Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 3 months ago

WB-S2E35 We Are Not LIke Them


WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block and Meg Walker are joined by Christine Pride & Jo Piazze about ther book, We are Not Like Them, a GMA Book Club Pick and out now in paperback.

And they're both confronting this place shooting in very different ways, very different and very intimate ways. Riley becomes the journalist who has to cover it. It's Jen's husband who has involved in it, and it's messy and it's complicated and it brings up so many issues of police violence and race and social justice. But at its heart, at its core, it's a story of a lifelong female friendship. Welcome to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. For New York Times bestselling authors, one rock star Librarian and endless stories joined Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block as novelists. We are four longtime friends with seventy books between us, and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Welcome to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. We have not one but two terrific authors joining us on this episode. Their book was a Good Morning American Book Club Pick and a best pick by our first bizarre and real simple as well as on every most anticipated list you can possibly think of. We're so thrilled to welcome Christine Pride and Joe Piazza. Their book, we are not like them, is a soul stirring exploration of uncomfortable issues we all face about race, along with how friendships are tested. I am Ron Block and Meg Walker the managing director of friends and fiction. Christine Pride is a writer, editor and longtime publishing veteran. She s held editorial posts that many different trade imprints, including double day, where she and I actually were co workers low those many years ago. In a former life as an editor, Christine has published a wide range of books, including numerous New York Times bestsellers, and pens a regular column race matters for a cup of Joe. Joe Piazza is a best selling author, podcast Creator and award winning journalist. She's the national and international best selling author of many critically acclaimed novels and non fiction books, a former editor, columnist and travel writer with Yahoo, current TV and the Daily News. Her work has also appeared in multiple national magazines and newspapers. Welcome to the PODCAST, Christine and Joe. We're so exciting. Thanks for having US I feel honored. This book is just, Oh my God, something else. But I think it's all said. Like a lot of times will have flowery quotes on your covers of your books, but you have one the best ones...

I have ever read is from Terry McMillan, who said now these women, they can write, and that's like it says it all in that one sentence. That must have felt so great to have that honor. Oh my gosh. Yeah, well, I think we when we when that quote came in, we really lost our minds a little bit. Right, Christine, totally, especially from someone like Terry McMillan. Right, it's yeah, it's crazy. Anyway, before we get into talking about your process and things, could you just tell our listeners what the book is about and then also, below that, what's the heart of the book? What's IT really about? Yeah, of course. So the book is the story of two women, Riley and Jen, who have been lifelong best friends. They've been friends since they could really could really walk and talk, and they've grown up together and Riley has recently moved home to Philadelphia where she's become a news anchor for the local news station. Jen is married to a Philadelphia police officer. Very early on in the book, Jen's husband, Kevin, is involved in the police shooting of a black teenage boy, and it's also important to note that Jen and Riley's friendship is an inter racial one. Jen as a white woman, Riley is a black woman, and this incident propels the two of them on a path where they have to confront the fact that they've never talked about race in their friendship and they're both confronting this police in this police shooting in very different ways, very different and very intimate ways. Riley becomes the journalist who has to cover it. It's Jen's husband who is involved in it, and it's messy and it's complicated and it brings up so many issues of police violence and race and social justice. But at its heart, at its core, it's a story of a lifelong female friendship between these two women and which is in many ways the kind of romance and commitment that we don't see nearly enough on the pages of commercial women's fiction. And that's that's the really, really big thing that we want readers to take away how this friendship evolves and how these two women grow in the face of this this terrible tragedy. Yes, yes, and I have to also say that like that prologue. Oh, how did that come about? Well, we really wanted to start the book with a lot of, you know, emotional power and emotional punge. We wanted to draw the reader right in right away and communicate and convey the type of story that we wanted to tell, which is a really emotionally resonant story. And even though, as Joe just said, you know, this really the heart of our novel is a friendship between Riley and Jen and, you know,...

...a love story, we wanted to give Justin, who is the boy, the fortune note boy that was shot, Jen's husband and his family there do as well, right. So opening up the book really centers this, you know, tragic act violence right at the beginning of the story. And even though we could have written an entire book about Justin and his family and what really was about this friendship. But again, we we wanted him to have humanity and presence on the page in the same way that, you know, it's harder to do with news stories and these headlines, right, people victims of police shootings often feel to humanized or anonymous or hard to know, and we wanted readers to get a real sense of Justin and mistakes then for everyone involved right and it was very successful because it was was so vivid and so painful, but it set the tone for the rest of the book and I kept thinking back on it all through the book with all the other incidents and events that happened. It was just it stayed with you through the whole thing. Same, same to me. It was like it immediately drew you into the story and I was reading it thinking like, did you have to research what happens to a body when it's shot? Like it was so vivid and I thought it was. It feels like like the warm and the cold and the just the way you portrayed it on the page. I was like, I wouldn't. I mean, of course you don't know how it feels, but yeah, yeah, I know. I've I've always approached fiction the same way I approached non fiction, through a lot of reporting, and so we did so many interviews with all kinds of people, but for that scene in particular, we we did talk to shooting victims, people who had who had um gotten gunshot wounds. We talked to the mothers of shooting victims, we talked to police officers, we talked to police officers and well knives, we talked to journalists who cover these things and we really left no stone uncovered because our goal was always to get this right. We did not want to create some fantasy of what would happen, Um, in the aftermath of a shooting like this, or what we believed might happen. We we wanted to make sure that we saw this from all different sides. That and to show, and this is a bad pun nothing is black and white. There are a lot of gray areas and there's a lot of humanity in the different threads of this story that we wanted to get on the page. It really shows how much work you put into that, but not in a bad way like sometimes so much research, you know, comes across as like Oh, you can, you can see that plainly, but your prose actually works magic. Yes, thank you. So, as the saying goes, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. To me, this book is the sugar and the men US and the two of you really tackle a difficult subject in...

...this book. Um, the cover, it's it's the conversation. Like we all know, we should be having right, but you wrap it all in such a beautifully told story about friendship and honesty and loyalty, with characters that we can all relate to. So it's the whole experience is just enjoyable on the whole. But you're you're learning something too, and you're opening your heart in your mind as you turn every page. So tell us a little bit about your partnership and how the two of you connected and and how did this original idea for for the story of we are not like them come to life? And this is our our meat cute as we like to we love telling this. It's really fun and it was actually so. I was Joe's editor at Simon and Schuster when for her last wonderful novel, Charlotte Walsh, likes to win. And as an editor for twenty years, and you know this, Meg, from the publishing business, you know you do get really clue as to your writers right Um and you're really just forging all these relationships with them working on their projects. And so joe and I had a great professional relationship, but a friendship really grew out of our work together. And so after Charlotte Walsh was sort of the writing of it. At least it had been published yet, but the writing of it was done. I came to her with this idea that had just been, like you, really in the back burner. As an editor, you're always thinking about books that you want to see in the world, right, but not thinking necessarily that you're going to be the one to write to them. So I started thinking about this idea, thinking who could write, you know, this story, and it felt very personal to me just in terms of reading all the headlines about police violence with you know, I really wondered was what would happen if someone in my social circle was involved in a situation like this? You know, how would I react? How would it affect our friendship? And Joe and I both love the time type, excuse me, a fiction that draws you in right to wonder. What would I do in that situation? And I thought we could have a unique opportunity and telling the story together as a black woman and a white woman. That was really appealing to me. So it started thinking actually, instead of finding somebody else to write this, you know, maybe we could write this, we could work together on this, and we just started having conversations about it and it's snowballed in the best possible way from there. So, Christine, you approached Joe and said let's do this together. That's awesome, that's great. I love it. And I read that this is your first book, Christie, I'm from the side of defense. It is. That's amazing. Yeah, it is. And you know, I love being a book editor. I love being behind the scenes right and championing other writers and, you know, helping them become better writer is helping...

...them on their craft, being their biggest cheerleader. And so it was a real switch, you know, obvious, to be in front of the camera, so to speak, and see the whole process from the other side. And so many people asked me, you know, what was the most surprising guard of this, this this whole thing. You know, go to the other side and I always say that writing a book is so hard, and you think I would have known that for twenty years on the other side. But it's just a really different, much more emotional, vulnerable process than, you know, I had anticipated, but so fun and meaningful too, especially doing it with somebody else. Yeah, I'm always surprised when Christina is surprised by something. She's like, I can't believe it's happening this way and I'm like, you've done this on the other side for twenty years and she's like, but it's different. Like all right, fine, I told you that this was how it works. It just goes to show you how viewpoints and your perspective and your experience and where you're coming from right really make a difference in an experience it which is a metaphor almost for all the things that we talked about in the book too. It just really depends on where you sit how you're seeing something. So it's interesting, I think, like what you expect for someone else and when you're championing their work from the other side of things is different from what you might expect for yourself or dad or dare to hope for right. Absolutely, and it's almost a little bit like you know too much too. It's sort of like the doctor becoming the patient when you know how the sausage is made and you know the subtext, you know what conversations people are having behind the scenes about your book and in this case you know a lot of a lot of our publishing team are my colleagues in the industry right since we're published by the place that I worked at. So I publishing as a small world anyway, so you know that that makes the process that much more intimate. Oh my God. So let's talk about the flow of your work a little bit. I imagine it was challenging to pull off but, to your huge credit, the book is not an exercise in both sides is Um. We can coin that term, and it doesn't force on the reader a false sense of balance at all. The book is told in alternating chapters and we continually get Riley's perspective and Jen's perspective. Can you talk about your process of pulling it all together, like who did what and what was it like to work together to put this in front of US readers? Yeah, absolutely, and one of the assumptions that we get very often is that Christine wrote Riley's character, Um, the black character, and then I wrote Jen, the white character, and it's such an interesting assumption if you say it out loud and unpack it like that. Why do you assume that that that's that's how we wrote it? Because the truth is we both completely wrote both of these women, and even the race informs so much of the... and so much of who each of each of these women are. They're also, you know, informed by so many other things, their daughters and their friends and their careers, and they're just desires and passions in the world and those are things both of us can write to really well for both of these women. Why would we ever silo them by one of us not contributing to the other one? And so we started out this book with a very robust outline. You have to when you're writing with another person. I don't when I'm running on my own, and Christine like freaks out every time I say that because she's like that's terrible. How why would you ever not have an outline? And I'm like, I just like to go with the flow and see what happens and a plan loves a plan. And but you have to when you're running with another person. and we write in Google Docs, so we're writing in real time with the other person and commenting on the other person's work. and honestly, in the very beginning the person that would take a chapter of a section from the outline was whoever had time. Christine was still working full time at Simon and Schuster. I was producing a half dozen podcasts and also had a small child and I was pregnant, and then two small children, and so it was like do you have this great take it, go with it, and then the other one would go in and layer on top of it. And in the beginning it was also a lot of communication, a lot of how do I tell you I don't like this, because it's hard. Writing is so subjective and you're also so emotionally attached to things, even when they're total crap, you're very emotionally attached to them. So imagine someone going in and just deleting something that you're like, that's my baby, why did you delete it? The last thing I've ever read, and maybe it's terrible, but it feels that way in the moment. So we had to have so much back and forth about how do I tell you why I wanted to change this? How how do I tell you what I care about so much and what I don't care about so much? And it was a long process to figure that out without hurting each other's feelings. And Christine is so used to just being an editor right and then ripping things up and putting them back together and but it's different when it's your co writer, I think. And so yeah, it was. It was a process. It didn't come easily. There were tears, there were arguments and we got through it and I think that the finished product is better for having gotten through it and I think that our friendship is stronger for having gotten through it. It's so funny. That really does come through in the book. I mean you can tell because each of the struggles of the characters, like I figured it had to come from somewhere and it wasn't. It was organic for the book. Yeah, it feels like it comes from somewhere. True, that's for sure. So let's talk about that a little more. I mean the themes you write about in the book, the police killing of unarmed black children and men, the black lives matter movement, protests, that the too often unanswered calls for justice. They're playing out in real time all around us, include thing, I imagine, during obviously the writing of the book. So... did those heavy themes and disturbing events affect each of you and how did your relationship as a black woman and a white woman who are friends and Co Workers? How did your relationship involved during the process? Did you have these difficult conversations that jen and Riley had in the book. Were you having those yourselves? Be Sure we're. I mean, I think you know, Joe just talked about the logistical and creative challenges that we had in the beginning, right in terms of writing a book together, and there's just a big learning curve to figure out the communication, etcetera, etcetera. But at the same time we were thrown into having really deep and intense conversations about race. And like Riley and Jin in the pages of the story, who haven't talked about race, it's a little bit different. For them. It just they've been lifelong friends and I just you know, hasn't come up for lots of different reasons. But for Joe and I we were relatively new friends. I mean we have the professional relationship and a friendship that grew out of it, but we hadn't had a lot of deep conversations about race and even in the development of our friendship, normally you would have these conversations right, slowly over time and build trust over, you know, years maybe, and we were since we were thrown together purposely and intentionally. But you know, to do this book we had to have these conversations very quickly and that involved a lot of trust and vulnerability and then, in turn, you know, a lot of miscommunications and hard conversations and disagreements and misunderstandings. I mean the same way that Riley and gin have those and that, as painful or heart as it was during that time, it does, I think, make Riley and Gen situation that much richer and more authentic because it comes from that place. But it's also in the and we're so honest about sharing those experiences, is because we pushed through to have these conversations when a lot of people, I think, are either too scared or give up or, you know, cut people off at the first you know, tiny misunderstanding or you know, something that they perceived as offensive or what have you. And we didn't have the choice to do that. But we're also really glad we didn't do that because it was very meaningful for us to to push through to the other side and keep going and keep talking, and that's what we hope. The message of the book is too, that we are, you know, real life examples of that of talking, keeping the lines of Communication Open, offering grace to people and and you know that's very real. We we lived it and it shows it's to the benefit of the book and and and to us as the readers.

You know, we thank you having that conversation over doing that, because what you've produced is a beautiful not just a beautiful novel, but a beautiful learning experience in a window into a world that it's sometimes difficult to to walk through. You know right well we wanted people to be able to talk about race. We had to because we in order to finish this project, obviously, but a lot of people have the luxury, you might say here, the freedom, to not have these conversations. It's really easy in our society to avoid them. And yet in the process of writing this book, one of our motivations was thinking that people do want to have these conversations, and that is born out as we've been on book tour. People tell us they want to have these conversations, and so what's really heartening to us is that the book can be the catalyst to have these conversations. Like sometimes it's hard just to go up to somebody, a friend even, and open this door. But if you Riley and Jen were forced to do it because of something that happened to them personally. Joe And I were forced to do it because of this project, but other people are able to do it by way of we've read this book, you know. Can we talk about what happened in the book? And we find that that helps people have a way in and because it's a novel, it's a little bit more relatable and accessible to kind of have these even water cooler conversations at the office or with a friend, family member Thanksgiving, you know, those conversations. So it's really meaningful to us that our book can serve that for us. Absolutely, and I kept thinking of the word brave because, like in real life, these characters going to just put a wall between them and gone their separate ways and never dealt with it, but they really fought, fought to stay your friends and they and then part of the conversation. I think that's part of the things we get out of it and it's a solid, solid foundation for people to try to use that as an example of where they're going. So a little more specifically, you kind of touched on this a little bit. Did you feel incredible pressure to like get it right? You've talked about the research and the writing, but what was the pressure like to actually make sure that you got it just right, because well, you did. But talk about the feelings going around that so high. Right. This race is this third rail issue in in America. It causes so many inflammatory reactions, and rightfully so. But we knew that even if we got some kind of minor detail wrong, that that could be an opportunity for someone to completely rip this book apart. And there was so much pressure. We really prepared ourselves too. We prepared ourselves for every possible scenario we had. I think this book got more our early...

...reads than anything else I've ever done from people of all races, ages, geographic locations, socioeconomic backgrounds. Those are all things that come into play in the book. Mean race comes up so often when we talk about we are not like them, but it's really undergirded by a lot of socioeconomic issues as well, and so we wanted to get those right Um as best we could and anytime we were challenged, and we were challenged by some of those early readers, we thought about it, we considered it and did even more research and we'd like to say there's a whole multiverse out there of different books. This could have been because we went down each of those roads. We tried everything, we left no stone unturned and I think for all of those, those trails we followed and dead ends again, it became a better book because we were willing to be very open. I don't think that Christine and I really had an ego going into this or an agenda where we said, we are right, this is the point of view we are going to put in this book. We were, we're really open and willing and we've been lucky enough to have readers that are so open and willing to think about these topics, these really hard topics, and I think one of the most surprising things has been that we haven't gotten that, like all of the backlash that we anticipated, that that all different kinds of readers have embraced this book and embraced these conversations and shown that they're hungry for these kinds of conversations and it's just been a really beautiful process over over the past nearly year now. I love that. I mean in the in the hands of lesser writers. This honestly, if you you know, you hear about the if you just read about like if you read a synopsis as an editor, like an acquiring editor, you know in the hands of a lesser writer. This could have been a total disaster. You know, and I think you guys us were very masterful and it shows how much care you put into getting it exactly right. And thank you. So let's talk about the G N A pick, because that's got to be I mean, you know, we we all all of us in this conversation. I've been at the publishing game for for many years and we all know for you, Christine, since it's your debut novel, like out the gate, it doesn't always happen like that. So I'm just so excited for you, guys and and and proud and whatever. But tell us what that felt like to get that call and how did you get the news and what was that ride like for you? It was amazing, I have to say, and it's kind of a funny story, because Joe is on her way from Philly to New York. We had some book stuff to do when our editor was trying to reach both of us to tell us the news, but she was unreachable because she was on the train and then on the selvel like, etcetera, etcetera, and so I was going to give her the news when she arrived, but I actually had to hop on it.

Different work call and then the there was a series of miscommunications, but she couldn't get upstairs in my building in New York. So there was just like protracted time where I knew the news and then Joe didn't know the news yet and then she ran upstairs and then I blurted it out. There was a lot of screaming and tears. And Bear in mind you find out about these picks. We found out in May for October, and then there's just you can't tell anybody. Can't tell anybody. Do not tell us, soul, do not tell us, soul. This is a massive secret to be taken away from you. Did You keep for about twelve hours. We were celebrating that night at a place that we love in Harlem and, you know, after two or three vodka gimblets, we did we felt like we needed to share this news with the bartender secrecy, and we told her she could ever tell anybody. So the circle got a little bigger right away. I don't know how it couldn't. I mean I would be like, Oh my God. But the hysterious note, it is such an honor because there's so many books published. You know, as an editor. You know, all of us in the publishing business and it's really the biggest challenge in publishing today is discoverability. Right, how are readers going to find out about a book? You can write the best book ever, but if it's not front and Center for readers. And so to have a break like this, and I, you know, really do consider it a break, right, like a show base break almost Um, where there's, you know, a lot of other wonderful books that are deserving of this too and you know, to be chosen and just have that sort of you know edge um and help to connect with readers with such an honor for us in one that we are just eternally grateful for, because it really made a difference in the life and journey of this book and it finding its way for an Audi ends, and so we're we're truly really grateful. We're grateful they put it in front of so many people because it was so important for them to read this book and this story and and start these conversations too. Just it's wonderful. Okay, in the paperback edition you have this amazing key with a in the back which, if anybody out there hasn't read the book, or even, if you have, get your hands on the paperback copy just for this content. If nothing else. It's amazing. But one of the things that sticks out in the back there says you've said the way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. After all, tell us what you've read lately that you've loved so people can put it on their TBR pile. Oh, so there's this is actually very interesting because Christine and I read a lot of the same books. We're both really, really avid readers. You read, you know, trying to read a book a week or so. But we haven't talked about it lately and for when the book first came out. We're both obsessed with the novel the Great Circle, and actually just recommended it to someone the other day.

Is the best book I've read in a year or so. I loved it so much and I still recommend that. I still think people should go back and and read that one and Christine, Christine loved that one too. I also just finished the Dave Egger's book the every, which came out the week that our book came out, and I bought, actually bought it at M and Patchett's bookstore Um Parnassis when we were doing our book event there. For we were not like them and did not read it until now because we've been so busy. It's been sitting on my nightstand and the every is about, you know, it's a sequel to the circle and it's about what if Google and Amazon and facebook we're all one company controlling our lives and it's so much to take in and it gave me so much Agita and anxiety and I don't even know if I liked it, but at the end of the day I can't stop thinking about it, which means it was. It was feeling described all of Dager's books right. So much anxiety, like I'm just I'm still very stressed out by it. He's one of mine. Recently, very different, is in love by Amy Bloom. I think I'm getting I've just been a huge amy bloom fan from way back. I mean her first story collection. Even a blind man can see how much I love you, which is also one of the best titles ever, and I just love it when you can follow a writer with you her whole career and just read, you know, anything she writes. I read. And then this book, which is a memoir about her husband and his battle with Alzheimer's and a lot to right to die issues, uh, and and it's heart really just a beautiful love story. It was really nice to see a different dimension to her right like when you read somebody's work over years, you feel like you know them, and then to read such a personal story, then you really feel like you're you're seeing them in a different way and her writing is just so beautiful and the story was so beautiful. So it was really touched by out this summer, lucky us, by our of my it has stayed with me forever. I love that book too. Well, ladies, can you tell us what you're working on next and are you going to write another book together? We already have. Yeah, we finished our novel, our next novel, and turned it over to our editor a couple of months ago and it'll come out next summer and it's called you're always mine. I love it. So yeah, we're really we're. Yeah, we're waiting for our edits. And it says it also explores race in intimate relationships, but it's very different. It's set in a different world than we're not like them. It's about a black woman who finds and abandoned white baby and takes her in and takes care of her and what that does to her own marriage and her relationships and her... and her relations, her ultimate relationship with the white mother of this child. So, because one of the things Joe and I are always trying to do is turn a race on its head a little bit and show things that we don't often see. Right. So, in the case that we are not like them, the kind of real people behind these headlines of police shootings and how that's a racial issue per se, but how it plays out, and in this case, you know, we see a lot of white families, white people adopting or fostering or taking care of black kids. But what about what happens in the reverse? And people think about that differently, and how and why do they think about it differently, and how does it play out then with the characters on the page of our stories? So we're hoping to give people a lot to think and talk about in their social circles and book clubs and I'm totally on the lookout for that already. Well, we'll get us some from some early copies, don't are you happy? Just happy to spread the word. I'm not G M A, but there's there's a few people that listen to can you tell our listeners right, they can find you guys online? Social Media, website, whatever, book tours, any of them? Yeah, together, separate, however you want to. Yeah, absolutely, I am. I mean I have a love hate relationship with Instagram, but all of my stuff is on there and all the news about our books and events is on there. So I'm at Joe Piazza, author on Instagram, and Christine is at sea pride, and we really I mean one of the favorite parts of this whole journey is connecting with readers and I share Joe's love hate relationship with instagram. Actually wasn't even on instagram or any social media until we sold this book. So that's how strong my ambivalence was. But it's really been a gift to be able to connect with readers that way. You know, we always respond to direct messages people posting content about the book, reviews. I mean we really just see it as a powerful tool of engagement. So, you know, please do follow us and write to us and let us know your reactions to the story, good, bad, thoughtful questions. You know, we're here for it all. Well, we're so glad you joined us today. It's really been an honor to talk to you both and we can't wait for next year's book. I hope it came across in this interview. I mean we've talked a lot about the book being important, all caps important, and it is, but it's also a really beautiful novel. I encourage anyone looking for a great read to grab we are not like them and you will not regret it. Absolutely and we love you guys so much. We really loved being here and it's really Nice, you know, for you to say such nice things about the story and invite us for this really fun conversation. So thank you for having us. Oh my goodness, yes, yes, and thank you to our listeners for joining us for this episode. It's so gratifying to hear from so many of you...

...our labor of law. Please be sure to share the podcast with friends. Thank you for tuning in to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform. Tune in every Friday for another episode, and you can also join us every week on facebook or youtube. Where are live? Friends and fiction show airs at seven PM Eastern Standard Time. We are so glad you're here.

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