Zibby interviews New York Times bestselling author Gabrielle Zevin about Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a sweeping new novel about love, fame, joy, and tragedy as experienced by brilliant videogame designers and lifelong friends Sam and Sadie. After a quick chat about the iconic game MASH and the Marie Kondo phenomenon, Gabrielle discusses her story’s most striking elements, from Sam’s struggles with chronic pain to Sadie’s abusive relationship with an older professor.


Gabrielle Zevin: Hello.

Zibby Owens: Hi. How are you?

Gabrielle: Hey. How are you?

Zibby: Good. Thank you. Thanks for joining. I’m Zibby. It’s nice to meet you.

Gabrielle: Nice to meet you. That’s quite a library you have back there.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, this is my office.

Gabrielle: Wow, it’s great.

Zibby: All the way around. Thanks.

Gabrielle: You really committed to the color-arranging lifestyle.

Zibby: You know, that shelf, that never moves. I’ve had it like that for two years. Then I use these bookshelves. Although, to be honest, even these are filling up pretty quickly. Anyway, whatever. I’m committed to that there. I like it.

Gabrielle: It looks beautiful. At one point, I got rid of so many books of mine, and frankly, during a 2015 Marie Kondo bout. I really feel regrets about it, to be honest.

Zibby: I actually, surprisingly, did also give away a lot of my books. I am so sad that I did that. I’m like, what were they?

Gabrielle: I had them really organized too. I don’t know if you remember this library thing where you could scan in your barcodes and have it all organized. There was no organization problem with it. I was just like, do I need all of these books around? It turns out I did. I still have a lot of books. I think about some of the books I parted with.

Zibby: It’s sad. I know. They’re like old friends.

Gabrielle: It’s sad. A moment for the books.

Zibby: I had a friend who was going on vacation. Everybody always asks me — even before the podcast, I was always the person, “I’m going on vacation. What should I bring?” I’m like, “Take this. Take this.” I gave her some of my favorite books. She came back. I was like, “What did you think?” She’s like, “I loved them.” I was like, “Do you have the books?” She was like, “Oh, no, I left them in the hotel.” It hurt.

Gabrielle: I know. I gave my writer friend — I think writers, generally, are pretty casual with their books because you just have so many books coming in all the time, especially if you’re at all known. I’m sure you get tons of galleys. Just so many things are coming at you. I lent my writer friend a book that I really, really loved. I was like, “This is a great book.” She never gave it back to me. I was kind of shocked. It was a hardcover of a thing that was a prize winner. She did read it but just never returned it. I feel casual about my books and not casual.

Zibby: I feel the same way. I totally get it. Some, I’m more attached to. Some have personal meaning.

Gabrielle: If I lent it to you, I probably really liked it, is the thing. I wouldn’t give you something that I didn’t think was great. Especially for me, even after the horrible Marie Kondo purge of 2016, the things I kept around were things I go back to a lot too, books I wanted to go into for research and what have you.

Zibby: Or the original copies when I first got them.

Gabrielle: It’s funny. Some of those will start to fall apart. You can barely use them as objects anymore too. I actually loved Marie Kondo. Not to talk more about Marie Kondo, but I loved that book when it came out. I was on book tour at the time on another book. It was in all of the stores. I actually thought it was quite a good read even before it became a show and tons of people doing it. I thought, this is really interesting. It shows you how to part with things, which is difficult for almost everyone. I did think that book was actually quite a good read, but on the subject of books, I think it fails. She was like, photograph or write down passages from certain books, but you don’t need to keep the whole book, was one of the things in it, for instance. No.

Zibby: I just look at a book, and the whole thing comes floating back, all the scenes and people. That’s why sometimes I have a hard time with e-books, because I don’t get reminded of them all the time.

Gabrielle: I have a really hard time with e-books because you don’t know where you are in them either if you’re remembering something spatially or visually when you’re thinking about, how far through am I when this happened? Even the abrupt surprise of an ending if you’re on an e-book and it shows, hey, you’re at ninety percent, and then it turns out the last ten percent is actually a sample chapter or something. You’re like, oh, no, it just ended. It kind of messes with your perception a lot.

Zibby: Agreed, yes. Okay, well, good.

Gabrielle: We did that.

Zibby: I’m glad to know you were an early adopter of Marie Kondo and that perhaps your early enthusiasm is what set her on the trajectory.

Gabrielle: I hope it was not because I honestly think in the end, like anything that becomes very popular, there were great things about it, but I think a lot of people kind of adopted it maybe — at a certain point, she herself opens up a store. She starts selling more things. The whole point is to get rid of things. A thing I loved in her book — not to keep talking about this book from seven years ago — was that she talked about how you didn’t really ever need to buy things to organize. You should just save your boxes and use those. They were better than any sort of thing. Then she ends up selling boxes, that kind of thing.

Zibby: The lure of consumer consumption, getting on the bandwagon.

Gabrielle: I think the book was good philosophically, but then the brand became an entirely other thing.

Zibby: After I have been a part of cleaning out a few people who I’ve lost, possessions, I feel like you look at your things in a whole new way. I think about that every time I buy something. I’m like, someone’s going to have to figure out what to do with this thing after I’m dead. What are they going to do? I think about that all the time. What are they going to do with this? Are they going to keep it? Where are they going to put it?

Gabrielle: My mom had that reaction when they had to get rid of my grandmother’s stuff when she died. She was like, “I just have to have my things in order.” Is this right? Remember, there was a thing called Swedish death cleaning?

Zibby: No, I don’t remember that.

Gabrielle: Yes. I didn’t read this. It came out after Marie Kondo. I forget what it’s called. It’s called Swedish death cleaning or something where you basically do exactly that. You prepare to die. I’m laughing, but it’s not funny. You organize your things in preparation for not being here anymore.

Zibby: It does make you think twice about buying certain things or keeping certain things. It’s just stuff someone has to go through on your behalf. It’s sort of a pain.

Gabrielle: I know. Who wants all that piles of just stuff? It would be a burden. I think about when my mom dies, because people being mortal, I think about how hard it will be for me to get rid of certain things that are just even casual possessions of hers, that kind of.

Zibby: Then I think you realize, too, that the things you want to keep the most have nothing to do with the value of the thing itself.

Gabrielle: No, it doesn’t.

Zibby: It’s all about the sentimental. Honestly, the things I cling to for whoever’s passed away are the handwritten things, which is sad since no one handwrites anything. If there’s a card that they sent or a letter they handwrote, that’s like, ah.

Gabrielle: I agree. The emails and the DMs, the screenshots of those don’t do the same thing.

Zibby: They do not do it.

Gabrielle: I do think about the photos, by the way.

Zibby: And the photos.

Gabrielle: How many photos are in your photo library on Apple or whatever right now? I think at some point, should I actually clean those up? Do I feel psychically burdened by having whatever it is, 15,000 photos?

Zibby: I just opened it up. How do I know how many photos I have?

Gabrielle: Let me tell you. I’ll open mine. Hopefully, this won’t crash us out.

Zibby: I don’t know how I know. I think at some point, I could tell on my — this is a really interesting podcast. Anyone listening, how many photos?

Gabrielle: Anybody listening, just send your report. It’s not actually apparent on this version.

Zibby: I might have to look on my phone.

Gabrielle: We’ll have to table this issue for now.

Zibby: The answer is a lot, a lot, a lot.

Gabrielle: The answer is definitely a lot.

Zibby: I’m really good about printing albums. Are you good at that?

Gabrielle: Not really. I used to print all the time, but not currently. No. I kind of feel bad about that.

Zibby: You should. No, I’m kidding.

Gabrielle: Oh, I just figured it out. If you’re in Apple library, click on “all photos” at the top.

Zibby: “All items”?

Gabrielle: Then just scroll yourself to the very bottom. It turns out I have 55,540 photos and 490 videos.

Zibby: Whoa. Wait, hold on. I’m going down. Wait, how many do you have?

Gabrielle: 55,540.

Zibby: I have 169,966 photos and 9,825 videos.

Gabrielle: In any case, we have a lot of content.

Zibby: This is only starting in 2008.

Gabrielle: Same. Actually, at some point, some of my things all — it was kind of creepy. At some point, it managed to find everything that had been on an old desktop. It kind of scares me. All of a sudden, you’ll see a photo from ’97 that was a film photo, on your phone, show up. That’s odd.

Zibby: I’m annoyed because I put all my prior photos on disks. Now I don’t know where the disks are. I can’t access them. They’re years missing of my kids’ lives, but it’s okay.

Gabrielle: You could probably reimport them so you can get up to 200,000.

Zibby: I would. See? All these here are all my photo albums from before. I’m obsessed with photos.

Gabrielle: They look really organized. I appreciate the fact that you have the same kind of album over and over again.

Zibby: Thank you. I started with red. Then I went to maroon and navy and green. Then I stopped and started making them online.

Gabrielle: It’s funny. If you don’t make things, buy things — things. Maybe because we’re from a capitalist culture or whatever, you need, sometimes, tangible proof of having lived, some artifacts.

Zibby: I completely agree, which also, by the way, is like writing books too. I also feel like that is some way to say, okay, I was here. Now I’ve written this. It can resuscitate people too. This person is no longer —

Gabrielle: — It can. For me, though, my first novel came out seventeen years ago. What I think about it is just how different the person who wrote it is than the person I am now. To publish across many years is to live with sort of ghost versions of yourself. One of the things I think is, most people in life can softly transition into other points of view, other ways of thinking, but when you’re a novelist, you have, sometimes, proof that at least that person that you were felt such-and-such a way about such-and-such a thing at such-and-such a time. There’s less deniability that you ever thought that thing.

Zibby: I love that notion of ghost selves. I read this old journal from when I was a kid to my kids when they were the same age. I was like, this is so crazy. It’s like the younger version of me just met my actual kids. Now they’re all having a virtual playdate or something.

Gabrielle: It’s funny. I remember being young, that age, and how much when you’re journaling or whatever you live in the future even when you’re that age, especially when you’re that age. How many times did you play that game, MASH? You know, Mansion, Apartment, Shed, House.

Zibby: Totally. All the time.

Gabrielle: You’re obsessed with the future when you’re ten, probably up until college, even. I think then it starts to feel like you’re in the future. Especially when you’re quite young, you’re both present and imagining what it’s going to be like when you no longer, say, live with your parents or go to school every day or whatever it is. What is that life going to look like for you?

Zibby: We should do a new MASH for middle to old age. Nursing home, assisted living, kid’s house, or hospital. I don’t know. NAKH or something.

Gabrielle: That would be horrifying and scary.

Zibby: And how many grandchildren you have.

Gabrielle: All those kinds of things. It would be, basically, terrifying, though.

Zibby: Pretty much.

Gabrielle: You know how you do the thing with the circling? I think I would be obsessed with getting that circling right to avoid extended convalescence or whatever it is.

Zibby: Totally. Oh, my gosh, I remember that like it was yesterday. You’re doing all those drawings. Gabrielle, what is your book about, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow? I’m kidding. Tell listeners if they’re still with us here and reminiscing back to MASH. Now everybody’s counted all their photos. Actually, on the social media post we put about this episode, everybody should put in how many photos they have. I’m totally curious about how many photos everybody has in their photo albums. Anyway, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, best-selling novel. Congratulations.

Gabrielle: Thank you.

Zibby: Can you do your quick paraphrase of what it’s about?

Gabrielle: It’s funny, I don’t feel like the book pitches quickly, easily, even though I’ve been doing it for several months now. I have the quick version of a thing I say which I know is deeply inadequate. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is about love, art, video games, and times. Then I’m like, that’s really vague. We should add something to that. It’s the story of Sam Masur and Sadie Green, who have a thirty-year friendship and artistic collaboration. They’re probably the most important people in each other’s lives, but they aren’t any of the usual suspects to each other. They’re not spouses. They’re not brother/sister or anything like that. The book is trying to answer the question, what if the most important person in your life wasn’t any of the usual suspects? What if it really was your colleague and your friend?

Zibby: Interesting. I wanted more of an update on Sam’s foot and the injury and all of the information about the car crash and the actual bone healing and how that all went down. Did you consider that?

Gabrielle: I was thinking very particularly of another book that I won’t mention when I was thinking about writing this one. What I really wanted to write about was — just to back up, the reason that I wanted to write Sam as having a physical disability is because I thought that that was one of the main reasons a person might be really drawn to video games. In a way, it gives him a way to be able-bodied, though he is not. That was, to me, a core drive for what he got out of playing. In terms of the overarching structure of the book, I wanted to show how a person might just incorporate chronic pain into their life and go on. I think a lot of people are in pain. There are some novels I have read that seem — I think pain, when you are in it, is defining, but some of these novels have almost a Byronic fatalism about what it means to have an injured body. That is not a healthy attitude because the thing we know about bodies is that they are fallible. For me, it was a conscious decision to have pain be very central for him for probably, I would say, sixty-five percent of the book and then to have it kind of recede into the background because he had taken these steps. I think it’s always there.

The key thing for me in terms of the research that came out of amputations was thinking about phantom pain. That was the thing that really intrigued me, the notion of the fact that you can still feel a limb even after it’s been amputated. This, to me, was a metaphor for Sam’s pain generally. It’s a thing that he always lives with that’s always there and not there at the same time. I really wanted to, at some point, show that Sam had figured out how to live in his body. That was part of the arc for it. At a certain point in the novel, I don’t think the issue is ever resolved for him, but I didn’t want to, again, tell the reader that it was either hopeless or that it was the central part of him. By the way, I think the point at which he is kind of able to deal with his pain, which is — this is a spoiler — after his amputation, it does allow him to do other things in his career, personally and professionally. It opens him up in a way, but it is still always there. It’s still driving him. It’s still making him need love and not always able to show love. Everything about him is kind of centered around both the traumatic incident of the death of his mother and the pain that resulted from that, both physically and mentally. That was my thoughts about it.

Zibby: What about, why link that — Sam and Sadie really strike up this friendship in a place where they’re both in pain for various reasons, him physically and her through the illness of her sister. They bond that way. Obviously, their relationship goes through so much along the way. Sadie also has stuff from her past, not just her sister, but even what happens when you’re the sister of someone else who’s going through some sort of physical major trauma. She had some line early on about how people just forgot about her, maybe that she’d only had this one chocolate pudding all day long or vanilla pudding all day long. They forgot to even feed her. What does it mean to go through something and also to overcome something like that as a child? How do you become a full-spirited adult caring all of this stuff around?

Gabrielle: I feel like it’s funny we have these benchmark ages of, you’re an adult now. It’s eighteen or twenty-one. The Japanese have twenty. I don’t really feel like I had myself figured out until probably forty.

Zibby: You don’t even look like you’re forty, by the way.

Gabrielle: I’ll be forty-five next week.

Zibby: No way. Oh, my gosh.

Gabrielle: I’m heading right down. In the middle-age MASH game that we’re going to play, I’m .

Zibby: I guess that’s why we’re doing that. I’m forty-six.

Gabrielle: We are the same age, basically. I just feel like it’s amazing. You only know this when you’re older, how much of life is improvised, how much things are thrown at you. You figure them out as you go along. You do better and you do worse sometimes. Hopefully, you do better more than you do worse. With regard to Sadie, video games for her aren’t to escape her body. They’re to escape mortality and the fact that the death really loomed over her childhood in a really — it was really present in her childhood because of her sister’s illness, the idea that somebody could be taken from you at a moment’s time. Obviously, that’s part of Sam’s story too. In both of their stories, to me, they’re about the traumas or just things, like you said, the things people have that lead them to create other things. So much of Sadie’s early life goes into their early work. Obviously, Solution is based on her grandmother. Also, Ichigo, which, in the book, people on the outside think is more Sam’s game, it’s deeply Sadie’s game as well. She is everybody in it as much as Sam is, even though by appearances, it seems as if it is Sam’s game.

Zibby: What about EmilyBlaster?

Gabrielle: EmilyBlaster was meant to be the kind of game that an enterprising student might make very close to the night before it was due.

Zibby: I thought that was so cool.

Gabrielle: I think it is cool. Obviously, EmilyBlaster and Emily Dickinson runs through the book. It’s both the epigraph of the book — “That love is all there is, is all we know of love. It is enough. The freight should be proportioned to the groove,” to me, is a pretty good synopsis of the book in four lines. The first two lines are a riddle about love that are then solved by a machine-based metaphor. I always think, you can either write a five-hundred-page novel or you can write a four-line poem, and it can say kind of the same things.

Zibby: I think that’s kind of an advertisement for being a poet, to be honest.

Gabrielle: Right, that economy. I like the sprawl of a novel. I like to go live in it and to live with characters. I like to be in it with them. Poetry does one thing for me. I think it could be particularly expressive of very particular states. I like what novels do too, though I read a lot of poetry, actually.

Zibby: I’m kidding.

Gabrielle: No, I know. Of course.

Zibby: I’m kidding. Just from a cost/benefit little analysis here.

Gabrielle: They can pay you $250,000 a word.

Zibby: I also really enjoyed your depiction of Sadie when she is fighting for this relationship with Dov. Do you pronounce it Dov?

Gabrielle: I pronounce it Dov. Somebody had convinced me to pronounce it Dove. Then I was like, maybe he knows what he’s talking about. It turns out it actually is Dov. Confirmed by my audiobook producer.

Zibby: Okay, good. I mean, it’s your character. Anyway, yes, Dov, and how what women in particular sometimes do. You talked about the objectification of Sadie, even what she was wearing, when you feel that waning interest, and so you kind of double down to try to attract the person even though you know there’s almost nothing you can do. You just hope that maybe this one dress or this one outfit or this one “come hither” look might change the mind of somebody whose mind is obviously already made up.

Gabrielle: I think it’s funny. Dov is a character who — sometimes I’ll talk to somebody younger than me who will say, why isn’t Dov punished more in the book? I’m like, because the book ends in 2013. Somebody like Dov, as long as he kept his life pretty tidy, was fine until about 2017. To me, that was the interest of writing about — I enjoyed writing Dov because he is a person who is completely, now, I guess you would say, an anachronism or something in a modern setting where you could kind of be big and borderline or actually sexually harass your students. It would’ve been fine as long as you didn’t cross certain lines. He’s always clear over and over again. These technicalities — he says, you were not my student when we started a relationship. He’s like, I’m good. The abuse of power is obviously quite evident and still there. The second section of the book is called Influences. That’s what it’s really all about, how difficult it is for Sadie to ever escape the influences of Dov in terms of professionally and personally.

The scene you bring up where she puts on her very nineties outfit to go seducing, then she feels sorry for herself that the Sadie at the beginning — she feels bad that she has put this on to try to win him and decides, I think I’ll just keep my coat on. It’s funny. She’s fighting for something that — I think she’s not even sure why she wants it at that point in time. She just knows she doesn’t want it taken away from her. I wanted to write about the draw young women feel toward older people. Dov is not ancient. He’s only eight years older than her. He’s twenty-eight to her twenty or something like that, nineteen and twenty-seven, but he is a man in every way. He has professional advancement. He has a wife. He has a child. I think she’s drawn to all the good qualities he has. He turns out to be quite a good teacher. That coexists with, of course, what is actually an inappropriate relationship.

Zibby: Brought me back to . What’s your next book going to be? What can I get excited about?

Gabrielle: I really have no idea at this point. I have no idea. Over the years, I have found that — when my first book came out, I went out and I did all these interviews where I’m like, I’m writing this book about vaudeville. The more I talked about this book about vaudeville, the more I realized I was never going to write this book about vaudeville. That vaudeville book never happened. Some research happened on it, and what have you. The truth of it is, you realize that the person who goes out and promotes books and the person who writes books is actually a very different person. Once you start pitching an idea, it kind of starts to calcify and harden that idea before it’s actually become a thing in any way. For me, I’ve stopped talking about what I’m working on. Currently, I think I know what I’ll work on next, but I’m not sure. The problem has never really been having ideas. It’s deciding which one is worth following. With this book, games was a great subject because it drew so many other subjects and other things I wanted to talk about to it. It’s hard to find a great subject. I don’t know if something’s going to be a great subject, usually, until I’ve kind of gone down the road with researching it and thinking about the people in it. Even if you have a great subject, you don’t really have anything until you draw some people to it, i.e., characters.

Zibby: I’m sorry I asked. I shouldn’t have asked. I put you on the spot.

Gabrielle: I actually like answering the question. I’m sorry I don’t have a great answer, like, I’ll be writing a book about clowns next.

Zibby: I’m kidding. I actually love the idea of authors on tour coming up with a fictious book that they’re never planning on writing and just always answering with that. It’s kind of funny.

Gabrielle: It’s funny about that — one of my books is a movie. It’ll be out this week. Basically, I had to write some fake book titles for the author in that. One of the fake book titles made me think, oh, I think I know how I could solve this idea that I had many years ago. I think that’s the idea that I will work on. Sometimes coming up with something fake can lead you to something real. That would be the danger of the fake book. You would pitch it so much that you were like, now I kind of want to read this thing.

Zibby: I’m actually writing this novel called Blank. It’s about an author with this blank book. I won’t give any more away because I haven’t written it yet. I’ve only written half. Anyway, I had so much fun chatting with you. This was awesome. Thank you for your time.

Gabrielle: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I’m going to come up with different photo storage things now that I am as horrified as I am by how many pictures that I have on my desktop. This may be why it runs so slowly.

Gabrielle: It may be why. It’s possible. Thanks so much.

Zibby: I’m teaching my kids MASH later today. That is now on my to-do list after this.

Gabrielle: You need to make sure to update it, of course, so that it doesn’t have the retro values of —

Zibby: — I know. I’m going to come up with some new categories, or you can. Send me an email. A new game for you to include here.

Gabrielle: Bye. Nice talking to you.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.



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