Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, YOU WERE ALWAYS MINE

Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, YOU WERE ALWAYS MINE

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews bestselling co-authors Jo Piazza and Christine Pride about You Were Always Mine, a tender, provocative, and thoughtful novel about a Black woman who finds an abandoned white baby. The three discuss the themes of motherhood, adoption, and intimate interracial relationships, as they relate to the book and to their real lives. Jo and Christine also talk about their fascinating co-writing process, their friendship, and the books they are reading and loving.


Julie Chavez: Hello, Christine and Jo. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jo Piazza: We are so excited to be here. Thanks for having us.

Christine Pride: Hi. Thanks for having us.

Julie: I’m so thrilled to be the person to interview you today. I finished your book last night. The title is You Were Always Mine. It’s so good. I have to tell you, this morning — I was almost done last night, but it was getting late. I was getting a little bit sleepy. I finished the last chapter. I saw the epilogue. I thought, nope, I’m going to wait until tomorrow morning. I was so invested that I thought, I don’t want to read this while I’m falling asleep. It deserves my full attention. I woke up this morning and read it. My son came in. He goes, “Are you living your best life?” I said, “Yeah. Did you get a ride to school or what?” It was a beautiful book. Congratulations.

Christine: Thank you so much. We’re really excited. Like you said, we’re at the beginning of the publication process. That’s always so exciting when you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re so excited to talk to readers. This is really fun.

Jo: It’s like going on a first date or a second date. You’re still into it. You’re still totally into it.

Julie: You’re still into it. That leads perfectly to my next question. I realize you are both very busy, accomplished women. You have things in your life. How do I get to be part of your cowriting club? Are you looking for a third person? Can I be at the top of the list?

Christine: The more the merrier.

Jo: Totally. We would be into a thriple. I don’t know how you say it.

Christine: You really have to be into Google Docs, though. That was my first indoctrination into the cowriting, learning Google Docs. That, just so you know, is a hazing prerequisite, if you’re a Word girl.

Julie: I will get prepared. I’m very excited about this. I was reading the book, and I thought, this is so seamless. It’s just really all so beautifully done. I want to talk a little bit about the process for you guys. First, I want to talk about, how did you decide that motherhood was going to be the topic for this one? You write about it with a real appreciation and honesty and just a tenderness that I really loved from all the characters. How did you decide that that was the topic?

Jo: We have known for a while, actually. We had this idea when we first sold We Are Not Like Them. When we first submitted the hundred pages of that and sold it on proposal, this was the second book that we were going to write. How long is that, Christine? Christine’s better with time than I am.

Christine: 2018.

Jo: Five years ago. About five years ago. Christine is the one who actually came up with the bones for this idea, which is interesting if you think about it because Christine is the part of our team that is child-free by choice, and I am the part of our team that is constantly pregnant. This idea — it was so little; it was just a few lines of an idea — really took shape over the next five years. I had three kids. Then the world also changed with how we treat mothers and how we care for mothers, especially through the pandemic. This idea, for both of us, became more important than ever.

Christine: Absolutely. I was just going to add that we’ve always been interested, obviously, as an interracial writing duo, in the idea of how race plays out in intimate spaces, we say. In our first book, it was a friendship, and on top of all the other factors that are a part of friendship, how race is a layer there when you have an interracial friendship. We wanted to do the same thing here. When you take a really intimate relationship, and nothing is more intimate than a mother-daughter or a mother-child bond, and you add a layer to that of race, what happens when you have a white mother, a Black mother, chosen family, foster care? It all lends itself to a lot of, we thought, rich themes that we could dig into, and with a lot of nuance, which is what we tried to do with our first book as well to show that there’s so much complexity here.

Julie: I really like hearing that. I think it really lent a lot to the tension too because the stakes are so high. These are lives and relationships. To see them play out on the page was really moving. You guys did a fantastic job with that part. I was walking around the house with my Kindle reading it because I just really needed to know how it was going to go. I had a personal — my mom was adopted at birth. She met her birth mother when she was thirty-seven.

Jo: Now I want to hear all about her story.

Julie: I’ll tell it quick because it is a great story. She was born in 1955. Her mom did not want to share that information with her, my grandmother. After she passed away, my mom was going through her things. She found a last name. My mom picked up a phone book from Denver. We lived in Vail at the time. We had an old phone book from Denver. My mom picks it up, looks up that last name, dials the first number, says, “Hi. I’m looking for a woman who might have given up a child in 1955.” The man on the other side says, “That’s my sister.”

Jo: What? Stop it.

Julie: I know. It’s so insane.

Christine: Wow.

Julie: Then he called her on my mom’s behalf. She called back. I had the great fortune of knowing both of them, both my grandmother and her birth mother. This is the thing. Those stories, there are so many. They’re all so rich and, I use the word again, but tender. Intimate spaces, you’re exactly right. I connected with it on that level. I also connected because I’m a mom and all the things. I thought it was so good. I can’t wait to go back and read your other book.

Christine: Thank you for sharing that. One of the beautiful things about being on tour, talking to readers about We Are Not Like Them for the last two years is people sharing their stories of friendship. It’s so interesting to switch to a completely different topic — obviously, motherhood and adoption and foster care and how we create families — and then hear all these amazing stories about adoption and foster care and people finding family and discovering later and secrets come out and reconnections and all of the whole . To the degree that which our novels can be a vehicle for people to tell us their stories, we love it. It’s amazing.

Julie: It’s such a beautiful opportunity right now too. Even my mom’s story, there were so many issues and things that were kept secret around adoption especially. Now we live in a different age, sometimes for better or worse. It just has this element of, there can be more openness. I think you did a good job showing that in some of the relationships and how things were resolved. It was really tenderly and beautifully done. I loved it. I have this question. I know you mentioned this. By the way, when you were saying child-free by choice — when I was writing this down, I was thinking, Christine has a lot of mothering roles in her life. I was thinking we also need new terms for this. I was thinking if you’re child-free by choice, then Jo is child-burdened by choice.

Christine: Jo, you have to start using that now instead of, I’m a mother. I am child-burdened by choice.

Jo: I’m child-burdened.

Christine: It really rolls off the tongue.

Julie: It does. Saddled was another one I had written down. Child-saddled.

Jo: Saddled with children. I do say that quite often. You know, here’s the interesting thing. I wrote some Instagram post or Substack, I don’t know, something lately where I was complaining about my kids. I got a comment from someone that goes, “Well, then you shouldn’t have had them if you’re going to complain about them.” Shut up, lady.

Julie: That’s adorable.

Jo: That’s so cute. I can complain about whatever I want to, especially my children. Saddled feels like a good word.

Julie: Of course, we love them. Partners and people in your life, it’s my job to love and complain about you.

Christine: It’s family. We love our family, and we complain about our family. That is human nature.

Jo: It’s a God-given right.

Julie: It is. It is a God-given right. On that note, what’s one thing that you each learned from the other in the writing of this book that maybe surprised you when it came to mothering or — what was one thing that you learned?

Christine: I learned that Jo is pregnant during the writing of this book. That is a surprise, when she called me to tell me. That might not be exactly what you meant in terms of .

Julie: But I like it. I also like it.

Christine: That did happen.

Jo: Fun fact, that pregnancy was a surprise to me too, and my husband.

Julie: I love surprises.

Jo: That was unexpected. I also took the pregnancy test on April Fool’s Day, which didn’t make it any less of a surprise to my husband. We’ve talked about this a lot because we’re actually batting around the idea to write an essay about myths that mothers have about women who don’t have kids and that women who don’t have kids have about mothers. Mothers, because of all the things that we’re juggling, often think, oh, she doesn’t have kids, she can’t be as busy as me. She must have so much free time. I think that’s a myth that really deserves to be shot down. Christine is one of the hardest-working people I know with an incredibly busy schedule caring for things that are not children, caring for friends, caring for friends’ children, caring for parents. I do think that is something that gets assumed a lot. That’s one thing that we like to talk about.

Christine: I think the opposite is true too. This comes up especially in a writing partnership where we’re friends but we’re also colleagues. Are you prioritizing your kids over working? I think people feel that way in their offices too. It’s like, are they shirking their duties because they’re always going to PTA meetings or their kids’ activities? That’s the reverse of a not-fair myth that people have about — basically, people should stay out of judging other people’s lives and what they’re dealing with and how much time they do or do not have because it’s really none of our business. It is so pervasive to say, what are you really bringing to the table here? What is distracting you from it? Jo and I really stay away from that because we respect both of our life choices and our time and our commitment to our projects together. That’s been interesting.

Julie: That’s such a unique thing that’s a burden for women too. It’s just assumed that you’re always somehow not showing up as your full self or bringing your full self because you have other things in your life when the opposite is totally true. You’re better at managing things, often, when you have more happening, regardless of whether it’s children or not. That makes total sense to me. How do you guys do the cowriting? I need to know since I’m going to be in on it.

Christine: It’s really going to be a trial by fire. Get ready. Buckle up. We, as I mentioned, use a Google Doc. We start with creating a really detailed outline of what’s going to happen in the story so we have a roadmap to follow. Jo knows that I love a plan and a map and an outline and just anything to get us organized. It makes me so happy. We start there.

Julie: Do you color code it?

Christine: I wish. I wish there was a way to do that in a Google Doc. One of its limitations. We sit down. A lot of that is collaborative on the phone or on Zoom or what have you where we’re thinking through things and brainstorming before we get into the writing process. That takes us a while. Then we put all those notes in a Google Doc with a timeline and kind of a chapter-by-chapter outline. Once we have that, we can both go back and forth and taking turns and starting drafting the chapter because we know, at least roughly, what’s going to happen in that chapter. We go back and forth and do that until we’re sort of happy with that chapter and then move on to the next chapter and keep going and keep going like a marathon until we get to those magic words, the end. Then we start back from the beginning.

Jo: Then we do it all again and read it. I think the fun thing to talk about that we get to do as cowriters that you don’t get to do if you don’t have a cowriter is we read it out loud to each other a lot. It finds mistakes really well. It also helps with voice and tone and craft in so many ways. No one else will read your book aloud with you. No one else loves your book as much as you do. I think that’s a real gift when you have a cowriter, to do that. I’ve really enjoyed doing that with Christine twice now.

Christine: Same, and to really say, “Is this working?” along the way. Is this working? So many times when you’re writing alone — I was an editor for many years, so I know that when you’re working one-on-one with a writer, oftentimes, you’re getting, if not a finished draft, pretty significant chunks at a time. That is less of a day-to-day, minute-to-minute than Jo and I are able to do with each other, which is, is this working? Is this chapter working? Is this graph working? That kind of thing to get that constant feedback, it’s a beauty of having a cowriter.

Julie: Does it feel like you can write faster in that way? Are you guys pretty fast with it, or does it take a while? Is it faster or slower? I guess is my question.

Christine: That’s a really good question. Jo would be able to answer that more than I can because she’s written five thousand other books before this. I don’t really have a baseline comparison to know how long it would or wouldn’t take. I feel like we’re both pretty fast just in general. Jo is much faster than I am with that. I also think part of the speed is that we have to keep each other on task. We have deadlines to each other to keep us focused. Some of that is just accountability. Whereas doing it on your own, you can put it down for a month, two months, three months. You can just slow yourself down in a way that you can’t with another person.

Jo: I agree. It’s different. I’ll say that. It is really different. When I write on my own, I kind of fly by the seat of my pants. Christine hates it when I talk about this. This gives her hives. It freaks her out so much. I don’t write with an outline.

Christine: The listeners can’t see me nodding furiously and getting those hives. Even the words “fly by the seat of my pants”…

Jo: I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Christine: Terrifying.

Julie: You’re already feeling itchy.

Jo: She is. I just finished another novel. I didn’t know how it was going to end. That gives you a little bit more freedom. You sit down, and you just go. It’s a different kind of process. I think the characters develop differently in your brain. In some ways, that is faster because you don’t have to rely on someone else. You don’t have to grapple over sentences and stuff. It evolves in a different way. That said, you also don’t have the checks and balances, and so you do have a longer reediting process and searching for people to read it early and give you feedback. Christine and I have a built-in feedback system, which is each other. In that way, I’d say they probably both take the same amount of time. They’re just wildly different processes.

Julie: That makes total sense. You’d almost have a more polished first draft between the two of you because you have revised as you’ve gone.

Christine: We turn in more polished drafts to our editors for that reason.

Julie: I bet the editors love that.

Christine: They do love that. We love our editors.

Jo: We do love our editors. All of them, they’re wonderful.

Julie: That’s fantastic. That’s a good thing. Christine, what is your favorite thing about Jo?

Christine: So many things. I think Jo is always present and always available for work or a good time. Jo is very fly by the seat of her pants. She’s very go with the flow. For as productive as she is — she is one of the most productive people I know. She’s very chill about it. We’ll have work to do, or deadlines, but somehow, still, we can fit in getting drinks at one of our favorite restaurants here in Harlem when she comes up to New York and still work. She’s a good balance of being fun friend, always up for a good time, but also always ready to buckle down and get something done. That is a, I feel like, unique combination.

Julie: Absolutely. Jo, what about for you? What’s your favorite thing about Christine?

Jo: She’s just the best at being a friend. She’s really, really wonderful at knowing what you need as a friend and how to take care of you as a friend. Then also, she’s the best editor that I’ve ever had. We met when she was my editor for Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. We became close when we did that. I feel so lucky that I get to write books with her and have her as that editorial voice as we write books together and then also for other projects that I’m working on. She’s just always there to give this feedback that is honed from twenty years of doing what she’s been doing very, very well.

Julie: I love hearing those, by the way.

Christine: Thanks for asking us that. Nobody’s ever asked us that before. I feel like we were on The Newlywed Game.

Julie: That’s what we should’ve done. I could’ve had you answer things beforehand. Dang, that was a missed opportunity. I love hearing that. You can definitely sense it in the book. You guys have a really healthy synergy between you because it’s so smooth. When you were saying, Jo, that Christine is the best editor, I can see that in the pacing of the book.

Jo: She’s very, very good at that. I am not. She’s much better than I am at that.

Julie: I’m sure I will read your other books and love them. Not that you’re terrible about pacing. I just could feel like, when I was waiting for a beat, there it was. It was so natural.

Christine: Another beauty of working with somebody in this kind of partnership, and it took us some time to figure this out, was really how to leverage each other’s strengths — obviously, people are good at different things — and really paying attention to that and using that to our advantage. As an editor, you do kind of develop an intuitive sense of structure and pacing because that’s mainly what people need. They write great books. Then you come in, and you sort of undergird them with more of an organization and the tension and the momentum a book needs along the way. That is something that I bring to the table, whereas Jo is really good at getting words down and getting mechanics and characters and the actual grit of the book. Where things are going to happen and how they’re going to happen, all of those things are obviously so important. Getting a character from A to B is one of the hardest things about writing, which is mind-blowing. It is nice that we can play to our strengths that way. I think the books that we write benefit from that. That’s nice to see.

Julie: That makes total sense. I know you’re both voracious readers, obviously. What are you reading right now?

Jo: I just finished Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know anything about it going into it, which is nice. I need to do that more, where I just read a book knowing nothing about what it’s about. I also finished The Whispers by Ashley Audrain and enjoyed that a lot. That’s out, I think, the same day as our book in June, and to that end, just finished The Spare Room by Andrea Bartz, which I think is also out the same day that we’re out.

Christine: A lot’s happening on June 13th.

Julie: It’s a party. I’m excited. That’s a great day.

Christine: That’s a good lineup. It’s a good lineup.

Julie: Ashley Audrain, author of The Push, correct?

Jo: Yes. Ashley Audrain, author of The Push.

Julie: Did this one have the same vibes or different vibes?

Jo: Same-ish vibes. I think about The Push all the time, by the way.

Julie: That’s exactly what I was thinking. Is this one going to stay in my mind forever?

Jo: Yes. This one is definitely a little different. I think about The Push all the time as the mother of a five-and-a-half-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old. Sometimes I look at them, and I’m like, did you do that on purpose? Is there evil inside of you? This one focuses more on the mothers involved and the unfulfilled desires and passions of women and how we interact with each other and the secret things that women who are both friends and not friends are thinking about one another. I think she’s just good at writing modern women and writing about motherhood. I really enjoyed it a lot.

Julie: Okay, I’ll put it on my list.

Christine: I want to read it. I know, we both have to add it to our list. I haven’t read it either.

Julie: What are you reading right now, Christine?

Christine: I am reading Happy Place. I’m such an Emily Henry fan. It’s so fun. I was so happy to see her number one on The New York Times best-seller list. As an editor, the list is the list. It’s something that you’re always chasing. It’s just perfect when a book that deserves to be there, an author that has worked so hard, that has built such a following in such an organic way, is so, by all accounts, lovely — to see that response from readers and then to read the book and love it as much as readers have, it’s a delight. I’m really enjoying that.

Julie: Fun. I have that one on my shelf. I love the color of the cover design.

Christine: It’s so bright. It’s so pop-y, that pink. I just want to paint everything that pink. It’s the color of summer.

Julie: It’s so true, yes. I should paint a room that. I bet my husband would be really happy if he came home from his work trip and our bedroom were pink.

Jo: He would. Do it.

Christine: You still have some time to do it.

Julie: I do. He’s not home until tomorrow night. It’s going to be great. I have to give a nod to your language in the book and the way that you were so insightful about motherhood. There were a couple lines. “I’ve never been so bone tired.” “Something new and terrifying happens every couple of hours.” I was like, check, and check. I think one of the strongest parts of the book for me was the early days that Cinnamon is experiencing in a part of the book. I never want to give too much away. To your point, Jo, I don’t even read the backs of books. You talk about motherhood a lot. The other thing was the time loop with a baby. “The days are approximately 567 hours long and pass in a flash at the exact same time.” I have a question. Christine, were those lines that you weighed in on, or were those ones that Jo came up with? Did she write more about motherhood, or did you? I feel like, also, that could totally be — I once watched a friend’s puppy. That’s how I felt about it. You can experience that even when child-free.

Christine: I am a close observer and voyeur of motherhood. Ninety percent of my friends have young children right now, so I feel vicariously immersed. I think that’s one of those things in terms of our sentence-by-sentence editing process and the beauty of having cowriters or working together. We get a nugget of an idea or we want this description, and then you have the other person to refine the sentences. It is hard to tell when we go back through the book sentence by sentence because people weighed in. I, for example, am prone to writing very long sentences that Jo is then like, “This is really three sentences, I think.”

Jo: They’re so long. Sometimes they’re so long. There’s a lot of commas.

Christine: There’s that. I don’t know. We’ve weighed in all the way through.

Jo: It’s interesting. I can’t tell you who wrote what at this point with a lot of it, with probably ninety percent of it. I’m sure that there’s some that I’m like, oh, yeah, that was me. We both tinker with so much of it that it really is a full-on collaboration.

Christine: It just becomes a meld. It’s so funny because a lot of people asked us for our first book, which was told in alternating points of view between Riley, our Black character, and Jen, our white character, how did you — they assumed, rather, that I as a Black person wrote Riley, the Black character, and Jo wrote Jen, the white character. In this version, it’s more Cinnamon, who’s a Black woman. It’s, I would say, eighty percent her story. Then we get Daisy’s story blended in. It’s not that same fifty/fifty. In the same way, we both had to weigh in on all different aspects. We always say with Riley and Jen, it’s about race, but it was also about being a friend and being an ambitious woman and so forth. For this book, certainly, it’s about race. It’s about motherhood. It’s also about friendship and the choices that you have to make, the sacrifices you’re willing to make. It’s about past trauma and how you reckon as an adult with what has happened to you as a child and what is fair or not fair and how you create family. My parents were foster parents. That was a big theme, obviously, through the book. I drew a lot from that experience. We were both writing from lots of different personal experiences and observations and feelings and emotions. It’s tapestry. I think that’s one of the things you did learn about me, though, Jo. To circle back to that question, I don’t think you knew my parents were foster parents until we started talking about this idea.

Jo: No, not until we started talking about this idea. We started this conversation so long ago, but yeah, that was the first time that I knew. It’s like that time that I learned about your brother, the professional baseball player.

Christine: Oh, right. You didn’t know my brother is a professional athlete. See, writing books, it is like The Newlywed Game. You learn a lot about people.

Julie: You really do. There is so much we intuitively understand about motherhood regardless of our situation because so many women are caretakers. We care for each other in friendships and relationships, in all sorts of ways. Seeing how you guys were able to put those together, it was just beautiful.

Christine: I also think what’s important is, sometimes when you’re child-free by choice — to circle back when we were talking about myths and stereotypes, I think some people think that you don’t have a respect for motherhood. If you made a decision not to have a child, there’s some sort of underlying derision and judgement there of the act, even, of motherhood. That’s not the case. Even though I’m child-free by choice because it wasn’t the right fit for my lifestyle, motherhood as an act is still something that I respect, the same way I haven’t been married, but I still respect the sanctity and value of marriage or how people create family. I think it’s one of those subjects that you can’t wall off, that people can’t have an opinion about one way or another regardless of your experiences with it because it’s so fundamental to human nature. I happen to have a mother, so there’s that aspect too.

Jo: I’ve seen mothers in the world.

Julie: I have heard of the existence of mothers, and so therefore… That’s so true, though, this assumption that there isn’t respect, appreciation, all of that for it. I think our conversations about whether or not to have children are so woefully inadequate.

Christine: Agreed.

Julie: I hope that — I would imagine that your hope is the same — that this book just contributes to that conversation. There are so many ways to love someone, to mother them, to be a family. We don’t need to make it so binary and so limited.

Christine: Your feelings about it are allowed to change. We really wanted to show that too. This is not giving too much away, but Cinnamon was ambivalent in a lot of ways or confused in a lot of ways about whether she wanted to be a mother or not. I think so often, we assume that women want to be mothers. Women, even themselves, might assume that they want to be a mother because of all of the societal pressures we get. It seems like the road straight from the time you’re in kindergarten is gearing you towards motherhood, even subconsciously. Through our character, we wanted to show that, that all women, and certainly our character, had to make a very conscious choice about what she wanted to do about being a mother or not by way of these high-stakes situations she found herself in. Through that wrestling, we hope that other people start thinking about the choice of motherhood and it being seen as a choice, not a foregone conclusion and not something that you’re forced into. Both of those are pitfalls in our society, frankly.

Julie: I couldn’t agree more. I love the way you put that. It’s so true. It’s even embedded in the language. We say you are child-free by choice, but we don’t say Jo has children by choice. We need some new terms too. I was realizing that.

Christine: We do.

Jo: We need to see more types of women in pop culture. We really do. We talked about this a lot while we were writing the book. From a cultural perspective, from a mass media perspective, we see so much of white-privileged motherhood. White-privileged motherhood, it is a very specific thing, and white-privileged motherhood of women who planned to have their babies at a certain time in their life. Either that works or that doesn’t work. Then they go through different processes. They go through IVF, different fertility treatments. It’s very rare that we see what the majority of mothers go through, which is women getting pregnant when they’re not necessarily ready, when they don’t have a partner to do it with. They want a baby. They’re almost ready. Their job doesn’t support them. They have no money. Those are not stories that we see nearly enough about motherhood in the media. We wanted to talk about that when it comes to our birth mother in the story, Daisy. I think it’s more important than ever for us to show those stories given what’s happening with the restrictions on women’s rights around how to choose when and how to have a child.

Christine: And to remove some of the stigma of it. We wanted to show Daisy as a relatable, real character who’s wrestling with all these things because there’s a lot of women out there in the world who, for whatever reason, can’t rise to the challenge — I use that word very intentionally; motherhood is a challenge — can’t rise to the challenge of motherhood for a thousand different reasons that we are so quick to condemn as a society. We wanted to show characters that had mothers that society would find problematic and to have mothers who make choices that we would judge and to show that there is all these complexities to motherhood that we don’t see enough and that we really tried to infuse our book with, and especially that Cinnamon is a Black, I want to say regular woman, which is also important to us. We did it with Riley in We Are Not Like Them. So often, we see certain types of characters of color, certain types of Black characters, certain types of white characters, even. We were trying to shake that up a little bit too.

Julie: Thank you both. I appreciate you so much. Thanks for the time. Best of luck with the book.

Christine: Thank you so much. I loved talking to you.

Jo: Thank you. We appreciate you.

YOU WERE ALWAYS MINE by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

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