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‘Expiration Dates’ Author Rebecca Serle on Using Magic to ‘Expedite the Truth’ About Love and Fate in New Novel

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When the idea for her upcoming novel “Expiration Dates” began percolating in her head, author Rebecca Serle worried at first that the concept was “gimmicky.”

“There was something missing,” she tells Variety over the phone, two weeks before the book’s March 19 launch. The premise — based on the question, “What if a woman got slips of paper that told her how long she’d spend in a relationship?” — felt like it verged on triteness. But the story evolved beyond that initial fear when Serle figured out the book’s midpoint, a major revelation that raises the stakes for its protagonist, Daphne, and introduces a sobering depth to an otherwise lighthearted concept.

“All of my books through ‘Expiration Dates’ have some kind of midway twist,” she says. “I discovered what that was, and then I started writing.”

Over the past several years, Serle has built a reputation as a writer of female characters whose personal transformations are precipitated by small but significant hints of magic embedded in the worlds they inhabit. “In Five Years” — which spent sixteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list — focuses on Dannie, who wakes up five years into the future and is suddenly confronted with the confusion of being able to understand the multivariable outcomes of one’s past decisions. In “One Italian Summer,” protagonist Katy travels to Positano, Italy, where she meets a younger version of her recently deceased mother and is forced to recalibrate her sense of their past relationship.

Similarly, “Expiration Dates” builds on that signature, with the element of magical realism isolated to the notes that Daphne Bell — a 33-year-old film producer’s assistant living in Los Angeles — receives every time she’s about to go on a date with a love interest. The notes list said love interest’s name and the duration of time the relationship (or dalliance) will last. When Daphne receives a note with a name and no end date, she faces the reality of seeing a long-held desire for a committed relationship come to fruition, while also questioning the mechanism that has influenced all the decisions she’s made in her love life thus far.

Serle says that she sees magic primarily as a way to “expedite the truth” of her novel.

“This is a story about the search for love, and what it means to be looking, and the deep truths not only about other people that we encounter when we’re going through that, but also ourselves,” she says. “The process of looking for a partner is continually having to be honest with yourself, with other people, with your ideas of what you want.” The notes, then, function not only as tangible markers by which Daphne can mark her own set of romantic experiences, but also as litmus tests which push her to confront her own beliefs about their veracity and the power that they play in her life.

Which, in the end, signals an authorial preoccupation that Serle points out is a reflection of her own personal quandaries.

“The essential question of the human experience and existence that I am most interested in, as Rebecca is the dialogue between fate and free will,” she says. “This idea of, is our fate predetermined? Is it coming no matter what we do? Or do we have control over it?”

It’s an existential musing that has resonated with readers and allowed Serle to amass a growing following — one that extends beyond print. Her 2014 young adult novel “Famous in Love” was turned into a Freeform show starring Bella Thorne, while 2010’s “When You Were Mine” eventually became Hulu movie “Rosaline,” starring Kaitlyn Dever. The rest of her projects, Serle says, are in “active development.” New Line acquired the rights to “In Five Years” in 2022, while Paramount owns film rights to “One Italian Summer.”

“I think that one is going to be really fun,” she says of the potential “One Italian Summer” movie. “I’m excited to go back to Positano.”

As for “Expiration Dates,” Serle says she and her team are still in the optioning process. But in the meantime, she’s primed to meet readers and promote her novel on an extensive book tour, kicking off with Tuesday’s event at The Strand in New York City and ending in Brentwood, Calif., on April 2.

“I really hope that this book speaks to people who are still searching and makes them feel less alone,” she says. “I was single for a really long time. I didn’t meet my husband until I was almost 36, and I just always remember wanting to know. If I could know that that person was out there for me, if I could know how this story ended, I felt like I could be present in the life that I was leading now.”

“Of course there’s no way to know,” she adds. “We aren’t Daphne. But as much as we can, being able to trust the timing of our lives, to know that even if maybe there isn’t a whole universal plan, there’s a rhyme and a reason to why things are happening.”