Susan Patterson, Susan DiLallo and James Patterson, THINGS I WISH I TOLD MY MOTHER

Susan Patterson, Susan DiLallo and James Patterson, THINGS I WISH I TOLD MY MOTHER

Zibby interviews New York Times bestselling authors Susan and James Patterson about Things I Wish I Told My Mother, an irresistible, funny, and heartfelt novel about a dynamic mother-daughter duo, their spontaneous trip to Europe, and the lifetime of secrets they finally unpack while abroad. Susan talks about her own mother, who lived to 98 and inspired this novel, and shares how much fun she had collaborating with Susan DiLallo (and James!) on this project. The two also share some of their own parent stories, the books they’ve read recently and loved, and the details of their book tour!


Zibby Owens: Welcome. Today, I have Susan Patterson and James Patterson here to talk about Things I Wish I Told My Mother: A Novel. Welcome.

James Patterson: Thank you. Thank you.

Susan Patterson: Thanks for having us.

Zibby: I have to say, at first, I thought this was going to be a memoir. Then I was like, oh, this didn’t really happen. I’m like, what did they wish they told? Why don’t you tell listeners a little bit about the book and what inspired the idea for it and what it’s about?

James: Go for it.

Susan: My mom passed away almost four years ago. We were really close, but mothers and daughters have their dynamics. About a week afterwards, it just really struck me that I was really bothered. I had something to tell her, and I couldn’t. It wasn’t anything significant or whatever. I just blurted the title out. Jim said, “Ooh, I think that could be a really nice book.” It evolved from there.

James: I thought that it was a great title. In my opinion, having been involved a little bit and having read it now a couple of times, the book lives up to the title, for me anyway.

Zibby: Absolutely.

Susan: It was really great having accumulated all of her things and going through her things. You know how it is. You discover things that you hadn’t seen in a long time. There was just so many memories and everything else. The story is fiction, but there are a few little, probably, truths woven in through it, and just the idea of travel. My parents always took me to great places growing up. As I result, I also did the same with Jack. We still go on trips. That’s our son. It was a journey like that. I’m kind of honoring my mom. It was a great joy to write. Then Susan DiLallo also lost her mom in the same year. She had sort of a different experience with her mom. It was all great. We had such a wonderful time doing it.

James: Sue’s mother was ninety-eight. Susan DiLallo’s mother was ninety-three. Both died in the same year. This isn’t about them. As you said, Zibby, it’s not a memoir. It is a novel about two other women. They’re very different. One is a doctor. She’s a little stern. Then the daughter is an artist. They couldn’t be more different. What happens in the book is they decide they’re going to go to Europe, going to travel together. Instead of being mother and daughter, they want to evolve into being best friends and adults. Of course, that doesn’t really happen, but it’s a nice thought.

Susan: The rest of the idea was they have to go to Paris because you have to go to Paris. That’s actually one thing that Jack and I always did. If we picked someplace to go, we always said we had to go to Paris. Then my heritage being mostly Norwegian, and I just thought it was a different place that most people maybe weren’t as aware of — it’s such a beautiful place with such nice people. A little different.

Zibby: I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother and Susan’s loss of her mom. I lost my grandmother at ninety-seven. It doesn’t matter how old they are. You still miss them just as much. It doesn’t mean — okay, I get it, they’re that age. It’s still the sense of loss and the love that’s no longer in the world.

James: Sue’s mother was so sharp even at ninety-nine, ninety-eight, whatever. She was a double major at University of Wisconsin. She was an economics and nursing. In those days, they thought it was impractical for her just to be an economics major. Otherwise, she probably would’ve been running Merrill Lynch or something. Very smart.

Susan: She always used to say that to me too. She said, “I just can’t believe my age. I don’t feel any different inside.” She just was always blown away. She always used to fib about her age until she got to be ninety-seven. Then she started using it the other way. She’s like, “Do you realize how old I am?” It was fun. She really never wanted anybody to know her age. For the girl from Wisconsin, she was pretty sharp in terms of — she was a beautiful dresser. She loved great elegance and all of that. It was kind of funny because when you think about it, I don’t know where she wore all these things.

James: One of the cool things about the book to me is, just the way we’re all laughing here, there’s a lot of laughter in the book, and tears. I think that’s appropriate for a mother-daughter novel, which it really is. Obviously, there are others. It’s a rich vein. It really is such an area. I’m sure most of the people watching, listening can appreciate. Oh, yeah, my mom. Oh, yeah, my daughter.

Susan: It might not be exactly that same story, but they all have a story, for sure. They can drive you nuts sometimes. That’s what I tell Jack. That’s my job. I tell him, “Hey, you weren’t born with a set of instructions.” You know what that’s like.

Zibby: My daughter said, “Usually, you don’t annoy me, but sometimes you do.” I’m like, “Don’t I annoy you when I’m saying no to things that you want?” She’s like, “Well, yeah.” That’s what happens. Then I’m doing a good job. I love the idea, in the book, how you constructed it around one of those Hail Mary moments when the mother’s in the hospital in the beginning. The daughter says, if we get out of here, I promise we’ll go on a trip. I could feel myself saying something like that and not thinking it through. Then all of a sudden, you’re like, oh, my gosh, wait, now we’re going on this whole trip. I loved even the premise of that and, of course, the whole twist at the end, which I did not see coming. I guess that’s the point of a twist. I just love all the adventures that they took together and even the way you described the mom — now that I’m hearing about your mom with the great dressing — how they go to the airport and the mom is dressed up in her Chanel suit or whatever it is, so ready to go. The daughter’s like, what? What is going on here? Traveling, for anyone, mothers and daughters in particular, but any sort of ill-suited travelers trying to make it work is so rife with comedy and drama and all of that, particularly when you throw a love interest in the mix as well. Tell me about that decision. How did that come about?

Susan: How many boyfriends did you have along the way that your mom didn’t necessarily approve of? Maybe it was just one little tiny comment. Unless you really knew where that was coming from, you might not pick up on it.

James: It just kind of happened.

Susan: My mom definitely approved of Jim, though.

Zibby: Phew.

James: No wonder I liked her.

Susan: She did. I have to say, Jim and my mom had a terrific relationship.

James: I loved her. She’s a great, great, great person. Not often said about mother-in-laws.

Zibby: In this case, yes. How did the two of you collaborate? How did you work with Susan to write this together? I’m always so interested in collaborating on a book.

James: Well, we are going to get divorced now because of the experience.

Susan: Not quite.

James: Actually, Sue’s my favorite cowriter. I was involved on the fringes of this thing, so I’ll let Sue tell the story. I had a little involvement. Susan and Susan, the two Susans, as we call them.

Susan: I’ve known Susan for a long time. I actually knew her husband better. We hadn’t really spent that much time together. There was just something about her. She’s such a pleasure to be around. She laughs at — she’s super upbeat. The comical way we had the situations, even though they were different —

James: — They have the shared experience, for one thing.

Susan: In talking about our moms, it was fun, just laughing, going back through our stories.

James: Then they went to Europe together to research. They had to go to Paris and then to Scandinavia.

Zibby: You poor things. I’m so sorry.

Susan: We had the best time. We did. We really enjoyed looking for different places. We saw the Northern Lights and would go to these restaurants and really examine the menu.

James: Oh, yeah, they researched.

Susan: The research was great, sit in the windows in the hotel having a little afternoon snack or a drink or whatever and then really doing a lot of people watching. We really tried to get involved in the local culture. She hadn’t been to Norway before. She was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the two of us had been to Paris many times. We had such a good time.

James: They couldn’t be more different. Sue’s a tall Scandinavian. Susan, shorter, Jewish. It was a good combo.

Susan: She’d be trying to get her suitcase in the overhead bin. I’m like, “Just give it to me. Get up.” We really hit it off well. It was fun. We were talking nonstop, of course, about different ideas along the way.

James: Outlining the book as they researched.

Susan: It was good research. A lot of fun.

Zibby: I want to set a book someplace I want to go just for the sake of research.

Susan: The idea came, too, because of researching, like I said, some of the family history. I had a lot of research on different places where my family had come from and a lot of the names. We cherry-picked a few names we liked and worked them in. That Richard guy was actually —

James: — The lover.

Susan: That was on my mother’s side. I think it was my great-grandfather’s name or something like that. There’s a lot of stuff in there that has personal reference.

James: Both the daughter and the mother have a love interest story during the trip, which was kind of .

Susan: Ormson is my mother’s maiden name. We got that in there too.

Zibby: There is this whole notion of lost loves or the paths not taken. Where does love go as you get older?

James: Here it is.

Zibby: Aw, so sweet.

Susan: It’s been a lot of fun, too, with Jim, working on it. It was great. We really appreciated all of his help, of course.

James: My biggest contribution, I would go for coffee and sandwiches. That was my .

Zibby: I’m sure you had a little more to do with it. If those sandwiches were good enough…

Susan: He liked the idea. That was huge.

Zibby: When you sat down to write it with Susan, how did you actually do it?

Susan: We really just chatted a lot. We had a notion of the outline, which Jim is famous for — it really helps — and the idea of the travel. Then we just worked in all these stories. One, for example — we took a train from Oslo over to Bergen. At first, it’s not that interesting, but then it gets really beautiful. You go over the glaciers. There were a group of women of different ages just sitting there giggling, laughing. They were all knitting. That is in the story. This sweater that I have on is actually from Crystal Ripple, who is in the book. She knitted me this sweater. It was little stories like that that we compiled and put them in. It seemed really easy. I’m probably exaggerating, but it just seemed to flow pretty nicely. A lot of shared experiences, that kind of thing.

Zibby: Each time the mom was in the hospital or went to the ER or whatever, there was this sense from the daughter of seeing her mom in this whole new way. The mom is such a strong, vibrant character and this big-deal OBGYN and has so much respect and power and all this stuff. Yet as soon as somebody is in a hospital bed, everything stripped away, there’s this sadness just from seeing them shrunken, literally and figuratively, in that moment. I feel like you captured that really well in the book. It’s not an easy moment when you have to look at someone that you love in that different way.

Susan: Right, that’s so true. It’s hard for, also, Liz, Dr. O. She knew what was going on and then, probably like every other patient, doesn’t really believe it could happen to them or doesn’t want it to.

James: Both Susans had been through that, so I think that helped to make the writing particularly poignant and realistic.

Zibby: Absolutely. Were you sad to finish it and have to put the characters aside?

Susan: Yeah. We’ve had it for a little while waiting for this opportunity just before Mother’s Day to bring it out. I really enjoyed it so much. Jim and I had done the three children’s books a few years ago, Big Words for Little Geniuses. That was so great. I just absolutely loved it. Then, wow, this is another great experience. It really was a joy to do. I absolutely loved it.

James: The response has been great. What was that one? There were just a lot of reader reviews that read it, Goodreads and stuff like that. What was it?

Susan: “I highly recommend this beautiful, exquisite tearjerker for all readers. It has something for anyone, and no one will have a dry eye at the conclusion, but your heart will be so oh-so full.” She says, “I’m giving it five stars only because I can’t give it a million.” A lot of nice ones, like, they were speechless —

James: — I’m jealous because I don’t get these kinds of reviews. Kind of irritating.

Susan: It was actually a pretty long review, that particular one. When I read it to Jim, he said, “Did you write that?” There were a lot of good ones. It makes me feel so happy to read that. This is one thing I wish I could tell my mom, for sure, even though she would be annoyed if she was portrayed as Dr. Liz. That would drive her a little nuts. She would be so happy. It would be such a joy for her to realize the honor. Okay, you have to talk now because .

James: That’s the thing about the book. There is a lot of fun in it. It is very emotional. It’s real. I think that’s why readers are responding. Even the selling is big. Look, it’s a first novel. Little Brown’s like, wow. It’s kind of cool.

Susan: They’re really excited.

James: We’re even going to be in your bookstore, I hope, Zibby.

Zibby: Yes, of course. You have to come in and sign. It’s also, as you said before, perfect for Mother’s Day. Such a great gift. I think everybody needs to take those pauses and reflect, whether you still have your mom or you recently lost her.

Susan: I know. You just never know.

James: That’s a cool thing about all of us thinking that way. There’s a quote — I don’t remember where this came from, but I just love it. It relates to this book. I think it relates to twenty-year-olds or people who are older. “My time here is short. What can I do the most beautifully?” I love that. It’s such a great wake-up call in a very eloquent way. This book, to some extent, same thing, Things I Wish I Told My Mother. You mothers and daughters, start sharing. Start talking to one another. Don’t wait until you can’t talk to each other anymore.

Susan: I’ve also had several people say to me they’re going to take their mother on a trip.

James: Well, we’ll see how that turns out.

Susan: Just like you said earlier, once they say it, then there’s some sort of little… I never think you do regret those things. Even, you take all the emotions — I just read it a couple of weeks ago again. You think you’re going to remember every single thing. I did. I still laughed and cried at the appropriate spots. I feel like, okay, I like it. Sometimes you get too close to it. You can’t see it.

Zibby: It’s very moving and very real. The prose is so accessible. You forget you’re reading. You just fly through it. I recently was pitched this travel idea. I can send it to you after. I think it’s called Explorer X. They do vacations based on your book. They could plan a mother-daughter trip to Paris and Norway and go to all these places. They collaborate with you and make it really fun. I feel like you should offer that.

Susan: That is a great idea.

Zibby: I’ll forward it along or whatever.

James: Any trip that starts with Paris, that’s a good start.

Zibby: That’s true. That’s very true.

Susan: You can’t go wrong there.

Zibby: Susan, what do you like to read when you’re not writing? Aside from all of your husband’s books, I’m assuming.

Susan: I know. That could keep me busy for 365 days a year. I’m not just saying this because she gave us a great quote, but I always say my second-favorite author is Elin Hilderbrand. I do love her books. They’re just so easy and fun to read, just like she is. She’s a lot of fun and has incredible energy. Years ago, Jim brought me a manuscript of hers. It was called The Blue Bistro. He said, “You know what? I think you’re really going to like –” I remember where I was when I read it. She’s one of my favorite.

James: I think that was one of her first. She came out of Iowa Writers’, which is interesting. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is another one that we’ve read, which is terrific. Neither one of us has a lot of interest in video games and stuff, but it’s still a terrific book even though it’s about video games and players, which is kind of cool. You can get that interested in the characters and have no interest in what their passion is.

Zibby: That’s true. How did it feel to you sort of taking a backseat in this project versus running the ship?

James: It’s irritating. You know what? It’s great. When our son Jack was growing up and as he now is out in the world, we always say we’re happy for him as opposed to we’re proud of him. Sometimes when you’re proud of somebody it’s because they’re doing what you want them to do. Happy for him. Happy for him that he chose schools that he thought would work for him, and they did. I’m happy. I’m happy that he’s with somebody and that’s working out nicely. I’m happy that that’s working out nicely. We are.

Susan: He seems like he likes what he does.

James: I’m happy for Sue. She had fun putting together a book. I think it turned out well. I’m probably proud too, but happy for the most part.

Susan: My dad did a lot of photography, so I’m going back through years of — trying to find pictures of me and my mom. It’s kind of fun to look back through all these photos. Then I get sidetracked because I see some of my cousins and my aunts and uncles. I got to get those because I am pretty close to them all. I want to send those photos, but then you got to scan them. There’s some work involved. I’m shelving that for later. It is really great. That’s another one of my passions, is photography. I really love doing .

James: We’re doing a little book tour together. That’ll be fun.

Zibby: That’s great. Where are you going to go?

Susan: Not to Paris and Norway.

James: We’re going to Nebraska, actually.

Susan: Was it Omaha?

James: Omaha.

Susan: Madison, Wisconsin, because that’s part of the book. Chicago.

James: Then actually, Sue’s going out to LA for the LA book festival. I think she’s going to go to your store, which is out there.

Zibby: Oh, good. I’ll be at the festival too.

Susan: I said the only other thing I want to do in LA besides go to this festival is to go see your bookstore. I mean that. I really want to see it. I think it’s so cool that you are — not too many people open bookstores anymore, so it’s really great.

Zibby: Thank you.

Susan: It’s good to have a good one. I’m sure you did a beautiful job.

Zibby: I like it. I’m happy with it. Are you going to write one called Things I Wish I Told My Father? Have you thought about that?

Susan: I don’t know.

James: That’s a good thought.

Susan: Thanks. I like that idea.

Zibby: A little companion piece.

Susan: There are a couple other little things that have bubbled up out of this.

James: There’s a lot of truth to that book, though, too. A friend of ours, literally in the last day and a half, went up — his father, who was ninety-nine and dying, he just went up and said goodbye to his father.

Susan: He did pass away a day later, so he got there just in time.

James: There’s truth to that one too. With dads, a lot of times, the things aren’t said. When I went with my father right at the end — I was fortunate enough to see him before he died. We said we loved each other, which I don’t ever remember saying to him. We hugged for the first time that I remember. I’m sure he hugged me when I was a baby. That was the first time. There’s a lot of truth in that other. I don’t know that Sue will do that book, but there’s a book to be written there, for sure. Guys are better now. I find with some of my older friends, we can say “I love you,” male to male. We’re getting better.

Zibby: You’re learning. Catching on.

Susan: It is hard. It is hard sometimes to share emotions even if you feel it.

James: That’s the thing about Things I Wish I Told My Mother. It is about mothers and daughters sharing emotion and saying all those things and not holding back.

Zibby: If nothing else, a chance for mothers and daughters to find out about even the loves in their past. I feel like people are buttoned up about that. What happened before you married my dad? People are like, oh, no. Those are good conversations.

Susan: Or other things that they just did in their life that they may not have shared. You know how you try and be this, not perfect, but try and show something? When you have a kid growing up, then you don’t want them to know that maybe you have done some of —

James: — I don’t want to hear this.

Zibby: Maybe we don’t want to talk about that. We’re not going to talk about it now. That’s for sure.

James: They put out a lot of reading copies. Already, you’re getting this thing with mothers and daughters sharing the book and/or getting their own or mother-daughter book clubs popping up. That’s another thing. When a book can stimulate you to talk about your own situations, your own lives, your own mother, your own daughter, that’s fun too.

Susan: Maybe it’s a little bit of an icebreaker. It could be a really fun mother-daughter reading group or book club sort of thing.

James: It is happening. Obviously, Sue would love that to happen. It’s happening without any stimulus other than the book.

Zibby: That’s great. I’m going to give it to my mom. That’s for sure.

Susan: Great. I love it. Thank you. Thanks so much.

Zibby: I might have to give her this early copy. Maybe I’ll wait and give her a real one.

Susan: You only have the advanced reader?

Zibby: This looks like the finished one, right?

Susan: Yeah, that is. I can see it is.

Zibby: I have all my dogeared pages and all of that. When I’m reading and get interested in things, I keep turning the pages down. Thank you both for coming on. Thanks for talking about this great book. Come visit your book at my store. Come sign copies and all of that. Thank you so much for the book and all that it will .

Susan: Thank you. Thanks for reading it. Thanks for sharing.

James: Thank you, Zibby.

Susan: Bye, Zibby.

Zibby: Buh-bye. Thank you.

James: Buh-bye.

Susan Patterson, Susan DiLallo and James Patterson, THINGS I WISH I TOLD MY MOTHER

THINGS I WISH I TOLD MY MOTHER by Susan Patterson, Susan DiLallo and James Patterson

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