Bestselling author of Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers, and Truly Madly Deeply, Liane Moriarty (also now known as “the TV lady”) had planned to take a year off to write for herself instead of a deadline, but she ended up creating an entire novel from a single-sentence prompt her sister sent her. Liane joins Zibby to talk about how she came up with the three incredibly different yet intricately woven storylines in her latest book, Apples Never Fall, as well as when she realized tennis would play a huge role in the narrative. The two also talk about Liane’s use of red herrings, empty nest-hood, and, of course, podcasts.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Liane. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Apples Never Fall.

Liane Moriarty: Thank you. My pleasure.

Zibby: I have to say, your unboxing video on Facebook was one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

Liane: Thank you. I wasn’t sure if it was too silly, but we decided it seemed to make people laugh.

Zibby: It’s so great to have your daughter do it and then the box and then all the editions. It was great. You were hilarious, just very endearing.

Liane: Good.

Zibby: Apples Never Fall, let’s talk about this. I know you’ve written so many other amazing books that I have inhaled and also watched and all that good stuff. Would you mind giving listeners a little sneak peek into what Apples Never Fall is about?

Liane: Apples Never Fall is the story of the Delaney family, a family of tennis players, and what happens when Joy Delaney, who is sixty-nine, goes missing. Her husband Stan becomes the chief suspect in her possible murder. Her four adult children have to deal with the possibility that their father may have killed their mother. Factions form. Then they obviously have to reexamine their parents’ marriage and everything they know about their family history.

Zibby: One of the things that I loved about this book was that you kept giving us the vantage point of other peripheral people like the Uber driver and the waitress. Maybe they interact with just one of the characters, but you get this — we’re all insiders, outsiders looking in, rather. You get that sense when you have all these other people showing us the stories. It’s a cool device.

Liane: Thank you. I did that, actually, with my very first novel, with Three Wishes. Then I accidentally did it again because I just enjoy that. Actually, when I was doing it, I was thinking, you shouldn’t do this again because you did that before. Then it allowed you to move the story forward.

Zibby: You didn’t even have to say anything. Some people might not have known that.

Liane: Nobody knows. It was years ago that I did that.

Zibby: It’s so great. I had dinner with a bunch of women writers last night. We were at a restaurant. We were all talking about how we were always making up stories about all the people around us, wondering. That curiosity, we were like, is it just people who like to write that are this curious about other people? Are we always just so in need of a story that we have to make it up?

Liane: I think it’s a natural part of being human, the desire to make stories. I know my own mother at restaurants, often, she’ll have a vague look come across her face. You can see she’s eavesdropping in the table next to us. I think everybody does it.

Zibby: Maybe it’s just the writers who then take it and put it into novels.

Liane: The writers would use it, yes.

Zibby: Use it as material. I thought it was so great, the way you depicted Joy. It almost made me very sad, her empty-nest-dom and how you just really encapsulated that feeling of emptiness and trying to pass the time. I felt so sad for when you have her listening to podcasts so that she can relate to her daughter and her migraines a little more by listening to the podcast about migraines and then using all those words. The daughter’s like, can you not do this, please? I feel like especially at this time of year, this is a for this book to come out when so many parents are dropping their kids at college or saying goodbye. It doesn’t matter if they’re gone forever or gone for the year. It’s that same sense of longing. What do you do with your time? I felt like you got that.

Liane: Thank you. I can’t quite imagine it yet for myself. I never think, okay, I’m going to write about the empty-nest syndrome. I just had this premise. Then there she is. Then I think, well, I guess this is what she’s feeling. It sort of evolves as I’m writing the story. Then I’m imagining it for myself, what it will be like for me one day. I’d like them to stay at home forever.

Zibby: Me too. I interviewed someone earlier today who, in her book, the mother says, how about you just stuff me like an animal once I pass away? You can just keep me on the couch. All right. Stranger ideas have crossed my mind. That’s funny. How did you come up with the premise of this book? What was the part of it that was so interesting? Was it Savannah coming at the front door and picking this house seemingly at random? Was it the four kids? Which part, or is it a part we can’t discuss because it’s too far along?

Liane: Three strands. The first strand was that, like Joy — I had Joy receive a pair of fancy headphones from her husband. My husband gave me some fancy headphones which got me into podcasts, actually. I actually came a little bit late to podcasts, but now I’m an avid listener. I can’t cook dinner without listening to a podcast now. The first ones I listened to were true crime podcasts. There are a few cases, and also ones that I’d read about in the paper, I was originally thinking I would give details of the particulars of those cases because some of them are cold cases dating back years. Then very recently, I saw Amanda Knox and her reaction to Stillwater. It stopped me in my tracks a little bit thinking it’s really not the right thing to do to give specifics of something even though I’ve definitely not taken anybody else’s true story. Even saying, this inspired me, in a sort of cheerful, promotional way now feels wrong. There were multiple cases, really, that gave me this premise of, what would you do? How would you feel if your mother was missing and your father was the chief suspect? Sadly, actually, that’s not really an unusual situation. It’s happening all the time. Women are going missing in countries all around the world. We’re all sitting there watching the news and thinking, well, we know. That was one premise. So that’s your parents.

Then I thought it would be more interesting if there are multiple children because then you can have factions form. One sibling can react in one way and one the other way. That’s one side of it. There was a newspaper article I read where an elderly couple let a young woman into their house, and then various things happened. I liked the idea of somebody knocking on the door. Really, the idea “the stranger knocks on the door” has been used a lot of times. I just had that. Then I had no idea how she would relate to my story. The third little strand is that I had taken a year off from writing or a year off where — normally, I have a book out every two years. I had asked for an extra year. I was thinking that in that year, I’d get myself into writing without having the stress of a deadline. I asked my sister Jackie, who is the author Jaclyn Moriarty, to give me some writing prompts. She texted me just three or four lines, which was a bike laying on the grass with a few apples spilled next to it. That became the opening scene of the book. I was really meant to write a piece from it, but it turns out I don’t actually know how to do that. I just started writing a novel. That’s a long answer to that question.

Zibby: It’s super interesting. That’s a huge encouragement for people to use writing prompts. I subscribe to one of these things where every day, I get a writing prompt. Every day, I delete it.

Liane: Oh, do you? That’s interesting. That’s exactly the sort of thing I thought I would do in this year. I was calling it the year of joy. In fact, I was calling the new novel The Year of Joy. That’s how I came up with the name Joy Delaney.

Zibby: I like it.

Liane: I was thinking I’d just write for the joy of writing. I couldn’t write just a little piece. I wanted to write a story.

Zibby: I thought you were going to say you took the third year off so you could get better at tennis.

Liane: I could answer this question forever. A fourth strand is that my son is quite a good tennis player. I was actually having a tennis lesson to try and keep up with him. While I was having the lesson, I was thinking about my story. I had thought to myself, I would like my family to run a family business, which was really mainly so that I could keep them all in one place for convenience so that you don’t have them all going off to different jobs. I thought to myself, I’ll have them run a tennis school. The funny thing is, then as the days go by, I think, I guess if they’re running a tennis school, they’re really into tennis, obviously. Perhaps they were former tennis players. Perhaps they wanted all their children to be competitive tennis players. Again, tennis then became a big part of the story.

Zibby: And the betrayal of the rising star who then the dad sort of never gets over, one of these — dot, dot, dot, question mark — through lines of the story, which I loved. I am a huge tennis player myself, not good anymore, but I love to play. I play a lot. My husband actually taught tennis professionally for over a decade. He was really, really good, ranked and all that good stuff. When I found tennis, there actually is surprisingly little tennis in fiction. I would think that it would be more. There’s so many analogies and scenes. I loved reading that part.

Liane: That’s true. It worked, which you don’t realize once you start thinking about tennis, how it does work so well. Like your husband, when talking to competitive tennis players, so people who are really talented, I was just so fascinated by how you can have so much talent and put so much work into it, but obviously, only the tiniest percentage actually make it to the very top. How do you feel when you put everything into it and you are that good and then injury or whatever, for whatever reason you don’t make it? Talking to former players, one in particular, I actually had no idea of the level of sacrifice that goes into it for the young, young kids. The grief that this particular player — it felt like grief to me, the way he was talking about it when he was making that decision to give up tennis. It was fascinating.

Zibby: I agree. We’ve talked a lot about the demands on even the men on the circuit and how difficult it is and how it’s hard to make money as even player number two hundred relative to number one, let alone number five hundred. We’re always watching people on TV or at tournaments. I’m like, “Do you think it could be him?” He’s like, “No, he’s the fifth best in the world.” I’m like, . It’s true. The demands on the body as you get older — this is off topic now. His friends and him, like any professional athletes after a while — really, you have to just shake the kids when they’re younger and be like, just so you know, in twenty years, you’re not going to be able to get out bed very easily, kind of like Stan, honestly, after he fixed his knees. He’s still hobbling around. They said, don’t run anymore. Of course, he’s right back on the court. There’s just something that calls you back.

Liane: It’s such a passion. I just love that. In Truly Madly Guilty, I wrote about a cellist. I just love seeing other people’s passions. Obviously, it helps with the story if there’s something that you’re obsessed with that really drives you.

Zibby: This whole carrying on from the pain of Stan’s knees and everything, having one of the sisters be a physical therapist and having her hope that people get hurt, I thought that was so funny. She’s starting her own business and is like, oh, good, it’s getting slippery. Maybe someone will slip today, and just hoping for the demise of people in her community.

Liane: I can’t actually remember why I decided to make her a physiotherapist. I remember standing on the sidelines talking to a mother while our children played sport together. She was a physiotherapist, so just talking about the sort of things you need to do in the beginning and how you go along to sports fields exactly like where we were hoping to create a name for yourself. She didn’t actually say hoping for people to get injured.

Zibby: Well, she didn’t say it out loud. We just got to peek into her head, which is even better. The things that people don’t say out loud, that’s even more fun. What about the migraines? Do you get migraines, or was this just another plot enhancer?

Liane: That was just an article I read. That was a really well-written, first-person article, I think, something like that, that just made me think, the impact that it had on her life — all my health issues that I’ve had are things that, you get better. People with chronic conditions that it really affects everything about your life, I was just really taken by the way this person’s life had been affected by it. Everything that I’ve ever had, there’s a cure. You go to the doctor, and you get fixed. Knowing that these migraines can strike, just the emotional side of it.

Zibby: There’s a really great book by Tia Williams. Now I’m blanking on the name. Usually, I remember book titles.

Liane: Oh, you know, I’m just actually reading it right now.

Zibby: Oh, great.

Liane: I thought, oh, she’s writing about migraines. She’s probably affected by migraines. She’s doing it better than I did for Brooke. I’m only in the very early chapters. What’s it called? The Seven Days of

Zibby: Seven Days of June, yeah. I kept wanting to say fifty days, but I knew it wasn’t fifty. I had her on this podcast also and was talking to her about her migraines. You can go back and listen in your spare time as you’re cooking dinner.

Liane: You know what? I don’t want to listen because now if I listen, then I’d think, oh, I should’ve done this with Brooke. Once you finish your novel —

Zibby: — Too late.

Liane: You’re still holding onto those characters. Then you think, oh. You do the very best you can with research and all that, but nothing compares with experiencing it yourself.

Zibby: That’s true, I guess. Although, you made it seem incredibly real.

Liane: Thank you.

Zibby: I was glad I wasn’t suffering myself at the moment, so that’s good.

Liane: You get migraines yourself?

Zibby: I’ve had one that was — I had just had a baby. They thought it had something to do with the — you know, when your body’s just so messed up from baby stuff. I could close my eyes, and I would still see all these things that were all over my computer. I’m not explaining this very well. My vision was totally affected. I tried to close one eye and the other eye, and they were still there. I was like, I can’t see. My screen has — anyway, I don’t know why I told that story. In general, I’m fine. So your sister gives you the writing prompt. You have this opening scene. When did you know all the plotlines that would follow? How much did you just kind of do on the go versus sit down and figure out ahead of time? Then once you got into it, how long did it take to write this?

Liane: I definitely do it all on the go. I know that Joy has disappeared, but I don’t know where she is. I don’t know how this girl who knocked on the door a year ago, how that feeds into the story. I love the fact that I don’t plan because it makes my writing day interesting. I wonder, what’s going to happen today? It’s also a scary way to write because then I have to think, I hope something happens today. There’s a slight terror the whole time I’m writing, if I can pull it off, if I can work out how they’ll all tie together. As I’m writing, I’m just thinking, maybe it will be this. Maybe it will be that. Then it just slowly evolves. I might be out for a walk and have a little spark and think, this, I know. In fact, with the husband’s secret where I had different storylines, I can always remember exactly the intersection where I’d stopped at where I finally worked it out, which is why I always hate it if anybody, in reviews, said about that book, oh, it was so predictable. I think, how could you predict it? I couldn’t predict it. going to happen. Aren’t you clever? I never want to give the impression that that means it’s just all flowing. Obviously, as I’m working it out as I go along, that means I have to go back and fix things. I have a separate document called “Things I need to fix.” Once I know how it’s all going to work out, then I need to go back and put in little — what are they called? I’m saying red flags, but I mean red herrings. Is that the word? Red herrings?

Zibby: Yes. I didn’t know what you meant, but yes. Red herring is the — they lead you astray in different directions.

Liane: Yes. Also, there’s another word. I’m at that age where words are disappearing. You know, you’re putting little things in.

Zibby: Clues?

Liane: Clues and something else that I’ll think of afterwards. I don’t mean Easter eggs. I don’t mean that. Signposts. I mean signposts, things like that. Some little things, especially with this book, that I’d written as part of a story, which I really enjoy — actually, I really loved writing this book more than — I think because I had a little bit more time. Which were just part of the story, and then as I wrote, I thought, actually, that has more significance now. I can make that more significant. I enjoy that because I didn’t have to go back and put it in, so it flowed naturally. You weren’t having to shove in a jigsaw piece. That’s such a pleasure when that happens.

Zibby: Interesting. You’ve written many books. They’ve become so successful. How do you feel about still doing publicity? How do you feel about getting on Zooms and having to talk about this book after so many books and after all of the success? How do you deal with it? How do you fit it into the day? Part of being an author is having to get out there and talk about it.

Liane: It’s interesting. It’s not something I’ve really worked out in my head yet. First of all, I enjoy talking. I enjoy talking to you because you’re lovely.

Zibby: Thank you.

Liane: This is perfectly lovely. It’s afterwards that I’ll then go through self-loathing and think of some — I’ll just loathe myself for something I said. I need to get over that agony of self-consciousness about it all once it’s done. I couldn’t talk to you and then sit down and write because I’ve talked too much about myself. The whole point of writing is to lose your sense of self. Right now, I feel I’m performing as a writer rather than actually writing. It is part of the job. I love doing events. I love meeting readers. That’s a really special part of the job for me. I’m really sad that this time around there won’t be any face-to-face events with readers. I’m really upset about that and looking forward to when I can meet readers again. The publicity side of it, I’m grateful too. Also, I have a background in advertising and marketing, so I can’t pretend I’m the sort of person who is — I understand the way the world works. I want people to know about my books. I just wish I wasn’t the product. That’s where the agony of self-consciousness — . Oh, you’ll have to cut that part out. See, that was the agony of self-consciousness, my elbow on the saucer. I feel like maybe when I’m sixty, I’ll work it all out and be really cool. I’ll have lost all the strangeness about this part of it.

Zibby: I feel like I always used to think that it was just age that would fix things. It doesn’t. Something has to happen. I did all these interviews with my grandmother before she passed away — actually, both my grandmothers — about eating because they were always like, oh, I shouldn’t have eaten that. I’m like, you guys are in your nineties. Does this never end? I did this whole survey of all these women in the nursing home. For most of them, it never ended. At the time, I was in my thirties or something. I was like, all right, I’m going to have to get over feeling guilty about dessert because if nothing happens between now and then, it’s just not going to resolve because I got older.

Liane: That’s such a good point. I shouldn’t wait. I should sort it out myself.

Zibby: Yeah, you better get on that.

Liane: There’s a certain type of woman who comes to my events. At first, I thought she was in her fifties, but I think they’re actually in their sixties. There’s this wonderful age where they’re really cool. They seem to have just got themselves together before you have limitations of old age. I had this theory that you lose all the anxieties, that there’s some age where they don’t seem to — they just look great. They don’t seem to care anymore. They’re just having a good time. I’m looking forward to that, but you made a good point that I’ve got to actually make that happen myself.

Zibby: Maybe not. Maybe it’s just eating that never gets resolved. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll both wake up and anxiety will be gone. It’s so deeply entrenched. I don’t know how to pull it out.

Liane: The eating thing, it’s ridiculous that they’re in their nineties still thinking about dessert. Have your dessert.

Zibby: Right? Who’s looking? What does it matter? My grandmother went to Curves until like the week that she passed away.

Liane: Aw.

Zibby: I know. I’m like, Gadgi, it’s okay. I’m throwing in the towel now. I’m like, forget it. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Liane: First of all, for very young aspiring authors, I always say, lead an interesting life. Do multiple jobs. Travel when you’re allowed to travel. If you’re offered to take a journey across dangerous terrain, take that journey. Although, I wouldn’t say that to my own children.

Zibby: I was going to say, I’m not letting my kids listen to this one.

Liane: That’s right. No, other people.

Zibby: Other people’s kids can go across really dangerous terrain, but don’t blame us.

Liane: No, that’s right. My point really is just, you need lots of material to call upon when you sit down to write. Read lots. Write for the pleasure of writing. I think a lot of aspiring authors get caught up in the industry, in industry questions. Should it be double spaced? How do I make sure nobody steals my ideas? People love that. They love that concrete bit of advice about that strange thing of posting your manuscript to yourself and not opening it. I don’t even know if that works, but people do. That’s something, yes, okay, I’ll do that. Really, you’ve got to sit down and write. That’s the main thing. Of course, it’s hard to sit down and write, especially for your first novel, to keep going. It’s not hard, perhaps, to write the first chapter, but to finish something is difficult. My first book, I wrote as part of a master’s degree. It just meant that that was like homework. I had people each week, so I had to do it. The same could be achieved from joining a writers’ group or having even just a friend, something that makes you accountable. I hate to bring it back to food, but in a way, it is a bit like being on a diet. These group programs work if you’re telling people how you’re going rather than just quietly sitting there. Of course, that will work for some people. If you’re finding yourself frustrated, then I think it helps to have a friend or join a writing group or whatever works for you just to make you finish it.

Zibby: Yes, accountability is always key. Can you give us just a sneak peak at what the next book is, or do you not know yet?

Liane: I have nothing at all. I don’t know.

Zibby: I just read that this will be developed into TV or a movie or something. Heyday is attached or something.

Liane: David Heyman, who produced the Harry Potter films and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and a favorite movie of mine, Marriage Story, has optioned it. I have become the TV lady, so I think it’s most likely to be TV. I don’t mind either way.

Zibby: That’s very exciting. As I was driving here — I’m in LA right now, by the way. There was a huge billboard for Nine Perfect Strangers. I was like, oh, it would be so funny if I could grab my phone and take a picture. Then I was like, then I’m going to crash and not get to do this podcast at all, so forget it. That’s exciting too. So much on the horizon.

Liane: It’s literally today that it starts, so very exciting.

Zibby: Congratulations. That’s excellent. Thank you for all this time of yours. It’s so generous of you. Best of luck. I’m excited to watch this launch and all the excitement around that.

Liane: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

Zibby: Take care.

Liane: You too. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.


APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty

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