can remember, my grandma was really into books and so I remember reading from a really, really early age. I even remember in elementary school and middle school, I was reading Stephen King. I was really big into Stephen King in elementary school, which I didn’t understand a whole lot of it, but it spoke to me for some reason. I’ve always been really, really into books, and constantly reading as my main means of entertainment.
JS: Do you still read Stephen King?
CH: Yeah, it’s actually been a few years since I’ve read a Stephen King. I finished The Dark Tower Series. And then I kind of went on to reading other things and I’ve lately been really into young adult. And also, this year has all been Historical Romance. Historical Romance and Young Adult have been my main genres of the year of 2021, 2022.
JS: This book that we are discussing for this episode today is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Do you remember when you first came across this book?
CH: Yeah, it was in 2018. I’m on Twitter. And I remember a bunch of teenagers on Twitter saying Seven Husbands is my favorite book of all time. It was like, a bunch of teenagers saying this. And I was like, I have to read this book. So, I picked up the book and I think I read it literally in one set it sitting. It was so engrossing, because the way that Taylor Jenkins Reid tells a story is so masterful. She sets up multiple mysteries that happen. One is the mystery of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood icon. She is like an Elizabeth Taylor- type of movie star. Why does she have seven husbands? What’s going on with that? Who is the real Evelyn Hugo? And then it’s framed with Monique. Who is this? A reporter, a writer, who Evelyn Hugo, this great movie star, has asked to interview her. And Monique’s wondering, why are you choosing me? Monique wrote one story. It was well-written, but it was nothing. So there’s the mystery of, why did Evelyn Hugo choose Monique? And then there’s the mystery of why did Evelyn Hugo have seven husbands and then, ultimately, in the transition point out of the first act into the second act, Monique asks, who was the true love of Evelyn Hugo’s life? And then that kicks off the real main plot. It’s masterful. Did you have this experience where you realized she just plants these little questions in the plot. And then as you’re reading, you’re like I have to find out the answer to these questions.
JS: I did have that experience and I honestly feel like this book is kind of reverse-engineered to suck me in because I am such a sucker for old Hollywood. Anything that has to do with it, even fictional version of old Hollywood movie stars. On my copy. There’s a very glam photo of a reclining woman in a green gown, and automatically you go, I want to know what’s going on here. And you don’t know, is it going to be tragic? Is it going to be sexy? Who knows what this is going to be? And then once you get into it and you realize the real thing that is going on. Oh my God, then you start going, oh, this book’s about something.
CH: Yeah. And she also does this really good job of foreshadowing. She has these little magazine articles overlay the Evelyn Hugo’s life. And so, you read and, you know, okay, these are her husbands. This is kind of the overview of her life. And then these certain things are going to happen. But then when Evelyn Hugo is telling the story, like for instance, during Dher second marriage to Don Adler, who is one of the most famous movie stars of the time. You’re reading and you’re starting out like, okay. This husband is actually — I can see why she’s attracted to him. They really do seem to have a connection, but, you know, because of the foreshadowing that had happened earlier, that he’s abusive. And so, as you’re reading their courtship, you’re like, oh no, this is gonna take a real bad turn. And you’re kind of like holding your breath, waiting for that to happen. And you’re also kind of wondering, like, Evelyn Hugo, such a strong, savvy person. She’s so driven and she’s so smart. Very smart about human psychology. You’re like, how could she be in an abusive relationship? And then when the abuse unfolds, you really experience it. It’s so authentic feeling, too. I actually was in an abusive relationship when I read this book and I really do credit and thank this book for possibly being the reason for me to wake up and realize, oh gosh, I actually am experiencing what Evelyn Hugo’s going through right now, and the way that she. What does she say? She says something about how, Don always says, oh, will you forgive me? That line you hear, after he hits her. Will you forgive me? And I’m like, oh, that’s such the tactic of the toxic person, because Evelyn can only say, well, of course, I’m a decent person. Of course I can. And then it begins. The cycle where the same thing keeps on happening over and over again. The way she writes that is so well done and so realistic.
JS: It’s putting the blame on her, because we are taught from day one, to forgive and forget. And those of us raised in the Christian tradition, Jesus would want you to forgive! Well, okay. So it’s my fault because I can’t forgive what you did? It’s a very subversively evil technique.
CH: Yeah. Evelyn has such great boundaries and then he is able to manipulate her in a way to get her to change her boundaries, and the way that’s written, it’s just so well done. Taylor Jenkins Reid, in all of her books, has a really good eye for human psychology and human relationships and human interactions. I was just rereading this in preparation for the podcast. It really taught me a lot about writing. That’s maybe something that I’ve learned too — rereading your favorite books and figuring out how the author did what they did teaches you so much. And it really helps you grow as a writer. There are some lines in this book that are absolutely amazing. I kind of jotted down a few of them.
JS: Tell me.
CH: Okay. Her first husband, Ernie Diaz, who she basically just marries in order to get out of New York and into Hollywood: when she has to ask Ernie for the permission to use her own money to take acting lessons, and she has to kind of put on the sweet housewife act, like, oh, I’m just doing a silly thing, you know? And she kind of gets a little angry at him for not seeing who she really was. And this line is great: “I told him I was someone else. And then I started getting angry that he couldn’t see who I was, who I really was.” That’s such a great line. And that’s, I think, something that makes the true love of Evelyn’s life so meaningful. With many of her husbands — Harry, I would say, is probably like the best husband. With many of her husbands, she puts on this performance of being someone else. But then with the true love of her life, she is truly authentic. You know, everything Evelyn does is very calculated and with an object or a certain objective in minds. She lives with this duality of, I want to be authentic, but I also want to use what I have to get somewhere.
JS: This was my second time reading it, too. And I was really thinking the whole time about how her body is both worshiped and used against her through the entire book. Which is what Hollywood, I guess, has always done to women.
CH: It’s what society has always done to women. One of the lines, things that Harry says in the book is the reason whores are so villainized is because women’s bodies are the one thing that they have control over. And if women were to demand payment for their bodies, then they would have so much power over men. But society has set it up in a way that, if you demand any sort of, payments for access to you, then you are a terrible person, you know?
JS: We villainized all kinds of sexual currency, I guess, is the word.
CH: Yeah. And so it’s a great comment on the patriarchy. This book touches on so many things. It touches on humanity and just how you have to navigate and how you have to think about the person that you are on the inside versus the person that other people perceive you as. It’s about the creation of art and the whole journey of Evelyn making her art and being a really great actress who is nominated for Academy Awards, but who thinks of herself as not a great actress because so much of her is focused on beauty and the way that she looks. As an artist, that’s a real thing. Then there’s this whole subplot of Monique going through this divorce and kind of learning through Evelyn to assert herself. And if it were just a story of like, oh, Monique is learning how to become empowered because of what she’s learning from Evelyn, that would be interesting. But then because Taylor Jenkins Reid is so amazing at her storytelling, there is a whole other layer of what happens with Monique that just takes the whole book to a whole different level. Itis masterful and just brings the whole thing full circle. It’s also about authenticity, and who tells stories and who gets to understand the entire story of a person.
JS: This book is really deceptively rich, I think.
CH: Yeah, it’s a masterpiece. I guess I’m going to keep on rereading it over and over again and try to figure out, like, how do you do this as a writer? How do you make such a perfectly crafted piece of art where every little piece is connected and comes full circle? On one level, you’re telling one sort of story, but then on another level there’s a whole other story happening. To get all those pieces to work together is amazing.
JS: Wrapped up in a very easy-to-consume format. Like you said, you heard about it from teenagers on TikTok. Which is not to say that teenagers don’t know great literature, because they do. But it’s a cute cover. It’s a fun, exciting premise, and it feels very palatable and easy to consume. And the part that I think is amazing is then you read it and you go, Goddamn, this is really, really big stuff.
CH: Yeah, it’s really deep. And that you have written something that appeals to teenagers, but it t appeals to everyone. Teenagers all the way to people in their eighties read this book and instantly are hooked. There’s no point where you’re tuning out. You’re like completely enraptured from every page. And then you’re realizing, this is so deep. There are so many layers to this. A masterful a work of art.
JS: Have you read other Taylor Jenkins Reid?
CH: I read daily Daisy Jones and the Six, which is really amazing because I have absolutely no interest in seventies rock bands. That’s not my genre of interest at all. That’s like the farthest thing from what I would be interested in. Yet, I am so engaged with the seventies rock band, that Taylor Jenkins Reid is telling us about. And I’m so invested in these characters. What she’s so good at is that you care so much about the characters that she writes. Even on the surface, if they feel a little bit superficial, like she gets down into why they are that way. And you can’t help but love them. I’m still baffled like how she does this so succinctly. So simply. There’s a simplicity to it. It’s not overwrought or overwritten. It’s simple and you get it, and it’s engaging, too.
JS: I have no idea how old she is, but in her author picture on the book that I have, she looks very young. That’s always really thrilling to me. If she is writing at this level at what looks like a very young age, I cannot wait to see what this woman is doing when she’s 50, 60, 70 years old. Because her life experience and her craft is only going to get more complex. It’s really going to be fascinating to watch her career.
CH: Yeah, definitely. And I’m definitely making a point to just do a Taylor Jenkins Reid marathon and read all of her books. She also has Malibu Rising, which is about surfers in Malibu. That came out recently. And then she has the books that she’s written prior to Seven Husbands, which I haven’t read yet, which I definitely need to read.
JS: Tell me what you’re reading these days. What’s on your nightstand?
CH: I am reading The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros, which is a Young Adult novel. It’s historical fiction. It’s a little bit horror, a little bit fantasy. It’s set during the Chicago World’s Fair in the 1890s. The main character is a Jewish gay boy who is possessed by a spirit and who is working to find the murderer of his friends. And it’s very well-written, very immersive. It really brings you back to that very fascinating time period. It’s very rich, with cultural details about Jewish life in the 1890s. And, and the characters are very lovable. So I’m really, really enjoying that one a whole. I also recently read, two books by Cat Sebastian. Tommy Cabot Was Here and Peter Cabot Gets Lost, which is a duology set in the 1960s. It’s about different family members of this extremely wealthy, sort of Kennedy-esque politician’s family. Each book follows a different sort of outsider in that family. I actually read these two books out of order, so it works in whatever order that you are reading them in. I read Peter Cabot Gets Lost first. Peter’s dad, you could kind of imagine him as like a John F. Kennedy sort of character who is going to be running for president. And Peter is the son who is doing what he should be doing to be a good son, but he really doesn’t want to go home. He really doesn’t like his family. You get the sense that the family is very toxic. And so he sees one of his classmates as he’s about to leave school. He’s in college, he’s about to leave school to go home to his family, and he doesn’t really want to go home to his family. So he sees one of his classmates kind of crying on the curb and he’s like, oh, something’s going on with him. And he’s like, do you need help? What can I do for you? And he’s like, I need to get to Los Angeles, and something happened with his ride. And so, Peter just lies and says, oh, I’m going to Los Angeles, you can come with me. Just cause he doesn’t want to go home. As they’re on this road trip to Los Angeles, they fall in love. It’s such a short book. I think it’s a novella. But it’s very sweet. It’s just a beautiful love story. And it’s very 1960s. I just love this book. It’s probably my favorite book of the year. I actually read it right before New Years. So I finished it like on the 31st. So it’s my favorite book of 2021, I would say. And then, Tommy Cabot was here, which should have been the first in the series, is about Peter’s uncle. He is recently divorced, and he’s taking his son to boarding school. His former love, who he was in love with when he was in school, is a teacher there. And it’s a kind of a second chance romance where they rekindle their relationship. And it’s so sweet and it’s great because both books deal with people who have toxic families and who are changing their karma. Changing their pattern. They come from a toxic family where there’s a lot of strife and there’s a lot of falseness, and they’re choosing to enter into relationships and engage with people in a very honest, sincere way, because they don’t want to be like what their family was. There’s something about that that’s just really touching.
JS: So you love an indomitable force of a person don’t you? This is if I were to choose a book for you, I would find one about someone who overcome circumstances and is true to themselves. I’ve never heard of any of these books, these three books you just told me about, but the second we hang up, I’m going to go get them at the library.
CH: I love a story of people who are better than their circumstances. I really like characters who just feel real. Like if that character is an absolute cinnamon roll, I love them. I actually have said that I really don’t like emotionally reticent characters. What I think I really mean by that is, because Evelyn is kind of emotionally reticence, but you get beneath the surface and you find out which is that she is very real. I just like characters that are real, that feel real in some way, even if they have a few layers that you need to get through. I love an author that can show us the authenticity of human experience. What are you reading by the way? I know you already always ask your guests.
JS: Nobody ever asks me! I have two books going right now. I’m rereading Howard’s End which, for some reason, every January I always love to reread that one. It’s my favorite book. And I am reading The Likeness, the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. I am new to this series, and they are too scary for me, and too violent for me, but talk about a writer! I kind of can’t believe I’m going forth with these books, but I am and they are so good.
CH: Okay. I might have to check those out, cause I’ve been thinking that I really want to read some more scary stuff. It’s been a while since I’ve read some.
JS: Yeah. I don’t like scary and these are too scary for me, but that is the testament to her writing because they’re very in-depth mysteries. I started with The Witch Elm, which is a standalone, and is not very bloody. In the Dublin Murder Squad, so far, there’s blood and there’s children. Those are my trigger points. But as soon as I finished it, I get to start The Reckless Kind and I’m so excited.
CH: Ah, thank you! I hope you enjoy that.
JS: I can already tell I’m going to. So why don’t you tell my listeners where they can find you and your work?
CH: My website is CarlyHeathAuthor.com. My book, The Reckless Kind, is available everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble and your local indie bookstore. Definitely go there first; definitely support your local bookstore. I’m on Twitter and TikTok and Instagram and YouTube. On YouTube I have some interviews that I do with other authors. And if you’re interested in the craft and interested in how to become a published author, that’s a good channel to check out because you can listen to a whole bunch of other authors talking about their process.
JS: WWell, I want to thank you for joining me today and I hope you will come back anytime you have a book to tell me about. We obviously have very similar reading habits, and so I want to know everything you’re reading.
CH: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah. I have tons of books to talk about so we can definitely do that.
JS: Super, thank you so much for joining me today, Carly.
CH: Thank you, Julie.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms! . I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me on Instagram. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, where you can see some of my favorite quotes from the podcast, occasional photos of my reading cave, and get bookish news from friends of the show. You might even catch a glimpse of our official mascot, Benny, the meanest bunny on the planet. I really love most social media, but I love the Instagram book community. So come on over and let’s chat books.