Zibby Owens: I had the privilege of interviewing Liz Moore a couple times already. The first time, we had a horrible technology snafu, and she was very cool about letting me move platforms at the last minute and doing our podcast via Zoom, basically. Anyway, so that was fun. That’s what you’re going to listen to now. At the beginning, I think we might have both been a little bit flustered since I had many tech problems on my end. I think I calmed down towards the end. I also got a chance to interview her on Instagram Live. If you want to see visuals of us, you can watch us on IG Live. She’ll be at my book club. We’ll be discussing Long Bright River, which is Liz Moore’s best-selling novel and was a GMA Book Club pick, at my June 9th, I think I’m getting that right, at my June 9th virtual book club. If you haven’t joined my virtual book club yet, you should. I do it through Bookclubz,, Bookclubz with a Z. It’s just a coincidence that it’s a Z even though it’s my name., and we will be reading her book and talking about that from two PM to two thirty PM on June 9th, Eastern time. Then she joins us from two thirty to three. I do my book clubs every Tuesday. Anyway, Liz Moore is not only the best-selling author of Long Bright River, but she’s also the author of acclaimed novels Heft and The Unseen World. A winner of the 2014 to 2015 Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Philadelphia. Take a listen and get to know Liz like I did.

Welcome, Liz. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Liz Moore: Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.

Zibby: Long Bright River, oh, my gosh, so good. I can’t wait to talk to you about it. For anybody who hasn’t read Long Bright River, can you please tell listeners what it’s about?

Liz: Long Bright River is the story of two sisters who grow up adjacent to the neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia which is a neighborhood that’s been particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis. As adults, they have become estranged. Although, they were very close as children. The older one, Mickey, is a police officer. The younger one, Kasey, is suffering from opioid addiction. At the start of the novel, Kasey goes missing at the same time that a series of murders of women who fit her demographic profile is occurring. Mickey makes the decision to go looking for her. That’s the start.

Zibby: What inspired you to write this book? It seems like you couldn’t have just imagined this. You must have been in this situation in some way or seen some of this close up. Tell me about that.

Liz: I guess there were kind of two different sources of inspiration. The first is that my own family has a history of addiction over the course of multiple generations, like many families. The second is that in 2009 when I first moved to Philly — I’m not from here, although I live here now — I was invited by the photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge to come to Kensington where he was making a series of portraits of the residents of the neighborhood and also some of the buildings in the neighborhood. He wanted somebody who could interview his subjects while he made their portrait. He knew I was a writer. He invited me. I went up. I only went with him a handful of times. I became very moved by what I saw and the people I spoke to and ended up returning to the neighborhood many times on my own, first to write nonfiction sketches that became kind of the basis of some of the descriptions of the neighborhood itself in terms of its appearance in the book, and also to do volunteer work. I ended up teaching free writing workshops at a women’s day shelter there. All of those experiences combined were sort of the foundation of Long Bright River.

Zibby: Let’s start back earlier in your career. How did you become a writer? What part of it was most appealing to you about the writing life, the writing world? How did you get into it?

Liz: Let’s see. I always really liked writing as a kid. I wrote in a diary. I wrote mostly poetry, actually, when I was growing up. In college, I was actually more interested in music. I played guitar and I wrote songs. I formed a band. I went to college in New York. On the weekends, I was working at a guitar store in the Village as my part-time job. There, I met a lot of different people who were also involved in music in various way. The first things that I wrote were actually related to music. I wrote a series of interconnected short stories about the music industry that formed my first novel, which was called The Words of Every Song. At that point, I sort of had to decide whether that was a one-off, like if I just wrote a book because I was interested in music and I was interested in writing about music. What I found was that I was becoming more and more interested in the writing as opposed to the music. My music career really tapered off at that point. I became much more serious about writing and subsequently published a novel called Heft and a novel called The Unseen World. Now Long Bright River is my fourth book. None of my books have really had much to do with each other. I tend to write about a variety of different subjects. Probably the one thing that links them is that they’re very character heavy, character driven, whether I’m writing a crime drama like Long Bright River or something that’s more concerned with family and ancestry like Heft. The Unseen World, it had a little dose of speculative fiction or science fiction. Although, it too was more concerned about its family, the family at the center of it.

Zibby: What was it like after writing all these books to have this book be a GMA Book Club pick and just blow up? What was that like for you?

Liz: It was moving in a weird way. My career has certainly been a slow build. Probably only very few people ever read The Words of Every Song when it came out. More people read Heft, but certainly not as many as have read Long Bright River and responded to it. It feels like with every book I’ve gotten a slightly bigger and bigger readership. Now what’s cool is people are, I think, going back to read my backlist of it if Long Bright River if the first book they’ve read by me, which is great and meaningful. Those are books that I spent years working on. I’m kind of a slow writer. I tend to publish once every four or five years. It’s nice. I put a lot of time into each book. It’s nice to know that they’re being read again or for the first time. With Long Bright River, when I got good news about it, when I got the news that it would be a GMA Book Club pick or that it was on the best-seller list, which was also a big first for me, I am happy and proud and also very aware that it doesn’t feel exactly correct to have a big celebration about it because the book is about some pretty serious topics that profoundly impact a lot of families in the US, including my own. It’s a strange mix of emotions, I would say.

Zibby: Let’s talk, if you don’t mind, if we could talk more about your own family’s history with addiction. How has that affected you? When were you first aware of it? How close did it get? How has it played into your life, if you don’t mind my asking?

Liz: I thought a lot about how much I would talk about it prior to the book’s publication because I think it’s a fair question. What I’ve settled on is I’m willing to say that my family has a history of addiction, but not much more than that because most of the stories aren’t really my own to tell. I have a complex relationship with organizations like AA and NA. One thing I do very much respect is the idea that people who use organizations to help them in their recovery require anonymity as part of their recovery. I tend to say that, the line, my family has a history of addiction, and not much more than that. Although, it’s certainly true that, I think for every writer I know, there’s a certain amount of it — it’s difficult to write fiction without having a sort of autobiographical spark someplace in it. Some writers I think wouldn’t even say that, but I do. I think every book I’ve written, you can trace elements of it back to my own personal history, from my family history.

Zibby: What do you think the effect on you as someone who has watched this develop around you has been? What is your point of view now on the opioid crisis and all of it? Do you feel it’s a failing of the government? Do you feel like this is more of a political thing? Do you feel like this is a hereditary thing that’s just predetermined? How have you come out after analyzing this for years?

Liz: I think it’s a huge mix of genetic predisposition in some cases — one of the central themes of the book is the idea of nature versus nurture and how it can be that two siblings in the same family come out so different as adults. I think the answer to that is that there’s — certainly, some people have a genetic predisposition to it. Also, even within the same family, two people can have very different experiences of nurture, whether we’re talking about birth order or whether we’re talking about the circumstances of one’s family when one was growing up. I think you see this a lot in families where there’s a large age gap between siblings especially. The parents themselves can have, for example, completely different economic circumstances between when one child was born and the other child was born. I think all of those things contribute to why one person might suffer from addiction and one might not. I do believe that there have been huge systemic failures that have contributed to this particular wave of opioid addiction in the United States. I’m glad to see some legislation is starting to be imposed that protects the individual from the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies, but in a lot ways, the damage has already been done. This very insidious addiction has already made its way into family units. We will feel the effects of that for generations, I think.

Zibby: One of the things that you just said that I find particular interesting is how people in the same family can have such different experiences of their childhoods and of being even in that family. In fact, one quote in your book, you said, “In fact, it is possible to argue, I believe, if we were to evaluate who had the more difficult childhood, whatever that may mean, one might find the balance tipped toward me. I say this because of the two of us, I am the only one with memories of our mother, and very fond ones at that.” Somebody experiences the loss of parent. The other sibling doesn’t. Who has the harder childhood? I have four kids with a huge age difference between them. This is not the same situation, but even just in the parenting of those kids, I am a completely different person. A couple years, a couple circumstances, all of it makes your own childhood and the whole trajectory of your life completely different, which I love that you included in this book. In so many ways, it’s another sort of river of plot that courses through the story, which I just thought was amazing.

Liz: I have said sadly that I think my younger child at this age, I had read like a thousand more books to my older child. I hope they never listen to this as adults. I think the younger child, I hope he will get other benefits that my older daughter didn’t have. Certainly, there’s a big gap in the number of books he’s been read versus her.

Zibby: I actually feel like I’ve gotten better in that I can’t obsess about everything as much. I don’t know about you. With my older kids, every movement, I had a running dialogue in my head of if I was doing it right or if I wasn’t. Could I be maximizing this music class by clapping instead of just having this kid on my lap? By the fourth kid, I was lucky to even get to music class. I would just kind of throw him there and pat myself on the back for making it. He’s much more laid back than my older kids, I’ll say that.

Liz: That’s what I have to believe to survive as a parent, is that being hands off also has benefits to a person, to a child in certain ways, or else it’s too easy to obsess.

Zibby: My mother always used to tell me with my older kids as I constantly hovered over them, she would say, “Benign neglect. Just don’t even pay attention.” I’m like, what? Now as I’ve been Zooming in my office with four kids behind the door all through this pandemic, I’m like, all right, Mom, I finally did benign neglect.

Liz: I’m doing it.

Zibby: I’m doing it now. How do you find being a parent has affected your writing, if at all? Has it?

Liz: It certainly has. I’m typically pretty good at finding ways to find time to write no matter what. This is the first time I’ve really been stumped, this quarantine without childcare. I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old. My husband has a very busy full-time job, which he can do remotely, but it’s the kind of job where he is constantly virtually face to face with lots of different people all day long from dawn until dusk. That means that I am able to finagle — this for example, I was like, “I’m going to do this book event. I require this amount of time to do it.” He’s like, “Okay, I got it. I got the kids.” What tends to get pushed off completely is writing because there’s nobody to answer to with writing. I don’t like to sell my books in advance. I like to write a complete manuscript before selling them. Some authors prefer to have a deadline. I don’t really like deadlines. In this case, it sort of backfired on me because nobody’s waiting. I don’t have any editor saying, where’s the draft? For that reason, it’s very easy to say, that’s the one thing that nobody’s expecting of us. Unfortunately right now, it’s almost, no writing is being done. Until we are allowed to reintroduce childcare, I don’t think there will be any writing, sadly, which makes me not the nicest person to be around right now.

Zibby: There are so many things making me not the nicest person to be around right now. I’m like you. I love to write. It’s how I maintain my sanity. Aside from writing up other people’s books, which I also love to do, I haven’t been able to do any of the writing that actually helps me because I’m like, that’s an indulgence that I don’t have the luxury of doing right now. Yours is not so much an indulgence as creating amazing literary fiction. It’s hard because it feels like it’s a bonus thing because writing is so — I don’t know.

Liz: There to it that it sounds like we’re both really missing right now.

Zibby: Yes, it’s very sad. I have interviewed other authors during this time who say that they aren’t writing, but they’re collecting so much information that will eventually be used in books. There are different parts of the writing process. This is like the input/influx moment, so not to think of it as wasted time but almost like research or things that they will be able to use in different ways later. They’re just not actually focusing on the words getting on the page right now. I felt like that was somehow reassuring. I don’t know if that feels reassuring to you.

Liz: I hope it’s just getting compressed and compressed and compressed, and then it will just spring out of me fully formed at some point. That’s a nice thought. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m going to hang onto it.

Zibby: Sometimes even just the thought of it makes the moment feel better. When you mentioned that you are a slow writer, is it that you take time to do a ton of research? Is it that you take time to outline? Is it that each sentence is a slow deliberation and crafting of the words? What part of it takes you the longest? Or is it all of it?

Liz: I think it’s mostly that I never work from an outline, and so I don’t really know what the story will be until I’m writing it. Often, that results in feeling like I have sent the characters off in the wrong directions many, many, many times and bringing them back to the initial — the only thing I really know is the initial premise of the book, like who the characters are, where they are in time and place, and what their first problem is. With Long Bright River, I knew that there were two sisters. I knew what they did for work or what their circumstances were. I knew that Kasey would disappear, but I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know if Kasey would be alive or dead. I didn’t know what happened with Mickey’s job. I didn’t know who the culprit was. I didn’t know anything else. Therefore, it’s just a lot of stumbling through until you figure it out. Every time there’s a twist or some revelation that comes, it’s also a surprise to me. Therefore, usually I have to go back and substantially rewrite everything I’ve written so far to accommodate that change. That’s why it takes me a long time.

Zibby: Maybe you should start like a Choose Your Own Adventure-type addendum to your books, all of the paths they went on. Should they go this way? Should they not? Why waste all the pages?

Liz: I actually live in fear of anyone ever discovering my drafts or all the documents leading up to the final document because they look like mad ravings. It’s in all caps, “And then make sure not to forget to do this,” and in red Microsoft Word font, just reminders to myself. It works.

Zibby: All right, we won’t break into your computer and dig up your drafts. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Liz: I hate the word discipline, but it took me a long time to learn it. I guess instead of discipline I’ll just say make appointments with yourself and honor them. Don’t let yourself be distracted by technology during those times. The best advice I’ve ever heard is there’s not really such a thing as writer’s block. If you show up to a blank screen, whether it’s computer or paper, for a designated amount of time every day or however many days a week you want, you will produce something if you don’t allow yourself to go online or go on social media or text or do anything. You will produce something. If you do that enough times, you will accumulate words. That’s a very important first step, is just learning how to produce words on a schedule and in an organized way. Then the next step, of course, is trying to make those words good. Just the act of producing words, accumulating words, is something that I think most writers never actually do. It’s not fun to write, but it is certainly cathartic and therapeutic for me. That’s why I do it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. It’s therapeutic to read it, so thank you for writing it. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and IG TV. We will make that happen. Thanks for your patience with the technology. By the way, with a one and a three-year-old, it’s amazing you can get anything done ever because those are really hard years. Hang in there, and the words will come later. It gets easier.

Liz: I appreciate your . Thank you. Thanks for having me. This was .

Zibby: Call me when they’re thirteen and I’ll give you some tips. Take care.

Liz: set of issues in there. Thanks, Zibby. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye. Thanks.