Jo Piazza and Christine Pride, WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM

Jo Piazza and Christine Pride, WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM

Jo Piazza and Christine Pride, co-authors of We Are Not Like Them, join Zibby to talk about their book, their relationship, and what is next for each of them. Jo and Christine share that although many people are focusing on the role race plays in their novel, they wanted to make sure their story addressed a number of the hot-button issues that affect modern friendships. The pair also tell Zibby about how they blurred the lines between writer and editor to become a duo so compatible that they only ever plan to collaborate with one another.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Christine and Jo. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss We Are Not Like Them.

Author: We’re so happy to be here.

Author: Thank you for having us. This is our first day-before-launch-day interview.

Zibby: Wow, first on the day before the launch. I’m honored. I’m here today with Sherri Puzey, who is the head of Moms Don’t Have Time to Grieve and on our team and also @WhatSherriReads. As I said, she’s a fan, so she’s here listening. Just so you know. I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed that there were two of you and just one of me, so I had to bring somebody.

Author: A one-on-one situation is always better.

Zibby: It’s like Canadian doubles. You need a doubles partner, so here we are. We Are Not Like Them, can you please tell listeners what this book is about? Let’s hear the elevator pitch. Then what inspired you to write it, and especially together?

Author: We trade. We take turns on doing our elevator pitch.

Author: And our meet cute, which will probably happen next.

Author: We Are Not Like Them is a story about the lifelong friendship between two women, Jen and Riley. Riley is a black woman. Jen is a white woman. They grew up in Philadelphia together. They’ve been friends since they were in daycare. As they’ve grown up, their lives have changed. They’ve changed. They’ve grown a little bit apart but still stayed really close. As they’re adults and as we open the book, Jen’s husband, who is a Philadelphia police officer, shoots an unarmed black teenager. Riley is the newscaster who has to cover this tragic incident. The book follows what happens to their friendship through the lens of this tragedy. It’s constantly focusing on how the two women are coping with the issues of race between them in their relationship and how the incident does challenge everything that they thought they knew about and everything they thought they knew about their friendship. We decided to write it together a while ago. It’s been three and half years in the trenches writing this book.

Author: Spring 2018 is when we started writing.

Author: Now we can’t believe that it’s finally coming into the world this week. It’s insane to us.

Author: It’s very exciting, daunting, nerve-racking, exciting. All the things.

Zibby: All right, so now the meet cute now that you’ve queued that up.

Christine Pride: Jo and I actually met when I was her editor at Simon & Schuster. I spent the last twenty years as a book editor.

Jo Piazza: Which is crazy because she’s like twenty-five. It’s like she busted through the .

Christine: I started in middle school working at Random House. I was Jo’s editor for her novel. We worked so well together on that, not only professionally, but we just had this spark. We felt like we had so much in common. We were going to be friends. We worked on another project together, which was a tie-in to the television show Younger, which I’m sure a lot of your listeners have watched since it’s set in the world of publishing. Although, I wish I had a wardrobe budget like Hilary. What’s her name? The star. Oh, my god, I’m forgetting her name.

Jo: Sutton Foster.

Zibby: Actually, I’m actually about to interview her too.

Christine: back to Younger. That’s so funny.

Zibby: I’m interviewing her tomorrow. I also interviewed the author of the book Younger, which became the show.

Christine: Yes, Pamela.

Jo: It became the TV show. The world is small.

Zibby: Just to name-drop a little. Just thought I’d throw that in. Okay, go ahead.

Christine: I published Marriage Vacation, which was the tie-in that was published on the show. I published it at Simon & Schuster. I needed a writer for it. Jo’s good and fast, and so I asked Jo to do it. We had four weeks to turn this book around to have it come out.

Zibby: Four weeks?

Christine: Yes, production schedule. Maybe five. Four weeks to write and a week to edit.

Jo: We wrote Marriage Vacation in four weeks.

Christine: It was fast, and over a holiday. We were really in the trenches together. The editor/author roles broke down in all sorts of ways. We were both just in this Google doc fast and furious. We worked really well together on that. When we finished that project, we started thinking about what else we could potentially collaborate on. I’d had this idea sort of kicking around for a while. As editors, you’re always having book ideas. Normally, you’re not thinking that you’re going to write them, but they’re always simmering. One was a novel about an interracial relationship, a friendship between a black woman and a white woman that was affected by a police shooting. I feel like these police shootings go in harrowing waves. The headlines, there’s a rash of them. This was one of those times in spring 2018. It just felt like the time was right and that we had a really good opportunity in terms of tackling this subject and that if we paired together as a black woman and a white woman, there was a unique opportunity to bring our different experience and perspectives to the table in a way that the book would be richer rather than either of us trying to tackle it alone. We could do something really different and special and unique.

Jo: And we did it. When Christine first proposed it, too, she was like, “Let’s just see if it works.” I was like, “Oh, no, we’re going to sell this book. Great. Fantastic.” We did it pretty quickly.

Christine: We’re both very busy. I was working a really demanding day job at Simon & Schuster at the time. It did feel like, okay, we’ll get some words down on the page and take it from there. Then we were into it once we got into that Google doc, which at first was a Word doc.

Jo: No one in publishing likes technology. They just hate it so much. I had to drag Christine kicking and screaming into the world of .

Christine: shitting on Microsoft so often in these interviews that an executive at Microsoft reached out yesterday and was like, “You should really try our new 365 software. It’s great for collaboration.” Okay.

Jo: Now our next book is sponsored by Microsoft, you guys.

Christine: We’ll take it.

Zibby: I know, I feel like there’s always something wrong with me when I can’t do the track changes properly. Am I supposed to accept all of them? Can I just ignore them? Do they go in? Do they not go in? I don’t know. Do I stop life and do a tutorial on it? Oh, well. Part of what’s so interesting about this book is the friendship angle and how everybody — not everybody — how both women are so open about all of their own issues and then how they all come together. I see that you dedicated it to your friends. I know, Christine, you wrote recently, this whole “Race Matters: How can I talk about race without getting it wrong?” I just love the dedication to working through friendship and not letting anything stand in the way. Do you do this with your own friendships? Yes? Do you go to the hard places a lot? What was it like manufacturing this one?

Christine: First and foremost, we wanted this to be a friendship novel. This is why the book is dedicated to our friends. That’s just always been such an important part of our lives, obviously, our relationship with each other, but even before we met. We really believe in the power of female friendship. I’d be lost without all of my friends.

Jo: We don’t think it’s celebrated enough on the page. There’s so much romance and marriage. Also, the narrative that your marriage and romance saves everything in your life, that’s not true. Let’s be honest. It’s our friendships that save our life. My husband’s fine. He’s fine. I love him, but it is my girlfriends who have been propping me up and getting me through the day for the past forty years.

Christine: Especially a long-term friendship, there’s something really special about that. Riley and Jen have been friends since they were so little. That’s not something you can recreate in adulthood. There’s something really particular about that. Also, it has its own set of challenges. When you’ve been friends with somebody for so long, you see them through so many different iterations and versions of themselves. By the time you get to adulthood, for better or worse, you have this long, long, long history to either hold against the person, which I think comes up sometimes in long-term friendships, or to be a witness to that person, to remind them who they are. That comes up a lot in the relationship between Riley and Jen on the page. How much are you allowed to change in your friendships? How much is the special part of that, you’re the same or your friendship is at least the same?

Jo: I love what you said about the friendship being a witness to your life because I think that’s what we all want, what we all crave. I think the reason that all of us are so obsessed with social media, we want someone else to see what we’re living and how we’re living. To have that friend that has been with you through all of those things, it’s an incredibly special person. We both think it’s worth preserving even if you have to go to uncomfortable places to keep that person in your life.

Zibby: I’ve had a few friends who I’ve lost at a young age. Part of the pain is that then your collective memory is gone. The other day, I’m like, remember when I went to that college visit? Wait, but I can’t even call her to find out any of those details, which of course, I can’t remember because I’ve lost my entire memory at this point. You lost that shared history. I was also telling my kids yesterday — I went to visit one of my oldest friends. I have a lot of old friends, but this particular old friend of mine has ALS. It’s been very sad. She’s been sick for many years. I was trying to say as I was visiting — they’re like, “Do you hang out with her a lot?” I was like, “No, I didn’t used to hang out all that much, but we are really old friends. There is nothing like that.” Of course, they’re six and eight, so they didn’t totally grasp it. There’s nothing like it.

Author: There’s not. There actually isn’t, especially as you get older and you get very into your career and your marriage and having kids. My best friend lives in Nashville. I see her once a year. I’ve been friends with her for twenty-one years, since I was eighteen. longer than that, since I was eighteen years old. That shared history often means a lot more than the friends that you make later in adulthood too.

Zibby: I thought it was really interesting in your book, though, the financial differences between friends and how you address those too. I just wanted to read this one section if that’s okay.

Author: Please.

Zibby: Jen and Riley are talking about the differences in their money situations and IVF and all that. Riley is saying, “‘You can try again, right?’ ‘No, we can’t,’ Jen sighed. ‘You can. You will,’ I insisted. ‘What will it take for you to try again?’ There was a long stretch before she spoke. ‘Money. We’re already like thirty grand in debt.’ ‘Thirty grand?’ I repeated, taking in the staggering number. It was more than my annual salary in my first job out of college working as a scrub reporter in Joplin, Missouri, and it was an insane amount of money to spend on something that didn’t seem to be working at all. They still didn’t have a baby, but I made up my mind not to judge. Besides, I’d never seen Jen like this. It was painful to witness someone you love want something so desperately and to watch as each miscarriage fundamentally altered her, made her more fragile and bitter. Gigi said it was like Jen’s spirit itself was withering like forgotten fruit. There was only one thing to do. ‘How much do you need?'”

Author: I almost cried listening to that.

Author: We’ve actually never heard anybody else read but each other.

Zibby: I could keep going. I’ll flip through. We could just stay here all day. It’s a beautiful sentiment. Tell me about that element of it.

Author: This is a book that deals with so many different issues about race and social justice. That’s a lot of what we’ve been interviewed about. That seems to be the headline for this book. Frankly, it’s also about other things. It’s very much about class difference between the two women and the socioeconomic status of the two women. How money can come between friends is a big issue, and also how parenthood can come between friends. Riley doesn’t understand Jen’s fertility struggles because she is just not there yet in her life. She’s so focused on her career. Jen doesn’t understand why Riley is so focused on her career. Her ambition, it’s just never been a muscle that she’s wanted to flex. I think that so many of us have those fundamental differences between our friends. Also, the question that Riley asks is, is Jen going to leave me behind now that she’s married and she’s going to have this baby? Part of that is why Riley tries to pull away from Jen a little bit too. It’s self-preservation. All of these things are happening in the friendship that have nothing to do with the aspect of race or .

Zibby: There’s always a lot. How can you piece apart one event or one aspect? Just like you can’t put it together why you’re friends to begin with. It’s just an unspoken conversation of whatever-ness. How’s that for articulate?

Christine: One thing we always talk about is, would Riley and Jen be friends if they met today? I think we think of that a lot about our own friendship, the people in our lives just in general. Depending on when you meet somebody, where you are in your life, that can sometimes be the springboard for a bond or not, the whole “timing is everything” sort of thing, which was the case when Jo and I met. It’s just an interesting thing to think about and what your friendship can survive. There’s all these change in goals when one person becomes a mother or wife and one person doesn’t or you both do and your lives diverge because you’re busy or what have you. One person’s career takes off, and the other person’s doesn’t. There are all these dividing lines in any kind of relationship. The universal tension there is, what can this friendship survive? Then in our case with Riley and Jen, there’s also the added layer of this particular thing happening that doesn’t necessarily happen to them in their relationship but has a profound effect on their relationship. The question then is, can they survive that too on top of everything else?

Zibby: Also, you don’t only delve into their friendship. You go into the actual marriages. You go into what that’s like in those intimate conversations and regret. Should this have happened? All the stuff that doesn’t necessarily leave the house.

Jo: It doesn’t leave the house or the bedroom. That was one of our really important goals with We Are Not Like Them, was to bring the reader inside these very intimate spaces and intimate conversations that you don’t typically see and also then to get inside our characters’ heads. That was the whole reason we did this book in first person. It was originally written in third person. We changed it literally at the last minute.

Zibby: Oh, no.

Jo: Oh, yeah.

Christine: Jo called me one day and said, “Are you sitting down? I think we should rewrite the book in first person.”

Jo: You should’ve given me more time to not only sit down, but also to pour a drink.

Christine: I should’ve said, are you drinking vodka?

Jo: Sitting down was not enough to take all that in, but we did it. It’s better. It’s better because you get in these very intimate conversations. You get to see what someone thinks and then what they say, which can be two totally different things.

Christine: I think that’s interesting on an individual level or universal level with both of the characters. That always happens, right? What you say and what you think may be two different things. On top of that, the race component here, the race angle, Jo is privy to conversations that I am not privy to. People will say things in front of her that they wouldn’t say in front of me as a black woman and vice versa. That was a unique strength in terms of our writing this book together because we can bring those conversations to the table that we’ve both heard. Then we want people to witness these kind of conversations and then practice them themselves, use this book as a jumping-off point to go back to their friends, families, social networks and have these kind of conversations.

Zibby: Christine, are you no longer an editor? What’s your path now in life?

Christine: What’s the status?

Zibby: Yeah, what the status?

Christine: That’s a really good question and maybe a whole separate podcast. What is Christine’s future?

Jo: As someone that can’t stop making podcasts, I love .

Christine: I know, right? It’s a very live journey, lots of tension, dramatic twists and turns. I’m still working as a consultant at Simon & Schuster. I have some of the books that I acquired before I left and some of my beloved authors who have books that have recently come out or are forthcoming. Then Jo and I are working on book two.

Jo: And three.

Christine: Still wearing lots of different hats right now, which is exciting and interesting. As busy as we both may be doing all of these different types of projects, we wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s just how we thrive and move in the world. It’s nice to be storytelling ourselves, helping other people tell stories, championing other writers. It’s fun.

Jo: It’s great. During all of the hectic craziness of the pub launch, it’s nice to have each other. We’re both like, why don’t you take a step back and freaking enjoy it? This is awesome. We’re doing what we love, which is telling stories and getting to talk about books all day. That’s pretty cool.

Zibby: This sounds really familiar. I also talk about books.

Author: I know. I was going to say, as you well know.

Zibby: It’s true. The other day, I was editing — I have this memoir coming out next summer. All day, I had to be in the document because I had so much to do. I had a deadline and whatever. After, I was like, oh, my gosh, I spent eight hours or seven hours in the document today. I was like, this is what other writers do every day. I posted it. Somebody was like, uh, yeah, I’m a writer, this is what I do. I’m like, I couldn’t do that. I need all these different inputs. I need to be in it. It sounds like you guys operate the same way. Some people can just do one. Not that it’s bad. It’s just, different people’s brains work in different ways.

Author: We don’t have to tell you about wearing a lot of hats, Zibby Owens. That’s for sure. I don’t know how you do it. So many different things.

Zibby: I feel like we need a better expression. Wearing a lot of hats makes it seem like you’re not really — you know what I mean?

Author: That’s true.

Author: Where did that come from?

Zibby: Not to criticize the expression. I’m just thinking about it.

Author: I am. I’m totally criticizing it. Who is wearing all these?

Zibby: Are they on top of each other? It is like, hat for sale?

Author: Nineteen century or something.

Author: What kind of hats are they? I’m going to look it up.

Zibby: Are we wearing fedoras? Are they baseball caps? I don’t know. I think that this is just the way — you need the inputs to have the output. That’s all.

Christine: I think that’s why we’re writers and book editors. The beauty of it is that you’re getting exposed to lots of different ideas, topics, culture zeitgeists, what’s happening. For people like us who need a lot of stimulation and have a lot of curiosity, to have different things hitting you all at once from all these different sources, it’s very dynamic. I think many can thrive in that because that sparks more creativity, more inspiration, and more drive. Jo is the hardest-working person I know. It’s actually really great to be partnered with somebody who is so hardworking because it pushes you in the best possible way. To have a collaboration like this, you do have to have a certain sensibility, a common work ethic or way to work. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. I really appreciate that Jo and I are both very driven, type-A people in the best possible way.

Jo: It doesn’t work if you’re not. I can tell you that firsthand. I say this all the time. Christine is the only person that I will collaborate with going forward. We do complement each other in that we both have very busy lives. When one of us needs to drop a ball, the other one picks it up. There’s no question about it. I’m never afraid to be like, I’ve got to go on vacation. I’ve got a sick kid. I know that Christine is always going to be there.

Christine: I love how you said “I’ve got to go on vacation” like it was another thing on your to-do list. You’re like, I got to go on vacation. Even her vacations are on her to-do list.

Zibby: It’s stressful to go on vacation because you have to organize so much before you go. Then you’ve got to catch up. You have to plan. Jo, what about you? You have another two books of this. Are they the same characters? No. Something totally different?

Jo: Totally different. Christine and I keep coming up with more ideas. We’re doing this as long as people want to read. We just love writing together. We’re about a hundred pages deep into the new novel. Then we have an idea for another one. I’m, right now, focusing pretty intently on these books but then also the podcasts. I now have three podcasts going simultaneously.

Christine: I can’t keep track.

Jo: Committed under the influence. I’m launching a new podcast about podcasts, which is the most meta thing that has ever happened in the world.

Zibby: What are you calling that?

Jo: It’s “The Pod Club.” It’s called “The Pod Club.” It launches in December with iHeart. It’s great, actually. We’ll have to have you on. Then focusing on — I’ve still got two small-ish kids. I’ve got a two-year-old and a four-year-old. Trying not to let my marriage fall apart. I think that’s enough. Maybe we’ll get a hamster.

Christine: Just to add because you need one more thing.

Zibby: We happen to have been at Petco and accidently picked up a hamster costume for Halloween.

Author: That’s what you need. Just stick with that costume, not an actual live .

Zibby: My son thought it was a dog costume. Mind you, it’s of a hot dog. We got it in the car. Crazy that I even let this purchase go through. I was like, it’s not going to fit a lab. It’s this big. What on earth? Anyway, it’s fine. It’s all good.

Author: Can’t wait for those Instagram pictures.

Zibby: Sorry, we’re already running over. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Jo: My advice that I give a lot is — people ask us all time. They’re like, I have a book idea. I have a story idea. I genuinely believe that writing anything is a muscle that we have to develop. Talent is like ten percent of it. If you have something that you want to write, you really need to commit to it and say, okay, I’m going to start writing five hundred words, a thousand words every single day for an entire month even if it’s terrible, even if it’s crap, even if I’m hungover or I have to bang it out on my phone. If you can’t do it nearly all of those days, you probably don’t want to do it. This is a job. It is a commitment. The writing also only gets better when you revisit it every day because that’s when the characters live in your head. That’s what I tell people. Some people have gone on to write an entire novel or a screenplay after that. Other people, mostly men, have been like, I’m not a writer. I’ve been like, of course, you’re not. I knew that, though I’m glad you tried.

Christine: My advice would be — this is a PSA for editors and editing. You really need to get feedback on your work. As much as you can sit and write alone and do your thousand words a day or what have you, eventually, you’re going to have to have people read this book. Getting an objective opinion, both just a reaction from people in your circles and readers, but also, if you can get a professional assessment or opinion really, really can help. It’s one thing to write a solid first draft, but it’s another thing to really be committed to refining and refining and refining. It’s really hard to do in a vacuum. Getting great feedback from other people is just a really good next step or preliminary step, wherever you are in the process.

Jo: We still do even though we have each other. When we were working on this proposal for the next book, even before we gave it to our agent, we hired an outside editor to read it. I think it’s really important to pay someone to read it too. All your friends can read it. They’re all just going to drool all over you and tell you you’re great because they don’t want to end your friendship right then and there. If you’re paying someone, they really put in the work. They put in the time.

Christine: Which is not to say, though, that you can not get a book published without paying for it. If you have the resources, that’s great. I also want people to feel not discouraged that, I can’t ever get a book published unless I can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to make it better. That’s not the case. Especially in a writing group where people can give each other feedback, giving feedback to another person can actually be as beneficial as getting feedback yourself. That can be a nice quid pro quo to partner with somebody and give each other feedback on your work. Then it’s free. You have options.

Zibby: I just wrote this essay because like you, a lot of people have been like, oh, you’re in publishing, what can I do? I wrote this whole long thing. I was like, I can’t answer everybody. I’m going to just do it once. Here you go. Here’s what I would say to you. One thing I basically said is, if you’re not comfortable showing it to people to read it, you probably should not be trying to publish your book anyway. That’s the whole goal. Then, great, keep it to yourself. Thank you, guys. This was so fun. Thank you for giving us the honor of the headline on day before, publication eve.

Author: So surreal.

Author: So surreal. It’s crazy.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Author: Thank you, guys.

Zibby: Good luck.

Author: Thank you for having us. Bye.

Author: Bye. Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

Jo Piazza and Christine Pride, WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM

WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM by Jo Piazza and Christine Pride

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