Zibby was joined by sisters Lynne and Val Constantine —the duo behind Liv Constantine who wrote the Reese’s Book Club pick, The Last Mrs. Parrish— for an Instagram Live to discuss their latest thriller, The Stranger in the Mirror. They talk about the research that went into writing about amnesia, why the book’s suspicious mother-in-law ended up becoming their favorite character, and how their grandmother’s life story continues to inspire their narratives today.


Author: Hi. Good morning. How are you?

Zibby Owens: Good morning. I’m so delighted this worked. I almost gave up on you, but I was like, that’s so unlike them not to show up. What am I doing wrong?

Author: Last time, we were actually at your beautiful apartment.

Zibby: I know. That was so fun.

Author: Right before the pandemic. It was a week or two before.

Author: A week before.

Zibby: Is that when it was? Oh, my gosh.

Author: I remember my husband drove us because we were afraid to be on the train. Remember?

Zibby: Oh, that’s right. Oh, my goodness, wow. I’m glad this all worked out and that we can chitchat about your new book which I’ve been talking about for fifteen minutes in case anybody out there wanted to know about it. I read your bios in the beginning. For anyone just joining, we’re talking about The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine. They’re the coauthors of The Last Time I Saw You and The Wife Stalker as well and now The Stranger in the Mirror. I was kind of summarizing what this was about before, but if you want to take it over and maybe something that I didn’t say or what people should know about this book. Also, how did you come up with the idea for this? Was this someone’s worst nightmare? I feel like this would be my worst nightmare, is forgetting about my family.

Lynne Constantine: Exactly, yes. We were together in at a book festival a couple years ago. We had ten days together. We don’t normally get that kind of time because we’re living in different cities. We had finished another book. We were having to go back and do a lot of revisions. We were not excited about it. We said, you know, why don’t we just start over? Let’s think about something that we really could get into. We liked the idea of this woman with amnesia, with no memory, because we knew there was just so much we could do with it, and really excited about the kind of research that that would entail and delving into the mind, into memory and perception. That’s where the seed was born. We came home. We both ordered our books and talked to doctors and watched videos. Then we began writing The Stranger in the Mirror.

It’s a little different from what we’ve done before. It’s still a psychological thriller. Clearly, having a protagonist who doesn’t know herself presented a bit of a challenge for us. What we really focused on initially was her struggle and what that must be like when you’re trying to figure out who you are. How do you figure out what kind of a person you are when you don’t know anything that you’ve done, any relationships that you’ve had? Where do you go from there? That’s the genesis of the story about this woman, Addison. All she does know is that she has had trauma because she’s got scars on her arms that prove she had a failed suicide attempt. She doesn’t know, why did she do that? She’s starting a new life with this wonderful young man, and a family. Is she really deserving to start a new life? She doesn’t know whether she’s done something bad or something bad has been done to her. That’s pretty much her struggle. Then I’ll let Valerie talk about the other voice in the book, which is Julian.

Valerie Constantine: Here is Addison at the very beginning of the book. It’s not her real name. It’s a name that she has taken on because, as Lynne said, she doesn’t know who she is. She’s engaged, ready to be married to this wonderful guy that she’s in love with, but thinking, how can he really love me? I don’t know who I am. How can he really know the real person? Just having lots of doubts about, do I have family out there? Is somebody looking for me? How did I get here? What happened? Then a few hundred miles away in Boston is Julian. He is sitting with his little seven-year-old daughter talking about the day two years ago that his wife disappeared, and a little girl saying to her daddy, “Is Mommy ever coming home? Mommy must not love us. Why would she have left us?” He’s, after two years, almost ready to give up the idea of finding her. Is she dead? She just disappeared without a trace. Their paths converge. That’s the rest of the story.

Zibby: Wow. I thought it was so heartbreaking how the daughter wanted to get an American Girl doll to have it look like her and her mom, oh, my gosh, a little Just Like You or whatever. So sad, and that they have to sort of hold onto these memories of her, of the mom, of the rare pictures, all of that stuff because they miss her so much. It sounded like the dad — Julian did not want to give up. He wasn’t prepared. He just had this sense inside him that she could not be dead. She must be there somewhere. I found myself wondering, come on, there must be a way. There must be a way he could have found her. More on Addison’s behalf, why didn’t she post herself? Why didn’t she go to the news or whatever? Of course, that’s not what she wanted to do. She didn’t even want to go to the hospital.

Author: She was afraid. Who am I? Am I going to find out that I’m something that I don’t want to be or I did something that I feel horrible about having done? We, not talked to, but we read some blogs and some essays from people who suffer from amnesia. Just to hear the agonizing things that they go through not knowing, people who have never really regained their memories and what a struggle that is, you just don’t realize. We feel like we can imagine what that would be like, but it is only that, just imagining it. To really live it is pretty difficult. It’s an awful thing.

Zibby: Sometimes I feel like I have amnesia because there are whole periods of my life that now I can’t even remember that well. I remember when someone tells me a story. It often comes back, but not always. My friend, just before this, was like, “Hey, remember that time when we were hanging out in East Hampton Town? We were like, nothing ever happens to us. Life is so boring. Now look at how crazy our lives are.” I was like, “No.” She’s like, “Don’t you remember it? That happened, and then two seconds later, someone fell and an ambulance came.” I was like, “That does not even sound familiar to me.”

Author: That happens to me, too, all the time. I know. It’s scary, isn’t it?

Author: Memory is very fickle and can be totally different. Even if you do remember something, you can remember it differently from the person that you’re talking to. I was like, no way, it didn’t happen that way. This is how it happened. It’s something that you really can fool around with when you’re writing.

Zibby: I love how you guys had short chapters, alternating perspectives. The pacing was so good. It just made it easy to fly through because you want to know what’s happening next. I love this mother-in-law character and her skillful manipulation. I feel like someone you know must have this in their lives. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a trope of the mother-in-law, but it was so perfect with how she really inserts herself, even from just the wedding planning, how she walked in and as soon as she walked out, she had a whole nother thing going.

Author: We loved Blythe. I think she became one of our favorite characters as well. It was interesting, too, because typically, as moms, and I feel like for myself, when I was a young writer, I would more relate to the Addisons and the younger — now having children that are in their twenties, I can understand that. If all of a sudden my son brought this girl home with no memory, what would I do? I could really relate to her not wanting to alienate him or Addison but at the same time being very concerned about what’s in her past. What if all of a sudden she remembers everything and leaves and breaks my son’s heart? It’s such a close family too. She had a really fine line to walk in being careful. Then of course, the husband’s like, oh, everything will be fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s all good. She’s like, no, you can’t just leave it like that.

Zibby: I feel like I would be really nervous to be with someone who didn’t remember who they were. Wouldn’t you?

Author: Absolutely, yes. You’re waiting for to waltz back in.

Author: You know that she tried to harm herself, with the scars on her arms. You wonder, what kind of trauma is in her ?

Zibby: Also, just that feeling of loss, really, that Julian is feeling. He’s mourning the loss of her in his life. Yet he can’t put it to bed. I was doing all this research, or not research, but talking to somebody all about the trauma specific to a disappearance, because that does happen often, and how there’s just no sense of closure and what that does to you. There are just so many ways to have horrible things happen and be in pain about. How did you guys go about writing this together? Did you do your normal? What is your normal strategy of cowriting? Was this one any different? Was it written during the pandemic? What was that all about?

Lynne: It was. I think the first draft had already been written before the pandemic hit. We were in revisions and heavy edits, which was a good thing because I don’t know that we would have had the energy or the presence of mind to come up with something completely new during such a dark time. We did write this book — the way, now, our writing process has evolved is that after we do all of our brainstorming and development, we write every day, individual scenes, email them to each other, and then talk in the afternoon and give each other feedback. We have now reached a point, too, where I will write half of a chapter and send it to Valerie and say, okay, I don’t know what else to do. Finish this. She’ll do the same with me. By the time we’ve gone through the book and gone through two or three rounds of editing, there could be one sentence, really, that I wrote half and Valerie wrote the other half. We forget. We like to take credit for those lines that really stick out. We’re like, yeah, I wrote that, but we don’t really know who wrote what.

Valerie: It did help, as Lynne said, that there was something already started when the pandemic became something that we knew was going to be long term. Talking to a lot of other writers, there were some who said, I couldn’t write. I can’t write during this time. I felt like a lot of people were saying that they couldn’t read. It was really difficult to concentrate. It was just such a time of mourning and sadness and fear that it affected lives — I mean, you know — in such terrible ways.

Zibby: Yet interestingly, on the book front at least, sales were up. I just got some statistic yesterday, which of course, now I’m going to forget, but sales were way up in terms of books even though all the stores were closed. Sixty-seven percent of sales came from online for that whole year. People were buying books. That’s for sure. What are you working on now?

Author: We’re in, hopefully, final revisions of book number five. It’s not a political thriller, but it takes place in Washington, DC, in the political arena and centers around a senator and his new wife who have just both emerged from a terrible tragedy that has brought them together. Of course, hopefully, lots of intrigue and lots of backstabbing and some interesting, terrible characters, but some nice characters as well. We have an Audible Original coming out in the next few months that we’re finalizing called Misconception about a woman who is trying to prove that her ex-husband’s new wife has a horrible secret that she’s hiding. That was fun. That was written during the pandemic as well.

Zibby: What happened to your childhood here to make you guys so obsessed with all this terrible stuff? Where is this all coming from?

Author: You know we’re Greek, right? We’re Greek, so it probably goes back to our grandmother and stories. We spent a lot of time growing up around a small kitchen table late into the night with our grandmother or mother and our aunt. They would just love to tell different stories. Not that they were murder or dark, but I guess there was some of that, a lot of drama.

Author: There was , for sure, the country and what happened to our grandmother in Greece. She told wonderful stories.

Zibby: What happened to your grandmother in Greece?

Author: She was from a small island in Greece. One of the stories that we always loved hearing about was that she was in love with a man from a different island. He was considered — the word is Greek is stranger, . He was a foreigner because he was from a different island even though he was Greek. It was such a different life. She was forbidden from marrying this man. She did wind up marrying somebody from her island who she loved and adored. He was forty when he died. She was here in America having come right after World War I with four young children. She was a widow. It was in 1930 in the midst of the Depression. Years, years later in the sixties, she went back to Greece for the first time, which was a whole nother thing about these parents who let their children go knowing they would probably never see them again, never meet their grandchildren. Forget a telephone call. Cables or letters took months. It’s just astounding that parents gave freedom to their children to really disappear from their lives. Anyway, she went back to Greece in the late sixties. She met the man again that she had been in love with. Of course, he was married. The idea that, here was this man who lived all those years and her husband died so young — as I said, she was in love with her husband, but it was sort of a tragic story, what she had gone through in raising her children by herself in a foreign country. Lots of interesting stories from the old country.

Zibby: This reminds me I should not be complaining so much about raising my own four kids here.

Author: I know. It’s just so many things.

Zibby: So many things. Anything else you want to tell us about The Stranger in the Mirror and how great it is and how people should go out and get it, this fabulous, paced thriller? I was saying earlier before you got on, it might be an untraditional wedding gift for those who are engaged, but since there is some of that, you could always to get their minds off the wedding. There are lots of summer weddings.

Author: That’s true. Very true. I would say I’ve had a few people that’ll tell me that, especially with psychological thrillers, they like to read the ending and deconstruct that way. I will say, with this book, don’t do that because you will be very confused. If you are anybody out there who’s one of those people who goes to the last page, don’t because you have no idea what’s going on. When we were writing it, there were even times we were confused. One of us would do something. We’re like, no, no, that was this. That happened here, because of the timeline that changes in the book as well as the point of view. It was a lot of fun. I think it’s fast becoming, I’m not going to say my favorite, but one of my favorites of our books so far. Appreciate your having us on here. Again, I’m so sorry that you had to go and talk .

Zibby: No, it’s okay. Julie in the comments here is saying she can hardly put it down. Several other people were commenting that they were going to get it right then. I’ll post this on the feed. People can watch me embarrass myself for fifteen minutes. Then we can get to your — .

Author: Oh, my gosh, you got to put us in a penalty box or something.

Zibby: No, no, it happens all the time. I should just stop scheduling — well, I shouldn’t say anything on Instagram.

Author: As much as I’m good on social media, sometimes with technology, I can’t.

Zibby: It’s very stressful. Anyway, it was great to chat with both of you.

Author: You too, Zibby.

Zibby: Sorry we’re not in person again this time, but hope to reconnect in person soon. Enjoy the launch of The Stranger in the Mirror.

Author: Thank you so much. Take care.

Zibby: Take care. Bye.

Author: Bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts