Kaira Rouda Interview

Kaira Rouda, mystery and suspense author and wife of Harley Rouda, the former U.S. Representative for California’s 48th congressional district, at her home in Laguna Beach on Monday, May 3, 2021. Rouda’s newest book, “The Next Wife,” was released May 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Meeting Kaira Rouda is like sitting down with one of your best friends for afternoon tea. Warm and endearing, she transmits an openness that puts one at ease. Her smile, authentic. Her giggle, lilting. Her eyes beam happiness. And that’s just over Zoom. Imagine how much richer the experience might be in person.

An award-winning, USA Today best-selling author, Rouda’s novels of domestic suspense include “The Favorite Daughter” and “Best Day Ever.” A former magazine editor and society columnist, Rouda won the Stevie Award for Women in Business for creating the first female-focused residential real estate brand, Real Living, and growing the brand to more than 22 states before its sale to Berkshire Hathaway. Her first book, “Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs,” led to a speaking tour during which she inspired thousands.

Her latest book, “The Next Wife,” which published in May, promises to “shock, surprise and satisfy” with its unflinching depiction of an idyllic marriage gone wrong, and the lengths two women will go to get retribution. Rouda delves below the surface of the seemingly perfect lives of her characters to reveal their inner truths. (Hint: Never underestimate a woman scorned.)

Rouda says she knew in third grade that she wanted to be a writer, but the plan to be a novelist was sidelined as she launched her company. But amid coaching women to live the life of their dreams, she realized she was not following her own message.

Ten novels later, she’s manifested her third-grade dream, and is enjoying the life and career she always wanted. With her cherished pup, Tucker, by her side or on her desk, Rouda does a daily balancing act with four twentysomething children, and her husband, former Congressman Harley Rouda.

Not merely a first-congressman’s-lady, Rouda is a star in her own right – and a champion of numerous causes. She created the first walk-in emergency shelter for homeless families in Central Ohio, and has been active in areas of homelessness, food security and empowering woman and girls. She lives in Orange County with her family.

Here are highlights from our recent conversation:

“The Next Wife” is the perfect “take-me-to-the-beach” book. What was the genesis of this story?

It’s a little crazy. When I write, it’s just by the seat of my pants. I’m called a “pantser.” All my books start with a character and a title. In this case it was Tish, who had her own view of the world as the second wife. She had something to say about her husband, John, and his ex-wife.

Once Tish began to talk, Kate, the first wife, sprang into my head, and she’s like wait a moment, I have a lot to say, too.

That’s how it happens for me in the domestic suspense world. I don’t have an outline. My characters don’t like to have parameters. They usually don’t even want me to know what they’re up to until we get there.

I love being considered a beach read!

This is your third book in the domestic-suspense genre. What led you to this type of narrative?

My first book of woman’s fiction was “Here, Home, Hope” – what my editor calls “sweet” fiction.

I wrote several more, and then this idea popped into my head, and I wrote “The Best Day Ever.” I told my editor about it, and she said, “Oh, no. I don’t read domestic thrillers.” And I’m like, “But you’ve got to read it,” because I had sent it to one of my beta readers and they had loved it. I begged her and she agreed, and she loved it, too. So that’s how it started.

“The Next Wife” seems like the quintessential Orange County thriller – the characters, the setting, infidelity. Yet the story takes place in Ohio.

You know, I’ve found through the course of my novels, all set in the suburbs, that the OC is much like fictional Granville, Ohio, or any other fictional place I’ve set a book. The people of the suburbs, they’re very much the same, no matter where they’re located. The story centers on what people care about, what they spend time thinking about, and what they value.

To me, that is what the world domestic suspense is built around. There’s the bad mom, the bad dad, the bad husband. There’s the trope that is the family unit and what you can do to them in the domestic suspense study. Even though there’s like 20,000 other books with a cheating spouse, hopefully, my books express a unique perspective. Dark humor is one of my signatures, and I’ve been having so much fun with that.

The book opens with the voice of Tish, who we have no reason to doubt. But as soon John opens his mouth, Tish becomes unreliable. Or is she? Or is it Kate?

Poor John. It’s interesting because he is the catalyst for the whole story, but he doesn’t have a huge role. His decisions were all made before the story even opened. He’d left his first wife with whom he made a family and a business, and decided to marry his executive assistant.

We can all be completely fake if we want to be. Social media has allowed a kind of distance, and it’s easy to be false. My first thought is that everyone’s unreliable in one way or another. In my stories, there’s at least one unreliable narrator, but I’d probably say, in “The Next Wife,” all three of the main characters are untrustworthy in a natural way.

With alternating voices in this story, I had lots of latitude. I had more than one person hiding things, maybe from you, maybe not. If somebody was about to give something away, I simply ended that scene and moved to the next gear.

The character of Ashlyn, the daughter, is quiet and compliant, yet becomes a powerful figure.

She’s my favorite character, and there’s a funny story about her. She came into the story right away and had to have something to say. I loved Ashlyn. I thought she was really great.

I submitted my manuscript to my agents and they were like, we love it, but we don’t think Ashlyn needs to have a role. It’s really the two women in the book. I’m like, are you sure? And they’re like, yeah. They’re my agents, very experienced and smart, so I rewrote the story, took Ashlyn out, and sent it back to them. They’re like, great.

Now, we go to submission, the publisher buys it, and their editor says, you know, the only thing missing is the daughter’s voice. I was actually really excited. Ashlyn came back even stronger.

How much did your own experiences inform this story?

I think all fictional characters come from an amalgamation of your experiences and observations. My husband and I ran a business together for 10 years. I understand the angst and the tension that exists while you’re also raising kids.

It’s a lot to run a business, run a family and also keep a relationship alive. It just is. Bill and Melinda Gates are the latest casualty. I’m also a daughter of divorce, so I definitely have experience with that situation.

What or who are you reading now?

In domestic suspense, there are so many great authors – Sally Hepworth, Wendy Walker, Mary Kubica. Julie Clark’s an LA author who just wrote “Last Flight,” and it’s amazing. Catherine McKinsey. Pravin Hardy. In historical fiction, “The Four Winds,” by Kristin Hannah, and “The Woman with the Blue Star,” by Pam Jenoff. Leslie Leher’s memoir, “A Boob’s Life, How America’s Obsession Shaped Me … And You.”

Next in the works?

The only thing I can tell you is that it’s set in California.

https://www.ocregister.com/2021/06/22/in-the-next-wife-novelist-kaira-rouda-keeps-her-suspenseful-streak-going/

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